A Future in Dancing

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: February 28, 2018

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Submitted: February 28, 2018

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A Future in Dancing

Jelly’s hair whipped across her face, stinging the sides of her cheeks. She bent her head out the window, looked at the meager foliage and abundant trash decorating the side of the freeway. It made her nauseous, but she couldn’t tell if the feeling in her stomach came from the dizzying speed and blurry edges of the road, or from the impending interview. She tucked her head back inside the car, leaned against the seat as if it might offer some small solace. A crackling of static introduced an overplayed Aaron Copland number over the radio, and Jelly slammed her hand down on the power button. The car went silent, except for the smacking sound of bubblegum.

“You good?” Ariel sat in the driver’s seat, grinding the gas pedal to the floor mat of her clunky, incompetent car. She chewed a piece of bubblegum, snapping it between her teeth and popping blush pink bubbles over her nose.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” Jelly lied. She itched the edge of her hairline with a wandering finger.

“Not regretting the trip, yet?” Ariel said.

“I regretted it as soon as I got in the goddamn car with you,” Jelly grumbled. A cut out bumper sticker, “CENTRAL HIGH HONOR STUDENT” glared at her from the lower part of the front window, and Jelly tried to blink, to break eye contact.

Ariel changed lanes, moving toward the outer edge of the freeway.

“Oh,” she said, her voice forming a regretful ring that hung in the air between them. “I can turn around. Want me to turn around?”

“I’d be late anyway. The SAT started, like, hours ago.” Jelly leaned her head against the window, the bumps on the freeway jolting it until she pulled away.

“Listen, you don’t want to be in academia. This is what you’ve wanted since we were like, five. And you’ll do amazing.” Ariel popped a bubble, wiped a film of gum from her upper lip.

“I’m not worried about how I’ll do,” Jelly said, “but my parents are going to kill me.”

“They won’t mind, that much,” Ariel said. She pursed her lips, swerved into an exit. Jelly grabbed the edge of her seat.

“No. They’re going to kill me.”

Ariel shook her head. She flipped on a blinker a second too late, skidded into the left lane.

“You’ve got a few months before they’ll ask for the test scores. That gives you some time to figure out what to say about why you don’t have them. Besides, your June scores were pretty good.”

“Not Harvard good, though,” Jelly said.

“You’ll be fine,” Ariel said. She took a sharp right, throwing Jelly against the seat.

“That’s easy for you to say,” Jelly replied, “Miss Sixteen-Hundred. You’ll have any number of acceptance letters and scholarships under your thumb.” Ariel huffed in response, tapping her thumb against the steering wheel.

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” she said, “We’re almost there. You have to be confident, not this mess that you’re acting right now. Come on, Jelly, I know you’re better than this. They need to know it too.”

“Wow, thanks for the motivational speech,” Jelly said, rolling her eyes as they ground to a stop at a red light, then jolted forward again. After a few more questionable driving maneuvers, Ariel pulled into a lot, and slammed the car against the parking block in front of her space.

“We’re here,” she said, unnecessarily. Of course they were. Jelly looked at the huge auditorium before them, studded with massive glass windows and sparkling in the bright sunlight.

“We’re here,” Jelly whispered, a breathless repetition, a prayer.

“Juilliard.” Ariel popped a bubble, reaching down for her phone. “Well, it’s twelve, and your thing starts at one, right? So there's some time to eat something, walk around, stretch a little. It’s been a long drive.”

Jelly got out of the car, reached her hands above her head.

“Yeah. Thank you, so much, Ari. You have no idea how much I appreciate this,” she said, smiling like she could split in half.

“No regrets?” Ariel asked, wrapping her friend in an all consuming hug.

“None at all,” Jelly mumbled against Ariel’s coat, “except that it’s freezing and I’m wearing tights, for god's sake.”

Ariel threw back her head, laughing so that the wind blew red splotches into her cheeks. Her hair tangled itself in her scarf.

“Don’t think about it. Let’s go inside.”

 

The waiting room was filled with other auditioning dancers. They wore similar combinations of slim leotards and tights, their hair knotted back into sleek buns. Although she appeared very much the same, Jelly felt oddly alienated by the girls sitting on the floor, stretching their legs out in front of them, and the boys flexing their muscles in their tight bodysuits. Jelly ran her fingers through her hair, realizing she had forgotten to put it up. Out of place and undone, Jelly took a shaky breath.

“I need to take the SAT,” she whispered to Ariel, “I need to go.”

“Um, what?” Ariel placed a hand on the small of Jelly’s back, keeping her faced forward. “It’s already over. There might be another chance, but, Jelly, you need to do this too.”

Jelly’s heart raced, and she fervently wished she was at home, celebrating after an easy test. She wished she had a time machine, or Dorothy’s silver slippers. She wished she had--

“You have your paperwork?” Ariel interrupted her, and Jelly dropped a hand to her side, groping in her bag for the folder she’d created, having forged her parents’ signatures.

“Yeah.”

“Then let's do this thing!”

They looked for open seats, but as there were no two together, Ariel sat in one and Jelly sat on the ground in front of her, starting to stretch, as many of the other dancers were doing.

“Can you put my hair up?” she whispered to Ariel, who grabbed a few hair ties before braiding and coiling the kinked strands that encompassed Jelly’s face. The familiar feeling of Ariel's fingers tracing her hairline, yanking back the uncooperative strands, soothed Jelly’s quavering breaths and amplified heartbeat. Even so, Jelly was sure she’d collapse, explode inward. She would never make it.

“You’re gonna do great,” Ariel said, and Jelly looked up at her, tooth caught on her bottom lip. The hair band snapped against Jelly’s head, and she brought her hand back, running the flat of her palm over her up do. “And,” Ariel continued, smirking, “if you don’t, you can always become a stripper.”

Jelly laughed, high and nervous. She smoothed the heels of her hands down her thighs.

“Thanks, Ari.”

“You’ll be amazing. I promise. Go out there and blow their minds.”

The doors swung open at the end of a makeshift waiting room, and a woman stood in between them. She wore a black pantsuit and a professional poker face, and at her appearance, all the dancers sat straighter, looking to her for direction.

The woman coughed for attention, introducing herself, then said, “I thank you all for coming out here. If you would follow me inside, we can begin.” She nodded, curt and courteous, and cut her way back through the door. Excited chatter erupted in her wake, as the dancers fled into the next room. Jelly stood, shell shocked. She held onto the strap of her backpack and stood up.

“This is it,” she said, as though she couldn't believe it herself, and Ariel smiled.

“Go kill it, baby,” she said, squeezing Jelly’s hand. “It'll be beautiful.”

“Yeah.” Jelly closed her eyes for a moment, and then stepped in line with the throng of dancers walking through the double doors.

 

For Jelly, the audition was a blur. She remembered bit and pieces-- the massive mirrors, the surround sound music, the stern looks on the faces of the judges who clapped impassively after each dance ended. She burst out of the doors when the hour and a half was up with a sense of relief. She tried to be cool, but as soon as she saw Ariel, she collapsed into her arms.

“So, how’d it go?” Ariel said, an expectant look.

“I think…” Jelly tried to breathe. She closed her eyes for a moment, opened them to see Ariel looking down at her, concerned. “I think I did okay.”

“You did amazing,” someone interjected. Ariel glanced over to see another dancer nodding at Jelly, smiling. Jelly twisted around to see who it was, and lit up. “Your dance was incredible. If you didn’t get in, no one did.”

“Oh my god, thank you!” Jelly replied, trying to calm her reddening cheeks. “Your dance was amazing too. You’re, like, so talented, oh my god.”

“Thanks,” the dancer said, winking at her. Jelly just stood there, a cut out smile pasted stupidly across her lips. Ariel rolled her eyes, chuckling.

“We need to get you home, unless there’s anything else to do here,” Ariel said, turning Jelly’s attention back to the matter at hand.

“No, no, we can go.” Jelly spun, dizzy, then started walking back out of the auditorium, laughing. She skipped a little as she walked, her jittery, uncertain footsteps echoing happiness off the walls.

 

When they got in the car, words spiraled out of Jelly’s mouth. She couldn’t stop herself from talking about the audition, about the other dancers. She could tell Ariel was only half listening, but she kept talking, anyway. She pulled out her phone, meaning to look at a video of her dance she’d had someone take, but stopped still before she’d even got past the lock screen.

“Shit.” Jelly stared at the screen, hoping it would just disappear.

“What?” Ariel started the car and jolted backwards, out of the parking lot.

“My parents called.”

“Oh.” Ariel raised her eyebrows, looking toward her friend. “What’d they say?”

Trembling, Jelly pressed play on the voicemail, put the phone up to her ear.

“Hi Jelly, this is your mother. You’ve probably finished the SAT by now. I’m sure it was easier than last time, since you spent so much time studying, right? I'd hope your score would be better. I’m sure it will. I mean, it can’t be so hard to beat what you did last time, right, honey? Call me when you get out.” The call finished, putting an end to her mother’s clipped sentences. Jelly rubbed her hand across her forehead.

“I’m telling them that you’re taking me out to celebrate, okay?” Jelly asked, and Ariel nodded, pulling onto the highway.

“Yeah, sure.” Ariel shoved a look of sympathy toward Jelly, who picked up her phone and dialed her mother’s number.

“Hi, Mom,” she said. She tapped her finger against the side of her lip.

“Oh, hi, Jelly, how’d it go?”

“Really good, actually. I think I did well.” Jelly’s voice was flat, emotionless. She reminded herself that, technically, she wasn’t lying.

“Good, sweetie, I’m glad. Now you might actually have a chance to get into some really good colleges. Your sister called from Yale today, did you know about the early acceptance programs? Jelly, what I’m trying to say is, there’s still time to--”

“Thanks. But I’m going out to celebrate with my friends, I’ll be home in a few hours. Talk then, okay?” Jelly choked out, cutting off her mother.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Be home soon, though, I want to hear everything!”

“Okay, Mom, see you later. I have to go. Love you.” Her heart jumped erratically in her ribcage. She turned off the phone before her mother could say another word.

Ariel looked at her sympathetically, only hearing half the conversation.

“You good?” she asked, although Jelly clearly wasn’t. She pulled out another piece of bubblegum and started snapping it between her teeth again.

“I am so dead.” Jelly gazed out the window, as if the white freeway lines held some oracle answer. She rubbed her temples, trying to quiet a nagging voice in her head, trying to smooth an unknown emotion back down her throat. She had a feeling that the nausea bubbling up in her stomach would become incessantly familiar in the coming months.

“Was it worth it?” Ariel asked. She smiled, pink gum stuck between her teeth.

Jelly took a shuddering breath. The cars rushed past her on the highway, a million different people, different choices, different futures.

“Yeah,” she said finally, testing the answer. “Yeah, I think so. I hope so.”

 


© Copyright 2018 Everette B. Swann. All rights reserved.

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