The metal side door of the theater groaned open and a man stepped out with a clipboard. “Reese Stratton.”
“That’s me,” she said, pasting on a confident expression. Hefting up her bag, she followed him into the theater, her stomach rippling with trepidation at the sight of the six-person panel. They were spread out at a long table, identical reusable cups in front of them. They looked bored as they gave her a now familiar once-over, already making notations strictly based on her appearance.
In the last row of the orchestra, dancers sat side by side. The lucky few out of dozens who’d made it to the next round so far—and that didn’t take into account the other hopefuls still waiting outside for their shot.
Reese kept her poise, dropped her bag and took her position on stage. The music started and she vanished into the moves, casting herself as the femme fatale with nothing left to lose, which couldn’t be the further from the truth.
She had everything to lose.
The audition went by in a blur, muscle memory taking over, every note of the song pounding in her blood. She was transported back to her childhood bedroom in Wisconsin where she danced in front of the floor-length mirror hanging from her closet, a framed Wicked poster reflected in the wall behind her. How many hours did she spend trying to roll a fedora down her arm and catch it without looking?
And then it was over.
The music stopped and she held her pose for three counts, before folding her hands in front of her waist and waiting, controlling her breathing as best as possible when the wind was struggling in and out of her lungs.
They passed her headshot right to left and leaned back to confer.
“Wait in the back, please,” one of the panel members said without looking up. “We’ll call you up for the next round.”
She started, positive she’d heard them wrong.
The one who’d spoken raised her eyebrow.
Reese nodded and mumbled a thank you, jetting off the stage before she could change her mind. But her heart was in her mouth the entire walk to the rear of the theater. The back row dwellers welcomed her to their ranks with nods of approval and she sat, forcing herself to acknowledge the accomplishment of making it past round one. Up against the best in the business. If nothing else, she’d have this memory and she’d savor it.
It took another two hours to complete the first round after which the dancers who’d made it through were given a fifteen-minute warning and everyone rose to stretch, including Reese. They were brought back up on stage, this time with a choreographer.
“We’re adding a number this spring,” she announced without preamble. “It’s not part of the show, but an interactive interlude involving members of the chorus line before the curtain. A show isn’t enough anymore, audiences want a goddamn experience. So we’re going to give them one. Eyes on me for the choreo. And—”
Reese watched through eyes that suddenly felt bloodshot as the woman executed the moves, ones she hadn’t practiced for a decade in her bedroom, her body moving unconsciously, trying to memorize the counts, the steps, the pauses and beats. The choreographer ran through the dance twice before an unfamiliar piece of music filtered down from overhead and everyone fell into lines, their positions perfect. Poised and prepared for a curveball like this. Not even batting an eyelash.
Tamping down on her nausea, Reese distanced herself as much as possible among the others and waited for the count to start, reaching deep, all the way down for some reserve of talent and confidence. Calling on every year of experience, every loss and triumph, every crying jag in the back seat of her mother’s car, every weeknight spent icing ankles and knees. A glimmer of the night she danced in Bryant Park came to mind, how at ease she’d felt in that moment, how devoid of pressure, and she used that. She just danced. Felt every note. Somehow she didn’t have to overthink every movement or facial expression, she just let it happen. Let the notes propel her.
Her name was called for the next round.
She watched in disbelief as some of the most talented dancers she’d ever performed beside hurried off the stage, gathering their things. Don’t dwell. Don’t think. She stayed in the zone, whatever place she’d transcended to seemed to extend her limbs, make her fingers reach higher, her toes pointing that much more. And she made it through to the next round, too.
The final one.
It was down to her and three other dancers. For a spot in Chicago.
If her blisters weren’t throbbing, she would assume she’d never woken up this morning and was still asleep on her beanbag chair. The gravity of the situation threatened to bury her like an avalanche, but she kept her head up, breathing even, relief prickling her like a thousand needles when the choreographer announced the final routine would be from the musical. Not the interactive section.
Quite simply, she left her body during the piece, hitting beats and stopping on dimes, emotion and heartache breathing from her pores. This was the stage where it all happened. The seats where her audience would applaud stretched out in front of her, lush and velvety, history held within its walls. She danced for love, all different forms and she didn’t leave a single regret lingering behind.
When she song ended, she glanced left and right, finding she was one of three dancers remaining. Three. The top three. She was in it. Her heart could barely carry the knowledge of that without exploding into fragments.
Several moments passed while the panel conferred, their spokesperson eventually standing, this time with a smile on his face. “We’re going to need the day to think this over. Thank you for your time. Keep your phones with you through the evening. We’ll call you.”
There was no description for what Reese felt that night, hurrying up the avenue to the bar where she was meeting Leo, Tad and Jackie for drinks. Hopefulness had her floating ten feet off the ground, musical notes trilling in her head. She hadn’t caught a single breath since leaving the theater this afternoon. With her phone clutched in her hand, the volume cranked all the way up, she found herself desperate to see Leo. Maybe she couldn’t share everything about her day, but she could share this mood. This indescribable feeling. And there was no one else she wanted to share it with more.
When Leo suggested they go out with Tad and Jackie for Valentine’s Day, she’d been grateful. With her fate hanging in the balance, it had sounded like the exact low commitment activity that would keep things one day at a time…until she knew she could give Leo an unlimited number of days. Now? She kind of wished they could be alone.