This story is for all the loyal readers of Aelyn's Story and for all my dancing buddies.
I stared at the walls of my basement, packing boxes at my feet, unsure of where to start. Two of the walls were covered in mirrors and on the shelves lining the other two walls were an assortment of plaques, medals and trophies that chronicled the thirteen years of Jamie Hennessey's dancing history. I remembered how mom had bought the shelves from Ikea, insisting that we keep every prize from every competition on display in the basement where I practiced. Now all I had was an empty basement with walls of trophies and no mom.
I've seen nearly every ballet movie ever made, and the plots are always the same. Whenever disaster strikes the poor prima ballerina, she hangs up her dancing shoes in despair until some devastatingly handsome boy shows her that she was made to dance. If, by some incredible chance of will power, she decides to continue with her dancing it's always her escape from the harsh reality of the aforementioned disaster.
I don't mean to sound cynical, I really don't. And don't get me wrong, I love ballet movies. I love the costumes and the dancing and the cheesy love stories. And I always cry when the girl finally makes her big breakthrough and overcomes her tragedy. I especially love the old song and dance classics, like Singin' in the Rain and Royal Wedding. But I just know that my own story was incredibly different from the movies, and when my disaster struck, it wasn't just dancing that saved me.
But I digress. Here I was, just days after disaster had struck, still staring blankly at the walls, and trying not to cry as I pictured my mom dusting the shelves every Tuesday, like she always had. I slowly started packing the small trophies from my feises when I was still a beginner, wrapping each one carefully in newspaper. The Waterford crystal that I had won in my more advanced competitions had already been packed carefully with mom's china in the boxes being stored until my older brother Jack decided what he wanted to do with them.
I heard the front door open and close, and I wondered if Jack would remember to oil it before Aunt Jessie and Uncle Liam moved in. Seconds later my friend Abby called down the stairs to me. "Jamie? Are you still down there?"
"Yeah, I am," I called back up to her. "Come on down, I'm just packing up some stuff." I could hear her thumping down the stairs, and soon she was standing next to me.
"Jack let me in," she giggled. "It's kind of weird that I never knew you had an older brother, and now I get to see so much of him," she said.
I didn't really know how to answer that, so instead I shoved a box at her. "Can you help me pack these up?" I asked her.
"Sure," she said, and began cramming trophies into her box. I knew I was going to have to repack them neatly, but I said nothing, just continued putting my own box neatly on top of another and beginning to pack up a second shelf.
I guess I should explain about Abby. We weren't really friends until she started dating my best friend Dave, and even then, we got off to a rocky start. Finally Dave explained to her that I was his best friend no matter who he dated, and she was going to have to accept me. And two weeks after that, my mother was killed in a car accident, and here was Abby, trying to make up for any of her own guilt at not treating me better when they first started going out.
Sometimes it was hard for me to accept the fact that Dave and Abby were a couple. It's not that I was one of those jealous best friend types; both of us had dated other people, and I was still friends with some of Dave's old girlfriends. But Abby just grated on my nerves, especially now that she was over my house "helping" all the time. I had a feeling that my handsome older brother had something to do with her willingness to spend hours helping me.
It wasn't hard to imagine what Dave saw in her, though. Abby was small and slim, but with curves in all the right places, unlike me. I'm tall and thin with barely any curves, and legs that seem to go on forever. Her dark hair had just the right amount of wave to be curly or straight, depending on how she styled it, and her big brown eyes made her look very innocent, something both Dave and I knew that she wasn't. Somehow I had a feeling that the two of them were just a summer fling.
So after enduring an hour of her ceaseless chatter, I extricated myself from her offers of help with dinner, and collapsed on the couch to relax for a minute before moving on to my dinner preparations. Mom had been an incredible cook, something I always took for granted. And since my cooking skills consisted of Kraft macaroni and cheese or Campbell's soup, I had a lot of learning to do before I moved in a month.
I eased off the couch, twisting my red hair into a long braid and fastening it with a pony tail holder as I wandered into the kitchen and stared blankly at the recipe book sitting on the counter. Mentally shaking myself for day dreaming again, I started to cut the tomatoes and cucumbers I had picked from our garden earlier that morning. Once I was finished, I took a jar of mom's tomato sauce from the refrigerator and began to cook some pasta.
Jack came in at five thirty and sat at the kitchen table without speaking. We were still getting used to each other after having only seen one another on holidays for the last seven years. My brother and I don't really look anything like each other, but you can tell we're siblings. He's built like my dad, slightly stocky, with black almost-curly hair and clear blue eyes. His hair was longer than most boys wore it, and he usually had a scruffy beard. He had a master's degree in education from Rutgers University, where he had gone when I was only ten.
So now that he was really the only family I had, I was moving to New Jersey, to go to the high school where he was a history teacher. In less than a month, I would be living with him in North Plainfield, going to a different school than the one where I had done my first three years. My dance teacher had researched schools for me in the area, and decided that there was one in Westfield that I should go to. What she didn't understand was that all these places were simply names to me, and I had no idea what my new life was going to be like.
"How was your day?" he asked me, drawing me out of my reverie. Get with it Jamie, I told myself. You spent most your time staring off into space.
"Long," I answered truthfully. "Abby was here again," I added unnecessarily.
"I know," he replied, coming over to stir the sauce. "I let her in." When he saw the look on my face, he stopped stirring to look at me. "If she bothers you that much, then don't hang out with her."
"I have to," I said, not unaware of how lame it sounded. "She's Dave's girlfriend."
"That doesn't mean she has to be your best friend," he said, dishing up two plates of the pasta and pouring sauce over them. "And besides, in three weeks you won't have to see her anymore unless you really want to."
I wanted to say "Thanks for reminding me. Thanks for making me remember that my life is never going to be the way it was," but I knew I couldn't, so we ate the rest of our meal in silence.
After dinner, Jack disappeared to drink his troubles away, and I stayed in the kitchen long enough to wash our few dishes and clean the counters before making my way down to the basement to practice. I quickly changed into shorts and a t-shirt and pinned back my bangs. I was still cursing my friend Anna for suggesting that I cut them in the first place, because along with looking like everyone else who wore side bangs, I had to pin them back every time I wanted to practice or compete. I made a mental note to start growing them out, and then forgot about them as I stretched out carefully.
After strapping on my hardshoes, I made my way carefully to the cd player that was propped up on the boxes of trophies. I took my newest practice cd out of the case and put it in, listening carefully as I searched through the tracks for The Storyteller, which was my newest set dance. I would only have one more feis with my old dance school before I moved to New Jersey, and I wanted to make sure that I did well, for my teacher's sake as much as my own pride.
For the next forty five minutes I was lost in the world of the heavy jig, my feet moving in rhythm to the music I knew so well. I did my set piece so many times that my feet seemed to do it of their own accord, and I could let my mind wander. I was so engrossed in my own thoughts and in the dancing, that I didn't notice that Dave had come down the stairs and was standing there watching me.
The music stopped, and so did my feet, and for a moment the silence of the room jolted me back into awareness. "Bravo," came Dave's familiar voice, and I looked up to see him standing there, grinning the same crooked grin that I knew so well.
"I didn't see you come in," I gasped, reaching for the water bottle that I always had with me when I practiced.
"I didn't think you had," he said, leaning an arm on one of the now-empty bookshelves. "Because if you had you would have stopped dancing." He grinned again. "So I'm glad you didn't, because I haven't gotten to see you dance in a while."
"I have a competition coming up," I answered as I bent to unbuckle the hardshoes that were beginning to give me more blisters. My feet always looked as though something had chewed on them, so I rarely wore sandals.
"Cool," he answered. "Does that mean you need to practice more?"
I had a feeling that I knew where this was going. "Why, what's up?"
"Well, Abby's got her grandma's birthday tonight, and we were supposed to go see a movie, and now I have an extra ticket."
"What time's the showing?"
"7:30, in South Grafton. It's a showing of My Fair Lady." Dave also knows that I would never say no to an old time classic with Audry Hepburn.
"Give me five minutes," I said, racing up the stairs to change. It took me all of thirty seconds to put on a pair of jeans and a black tank top, then I ran to the bathroom to comb my hair and brush my teeth. I stared in the mirror for a minute as I brushed my teeth, looking at the girl who looked so much like my mother.
Hazel eyes stared back out of the mirror at me, set in a pale face with a spattering of freckles across the nose and cheeks. Red bangs swept across the long forehead and straight thick red hair fell past the shoulders. I remembered when Jack had first come home for mom's funeral, just three weeks ago.
"Jamie Hennessey, you look just like mom. I had no idea you'd gotten so tall," he said with what was supposed to be a smile, but somehow wasn't.
"It's been two years since we saw you, Jack." I knew it wasn't the best answer, but it was all I could think of. My brother was just as much of a stranger to me as the dad who had died of cancer when I was four years old.
"I know. I wish I had come home more often, but life's been so crazy. Now I really wish I hadn't been gone so long." He ran a hand through his black hair. "Mom's will said she wanted us to live together if anything happened to her, but I completely understand if you want to stay here with Aunt Jessie and Uncle Liam."
The idea of staying in this house with my aunt and uncle instead of my mother was terrible. "I'll come with you," I said, not thinking then that he might not want me. Now I knew he didn't, but it was too late to take it back.
"Jamie!" Dave's calling up the stairs made me realize that I was still staring in the mirror.
"Coming!" I yelled back down, grabbing a pair of flip flops and a ten dollar bill.
We both jumped into his dad's old beat up jeep and the ride over was relatively quiet. "Abby was over today," I told Dave. "I didn't realize she had a family thing tonight."
"She doesn't," he answered grimly, and I realized I had said too much.
"Sorry," I replied, and we drove in silence the rest of the way to the movie.
The movie was fantastic, just as it always will be. My Fair Lady is one of those stories that every girl wishes would happen to her, especially when they see Audry at the end of the movie, a beautiful woman with a beautiful voice. As Dave and I climbed back into the car I sighed, wishing that real life had happy endings like the movies.
Dave turned the radio on, a habit of his that let me know he was nervous. "What's on your mind?" I asked.
He pretended to have his mind on driving and the traffic, so I switched the radio off and asked him again.
He ran his hand through his blondish-brownish curls, another sign that he was nervous or upset about something. "I'm going to miss you Jamie," he said finally, not looking at me because he was merging onto a highway.
"I'm going to miss you too, Dave," I said, looking out the window into the summer night.
"You're my best friend, Jamie," he said, stopping the car at a red light and looking at me. "I mean, you're practically the only person who's remained constant in my life since my parent's divorced and I broke up with Lisa."
"Dave," I said quietly, in my most soothing voice, because I didn't know what else to say.
He pulled off the road and parked in the parking lot of a Seven Eleven convenience store. "Call me crazy," he said, "but I think we should go to the beach."
"At this time of night?" I asked incredulously.
"It'll be our last hurrah before you move to New Jersey," he said, grinning at me.
For a minute I almost said, "Let me call my mom and let her know what we're doing," but then I remembered that I could never call mom again. The thought made me shudder. But it wasn't like Jack would even notice if I wasn't there, so I turned to Dave, and answered, doing my best to smile. "I'd love to," I said. "It'll be an adventure."
It was a typical Dave and Jamie night, the two of us parking at the beach at midnight and kicking off our sandals to run up the dune that separated the parking lot from the ocean. When we reached the top, we grabbed hands like we always did and jumped down onto the cool dry sand. Then it was a race to see who could reach the water first.
Dave reached the ocean first, and I nearly crashed into him as I barreled down the sand and into the little waves that were lapping around his ankles. "Second place, Jamie," he taunted me good naturedly. "Not up to your usual standards, eh?"
I made no reply, but instead dragged my foot up in a high, an Irish dancing move that left him dripping wet and glaring at me as I ran away from him and away from the water. "I'll get you my pretty," he screeched, running after me. "And your little dog too!"
In a matter of minutes he had caught up with me and tackled me, and we both just lay on our backs, gasping a little and staring at the stars. The sound of the waves was peaceful, and the slight breeze was soothing. Before I knew it I could feel my eyes closing as I let the stress and pain of the last few weeks roll away. "Jamie," Dave said presently, and I answered with a long sleepy sigh.
"I should probably get you home," he said, standing up and accidentally shaking sand all over me. I didn't bother to answer, but got shakily to my feet, trying to stretch like a cat and nearly falling over in exhaustion. Before I knew what was happening, Dave was scooping me up in his arms and trudging back to the car. He had taken about three steps when I started protesting.
"You can't carry me," I slurred, struggling to get out of his arms. "I'm too heavy."
"That's what friends are for, Jamie," Dave huffed, walking even more slowly. Unfortunately for Dave though, I was right, and after four more steps he tripped and we both fell to the ground, the impact jarring me from my half-conscious state. I laughed merrily, and he joined in slightly ruefully. "I guess it wasn't such a hot idea, huh?"
"Not especially," I said, giving him a hand up as we made our way back to the car.
The ride home was pretty funny, because Dave was blasting salsa and meringue music in efforts to stay awake as he drove. Since neither of us spoke a word of Spanish, we bellowed along what we thought the singers were saying, and our version of the lyrics was sometimes more than a little amusing.
"No tango un cortisone seen el a more to yo," Dave sand along with "Fernando", who was singing something more like this: "No tengo un corazon sin el amor tuyo." (My Spanish lessons would start in New Jersey.) By the time we reached my house, it was six in the morning, and we were both looking a little worse for the wear.
"Thanks for taking me out last night, Dave," I said as I climbed unsteadily out of the jeep. "It was good to get out of the house."
"I know," he said, and he really did. Dave always knew what I needed. "Jame," he said, suddenly serious, "I want you to promise me that we'll stay friends, no matter what happens this next year."
His eyes were strangely intense, and I had trouble meeting his gaze as I tried to answer easily. "Of course we'll stay friends, Dave. I couldn't survive without you and Anna."
I know, his eyes said as he gave me his usual grin. "I love you Jamie Hennessey," he said as he turned his car back on.
"I love you more Dave Ford," I answered as I turned and went into the house.