She’d heard whispers in the hallways. “AP’s a pretty little ballerina, but can she come off her pointes well enough not to ruin your work.” She was determined to prove them all wrong. As she crawled into bed with her math book and her laptop, she evaluated the situation. The digital ballerina clock that she’d had since for was 4 struck midnight as finished the last of her math homework. Shr pushed aside the book and turned on her laptop. Next item: e-mail Shelly. She hadn’t talked to her best friend in so long, even if it was only over e-mail. She needed to connect.
The e-mail took 15 minutes to write and was full of apologies for not writing sooner and detailing her too busy schedule. After she hit send, she opened the file that contained the 403 words that represented the entirety of her 2010 Nanowrimo effort. . It wasn’t a lack of interest. AP very much wanted to work on the tale of a dislocated 12-year-old New Yorker who suddenly found herself in the middle of Iowa with no culture and no friends, but at this point she didn’t have the time to do it and to make it the story she wanted it to be. Her father always called her a Renaissance woman because she liked to dabble in a lot of different artistic disciplines depending on her mood.
But she would discover as she got more and more into ballet that ballet was not an art form for dabblers. She felt although her parents never enforced this, that if she was going ask them to spend the $50 per pair on her dancing shoes, she better take dancing seriously. She also knew that if she ever wanted to dance with the Dance Theater of Harlem that required more commitment than she’d ever put into anything.
In truth, AP wondered what she was thinking when she told Moonbeam that she would participate in Nanowrimo ,too. It was true that was a tradition for all three of the youngest members of the Washington-Williams household to undertake and meet that challenge together. They’d succeeded for four years running. AP had surprised everyone, by completing a 50,000 novel at the age of 8! It had been a silly tale about a teddy bear princess who dance en pointe and rode around on a Pegasus named Barnaby, but she had done it. Her father, who didn’t often believe in sweets as a reward for accomplishment, “What’s so rewarding about tooth decay?” he’d say. But this once it had been different, he’d taken each of them out by themselves on three separate days and brought them each whatever food treat the asked for. His only condition was that, in exchange, he’d get at hear at least one page of each story.
Moonbeam had chosen to go to Tschudin Chocolates & Confections, take the Willy Wonka tour and gorge herself on a Jr. Chocolatier platter. Her story had been about a girl with William Syndrome who had used her special hearing abilities (Moonbeam could literally here a pin drop, as could a lot of people with her impairment) to solve mysteries, As a kid, AP had had friends whisper into a pillow and then bet them that her sister couldn’t repeat what they said. She’d won $35 before her father found out what she was up to and made her stop. AP had argued that she wasn’t in the wrong, because she split the money with Moonbeam and her sister had agreed to go along with the plan. He’d said he didn’t care and said that it was “exploitive” even if Moonbeam hadn’t been forced into it. AP didn’t know what exploitive meant, but from her father’s tone, she knew it wasn’t a good thing. She’d escaped the incident with only a half an hour time out.
MJ, who by then a popular high school freshman, had needed to tell his parents something for about a year and used his one dad time to do it. AP’d known what was up, even through she was only 8, and had been 7 when he told her, because he needed to tell someone and also because she’d caught him seeking him sneaking back into the house after curfew. She’d refused his bribe of a trip to the movies on Saturday after dance class. Something she was always begging him to do because since she felt like she barely he’d entered high school. “Look, MJ,” she’d said trying to sound as mature as her seven years would allow, “I know something’s up. You never babysit me anymore. You never come with daddy or mama to pick me up from ballet lessons or Moonbeam up from her music lessons. You used to do that all the time.”
“Look, AP, you’re a smart cookie, but you’re only 8. There’s a bunch of stuff going on for me right now that you can’t understand. God, kiddo, I wish you could. I wish anyone could.”
“Try me,” AP tried her best to sound grown up, although her big brother was scaring her right now.
“Where’d you learn that phrase?”
“TV,” she paused. “Am I using it properly?” She, in fact, knew she was, but she was trying to make to MJ laugh. She hadn’t heard him laugh in long time, as far as she knew neither had anyone else.
It worked. He burst out into his new acquired deep throated grown man laugh, that reminded her so of daddy’s, but only for minute. “Okay, you win.” he paused. “I like guys.”
“That’s all?” she asked. “God, MJ. The way you were acting I thought you robbed someone or got some girl pregnant.” At the time her mother had been working at Planned Parenthood and, therefore, AP knew everything there was to know about the birds and the bees despite only being in third grade. “No,” MJ said slowly, “I like guys the way Uncle Paul and Uncle Stephen like each other.”
Her uncle Paul and her uncle Stephen, were not, in fact, her real uncles. They were his father’s colleagues from his days in PhD program at Howard. They were the first openly gay PHD students in Howard’s history. They’d arrived in DC in 1971 an 1972, respectively. Paul had come to study medicine and Stephen had enrolled in the sociology department. When they’d decided to announce their relationship in 1973, many members of the Howard Community had shunned them and there had even been talk of expelling the pair. Morgan Washington-Williams had stood with them. He’d told the Howard administration that if they made Stephen and Paul leave the school, he’d call some of his white, progressive gay friends from his UMass days and tell on them. He told that they didn’t think they would like all that bad publicity. Howard had backed down. And so that was how Morgan Washington-Williams had become a permanent fixture in the lives of Paul Rogers and Stephen Smith.
AP had gone to their 30th anniversary party in 2003, she’d been 5 and her whole family had flown from Atlanta to Vermont where her uncles had lived and taught for the past decade. From the backseat, she remembered asking her mother why Uncle Paul and Uncle Stephen didn’t just get married, like the other grown-ups she knew who loved each other that way.
“Because they can’t,” replied her mother.
“Because certain people are bigots,” he father interjected.
“What’s a bigot?”
“A midguided person,” said her mother gently.
“Misguided is what grown ups say when they mean dumb.”
“That’s not exactly true-“ her mother began.
In a very uncharacteristic manner, Morgan Williams interrupted his wife mid sentence and laughed, “Yes, it is princess! Reality, out of the mouths of babes.”
She wondered if MJ remembered that conversation. She didn’t know why she recalled it so clearly, but figured that the Infinite Knowing, the way her parents taught her to refer to the being most people called God had known that one day MJ would need to be reminded of the way daddy had stood him for Uncle Stephen and Uncle Paul and therefore made her already sharp memory even sharper, just so she’d ready to have this conversation. She told him the story, ending with an encouraging, “Daddy won’t care if you’re like Uncle Stephen and Uncle Paul. Get a grip, MJ and just tell him so I can have my big brother back. I’ve missed you.”
“ I hope you’re right, AP.”
“I know I’m right, MJ. I know daddy. By the way, does Moonbeam know?” As close as she was to her brother and sister, she didn’t share the freaky twin bond that Moonbeam and MJ always had.
“No, it’s killing me not to tell her and I’m sure she knows something’s up. But you know everyone would know in under two minutes if I did.” This was true. As sweet, gifted, and generally good natured as Moonbeam was even at 8 AP knew not a tell her a secret. As hard as she might not try to blab, she’d forget herself for a moment, usually the worst possible time, and tell the world. Afterward, she’d feel horrible, but there was nothing she or anyone could do about a disclosed secret.
Dspite the conversation, MJ hadn’ told their father.. Not right away. Instead he wrote a novel in November featuring a black, gay young man who’s number one fear in life was coming out to his father. Then, in December, he’d taken advantage of his novel victory related alone time, read his dad and few pages and told the truth. They’d been gone longer than anyone expected and AP who had known what was being discussed had been getting a little worried when her brother and father, both damp eyed, had come home.
After dinner and lessons were done, they had a family meeting. MJ had told his mother and twin sister the truth as well. He told them about his talk with AP (although he left out the part about breaking curfew and pretended he’d simply been sitting on the couch and thinking when AP had gotten out of bed to get a drink). AP felt Moonbeam glaring at her from across the table. She knew that her older sister was feeling betrayed that her twin had talked to their baby sister instead of her. But she gotten up and hugged her brother anyway, peppering him with questions, such as, “Do you have a boyfriend?”, “How long have you known?”, and “What it’s like being gay?”
“Enough!” her mother had stopped the tirade.
“I don’t mind. It’s so good to be to tell people that even the 20 question machine known as Moonbeam couldn’t bother me.”
Their mother had looked pained in that moment. She put her hand on his shoulder, “I’m so sorry MJ.”
“It’s alright, mama.” And it had been. Throughout the years MJ had had more boyfriends than AP count. Their mother advised him to “be more selective” in his choices. Their father never said anything, accept to ground MJ whenever he was caught breaking curfew because some pretty boy made him forget to look at his watch.
One on one time with dad had been so rare back then that AP had sprung at the chance. Especially after MJ’s disclosure. Things had been a bit frosty between her and Moonbeam and a little one-on-one daddy time could, at that age, fix anything.
Her father had moved them from Atlanta to New Haven the previous June so he could pursue the tenure track job at Yale. AP didn’t know what tenure meant back then she just new that it met she had to move, leave behind her friends and the Royal Ballet Dance Academy in Atlanta, which she’d already decidedthe most important non-home place in her world, all so her father could take a new job. She’d started taking lessons there when she was only two. Now, at age 7, she was dancing nearly every afternoon and practicing sometimes for two full hours in addition. She knew her father worried about her devoting so much time to something, but as long as she kept her grades in the B+ or better range, she was allowed to dance as much as she wanted. Her father had rules, and a lot of them, but once he made agreements with anyone including his then 7-year-old, he kept them. “To teach children that adults are allowed to break their word to them merely because they are adults is unconscionable.” he said.
And so, although he raised his eyebrows anytime his 7-year-old asked to enroll in yet another dance class, he kept his word and wrote yet another check.
“What’s so special about Yale?” she remembering whining to her mother, on the way to a Flamenco lesson. “Why do we have move just so daddy can teach there?”
“Yale is very prestigious,” her mother had said.
“It means important. A lot of people applied for that job and daddy got it. It comes with a lot more money and maybe I can talk daddy into building you your own practice area in the basement.”
“Really?” Back then AP had settled for practicing in the corner of her room, using a discarded coffee table as a barre.
“Too bad I won’t have anywhere to dance.”
“What are you talking about? Honey, there are dance schools everywhere. I already called New Haven Ballet. And since someone’s about to be 7. I thought they’d enjoy enrolling in their new dance school’s summer program starting in July.”
AP perked up. “Maybe Connecticut won’t be so bad, after all.” And it hadn’t been. AP had studied with New Haven Ballet starting that summer and for the next four years. She’d gone on pointe at the 4th grade (a full two years and earlier than many dancers, just after her tenth birthday) and had danced the role of Clara in that year’s Nutcracker.
These, year, however, she wasn’t so confident of success. Between dancing four (and more often 6) hours a day minimum between her public school and her ballet school, rehearsing two shows during both of which she was a soloist for at least part of each evening , and having homework- especially Mr. Russo’s long involved history assignments- she certainly didn’t have time to write a 50,000-word novel. But still, Moonbeam, MJ and the rest of the Western Mass Nanowrimo contingent were depending on her.
Most importantly, Food for Thought Books were depending on her. AP had practically grown up in the store. Whenever her parents had come to the Valley for UMass Homecoming weekend, a ritual they never missed. Every time they’d come to Amherst, her father had always brought them to the worker owned, collectively run bookstore. He and Mama had managed to pull together $1000 to become founding members when the collective was first forming in 1976. Now the store was in trouble. She, Moonbeam, and MJ had come up with the idea of putting on this reading in October. If she really going to read at the reading on Dec. 8 and whether she finished 50,000 words or not, she had to have to something reasonably polished to read.
Sometimes she envied her mother and Moonbeam. They knew who they were. Moonbeam was a musician and her mother was an artist and an organizer. They both wrote but that was strictly a hobby. Sometimes AP felt as addicted to writing as she was to dance. Perhaps 12 was too young to make a big choice about what you wanted to do with the rest of your life. Wasn’t the rest of your life supposed to be 80 years or so?
As much sense as this new revelation made to her, she didn’t think Ellen, the dance director at PVPA or Elizabeth, the teacher of Advanced II at the Pioneer Valley Ballet would appreciate it. She might be a Renaissance woman, but that did not fit into modern life. In modern society, as her father always lamented, one had to specialize. And that specialization was coming younger and younger. It didn’t matter what AP agreed with it or not.
She wote seven pages before she glanced at the clock and saw 2:30 AM. She knew she’d need a good nights sleep to dance well tomorrow. She reluctantly left her main character, Claire, at a crucial point and promised herself to find somehow an hour of writing time tomorrow. It would be a broken up hour. Ten minutes in the car in the morning, 15 minutes during lunch, a half an hour on the ride home from PVPA to Easthampton and five minutes if her father was late when she got out of rehearsal. If he wasn’t, she would have to find five minutes somewhere else.
In a perfect world AP would have promised Claire two hours and would not stop writing until Bobby Joseph, her main character’s love interest, was significantly smitten. But life was what life was and an hour was all she could allocate. It was funny. But to AP, the people she created when she wrote stories were real people with opinions. They made their own decisions. She just wrote them down so that other people in what her favorite author, Jasper Fforde, called the outland, could understand and enjoy their adventures. She knew, of course, that this made her sound slightly crazy and so she avoided telling people it.
The next morning AP woke up at 4 a.m. She glanced at the clock, said a word her parents wouldn’t approve of and tried to go back to sleep. But creativity when it struck was a very insistent spirit, and by 4:15 she was out of bed, despite her body’s objection. “I’ll have plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead.” AP used her father’s frequent catchphrase. She didn’t know where he learned it from, but she guessed it was true. What could dead people possibly do but sleep.
She got her notebook and sat at her desk in her nightgown. Her cell phone alarm was still set to go off at 5:30, when she regularly got up to practice ballet. “This is pretty cool,” AP thought as she wrote page after page without interruption, but she realized that if she only 90 minutes of sleep she’d collapse by about mid-November at the latest.
In truth, it was about 11:00 in the morning. Midway through her third grand pile and fourth position that she regretted that early morning creative burst that had so quickly followed her nigh owl night.
“What’s wrong with you?” Jen asked. Jen was in charge of ballet at PVPA and AP was one of her favorite people.
“It’s nothing. I just got up a little too early this morning and stayed up to late night. You know how muses are when they want to work You can’t just ignore them because you’d rather sleep.”
Jen laughed. “Creative jags can be a good thing, but not if you wake up so early and go to bed so late you can’t concentrate in class.” AP blushed and the resulting adrenaline rush from being publically scolded carried her through the rest of class with no more than the usual amount of corrections for standard errors in dance positions. By 2 p.m. though, she was dragging again and considering the previously unheard of, at least on her part, idea of giving up her five minute performance slot at the weekly middle school open mic. But with the stubbornness her father both valued and disliked, she decided the show must go on and performed reasonably well, a bit of a Sugarplum Fairy solo.
Even though she was as tired as she could ever remember being, she managed to get through Nutcracker soloist rehearsal without Elizabeth noticing that she was feeling a bit off. AP considered this quite an accomplishment because Madam had a reputation for being very observant when anything was wrong with her dancers. When she reflected on it later that evening, she realized that the only reason she’d been able to pull it off was that she spent a lot of time between rehearsal segments napping if she wasn’t needed. Her father did not put a lot of faith in the catnap, but that particular Friday, AP felt catnaps had saved her life, or at least her performance.
If she danced and acted as sleepy as she was, Elizabeth would’ve surely put her out of the lineup and replaced her with Amy, who also shared the role or the one understudy for the role Ashley Adams, the understudy. No way was she going to allow that, no matter how tired she felt. Ashely and AP would share lead the Waltz of Flowers to boot, No one in the history of the school had ever danced two such important roles in the same Nutcracker season.