Erik was an hour late. Chris paced in Studio B and looked at the clock with worry. Maybe he’d quit? It was possible. After all, he’d been given the biggest insult: replacement by a junior talent who wouldn’t have been there if not for his vote of confidence.
Chris’s breath caught in his throat painfully, his fingers twitching. What had he done?
He studied the piano in the corner—the one that hadn’t been used once during their one-on-one practices. He still remembered Erik’s words about partnership. Sadness cloaked him as he absently touched the ivory keys, playing a few notes of a piece from Swan Lake. The piano reminded him of his grandfather. He’d taught Chris to play, just as he’d taught Chris’s father, but even more than the musical lessons, the lesson on kindness haunted him now. Chris wanted to believe kindness could solve this situation, but it seemed nothing could.
The piano keys clunked cold and sharp melodies in the empty room. It’d been over an hour. Erik wasn’t coming. Heartbroken, Chris turned on the stereo. Using his phone, he decided to play his Metallica playlist and began his dance warm up. Some people called it strange, but he loved practicing to 80s metal.
He rehearsed the multi-spin pirouette. As he spun and spun, he caught sight of a new blur and gasped. He nearly toppled to the floor, but caught himself. Staggering on the heel of his feet, he saw Erik watching him, arms crossed, his expression unamused.
Chris hurriedly scrambled to his phone and turned the music off. “Good…morning,” he said, wincing as he fought the dizziness and fluster. God knows how long Erik had been watching.
Erik ignored him as he turned away. Taking the barre, he went into second position to begin his plié routine. Chris stared at him for what seemed like minutes. Normally, Erik’s eyes would be glued to the mirror, analyzing his own moves. Now, he simply looked into space.
Guilt gathered around Chris like a dark cloud. Erik had created Swan Song and Odetto. He’d chosen Chris as Ledo, despite his unimpressive resume. Everything existed—this moment, this dance—because of Erik. Yet, Chris had torn it apart for him.
The guilt grew into despair swirling in his stomach. Trying to shake the guilt off, he reminded himself they were adults; it was ridiculous to act like children. This was work, after all. He glanced at the piano to recall his grandfather.
“Erik,” Chris called out. “I’m sorry you’re angry.”
Erik paused, though he did not turn his head.
“First off,” Chris began, “I want you to know I admire you more than anyone. You’re the reason I’ve come this far. Truly, you’re the last person I’d want to insult.”
Erik faced him then and his eyes were portals into Antarctica. “Please, stop.”
“I mean it. I didn’t intend to ruin everything for you.”
“Hah!” Erik pushed his hair out of his eyes. “You worked to take Odetto from me. You may look innocent, but you have been prepared to take him all along.”
Chris swallowed, not willing to gulp down the bait. He was usually good at ignoring taunts—it came with practice—but for some reason, ones from Erik dug under his skin. Something about the way he delivered his abrasive words. It was smug, calm, as if he was absolutely correct, and he didn’t care about the consequence of his words.
Chris took a breath. “Yes, the moment I heard of Odetto, I dreamt of performing his dance. I practiced in private, trying to mimic you because I thought it was beautiful, the way you portrayed him. I didn’t think I’d actually get the role or anything like that.”
“Are you saying you did not want the role?”
“I did,” Chris admitted. “I took it without hesitation. It turns out, I do want to perform Odetto. But I’m not apologizing for that.”
Erik cocked a brow at him.
“I earned the role,” Chris said, his guilt turning to bravery. “Fair and square. I was apologizing for upsetting you.”
Erik gave him a cruel smile. “So, you can be truthful some of the time. Very good.”
“You’ve been a cavalier in ballet a hundred times at least,” Chris said, unable to help himself. “Does it hurt so much to let someone else be a lead once?”
The man’s eyes burned colder than ever and Chris found himself taking a step back. “You have no idea what you are talking about,” Erik said, voice frigid enough to put a shiver through Chris. “You do not know what Swan Song is. I agree, you do well sometimes, but not consistent. You should focus on keeping the role, if you can.”
Chris winced as he turned back to the mirror and continued his warm-ups, although he didn’t need to—he just needed a distraction. Trying to calm his heart, he replayed a mantra in his head: Don’t react.
“You are disappointed by me,” Erik remarked with his icicle voice, sharpened effortlessly. “You expected me to be graceful? This is Erik.” He went back to his stretches.
Though it wasn’t the appropriate moment, Chris found himself thinking the name Erik sounded beautiful said in the French way.
As the two transitioned to grand battement in chilling silence, Chris watched him through the mirror.
Erik sighed with agitation as he moved to the center of the floor. “We will begin the pas de deux rehearsal.”
“Okay,” Chris said stiffly.
“Well, Harper, now that you have taken Odetto, I will not stand it if you act shy. The very least you can do for me is do Odetto justice, yes?”
Slowly, Chris nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
“I know. You will,” Erik said and for a second his expression slightly defrosted.
Was Erik just messing with him, like a cat with a mouse in its clutches? To further put him on edge, Erik then walked him through Odetto’s character and dance style, as if things were perfectly normal between them, as if Chris was always meant to be Odetto. Maybe getting over disappointment was another normal for Erik? One moment, his claws were extended, and the next, his poise returned.
“Odetto is bolder, striking. He makes dramatic silhouettes, unlike Ledo. Remember Ledo’s pirouette? It was like a delicate leaf? Odetto’s pirouette is more clean and crisp. See.” Erik demonstrated a stunningly perfect pirouette.
Chris imitated the pirouette.
“More boldness,” Erik said. He wore his laser stare again, and Chris realized then it was because, when Erik spoke to him, he had his undivided attention. “I know I am hard on you,” he continued. “This role is very demanding, and you have to become one of the best. If you are leading me, the expectation will be higher than you are ready for. You also have to practice the 32 fouettés. It will take most of your time to master it. If you cannot do it well, you will be replaced by Beau.”
The 32 fouettés was a controlled multi-spin, done as the breathtaking sequence in Swan Lake by the prima ballerina and was considered one of the hardest in ballet.
A year after starring as Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, Erik performed a smash hit piece that became number one in the ballet online video category. He starred in choreographer Chaniel Beaumont’s Director’s Choice and did a gender-swap version of Odile’s famed dance. In a glimmering black costume that conformed to every muscle, he completed a forty-spin fouettés, followed by a thirty-spin pirouette—a shocking feat for a danseur. Fans dubbed it the Magnusson Fouettés. To be as good as Erik one day, Chris understood he had large ballet shoes to fill.
“I see,” Chris said once the news sunk in. “You had the fouettés planned for Odetto, because it’s your special move, right?”
“I hope people remember me for ballet, not the number of spins.”
“Well, yes,” Chris said quickly.
“The world is too distracted by rankings and numbers. I am not asking you to spin like how I used to. I only ask that you do artful fouettés.”
Chris gave a nod, realizing that he was in fact, extremely competitive. He wanted to spin more than Erik’s famed spin count.
When the lessons ended, Erik dismissed him and turned to look out the window. Chris gathered his water bottle and towel, casting a glance at Erik’s back before leaving. For some reason, he felt sorry for the dancer, who looked small against the cloudy sky.
Chris hurried to his locker to change and gather his things for the night. His limbs ached from the new training regimen, which was far more challenging than he’d anticipated. The pressure to succeed was heavier than ever.
When he approached the metal door of the locker, he found an envelope taped to it. Opening the letter, it read:
If you become Odetto, you will be destroyed before you ever step foot on stage. Back out now, or forever be sorry.
The True Odetto
He frowned deeper as each word spiked his anxiety, shortened his breath. Who would call himself Odetto? Was it Beau…or Erik? Or could it be someone who discriminated against him, using Odetto as a weapon? Chris crumpled the letter and threw it into the wastebasket, his heartbeat ringing in his ears. Erik’s previous words came to mind: You should focus on keeping the role, if you can.