Jess came in wearing her usual baggy sweatpants and oversized sweater. She tossed her dance bag on the bed, lifted the sweater over her head, stepped out of the sweats, and kicked them across the floor. She then shimmied out of the leotard with her characteristic fluid movement. As she turned to pick up the discarded clothing, Cory looked at her more closely. Jess’s stomach was actually concave below her ribs, which stood out prominently along her side. Her spine looked like a string of pearls along her slender back.
“So, how’s The Buttcracker rehearsals coming along?” Cory asked.
“Ha. Hilarious, Cory. I never get tired of that joke.” Jess sounded peeved. “The Nutcracker rehearsals are going well, thanks, as if you care.”
“Oh, lighten up. Just kidding.”
Actually, she wasn’t kidding. She hated The Nutcracker, hated being dragged to see it every year because Jess was in it. She was five when she landed her first role as a mouse in the chorus, up until last year when she was selected for the starring role as Clara. Cory swiveled around in her chair to face Jess.
“So, are you at least a human again this year, like that Clara girl, or some flower or fairy or something?”
Jess struggled into a t-shirt so tiny it looked like a five-year-old owned it.
“I’m too big to be Clara this year. She’s supposed to be a kid.” Jess pulled another baggy sweater over her head, an almost exact match for the one she tossed in the hamper. “Actually, I’m the Snow Queen.”
“Not the head Sugar Plum Fairy?” Cory knew that was a coveted role. A poisonous delight touched her smile when she asked Jess such a seemingly innocent question.
“No, they always get a pro for that, for the principal dancer roles.” Jess dropped onto the bed and became absorbed in unwinding the tape thickly wrapped around each toe.
God, she had such ugly feet from dancing—the toes were all calloused and raw looking all the time. Cory felt particularly irritated with her skinny body, gnarled toes, and baggy sweaters.
Scooting her chair closer to Jess’s bed, she asked, “So, you aren’t a human this year? A snow queen? Is that like an ice princess, only more bitchy? Do you ever wonder what exactly it is about this ballet that makes it a Christmas tradition? A creepy old pedophile uncle gives a young girl an ugly nutcracker that turns into a prince who, of course, she falls in love with. Then he fights off the Rat King to protect her because, of course being a girl, she can’t fight for herself. Then all these weird characters dance for her like she’s some kind of princess or something. And she falls for the prince because all girls should have a prince, when actually it is the rat that should have turned into the prince to make it much more true to life.” Cory took a deep breath.
Jess stopped working on her toes and stared at Cory. “What’s up with you? Does this have something to do with that guy who ditched you?”
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