"Before you ask, no I haven't become an exotic dancer. This is part of a bet, and there's a lot of candy at stake."
The bell around my neck jingled and I remembered in a new wave of annoyance that I had a collar on. I was back in the rabbit outfit, but Bea had gone the whole nine yards with my makeup. My hair was done in two schoolgirl ponytails, hanging in twizzles to my shoulders.
I even had little eye jewels on and a beauty spot on my upper lip.
The idea was that if the practice went normally I'd get the entire trunk load of candy - but if Sutton cut it short Bea would take the prize.
Beatrice had a sick sense of humour, but I knew I was going to win. Why would Raphael, the guy obsessed with making me practice until I dropped, want to end the practice? Sometimes I really didn't understand Bea at all.
"Wow." Raphael said, blinking in surprise, "You look...."
"Like an escort?" I offered, sighing, "I know. Don't worry, I'll just change my shoes and we can start."
I took the heels off and pulled on my ballet slippers, hopping towards him on one leg as I adjusted one of them.
"Are those my ears?"
"Yeah." I sighed again, "I'll give them to you at the end of the practice, if that's alright."
He surprised me by what he said next.
"You can keep them. Actually, wait a second."
Sutton walked over to his duffel bag and after a bit of rummaging around threw me the tail.
"Now I have the whole ensemble." I said with a supreme lack of enthusiasm, putting it on.
We got started on the routine, but I noticed with surprise that I ended up leading. The Raphael Sutton was lagging!
"Uh, is everything alright?" I asked finally, after I'd done a jump and had the floor catch me.
Raphael helped me up, nodding.
"Yeah, sorry about that. I'm just having an off day."
I raised an eyebrow but started again without saying anything. He was the one who always told me no excuses.
It didn't take long for me to see that he was distracted. After another ten minutes or so there was meant to be a lift but I waited and found I wasn't becoming airborne.
"This really isn't getting anywhere. I'm sorry, I'm holding you back."
My eyes nearly popped out of my head.
"Uh, how about I do the solo parts?" I offered, doing my best to keep the practice going.
He nodded, moving to give me some room.
I counted in my head and started, but I was mid-hop when I realized that Sutton wasn't even looking at me.
"Hey! Are you slacking off?" I yelled, putting my hands on my hips.
He turned to me, and I felt my jaw drop.
"No, I'm just tired." he said quickly, wiping at his face with a towel, "I swear there's something wrong with the heating in here."
I blinked, accepting his explanation. For some reason the idea of him blushing at the sight of me made me want to blush.
Okay, time to change the subject.
"Um..." I started, "Do you want to talk about what happened yesterday?"
He looked at me but quickly looked away.
"What's there to talk about?"
I walked over, poking his shoulder.
"You ran out on me, sunshine. Don't I deserve an explanation?"
Sutton tensed up.
"I'm sorry I ended the practice, but I'd realized I had an appointment."
He sighed and I figured I might as well do the talking.
"You don't have to feel bad for me." I started, "It was my fault I got hit by your car in the first place. I was stupid, I got drunk. I've accepted the consequences."
"Accepted the consequences?" he asked, his eyes blazing, "What if I hadn't slowed down? What if you hurt your leg and couldn't dance anymore? What if you died?"
"Well, I have news for you," I replied, "None of that happened! And even if it did, it would still be my fault. Why should it make any difference to you?"
His eyes softened and the fire in them died.
"You're right." he said quietly, "Why should it make any difference to me? Why does it make a difference to me?"
"Because you're an idiot." I said simply, getting him to look surprised, "I've been through a lot worse than a bit too much booze. I've been thrown down again and again, and every time I got back up."
I didn't think he realized just how literal that sentence was. My eyes were stinging but I continued.
"Life's been a bitch to me, but I've learned to be a bitch back. I don't need you to worry about me."
More like I didn't want him to worry about me. I sighed, bit my lip hard and, grabbing my stuff, left.
I wasn't going to cry. I wasn't a little girl anymore. I was a woman.