I had never even thought about what I could do with ballet in my life. It was always just there. A little part of my life, one small piece of the pie of my world; twice a week, five o’clock to seven o’clock, barre to center. I wasn’t on pointe shoes yet, either. Ballet was just a hobby.
* * *
I slouch down in my white shag lounge chair and sigh. I lie there for a moment before grabbing my book and curling up to read. It’s just starting to feel like spring outside. There is new mud and water on the crowded streets below and the trees in front of the apartment are beginning to bud. My favorite time of year. Especially because of my eleventh birthday, in May!
“Lavender?” Mom calls. I look up to see her standing in my doorway. Mom sits down on my quilted bedspread and smiles.
“It’s Grandma Lilly’s birthday tomorrow,” she starts. Snap! I think to myself. I forgot! Trying not to look guilty, I nod.
“We are inviting her to see the New York City Ballet perform Swan Lake at the David H. Koch Theater tomorrow evening. What do you think?”
My mind races with thoughts of the New York City Ballet. I have never seen them dance in person before, and I am instantly excited. My grandpa’s favorite ballet to dance when he was a professional dancer was Swan Lake. He loved the blue-and-lavender backdrop of the lake scene. Sadly, he passed away the day before Azure was born. It’s also Grandma’s favorite ballet, though she never danced. It has always reminded her of Grandpa.
“Great!” I say, and go back to my reading. The ballet is forgotten for the rest of the day. I don’t even think about it when I make Grandma Lilly a birthday card and wrap the pink vase I painted for her at Pretty Paints.
* * *
As I lie in bed for a few minutes after Mom and Dad say goodnight, this is when I finally remember Swan Lake. But it is forgotten moments later as I drift off to sleep.
I dream I am a ballerina, floating across the large stage on delicate pointe shoes. I’m wearing a gauzy swan costume and a feather headpiece royally frames my face. My feet move like a swan’s should, gracefully, each step like a string of precious gems. Then I fall. My feet slide out and I lie still on the black stage. But it wasn’t an accident, I know. It was mystifying choreography.
My eyes shoot open and I find myself staring straight into the eyes of a pretty girl with a long thin ponytail and blue-framed glasses. Sunlight streams in from the pillow-sized window above my dresser and I can see her clearly.
“Good morning, Lavender!” the girl excitedly says in a soft voice. A police siren outside suddenly jolts my memory.
“Azure!” I cry, and wrap my arms tightly around her neck. I can feel her heart glowing as I hug her. “Is Dad already off on his business trip?”
She reluctantly nods. “But I’m here, right?”
My older sister, Azure, is nineteen and in her first year of college in Florida. She usually never comes home because she always goes to my Aunt Kate’s house (she lives near her) during short breaks. Plus, we’re faaaaar away in NYC! We only get to see her on occasional short breaks and always on long ones.
I slide out of bed and slip on my soft penguin slippers.
“Want breakfast?” Azure offers. She has a sly glint in her eye that her glasses can’t hide.
“What did you do?!” I whisper excitedly. Azure is the Queen of Tricksters. Butter on my ballet shoes (my dance teacher got so mad!), Jell-O smoothies, you name it, she’s done it. But I was surprised this time.
“French toast on cinnamon bread! Bought it myself on the drive home from the airport!” she cries. My eyes get wide. That’s my all-time favorite food, except for the New-York-style pizza the vendor outside the apartment sells!
I rush around the corner to the kitchen and settle in the light wooden chair closest to my room. Mmmmmm… I can smell the cinnamon as Azure pops six slices on a platter. I jump up, do an arabesque, and grab both of us tableware and sit back down. The two of us whisper until Mom stumbles into the kitchen wearing her blue bathrobe, disheveled hair, and still looking half asleep.
“Azure, you’re home!” Mom cries. She hugs my big sister tightly.
“I know! I needed to be here for Grandma’s birthday, and to see Swan Lake!” Azure replies excitedly. Two years ago, Azure was an amazing dancer, the star of our studio. But sadly, she quit due to an ankle injury and never really wanted to try ballet again. She’s majoring in art and fixes to be a high school art teacher someday.
I join the hug enthusiastically, and we stand like this for almost a full minute.
* * *
The day rolls by like a puff of a cloud on a breezy day, what with Azure here. Before I know it, it’s time to get ready for Swan Lake.
I select from my closet a ruffled navy-blue skirt that goes well with my eyes. Then I add a sky-blue tank top and a white half-sweater with a delicate blue rose. Perfect. I stand in front of my floor-length mirror and do a pirouette.
“Lovely,” Azure compliments me. She is sitting on my floor. “But just remember to turn out your standing leg!”
“Well then, Ms. Prima Ballerina!” I answer, hands on hips. We laugh and I sit down on my bed while Azure does a French braid in my hair.
“I wish Dad was here,” I whisper. Behind me, I can sense Azure’s frown.
“Me too. Business trips just take up a lot of time,” she replies sadly. I nod. I have to remember every detail for him.
* * *
Thirty minutes later, I am standing, staring, all starry-eyed, at the David H. Koch Theater building. This is where the New York City Ballet dances. It’s overwhelming! Azure’s eyes show she is in heaven on Earth. Grandma’s eyes are welling with tears as she thinks of Grandpa, how they met after he danced in this ballet many years ago. As we are about to enter the theater, I pick a flower from the bushes and tuck it in the end of my braid. Then I follow my family inside.
“Isn’t this just beautiful, Grandma?” I ask as we take our seats. I am in between her and Azure, in this massive space. A gigantic ball-shaped chandelier adorns the ceiling, and balconies grace the sides of the theater. But I can’t take my eyes off the curtain.
“Sure is,” she replies. Suddenly, the light goes dim and the audience hushes in bubbling anticipation.
Within moments, the dancers on the stage intrigue me. I watch the World’s Best Dancer, Ebonie Estel, as Odette, whirl across the stage. The way her arms move, how her tutu floats, the way the feathers frame her face and ebony black hair—my eyes are glued on her. I believe she’s a swan. The ballerinas enchant me. I’m lost in their world, helpless, yet in heaven. In the prince’s place, I see Grandpa. I feel connected to the dance and a strange but warm feeling comes over me. All I know now is ballet. I’m not aware of Mom and Azure whispering, or even of Grandma blowing her nose. But I can see the way that the swan’s arms are crossed over her outstretched leg as she is dying. Before I know it, the curtain falls. I applaud frantically, louder than anyone in my earshot.
“Let’s go before it gets crazy,” says Mom. We file out in a straight line like soldiers.
“Amazing, wasn’t it, Lavender?” Azure asks. I nod, lost deep in thought.
“Is something wrong, honey?” Mom queries. I look up at her with deep longing in my eyes.
“No, Mom. I was just thinking… I know now.” I pause.
“I need to be a ballerina.”