“And remember, auditions for Swan Lake are tomorrow!” Sydney’s ballet instructor, Elise, chirped. “Ballet class is dismissed!”
“Syd, who are you auditioning for?” Sydney’s best friend, Natalia, asked as they walked into the dressing room.
“Odette, the Queen of the Swans, of course,” Sydney laughed as she tucked a loose blond curl behind her ear.
“I heard Michelle is auditioning for Odette, too,” Leila, another friend of Sydney’s, said, catching up to them.
Sydney groaned. “Michelle! She’s the best dancer in this entire dance school! Why does she have to audition for the role I want?” She sat down and began taking off her pointe shoes.
Leila laughed sympathetically. “It is the main role in Swan Lake. Who wouldn’t want to be Odette?”
“Me!” Natalia spoke up. “I want to be Odile, the evil girl who tricks the handsome prince into thinking she’s Odette.”
“What about you, Leila?” Sydney asked.
Leila rolled her eyes. “Oh please. I’m not a fabulous dancer like all of you. I’ll just hope I’m a swan.”
Sydney stood up and put on her black coat. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow, OK? Rest up.” On her way out, she bumped into Michelle.
“Watch it,” Michelle snapped, flicking away a loose ebony wisp of hair.
“Sorry,” Sydney mumbled as she walked out the door.
* * *
As the sun peeked over the glittering Lake Michigan, spreading its rosy glow over the city, Sydney sat in her mom’s car, twiddling her fingers nervously. Sydney’s mom eyed her. “You’ll do fine,” Mom reassured her.
“I hope,” Sydney said weakly.
The remainder of the twenty-minute car ride was in silence. Michelle’s sure to get the part of Odette, Sydney thought miserably. That thought did not cheer her up whatsoever. She doesn’t deserve it. I deserve it. I’ve worked so hard for this part!
“Sydney?” Mom’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “We’re here.”
Sydney took a deep breath. “Bye,” she said.
* * *
“Syd!” Natalia exclaimed as Sydney walked into the dressing room. “Are ya ready for auditions?”
Sydney cracked a weak smile. “I’ve felt better.”
“Well, hurry up,” Leila said, tying the ends of her pointe-shoe ribbons. “Elise said we’re starting soon.” Sydney nodded, slipping a perfectly worn pointe shoe onto her foot.
A few minutes later, Sydney heard Elise’s delicate voice. “Group One audition: Abigail, Kelsey, Jessica, Leila, Molly. Group Two audition: Megan, Britney, Ashlee, Natalia, Selena. Group Three audition: Michelle, Britta, Samantha, Kylie, Sydney. OK, girls, let’s get started!”
Elise taught all three groups a combination from a scene in Swan Lake. It wasn’t hard, Sydney recalled later. It wasn’t easy either, seeing as her legs were still shaking with fear.
“Group One!” Elise called. Leila flashed Sydney and Natalia a smile as she started to dance to the light piano music.
“Group Two!” the ballet instructor shouted a few moments later, and Natalia walked to the center of the dance floor, along with the four other girls. As the delicate music began to play, Leila sat down next to Sydney.
“Did I do OK?” she asked. Sydney nodded, eyes closed, and Leila understood. “Don’t be nervous. Just pretend you’re in ballet class.”
Distantly, Sydney heard Elise’s voice call, “Group Three!”
Sydney took her place next to Michelle. “Break a leg,” Michelle smirked.
“Thanks.” “No, really, break a leg.”
Sydney rolled her eyes.
Faintly, she heard the music start. Glissade, soutenu, développé, Sydney thought to herself, going through the steps in her head. She was soaring through the steps, dancing with her heart and soul, and enjoying every minute of it. Sydney was quietly aware of Michelle beside her, doing as well as, if not better than, herself. It didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered was ballet.
The dance ended and Sydney smiled radiantly at Elise, who she saw was scribbling notes on her clipboard. “Very good, everyone,” Elise said, beaming.
“You did so good, Sydney,” Natalia raved as they were walking into the dressing room.
“Thanks, Nat,” Sydney said, “but you’re not the one who chooses the parts.”
As Sydney left the studio, she decided that she’d done the best she could do and she could only hope for the best.
* * *
“Syd!” Natalia squealed the next day as Sydney entered the dressing room. “Hurry up! Elise’s going to announce the cast as soon as everyone’s here!” She grabbed Sydney’s hand and they raced onto the dance floor where all the dancers were crowded.
“Well, it looks like everyone’s here,” Elise said. “OK. So the person who will be Odile is… Natalia Windson!”
“Yes!” Natalia shrieked. “I did it!”
Elise smiled. “Now we have our party guests, present at the party in Act Four. They will be Samantha Grayson, Kylie Johnson, Leila Mason, Selena Lopez, Megan Elsen and Ashlee Rolf.”
Leila looked grimly at Natalia and Sydney.
“Next is our group of swans. They will be Kelsey Bishop, Jessica Bergmann, Abigail Michaels, and Sydney Miles.”
Sydney stood there, stunned. “No,” she whispered. Her head was spinning and her heart pounding. A swan? Me?
She faintly heard Elise saying, “Odette will be played by Michelle Thompson.” Sydney’s eyes welled up with tears and she brushed them away, disgusted with herself.
“Next we have understudies. The understudy for Odile will be Jessica. The understudy for Odette will be Sydney.” Elise looked up from her clipboard and smiled at Sydney.
“See? You’re an understudy!” Natalia poked Sydney. “You still have a chance to be Odette.”
Sydney groaned. Great. I have to go to extra practices for nothing, she thought to herself.
“Syd. I’m so sorry,” Michelle said in mock pity. Sydney brushed past her and walked out the door, seething.
* * *
The days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months and the first show drew closer and closer. Sydney learned her swan part and the part of Odette. She even practiced the grand Pas de deux a few times with Michael, who played the Prince. Sydney loved Odette’s part and wished with all her heart it was truly hers. I should’ve been Odette, she’d say to herself.
* * *
“OK! Michelle! Let’s do the part that starts with ba bum bum bum.” Elise mimicked the music, making Natalia, sitting in the audience, stifle a laugh behind her hand. Sydney caught Natalia’s eye from where she was standing in the right wings. Natalia flashed her a thumbs-up as the music started and Sydney ran out on the stage, fluttering her fingers to look like feathers.
It was dress rehearsal, the day before the first show. Sydney was prepared for both roles, a swan and Odette. She never stopped hoping she would get a chance to be Odette.
“That’s a wrap, everyone! Good job, now go home and get some sleep! See you tomorrow!” Elise said.
That night, Sydney couldn’t sleep. She was so excited, yet disappointed at the same time. I should’ve been Odette, she thought bitterly.
* * *
The next day was warm with a cool breeze, a mild day for mid- June. Sydney arrived at the theater at five o’clock, two hours before the show started. She stretched a little, then proceeded to put her costume on. Her costume was a white-and-silver tutu with silver feathers and a white headpiece. Sydney’s curly hair was pulled back in a bun.
“Syd!” Natalia squealed. “You look fabulous!” Natalia was wearing a black tutu with black tights and pointe shoes to match.
“So do you, Nat.” Sydney turned around and saw Leila who, as one of the party guests, was wearing a silky blue dress and a frilly lace petticoat. Her hair was done in brunette ringlets with a turquoise bow perched jauntily on top.
“Unfortunately for us, so does Michelle.” Natalia gestured over to the large mirror where Michelle stood, attaching glittery fake eyelashes to her eyelids. She was dressed in a tutu as white as snow, with sparkles glistening like snowflakes. Her silky white pointe shoes seemed to shine in the overly intense lightbulbs.
“Ten minutes until showtime, girls!” Elise chirped. “And boys,” she added, glancing at Michael.
“I’m getting nervous,” Natalia shivered, rocking from side to side.
“Relax. You’ll do great,” Leila reassured.
“What if I mess up?” Natalia said.
Sydney left her two friends and started to walk over to where Michelle stood. I should’ve been Odette.
Michelle turned around.
“What?” the raven-haired girl spat.
“…Break a leg.” Sydney smiled halfheartedly. She walked away, leaving Michelle with her mouth wide open.
The music started and Michelle ran out on stage, fluttering her arms and flashing a diamond smile. Sydney and the rest of the swans followed and they proceeded to do their opening dance. Sydney danced her heart out, but she knew it would be hard to notice a lowly swan in the back. I should’ve been Odette…
They were about halfway through the dance when it happened. It seemed like Sydney knew what was going to happen half a second before it did. Michelle started to do a single pirouette en pointe and she mounted wrong. Her ankle bent awkwardly, and she fell, the shimmering body of a swan, lying crumpled on the stage. The audience gasped and Sydney rushed forward, helping Michelle off the stage. She heard Elise’s voice, “We will have a brief intermission,” ring through the theater.
“Are you OK?” Sydney whispered, even though she already knew the answer. Michelle nodded, breathing heavily. She tried to stand up, but moaned in pain and bent over Sydney’s arms.
“I’m fine,” she whispered hoarsely. “I’ve worked so hard to be Odette! I have to keep going.”
Sydney blinked. Michelle also wanted to be Odette. I wasn’t the only one… I should’ve known. Michelle’s just a person… just like me. She looked down and saw that Michelle was crying, her mascara running down her cheeks.
“Michelle?” Sydney asked tentatively. The dark-haired girl looked up. “I’m so sorry… for everything. I was so jealous and I thought… I was so sure that…” Sydney looked at Michelle and saw that she’d already been forgiven.
“I can’t believe you’re apologizing to me.” Michelle wiped a tear that had almost reached her chin. “After how rude I was to you, I never thought you would help me like you just did. I’m really sorry, Sydney. I was jealous of you, too. I mean, you’re always so confident about everything. And then there’s me… always second best.”
“What?” Sydney giggled. “I always thought you were the best dancer here!”
“Really?” Michelle laughed, too.
“Oh, Michelle!” Elise rushed over, a doctor following. “Are you OK? What hurts? Your ankle?” Michelle nodded.
“Well, let me take a look at it,” the doctor said, lifting up Michelle’s foot. “Could you take off your pointe shoe?”
“Sure,” Michelle whispered.
While the doctor was examining Michelle’s ankle, Elise turned to Sydney. “You have to be Odette,” she told her.
“What? Me?” Sydney squeaked. “But… but…”
“Sydney, you have to! You’re the understudy, you know the part.”
Sydney closed her eyes. I should’ve been Odette. How many times had she thought that? Now she was going to be Odette. I should be thrilled, she thought. But why does it feel so wrong? “I don’t have a choice, do I,” she said, more to herself than to Elise.
Elise put a comforting hand on Sydney’s shoulder. “You’ll do great. You know we do ten shows. Maybe Michelle can be in some of them.”
Sydney took a deep breath. “OK.”
Ten minutes later, Sydney stood backstage in Michelle’s Odette costume. She only vaguely heard Elise announce, “Thank you for your cooperation. We will now resume the show.” She only vaguely heard the audience applaud. She only vaguely heard the music begin to play. All she could hear was her own voice. I should’ve been Odette. “No,” she whispered, “Michelle deserved it as much as I did.” Sydney smiled and ran onstage, fluttering her fingers.
* * *
The applause was thunderous. It seemed like every person in the audience was standing, giving Sydney and the rest of the dancers a standing ovation. “It’s over,” Natalia whispered to Sydney as they stood backstage, waiting for their turn to go onstage for a bow.
“The first one, at least,” Sydney smiled at her. “Now, go!” she prodded Natalia in the side.
Natalia ran onstage and curtsied gracefully. People clapped louder than ever and there were even a few playful boys that booed.
Sydney took a deep breath and ran onstage. The applause for her was the loudest, she noticed. She took center stage and waited for Elise to come onstage like she always did.
Elise walked onto the stage and with her was… Michelle. Her ankle was wrapped up, but other than that, she was walking fine. Michelle smiled almost shyly and curtsied. She backed up so she was standing next to Sydney. “You were great,” Michelle whispered.
“Thanks,” Sydney said. “I’m sure you’ll be even better.”
“Friends?” Michelle asked timidly.
“Friends,” Sydney grinned, and the two girls hugged as the curtain closed.