A Christmas Night to Remember(2)

She had arrived late for the audition—an absolute no-no if you were serious about a job. For every dancer selected there was likely to be over a hundred or more who were disappointed—competition was fierce and jobs were scarce. But old Mrs. Wood, the elderly widow who had occupied the ground-floor bedsit of the house she’d been living in, had found her beloved cat dead in the road first thing that morning, and had been so upset she hadn’t felt able to leave her until the frail little woman’s married daughter had arrived. Consequently she had raced into the theatre where the auditions were being held breathless and red-faced, and had been given a dressing-down by the dance director in front of everyone without being allowed to say why she was late. By the time she had ventured onto the stage to dance her piece she had given up all hope of gaining a place in the chorus line, much less that of lead female dancer which was what she’d applied for.

Perhaps that was why she had performed the routine she’d practised every evening so perfectly—she’d had nothing to lose. She had felt as if her body was a musical instrument, tuned and played as finely as a violin, and she’d responded to the piano, any nerves melting away as she’d flowed with the rhythm, her timing faultless.

Melody’s mouth trembled for a second. Never again would she feel like that. One momentary loss of concentration and the career she had worked so hard for had been smashed for ever. All the training since she had been a child, the sacrifices, the time spent pushing her body to reach levels of physical fitness and agility greater than that needed by most top athletes had been for nothing. The years dancing in clubs and pantomime and cabaret as she’d honed her craft, the waitressing and bar work she’d done to pay the rent between engagements, the lack of opportunity to put down any roots since most dance companies undertook tours both at home and abroad, the poor pay and constant discipline—all pointless now.

But none of that mattered as much as losing Zeke.

Melody continued to stand staring into the compact little room but she was miles away, lost in memories.

The first time she had seen Zeke was when she had finished the audition and someone had risen from the small group sitting in the auditorium and begun to clap slowly. She’d stood, panting slightly and unsure how to respond, and her gaze had focused on a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark hair and rugged features.

‘Excellent, Miss…’ he had consulted the notes in his hand ‘…Miss Brown. Better late than never. Or do we have a prima donna on our hands who expects us to be grateful that she bothered to turn up at all?’

She had instinctively known he was Zeke James; everyone backstage had been buzzing with the fact the great man himself was present. She had also disliked him on the spot. She detested sarcasm, and the deep, faintly husky voice had been oozing with it. Drawing herself up to her full five-foot-ten-inches—something which had spoilt her chances of becoming a successful ballet dancer but which hadn’t interfered with her career as a modern stage dancer—she’d tried to keep her voice from betraying her when she said, ‘I’m sorry I was late but it was unavoidable.’

‘Really?’ he’d drawled. ‘I would like to know what came before a place in my production, Miss Brown? I presume it was nothing less than a life-or-death matter?’

‘Death, actually.’

She could see she’d taken him aback—whether because of the hostile note she’d failed to keep hidden or the content of her reply she wasn’t sure; whatever, it had been immensely satisfying to see him at a loss for a moment, even if she knew she’d just blown the faintest chance which had remained of being offered a job.

He’d recovered almost immediately, of course. ‘I’m sorry.’ His eyes had narrowed as he’d stared at her more intently before sitting down once more.

Once in the wings, a couple of the other dancers she knew had gathered round her and she’d filled them in on what had happened as they all waited to find out their fate.

‘A cat?’ Katie, a tall redhead who was easily the most ambitious person Melody had ever met, had stared at her in disbelief. ‘When we heard you say a death we thought it must be your nearest and dearest to stop you trying for the part of Sasha, but it was just a cat?’

‘It might be just a cat to you, but it was Mrs Wood’s companion and best friend and she was heartbroken this morning,’ she’d answered, knowing even as she spoke Katie would never understand. Like acting, dancing was highly competitive, and only about one in ten dancers registered with Equity was in work at any one time. Prospects were always poor. Every dance teacher she’d ever had had hammered home the fact that it was only the most dedicated and talented dancers who succeeded, and if you had a thick skin and were ruthless to boot it was all to the good.

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