Just Not Mine(3)

By: Rosalind James

“How long till Amelia’s?” he muttered to his Aunt Cora under cover of the applause as the latest group trooped off the stage.

“Next but three,” she told him. “Takes a while to get to the twelve-year-olds.”

“I’ll come back for that,” he started to say. “Sorry, but I can’t take much more of this.”

The brunette in the row ahead of him turned around, a frown drawing her dark eyebrows together, and he shut up and looked at her.

She was lost from sight, unfortunately, because sure enough, the music had started up again, and the lights were dimming. Hugh sat back with a sigh. More tinkly music, more birds, or bugs, or some damn thing with wings. Again.

There was normal time, which was … normal, he decided as girls came on and girls went off, as somebody lost her place and ran crying into the wings, as the music stopped and started. There was rugby time, which was fast. And there was Dance Recital time. Which was endless.

“This is it,” Charlie told him from his other side. “This is Amelia’s.”

Hugh looked down at his half-brother. Leaning forward, every line of his eight-year-old body straining, that intense look on his finely-carved features. He could feel the tension from Charlie, sense his toe tapping out the rhythm as the music swelled, the girls danced onto the stage. He cared.

“Pas de bourré, pirouette,” he heard Charlie mutter. “Too stiff, though.” And indeed, Amelia’s arms weren’t curved into the graceful lines some of the other girls had achieved, even Hugh could tell that. The music picked up, and the girls started leaping about.

“Aw, she’s wobbled,” Charlie said. Sure enough, the sturdy figure of Amelia, her dark hair scraped back like the other girls’ into a painfully tight knot at the back of her head, was losing its line, her pink-clad leg showing a distinct tendency to tremble as the girls stopped leaping and ended with a foot stuck out behind them, and Hugh watched his half-sister set her errant foot down a full second ahead of the other girls.

He sighed with relief when the piece was over, began to stand up.

“Still four more to go,” Aunt Cora told him.

“I could come back and meet you,” Hugh suggested. “After.”

The brunette from the row ahead turned around again, Aunt Cora looked at him reprovingly again, and Hugh sat back again, sighed, closed his eyes, and surrendered to the inevitable.

When the thing was over—he looked at his phone afterwards and was astonished to see it had actually only been a couple of hours, during which he may or may not have fallen asleep, because he wasn’t telling—he wasn’t quite so sorry. The little bunches of teachers, parents, heroic family friends, and excited girls were mingling in the church hall housing tonight’s performance, drinking tea and eating biscuits that some of the mums had provided, and Amelia’s teacher was pretty.

“Oh,” Aunt Cora said. “You won’t have met Chloe Donaldson, Hugh. My nephew Hugh, Amelia’s brother. Chloe owns the dance studio, Hugh. Hasn’t she done a good job tonight?”

Hugh waited for a look of recognition that didn’t come, uttered a few words of congratulation, and shook hands with the petite brunette as she smiled politely back at him, nothing but wariness in the dark eyes. Her hair was a sleek cap, cut a little—raggedly, although he didn’t think that was the right word, her figure was willowy, her features were fine, and she looked more like a wood elf than any woman really had a right to look. She looked like she should be wearing a green tunic and pointed shoes, and all her movements were graceful.

“How’s Amelia getting on?” he asked her.

He could sense the hesitation. “She’s a good hard worker,” she said, and Hugh knew what that meant.

She smiled briefly at him again, turned for another introduction to a dad, and Hugh hadn’t met many women who’d been as unimpressed by him as that. Oh, well. Probably had a partner.

He spotted the other woman, and forgot about the ballet teacher. Her face had looked good, even frowning over the back of her seat at him. Now, though, he was treated to the full picture, and it was a sight to see, even though he wouldn’t have called her presentation anything spectacular. Black leggings and boots, and a dark blue knit dress over them. She was completely covered, completely sober, nothing flash, her hair pulled back into a knot. But she couldn’t hide the flash of that figure. She was slim to the point of thinness, but not every part of her was thin. Not at all. Some Maori there, clearly visible in the golden-brown skin, the aristocratically carved features. And all those curves, the dress working hard to accommodate them. Yeh, she was golden, all right.