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Shiny Broken Pieces
Author: Sona Charaipotra



SOMETIMES YOU WANT SOMETHING SO badly you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Your mind stretches your dream out in front of you like putty, folding it into perfect shapes. Your soul whispers anxiously, You aren’t meant to do anything else. Your heart pumps blood and adrenaline and hope. Each turn, each leap, each role onstage brings you one step closer, reminding you that ballet is one with your heartbeat. Hard-tipped shoes lift your body above everyone else, making you weightless and ethereal.

Because that’s what ballerinas are supposed to be. It’s what I want to be. Have to be. I’ll do anything to get there. Almost.

Two pills stare up at me like eyes, smooth and oblong. Full of promises. They’re packed into a vitamin case like pointe shoes in a storage bin, begging to be used. Their glossy coatings gleam in the café’s overhead lights. I click my finger along their surface, then taste my fingertips and the acidic bitterness they leave behind. Just take one to see if it makes a difference.

The other girls flutter past me. It’s the thick of November, and they’re talking about things like Thanksgiving break and the latest movie and the boy they think would make the best Nutcracker Prince. All things familiar and mundane, but since I moved back from London, it all feels so foreign. Here, the bodies are smaller, lighter, a little more delicate than mine. I can’t quite blend in like I did there. They hate me for it. That’s what it feels like, anyway.

“Are those your little secret? The reason you’re so good?” Bette slides into the seat beside me. She scoots close, so close I can smell the hair spray she uses. We are the same shade of blond. Or we were. Now mine is tinted purple because someone put hair color in my conditioner.

“No, they’re just vitamins.” I scan the café for Alec. RAs staple paper turkeys up on the café bulletin boards, and the lunch ladies set out low-fat pumpkin yogurt as a treat. When I look back at my tray, Bette’s staring me down. I’m still not used to being around her alone. I should feel grateful that she sits with me when the others won’t. It’s like her presence at the table creates a protective bubble around me. It’s safe, secure, and impenetrable, except that now I’m trapped in here with her. “I don’t do pills.” I try to keep my voice from having a judgey tone.

Bette’s hand goes to her collarbone, her fingers following the little chain down to her locket. She wears it everywhere, like it’s a glittering ruby she wants us to look at, instead of just a dull and faded thing, the size of a half dollar. “Then what’s in the case? What were those?”

I want to ask her why she cares so much. But here at the American Ballet Conservatory, no one asks her those types of questions.

“Vitamins. For extra energy,” I lie, looking down at the little diet pills. The food in this café is different from that at the Royal Ballet School, and even though I’ve only been here two full months, all the adjustments make me feel like I’ve lost my center in a pirouette. I’m up three pounds from where I want to be. My eyes volley between the petit rats stacking their lunch trays on the conveyor belt and tables full of Level 7 and 8 dancers stressing over what to eat before ballet class. But I can’t dodge Bette’s strong glare.

Her eyebrow lifts. “Just two vitamins?” She takes the case from me before I can close it. She peers at the pills, like she’s trying to decipher some code, then hands it back to me, done with her little detective game.

“My daily dose. I take them with food.” I snap the case shut and slip it into my dance bag, hoping it ends this conversation. Eleanor walks toward the table, clearly planning to sit with us. I almost sigh with relief. But Bette flicks her hand like she’s shooing away a fly zooming too close to the water she sips. Eleanor slips away, just like that. “She could’ve sat with—”

“It’s fine,” Bette says. “I’m not really in the mood to deal with her today.” She drums her nails on the table, scans it for my case. “You know, you don’t have to keep things from me.” Her blue gaze sinks into mine. “You’re new, so I want you to have a friend here. We’re practically family now. I told Alec I’d look out for you. He thinks it’s a good idea.”

I want it to be a good idea. I want to have a confidante here. I miss my friends from Royal Ballet. She inches even closer. Her shoulder rubs against mine and we slip farther into the bubble. She looks left and right, then unclasps her necklace, taking it from around her neck. Laying it down on the table in front of us, she opens the locket delicately. A perfect circle sits in the tiny space, a blue outer layer of pills surrounding a smaller white one. The white ones look identical to mine. It makes me wonder how they can all share similar shapes and sizes but promise different things.

“I don’t really do pills, either,” she says. “Only when I really need them. That extra boost to get through Morkie’s corrections. Even my sister and others in the company take these. It’s not a big deal.” She pats my leg in just the right way. Café noises underscore her words. “A little advice—don’t ever run out of energy. The Russians will take things away as quickly as they give them.”

“I know,” I say, thinking about how I was cast in La Sylphide with the Level 8 girls. Mr. K says I’m one of the most gifted dancers he’s seen at my age. But I’m not sure if I should’ve left Royal Ballet to come here. She slides her locket closer to me. “What are they?”

“Adderall. Gives you energy.” Her eyes grow larger as she studies mine, looking for a response.

“Side effects?”

“Seriously? Your loss.” She snaps the locket shut and puts it back around her neck. She snatches her offer away as quickly as she’d given it, but manages a smile to soften it, like she’s doing me a favor. “Just trying to help.”

“Thanks, but—”

Alec and his dad, my uncle Dom, walk into the café and straight to my table. Uncle Dom sweeps me up into a hug, and Alec slips into my empty seat.

“How are things, Cass?” Uncle Dom’s worried tone brings tears to my eyes, but I rub them away before he sees them. His eyes are the same as my mom’s. He touches my hair. “The purple’s almost gone. I kind of liked it.”

He’s trying to make me laugh, but I struggle to smile.

It’s one of the many pranks the girls have pulled on me in my two months here, along with the vinegar-soaked pointe shoes, shredded tights, and stolen mail—the love letters from my boyfriend, Henri, in Paris. Just thinking about that makes the tears come again, but I can’t cry. Not here. Not now.

“I’m okay,” I say, wanting it to be true. He kisses my forehead and smiles at my brave face. “The beginning is always rough, right?”

“Hang in there, Cass.” Uncle Dom gives me one more hug, then turns and leaves the café. I miss him instantly.

Alec stands, too, looking at his phone. “Ready to go?” He’s asking both of us, but looking at Bette.

Ballerinas shuffle out of the café, headed to stretch before class. I turn back to the table. Bette is holding my vitamin case in her hands. “Don’t forget these. They slipped out of your bag.” She sets them on the table, then sidles past me. “See you in there.” Alec wraps his arm around her neck, gives me a goofy grin, and they leave the café.

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