This is the sequel to His Secret. I originally wrote the stories in 2007-08 when the Iraq war was still raging. Thanks again to Patricia Allen for the proofing.
It had been an unusual Christmas.
Two families sharing a house. Two families in the process of healing.
One family trying to overcome the death of a father who died of cancer a couple of years before. Another trying to heal from a father out of control and a marriage that fell apart.
After a few weeks, they seemed to becoming a patchwork family unit, one that was in the process of celebrating the holidays as best it could.
Kyle stared at the ceiling of what was once his good friend -sudden dance partner Olivia's father's study while his mother and Olivia's mother were preparing the Christmas meal.
He was still in the process of converting it into what was going to be his tiny, cluttered refuge for the next few months.
"Knock, knock," he heard Olivia say before she slowly opened the door.
"Come on in," he said.
"Still say this room needs more of a woman's touch," Olivia said with a smile.
"What part of this house doesn't have a woman's touch?" Kyle said, rolling his eyes.
"I know ... too much estrogen," Olivia said, picking at Kyle. "But you love us, you really do!!!"
"Yeah I do," Kyle said, taking a slightly serious tune. He was the lone male in a home with two mothers and four sisters, which in itself was proving a challenge.
"So what's up?" he asked.
"Our moms want us in the kitchen to help them with Christmas dinner," Olivia said. "Madame Kathryn will be here any minute. Claire's also coming over to get the gift we got her before she goes to see her dad at the base."
"Tell them I'll be down in a minute," Kyle said.
Staying at the Whites' house had been good for his mom, he thought. It was also good for Olivia's mom, too. They had each other to lean on during what was a tough time for both.
His sisters, well they fit right in with Olivia's, screaming all the time and doing their best to annoy their older siblings.
His relationship with Olivia had taken a much different turn, one he never really expected.
He was one of many boys in the seventh grade who had a crush on the incredibly popular eighth grade cheerleader.
He now looked on her as a close friend, an older sister and a mentor. He had grown closer to her than even his friendship with Beth, or Justin or Alex, which in turn also made him a closer friend with Claire.
He shared with Olivia about the girls he liked and even admitted he had a crush on Emilee. She talked to him about the boys she liked and what she thought were good traits she looked for.
She opened his eyes to different styles of music, books, movies and even art. He did his best to "educate her" on gaming and sports. She had gotten him involved with the youth group praise and drama teams at church.
Their biggest link was their passion for dance, especially ballet. They often went up into the rec room upstairs and try to choreograph and even got their sisters involved.
"Oh there you are," his mother said when he finally ended his time of reflection and came down to the kitchen. "Help Olivia get the turkey out of the oven."
"That's a really nice job, thanks for all the help," Olivia's mother said, looking at the nicely set table. "As soon as Kathryn gets here, we'll be ready to eat."
It turned out to be perfect timing. The doorbell rang at exactly the time their guest of honor said she would arrive.
"She's never late," Olivia said. "That's why she fusses at us if we are ever late for class."
Kyle was there to open the door.
"Why thank you Kyle, you are a perfect gentleman," Madame Kathryn said, handing him a stack of presents to place under the tree.
"Kathryn, we are so glad you could come," Kyle's mother said, showing her to the dining room.
"My, this all looks really nice," she said. "Thank you for inviting me."
Inviting their dance teacher was Olivia's mother's idea. Madame Kathryn's son was a missionary living in Kenya. She had no other family living close by.
Kyle pulled out her chair at the table.
"Thank you again, you have such good manners today," she said.
"We've been working on that, haven't we Kyle?" Olivia said with a wink.
"Kyle, would you mind saying grace?" Olivia's mother asked as they prepared to eat.
"Yes, ma'am," he said. "Heavenly Father, we thank you for the food we are about to eat and for the many blessings you've given us. Amen."
"Short and to the point, Kyle," Madame Kathryn said with a smile.
She inquired about how Kyle's mother was doing trying to get their life back in order.
"It's been difficult," Judith Thornton said. "Since Bill set fire to the house, the insurance company isn't going to pay to have it restored. We're having to sell the property to take care of all the bills we owe."
"It's been slow going finding another place to live," she continued. "Abby's insisted we continue to stay here to keep from having to pay for an apartment while we try to put some money away and get everything finalized. With what Bill did, the financing process is going to be a bit slow."
"I've told them not to rush," Olivia's mother chimed in. "We've enjoyed having them here. They've helped us as much as we've helped them."
The conversation soon turned to dance.
"I have some interesting news," Madame Kathryn said, looking over at Olivia and Kyle. "A friend of mine, Christina Carlton, is the head of the dance department at Concordia College. She saw our production of the Nutcracker and was very impressed with some of my students."
"Kathryn, that's wonderful," Olivia's mother said.
"She is forming a youth company to dance with her college company," Madame Kathryn said. "She's extended an invitation to Olivia, Claire, Eva and Kyle. Kyle, she was amazed you've only been dancing for a few months."
"Wow! Can you believe that?" Olivia said, elbowing her friend.
Kyle was stunned.
"What all would be involved?" Kyle's mother asked.
Madame Kathryn informed them rehearsals and classes would be every Saturday morning.
"It would mean a lot of dedication and sacrifice," she said. "It will be a lot of hard work, especially for Kyle since he doesn't have much experience. I don't want to bring you along too quickly that we cut corners and develop bad habits."
Rehearsals would start in mid-January.
"Your classes at school with Marie will really help," Madame Kathryn told Olivia and Kyle. "I may even throw in a few more classes, if we need to. But I want to make sure you won't be sacrificing too much that it hurts your school work."
Kyle and Olivia both admitted it was a bit overwhelming news.
"Wait until Claire hears about this," Olivia told Madame Kathryn. "She's coming over this afternoon."
It was a quiet ride to Camp Shelby. The only noise in the Thompson's car was the music coming from the CD player.
"You know, we're going to have to put on our best face for dad," Gayle Thompson told her oldest daughter, Claire. "You're going to have to be strong for your sister and brother."
"I know, mom," Claire said, sounding a bit downcast.
It wasn't easy to do.
Their father's departure for Iraq put a dark cloud over what had been an exciting Christmas break. The Nutcracker was fun. Claire enjoyed her gift from Olivia and Kyle, an art set that she really wanted.
The chance to join a junior company connected to a respected college dance program was exciting.
But all of that took a back seat. Claire was really concerned about her father.
"Why do you have to go?" she asked him when he found out a few weeks ago that he was going back to Iraq for a third time.
"I'm a Guardsman, it's my duty," he told her. "You should be proud of me, just as I'm proud of you every time you dance on stage."
"I am dad," she told him as they hugged.
But she feared he wouldn't be coming back. His best friend died when they ran over a roadside bomb during his last deployment.
She also remembered how Olivia felt when her father died of cancer. It was a feeling she never wanted to experience.
She tried to be upbeat as they pulled into the parking lot at the gym. She knew the routine pretty well.
There were the decorations of red, white and blue. There were the speeches by government officials and the unit commander. There was the meal with other families before the departure.
"Your mother told me you have a chance to join a junior ballet company," Steve Thompson said to his daughter. "You must be excited."
"Yeah, dad," she said. "I wished you could be here to see me perform."
"There will be other performances," he assured her. "I was proud of you during Nutcracker. I'll only be gone a year."
Her father then told her mother he would be going to Kuwait first. It would be a few weeks before he would actually deploy in Iraq. He wasn't allowed to tell her where.
She and Claire both knew it would be a dangerous assignment. He was a captain in an MP unit and part of their assignment would be training Iraqi policemen.
Claire put her arm around her mother and held her brother's hand as her father's bus pulled out, heading to the air base where they would make their flight around the world.
She tried not to cry. So did her mother. It didn't work. Both broke down as they returned to the car.
As they began the journey home, Claire called Olivia and Kyle on her cell phone.
Kyle changed in the boys' bathroom in the auxiliary gym and rushed into the classroom.
"Glad you could join us, slow poke," Miss Arceneaux said as he rushed to put his shoes on. "Hurry and take your place at the barre.
He slid into his familiar spot between Beth and Emilee, which brought a smile from Olivia.
"He's invited Emilee to have dinner with us," Olivia whispered to Claire. "They're also supposed to go to the movies together."
"You know, they are cute together," Claire whispered back.
"Claire, Olivia, is there something you'd like to share with the rest of the class?" Miss Arceneaux said, bringing nods of "no" from the two girls.
"If not, then let's get started," she said. "Ladies and gentleman, first positions. We'll start with a demi-plie and releve, demi then grande. Port de bras forward and back. In second, demi, releve, demi, grande and toward the barre..."
Kyle was glad to be back in class. He wasn't the only one. For Claire, it was also an escape, although she still had trouble concentrating.
"Claire, darling, focus," Miss Arceneaux said, very aware she was distracted.
Miss Arceneaux kept things simple in the first class back from Christmas break. But she still kept a watchful eye.
"Kyle, you can do a better job pointing your foot on those tendus," she said as they went through exercises of tendus, degagges, ron de jombres and grande battements.
"Beth, I want a little better turnout in second," she said. "A little bit higher on demi-point, Emilee."
They appreciated the scrutiny. They also appreciated the challenge.
"All of you can be a little cleaner," Miss Arceneaux said when they executed a jete, jete, pas de bouree, assemblee combination facing the barre.
The class ended with a flourish, including something Kyle had never heard of.
"What's a lame duck?" he asked his teacher as they prepared for a combination across the floor that also included pique turns.
The class always seemed to go too fast.
"Good job for a first day back," Miss Arceneaux said when they finished up with Kyle doing a bow and the girls curtsies.
"I need all of you to stay for a few minutes," she said as they took their seats on a bench on a side wall.
She informed the class that the principal was pleased the class was going well and then passed out a note to each member of the class.
"She wants us to do an end of the year performance," she said.
"You mean here, in front of the whole school?" Kyle asked, staring down at the sheet, which detailed what dance they were going to perform and costume information.
"Yes, is that a problem?" Miss Arceneaux asked.
He shook his head no. But still, there was a feeling of fear.
"You've performed in the Nutcracker, why is this a big deal?" Olivia whispered.
"That wasn't in front of the whole school," Kyle whispered back.
"You look nice, she'll be very impressed," Olivia said as Kyle looked at himself in the mirror.
It startled him. He didn't know she was there. He was a little embarrassed. But he wanted to look nice for Emilee.
"She's downstairs, Claire's here, too," Olivia said. "Mom said dinner's almost ready."
"Don't you guys think you're overdoing this a bit?" Kyle said.
It seemed the whole household was making a big deal about his "first date,” although it didn't entirely feel like one. Olivia and Claire were also going. They were going to meet a couple of boys from school at the movies.
Deep down, he couldn't admit he was actually excited about it. It was Olivia's idea. She came up with it as soon as he confided in her that he liked Emilee.
Kyle pulled the chair out for Emilee when they entered the dining room. He stammered for words to say.
"I think you look pretty awesome," he told her. He felt it came out a little awkward.
"I think you look pretty nice, too," Emilee said.
"I think he dresses up pretty well, doesn't he?" Olivia asked.
"Oh, stop it, you're embarrassing him," Olivia's mother said.
"Well, he does look pretty nice," Emilee responded. "It's another side of you I haven't seen. You look so different than when you're wearing regular school clothes."
"Or wearing a tee-shirt, tights and covered with sweat," Claire said, leaning over to Emilee.
"This is what it's like all the time," Kyle said. "I'm so outnumbered."
"He gets teased a lot around here," Kyle's mom said.
"Don't worry, I like that look in you best," Emilee said, trying to reassure Kyle.
"This all looks pretty nice," Emilee said, looking at the meal of spaghetti, bread and salad.
"Believe it or not, Olivia and Kyle made it," Kyle's mother said.
"Actually, it was more Olivia than me," Kyle said.
"He actually did more than he lets on," Olivia said. "I'm trying to teach him some culinary skills. I told him it will be useful when he's all alone dancing professionally."
"Somehow, I don't believe he'll be alone," Claire said. "Somehow, I get the impression we're all going to living in some loft together in New York."
"That's her dream, at least," Kyle told Emilee.
"So is that your dream, to be a professional dancer?" Emilee said.
"I dunno," Kyle said. "That's too much in the future. I haven't been dancing that long. I'm nowhere near as good as Olivia and Claire."
"Don't let him fool ya," Olivia said. "I know his ambitions. He's the only boy I know with posters of Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods...and Paloma Herrera and Darcy Bussell on his wall."
"The Paloma and Darcy posters were actually Olivia's idea," Kyle said. "But she's got me. I'm going to be a professional football player, golfer and a dancer."
"Cute, very cute," Olivia said.
The conversation then took a more serious turn.
"So Claire, have you heard from your dad?" Kyle's mom asked.
"Oh yeah, they're in Kuwait now," Claire said. "We talked with him around three this morning."
"How are you guys making it?" Olivia's mom asked.
"Well, it's tough," Claire said. "When he gets to Iraq, mom will have the TV on CNN all the time. She doesn't get much sleep. I probably won't either, this time. It's really tough on my brother. Dad would play ball in the yard with him all the time. He misses that."
"You know, you guys coming along on this date-thing is probably a good idea," Kyle leaned over, whispering to Olivia.
"Yeah, I thought it would be good for her, too," Olivia said.
Kyle was hoping no one was looking when reached over to hold Emilee’s hand during the movie. It made him feel good when Emilee squeezed his hand and leaned over by his seat.
"It's a good movie, don't you think," she whispered. "I know you're glad it's not a chick flick."
Much to Kyle's surprise, Olivia the matchmaker actually picked National Treasure 2.
"Yeah it is," he said and looked over at Olivia, who winked and nodded as if to give her approval that they were holding hands.
"They're so cute together," Olivia whispered to Claire.
"I'm afraid we're being watched," Kyle whispered to Emilee.
"Well that's okay," Emilee said.
They still had some time left over after the movie before Olivia's mother was supposed to pick them up. Olivia's and Claire's dates suggested they go the Starbucks next to the Theater to hang out.
"So what do you think of Eric and Daniel?" Olivia asked Kyle as they were walking.
"They seem really cool," Kyle said.
Eric Russell was Olivia's date. Daniel Stephenson was Claire's. Like Olivia and Claire, they were in the eighth grade. Both were star players on the football and basketball teams.
"You know you're going to put us to shame," Eric joked with Kyle when Kyle opened the door for the girls and pulled out Emilee's seat for her when they sat down.
"I don't mean to be doing that," Kyle said.
"Don't apologize for being a gentleman," Claire said with a laugh.
Eric and Daniel seemed to take a lot of interest in the fact that Kyle took ballet.
"So you are the only guy dancing in there with all of those girls?" Daniel asked.
"Most of the time," Kyle said. "There were a couple of other guys in the Nutcracker. And there probably will be some other guys when we go to Concordia for junior company."
"So what is it like?" Eric said.
"It was awkward at first, I do admit," Kyle said. "But the girls are really cool about it."
"We think it’s very cool that he is in there with us," Olivia said.
"So do you still get picked on at school?" Daniel asked.
"Yeah, some," Kyle said. "But it's gotten a little better."
He didn't tell them he wasn't exactly thrilled they would be performing in front of the whole school at the end of the year.
"You are one brave dude," Eric said.
"My dad says Kyle is the bravest guy he knows," Claire said.
Kyle was kind of shocked. He took it as a compliment.
"Your dad is the bravest guy I know," Kyle said. "Especially since he is going to Iraq."
"So Emilee, are you jealous that Kyle and Olivia are partners," Eric said, halfway joking, but interested in Emilee's response.
"Well a little, but I'm cool with it," Emilee said.
"I'm not the only one Kyle partners," Olivia said. "He also partners Claire and Eva. When Emilee goes en pointe, he'll probably partner her, too."
"Dude, how do you get to partner so many girls?" Daniel asked.
"I'm the only guy in class," Kyle said. "We work on partnering after Madame Kathryn's classes during the week. But really, we're just getting started. I'm not really that good at it."
"Oh, he's pulling your leg," Claire said. "Madame Kathryn says he and Olivia are two of the most talented students she's ever had. That's why he partners Olivia the most. They’re going to do a little pas de deux in our show at school."
"You're not jealous, are you Eric?" Emilee said, her chance to get back at him for asking her that question.
"Well, maybe so," he said. "But if you're cool with it Emilee, so am I."
"You know Kyle, if you get to partner all of those girls, maybe Eric and I should try ballet," Daniel said.
Eric was shaking his head no and was hoping his friend was kidding.
"What's wrong, chicken?" Olivia giggled.
"Oh, they're not man enough to do it," Claire said.
"I've got to admit you are right on that one," Daniel said. "Seriously Kyle, you've got our respect. For a seventh grader, you're pretty cool."
Just then, Olivia's mother's van pulled up.
"Alas, our carriage awaits," Olivia said in a fake English accent. "Eric, would you be a dear and hold the door for us."
"Well, Kyle isn't the only one who can be a gentleman," Eric said.
"You're doing fine," Olivia whispered as Kyle held her waist.
"Easy for you to say," Kyle thought as he turned her.
The pas de deux work they were doing was pretty simple. He wasn't experienced enough, or had progressed enough to do the complicated stuff.
That, in the words of Madame Kathryn, would come later.
But this was the most detailed work they had done, the most intense. They also had an audience.
Claire and Eva were awaiting their turns. Beth and Emilee were allowed to sit in on the class.
But the most important pair of eyes were Made Kathryn's. Every little move they made was analyzed. No one else was dancing.
All eyes were on them.
"You can breathe, Kyle," Madame Kathryn said, knowing her student was in deep concentration on what they were trying to do.
He tried his best not to drop Olivia. Or slip, or do anything else to embarrass himself. He wanted to make sure he held her hand right when he needed to.
It helped that Olivia knew how do guide him. They moved in concert with one another.
"You've got to admit, they do dance very well together," Emilee whispered to Beth.
"They're very beautiful, I can't wait until we're able to do it," Beth whispered back.
Kyle spent most of the time working with Olivia, although he tried his best when it came time to work Claire and Eva. For some reason, things went a little better with Olivia. She seemed lighter.
But he didn't say anything.
"One reason you worked more with Olivia is that you'll be dancing with her during your school show and during our recital at the end of the year," Madame Kathryn said. "What you'll be doing in your school show will be part of what we're going to be doing at the recital. I want to make things easier."
He appreciated it. So did the girls. A lot of what they were going to be working on would get them ready for the two shows.
After the class was over, she called Kyle, Olivia and Claire into her office.
"So you're going to Concordia on Saturday?" she asked.
"Yes, we're really excited about it," Olivia said.
"Good!" Madame Kathryn said. "You'll get good teaching. It will give you a chance to be around and work with some very talented dancers, especially the ones involved in the college program. I know it will be a good experience for you, Kyle."
The partnering work was the end of a very fun, intense class. Homework awaited.
"So how was class?" Olivia's mom asked after Olivia and Kyle finished changing and headed for her car.
"It was pretty intense, really cool," Kyle said.
"We're worked some on our pas de deux, mom," Olivia said. "He did great."
"Speaking of which, Kyle, your mom and I are working on both of your costumes," Abby White said. "We want to make sure you two match."
"That will be cool," Olivia said. "Your tunic will match my tutu."
"Oh yeah, Olivia, Janice Walker called," her mother said. "She wants to know if you want to teach at the community center. It's going to be a lot of work, especially since it will take up your Saturday with you guys at Concordia College in the mornings."
"Tell her I still want to do it," Olivia said.
"I didn't know you teach," Kyle said.
"It's a class of under privileged kids around 6 or 7," Olivia said. "I teach them a little basic ballet and jazz. It's really fun, which is why I want to do it. It's also the reason I'm drafting you to help."
"Drafting me?" Kyle said. "What if I had plans to get together with Justin or Alex after we're done with junior company work?"
"Well, it's only for a couple of hours," Olivia said. "Besides, there's money involved."
"So we get paid to do it?" Kyle said.
"Yup, getting paid for something you like to do," Olivia said. "What a concept, huh?"
“Wow!” Olivia said as she, Claire and Kyle stood in the Concordia College dance studio.
It didn’t have that old, been there for years look like the studio at Madame Kathryn’s. It didn’t have that let’s convert this room into a ballet classroom look like the room in the auxiliary gym at school.
The room was new. It was state-of-the-art. The floor was wooden. The barres and the mirrors were nice.
“Ladies, your dressing room is right over there,” said Christina Carlton, pointing to a door that led into the classroom. “Kyle, your dressing room is over there.”
Kyle was impressed. He changed in a storage room at Madame Kathryn’s. He didn’t have to race from a locker-room or change in the bathroom like he did at school.
He walked into a room with lockers and showers.
“How’s it goin?” said a boy close to his age. “I’m Nick Carlton.”
He was the son of the head of the dance department.
Suddenly, two more guys walked in. They were college students. They introduced themselves as Eric and Aaron.
They seemed like normal guys, Kyle thought, as they changed.
The class was pretty full. Dancers from the college company made up more than half of the class. Dancers invited to be part of the youth company were from all over the area. Nick and Kyle were the only boys in the youth company.
Ms. Carlton put them all through intense warm-ups. It was only the beginning. The class itself was a lot more intense. Kyle, Olivia and Claire marveled at the ability of the college dancers. They were incredible.
Kyle and Claire were amazed at Olivia. She seemed to hang right in there with the college students.
Ms. Carlton divided the class into girls and boys, each group doing different things. The boys concentrated on leaps and jumps.
Kyle was amazed at Nick, Eric and Aaron. They seemed to soar when they did grande jetes. All three spun like tops doing pirouettes. They did multiple ones with ease.
Kyle, on the other hand, felt like he had two-left feet compared to his colleagues.
“Don’t let it bother you,” Eric said. “I was a late starter like you.”
Kyle was impressed. Eric was the best of them all.
“You also have to remember that Ms. Carlton had Nick dancing before he could walk,” Eric said. “You wouldn’t be here if Ms. Carlton didn’t think you could dance.”
They took a break. Ms. Carlton took a few minutes to lecture on nutrition.
“I’m not big into over-thin dancers,” she said. “I want you to eat healthy.”
She advised them on what exercises to do, recommending Pilates.
“I also want you to balance your dancing with your studies,” Ms. Carlton said. “I know many of you who are here for the youth company dance several nights a week. But if you struggle with your grades, you will not be allowed to participate. It is also important that you have enough free time.”
Class resumed with pas de deux work. Kyle worked with both Olivia and Claire. He also watched in wonder as Eric and Aaron worked with their partners. They seemed to really work in unison.
They were all exhausted and sweaty when it was over.
“Thank you for all of the hard work,” Ms. Carlton told them. She then informed them they would be working toward a performance that included several small pieces. “It’s going to take a lot of dedication.”
Kyle waited for Olivia and Claire to get changed before leaving. Olivia’s mother would be taking them home.
“Kyle, I want to talk to you,” Ms. Carlton said.
He was extremely nervous. What if she changed her mind about him? What if he really wasn’t ready?
“How did you feel during class?” she asked.
He didn’t know how to respond. How could he say he was a little overwhelmed? But he told her the truth.
“You should never compare yourselves to them,” Ms. Carlton said about Nick, Eric and Aaron. “I know you have been only dancing for a few months. I want you to relax. I’m not going to ask you to do more than what I think you can do. I see enormous potential in you. You have more talent, I believe, than Nick, Eric or Aaron. But don’t tell them I said that.”
“Thanks, Ms. Carlton,” Kyle said.
“Well, are we ready to go?” Olivia said as she and Claire emerged from the locker-room.
“I guess so,” Kyle said.
Olivia’s mother dropped Claire off first. She then pulled into the parking lot at the community center.
“Have a good time, you two,” she said.
“The girls are waiting on you,” a woman said as Kyle and Olivia entered the building.
“Let’s go change,” Olivia said.
Kyle thought it was funny. He just got through changing at Concordia College. Now he was changing back into his dance clothes.
He entered the room where 10 girls aged 6-to-10 were decked out in an assortment of leotards and tutus.
Olivia introduced herself and Kyle to the girls. They went around the room getting names.
Olivia then popped in the music and led the girls in basic ballet steps, with Kyle also demonstrating. The girls giggled at the sight of being taught by a boy. Kyle admitted it was fun.
“I just wanted to tell you that my daughter thinks it’s cool she has a boy for a teacher,” one of the mothers said as Kyle walked out in street clothes.
“Thank you,” he said.
“Told you it would be fun,” Olivia said as they collected their money.
“Nothing like making money for something you like to do,” Kyle joked.
“So Kyle, you think one of these days you would want to teach, I mean after we dance professionally?” Olivia said.
“You know, I could get used to the idea,” he said.
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