Chapter 1: Academy of Tango
When in doubt, trust your sixth sense. Your muse sense.
Malena Rodrigo checked the rumpled piece of paper in her hand, then the street name, brushing her dark brown hair out of her face. Yes, she had gotten the address right. Apple and Tottenham. She walked over to the door that read Madam Gonzalez's Academy of Tango, and pushed it open. A gust of warm, nice smelling air washed over her as she stepped in.
"Hola, hola. And who are you?" A plump lady with a beautiful face bustled towards her. She had a very familiar accent.
"Em, I am Malena Rodrigo, I'm here for the tango class." Malena stammered.
"Ah, si si!" The woman extended a hand, which Malena shook. "What a beautiful name. Malena. I am Madame Gonzalez. I will be teaching the tango." Malena nodded. "Now, you need to sign up- that's downstairs- and then you're ready. Lessons start tomorrow." Madame Gonzalez wasted no time. "I assume you're taking group lessons. Malena nodded. "Do you have any flexible high heels?"
"Yes, I have tango shoes." Madame Gonzalez beamed at the news that Malena revealed.
After signing up, Madame Gonzalez bade her goodbye. Malena pushed the door open, a puff of frigid fall air snapping her out of the tango cloud.
She was late to get home, and Malena knew that Barry and Lucille hated it when she was late.
While Malena refused to acknowledge the fact that Lucille and Barry were her guardians, opting to not call them the standard affectionate names for one's parents, they could still take away any free time after school. Malena ran as fast as she could, and quickly unlocked the door.
"Where have you been?" Lucille shrieked as soon as Malena entered the house. Her bony-faced 'mother' glared daggers at Malena, reminding her of the phrase 'if looks could kill'.
"I'm sorry, ma'am. I won't let it happen again." Malena said, teeth gritted.
"You should hope not, girl!" Lucille yelled loudly. "Now get upstairs. I don't want Barry to have to see you. Scram, girl!" Malena raced up the stairs, taking them two at a time, not stopping until she reached the attic. Once there, she sank down on her dirty mattress. Sighing, she leaned back for a while.
Malena did not have an ideal life. She got average grades- Cs and Bs except for in Math (D), and didn't really have any friends. The Incident had driven them all away, and Malena had herself to blame.
After five minutes of resting in silence, Malena got up and padded over to one of the various boxes marked "Garbage". Lucille had wanted to get rid of it all, but Malena had managed to salvage the most important things. Reaching in, she found what she was looking for.
A pair of tango shoes, tope-soled, and made of fine Argentinian leather. It was plain black, with tiny silver flowers that were so small, you had to squint to see them. There were two pairs in the box. The ones that she had and the ones that were two sizes too big. Malena slipped the fitting ones on. Sure enough, they fit her petite feet perfectly. She slid them off, and put them in her backpack for the next day's tango class. With that, she brushed her teeth with a dry tooth brush, ate a few chips, and went to bed.
The next morning, Malena woke to the blaring of her alarm clock. She got up with a start, and began her morning routine. First, she hurried downstairs to make some coffee, and then hurried back up. She brushed her teeth properly, and then put on a red tunic and black leggings. She stuffed a skirt into her backpack just in case. Then she lugged her incredibly heavy backpack down the two flights of stairs, poured a cup of black coffee into a thermal mug, and hurried outside to wait for the bus. Not the school bus- that didn't exist- but the public transportation one. She stood there, a jacket completely forgotten until now.
Well, if life was a big cliché, some handsome hunk would come up, give her his jacket, have me keep it, and have the whole scenario turn into a Cinderella story. Malena snorted. She knew that there really wasn't any such thing as a fairy tale. Luck, maybe. But fairy tales? Nu-uh. The bus rolled up to the stop before Malena could divulge into her musing any longer.
Finally, after six hours of educational torture, school was over. Malena had half an hour to get across town to Madame's. She began running, having memorized the route that she would take during Foreign Languages. She was taking Remedial Spanish- something that she did not need. She was, in fact, fluent in Spanish, but never paid attention, thus landing her a spot in the Remedial class.
Malena watched as her tennis shoes thudded against the cold pavement. She could see tiny feet, turning a perfect ocho, as her mother- no. Don't go there, Lena! She scolded herself for delving into her own cursed past.
She lifted her head up, knowing that the studio was nearing. Ah, there it was, across the street. Waiting patiently for the light to turn from red to green, she noticed another person standing next to her, carrying a shoe bag. He was dressed in crisp khaki slacks, polished leather loafers, and a black blazer covering a white collared shirt with a blue and white tie.
"You here for the tango lessons too?" The boy asked her. Malena looked at his face- the dream boy look. Perfect complexion, with a few freckles, and caramel hair gently waving around his round face.
"Yes. I am." She cursed herself for not saying something witty.
"Yeah, I am too. Obviously." The light turned green and the two made their ways across and to the studio. The boy opened the door for her, causing Malena to blush. No one ever treated her that nicely, not since the Incident.
"I'm Trent, by the way. Trent Lawson." He stuck out her hand as they walked into the foyer.
"Malena Rodrigo." They shook.
"Malena. Interesting name." Trent commented, and Malena's face got dark.
"Yeah." She said. Trent got the blatant message- Malena didn't want to talk about it.
Madame Gonzalez appeared in front of them breaking the tension.
"Hola, Malena and Trent, correct?" The two nodded. "Well, follow me. We can start with just you three."
"Three, Madame?" Trent voiced their confusion.
"Blai Williams is here as well." The two of them nodded. Once they got downstairs, they were introduced to Blai, who seemed really cool.
"Are you acquainted?" Madame asked them, who nodded. "Good. First, we start with the basics. Rhythm." She paired her with Trent first, and started a song. The two were just walking around the dance floor, nothing special.
"Alto. Stop." Madame walked over, and examined them. "Malena, carina, have you danced before?" She nodded quietly. "Your posture shows. Trent, you need to not be so stiff, get into the song. Be part of the song." Trent raised an eyebrow, but Madame had a good point. Madame halted them again to announce the presence of two new girls, Claudia and Desirene. They all shook hands, exchanged a few jokes, then Claudia was paired with Trent, and Desirene with Blai. The song was stopped one last time to announce the presence of someone not short of Barbie-perfectness. Lisette Green. Because Malena knew more about dancing then she did, Malena led her in the place of a guy. Then one last guy arrived- Ryan. Nothing special, except for the fact that she wasn't dancing at all anymore that day. Madame explained at the end of class that the next day, they would pick partners and learn the basics of trusting your partner.
As Malena was leaving, Claudia and Desirene caught up with her.
"Hey, Malena!" Claudia yelled. She stopped and waited for the two to catch up. "Do you need a ride?" Malena accepted the offer gladly, and the three of them trouped to Claudia's Toyota Rav4. They talked about the boys of the class, how much they loved dancing in high heels. Then, the dreaded subject fo how they came to find out about tango came up.
"Yeah, so that's how discovered tango. How about you, Malena?" Claudia turned to Malena, who began sweating nervously.
"Oh, I'm from Argentina, so tango has always been there for me. I just never learned." She told the half-truth, fidgeting nervously.
"OH, how cool!" Desirene gushed. "I've always wanted to go! But yeah, my old boyfriend, Oliver, was really into ballroom dancing, and tango is one of them, so I figured why not? Learn the real dance!"
"I hate ballroom dancing- it's so superficial and fake!" Malena groaned.
"Yeah, did you get a load of that snob, Prisette?" Claudia rolled her eyes. "Geez, that girl is gonna a handful."
"Oh hey, what's up with the partners?" Malena asked. "We're one short."
"Oh yeah, I talked to Madame about that, and she says that there's a guy who couldn't make it to the first lesson." Desirene supplied.
"Well, there's my house." Malena unlocked the door and pushed it open.
"You live there?" Desirene looked up at the fancy house. "Wow." Malena's eyes flicked up to the small, dusty window at the very top that always let too little light in during her mornings in the attic. Claudia didn't miss it.
"You sleep in the attic?" Claudia raised an eyebrow. "That's really not healthy; shouldn't your parents move you downstairs or something?"
"They're not my parents!" Malena ran into the house, and Claudia caught a glimpse of tears on her face. She turned to Desirene with a confused look.
"What was that about?" Claudia wondered.
Desirene shrugged. "Claud, pay more attention. Obviously, Malena is adopted or something. Duh."
"How could you tell?" Claudia looked at Desirene curiously.
"Um, nice, Sherlock Holmes! She's touchy about her supposed parents, and lives in an attic." Desirene snorted. "For an all As student, you're quite slow sometimes."
"Thank you." Claudia smirked over at Desirene.
"That wasn't a compliment."
"Yes, it was."
"Okay, it was."
The next day, Malena got ready groggily and waited for the bus in front of her house as usual. A familiar car rolled up in front of her. It was Claudia's Rav4. The window rolled down, and Desirene stuck her head out of the window.
"Hey, Malena, you want a ride to school?" She yelled loudly. Malena smiled widely, absorbing the feeling of true friendship.
"Yeah, thanks!" She ran up to the car and got in.
"Hey, Malena, sorry about last night. I didn't mean to offend you." Claudia glanced at Malena in the rear-view mirror. Last night? What had happened… oh right. The parents and attic deal.
"No prob. I'd forgotten about that, actually." Malena reassured her.
"Hey Malena, I don't really see you around the school much." Desirene commented.
"Yeah, I'm not one for sticking out." She commented.
"Ooooh, well you're stuck now!" Desirene snickered. "Now that you're friends with us, you'll be known as a Phony-hater."
"I'm sorry, what?" Malena had no idea what a Phony was.
"Oh, underground black school market term for the popular girls." Claudia chuckled. "Desirene and I are… you could say… rebellion leaders against the Phonies."
"So, you're Reallies." Malena joked.
"Oh, perfect. High school, watch out! Here come the Reallies!" Desirene laughed. Malena blushed slightly.
Claudia neatly pulled into a parking spot behind the school.
"Let's move girls." She got out.
"Well at least you didn't call us boys." Desirene murmured to Malena, who stifled a grin. "Or worse, aliens! Gasp!"
"I heard that, Des!"
"Aw, put a lid on it Claud!" Desirene fake punched Claud. By then the three girls were in the building. The throngs of students were stampeding Malena away from the other two.
"See you at lunch Lena!" Claudia called after her. Malena couldn't contain the smile on her face.
Now that she thought about it, she knew Claudia and Desirene. They were practically famous at school, next to the other girls. Not that Malena even knew exactly who the 'Phonies' were anyway. But Claud and Des were the ones who had gate-crashed a popular kid party wearing Kung Fu Panda costumes. Claud had been the panda and Des had been the little teacher with the moustache and big ears. Even Malena, under the rock of gossip deprivation, had heard about that.
I'm finally fitting in, Malena thought to herself. Finally.