I don’t complain as I climb into the passenger seat of her car. It’s uncommonly wintry for February – the snow was two weeks ago, but it hasn’t melted. She deposits her bag and the speakers on the back seat and starts the engine. For a moment there’s no noise, and then the radio comes on. It’s tuned to a Classical station, music I’d only recognise if I’d danced to it, and I’ve never danced to this.
“Were you aware that there were any reviewers in the audience of the Nutcracker?” she says, when we’re in the traffic lights at the end of the long road to the studio.
I shake my head. “Professional critics, or audience members with blogs?” I say. I’m not trying to be funny but she laughs.
“Professionals, mostly, although I hadn’t heard of some. They think you’ve got talent.”
How can they tell? They don’t know me. They’ve seen me dance a role that I practised for four months solid before the show, seen me in choreography that I’m comfortable with – seen me do, in fact, exactly what I’ve been trained to do. They’ve never watched me in a class or observed my struggles with a new variation. They don’t know me.
“That’s flattering,” I say aloud.
“I thought you might like to know.”
The rest of the ride is silent, and Alison takes me right to my door. As I get out with my ballet bag over my shoulder, she looks almost sad, and again I ask her what’s wrong.
“You’re so like me,” she says.
I don’t know much about my teacher’s past, but I know she would have been a principal dancer if injuries hadn’t stopped her dancing for two whole years. She joined the corps of a company when she was only sixteen – a few months older than I am now. Perhaps that’s what she’s thinking about. At any rate, her expression makes me uncomfortable, and I quickly thank her and hurry to my front door, fumbling for the keys that always slip to the very bottom of my bag.
There’s no one home, though the car is out the front. My parents must have gone cycling together or something – they do that a lot.
I wave once more to Alison and then shut the front door, turning on the hall light as I do so because it’s a dark day. As is my habit, I go to the kitchen and put the kettle on, almost on auto-pilot. A few minutes later I’ve a steaming mug of tea in my hands and I’m looking through the post that Mum’s left in my place. A bank statement, a bill for my phone contract, and a letter from my aunt in Wales. I skim over the other first, and then turn my attention to the letter, in which she tells me about her trip to the Alps in half term, and how she wishes she could take me next time. I couldn’t go, though. I had ballet classes. She’s also sent me a cheque for forty pounds, a contribution to my ‘expenses’. That will go towards those new pointe shoes I need. Bless her, she’s always spoiled me, but she’s got no children of her own. We’re a small family, really – I’ve got two cousins, and there’s me, and that’s it for my generation.
I dump my now-empty mug beside the sink and head up to my bedroom for some rest and recuperation before my parents get back. I could do with some lunch, but if they’re not going to be long then there’s no point eating alone. My bed’s a mess – I must have tossed and turned a lot last night. I straighten it out, then lie down on top of the quilt. I’m not sure how long I’m there for, staring at the ceiling, but I don’t really become conscious of time passing until I hear the front door opening and closing, and my parents’ voices in the hall.
No, not my parents. Just my dad. “Georgia?” he’s calling up the stairs, so I push myself upright and go out into the hall.
“Are you okay?” I ask. He sounds worried, and for my dad – always laid back – that means something bad has happened.
I’m right. When I get downstairs, I see that his fluorescent cycling top is torn along one sleeve, revealing deep scratches below that don’t look as though they’ve been cleaned. His leg’s in a bad way too, all covered in scrapes and grazes that remind me of the time when a boy called Louis pushed me over in the playground at primary school and got me all scraped up.
And he’s been crying.