You are hereJust a sneak peek...
Just a sneak peek...
So I've decided to do the young!Stef novel as the next book, for a lot of reasons, this makes a great deal of sense to me.
It's also going to be a book that takes a while to write - as it's first-person, a perspective I'm not comfortable with, careful balancing of a lot of elements, and managing young!Stef as opposed to normal Stef.
I started this book...three years ago, I think, and wrote around 13k, then stopped for a few reasons and it's sat in that state ever since.
And since I've only got 1k of the next gala chapter done and I'm not sure when I'll finish with it (it's got two scenes I'm considering not including), I thought instead I'd give you a peek at the young!Stef novel.
I will warn you and say this is a first draft, and not just the sort of first draft I throw up on here and wait for my editors to deal with - just by rereading it now, there's a lot of things about this I want to change, some are minor, some are voice problems, some things now don't mesh with canon as I'd like, but still, it's an idea of what's to come later this year.
Follow the cut to read...
There was a murmur at the back of my mind, telling me I was late, but I didn’t care. The rain was spotting my costume, and that I actually liked. The slightly darker spots against the pale blue and white fabrics actually let me stand out from the rest of them. We were all clones, at least this way, I could identify myself in the mirror.
The balcony was tiny, usually where the older girls snuck a smoke break, but as soon as the rain had started, they’d run inside, taking last desperate drags on their fags before fleeing the rain like it was toxic waste or something.
Maybe I should have locked the door – Swan Lake as performed by toxic waste mutants might be a little interesting. It was a deviation, sure, but it wasn’t like we were doing the real version in any case. In the original, they’re supposed to die – because they kill themselves – because love makes them crazy. We’re doing the happy-sappy version, with a kiss at the end. I showed Madame Costeau the end of the copy in the dance hall library, but she just tore the sad ending out, and handed me a copy of the script we were going to use.
I sighed, and crouched – there was a small lake forming on the balcony’s tiles – that the other thing, why were we dancing about a lake, and swans? I get that it’s a story, but I don’t think most of the girls know that lakes are actually really dirty places that get you yelled at when you try and swim in one. And that swans are really, really vicious and would probably rather eat you than fall in love with you. And they can break your arm.
The door behind me slammed open – quite a feat for a sliding door, and Madame Costeau frowned down at me. I’m not sure if she was actually mad at me, that’s just the look she has on her face all the time. The wind blew and it got stuck that way.
‘Stephanie!’ she shrieked, ‘are you trying to ruin this performance?’
The word “yes” stuck in my throat, seriously, she’s just that scary. And I wasn’t in the mood to get hit with a riding crop.
I asked father if that was actually child abuse, and he said that ballet was about beauty through pain. But that some things were just pain, and he made it clear he was talking about me.
‘No madame,’ I said as she pulled me into the building.
The other girls were getting ready, all in various stages of their pre-recital rituals. Some were smoking, some were waiting in a ragged line at the bathroom door, waiting to do a nervous puke. Others just robotically went through their movements, as if afraid of forgetting a single movement. Not like we’ve been practicing for weeks or anything.
Seriously, I think some of them would explode if they made a mistake on stage.
Then Katie walked through. Odette. Like there was ever a question of who was going to be the lead. She was tall, pretty, blonde, and a complete female dog. No, wait, that’s an insult to dogs. She’s more like some sort of evil alien that goes around wearing a girl suit – you just know that when people aren’t looking, she’s eating kittens.
Her entourage followed her – her parents, both looking proud-punched, both with cameras around their necks, taking every chance to snap a photo of their little princess from a new angle, or take a beauty shot for her portfolio.
She has a portfolio. It’s kind of sad.
My parents took me to a modeling agency once, just to see if I could do some ads. It didn’t go well. We don’t talk about it.
Katie brushed past me, not even registering that was there, just like I was a ghost or something. It used to freak me out, but excite me at the same time – the thought that maybe I really was a ghost. That maybe, just maybe, I could walk through walls, and go have an adventure in a library or something. Stef Mimosa: Ghost Girl. That could be cool. Stef Mimosa: Ghost Girl Detective. Even cooler.
It was really disappointing when I found out that she was a kitten-eating alien and she did that to everybody. Least she never walked on me. She’s done that to girls not quick enough to get out of her way.
She sat at her station – there were only a couple of dressing rooms in the theatre, but one had been stolen by Madame Costeau, so we were forced to share the other. Katie, of course, had her own spot, where she could demand someone fix her hair, even if it was only one strand out of place – like she was doing now.
‘Daddy, it’s not right, get them to fix it.’ She turned to Jeannie, one of the hair-and-make-up ladies. ‘Fix it! Fix it!’
I walked forward, snatched up the scissors and quickly cut off her bun. The large circle of hair fell to the floor, its ribbon falling neatly on top of it. It kind of looked like a pastry. The rest of her hair fell limply down, and she just stared at me in horror, before shrieking like a banshee.
The sound made me shy away, and I clutched the scissors tightly, just in case she came for me, but only clutched air. I shook my head and looked around – Katie was sitting at her chair, almost yelling at Jeannie to fix her hair, all of which was still in place.
Just a daydream.
I popped a knuckle into my mouth and chewed on it, glad that I hadn’t actually incurred the kitten-eating-alien’s wrath, but disappointed that she was still sitting on her throne.
‘Five minutes girls!’ the Madame called as she walked through, doing little noiseless claps with her hands. That never made much sense to me either, either clap, or flap your hands, it’s one or the other. Claps are supposed to make noise.
Katie rose from her chair, getting last minute touches of glitters and praise from her parents. I looked away from the diva, the kitten-eating-alien no longer interesting – we were about to go and take our opening bow, to a theatre full of proud parents, fans of the play – well, fans of the happy-sappy version of the play – and one thoroughly disappointed mother: mine.
I wasn’t the lead. I wasn’t even one of the featured dancers, I was just another swan. Just one of the background dancers. She had insisted on coming though – she still wanted to take the photos, to hob-nob with the other mothers, to treat her daughter Stephanie like she was the centre of her world though.
Stephanie the dancer. Stephanie, the one who actually enjoyed coming to a torture hall, headed by a crazy French woman who like to hit girls with a riding crop. Stephanie, the one who didn’t mind slipping into a leotard and shoes that constantly needed to be replaced. The one who enjoyed getting her hair pulled back into its own little tight bun.
Stephanie was adorable. Stephanie was the perfect little girl, the one who embraced all of the hobbies paid for by her family, the dancing, the horses. The one who reveled in costumes and dreamed of nothing but dressage prizes.
When the lights came up, and the applause died away, when I just Stef again, the happy-proud mother died away. She believes too much in that camera-can-steal-your-soul thing, but I think she hopes for it every time I’m up there, pretending to be someone I’m not.
Jeannie yanked me from the side, and pushed me into one of the spare stations. ‘Did you have to ruin your make-up? Would it have been that hard to stay out of the rain?’
‘And what?’ I asked, ‘stay in here and die of second-hand smoke?’
She snorted, and began to reapply make-up to the sections that had been washed away by the rain, covering me up in yet another layer. I looked at myself in the mirror, the make-up making me so pale, that I could have been the ghost girl detective.
Around the frame were mostly pictures of Madame Costeau, back in her glory days, back in the days when she was – just in her opinion, I’m sure – one of the best. Sure, it was better than teaching a bunch of rich brats, but I don’t think she was the star that she always said we had to aspire to be. A heavenly body, in the scheme of things, maybe, but more like a moon, or a big rock that’s gonna come and smash down the London bridge.
I looked down at my costume – the warm air of the backstage had dried away most of the wet spots, and I wished that the balcony had been dirtier, then at least I could have splashed some mud onto it.
‘There,’ Jeannie said, ‘best I can do.’ She pushed me from the chair. ‘Claudia, come here, your hair is messy again!’
I moved away quickly, not wanting to be in the way of a woman with scissors in her apron. My shoes were waiting over in my – pink – backpack, and it was time to put them on – I hadn’t dared put them on when I went for my escape into the rain. I’m leading a crazy double-life, but I’m not stupid.
They were white, no big surprise there. I slipped them on, knowing that I wouldn’t be wearing them after the shows – they would be framed, with whatever best shot mother had taken. It wouldn’t be displayed, of course, but it would be framed all the moment. Stephanie’s Kodak moment forever preserved.
I took a quiet corner, idly watching the line of puking girls grow smaller and smaller – I wondered what was the point of eating just so you could throw it up, then again, if there was anything in my stomach, I might have done the same, if only out of disgust. Mother didn’t like me eating before performances, so we would go out after, and she’d buy me whatever I wanted. Those time were always horrible, she always seemed to get the most confused look on her face, but as soon as I opened my mouth, she’d remember that I was Stef, not Stephanie, and the confusion would go away. Maybe I should pretend to be a mute.
She’s a good mother, don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I ever want for anything, and I don’t go hungry. I don’t live in the basement, or under the stairs or anything. She’s just...not very huggy. She likes the illusion of her daughter, not the reality. When I don’t fit into her box, or her camera lens, she’s colder than a snow queen.
It’s not fair. When an animal mother rejects a baby, it either pushes it from the nest, or eats it. It doesn’t try and love it, and force it into little frilly costumes.
Madame Costeau ran through with more no-noise clapping. ‘It’s time, girls, it’s time!’
We ran on stage, in a practiced spread, giving the audience a taste of what they were going subject themselves to, then took a bow, and ran off, leaving only Madame Costeau to talk about us, about the play, and the meaning of true love.
True love is a good book. You can give it so much, but it always gives you more in return. You can reject, then go crawling back to it, and it will always welcome you back with open pages. It’s always the same, it’s always different, it’s a wonderful constant. True love is not falling in love with a swan, then drowning yourself in a lake. That’s just stupid.
The Madame finished her speech, the lights went down, and the play began.
Katie was wonderful, of course she was, that’s her job. I was the back-up, that was my job. The raindrops had completely dried by the time I went on, my master plan once again going awry. I didn’t even try and see mother in the sea of faces. Sea of faces, that’s kind of a disturbing image if you think about it. But, I turned my face toward the audience a few more times than I should have, just so she could get her shot.
She gets her shot, I get a milkshake, it’s a fair deal.
I wanted to trip the diva. I wanted to scream at the people that they were watching swans dance. I wanted to make up some statistics about swan-related deaths, and how the prince should have gotten counseling, not been allowed to die in an over-sized duck pond.
It wouldn’t have made a difference though, they all wanted the illusion. They all wanted to watch little girls in costumes pretend to be swans. They all wanted the happy-sappy ending. I ran off stage with the other swans, tugging at my costume. We were all swans, I just wanted to be the the ugly duckling.
An age of man later, the performance was over. We all took a final bow, thundering applause ringing in our ears. I didn’t screw up, so I could take solace in that, but it’s hard to be proud when you know that none of the applause are for you. For the diva, yes. For the dance troupe as a whole, yes. But none for me. Ok, maybe mother was clapping for Stephanie, but Stephanie was going to die as soon as she got of the stage, and not appear again until Thursday next week.
I ran off stage as soon as the applause died down. I had to keep the leotard costume on, just so that when we went out, they could all see that I was a dancer, and therefore, by extension, that mother was the mother of a dancer.
I grabbed my horrible pink backpack, and slipped it over my shoulders. I knew where to find mother, she’d deliberately pointed out the spot several times, just in case remembering one spot was too hard for little Stephanie’s brain.
I slipped out, brushing past the burgeoning rush of parents, all of whom were shaking the stage manager’s hand as they walked past. He smiled, handed me my rose – Madame Costeau always organised for each of us to get a rose – this time, it was white, wrapped in delicate blue tissue paper, and then went back to shaking the parents’ hands.
Mother was in the lobby, talking with her “recital friends” - the ones she only ever saw at the performances, or at a related event. They would go on and on about almost nothing, probably trying to avoid the fact that they weren’t really friends, and just hung out, cause it was embarrassing for adults to hang out by themselves.
She saw me, and smiled at Stephanie. She took a few steps toward me and bundled me up, in a dramatic hug, squishing her boobs against my head. ‘You were wonderful,’ she said. It was the ritual, she would praise me in front of her recital friends, I would respond, and then we could safely ignore me in the car.
She released me from the embrace, and her eyes fell on my rose. ‘Oh, that’s beautiful, see? You were wonderful.’
‘We all were,’ I said – it was the only response I could give, all of the girls were going to get one of the roses, but I wasn’t going to knock back praise aimed in Stephanie’s direction.
She waved her her friends and, well, swanned toward the door. She immediately put up her umbrella to protect her perfect hair from the few weak drops of rain still falling from the clouds. The clouds were still nice and dark though, promising plenty of rain later – which was wonderful, there was nothing better than curling up in your window seat, relishing an old adventure.
Rain always made everything more real. It was strange, it always seemed to cut my room off from the world – not that my parents bothered me a lot – while opening up the rest of the world. Anything could happen on a rainy afternoon, or a rainy night. It was so easy to see things in the rain that weren’t really there, to see shapes that would disappear as soon as you saw them. Rain’s magic.
Mother tilted the umbrella toward the rain, intent on not being spotted by a single drop. I, on the other hand, was stepping in every tiny puddle that I could see – the cool water leaking in through my flats – it was ok, I had other shoes in the car, and not horrible pinchy ones – ballet days were one of the few days when I didn’t have to wear little-perfect-princess pincy shoes, and could get away with sneakers. And that was good, even if they were pink.
There was a huge puddle up ahead, almost a lake on its own, the kind the other swans would want to avoid at all costs, the kind that was actually wet and dirty, and it called to me. It wanted me to jump in it – that’s what puddles are for, after all.
A soft-but-firm yank on my backpack – which I sometimes think is my remote control – pulled me away from the motherload puddle and toward the mothermobile. Mother’s car is a tiny hatch-back thing, the kind that you have to push a seat forward in order to get into the back – and I had to sit in the back of course, her purse got to ride in the passenger seat.
She immediately put a CD on, one of the singers she likes, a Canadian lady, I think. The music wasn’t that loud, not the cops-pull-you-over-what’s-the-problem-ma’am kind of loud, just loud enough so that it wasn’t worth trying to talk over.
She started the car, and we pulled out of the car park, passing other proud parents and their little swans. Just through the gap in the seats, I could see the camera – I hope she got her shots while I was up on stage, there’s nothing better than having to pose later on, it’s so stiff, and she treats me like a puppet. “Move your head this way. Hold the rose a little higher. Lift your arms over your head.’
Of course, mother, I surrender, just get me my milkshake.