by Libby Robare
Danielle stood at the bus stop at the end of a long day, trying to stop stressing. She had a mountain of homework to do, and was already exhausted from dance team practice. They were performing in two weeks, and she knew she needed to be practicing more at home. On top of that, they were supposed to go to the volleyball game on Friday, to support the team. Danni didn’t care about sports, she just liked dancing. Apparently, some of the special girls on the team were going to perform at the volleyball game, but she hadn’t been selected. In fact, she had recently heard that she’d have to show up for extra practice on Thursday nights. The email she’d received had only been sent to about five other girls, none of them very experienced. In fact, the coach had even said she “knew some people didn’t have as much training as others on the team.” Danni knew she needed some practice to help her memorize the dance—she knew she lacked focus, but that email was really a slap in the face. Sure, her mind was a bit of a mess, but they didn’t need to devalue her ten years of ballet experience. So what if she hadn’t been dancing at all since she quit ballet? So what if she’d gained a bit of weight lately? She was still fitter than most of the other girls, she still had better technique…
When the bus pulled up, she still couldn’t stop her thoughts from racing out of control. She had never had a disciplined mind. She had a disciplined body, or at least, she thought she did…
Home. Homework. Dinner. More homework. Dancing. How is it already midnight? She abandoned the dance and dropped into bed. She would get enough extra practice tomorrow.
“Danni? Danni? Hello?”
“Sorry Nick,” she sighed, “Just a bit distracted.” She tried to bring her attention back to where they were, the school cafeteria.
“You’re always distracted,” Nick said, “Come on, I’ll buy you lunch.”
Nick was her boyfriend, and he was probably the sweetest boy she’d ever met. She didn’t have very many close friends, but she had him, though she still wasn’t quite sure how.
Once they had their food, they sat down in the cafeteria together. “So what’s going on?” Nick asked, “You seem really stressed.”
“I’ll be okay,” Danni sighed.
“I’m worried about you. You’ve been acting kinda weird lately.”
She shrugged. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”
“I know. Listen, I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, but maybe you should think about talking to someone. I saw a therapist during my entire freshman year.”
“Really?” She was almost sure he was making it up. Nick was so normal, at least, normal in the sense that there was nothing psychologically wrong with him. Other than that, sure, he was a bit eccentric, but if he weren’t that way, he certainly wouldn’t be dating her.
“If you want me to set up a meeting for you, I know the best counselor in the school. She’s a psychology teacher. Her name’s Amanda, and she’s seriously…” He paused a moment, searching for the right word. “Legendary.”
“You’ll know what I’m talking about when you meet her.”
“I don’t know if I need counseling, Nick, but thanks. I’ll remember Amanda if I start feeling worse, but it’s just stress. It’ll pass. I’ll be fine.”
Lunch ended before she’d had time to finish her food. History class. Homework. Free period. More homework. Then it would have been the end of the day at last, except today was Thursday.
Her extra practice felt long and boring. The other girls were excited about the opportunity to learn the dance better, and Danni felt like the only one with a bad attitude. She tried not to show that she was offended by having to be here, but she certainly wasn’t going to get excited about it. Instead, she focused harder on her dance, determined to show them that she didn’t belong in the inexperienced group.
After another night vanished before her eyes, Danni still hadn’t finished everything she needed to. She hadn’t been sleeping well lately, even when she had the time to try.
She was grateful that it was Friday when she woke up that morning. The only problem was it would be another full day. There was an assembly that afternoon that the dance team was required to go to, and then the volleyball game that night. They weren’t performing, except for the special ones, the best ones. At first Danni had wondered if those girls were selected for being the best, but now she wondered if she and the inexperienced girls were the ones singled out, excluded from the performance because they were the worst.
Morning. Breakfast. Bus stop. Algebra class. Kissing Nick. Running off to the assembly. Arriving late. Of course the dance team had to sit at the very top of the bleachers. Frustrated, Danni pushed her way through the crowd until she met her teammates.
“We were supposed to be in costume?” she said. All the other girls were wearing their jazz pants and brightly colored tank tops with the school logo on them.
“They said that a million times last night,” one of the girls said. Danni didn’t know if she hadn’t heard it, or had simply forgotten. She couldn’t worry for long, though. The assembly was starting, and it featured a performance from a theater group from out of town. Danni had heard they were amazing, and waited for it impatiently.
Announcers. Talk of homecoming. Cheerleaders. Dance team. Boring, boring, boring… Danni grew more and more impatient, but at last, they announced the theater group.
Danni was mesmerized from the moment they stepped out onto the floor. They were from somewhere out of town, she was pretty sure, and they were holding auditions at some point. She thought she’d heard that somewhere. Right now, they were dancing. They danced in a great circle around the gym, twirling in perfect rhythm. Danni wondered if they were on stilts. They seemed to be giants. Their costumes were full, beautiful dresses, and their faces were fully painted, most of them in white. One of them caught her eye, and held her gaze. Her face was huge, bigger than her body, and it was beautiful. Her hair was brown and curly, but Danni couldn’t stop staring at her eyes. They were a strange and beautiful mix of colors, and she was trying to think of a name for it when something else caught her attention.
One of the dancers was in the middle of the floor, moving in a way Danni had never seen anyone move before. She was a giant just like the others, but she wasn’t on stilts. Her dress was white and shimmering, her skin was pale, and her hair was long and blond. She was beautiful. More than her beauty, there was something about her that Danni couldn’t place. She knew immediately that woman had that extra something Nick was talking about when he’d described Amanda. She seemed to sparkle from within. This woman was legendary. No other word could come close to an accurate description.
Danni felt like she was seated in a high balcony. She pushed the others in front of her out of her way to get a clear view, but pulled away when she leaned to close to the edge. She didn’t want to fall off. She didn’t remember how she’d got up so high…
In the hallway after the assembly, people were meeting the dancers from the theater troupe. Danni didn’t know how the assembly had ended, didn’t remember leaving the dance team and walking out here, but that didn’t matter, she only wanted to meet the legendary dancer. Suddenly she was in front of her, and Danni didn’t know what to say. Now that they were face to face, the woman was still as beautiful, still as legendary, but she wasn’t as tall as she’d appeared to be on stage. She was very thin. Too thin. Almost skeletal. Ghostlike.
Smiles. Greetings. Friendship. Happiness. Was this even real? That didn’t matter. She was with her at last. Her name was Lucy.
Was this her house? The question of where they were flashed only briefly in Danni’s mind. It was a swimming pool, but it was completely deserted but for the two of them. They began to swim together, making slow laps across the pool in opposite directions. Danni didn’t question any of it. The water felt good—calming. She needed some stress relief.
Across the pool, Danni was a little worried for Lucy. She looked zombielike, floating in the pool in her white dress. She was alright, though. She was too perfect to drown.
Out of the pool, the two of them sat together. Danni played with Lucy’s hair. Then she was putting her hair in her head for her. She had feathers, long, soft, colorful feathers, all of them on little earring hooks. She hooked them right into Lucy’s head where they belonged, and her hair was made of feather earrings…
Bus stop. School was over. Had she missed dance team practice? The bus pulled up, and suddenly she realized she didn’t know if she had her pass or not. She dug in her backpack. Why did she keep so much stuff in there? Maybe the driver wouldn’t care, she decided. He’d let other people ride without a pass before.
She got on the bus, but the driver stopped her, and asked for her pass. She dug around until she finally found it, and started searching for a seat. Apparently she wasn’t one of the special people who could ride the bus without a pass. She wasn’t special enough for anything, not even a damn seat. She walked back to the front of the bus and took a seat right behind the driver, even though the sideways-facing seats always made her carsick. There was a phone on the little ledge behind the driver’s seat. It started to ring. Other phones on the bus started to ring as well, and then she heard phone music coming from her backpack. That couldn’t be right. She’d turned her phone on vibrate mode. It couldn’t be her phone. But the music didn’t stop. She dug in her backpack to answer it.
“Danni? Are you okay?” Nick’s voice came through the phone.
“Danni dear, why haven’t you called me this week?” That voice was softer. It was her mother. The phone next to her was still buzzing, and suddenly the noise on the bus was overwhelming.
“Nick?” Danni said, still hearing her mothers voice through the phone as well. “Nick, just stay on the phone with me, okay? I’m starting to freak out.”
“I’ll stay, Danni, try to calm down.”
“I’m hearing voices! I think I’m losing my mind!” She realized then how strange her encounter with Lucy had been. Lucy’s hair was straight, blond, and perfect, not a bizarre mess of feathers that had to be stuck into her head. How had they got to a pool, anyway? Nick was still talking to her, but he was very hard to hear. She pressed the phone closer to her ear, desperate…
She still held the phone, but she was walking around a circular building, like a restaurant or hotel, but she couldn’t know where she was. Outside the window, she could see a reddish beach the weather was warm, much sunnier than it had been at school. Maybe they were in the south. She kept talking to Nick, though now the phone had changed form in her hand. Now it was a small microphone. She kept talking into it as she walked, ignoring the other people around her. This was it. She was facing her worst fear of losing her mind completely. She couldn’t remember how she got here, and had no idea where she was. Maybe it was all a hallucination. Maybe it was an illusion, and she was really sitting at home right now.
She said a last few words to Nick before it hit her that he couldn’t respond. She dropped the microphone on the ground, hurrying away from the noise it made as it hit the floor. She’d been speaking into a microphone. Nick hadn’t heard her at all, he might not have ever even called her.
What did this to me? She tried as hard as she could to remember how she got here, recall even some of what had happened to her previously. Bits of her life came back to her. I’m Danielle, I’m eighteen years old, I’m a senior in high school… She still knew who she was. She remembered her family, her childhood. So she hadn’t lost that, she’d only lost the past few hours. She’d been on a bus. After that, she had no idea. But before that…
Lucy. Lucy had a quality about her that was just too much. It was incredibly beautiful, sure, but suddenly Danni was certain of what had made her crazy.
“So, Danni,” Amanda said, “Tell me what’s been happening with you lately.”
“Well, memory loss, for one thing,” Danni said. In fact, she couldn’t remember how she got here. Amanda seemed patient, though. She was blond too, with a streak of pink in her hair. She dressed colorfully, wore glasses, and had a kind smile. Danni could see why Nick would call her legendary, she picked up a similar feeling from her, but it wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as Lucy’s bizarre quality.
“I’ve just been really stressed out lately, and I think I’m losing it.”
“Can you identify what you’re thinking about just before you lose track of events? Before the periods of memory loss?”
She shrugged. “Stress. Thinking about all the things I have to do.”
Amanda talked with her about her schedule, the best ways to manage her time, and ways to relieve stress. Danni didn’t tell her about hearing voices, or about her encounters with Lucy. She was still just a stressed out high school student, not a crazy person. She wanted to graduate. She didn’t want to be locked away in a nuthouse.
“Well, try those techniques this weekend, and we’ll talk again on Monday, okay?”
“Okay. Thanks Amanda.”
“Have a good weekend, Danni.”
Home. Homework. Dinner. Bus stop. Volleyball game. This time she’d remembered to dress in costume, though she didn’t remember if she needed to or not. Probably. But it was so cold and rainy outside that she didn’t want to. It was crowded too, people were pushing and shoving each other up the ramps, trying to find a seat. Sometimes she had to wait for the ramps themselves to move, and everyone was terribly impatient. Danni just wanted to stay dry, and could hardly care about finding a good seat, until she heard the theater group was going to be performing again.
“They are? Yes!” Danni exclaimed, “I wanted to watch them again! Those twirls and leaps just defy gravity! They’re amazing!”
Once again, her seat was up high in a balcony. She hardly noticed the transition of the outdoor stands to a theater, and back to an indoor gym. She was mesmerized by the dancers. The only problem was the people in front of her, blocking her view. She wanted to push them out of the way, but once again feared she would fall right off the balcony. Someone next to her, a woman in a brown dress deliberately stepped off the balcony and dropped straight down, staying upright and landing on her feet to join the others in the show. She looked tiny among the other giants. At first all the dancers were all dressed in old-fashioned, modest clothes, but later they took those off, revealing colorful, glittering dresses. One of them wore a feathery black tube top, and a very narrow but long skirt of the same material. The rest of her skin was covered in glitter. The show was amazing. There was Lucy, the tallest of all of them, dancing center stage…
She made me crazy, Danni thought. She was sitting in the counselor’s office again. Amanda was there, mixing different potions on her desk to make some kind of medicine. They drank together, though Danni didn’t know what Amanda was drinking. Her own drink reminded her of some kind of alcoholic mixed beverage, though she was sure Amanda wouldn’t be allowed to give her alcohol. Whatever it was, it wasn’t bad. And slowly, she felt her mind clearing. The fog was lifted.
Home. Safe, calm, and peaceful. Nothing unusual was happening. She did her homework without overstressing, went to bed at a reasonable hour, and slept deeply for the first time in months. When she woke, she felt refreshed. The weekend was uneventful, but now, that was a good thing. When Monday morning came, she ate breakfast, and was off to school. Throughout the day, her mind never slipped once. Whatever Amanda had done had made her okay again. Nick was right about her. She really was legendary…
Lucy swirled the liquid in her glass, adding a drop or two of various ingredients. Seated on her couch of her office was Danni, a lost, faraway look in her eyes. She had her now, living under the perfect illusion. This girl was special, she could tell as soon as she saw her. Now, she would just have to keep her mind under her control, and she’d be on the right track to having another dancer in her show.
The phone rang. “Yes?” Lucy answered.
“Just letting you know, one of your students is coming to see you in a few minutes so get yourself ready, and get the crazy girl out of sight.”
“Thank you,” Lucy said, “I’ll be prepared.”
“Thank you, Amanda.” The man hung up the phone, and Lucy turned back around to her newest dancer.
“Danni my dear, take this,” she said, handing her a slip of paper with her address on it. “Drink your medicine, and catch the next bus home, okay?”
“Okay,” Danni said without question. She quickly finished her drink.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Danni.”
“Yes. Thank you, Amanda.” Then she was away.
[Libby Robare lives in Ashland Oregon. She recently graduated from Southern Oregon University, where she earned a degree in psychology.]