Dance Academy: Making the Name Fit by Lbilover

Originally written for Yuletide 2013.


"Thank you, Miss Karamakov. We'll be in touch."


Kat had been on enough casting calls now to read the lie behind the director's polite words. He wouldn't be in touch. She stood there awkwardly for a moment, twisting her hands in the coarse wool of her pioneer woman's costume. She knew she could have done better, and she wanted to ask for a second chance. But there were no second chances in this cutthroat world. It wasn't like the Academy, where the teachers wanted you to succeed, even if they made you cry at the same time. Rehearsal was over. This was real life.


"Miss Karamakov? You can go now."


Dismissed. Just as she'd been so many times since falling accidentally into a movie career. "Thank you for your time," she said. Head held high, she exited the audition room with what grace she could muster. The waiting room was filled with other women similarly dressed, waiting for their turn. She could see in their faces a hunger that was, and always had been, alien to her.


"Break a leg," she said brightly to the room at large, and it wasn't until she was safely out in the hallway that she slumped against the wall and said, "Well, shit." Her immediate reaction was to go to Coles, buy a giant loaf of white bread and a container of Rocky Road ice cream and scarf them down. Which was the absolute worst thing she could do.


It's only a minor role in a cheesy mini-series, not the lead in a Shakespeare play. But rejection hurt, damn it, and the worst part about it was that she couldn't blame them for rejecting her. She hadn't done her best. She'd stayed out late with Jamie the night before, and as a consequence overslept and arrived at the audition frazzled and under-prepared.


The story of my life, Kat thought ruefully.


Her cell phone vibrated in the pocket of her dress. At least she'd learned to turn the damn thing to vibrate, after several mortifying incidents where the phone rang as she was reciting her lines. Casting directors, she'd discovered, had very poor senses of humour when it came to actors taking calls in the middle of an audition.


The text was from Tara. Audition over yet?


Kat the Clunky strikes again, Kat texted back.


Oh Kat. Do u want to talk?


Kat was tempted. She knew that Tara would say all the right things. Stroke her ego, reassure her that she didn't suck, tell her not to give up because next time would be the charm. Injury might have temporarily clipped Tara's wings, but she'd never stop trying to fly nor having faith that Kat could, too. Only Kat had crashed and burned too many times to believe she was anything but an earthbound cassowary instead of an eagle, soaring weightless through the sky. And truthfully, she didn't deserve Tara's support, not right now. She'd screwed up - again.


L8r. Going to meet Jamie. But tx sweetie.


It wasn't technically a lie. She was seeing Jamie later. But she knew from Tara that the National Ballet was back in Sydney after their most recent tour, and that gave her an idea. Maybe it was time to seek advice from the person who was at the top of the list of those least likely to bullshit her or tell her what she wanted to hear. Abigail.


~*~


They met at the cafe outside the Academy. When Kat arrived, late as usual, she found Abigail seated on a stool at one of the tall glass-topped tables, with a salad and a glass of mineral water.


"Hi," Kat said with the same false-bright smile she'd given the room full of aspiring pioneer women. She and Abigail exchanged cheek kisses, and then Kat slid onto the stool opposite, letting her heavy purse fall to the ground. "Sorry I'm late."


"Just like old times," said Abigail sardonically.


"At least I'm consistent in my inconsistency," Kat joked.


The waitress stopped at the table and took Kat's order, a cheeseburger and hot chips. Abigail raised her eyebrows, but said nothing. After she left, they studied each other in silence, taking in the changes.


Although she'd texted and emailed with Abigail from time to time, and seen a few videos of her performances with the Company, Kat hadn't physically set eyes on her since the dance studio dedication, just over a year ago now. Abigail had changed, she decided. It wasn't only that the demanding life of a professional dancer had honed her like a knife blade, removing every last vestige of adolescent fullness from her face and body. She carried herself differently, with natural self-confidence instead of in-your-face defiance or brittle arrogance. Kat felt a pang of loss. Abigail had moved ahead, into an adult world that she herself still found out of reach. When would she stop bumbling and floundering around and join her?


A stream of students rushed past on their way to class, parting around their table like water around a rock. Kat watched Abigail watch them. Her friend's face was unreadable. "Do you ever miss it?" she asked curiously.


Abigail jabbed her fork into the salad as if it offended her. "You mean the constant stress, pressure, competition and uncertainty? I'm sorry, do I look insane to you?"


But Kat said, "I miss it sometimes." And she thought that Abigail did, too, even if she'd rather die than admit it.


"Of course you do," Abigail replied. "The difference between us, Peter Pan, is that at heart you're still a first-year and you probably always will be."


Ouch. But that was why she was here, after all. "Abigail, I need your advice," she blurted out.


Abigail raised her eyebrows again. "Instead of Tara? I'm flattered."


Kat ignored the jibe. It was second nature for Abigail, and time had proven the bond among them held fast, thanks largely, but not entirely, to Sammy. "I went on an audition today and I mucked it up, big time."


"Oh? So being a movie star isn't all it's cracked up to be? But I could have sworn I saw you in a commercial for a hair removal product. Or was it hemorrhoids?"


"Oh ha, ha. It was shampoo. But no, it's not all it's cracked up to be, and it's my fault."


"Let me guess." Abigail tapped blunt, pink lacquered nails on her straw. "You've been showing up late for auditions and you're not prepared. After stumbling into the lead role in a movie, now you're discovering that being an actor requires, gasp, hard work. The kind you've spent most of your life avoiding."


Kat was silent. Of course Abigail was right. She'd squandered so many opportunities because she simply wasn't willing to make the necessary sacrifices. "How do I know that it's worth it?"


Abigail leaned forward. "Do you want to be an actor, Kat?"


She answered unhesitatingly. "Yes. Yes, I do." That epiphany had taken her by surprise. Somewhere along the line, after perhaps her tenth rejection, when once she would have cut and run, she realised that she was going to stick with it, come hell or high water.


"Then it's worth it." Abigail settled back. "Listen, I'm not saying that achieving your dream means everything is perfect. I've traded one level of stress, pressure, competition and uncertainty for another. But I'm a dancer with the National Ballet. However long or short my career is, no one can ever take that away from me."


"I'm not capable of cutting up someone's costume to get there," Kat said dubiously.


Abigail smiled at that. "You'd rather draw kittens and rainbows on it."


"Yeah," admitted Kat. "But I need to be more like you; I just don't know how."


"You don't have to be like me, doofus." Abigail rolled her eyes. "Kat, you're already cutting up a costume: your own. Have some faith in your abilities. If you don't, no one else will. If you want my opinion, your biggest problem is that luggage you're still hauling around with you. Just because you're a Karamakov doesn't mean every good thing that happens to you is undeserved or unearned."


Kat was shaken. "Wow. Where did that insight come from?"


"How many years have we known each other? I'm not blind or stupid."


"I guess I am. I honestly never considered that."


"I'll email you my bill. So, you want to be an actor? Then how about you act out a scene for me right now."


"What?"


"You heard me. I want you to throw your luggage in the harbour."


Kat gave Abigail a what-the-fuck look. "You're serious."


"Absolutely. Now get off that stool and throw your luggage in the harbour. And make me believe it, Karamakov. I want to hear it splash. Loudly."


With a shrug Kat got down. Okay, you can do this. You can, she told herself. She stood there for a minute, trying to visualise the luggage: its size, colour, weight. Abigail, arms crossed, was watching Kat, her expression eerily similar to that of yesterday's casting director. Kat shut her eyes to block it out.


Slowly, the luggage took shape in her mind: a battered, old-fashioned brown steamer trunk with tarnished brass fittings. Stickers from all the places she'd travelled with her parents covered it; they were faded and peeling away. The trunk was heavy, very heavy, weighted down not with her belongings but with expectation, disappointment, failed hopes and dreams, and yes, a persistent doubt that everything she achieved was because of whom, not what, she was.


Having visualised the luggage, now she had to move it, and she knew it was going to take every ounce of her strength. She went behind it, bent to place her palms against the end, and started to push. The trunk resisted, remaining stolidly in place. Kat strained, grunting with the effort, and slowly it began to move, scraping noisily over the pavement. By the time she'd pushed it to the edge of the quay, she was panting and sweating and swearing. Damn Abigail, she thought.


She straightened, easing her aching back, and took several deep breaths. Moment of truth, Karamakov. Once she pushed the trunk into the gleaming waters of Sydney Harbour and it sank from sight, every built-in excuse she had for failure would go with it. It was at once both a terrifying and liberating thought.


"Eeee-YAHHHH!" With almost a primal scream of release, Kat gave the trunk a last powerful shove. It hit the water with an almighty splash and then it was gone. She stood there, staring at the spot where it had disappeared, and euphoria filled her. She'd done it!


"Yes! Yes!" she chanted, fist pumping and dancing madly around. People were watching her as if she were entirely mad, but she didn't care. The only person whose reaction to her performance mattered was Abigail. She looked at her friend, now standing nearby, to find her grinning widely.


"That," Abigail said, "was brilliant. Best imaginary luggage-deep-sixing performance I've ever seen. I bet they heard the splash in Melbourne." She held up her hand and Kat high-fived her jubilantly. "You, my dear Miss Karamakov, are an actor."


"I was good, wasn't I?" Kat said immodestly.


"Just this once I'll stroke your ego and agree," Abigail said. "So, when is your next audition?"


"Bright and early Thursday morning." Kat made a face. "But it's for a television pilot. Just a supporting role, but it could mean long term gainful employment if the show gets picked up."


"I'll go with you," Abigail said. "We're on a short break before the Sydney season begins, so I'm free right now." There was a familiar determined glint in Abigail's eyes; she wasn't asking Kat's permission. "I'll point out the flaws in your competition while you're waiting for your turn."


"You'd do that for me?"


"Ye-es," Abigail said, drawing out the word so that a 'duh' was implicit. "But if you go all gooey grateful on me, Kat, I'll change my mind, I swear."


"Oh Abby!" Kat threw her arms around Abigail in a sweaty hug.


"Yuck," Abigail said, but she hugged Kat back just as hard. "Now come and cruelly eat that cheeseburger and hot chips in front of me while I finish my salad. Sometimes I really hate you, you know?"


They returned to the table and Kat ate her cheeseburger, pretending not to notice when Abigail stole a few chips off the plate. The conversation was light and easy, with no further mention of serious matters, but before they parted ways, Kat wrote down the address of the studio where the casting call was being held. "I'll see you Thursday morning," she said, giving Abigail the slip of paper. "I promise I won't be late."


"You better not be. I'm not prepared to poison the competition for you." Abigail took the paper, folded it and tucked it into her purse. "Well, until Thursday then." She only took a few steps when she stopped and turned her head. "I lied to you earlier," she said abruptly. "I do miss it sometimes."


"I know," Kat said, but Abigail was already gone.


~*~


"Thank you, Miss Karamakov."


Kat waited for the inevitable 'We'll be in touch' to be tacked on, but instead the casting director leaned over and murmured something to the man sitting next to her. They conversed sotto voce for a minute, while Kat waited with sweaty palms and hope in her heart. She'd given it her very best this time. Was it good enough?


Finally the casting director straightened and looked at Kat. "We'd like you to come back tomorrow and read the role of Eleanor."


"But- but that's the lead." Kat was stunned.


She smiled. "Yes. As it happens, we think you might be exactly what we're looking for in that part. Shall we say eleven o'clock, Miss Karamakov?"


And for almost the first time in her life, the sound of her last name was music to Kat's ears. She couldn't wait to tell Abigail so.


~end~


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