Before heading to the studio the next day, Chris took a deep breath and did a rare thing—posted a selfie to announce his happy news, complete with cheesy hashtags like #dreamscometrue and #blessed. Often, he avoided his own face, focusing more on experiences and surroundings. As Ledo, he had to coax himself to get used to the spotlight.
Showing up early to the studio, he headed to the locker room with a spring in his steps. He’d called his parents the previous night, and they were beyond ecstatic—especially his mom, who screamed with joy. His sister, normally unimpressed with anything Chris did, was even excited.
He was so elated, he didn’t notice Kevin appear next to him.
“Are you nervous for your first day?” Kevin asked.
“Yeah, but I’m mostly happy.”
Kevin grinned. “Look at you! All bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.”
“I know, right?” Chris proceeded to stock his locker with water bottles and extra tights and t-shirts. “I still can’t believe I was picked.”
“I told you, you’re great. We should go out again tonight.” Kevin paused. “And you should ask that British girl to join us.”
“We can’t be going out to drink every night, not with the show. By British girl… Do you mean Grace? Why don’t you ask her?”
“Because you’re the wingman.”
Chris snorted. “You ask her for a drink. You’re a big boy.”
A shadow fell over him, and he turned. Beau and other dancers glared at him, gathered in a huddle, their resentment thickening the air.
“Why did a nobody like you get picked?” Beau asked.
Kevin sighed as he leaned against his locker and Chris was surprised anyone would approach him with his hulking friend around. Of course, London had yet to learn.
“Seems very strange for a mess-up to get the role,” Ilya agreed.
“He must’ve blown the Prima Donna Boy,” Beau said.
Kevin lunged and, within a blink of an eye, had Beau against the locker. “Wanna dance?”
“Kevin!” Chris yelled, and grabbed his arm. He sighed, exasperated; holding Kevin back from a fight wasn’t an unknown occurrence. “Come on. Don’t lose your temper here.”
Kevin swung Beau away and shoved him on the chest. “Get lost, fucking prick. Next time, I’ll crush you up, and you won’t ever need a dance belt again.”
Chris continued to grip Kevin tighter. “Kevin. I don’t want you to lose your role. Let’s stay out of trouble, okay?”
Kevin’s face was reddened with anger and he took a few breaths. “Chris, it’s important we establish the pecking order early on, else we’re going to be dealing with jerks the entire tour. I’m not always going to be around to help you.”
“Come on, it’s not high school.”
“We’re outsiders here. Most of the dancers picked are Prima Donna Boy’s ass kissers from Europe.”
Chris’s mood began to wilt. “Kevin, don’t be so hostile toward people you don’t know.”
Chris suspected his friend considered him naïve. Sometimes, their best friend status was still surreal; they were so different from one another. Kevin was one of many men Chris had hit on at a bar five years ago, thanks to the wonders of a fake ID. It had turned out badly—Kevin and his jock friends laughed and made fun of Chris’s skimpy tank top, deflating what little self-esteem Chris had. At that moment, he’d never in his wildest dreams have thought they’d become close.
When the two met again at a dance studio, they were enemies, and Chris despised Kevin, whom he assumed was into a different sport and was using ballet as cross training exercise. Yet, Kevin apologized for being an ass and asked for ballet advice. Soon, he was fighting off anyone who tried to bully Chris, and the two forged a friendship, despite a very rocky beginning. Now, he couldn’t imagine life without Kevin.
Chris proceeded to strip and dress as Kevin went off to the separate studio for the Spectre King rehearsal, still muttering under his breath.
Shaking off the earlier scuffle, Chris walked to the bulletin board to see his rehearsal schedule, times, and locations for the day. He was starting at Studio B. On his way over, he passed a class full of dancers. Pausing, he glanced through the partially opened doorway. They stood at the barre as the piano played. It was a morning routine Chris absolutely loved, and he yearned to be doing the same. Erik circled the dancers, offering his critiques. They shyly glanced at him, and Chris couldn’t blame them. Erik paused when he met his eyes through the doorway, causing his heart to jolt. Turning, Chris hurried away.
Soon, footsteps followed after him. “Bonjour.”
Chris wasn’t sure how to respond, so he settled for, “Hi.”
“Harper. I did not know you were already here. Is it time to start?”
Chris’s stomach flip-flopped as he faced him. “Oh… I think so.” In truth, he knew he was exactly five minutes early. “I was just going to wait in the studio.”
“Let us start then?” Erik asked as he caught up.
“Yes, monsieur…I mean, Erik.”
Erik led them into the private studio with a lone chair against a window that let in the morning light. A piano and a small table with a music player were stationed in the corner. Mirrors surrounded the walls. In the reflection, Chris noted his slouched posture and corrected it, trying to relax his shoulders.
Erik walked ahead, the line of his tight shirt accentuating his tiny waist. Chris’s eyes trailed over his body before mustering the willpower not to check him out more than he already had. He’d always admired Erik from a distance as a dancer, but he hadn’t expected himself to form a palpable attraction to the point he felt drunk. As he stood closer, Chris smelled something clean and light, and he wanted to drink in the scent deeply.
Oblivious to Chris, Erik seemed to be on a solo mission as he studied things, moved briskly to check the speakers, and appeared distracted by his own thoughts. Suddenly, he made the deepest, most soul-searing eye contact. Chris nearly stumbled.
“We will practice most mornings here,” Erik explained. “I can speak English enough to teach ballet, but if you do not understand me, just say so. I hate it when people pretend to understand. Sometimes, I accidentally slip back into French. I have more trouble hearing English than speaking it, so it would help if you spoke more slowly.”
“Got it,” Chris said. That would be a struggle. He was a fast-talker with a tendency to mumble, especially when nervous.
“Okay,” Erik said as he turned. “Can you warm up while we talk?”
Chris took the barre and went into first position.
“I was wondering, if you had any previous hurt?”
He paused in his stretches. “What?”
“If you had injuries?”
“No, monsieur…Erik. I wrote my records in the form.” Already, his words were bullet-train-fast, blurring together.
He made an attempt to speak slower. “I wrote my records in the form—no injuries.”
“Mm, but some dancers are not honest, and I understand why.”
“No, no. I am fit. Limber. No pain.” Chris rotated his wrists to show all was in working order. He was about to add some more information out of nerves but stopped himself. With Erik, it was probably best that he kept his answers as short as possible, if he could manage it.
“Ah, so lucky. I figure, the first thing, I walk you through the choreography, starting with Ledo’s introduction.”
Chris still couldn’t believe this was happening. Through the fuzz of elation, he knew he also had to focus harder than ever. However doubt still nagged at him as to why he was selected.
“Erik. I was wondering… Why did you choose me to be Ledo?”
Erik raised a brow at him. “You are a good danseur, as you said.”
“I broke the choreography,” he admitted with regret.
Erik scoffed. “Did you not like the choreography?”
Chris’s cheeks grew hot with mortification. “I like it…I mean, I love it. I really didn’t mean any disrespect.”
“Tell me, truthfully, what you think of the pas de deux.”
“It’s good,” Chris said, his alarm increasing. “I didn’t mean to be so abrupt.”
“In the end, you are right,” Erik said, not seeming to follow Chris’s protest. “You got Odetto’s attention.” He said it in a slightly cross fashion.