“I’ll show you whose boss later!” he called after Alister.
“When? When there are no witnesses to see me beat you? Again?” he called back over his shoulder and actually laughed before disappearing into the crowd.
“Wow, I’ve never seen him smile, or laugh,” I said, slightly stunned.
“He gets like that when I let him beat me,” Vincent said and everyone laughed. “Nah, he’s okay sometimes, like this, it’s just that temper. He’ll get over it one day.”
Suddenly, the first names were called from the other side of the curtain, Amelia’s voice magnified by the microphone. “And it starts,” said Ivan.
We waited, watching as some people practiced with the music while others whispered in little groups here and there. Now that I saw everyone clustered behind the curtain, I realized just how many people there were trying to get on the teams, and just how many were not going to make it. Nervousness started trying to work its way into me again, but just as my hands were starting to fidget, Connelly took one of them. He turned my face to look at him and he said calmly, “Everything is going to be okay. Be calm.”
Just hearing that, and looking into his eyes I knew he was right. I relaxed, but when I glanced back around I tensed back up again. Dale and Louis had found me and were on their way over. I sighed. Oh great. Here we go.
Connelly looked at me as I sighed and then up at Dale. “Hey Kota, how are you doing?”
“I’m fine, what are you doing?” I asked, my voice pleasant, but he knew what I really meant.
“Well, I just wanted to introduce myself to your partner here. Is that okay with you?” he asked, but didn’t wait for my answer. “I don’t think we’ve ever met. I’m Dale Lochay.”
“And I’m Louis Myles,” he added.
Ivan and Connelly introduced themselves, all of them giving each other hard handshakes and I rolled my eyes. “So, you’re friends with Kota and Sue?”
“Best friends,” Dale corrected.
“Yeah,” Louis agreed. “Best friends.”
“We grew up together and I like to look out for them. They’re like my little sisters, and I just figured if you’re going to be around them a lot we might as well know each other. Just in case.” I rolled my eyes as Dale spoke.
“I didn’t grow up with them or anything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care for them any less than he does,” Louis added.
“Congratulations, you just embarrassed yourselves and us,” I said and Sue nodded. They looked from me to her.
“Kota, I was just trying to –”
“I know what you were trying to do,” I said, trying to resist the urge to smack them right then. “And you did a good job, big brother. It might have been better if your lackey here wasn’t echoing you. Would have been less comical. You can try again later though.”
Narrowing his eyes at me and looking slightly offended, Dale and Louis walked off, but I could hear as Dale said, “Yeah, man why did you have to do that?”
“What? I was just agreeing!”
“I apologize for them,” I said, turning to Connelly and Ivan. “He tries to come off as intimidating, but it doesn’t always work.”
“He means well,” Sue said.
Connelly nodded. “That’s all that matters.”
“And that it was funny,” Ivan added and we all smiled.
We all decided after a while to go sit in the bleachers, and watched as couple after couple was called to the other side of the curtain. Time was going by too slowly for my liking and I found myself getting bored. “Do you know when we go on?”
Just then I heard our names. “I guess now,” he said, standing and holding out his hand to me. I accepted it, and we descended the steps and crossed through the curtain to the other side. Nearly every seat on the bleachers was full, save for a few on the first two rows for the contestants. Amelia was sitting on the first row and smiled at us, nodding for us to begin.
Turning to him, we took our stances. “Concentrate on us,” he said so only I could hear. “Ignore everything else.”
The first dance was a Waltz, and as the music began so did we. Despite Connelly’s reassuring words, I couldn’t easily ignore the crowds’ eyes on us or the sounds they made as we swayed this way and that, then dipped low. “Calm,” he said as we waited for the next song to begin, this time the Salsa. I nodded and took a deep breath. “Think about up in the tower, in the studio. Have fun, loosen up.” He smiled and that brought one out in me. As the music started, he began moving and then I couldn’t stop smiling because of how sexy he looked. I kept my eyes on his and soon we had the crowd eating out of the palms of our hands. The more we danced the better and more relaxed I felt, until finally we were done.
The crowd cheered.
Connelly bowed and I curtsied before we took our seats with the other contestants. Another thirty minutes later and everyone was done. Amelia took another few minutes to look over everyone’s scores before standing and walking to the middle of the room. “I want to thank you all for coming and giving all of our contestants your wonderful support. Coming to my decision on who would make it onto my team was harder than I thought it would be, and when I call your names, I would like you to come stand up here by me. The first couple is,” she paused, looking at her paper, “Ivan Peters and Sue Baxter!”
The crowd erupted as the two stood and walked over to Amelia, Sue’s face a rosy pink. Connelly and I were called, as was Louis and Diane, and the rest of Connelly’s siblings. Dale and Johanna actually did make it as partners, because Cindy kept trying to be too sexy and Johanna’s partner had fumbled twice. There were supposed to be thirteen couples on the team, but a few of the people Amelia chose were from different couples and refused to leave their present partner. After a little deliberation, she finally found a few people with enough talent that didn’t mind getting another partner.
“Give our winners a round of applause!” Amelia said and the crowd burst into cheers. We all bowed and curtsied and then everyone started dispersing. “Okay now,” she said, turning to us. “The first competition is in November, which gives us plenty of time to improve your skills. Now, here are your new dance steps. I want you to study hard and practice as much as you can outside of our lessons, okay? We will still be having our practices after school every day. Congratulations, to all of you.” She handed us all our steps and then smiled warmly at us before walking away. Glancing at the paper, I saw that Connelly and I were going to be doing the Tango. The steps didn’t look very easy, or at least they didn’t to me, but Connelly looked unworried as usual.
“Yes!” Dale made a gesture like he had scored. “Whoohoo! We made it!” He scooped me up in a bear hug and swung me in a circle.