“You’re favoring your knee again,” Madame Jocie called over the majestic piano music pounding through the speakers in the otherwise empty practice room.
“It’s just been a long day,” Winnie called back, annoyed that her ballet instructor had interrupted her flow. “I just need some ice.” The music stopped abruptly but Winnie continued spinning on pointe, finishing her series of pirouettes without missing a beat.
Winnie didn’t need the music playing through the speakers in order to hear Jarrod Radnich’s arrangement of Carol of the Bells in her head. She only wished she could dance across the stage as rapidly and passionately as his fingers danced across the keys of his piano.
She ended her series of turns, landing in fourth arabesque and shifted her spot in the mirror to meet the pointed glare of her ballet mistress who stood a few feet away.
“Your back leg is where you get your power for those pirouettes.” Madame Jocie’s purposely calm words were more terrifying than her shouting at a class full of freshman ballerinas with weak ankles. “You’re this close.” She held up her fingers as if pinching a grain of sand.
“I know.” Winnie’s eyes lowered to where a dusting of chalk collected in a divot created by someone’s overzealous tap shoe.
“Your performance is in less than three weeks.” Madame Jocie’s reminder encouraged Winnie to lift her chin with confidence. “Talent scouts will be in the auditorium. This is your chance, Edwina. Don’t screw this up.”
“I won’t let you down, Madame. I promise.” Winnie’s confidence soared and she knew her words to be true.
“This isn’t about me. These are your dreams. I’m a washed-up old ballet mistress teaching college level dance rather than donning a tutu at the New York City Ballet.”
“At one of the finest universities in the world,” Winnie pointed out. Teaching dance at the University of Michigan was hardly something to sniff at. The theatre and drama department at U of M was world-renowned. They didn’t hire second-rate instructors.
“I want you to call it a day and head over to the training room and get that knee checked out.”
“Yes, Madame.” There was no way Winnie was going to argue. Her knee was throbbing just enough make her cautious. She turned to head over to gather her belongings and sit down to remove her toe shoes.
“When was the last time you ate?”
Winnie stopped walking and avoided Madame Jocie’s penetrating gaze. “I was going to head over to get a protein smoothie on my way to the trainer.”
“I promise,” Winnie whispered.
“Lots of berries, kale, and avocado, and see if they’ve got some olive oil they can throw in there.”
Winnie shuddered and stuck out her tongue. “Yuck. I don’t think they have olive oil at the smoothie shop, but I’ll ask.” She hoped her ballet mistress didn’t hear the lie Winnie was trying to slip past.
“You know, I’m kind of hungry myself.” Madame Jocie followed Winnie to the door and untied her dance shoes also, reaching for her street shoes. Guess she didn’t believe the lie. “Let’s go get some smoothies together.”
“That sounds… lovely.”
With her parents’ wealth, Winnie didn’t exactly need anyone buying her dinner, but she wasn’t going to argue or Madame Jocie would become even more suspicious.
Winnie would drink as much of that smoothie as her body could handle and throw the rest away. She wasn’t going to risk puking it back up on the long walk to the training room. She might be struggling, but she wasn’t stupid. Nutrition needed to stay inside the body once it was there. Period. Getting it in there was the hard part.
She finished untying her toe shoes, pulled on some long, warm socks over her tights, slipped on the most comfortable pair of soft leather boots ever created by the finest cobblers her parents could afford, and wrapped herself in layers of sweaters and a parka. Michigan in November was not the kind of place to walk across campus in the chill of twilight. Especially for someone with so little fat on her bones. Madame Jocie was right. She needed to add some oil into that smoothie.
They mostly walked in silence, huddled against the wind and chill in the air. The smoothie shop was only a few hundred feet from the entrance of the performing arts building but it was far enough that her knee hurt even more from walking in the cold.
The smoothie shop was relatively packed with college kids and the main topic of conversation was the football playoffs. Michigan was rumored to be in the running for the Rose Bowl this year. That was pretty big time. Even Winnie was impressed and eavesdropped on the two guys in front of them in line. Something about a defensive tackle who got past the linemen and pummeled the quarterback. She tried not to roll her eyes. She also tried not to gag at the sheer volume of food they ordered.
At last, the moment arrived when they noticed her. There was always the moment. Guys tended to do a double take when they looked at her. Winnie knew she was beautiful. Tall, slim and elegant. And guys were predictable. Like their hormones controlled their jaw that dropped, and their eyes that couldn’t help traveling down and then up her body. And then their gaze would lock with hers and she’d smirk and raise her eyebrows and they’d come out of their testosterone-induced hypnosis. It was kind of adorable.
Football player number one and football player number two stepped aside with a gesture of inviting her to step up to the counter and order her food. Football player number two was kind of cute. He exuded confidence like he knew he was hot and sexy. And, dang it, he was. Sandy brown hair with a hint of a curl, a five o’clock shadow, broad shoulders and muscular but not too stocky.
Winnie glanced over at him several times while Madame Jocie ordered exactly what kind of smoothie she wanted Winnie to drink. Every time she glanced his way, football player number two was still smiling that cocky little smile that insinuated he’d welcome another cheerleader into his life. Too bad for him, Winnie wasn’t a cheerleader. She was a prima ballerina. Likely to leave college with a one-way ticket to New York City.
Madame Jocie handed her the plastic order number and pointed for her to go stand over there and wait while she paid. Right beside football player number two.
Winne pulled a page from the guys’ playbook and allowed her eyes to trail down and then up his body in a very provocative way that had him flustered to the point where his jaw involuntarily dropped again. Adorable and predictable. She stood beside him close enough that she could have held his hand if she’d been so bold, which she wasn’t.
Her ballet mistress and mentor didn’t notice the primal tension that rolled between her student and football player number two, but his buddy obviously did.
Football player number one nudged his friend’s shoulder, smirked, cleared his throat, and finally reached around football player number two and stuck out his hand. “I’m Shane. This tongue-tie coward is Joel. He totally thinks you're hot and wants to ask you out but isn’t brave enough so I’m going to have to ask you out instead.”
“I don’t think so, dude.” Joel stepped in front of Shane, blocking his advance and intercepted her handshake.
“Ooh, played like a defensive cornerback,” Winnie said with bravado. “Impressive.”
“A woman who knows her football,” Joel said. “Now that’s impressive.”
Winnie leaned closer to Joel and stage whispered, “If I were the ball, you’d have me halfway to the endzone by now.”
Joel let out a tiny whimper that told Winnie everything she needed to know about him. Typical guy who probably thought she researched the game of football on Google while standing in line to get her smoothie in order to impress him. The thought wouldn’t occur to him that she had brothers and a father who were season ticket holders with box seats at The Big House.
“Edwina,” Madame Jocie hissed at her. “That was completely unladylike.”
“My apologies, Madame,” Winnie said with a playful lilt. “I promise to refrain from flirting with any other guys for the remainder of my college career.”
The guys laughed at her teasing and were distracted as a guy behind the counter called them over for their meals. The same guy called Winnie and Madame Jocie over for their smoothies, which had gotten done at the same time.
Winnie winced as she turned away from the counter. “Ooh, I think I’m going to take an Uber over to the training room.”
“We were heading that way also,” Joel said, grabbing a stack of napkins and adding them to the large bag of takeout boxes filled with more food than she’d be able to eat in a week. “What are you in for? Twisted ankle?”
“Throbbing knee pain,” Winnie said. “You?”
“Student, actually.” Joel puffed out his chest. “Sports medicine.”
“I’m Winnie, by the way. Probably should formally introduce myself to the guy I’ve been shamelessly flirting with the past five minutes.”
“Nice to meet you, Winnie. What’s your major?” Typical pickup line.
“Classical ballet.” She lifted her chin.
“Ooh…” He leaned closer to whisper near her ear. “Flexible?” It wasn’t really a question. More like an acknowledged assumption.
“Very,” she whispered back.
Joel pulled away slightly. “I’d very much like to take you on a date sometime.”
“How about our first date be that you give me a lift over to the training room so I don’t have to call for an Uber?”
“Your wish is my command.” Joel swooped Winnie up into his arms like she was a feather. He probably bench pressed more than she weighed. She laughed and clung to her smoothie with both hands. “Shane you carry my bag of food and I’ll carry the invalid.”
As Joel started walking toward the door, Madame Josie called out from back at the counter, “Make sure she drinks every drop of that smoothie!”
Winnie pursed her lips around her straw and made a show of taking a long drink while batting her eyelashes up at Joel.
He chuckled as Shane held open the door for them. The walk to the training center was much more fun than she’d have predicted twenty minutes ago. Dating a football player could be fun. She took another drink of her smoothie and settled in for the ride across campus in the arms of football player number two.
I think a couple of my Super Fans will know who this book is dedicated to... the problem is, I have no idea what this book will be named. Any suggestions?
P.S. it takes Jarrod Radnich almost a full minute to get to the good stuff, but listen from the beginning to get a feel for Winnie's performance number wherein she will be approached by talent scouts from the New York City Ballet.