Chapter 1 : Chassť
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"Arabesque, Victoire, arabesque!"
She stands at the barre, toes pointed, extending until she feels she will break. The shoes are curled around her feet, leotard sticking stiff to her form as she does as instructed.
"No, no, lean forward a little more."
She does so, if not only out of instinct. Her figure responds to the commands, but she does not listen. Face straight, forward, pointed, her mind does not register what her legs, toes, fingers, are doing.
When she was born with red hair, her Grandmére had almost cried.
It was a vibrant orange, sticking in various directions off her infant head. Her mother was pleased, Auntie Gabrielle smiling like a child when she had arrived, but Grandmére had set her lips in a stiff, motionless line. The Veela hair, blond and straight as a soldier standing erect, had been lost, broken, when she had been born.
Her brothers had been luckier. Their grandmother had smiled, laughed, even, when her mother held them in her arms. Lovely blond hair they had, lovely blond hair that Grandmére had loved. But not Victoire. Never Victoire.
She is part of the corps de ballet in her group. Never soloing, but dancing behind whoever happens to be in front. As far as she extends, as sharp as she points, she has never been chosen to dance alone.
"Do you think Maman will like them?"
She was six, standing with her younger brother Dominique behind their tiny abode. The grass was green and tall, rising next to their knees while it swayed in the constant breeze. In her hand were wilting flowers, ripped from the ground with tiny hands, their roots dangling beyond her fist.
"Yes," Dominique responded, reaching out to touch a petal. Her brother was short and simple, never stating anything beyond what needed to be said. But Victoire didn't mind. She liked him that way.
Her fingers curled around the stems tighter, her skirt swaying in the breeze. Without saying anything, she began to walk inside, her brother close in tow. "Maman!" Victoire called, her voice drifting in and out of empty rooms like smoke. "Maman!"
Her mother appeared beyond the doorway, frowning instantly when her eyes found the flowers in her daughter's hands. "Ah, Victoire!" she scolded, rushing forward, her apron flapping just like Grandmére's had been. "Never pick ze flowers à l'extérieur!"
Victoire froze, the plants drooping further in her hands. "Désolée," was the murmured reply that floated from her lips.
Her brother disappeared, slipping from her side silently, leaving Victoire to stand alone before her disappointed mother.
"Ballon! Ballon!" The shout echoes across the room, bouncing off walls and onto her waiting ears. Dancers around her begin to prance in loose circles, bouncing up and down as if they are light as air. Like deer leaping over fences, they parade around the room as the instructor calls out to them.
She tries to do the same, but doesn't feel as light as the other dancers. Something pulls at her, a darkness that brings her limbs down and weighs on her chest.
"Ballon, Victoire, ballon!"
She was the oldest of her siblings. She also happened to be the only girl.
Maman had tried to teach her the ways of the Delacours, always primping and prodding at her. Hair long, limbs sinewy, smile bright, her mother tried her hardest for Victoire to do the same. But her hair was short, arms and legs thick, smile never as vibrant as her mother would have liked.
It was Maman who had pushed her into ballet. The dancing, she hoped, would help make her daughter into more of a woman. The instructors had pulled her red hair back, had made her grow it longer. They had taught her to point her toes, to step lightly, to face front. They had enforced what her mother had tried to.
There is a pitter-patter of feet following this latest command. Victoire tries to keep up, her toes slightly slower than those surrounding her.
Hair falls in her face. Tangles of her red fringe begin to work their way out of the pins she had oh-so-carefully placed, tickling her forehead. She begins to blow them away, still trying to run with the rest, but it is of no use. It is then that she stops, breathing hard, to push and prod and pin the red back in place. Her teacher stops to look at her, a frown tipping her mouth. She says nothing, but stands and stares instead.
Three heads turned at once. Victoire and her brothers, though different in more ways than she cared to count, answered to the same name.
Dozens of legs bend at the knee, sinking down in fluid movements. Victoire exhales. She has never been very good at this.
She begins to crouch, copying the dancers surrounding her until she is almost as low to the floor as they find themselves to be. Toes pointed always, fingers reaching toward something she cannot see, she collapses as gracefully as she can.
"Good, very good," the instructor calls.
Victoire smiles, even if the compliment was not aimed directly at her.
The loading platform was crowded, people weaving in and out of each other until it all became one mass of moving color. Victoire stood with her toes pointed like a dancer, sticking close to her Maman as she was guided through the mess of figures. "Stay near me," were the only words of comfort her mother had to offer, and so she followed this command as closely as possible.
Fleur's skirt shifted gracefully, but hers was stuck to her form with stiff and heavy fabric. It clung to her, the dense wool staying stationary as they wove through the mass of people around the platform. It was hot, stuffy, but Victoire did nothing to fix this.
The older children laughed among themselves, but she did nothing but watch. "You go and make des amis, yes?" her mother breathed, leaning down to whisper into her daughter's ear.
They are gliding now, the ballerinas hopping foot-to-foot in strong, fluid movements. There is one who is left behind - not Victoire this time - who does not appear to do as well as the others. She stumbles slightly, arms hanging loosely at her sides, a frown creeping across her lovely features. She is new to the Ballet in town. She is new to the the people in the room.
Victoire stares at the girl, eyes sweeping over her figure. She is keeping with the group, who moves as one mass of beings across the floor, her legs springing with each step in her excitement. She has not been left. She has not been forgotten.
"I like your hair."
This had never been said to her before. In that moment, she knew instantly that she would like this boy.
"Pas de bourrée!"
Mother's French had helped her tremendously when she had entered school. She had not learned the terms before as she should have, but instead understood almost every one because of the language they were spoken in. Now, she runs along the pack with small, even steps.
She was sixteen when Grandmére died.
The funeral was held at the house, friends and family gathering from all over England to see her passing. Victoire and her brothers were pulled out of school and shipped home, arriving amidst dozens of sad and somber faces.
"You'll have to continue ze danse," her mother had said tearfully to her. "She loved your dancing."
Victoire hadn't replied. Whether she liked ballet or not, she would have to stick with it from that point on.
She lets a partner take her hands and spin her slowly. Dozens of ballerinas around her do the same.
His palms are rough and calloused, scratching her fragile skin in a loose grip. She has danced with him before, though his name escapes her as she turns slow circles. She wonders if he remembers hers, or if she is just as forgettable as he appears to be.
She married him straight out of school. She was only seventeen, bordering on eighteen, but she had fallen so far for him that there was no turning back.
Teddy was easy to love, his smile gracing his features more than what was considered healthy. He would pick her up and spin her around, as her form so light and fragile he could handle her however he pleased. They laughed often, cried less. It was perfect, so it seemed, when she was younger. The couple with the hair that didn't fit in: a match made in Heaven.
The dancers' breath is heavy as they head toward their bags, gathering their belongings neatly and throwing the loads over their shoulders.
Victoire smiles slightly as they pass her, hands resting on her hips. One by one they exit, sometimes bothering to smile in return. The rain outside smatters against the window and roof, the noise ricocheting across the room like gun fire.
She is soon left alone as the dancers around her filter out one by one, her back to the rain beating to enter.
"Why do you do it?"
"The dancing, Victoire. Why do you do it?"
"Oh... I dunno."
"It doesn't seem like you enjoy it."
"I mean, it seems like every week you're dreading going to that bloody class, and-"
"Can we not talk about this?"
She relishes the existence, closing her eyes and tipping her head back. Her teacher has left, knowing full well by now that Victoire will lock up after she decides to leave.
The floor is empty, the walls bare. The rain continues to beat at the windows, the weather seeming angry at something, someone. It pounds at the foundation of the building itself, drops of water sent like frustrated messengers from the skies above.
Ever so slowly, she bends down to untie her shoes. They are flimsy things, flats that fit across the feet with thin fabric and tiny laces. They are what the instructor insists upon. They are what she hates the most.
The last dinner she had spent with her parents was saddening.
Her mother looked small and frail, her thin fingers gripping her fork and spoon with such intensity, Victoire was sure the utensils would shatter under the pressure. Her father was balding, as much as he hated to admit it, and begining to lose the one thing that tied him to his daughter.
Her brothers had sat in stony silence, though Victoire wasn't sure what they had to be quiet about. Their wives were lovely, their children even more wonderful that the women, their jobs mundane but satisfying. She didn't have any children. She didn't have a satisfying job. And yet, it was the two that were perfectly happy that said nothing throughout the night.
She had gathered her things at the end, Teddy in tow, with a look that prompted him to say nothing as he stood beside her. They left in silence, as quiet as her family had been while sitting together around the table.
There is no music in the room, only the smashing of the rain against the walls. She straightens, the flats now gone from her feet, her skin breathing in the air it has been newly exposed to.
She takes a step forward. Skin against wood, wood against skin. Another step, and then another, she advances to the middle of the floor.
Her arms raise, wrists and fingers drooping to tickle the top of her head, and she stands erect for a moment before doing what she has been longing to do since she has arrived: dancing by herself.
Teddy wanted to have a baby. She wasn't sure she could handle being pregnant. There was nothing to be done but disagree.
She allows herself to form great, sweeping gestures across the room. The pounding of the rain and her heart collide into one great solid beat, guiding her through the steps she has rehearsed by heart. It is not ballet. No, far from it. Instead, she forgets to point her toes, she forgets to fully extend, she forgets to hold her head high and face forward. She dances, spinning and jumping in a great mess of movement along the floor.
"Maman loves that you're still with the Ballet," Louis had said one day, sitting at her kitchen table with a child in his lap. "She says it keeps you focused."
She wasn't sure what to say to that.
The rain continues to shine jarring shadows over her being, but she doesn't take a moment to pause and notice. Instead, she leaps across the floor, daring herself to go higher, farther.
These are the moments that she treasures. After the class has left, the instructor following suit, Victoire stays behind to do what she loves most: dance. Not the ballet that she has been doing since she was little, not the stiff, focused movements her body has been trained to execute. Instead, she lets herself go, falling into a rhythm that does not exist while spinning in circles and jumping as high as she can.
"Why are you looking at me like that?"
Teddy sat across from her, curled up on the opposite end of the sofa they were sharing. He peered at her over the top of his novel, his eyes holding a shine she couldn't recognize.
"You just look very... pretty," he replied, his mouth hidden by the pages of his book.
She smiled, a blush as red as her hair spreading across her cheeks like wildfire. "You don't have to say things like that."
"No?" There was a surprised, humorous tilt in his voice that she wasn't expecting.
"It's not... not like I need to hear them, or anything."
He chuckled, still concealed by the book sitting in front of his face. "I need to say them, though."
"Oh," she breathed, "that's OK, then."
Soon, she makes her way to the door, bending to scoop up the forgotten shoes, the rain casting weeping shadows along her face.
Maman - Mother
Grandmére - Grandmother
Lextérieur - Outside
Désolé - Sorry
Des Amis - Friends
Danse - Dance