Max and Alex
He knew he was going to catch some flack for the choice he made.
That's what he thought as he rummaged through his duffle bag.
Instead of a baseball gove, cleats, bat, helmet and uniform, he pulled out his ballet shoes, dance belt and unitard, not exactly the uniform of choice for most boys his age.
"Company warmups in five minutes, Max!" a voice yelled from the other side of his dressing room door.
"I'm coming," he said, rushing to get dressed.
This wasn't the scheduling conflict he expected. The end of the year dance recital was always etched in stone. Reid Middle School making the district baseball tournament wasn't expected to happen.
"Alex, this is your fault," he remembered telling his twin before he climbed in the SUV with his mom and their younger sister Katie, while Alex hopped in the truck with dad.
"You're the better dancer," Alex shouted. "They need you at the recital."
Alex was the star pitcher, whose talent on the mound helped their school's team to its surprise playoff appearance. Alex was needed at the baseball field.
Max wasn't the only one having to make a choice. He was asked about Alex's absence almost a dozen times during the walk from the dressing room to the stage.
"So Al chose the baseball game?" Becca Lawrence asked when she helped Max carry one of the portable barres to the stage for warmups. "The traitor!"
"Rebecca, I don't want to hear that kind of talk," yelled Ms. Charlotte, the artistic director of the ballet school. "The show will go on just fine without Alex. I'm sure Max will be able to dance all of Alex's parts just fine, won't you Max?"
Max nodded in agreement. He knew Alex's parts pretty well. They practiced them together and worked really hard on them when they realized there was a chance the baseball team might make the playoffs.
"Let's start with plies, shall we?" Ms. Charlotte said after the barres were in place.
There was a time when Max felt out of place as the only boy among thirty girls on stage in leotards and tights. And it was a sight he knew his father still wasn't too comfortable with. To a degree it was a good thing his father had the baseball game as a distraction.
He was none too thrilled that Max not only liked the "sissy stuff," but that his son was also good at it. He was hoping his son would take the stand and say, "sorry, baseball's my game, and this game is just too important for me to be at the dance recital."
He and Alex tried to reason with their father, but it was their mother who did the convincing.
"The ballet school needs Max more than the baseball team does," his mom said. "And the baseball team needs Alex more than the ballet school does."
"Just remember Alex, just throw strikes," dad said as the two got out of the truck at the baseball field.
"Oh no, don't tell me Max decided to be a ballerina today," one of the boys on the team said when he noticed only Alex getting out of the truck.
"Shut up Mike, he's where he needs to be," Alex said before tossing a few balls with dad on the practice mound next to the field.
Truth was both Alex and Max would have preferred to be at both places. Both of them loved baseball. Both loved ballet. But both had to do what they were best at, and what they loved more.
Ballet was Max's thing. Baseball was Alex's. That's what Alex tried to explain to dad on the way over to the game.
"Al, how's the arm?" Coach Rogers said after he walked over to see his star pitcher.
"It's fine coach," Alex replied.
"Just remember, don't try to overpower them," Coach Rogers said. "Just be smart out there on the mound. You'll do fine."
Defense is what Alex worried about most when the Reid Raiders took the field for warmups. Max was an amazing dancer, but wasn't bad as a fielder. His glove would be missed at first base. Mark Childers wasn't as good a backup first baseman as Max was for Alex in the corps in ballet.
It also made their father feel a little better when Coach Rogers also told him they would miss Max's "stick" in the lineup. Max had a biological advantage over Alex in baseball. Even though the two dark-haired, dark-eyed twins looked a lot a like, Max still had a little more power as a hitter even though Alex was a little more consistent.
"This is the part I hate worst," Max told the makeup lady as she applied "manly mascara."
"Just putting the final touches on, sir," she said.
He was relieved when she was done. Max once winced at the very thought of putting on makeup before a performance (and Alex always pretended to make fun of him). But he actually warmed to it, just like he did nearly every aspect of performing. He was in his element, but he also missed being at the baseball game.
"But you would be miserable knowing you were missing the recital," Alex said.
And Alex was right.
He was dancing "Soldier Doll" from the Nutcracker first. It was his signature solo part.
It was the part that Ms. Charlotte said screamed "boys can dance, too!"
And it was a crowd pleaser, just as it was during Nutcracker.
Max pleased the crowd with his high, energetic leaps. He even amazed himself when he pulled off five pirouettes. He told Ms. Charlotte he thought about going for it, but he was afraid he would mess up.
"This isn't Nutcracker," Ms. Charlotte said. "If you feel like you can do it, go for it. Don't hold anything back."
He could feel his heart thumping in his chest after his bow when he heard a loud roar from the crowd.
"Good job," a few of his dance mates said as he exited into the wings.
He got a high-five from Becca, a fist-bump from Rachel.
"I hope you're spot on during our pas de deux," Rachel said.
"I will be, don't worry" Max said, trying to sound confident, but not too cocky.
He rushed over to his mother and another one of the dance moms, who were holding sheets to hide him as he changed. He barely had time to get out of his soldier costume and into his tunic for his pas de deux with Rachel at the end of the first act.
He didn't think about having to strip down to a dance belt before putting on tights in front of his mom and another woman, even though they tried not to look. Being a quick change artist on stage was a fact of life for a dancer, even if you were the only boy in a performance.
The pas de deux with Rachel was something they'd worked on for months. It was from Copellia. It was one of the reasons he had to pass up the baseball game for the recital.
It was also a fun piece. Rachel hammed it up in her part as a tease during the part. He wowed the crowd when he lifted her high when she was doing a pas de chat. And he loved doing finger turns with her.
She kissed him on the cheek as the curtain fell to close out the first act to loud cheers and bravos.
"You don't get this feeling on the baseball field," Max thought before rushing off to his dressing room.
"Hey look! The pitcher's a girl!," a woman shouted from the bleachers when Alex took the mound.
It wasn't anything she hadn't heard before. It made her realize a little of what Max went through being the only boy at the ballet school, although she knew Max had it a little harder.
No one would have known she was a girl if she hadn't lifted her cap to reveal hair in a ballet bun as she wiped sweat from her brow.
But if the opposing team thought it was in for a break with a girl on the mound, it was mistaken.
When a pop-fly retired the side in the third inning, she had given up only one hit and walked one. She'd struck out four. As a girl, Alex didn't have an over-powering fastball. She had what Max called a "wicked curve" and the best changeup of any team in the league.
"She's the best placement pitcher in the league," Coach Rogers once told her father.
She also used her fastball effectively. Just when they'd get used to her slower-speed pitches, she would catch them completely off guard.
"You're doing a good job mixing up your pitches," Coach Rogers said.
"Yeah, I really liked how you got that one guy looking with your nut-cutter," Bo Hartley, the catcher, said.
It was a bit crude of a compliment, but Alex appreciated it.
But she looked up at the scoreboard and knew her brother's absence was being felt. The Raiders held only a 1-0 lead.
She didn't much of a margin of error. She felt the game was squarely on her shoulders.
The second act was doable.
Max put on another soldier's costume for a short piece from Balanchine's Stars and Stripes. He had a couple of tours en'lair mixed up with pirouettes, but mainly this was a petite allegro-type of piece with glissades, jetes and assemblee's with the girls in the piece. It was a fun piece, energetic and a crowd pleaser.
He also didn't feel rushed. He snuck a donut off the snack table along with a banana and a water bottle before heading to his dressing room for a little quiet. Max often wondered how things went in the girls' dressing rooms. Alex called it all madness.
Somehow, he felt a little left out.
He listened to the music from his iPod as he zoned out before his final piece in the act, his only other piece in the act -- a pas de deux with Quinn Baker, one that they first started work on during the summer intensive at ABT. They worked on it all year. It was a difficult one.
"I'll kill you if you choose to go to the baseball game," Quinn told him when he and Alex first mentioned missing the recital for the playoff game. "We've worked all year for this."
"There's no way I'd ever disappoint you, Quinn," Max said sarcastically. He loved picking at her.
She could be a diva. But he also had a crush on her.
It was a very romantic piece. But he found the costume a little humiliating. The tunic was too short. The tights were a "bit revealing."
"Dude, it really shows your butt crack," Alex said when he first tried them on.
Quinn tried to reassure him.
"I really enjoy the view," Quinn whispered, putting her arm around him.
It was a really cool piece and really worth the humiliating costume.
One of the dance dads performed the role of the priest as they held the wedding scene right before the pas de deux. His lifts were breath-taking. The piece ended with the two in an embrace, Quinn giving him an unrehearsed kiss in the lips.
He could hear the girls screaming in the audience as the curtain drew to a close.
"You don't know how nervous I was watching you two during the lifts," Ms. Charlotte said.
Maxed wished Alex was there to share the moment.
That's how Alex felt on the mound in the bottom of the seventh.
"Just throw strikes," Bo assured her. "Put it in the hands of the defense. We've got this."
The bottom of the seventh was the equivelent of the ninth inning in middle school baseball.
The Raiders were clinging to a 2-1 lead with two outs. But the Glanville Giants had runners at second and third.
Alex struck out the first batter in the inning. But she walked the second batter. She felt relieved when the third batter hit into a fielder's choice.
But she was a little shook up when she gave up the double to left. A game that seemed won was suddenly on the verge of slipping away.
She wildly missed on her first two pitches to get behind the batter. But she got him to foul the next two pitches off to even the count.
Alex decided to throw her changeup, but the batter got a piece of it.
No big deal. It seemed like an easy boucer to first.
She and Max grew up Red Sox fans. They were too young to remember the days of heartbreak and knew only World Series success.
But they remembered their father talking to them about the '86 Series against the Mets, and about the ball going through first baseman Bill Buckner's legs when Boston was on the verge of a championship-clinching out. She'd watch the highlights of it on ESPN many times.
Mark Childers, Max's replacement at first, suddenly became Bill Buckner. The ball went right through his legs.
The rightfielder didn't get the throw in time to home plate to get the runner trying to score from second base.
The Giants won 3-2.
Alex fought back the tears. She ran over instead to try and comfort Mark, who couldn't fight them back. He fell to his knees and sat on the base.
She looked over to see Bo at the plate with a look of shock on his face not far from the Giants' wild celebration.
Coach Rogers called a team meeting near first base and tried to cheer his team up. They'd had a great season. No one expected them to make the playoffs.
It wasn't enough. Alex and her teammates silently packed up their gear in the dugut.
"We'd had won this game if your sissy brother wasn't playing ballerina tonight," one of her teammates whispered just loud enough for Alex to hear.
"Shut the FUCK up!" Alex said before ramming the boy into the dugout fence.
"Hold on, hold it right there," Coach Rogers said, breaking up the fight between his two players.
Alex took her gear and walked silently to the car. Her dad put his arm around his daughter.
"Proud of you," he said. "You pitched a great game."
It made her feel a little better.
But he also mentioned that he felt they would have won the game had Max played.
"Max is a dancer, dad," Alex said. "You need to be proud of him, too. They need him there tonight just like the Raiders needed me here. He would have been here if he could. I would have danced tonight with him if I could."
Her father looked at his watch as they climbed into his truck.
"The third act is about to start," he said. "We should be able to see a good part of it."
"That would be great dad," Alex said. "But can we stop by the flower shop first? I've got to pick up something for Max."
His costume he put on for the first piece of the third act was almost the complete opposite of what he had worn for the Romeo and Juliet pas de deux. Instead of tights and a short tunic, he wore dress pants, jazz shoes, white dress shirt and an untied bow tie.
It was his final pas de deux. He and Becca were doing a Balanchine piece to Gershwin. It was jazzy. It meant to liven the place up a bit. It had a few elements of swing in it.
And once again, the audience ate it up.
And once again, there was a mad dash. Mom and the other dance mom were waiting, as were reminders of his bond he had with Alex.
Sitting on the floor waiting on him was a pair of pointe shoes. He and Alex had done everything together growing up. They played t-ball, soccer and baseball together. They took ballet, jazz, tap and modern together.
They were two peas in a pod. When Alex was told she could go en pointe when they were 11, she begged for Max to take classes with her. Hence the point shoes. He was told there were a few benefits to boys taking pointe, including the part where it was good for strengthening his ankles.
But he never performed en pointe, at least not until that night. He had been in class. He had rehearsed the same parts as Alex. It was Ms. Charlotte who suggested Max perform Alex's parts.
Sitting in the floor by the pointe shoes were a pair of white tights and a leotard. They were Alex's. They were to be worn under her tutu.
Max wriggled his way into his sister's tights and leotards, grabbed his pointe shoes and rushed to the makeup table. The makeup lady took of his "manly" makeup and reapplied makeup befitting of a ballerina.
As he was getting his makeup on, Alex walked in the back door. She immediately hid the bouquet of roses she bought for her brother. His back was turned to her.
She wispered to Ms. Charlotte that she wanted to put the roses in his dressing room.
"No, I think it would mean more to him if you gave them to him during final bows," she said.
She took the roses from Alex.
Alex walked behind her leotard-clad brother as he walked over to his mother and another lady in the corner with his tutu and feathered crown. He didn't notice his sister.
She motioned for her mother not to mention she was there as Max began to put the tutu on. It was a tight fit around the waist, but looser around the hips.
"That's because you're bigger in the waist than Alex," his mother said. "And she's bigger in the hips. And it was designed to fit her."
"But I think he looks more beautiful in it than me," Alex said, surprising her brother.
"When did you get here?" he asked. "And please tell me we won."
"Just a few minutes ago," she said. "And nope, we lost. But I'm sure you've got a better report."
"He's done great," their mother said.
"I hate to interupt," the other mom said. "But Max has got to put his panties on, they're about to go on stage."
Max seemed embarassed as his pulled the fluffy bottom over the leotard.
"Don't be embarassed, bro," Alex said as she pulled the crown of feathers over his head.
"You're a swan, and you look really gorgeous," Alex said.
Max was one of the cygnets from a scene from Swan Lake. Alex told her mother she wished she were out there, but thought Max did great in her part.
"It's something he was born to do," she said.
There was one final dash, for the final piece of the show. Ms. Charlotte choreographed a piece called Faeries in the Mist.
Max was one of the faeries. He stripped off the tutu as leotards as best he could. Alex helped him as he put on her lilac leotard and tights she had bought for the piece. And then she helped him put on a long skirt over the leotard and faerie wings.
He didn't complain about being a pretty faerie. Or a swan for that matter.
"I'm dancing for you," he said as he kissed his sister in the cheek and took to the stage one final time.
His bourees were amazing, as were his fouettes and balances'.
"If I didn't know any better, I'd swear he was you," Ms. Charlotte whispered to Alex.
"Oh no, he dances more beautifully than me," she whispered back.
Again the piece brought thunderous applause and bravos.
Max and other ballerinas did their curtsies, something that was foreign to him until that night.
But the moment he cherished the most was the moment his dusty-looking ball-playing sister walked across the stage with a bouquet of roses and presented them to him.
He kissed her on the cheek.
"I should be giving these to you," Max said.
"Oh no," Alex said. "I had my moment, but it didn't quite turn out this well. This is your moment. This is what you were meant to do."
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