CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and EIGHTY-TWO
“Do you do this?” Sissy asked.
“Oh …” Charlie sighed and looked at her. “It’s part of my recovery. I act out or do something stupid before big life events. So I’m either in jail or sick or high or whatever.”
Charlie nodded. Sissy put her hand on her brother’s cheek in thanks for being honest.
“Anyway, it’s something I’ve been working on in recovery,” Charlie said. “Dale helps because, you know, O’Malley’s in recovery too. Dale’s like my support system. But I still talk to my sponsor and Aden.”
“What’s kept you from doing that lately?” Sissy asked. “I mean, you just started basketball …”
“And the Marlowe School,” Charlie said with a nod. “It’s great there. I get exactly the attention I need. I feel like I’m getting excited about school — like I can be something more than … well, you know. And no one puts me down for being old or stupid or anything.”
“That was hard for me not to make it impossible for me to go there,” Charlie said.
“What did you do?” Sissy asked.
“I … well …” Charlie turned to look at Sissy. “Aden was up with me every single night when I first started. I was a wreck — angry, scared. We came up with this strategy where I tell myself, every day, that I deserved to get a good education; that I was good enough.”
“Does it work?” Sissy asked.
“As much as it doesn’t,” Charlie said.
“You’re plenty good enough to have your dreams, Sissy,” Charlie said.
“What about Ivan?” Sissy asked.
“If he can’t keep up, he’ll have to move along,” Charlie said.
Charlie hopped up and grabbed her hair brush from the table. Sissy put her hands up to block her view of him. Charlie began singing “Move Along” by the All American Rejects in near perfect Popeye the Sailorman voice including the Popeye dance.
“Stop!” Sissy said, laughing. “Stop!”
Hearing Sissy’s laugh, the door swung open. The women stood in shocked silence while Sissy laughed and Charlie finished the song with flourish. He went down on one knee and held his arms out. They hugged each other tight.
“But what am I going to do, Charlie?” Sissy whispered in his ear.
“You’re going to get up there and dance your heart out,” Charlie said. “And never look back. We’ll be right with you, cheering you along the whole way.”
“I’m scared,” Sissy said.
Charlie moved back to look at her. He nodded and said, “I know.”
When he turned to look at the women, they rushed forward to hug Sissy. Looking up, Charlie saw the clock and whistled again.
“We are out of time. We need emergency help!” Charlie said. “Sissy, it’s too cold to wear just your leotard. Take this.”
Charlie pulled off his black hooded sweatshirt with “Black Lives Matter” on the front in white. While Melinda helped Sissy put the sweatshirt on, Nadia went through Sissy’s drawers for a pair of black yoga pants. Charlie brushed Sissy’s hair into a ponytail, and Melinda helped Sissy into the pants at the same time Tink wiped Sissy’s face with a disposable make up removal cloth.
Tink reached for the makeup but Sissy was crying.
“We’ll have to put it on when we get there,” Charlie said. “Come on.”
Charlie ran out of the room and the women followed him.
“Giovanni?” Charlie asked.
“Right here,” Giovanni said. He gestured to five travel mugs lined up on the counter. “The taxi is waiting.”
“Good,” Charlie said.
Giovanni followed the women to the entrance.
“Are you going too?” Sissy asked through her tears.
She grabbed her packed backpack but Charlie took it from her.
“I wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Giovanni said. “Come, I’ll carry your cocoa.”
They were out the door and in the taxi in what felt like one breath.
“We need to be there fast,” Nadia said after giving the address. She held out a fifty dollar bill.
“Yes, ma’am,” the driver said.
The taxi weaved through the traffic with terrifying ease and made every stoplight. A few minutes in the taxi smelled of hot cocoa and fear. Pulling up to the school, Tink gave Sissy a tissue to wipe her eyes again.
“Six minutes,” Melinda said as the taxi pulled up. “You’ll have to go on as you are.”
“At least we’re here,” Sissy said.
“Finally,” Charlie said in his Popeye voice.
Sissy punched him, and he flipped up the hood to her sweatshirt. Laughing, they hopped out of the taxi. Seth O’Malley was waiting for them just outside the glass door. They swept into the school together.
Melinda took the lead. They ran up the short steps and then tucked down the hallway.
“Wait,” Sissy skid to a stop. “That’s the auditorium!”
Melinda shot Sissy a sympathetic look and glanced at Seth.
“Ah Sis, who cares?” Seth asked with a wide smile.
Sissy looked into the face of her father’s best friend. In his eyes, she saw that he’d played the piano all over the world — from the smallest forgotten halls in sleepy towns to Madison Square Gardens and Royal Albert Hall. He’d played for every President and the Queens and Kings of most nations just as easily as he played “sing-a-long” at the local bar. He nodded at her and his eyes flicked behind her. She turned to see that Ivan was standing near the door.
“Come,” Ivan said. “I will do your hair.”
“Go ahead,” Seth said in Sissy’s ear. “We live only in one direction.”
“Forward,” Sissy and Seth said together.
Seth turned Sissy around in place and gave her a little nudge. Sissy stepped toward Ivan. He ushered her back stage. Charlie followed them and dropped the backpack next to Sissy’s chair. Melinda guided the rest of the group to the seats she’d saved for them in front before getting up on stage. James “Jammy” Schmidt, Sissy’s agent, slipped in an empty chair next to Charlie. Jammy nodded to Charlie and they turned forward expectantly.
“Thank you for coming,” Melinda said into the microphone. “Sissy will be out in a moment.”
Her eyes flicked over to the piano where Seth’s started the first strains of “A Melody for Amelie.” Having grown up with the song, Melinda smiled at the familiar music. He winked at her.
“Seth O’Malley,” Melinda said with a gesture to Seth. “This is one of the many song’s he’s written. He’ll be disappointed if you don’t sing along.”
The crowd erupted into a wild cheer. He raised his hands and the crowd began to sing along with the song.
“That’s a lot of people,” Melinda said to her fellow instructor.
The man patted Melinda’s hand and leaned in.
“She’ll be fine,” he said.
Melinda gave a quick, anxious nod in reply. The lights dimmed.
Ivan watched Melinda lead Sissy, Tink, and Charlie down the hallway with Seth, Giovanni, and Nadia at their heels. He swallowed hard.
She was really here.
Of course, Sissy realized they were headed to the auditorium and slid to a stop. As he’d seen over and over again lately, Sissy’s face froze with fear. While he couldn’t hear what Seth had said, he knew Seth would say exactly the right thing.
“You’ll know just what to do,” Melinda had said.
He stepped forward.
“Come,” Ivan said. “I will do your hair.”
Seth said something to Sissy and then they both said, “Forward.” Ivan smiled. When she was close, he took her arm and guided her backstage. She was too frightened and too well trained not to follow him without a question. He put her in a chair and pulled down her hood. He took out the band that Charlie had used and moved a thick horsehair brush through her long blond hair. The soothing motions knocked Sissy out of her paralysis. Her eyes opened wide as he pulled her hair into a perfect ballerina bun.
“Are you wearing this?” Ivan asked.
“Oh, I totally forgot,” Sissy said. She started plucking at the sweatshirt.
“Let me help,” Ivan said.
Ivan carefully took the sweatshirt off over Sissy’s head. He smiled when he saw her simple leotard. He used a can of hairspray to cement down any stray hairs. She stepped out of her street shoes and he helped her with the yoga pants. She grabbed her clogs.
“I …” Sissy said.
She turned to him.
“Be your magnificent self,” Ivan said. “This is all I’ve ever wanted.”
“But …” Sissy started.
He simply looked at her.
It was a moment that Sissy would remember for the rest of her life. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t move. He just held her in his eyes. In his look, she saw the wide, open space he held for her. In that space, she saw their life unfold.
“Okay,” Sissy whispered.
He grinned at her. The song came to an end and Seth played the quick tune of Sissy’s very first dance recital. Sissy and Ivan grinned.
She went out on stage. The audience erupted into applause. Grinning, Sissy went up to the microphone.
“I’ve been asked to dance today,” Sissy tried to shout over the audience.
Charlie stood up and whistled again. The audience fell silent.
“As you may know, I haven’t danced in a while,” Sissy said.
At the top of the auditorium, there was a twinkle of light and Mari and Otis appeared out of nowhere. Sissy smiled at them.
“I have fifteen minutes to show that I can still dance,” Sissy said. “We’ve prepared a little performance. We hope you like it. Seth?”
Seth began to play a fast Irish clogging song. Sissy stepped into her shoes and bent over to tie them. She glanced over at him when a woman began to play the violin part of the song. Seth had brought a few players from the orchestra he was working with. Sissy smiled a “Thanks” and he nodded a “Get to it.”
“They never said what kind of dance,” Sissy said with a grin.
With her hands straight at her side, she danced an easy Irish dance similar to the popular Lord of the Dance. The audience clapped and cheered. A few steps in, she was truly happy. She smiled big and kept dancing until the music changed. She slid to the back of the stage and dropped in the chair to gulp down a few deep breaths.
The song picked up in a 3/4th time waltz. Ivan helped her up and she went out onto stage again. Ivan stepped out when an alto saxophone joined in with Seth. The crowd was on their feet. Ivan held his hands out in a traditional dance form. They took off around the stage in a Venetian Waltz. In his arms, they hit every mark. When they reached the back of the stage, he led her to a seat and then he slid off stage.
Sissy sucked in air while she changed out of her tap shoes. She had to be steady and confident to pull off this last bit. The band kept playing until she was ready to go again. She was tying her point shoes when Seth shifted the song to the beginning of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Sissy stepped a few times to seat her foot in the shoes and slid to the side. Ivan dropped a tight black leotard shirt over her head and she slipped her arms in it. The shirt crossed at her heart and went to her waist. She looked at him and he smiled.
Seth shifted from the beginning notes to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake to the Black Swan pas de duex. Melinda gasped and shook her head. The other instructors looked surprised. The crowd fell silent. When the little orchestra began to pick up the song, the crowd dropped down into their seats as if they were in trace.
Sissy came out on toe and Ivan walked out behind her. Sissy began the dance as the Black Swan. Ivan joined her. For the next five minutes, the orchestra played. Sissy and Ivan danced.
It wasn’t perfect.
Sissy was too young of a dancer to do the full dance with precision of a Principal Dancer, but she was damned good. As she spun, she saw the instructors mouths drop in surprise. The crowd sat in stunned silence until the last note.
“Yay!” Charlie yelled and jumped to his feet.
The crowd broke into riotous applause. Even the instructors were on their feet clapping. Ivan led Sissy out to the edge of the stage. They bowed and gestured to Seth and his little orchestra. The musicians bowed as Seth introduced each of them. Ivan led Sissy toward the back of the stage.
Sissy was so thrilled and exhausted that she wouldn’t end up remembering the roses that were thrown on the stage; the endless cheering that was only ended when security started forcing people out of the auditorium; the nice things everyone said; or even the taxi back to the apartment.
She would only remember the sheer joy she felt dancing and the look of pride on Ivan’s face.
“So we start,” Ivan said.
“So we start the dance,” Sissy said.
Wednesday night — 9:25 p.m.
New York City, New York
“You probably didn’t see them …” James “Jammy” Schmidt said.
He looked across the table at Ivan and Sissy. They both shook their heads. Sitting at Jammy’s left, Seth O’Malley shook his head. Only Otis, sitting at the head of the table, was motionless. The waitress appeared as if on command to bring decaf coffee for Seth, tea for Sissy and Ivan, water for Jammy, and a double malted scotch for Otis.
“Your pancakes will be right up,” the waitress said with a nod.
“Thank you,” Otis said.
Sissy had slept late into the evening after her performance. They were only now meeting to have post-dance victory pancakes. Jammy had already spoken to the school so he joined them to share the news.
“See who?” Seth asked.
“Oh, sorry,” Jammy said. “There were five recruiters from other schools in the audience yesterday.”
“I saw man from Bolshoi,” Otis said with a nod of his head.
“I haven’t heard from them,” Jammy said.
“We spoke with him afterwards,” Otis said. “He was very impressed with Sissy and amazed that ‘old man Ivan’ could still dance ‘without a walker.’”
Otis laughed a loud ironic laugh and Ivan shifted uncomfortably. Otis leaned forward.
“But then, he doesn’t know that I knew his father,” Otis said. “Old man, bah!”
They smiled at Otis’s cheerful comment.
“So, we know there was at least one ballet program that hasn’t contacted me,” Jammy said. He took out his phone and made a note. “I will contact them to see why they were there.”
“Why?” Sissy asked with a lift of her shoulder.
“It’s my job,” Jammy said with a smile.
“What does the school say?” Ivan asked.
“They want Sissy back,” Jammy said. “They wanted to know if she wanted to return to her class in her second year or move ahead even further.”
Sissy shook her head.
“I told them that Sissy wanted to return to her first year,” Jammy said.
“I don’t want to miss the time to practice,” Sissy said.
“They warned that you were a year older,” Jammy said.
“There were girls that were 18 in my class!” Sissy said. “That’s just dumb.”
Ivan put his arm around Sissy for comfort. She shook her head.
“They wanted to know about the dance parties,” Jammy said, pressing on.
“What about them?” Ivan asked. “We get together with our friends to dance. What does it have to do with them?”
“That’s what I told them,” Jammy said. “What you do on your free time isn’t really their business.”
“What did they say?” Sissy asked.
“They said that they would have to discuss it,” Jammy said.
“What?” Sissy asked. Ivan made a disgusted sound.
“Their concern is that you’ve already had their students out past curfew,” Jammy said. “If Sissy is there at school, more students and principals will want to go, which means more disruption to their schedule. I told them that we’d talk about working around it.”
“Would I have to stay in the dorms?” Sissy asked.
“They brought that up as well,” Jammy said. “As a first year student, you’re required to live in the dorms at least during the week. They worry that making an exception — especially for a student to live with an instructor. They’re afraid it will set a precedent that would be difficult to defend.
“What does the other schools say?” Otis asked.
“They are interested in Sissy,” Jammy said. “I can make the dance parties a part of the package, if we want.”
“They have all offered free ride?” Otis asked.
“Of course,” Jammy said. “Sissy is a great talent. Every program wants to put their stamp on her.”
The waitress brought the pancakes and refilled their coffee cups. Their attention shifted to their food. No one said anything for a few minutes.
“The offers will be comparable. I’ll make sure of that,” Jammy said. “The question is which school would you like to go to?”
“Oh,” Sissy said. “I don’t know.”
She nodded to Jammy, and turned her focus to her pancakes. Otis started talking and soon the men were laughing. Sissy was so focused on eating that she didn’t realize that Seth had asked her a question.
“Sissy,” Ivan said.
He put his hand on her arm. Sissy looked up at him. He gestured to Seth and Sissy looked at Seth.
“What are you hung up on?” Seth asked.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
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