“Gentlemen, please,” Johan sighed. “Why don’t we reverse the positions?”
Erik whipped his face to the director. “What? Reverse the positions? I am the lead. Is this fish dive so important? We have only tried once.”
Johan put a hand to his chin. “It’s not just the lift failure. There’s something lacking in the pas de deux in general. I don’t know if the chemistry is just off between you two. To be honest, I’m not sure if this is working out at all. We’ll be lucky if we can proceed without using the understudies in your places. Let’s try reversed, sound good? Now start with the fish dive.”
Erik was still pink-faced, lips thinned to a slit. The idea of an understudy replacing Erik was unbelievable, but his performance in general had been lacking. Chris had to admit the fall was an amateur blunder on one of the simpler lifts. He stood and settled into Odetto’s position, never having felt so uncomfortable. Erik followed suit with a sigh of irritation. He stretched into the arabesque, and Chris held him around the waist, with the other hand below the thigh.
Erik’s pose was top notch, creating a beautiful line with his back arched. As expected, he was far heavier than any ballerina Chris had lifted, and it felt like he held a boulder in his arms. He tilted Erik’s body until Erik raised his leg, and then he was suspended over the floor. For a moment, he forgot the struggle and appreciated the perfection of Erik’s pose. Chris then placed Erik back into the starting position, trying not to shake.
Johan clapped. “That was much better. I think we should practice the reverse roles for the pas de deux today and see how that works out.”
Erik stared at him, confused. “What? You are not suggesting…”
“Yes.” Johan nodded. “Maybe we can try Chris as Odetto and you as Ledo. See how that goes.”
“Me? As… Ledo?”
Chris’s eyes widened. What was happening? He was being potentially promoted to the starring role? His stomach turned to knots—both terrified and selfishly elated that he’d suddenly replaced the legendary Erik.
Erik was now all sharpness as he pointed at Johan with menace, his accent thicker than ever. “This is my story and choreography! Odetto was created for me. This boy from Seattle has never even been a soloist, let alone a principal dancer!”
The insult stung. True, Chris was, in fact, unimpressive on paper, but did Erik have to be an ass about it? He himself had stated that Chris was chosen for his skill.
“I am doing what I can to save Swan Song,” Johan said sternly. “Erik, you have been phenomenal, but you are getting older and your body has taken its toll over the years. Let’s face it, you can’t do the leaps and spins the same way you used to. I think you will shine better if someone like Chris supported you as you execute the moves. I know you hoped to be able to handle this role, but it may be time to let new talent take the lead and—”
“I will not hear of this!” Erik snapped. “I have never taken a secondary role as a danseur!” He paced around the room. “Chaniel would never hear of this either! He funded Swan Song for me.”
Chris inwardly gasped at the name. Chaniel, former top danseur, now world-renowned choreographer. Connections began forming in his head. A rumor had circulated nearly a decade ago that he’d dated Erik. Could it actually be true? Some people suggested that Erik had risen to stardom through sex and good looks, despite his clear talent.
“Chaniel also assigned final creative decisions to me, for quality control reasons,” Johan said. “In the end, he doesn’t trust you, and for good reason.”
Erik broke into a storm of French swear words, and though Chris had no idea what all of them were, he could tell they were full of venom.
“Hold on!” Johan yelled. “I will be fair about this, Erik. I respect you. You should both perform a section of Odetto’s dance, and I will decide which of you is better suited to be him.”
Erik shot Chris a glare. “If you want to force me to do this ridiculous thing, I will have to do it… and I will succeed.”
“We do the tryout tomorrow,” Johan said, “first thing in the morning. You two can practice the solo for the rest of the day.”
Chris’s hands grew clammy. Him? Go up against Erik? A part of him wanted the role, more than anything. It could be his big chance, to succeed, to be someone. But another part couldn’t bear to compete against the man that had brought him into the show in the first place.
“Hey,” Chris spoke up. “I think Erik does a great Odetto… I don’t think this is—”
Johan cut him off. “If neither of you can perform as Odetto, I’ll have you both replaced immediately. We have Beau selected as the understudy for Odetto, and Ilya for Ledo. Swan Song can go on without you two!”
Erik huffed and swore again in French before he glanced at Chris.
Lightheaded, Chris shook his head. “I’m not going to replace you, Erik. It’s really not something to be upset about.”
Erik didn’t reply. He left quickly, slamming the door behind him.
Johan clucked his tongue. “Ah, that diva! What can be done? He is an absolute nightmare to work with. You watch out for him, Chris—he will do whatever it takes to win!”
As soon as Chris returned to the hotel, he phoned Kevin, detailing every moment of his hectic day. In the midst of sipping a drink, Kevin coughed and snorted in surprise when Chris reached the bit about Erik’s fumble.
“It’s sad things are like this,” Chris said. “I admired Erik for so long, finally got to train with him, and now it’s a nightmare.”
“At least you’ll only have to deal with him for a few months. You just gotta tough it out, and don’t let him lift you again. He could stoop low enough to injure you on purpose.”
“Don’t tell anyone about the dropping,” Chris warned. “I don’t want rumors to start and for Erik to catch wind of it. Things are bad enough as it is.”
Afterward, Chris continued his Odetto practice in his room until nearly four in the morning. A mindless, unnamable need drove him onward. After Erik’s cowardice, he was determined not to go down so easily. Erik would defend his role without a problem. Still, he refused to make a fool of himself in front of everyone. Worst-case scenario, Johan hated both performances…and then Chris would be back in Seattle. If only Erik could change the director’s mind.
Slumber took him when he finally collapsed to rest, still in his tights and t-shirt. A fog overtook him, blurring his vision.
Erik was dancing in the studio alone to piano music from Swan Lake. Chris approached. Here, now, he felt taller, confident. He rushed up to Erik, and the man turned, startled.
When Chris snapped his eyes open, the morning alarm cranked through the air. A dream?