The music stopped suddenly and Madame Jocie’s voice pierced the echoing silence. “You’re off-balance. What’s wrong?”
“I’m lightheaded,” Winnie said. “I just need some water.” She walked toward the mirror where her water bottle sat on the floor beside her backpack.
“When was the last time you ate?”
“You ask me that every day.” Winnie’s frustration showed in her clipped tone. “I can’t eat right before practice. You know that. I’d be puking up my food and you’re the biggest advocate for avoiding that.”
“Nutrition stays in the body,” Madame Jocie said.
“If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard you say that I’d be a rich woman.”
“If I had a dollar for every ounce of food you’ve eat since the day I met you’d I’d be pauper on the street.” She strode over to her stash of fruits and nuts and other snacks and dug through for Winnie’s favorites then tossed Winnie a little packet of macadamia nuts and a banana.
Winnie opened the bag of nuts and set the banana aside. Too much sugar. The nuts had too much fat but at least they tasted good, and she would just eat a few.
“How’s married life?” Madame Jocie sat cross legged right in front of Winnie where she couldn’t avoid eye contact if she wanted. For an fifty-something former prima ballerina, she was still youthful and flexible and willing to do anything she asked of her students, which was a lot.
“Amazing.” A tiny smile played at the corners of her mouth. Five weeks had passed since the semester began, and Winnie was eternally grateful to Madame Jocie for ordering her back to her apartment on the first day of class.
The past month had been absolute bliss. Neither Winnie nor Joel had any real obligations or deadlines other than typical college classes, quizzes, tests, and practices. Every day they both hurried home to spend most of the evening in bed together. Some time during the evening Joel would cook himself a nice big meal and Winnie would make herself a protein shake or smoothie. They would do homework or study or just lay around and talk for an hour or two after dinner and then head back into the bedroom.
Madame Jocie interrupted Winnie’s daydreaming with a pointed question they hadn’t discussed in a long time. “Have you decided what you’re doing after graduation?”
“Joel’s starting in medical school, so I guess we’re staying here for a while.” Winnie shrugged, knowing what was coming next.
“What about New York City?”
“We could probably go over there for the summer and then come back in time for fall semester.”
“Fall is the most important time to be in NYC.” Madame Jocie wasn’t saying anything Winnie didn’t already know. “You’d be a shoo-in for Swan Lake at any of the theatres.”
“I know.” Winnie gulped. No longer hungry for the nuts, she set the half-empty bag beside her unopened banana and took a drink of water.
“I can get you in contact with all the right people.”
“We’re newlyweds,” Winnie said. “I’m not really interested in being away from my husband right now if you know what I mean.”
“I was young once.” Madame Jocie’s knowing grin didn’t last long. “But you owe it to yourself to at least give your career a chance. Medical school is an intense time in a person’s life. Joel will barely notice you’re gone for a few weeks or months at time. He’ll be too busy. You’ll both be too busy.”
“I’ll think about it,” Winne said. She stood and brushed the chalk off her rear end and tights and walked to the middle of the practice room. “Would you kindly turn my music back on so I can practice? Actually, why don’t do switch songs and start a playlist of songs from Swan Lake so I can get some motivation to make a choice about my future.”
“Great idea.” With a full smile, Madame Jocie tapped a few buttons on her sound system and Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet composition blasted through the speakers.
Winnie stood in the center of the practice room for a moment with her eyes closed absorbing the sound and imagining herself on that stage in full costume, hair clipped up in white feathers, a stiff taffeta tutu jutting out from her hips, and the prince choosing her to be his swan.
She transported herself to that lake of tears where Odette waited for nightfall to become a human once more. The lights lowered, the curtain parted, she lifted her chin and let herself float into the world of dance.
Book Club Discussion Questions: today I've been listening to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake for inspiration for this chapter. If you were Winnie, would you go to New York City and leave your new husband home alone for several weeks or months?