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Chapter 5: Act 4 - Under the feathers of the white swan
Act 4 – Under the feathers of the white swan
Ballet's image of perfection is fashioned amid a milieu of wracked bodies, fevered imaginations, Balkan intrigue and sulphurous hatreds, where anything is likely, and dancers know it. -Shana Alexander-
The corridor was packed with students waiting for class to start, stretching, massaging their feet, chatting or reading, playing cards. Only one girls was standing, there near the window with the tips of her fingers brushing the glass and eyes lost in the distance. But after a few minutes even she got away from that little corner of silence and sat down to work at her shoes.
Anya had sixteen pairs of dance shoes, five of which she always carries with her - a different pair for different kind for work she needed to get done: soft, pliable shoes for the lyrical styles, stiff shoes, with hard and thick shanks for the more aggressive choreographies with lots of turns and jumps. And of course, backups for any occasions.But today she was breaking in a new pair, because one of her practicing shoes were wearing thin.
She had curved the soles against the hard floor to better fit the arch of her feet and then she would darn them, and that was it. Other ballerinas tried all they could to soften a shoe before dancing in it for the first time: heating or hitting the box with something to soften it, wetting the shank so that it fit more snugly – anything to make them more comfortable, because breaking in a new shoe hurt like hell. The immediate result was always blisters, splinted nails and bleeding toes.
But Anya preferred to properly fit her shoes to her feet by dancing in them. The more you maltreated your shoes, the sooner you’d have to replace them, so in the long run, it was much more convenient to simply dance in new shoes for a while and stand the pain. But then again, Anya had potions to help her heal the worst of it faster than any muggle medicine could, so it was unfair for her to judge.
Anya was sewing the ribbons in place when she felt someone flop down right beside her, with a deep sigh. She knew without looking that it was Alicia. Her perfume was unique enough to stand out in the midst of twenty other girls.
Alicia grunted at Anya’s side. Anya stopped sewing and looked up, puzzled. Alicia was hiding half her face behind huge dark glasses.
“What’s up with you?”
Alicia groaned again. “I have the mother of headaches… and I still can’t believe last night was not a dream from a bad hangover.”
“No, it wasn’t.” Anya said simply as she went about her work.
“Who do you think would want to make Black into puree?” Alicia still wanted to speculate on that. She’d been going at it all night and Anya was too tired to input anymore.
“I think a shorter list would be that with people who wouldn’t want to.” Anya answered absentmindedly.
Alicia scoffed. “Well, he’s not the most charming guy in the world, but still… killing him seems excessive.”
Not for some people… his people…
But Anya did say that out loud. She was not even supposed to know that.
Anya looked up only to see a group of three girls that had just come in the front door of the hall. She smiled and saluted back. They sat right in front of Anya and Alicia and started going through the morning drills. Stretches, warm ups.
“… he was so nice and polite and funny and completely cheeky but never rude and when he opened the door of the pub for me I could have died…” Cleo’s voice filtered in, bringing the remains of her previous conversation, her words wafting in Anya’s brain like a bad smell. Even though Anya hadn’t listened to the first part of the sentence, she knew exactly who the blonde was talking about.
Anya poked her finger with the needle accidentally as she put the thing back inside her bag. Why did this feel so close, so personal? Why was she so frustrated, so bloody furious? Why had last night made everything stand out in brighter colours?
It was all so confusing…
“That’s too many adjectives Cleo.” Mary said softly, tone completely neutral. She would have been more subtle if she’d worn an ‘I don’t give a shit’ sign on her forehead.
“Whatever. His friend James was nice too, and so funny. And then the fight, god, I can’t even describe it. He’s so strong!” Cleo sighed dreamily.
“And wouldn’t you know it, he is one hell of a kisser too, so spontaneous…”
Diana murmured something Anya didn’t catch. Cleo laughed. She had a delightful laughter. Anya couldn’t help and involuntary twitch at the dulcet sound, and she almost ended up losing her hold on her leg as she stretched it almost over her head.
“The evening ended a little, well, let’s say abruptly, but still, it was the most perfect date ever. All so exiting and adventurous…” Another deep sigh and then, in a breathy voice: “Ah… I’m so in love.”
“You only had two dates.” Mary noted with a raised eyebrow, sceptical as always of Cleo’s easy falls.
“Yeah, but I also had his tongue down my throat and his hands up my…”
“Cleo!” Diana warned.
Anya kept stretching with a vengeance, pretending hard that she wasn’t hearing anything out of the ordinary… which in a way was true. This was Cleo’s routine almost every other month or so. But never before had it made Anya feel so… so…
There were no words!
Anya huffed and made a clean, fast work of taking off her workout gear. She was about to get up and get out of there. In a second. Yes, in just a moment…
Why are you lingering, you masochist!
“Would you just shut up about that bloke already? Why is nobody asking me why I’m in such a bad mood, huh?” Diana snapped at her two friends. As if it wasn’t obvious, Anya thought, but was still grateful for the interruption of Cleo’s love-life account.
Cleo arched a perfect eyebrow at Diana.
“Jealous much, miss D.?” the blonde asked, smiling, meaning no harm, but Diana glared at her nonetheless.
In Anya’s modest (or maybe not so modest) opinion, it did not take a genius to know why Diana was huffing like an angry cat. As soon as Anya had seen the new pointe shoes that Diana was pounding against the floor vigorously, she had known what the problem was. She could even give the green-eyed girl some useful tips, but as it were, Anya really couldn’t care less.
“Why please, do enlighten us! Why are you bitchy-er than usual this fine morning?” Anya heard Alicia ask flatly.
“I have new shoes to break in.” Diana practically growled.
“But I thought you just bought a new pair, like three weeks ago or something?” Alicia noted, surprised and confused. Her dark glasses were still in place – probably the sunlight was bothering her because of the headache. This morning Alicia had gotten up, washed her face, put on the first thing that she had seen in her closed, put her hair up in a careless bun and went out the door. To top it off, she had had little to no sleep and had a splitting head ache… and yet, she looked fabulously sexy, as if she’d done the whole ‘just out of bed’ look on purpose.
And just like that, the fact that Alicia managed to look so sexy when she was so beat down irritated Anya’s nerves even further.
Fuck beautiful girls, really. Just fuck them wherever they are. Cant the bitches just shuffle off a cliff and die?
Anya would have wanted to cringe away from that thought as if it was the slip of a moment, something that she didn’t really mean… but she couldn’t. It was a mean, petty, small-hearted and envious thought - but it was also fully honest. It was Anya’s thought, her point of view. She could even have argued it logically had she been calm enough.
In that moment, even though the girls were talking only two feet from her, they might as well have been in another universe. Because even though Alicia was a friend, the one girl Anya even came close to being real friends with, in that moment Anya hated her. She hated her but the feeling had nothing to do with Alicia herself. Alicia was great, Anya loved Alicia. That was not the problem here… It was much more complicated than that. It really wasn’t Alicia… it was everything else about Alicia.
It was the elegantly dishevelled hair in her bun, those high cheekbones and the perfectly plum lips. It was Cleo’s brilliant hair and her epic tits, her symmetrical features and perfectly shaped eyes.
It was her way of flirting so easily. It was Diana’s effortlessness when touching perfect strangers and how she could laugh at every joke and make it look so sincere… it was the fact that it may very well be sincere. It was how all of them managed to look so shagable so naturally, as if they didn’t rehears the pout and the smile and the kisses in front of mirrors before they went out.
But most of all, what made Anya absolutely furious was the fact that in that moment of honesty with herself, in moment like this, when she rebellious enough not to be afraid of her flaws, Anya could admit that all these things didn’t irritated her as much as the fact that she was nothing like them. And that because of that, Anya found herself jealous of them.
Especially lately. Lately more than ever actually…
If this difference with her friends hadn’t showed that much before was because Anya had never cared. But now that divide was making itself known in strange ways. Alicia, Cleo, Diana, they were a world apart from her. Anya couldn’t be closer to them, because they were too different. There was no wrong or right party, they were just so different. Their jokes were not Anya’s. What they found funny, to Anya seemed silly, what was important to them, was on the bottom (or close) of Anya's list of priorities.
So why was Anya friends with them? Were they even really friends? Or was it just a way to pass the time? To Anya this had never mattered before. One was the same as the other. Alicia was great at keeping secrets, she was smart, brave, she was fun to be around. Cleo was light as butterbeer, with an attitude so easygoing she made friends with everyone. So what if Anya didn’t share herself with any of them or didn’t even want to? What difference did it make? She had never cared about these things before… but she cared now. To the point where it was almost hard to breathe because her stomach felt like it had substituted her lungs.
Right in that moment the loneliness that was weighting down on her was so strong that it made Anya feel as if she was the only breathing person on the face of the planet. The world 'alone' stretched into a whole new meaning, and it encompassed her in a unyielding embrace of solitude.
Because, in all honest-to-god truth, Anya didn’t hate those girls because they were prettier or more sociable, though that was a perfectly reasonable excuse. She didn’t hate anyone, not really…
She was just so angry!
Furious at everything that moved, because everything that Anya was not, everything she didn't have, everything that was her opposite – was sitting right in front of her made flesh and blood in the shape of Clarisse ‘just call me Cleo’ Georgina Williams. In that moment it seemed that Cleo was put in the face of this earth just to remind Anya of what she could never be, what she could never have.
It stood to logic that someone who liked girls like Cleo could never like girls like Anya. Someone who liked white couldn’t like black as much, someone who loved sunshine wouldn’t be so hot for thunderstorms. It was that simple… Pure common sense that left no space for reasonable doubt.
Anya found this difficult to swallow. It hurt knowing that the kind of girl he liked was Anya’s very opposite in every way.
Strange how much of jealousy was actually pain over a phantom rejection. The humiliation tasted like dirt: dry and coarse in Anya’s mouth. Just by being herself, Cleo humiliated her, and it wasn’t even conscious.
In that moment, Anya knew she could have cried. She felt the prickling in her eyes, the tightening of her throat. It wasn’t a flow, it was more like a single pair of perfectly shaped drops of salt water were about to make a show, just to remind her that despite all the bullshit she filled her own head with, Anya still couldn’t lie to her tear-ducks. That she was not as unreachable as she wanted to be.
Anya bent forward, pretending to do some exercise or other and angrily wiped them away, mentally telling them to fuck off because this was her body and mind she pulled the strings here.
“What do you use for your shoes Mary?"
The addressed girl looked up from her work; a curl had escaped the bun and fallen on her face.
“My dad fixes my shoes. He glues some kind of thin material to the platform. I don’t know what it is, but it’s fantastic. I never dance without it.”
“Oh, well, why didn’t you say something!” Diana snapped, as she looked at her friend, who didn’t even flinch.
“Why should I?” Mary responded coolly enough to dissuade the girls from pressing the topic further. Diana huffed and mumbled something nobody heard but as it were, nobody needed a great imagination to know what she had said and nobody particularly cared.
“You could try ripping out the satin at the platform, or take an X-acto knife and make little criss-cross scores on it.” Cleo suggested. Diana and Mary scoffed. It was hard for Anya not to do the same, but she tried to keep quiet.
“Yeah, right. Sasha would break the box of my shoe on my head for something like that.”
“Is she that bad?” Cleo asked.
Anya could have glared at her. Instead she glared at the floor.
Yeah, because you wouldn’t know, wouldn’t you blondie? You don’t have the feet, talent, or balls to be in her class… or any self-respecting ballet teacher’s class, for that matter.
“Are you kidding? She’s like, obsessed when it comes to damaging pointe shoes.” As she spoke, Diana’s excitement grew. “She sent me out of class once, because I’d done that criss-crossing thing you said. It was insane.”
Diana didn’t like Sasha in the same way all of her students didn’t like Sasha: because she put them through hell and was as subtle as a car crash. Sasha wanted everyone’s best. She wanted perfection - demanded it. And got lots of tears along the way. Some dropped out of her class because they could handle the pressure. But - and this was also a given - most girls and boys who had had the skill to make it to her class were used to bitchy, insensitive, compulsively-demanding teachers by now. Sensitive egos and thin skins were something you couldn’t afford to keep if you wanted to be good in ballet. You had to steel yourself, be able to take anything.
Especially callous teachers, because they reflected what the real world would be for dancers out there. Sasha had very little sensitivity and practically zero patience for mistakes if you didn’t start correcting them by the second or third try. Anya knew better than anyone actually, how much of a pain Sasha could be, but that didn’t stop her from adoring and respecting the hell out of her mentor.
“Sasha’s all about naturally breaking in a shoe and all that. Total bullshit, really. She’s just sadistic if you ask me. Just because she can’t dance anymore, she likes to make it harder for us.” Diana murmured as she tried to curve the sole of her shoe.
“I hear she still practices after hours.” Alicia said tightly, locking her gaze with Diana’s, but Diana ignored the warning.
“Oh, please. It’s not like she can ever go onstage, her spine is all fucked up. Besides, it be like watching my mother dance!” Diana said, causing general laughter.
“Try grandmother.” Cleo added with a giggle.
The girls around her chuckled and it was all Anya could do not to tear their hair out. How dared they, these pissy little nobodies with their noses in the air, insult one of the greatest ballerinas to ever step on stage?
“She was unique. There will never be someone else like her.” Mary said flatly and even though Anya didn’t even like the girl, she felt her heart warm for her. Being a cold bitch never stopped Mary from being fair.
“Honestly love, cruises down the memory lane are so freaking boring.” Diana said offhandedly.
“So are the whines of mediocre talents.” Anya said, her voice cold as ice, sharp as razorblades. This brought down a strange silence among the girls, who looked at her as if Anya had suddenly spouted off two heads. In the back of her mind, Anya thought that under different circumstances, spouting off another head would have been less surprising than her willfully involving herself in what was sure to become a confrontation. But right now, she was too pissed to hide it.
“Excuse me?” Diana was too surprised to master something else.
“No, I don’t think I will. And you shouldn’t be so sure of yourself either Cleo, seeing that in any case with those feet of yours, even a sledge-hammer has a better shot at ballet than you do.” Anya said calmly, even as her palms started sweating badly. Her heart was hammering against her chest so steadily she was sue her ribs would bruise.
Cleo turned to her, wide eyed, unbelieving.
“What did you say to me?” The blonde asked in an astounded whisper.
“You heard me just fine.” Anya snapped.
“Take it easy Anya. You too Cleo. Just back off, all right.” Alicia’s voice was more forceful this time.
Diana and Cleo were used to listening to Alicia, but this time Anya’s jab had been more sharp than… well, ever. Anya just didn’t speak to anyone like that. But Cleo knew that Anya had a soft spot for Sasha. She gritted her teeth together and didn’t say anything, thinking she was being the bigger woman here, letting go of the offense.
“I still think you should try moleskin. It works even on linoleum!” Cleo said evenly to Diana, trying to change the topic by pretending Anya was transparent.
Usually it was so easy…
“Moleskin is for quieting clunky-sounding shoes, not for friction. It gets even more slippery after some time.” Anya deadpanned even thought it was clear she was uninvited in their conversation.
Yes, pretending Anya was not there always worked, but none of those girls had ever thought that it was so easy only because Anya always wanted it to be so.
“Your shoes are Petipa’s right?” Anya enquired coldly. She could practically feel Alicia’s burning stare and mentally flipped her off.
Diana looked even more surprised than before. “Yeah… My mom bought them to me in Italy. It’s the first time I use that mark.”
“Well, Petipas tend to get a little slippery before they are really broken in; it’s because of the sating that is used to make them. You should try darning with a double thread. It works very well if you do it right.” Anya was talking as if nothing major was coming out of her mouth, ignoring the looks she was receiving.
Diana frowned and then looked at Anya with one eyebrow slightly raised.
“Well, I always used to put rubber on the tips and pleats of the shoes for traction, it’s works just fine.”
Anya rolled her eyes. How were you supposed to perform a rond de jambe en terre and tendus with you feet sticking to the floor? You couldn’t, and in fact Diana didn’t.
“I know you did and that’s your problem. The rubber may be more or less harmless for your technique on a smooth surface, but with the new floors, it grips too tightly, makes you lose precision. That’s why you have been lifting your feet a little when you do certain exercises, which makes them wrong.”
Diana blinked a couple of times, offended and starting to show it. She didn’t know what to make of Anastasia’s sudden personality transplant, not knowing if this was just usual Anya-like advice (cold and insensitive, but bloody helpful) or something purposefully bitchy meant to humiliate. The way Anya was looking right at her with something of the like of arrogance on her seemingly calm face made Diana think it was the second of those options.
Who knew, the little kitten has claws…
“Anyway, if you can’t darn, then dip the darned tip in coca cola. Its sweet and sticky, works every time like a charm. That won’t help you get your fifth position right though – I don’t think there’s anything that can do that.” Anya spoke breezily, as if she had said nothing of great importance, as she rolled her shoulders and cranked her neck.
“Jesus Anya, are you PMS-ing or something?” Alicia’s tone was a mix between disbelief and outrage. Anya felt her jaw tense, but she kept her emotions at bay.
“I’m just giving advice for someone who is in obvious need of it. I thought that was what friends do.” she said coldly.
Diana scoffed. “And that explains why you have so many friends. And quit talking like you’re so fucking perfect. Just because you suck up to Sasha’s ass and she tolerates you, that doesn’t make you the shit in here, princess.” Diana bit out, the revulsion in her eyes palpable.
Anya pinned Diana down with a steely gaze, praying that all her frustration would give her the strength to keep her nerve.
“You got the logic upside down on that one. I am ‘fucking perfect’, which makes me ‘the shit in here’, as you so eloquently put it through your 300 words vocabulary. That is why Sasha ‘tolerates’ me. So don’t bother comparing us unless you enjoy disappointment.”
Anya was very proud of her steady voice as she got up and walked off before any of the girls said anything more. She heard the explosion of whispers behind her back and Diana’s sharp rumble of words.
“… her head so far up her own ass that she’ll be spitting through her bellybutton now that she got that RBC offer…”
Anya barely registered it, because even though she looked calm, she was lacking lucidity. Her hands were shaking. She fisted them at her sides. Just as she got into the classroom they would be practicing in, Anya heard the door open again. She knew who it was.
“Why did you do that?”
Alicia was right at her side. Anya went at the barre as if she hadn’t heard her and grabbed hold of the smooth wood firmly, as if that mere gesture was comfort.
It was – it gave her balance.
“Would you answer the fucking question? What was that?”
“Like I said, that was me, giving some useful advice.” Anya said very evenly, as she brought her leg up so high it was right in front of her face.
“No, that was you playing the know-it-all bitch.” Alicia pointed out, her voice rough, irritation bleeding through.
“It only seems that way because they knew so very little.” Anya responded, even more coolly, the little curl of her lips was practically invisible. Now that the big dark glasses off, Anya could see Alicia’s reddened eyes and the circles beneath them.
Alicia stared, unbelieving. “God, you’re so arrogant sometimes.” She murmured, and there was something more to her tone.
Anya looked at her friend in the eye. She wanted to yell, give Alicia a piece of her mind. Tell her that even thought Anya was hardly Chatty Kathy, she had no need for anyone to tuck her under their patronizing shoulder. She had no need for Alicia catapulting her in the world of teenage in-cliques, because Anya couldn’t give two fucks about them.
Anya knew she didn’t fit in. She never had. By the time she’d turned 14 she had started to figure out her limits – this was one of them.
And you know what, you hold no control over me baby, so don’t fool yourself. I only go along with you because you're a convenient friend to have.
Anya could have said those thing. She could have yelled them out loud... but she did not. Maybe she was not that far gone yet. Because even though Anya and Alicia weren't exactly the typical friends, there was something real there. And that tiny little ounce of real friendship did not deserve the destruction Anya felt like raging on to it just because she was having a nervous breakdown at the moment.
Still, even thought much calmer than before, Anya couldn’t help gritting her teeth when she spoke.
“If you want me to apologize for being good at what I do, you can forget about it.”
“I don’t give a fuck about that. What I care about is you making people hate you on purpose. What the fuck did Cleo ever do to you, huh? She was the only girl that actually liked you for god’s sake!”
Strange how Anya delighted in hearing that in the past tense.
“Oh, please. Cleo never liked me, she was never my friend. She is nice to me because you are – just like the rest of them.” Anya said, meaning every word.
This gave Alicia pause.
“Ok that may be so. But still, tis is not about them right now. Let’s make this about you and me shall we. I’m here and I’m trying. Trying real fucking hard to get you, but for these past few months you’ve been like a different person. But I’m still here, trying to make your social life existent, but you just refuse to cooperate. What’s gotten into you?!”
“If arrogance was an obstacle to social life than a great many people would be far worse off than I am.” She hissed, standing face to face with the beautiful chocolate-skinned girl.
Alicia groaned. “Jesus, would you just say what you want to say Anya? For once!”
“I just did. And just an advice: don’t pretend to be all martyr-like around me, we both know you’re the farthest thing from it. For the record: I don’t give a fuck about what those… those ducks think about me. And how dare they talk like that abut Sasha! Diana should consider herself lucky that Sasha keeps letting her in her class with all the bent knees and bad turnouts she performs with.”
Alicia was staring at Anya in disbelief as if she wasn’t speaking English. “That’s what all that was about? Sasha?”
Alicia snorted, looking at Anya as if she was out of her mind. As she spoke, her initial anger seemed to have dissipated into something else. “Sasha is one of the greatest ballerinas that ever lived, she doesn’t need you defending her.”
That strange something in Alicia’s tone, that familiarity of it, made Anya avoid eye contact. She didn’t want to see what Alicia was thinking at that moment because she knew that she would feel guilty about it. Anya knew that this time, the fault was hers.
She was just too stubborn and too bloody angry to admit it right now.
“I don’t expect you to understand.” Anya mumbled, turning her back to Alicia. She knew it was the wrongest thing to say, absolutely knew it. And she said it despite of that. Maybe because of it.
Anya could feel Alicia’s anger and she was glad for it. For Ali’s anger, for Cleo’s outrage, for Diana’s humiliation. Anya wanted to claw herself above them - they were nothing, they were supposed to be inexistent, insubstantial in the general frame of Anya’s life. And she loathed Cleo with a violence that was as foreign to her as this situation. Anya never felt this passionately for anyone – the sheer strength of the feeling frightened her, yet she could not reject it. The feeling was as much a part of her as her limbs.
There was something frightening about looking at the depth of your soul, at the darkest corners you were capable. It made you startle at your own reflection.
Jealousy… Envy… Vengefulness
She heard Alicia take a deep breath. That was her ‘be patient’ breathing technique that her fancy Yoga instructor had taught her.
“Anya, just talk to me. You know I’ll try to help you with whatever its breaking your balls so badly.” Alicia’s tone was almost soft, but talking about her shit was so not in Anya’s things-to-do list. Not now, not ever. Not even to Alicia. She stayed silent, knowing she was going to regret it as firmly as she knew that it was still the best way to go.
“Oh great, shut me out, why don’t you. Cause, you have so many other friends to turn to. Why would you need me?”
The silence between them was sharp enough to draw blood, but neither spoke and she heard Alicia stomp away in a few seconds, muttering ‘fuck this’ through her teeth. They probably would not be seeing each-other anymore today. They didn’t have any classes together and given the right amount of motivation Anya could avoid even her own shadow.
It didn’t matter anyway…
Anya found herself staring intently at her meticulously-taken-care-of fingernails. Why had this happen? Why did Alicia have to get in the middle of Anya's little meltdown? She just had to stick her noses into anything. Typical Gryffindor behaviour:
‘Oh this is a potentially explosive situation… let’s get closer to it!’
Anya had never been able to make up her mind whether typically, Gryffindors were just control freaks or maybe they simply had a pathological need for attention.Maybe it was both. Or maybe Anya had just made the stupidest mistake in pissing Alicia off like that.
God, why couldn’t things be simple again? What had happened? What had changed?
Had Anya changed and she hadn’t realized it. The thought gave her pause. She certainly felt completely unlike herself. Outburst were so not her thing. She never raised her voice; she never even paid attention when people talked or who they talked about. Anastasia Rain didn’t talk down to people, she didn’t flaunt, she didn’t tease. She had never before said the f-word in public. Anastasia was usually much quieter. Even in the ballet world, the only thing flashy about Anya was her dancing.
She was the best this academy had, she was considered a Mozart of ballet by some… and yet, she never ever acted up to anything or anyone. Speaking up and telling off was her mother’s thing, not Anya’s. Anya never bothered.
No, today was just a very bizarre day. That was all there was to it…
Just stop this. Enough with the judgment, with obsessing. Stop thinking and start dancing.
Anya sighed and rubbed the sole of her shoe in the box of chalk at the corner of the classroom. Dancing, that was what she should be doing. Not arguing, not crying or loving. Not even thinking.
That was her pulse her heartbeat, her breathing. The rhythm of her life. It had been proved time and again, that it was the only thing she was good at.