He fought against gravity and time on a daily basis, knowing all the while that he’d lose against both in the end.
They were definitely kicking his ass right now.
Quickening his pace, Chris scrutinized the directions on his phone just as his foot caught on the crack in the sidewalk. Grimacing, he righted himself, hoping no one had caught his stumble, and wishing he could blame jet lag for his clumsiness. In reality, bumping into things and nearly tripping over his own two feet was a common experience. Ironic, considering his training.
Am I the only dancer in the world who isn’t graceful in real life?
Nevertheless, it was time to focus on his dancing, to sacrifice for his art. All that began with the Swan Song tryouts announcement and reception party.
His very first flight to London had landed only hours ago. He had hastily checked in at his humble hotel so he could change into party-appropriate clothes. A hoodie, loose pair of jeans, and beanie—plus all of his piercings—was a severe no.
The journey to the reception venue seemed like it’d be a quick walk, but he’d learned quickly (and too late) that districts here were much farther apart than the map hinted. Sweat pricked his skin, jostling his already humming nerves. He knew that squeezing sensation in his chest all too well.
As he strode through the bustling streets of Westminster, Big Ben loomed against the gray, darkening sky. He paused a moment to snap a photo, narrowly avoiding being hit by a car coming from the wrong direction—wrong direction in his American opinion, anyway. He tagged his location to the Instagram image, though all his Seattle friends were probably still asleep, and rushed onward.
To his side, a giant ad stretched across the entire side of a building. His heart somersaulted as the face of Erik Magnusson, ballet danseur extraordinaire, stared down at him, defying gravity in all his princely, costumed glory, complete with tights showing off his sculpted legs. Chris admired the lithe figure, serene gaze, and finely shaped brows. The tour de force virtuoso was known as one of the best ballet dancers in the world, and in Chris’s opinion, also one of the hottest.
He snapped a photo of the poster and posted it with hashtags: #futurehusband, #readyforaudition, #iminyoulondon. Eleven years had passed since his last interaction with the famed dancer. It was hard to believe he’d see Erik in the flesh in just a few minutes. His heart skipped a beat and Chris smiled with childish giddiness. The whole trip seemed like a dream.
When he finally made it to the busy Victoria neighborhood, Chris found the destination: a swanky-looking bar tucked between tall brick buildings. Inside, the bustling business was fashioned with Victorian-inspired furniture, wooden walls, and a glimmering bar. Classical music played over muffled chatter.
Chris adjusted his glasses as he nervously scanned the room. The place was lit warmly, and dancers from the world over filled every nook, each dressed in finely tailored suits and black cocktail dresses while stealing competitive glances at one another. It was already a battle zone—one where he immediately felt out of place. Although he’d thought his sweater and slacks would be dressy enough, he’d been wrong. He was the definition of dressed down compared to the others.
Familiar faces—mostly from magazines and articles—turned toward him as he stood in the entryway: Ilya from Russia, Hei from South Korea, Beau from France, Bellissa from Italy. Some of them flashed him a who-the-heck-are-you look. Ballet dancers were the warriors of the modern world—powerful, tough, competitive, disciplined, and ambitious. Chris shrank with each step into the room. Was he crazy to think he could audition for Swan Song?
Outsider, a little voice whispered to him.
The thoughts weren’t new. Sometimes he didn’t feel strong, flexible, talented, fit, or graceful enough to compete. This moment was no different.
“Hey, Chris!” Kevin shouted from a seat by the bar, his booming voice carrying over the clamor. His tallness, large build, and messy red hair stuck out from the crowd. Small relief blossomed in Chris, and he wasted no time making his way over to his friend.
Kevin had arrived in London earlier than him, since Chris couldn’t afford to lose a day of work at the café—not with how expensive traveling was. Kevin was also in his mid-twenties, and they’d been best friends for five years. Nobody could do the pair dance—pas de deux—lifts like Kevin. Looking like a football player, his shoulders were twice as broad as Chris’s. Chris noted that even his no-fuss friend had at least worn a button-up.
“I’m not dressed right,” Chris muttered.
“It’s fine,” Kevin said and held up his drink. “At least you didn’t show up in your band shirt. You want a lukewarm beer?”
Beer didn’t excite him, especially not a warm one. He crinkled his nose. “Uh, no. I guess I’ll have a gin and tonic.”
Kevin turned and ordered the drink. It was admirable, how Kevin could get a drink so easily—he was just that tall and had the low, gruff voice that made one listen. Chris, on the other hand, felt he had to put in a lot of effort to be noticed.
Once his drink was in his hand, Chris inspected his surroundings, noticing everyone was drinking either white wine or champagne.
“Is there a drink theme?” he asked.
“Ballet audition,” Kevin replied, as if it was obvious. “Low calorie, non-teeth-staining, classy. I think that’s what the others are going for, to make a good first impression.”
“Great, and I’m drinking a cup of sugar before the audition.” Chris settled into the seat next to him. “I’m starting to wonder if I’m crazy for coming. Everyone here is a prodigy.”
Chris had started ballet at the age of thirteen, which some considered to be a late start. Every glimpse at the talent surrounding him inched his shoulders higher with worry.