A young woman in a black dress and cropped bangs approached the bar and ordered a glass of pinot gris, her British accent pleasant amongst the clatter. She turned to Chris, smiling flirtatiously. Her striking blue eyes were rimmed with black eyeliner. “Hi, where did you come from?”
“Wow, that’s far away.”
He looked down, feeling ridiculous for spending over a thousand dollars for an unlikely chance to be in Swan Song. He grappled to downplay his dreamy naiveté.
“Yeah, well, I’ve never been to London, so I thought—”
“Really?” she asked. “I’m from here. Live right down the street, actually. I’d be happy to be your tour guide.” She winked, exuding confidence and poise that he didn’t have.
This young woman—athletic, accented, fashionable, pinot-gris-drinking—was no doubt a dream come true for most, and her flirtation was being royally squandered.
Automatically, Chris pointed at Kevin. “It’s also Kevin’s first time here.”
“Hi,” Kevin greeted with a smirk as he leaned over the bar. “Don’t bother with that guy. He’s not into chicks, but I am.”
The young woman widened her eyes. “Oh, figures, with my luck,” she said under her breath, barely audible through the chatter. She smiled and extended her hand. “My name is Grace. I’m trying out for the Swan Queen role.”
Chris took her hand, smiling back. “My name is Chris. This is Kevin. He’s trying out, too.”
Spotlighting Kevin was always necessary when the two went to bars; for some reason, he was seldom the target when they were out. Chris didn’t know why. Kevin was attractive, once one saw past his intimidating façade.
As questions poured from Grace—what parts were they auditioning for? What studio did they dance with in America?—a ripple of commotion stirred the crowd. Chris turned and his heart nearly leaped out of his chest.
Erik Magnusson—the Prince of Ballet himself—had entered.
Grace and Kevin continued chatting, but their voices faded as Chris focused on Erik. All the women gathered around the Swedish-French man in admiration, some already blushing at the sight of him. Erik had the appearance he’d maintained throughout his career: short, yet tousled, blond hair, flawless skin, diamond-sparkly eyes, and sleek figure. Perfect rows of teeth glistened beneath a delicate smile that spurred butterflies in Chris’s stomach. He couldn’t resist thinking back to his first moment with the imposing dancer.
Eleven years ago…
It had happened at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York. Erik, eighteen years old, was starring as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. Chris was just turning thirteen, wearing a baggy suit and shuffling along after his parents, the traveling pianist father and former ballerina mother. His twin sister, Tina, wasn’t present, since she was invited to some girl’s birthday bash in Seattle. Unlike Chris, his sister enjoyed popularity and socializing. In secret, he wished he were invited to a party with people his age, rather than hanging around his parents and being forced to attend a ballet.
Once seated, Chris straightened his glasses and stared ahead at a golden curtain that seemed as large as a building. The ballet started, twinkling costumes gliding across the stage in their own self-contained world.
“Isn’t the ballerina pretty?” his mom asked.
The ballerina’s moves were stunning, but Chris’s full attention was on the prince dressed in white. He was so strong and yet delicate; he could have stepped out of a dream. The world dissolved away, and all he could see was the dancer. He moved so lightly, precisely. Something else, something intangible, from the performance also stirred him. Was it Erik’s strength? The dancer seemed immortal, trapped in a snow globe of his own creation. The world whirled and changed around him, while he remained perfect. Nothing could possibly un-perfect him. What would it be like to be the center of attention on the grandest stage, executing gravity-defying moves? He’d feel like a superhero, defeating his ultimate nemesis, anxiety.
After the performance, his mom insisted on attending Erik’s signing session. She was a fan of his and forced Chris and his father to wait, though Chris was more than happy to see the prince up close. His mom chattered away excitedly, explaining how Erik had once attended a class she’d taught in Paris.
Finally, the dancer himself appeared. The prince was statuesque, almost unreal in Chris’s eyes, before he broke into a warm smile.
“Naomi!” Erik said.
“You remember me?” Chris’s mom gasped.
His foreign accent was thick as he bobbed his head. “Yes, yes, of course.” He gave her the French way of greeting by grazing both cheeks with is own. Next, he glanced at Chris. “Is your son also training?”
“Ah, yes,” she replied. She neglected to add that Chris’s current tap dancing classes were a casual hobby. He hadn’t even considered ballet before then, since he was eager to be like his late Grandpa Harper, a formidable tap dancer.
Erik bent down and extended his hand. Shyly, Chris took it. The skin was dry, petal soft, and strong as marble. His heart exploded into golden fireworks.
“Bonjour, hello,” Erik said, and then waited, as if expecting Chris to ask something.
Chris averted his eyes, terrified Erik would see through him and find Chris’s secret, newfound interest in him. His mother mumbled something about him being shy, which made him more embarrassed.
“I hope we’ll dance together one day,” Erik said.
When Chris looked back up, Erik’s radiant smile melted him into a puddle.
I hope we’ll dance together one day. Those words echoed through Chris, became engraved into his mind. Could he ever be good enough to dance at the Met? Was it too late for him to start? The very possibility soon grew into Chris’s holy grail.