Although the approaching storm would confine me to the narrow old walls of the cottage, I didn’t feel too sorry. That would give me lots of time to get over my embarrassment before dinner. I was pretty sure that Fred was Mrs. Alroy’s youngest son. She had talked about him a lot when taking us to the cottage and he was sure to be at dinner. But what was much worse: As awkward as the whole situation had been, I somehow wanted to see him again, if only to prove that I wasn’t a complete moron.
The thunderstorm raged all afternoon, splattering the windows with golf-ball-sized droplets of water. Mum did nothing but get up from her sun-lounger, lumber upstairs and sleep for the next couple of hours.
I paced up and down my bedroom, feeling like a complete fool. I’d had the good fortune to meet a cute boy on the first day of my stay here and I ‚d messed up completely. The way he had looked at me… like he wasn’t sure whether I was dangerous. Argh! I could really do with a little advice right now.
My phone beeped. I ran over to the bed to get it out of my rucksack. The display showed a text message from one of my two best friends: Emma, my saving angel of the day.
How’s Ireland? Anything exciting? On my way to costume festival in Annecy. Awesome! Love, Emma
I had a sudden urge to high-five the air. Thank god I had spent some of my pocket money on an international phone-card instead of saving it for bigger and better things (like new ballet shoes). Grinning, I jumped up onto one of the horizontal roof beams, rested my back against the wall and answered:
Met cute guy, messed up, new try tonight. WHAT TO DO? Have fun dressing up. Clueless, Mag.
I barely had time to close my eyes and put down the phone, when it beeped again.
No worries! Play your strengths, ballet girl. Now chill!
Play your strengths. What? But what was I supposed to- BEEP!
Stop thinking about it NOW! Do ballet if you must. Almost out of phone’s reach, still want regular updates.
Stop thinking about it. Easy for her to say! She did have a point though. Shutting down my phone with a determined click, I slid down from the beam and got my mp3-Player and headphones from out of my backpack. I searched my ballet-playlist for Tschaikowsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”, spread a blanket on the floor and sat down. Letting my mind wander to the sound of the music, I started to bend and stretch my ankle, until the muscles didn’t object against the movement anymore. I didn’t stop there. I went on with different yoga-exercises, feeling my body regain some of its former flexibility. And the bliss related to the fact that I was doing something that was almost ballet, made me forget everything around me.
It was a little past seven o’clock when mum and I approached the farmhouse in the golden light of the setting sun. It was reflected on the puddles and the wet grass and gave the forest a magical appearance. The door was flung open before we had even stepped onto the gravel path and Mrs. Alroy walked gracefully towards us, beaming.
“Welcome back! We’re almost ready, so if you’ll just wait inside the dining room for a second…”
Mum, who hadn’t really woken up yet, started to say something about helping with dinner, but Mrs. Alroy refused to hear her out. “You are my guests and will be treated as such.”, she said resolutely. “Please make yourself comfortable.”
With a last smile, she gestured us into the dining room, walked out and shut the door. The room was just as cozy as the kitchen, though larger. It had the form of a long rectangle with a group of squashy red sofas to the left and an impressive wooden dinner-table to the right. An elaborately carved fireplace stood between the two units, forlorn and empty except for some scraps of ash and wood. Against the wall behind the sofas stood an old piano with books stacked on its lid turning it into an expansion of the slender bookshelf next to it that was practically overflowing with books.
Mum and I walked into the room, taking care not to brush up against any side-table or vase. The table had been decorated very neatly. It was laid for six people and little name plates showed where we were supposed to sit. Mum and I sat down opposite each other, admiring the room and waiting.
About ten minutes later, everyone was seated. Mr. Alroy, a tall red-haired man, and his wife at both ends of the table, Arthur next to mum and Fred – how could it have been different – next to me. I did my best not to scowl. Alright, I had wanted to see him again, but like this? Trapped between him and his mother with no way to escape? Hell, no! A few minutes into the meal, the style of conversation changed from the usual verbiage to more specific talk in small groups. Both Mr. and Mrs. Alroy had turned their attention towards mum and Arthur. I did my best not to look up from my plate of Colcannon, a tasty stew made from potatoes and kale, but Fred just started talking.
“So, ballet-girl, how did you pass your afternoon of rain and storm?”
“Ballet-girl? How did you work that out?”, I replied moodily.
“Well, you’re tall and lanky… and you’re French.”
“What does my nationality have to do with me dancing ballet?”
Fred grinned, confident of his easy victory. “So you do? But you’ll have to admit that makes you a real stereotype. Pretty French ballet-girl – total cliché!”
For one second I felt pleased. He’d just called me pretty, right? But then the meaning of his words reached my brain. “Never again tell a girl that she’s a cliché.”, I said, firing up. “Not me or any other girl!”
Complete silence followed my words. The adults had stopped talking and were staring at me, along with Fred, his spoon hanging loosely in his hand.
“How right you are.”, said Mr. Alroy finally, toasting me with his glass of wine. “I thought we had taught you better manners, Fred.”
He didn’t sound too stern, but I still didn’t want Fred to get into trouble. At least he had spoken his mind.
“Oh, it’s not a problem.”, I said quickly. “I mean, he’s actually right, but who likes to admit that they’re not special?”
“I never said you weren’t special.”, said Fred quietly.
Another moment of silence elapsed, before the adults returned to their conversation, leaving me to finish my stew, cheeks burning once again.
“Fred, would you be so kind and check on our desert?”, Mrs. Alroy asked after a few minutes.
“Want to come along?”, Fred asked, turning to look at me. I really didn’t want to, but I nodded and got up, if only to escape mum’s inquiring looks.
We went to the dimly-lit kitchen where Fred didn’t bother to turn on the lights and opened the oven-door to reveal a huge apple tart that smelled delicious.
“It needs at least another twenty minutes.”, he said, shrugging. “Would you like to see my room?”
No, Mathilde, of course you don’t want to. I told myself sternly, but it didn’t work very well. “You know you don’t have to make up for anything, right?”
“I do.”, he said, stepping closer to me in the semi-darkness. Now that there weren’t any horses around, it was the scent of his body creeping up my nose. And I had to admit to my screaming conscience that I liked it a lot. “I would still like you to see my room.”
“Sure.”, I said trying desperately to keep the breathlessness in my voice to a minimum. What the hell was happening?
“Great. I’ll tell mum, just wait here.” And he skipped of, humming the same song I had heard him sing this morning.