By Katie Haskins
Ally stretched her legs, starting her warm-up for practice. The studios wood floors were just slick enough for her to slide under the suede soles of her shoes, but not enough that it felt like an ice rink. She felt at home here, more so than any other room in her home. Her slim frame was reflected in the mirrors on the long side of the room as she used the ballet bar mounted on the adjacent wall. She tied her long dark auburn hair into a ponytail as her instructor walked in.
"Ah, Princess Allandra, here early as always. Where is Prince Lucian?" Ivan Petrov asked as he entered.
"He's around and should be here shortly." At that moment, the door opened and Lucian entered, his gangly frame evident of the rapid growth spurt he was going through. He clumsily tripped and sheepishly apologized for being late. At only 15, he had already reached his father's height of 6'2" with no signs of stopping just yet. His straight black hair was tousled from the near fall.
"Well then, let's get started with the waltz." Lucian took Ally into his arms as she stretched her back and let her head's weight settle to her left. She fit nicely under his chin when she stood upright. As one, they lowered and started to glide about the room, all prior awkwardness vanished when they danced, having been trained since they were 4 and 7. Ally was Princess Allandra of Escala, 3rd in line for the throne and the middle child of 5. Prince Lucian was Crown prince of Dasarna. The kingdoms were small, tucked away in eastern Europe, and had been on friendly terms as long as anyone cared to remember. Also as long as anyone could remember, the two countries had never had a marriage between the two families.
When practice ended Lucian went to Ally and struck up a small talk of conversation. Ally looked up into his dark brown eyes, his jet black hair which normally framed his face was slicked back from sweat.
"Sin, why is your speech today as awkward as the rest of you?" Sin was her nickname for him for as long as either of them could remember. She cocked her head to the side, amused.
"Well, um..." He stammered, trying to say something.
"Princess, your father would like a word with you." They both turned to the attendant who had called to them. "He's in his study."
"I'll be right there." Ally said. The attendant nodded and back out of the room, closing the door behind him.
"You should go. Um, I'll uh see you later." She nodded her head, her blue eyes bright as she left the studio. Lucian groaned and banged his head lightly against the mirrored wall, clearly frustrated with himself.
Ally entered her father's study in the royal wing after traversing the maze of corridors in the castle. The room was dark wood and truly felt as if she had traveled back several centuries. Antique furniture was the dominant feature of the room. The thick bookcases on the walls held a number of first editions and personal diaries from various kings through the centuries. Her father kept no electric device in the room, save the lighting. He refused to sully the historical feel of the room with a computer, as much as it would be helpful. There was a telephone though, an old rotary dial which has been tweaked so the connection was of modern standards. King Frederick looked up from the paperwork on his desk. He was in his mid 40s, hair starting to gray at the temples. A little on the heavy side, but still fairly handsome at his age.
"You wanted to see me?" She asked, curious and at the same time nervous as to what his purpose was.
"Allandra my dear, please sit, I have wonderful news." Ally sat in one of the comfy leather seats across the desk from her father. "I have just signed off on a betrothal agreement between Stephan Rinaldi of the Ladina Company and yourself." Her father beamed proudly. Ally sat stunned, her mind slowly processing the shock of the information.
"What?" She said slowly, hoping she heard wrong.
"You'll marry Stephan when you're of age. It's a very good match."
"No." Her father's face fell slightly.
"What did you just say?"
"No. I will not marry him." He stood and leaned over the desk.
"Do you realize what you're saying?" Ally stood up as well.
"Yes. I'm tired of being a political pawn for you. When I was 6 you made me participate in a play so you could get the backing of the director for something. The same thing every few years. Am I even a daughter to you? Or am I just a thing to give away as you please? Because this is the last straw. I will not marry someone I have never met, much less not love." She stormed out of the room, her father bellowing after her. She ran to her room and started tearing her dressers and closets open, throwing a suitcase on her queen sized bed.
"Allandra?" Her mother, Queen Helen, a slender woman with light auburn hair in her early 40s and an elegant air, entered the room having heard the commotion from the nursery, her younger sister Maria in tow. "What happened? What are you doing?"
"Leaving. I can't stand it here any longer." Helen let go of Maria’s chubby hand, heading over to her older daughter.
"Leaving? You're 12? What could you possibly do?"
"Dance. Latin ballroom."
"Allandra, can't you think of this a bit more? Stay here and learn ballet if you really want to dance." Helen placed her hands on Ally’s, interrupting the quick packing.
"If I stay here I'll end up having to marry that guy from that company dad wants something from. And I don't like ballet." Ally removed her hands from her mother’s and continued to throw clothes and shoes in the suitcase, darting into her bathroom briefly.
"If she's leaving can I have her room?" Maria asked, tugging on her mother’s skirt. "It's bigger than mine."
"You're a little brat. You know that?" Ally slammed the suitcase closed.
"Allandra! She’s only seven."
"What? She is the stereotypical selfish, spoiled little brat." Ally reached into the back of her dresser, pulling out several documents and bills. She stuffed them into a purse, zipped the suitcase and wheeled it after her as she left the room. "Do not touch my things Maria! They’re not yours." The two of them went into the hallways watching her go. Maria smiled at her sister’s retreating form and started to head back into her sister’s room but her mother caught her, picking her up before she could wander off. Maria protested wanting to go in Ally’s room.
Ally continued towards the front of the castle, tears threatening to come out. Lucian stood at the top of the main staircase as he had just come from the west wing where the studio was, a confused look on his face.
"Allandra? Where are you going?"
"Away, somewhere, anywhere. I can't stand it here another minute." Lucian stopped her, his hands on her shoulders. He looked into her eyes.
"Let me come with you." He pleaded. She shook her head.
"No. This is my decision. I can't let you give up your position. You'll make a good king." She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. "You're the one thing I'm going to miss," she whispered in his ear before heading down the stairs and out of the castle. Lucian stood in the same place, still not completely comprehending what had just transpired. It was too late to go after her when everything finally dawned on him.
"Darling, Allandra left." The king looked up from his paperwork at his wife of 20 years.
"She'll be back. She's had everything handed to her; she won't survive long in the world." He said nonchalantly as he continued to read and sign papers.
"Apparently you don't know that daughter of yours too well. I would say that of Maria, not Allandra.” He made a snorting sound. “Besides, she took that passport with her."
"Yes, the one we had made should she ever need to flee for her life." The king paused for a moment.
"Oh bloody hell." He slammed the papers in his hand onto the desk full realization of what she was going to do hitting him.
Allandra made her way through the congested streets of the capital. No one paid much attention to the lanky girl with her hair in a ponytail. Although the people of Escala knew what she looked like, dressed as she was, it took them a bit to make the mental leap to the public image she had. And by the time the few who did make the leap noticed, she was out of their field of vision. She finally made her way to Ivan's ballroom studio. It was slightly off the heart of the city in one of the older buildings in the capital. She took a deep breath before opening the door. Her teacher was talking with someone at the reception desk. He stopped in the middle of his conversation, mouth agape, and stared at her.
"I left. I just want to dance. I'll do whatever you need done. Please?" Ally asked, anticipating the question running through her teacher’s head at the moment.
"Ivan, who is this?" his guest asked.
"A, uh special student." Ivan answered, not sure if he should reveal her identity.
"Hi, I'm Ally." She shook hands with the woman, a petite woman with dark hair and a British accent.
"Pleasure, I'm Frida. Let me watch you dance?" Ally nodded and pulled out her practice shoes. Her body already warm from the earlier walk, Ally went straight into basic cha cha after stepping onto the floor in the next room.
"She's good Ivan. How old is she?"
"12. Her partner's 15. Although, since she left, she'll need a new one. Oh dear, what am I going to do?" He fretted, wringing his hands together.
"Nothing. I'll take her with me when I leave for England in two days." Ivan’s eyes went wide at that suggestion.
"No buts, I already have a partner in mind. Does she do standard as well?"
"Yes, but Frida…" Frida held up a finger to shush him.
"I'll take care of all the paper work involved, you don't have to know a thing." Frida put her attention back to the girl, smiling. Ivan looked between the two, feeling the gray hairs multiplying.
10 years later...
"And your professional 10 dance champions, placing first in all dances, couple 321, Alex Lamb and Ally Talin!" The winning couple came to the floor and took their bows before the sold out crowd before accepting the prize and posing for a picture with their competitors. Amongst the Latin dancers, they towered above the rest. Alex was just slightly taller than Ally at 6’0”; Ally was 5’10”. With heels on, they were even, Ally being just slightly taller. She was athletically built, with curves in the right places. Alex was slender, lightly muscled with dark brown hair and light brown eyes. They made quite the pair on the floor.
"Yes! Now we just have the showdance tomorrow night." Ally said to her dance partner, Alex, as they walked off the ballroom floor.
"Which we'll win. We're the top couple in the US. It's only international competitions that we won't know how we’ll be placed." Alex replied, his British accent apparent. Ally couldn’t argue with that. Despite being first in the US in 10 dance, usually placing first in both the Latin and the standard dances, they had trouble making the finals in international competition. The two stood waiting for the elevator to take them upstairs to their rooms.
"I know, but we still need to dance."
"Yes, yes. We fly back Sunday and you start working on some new routine of ours. One that will place us high in Blackpool in a few months." He nudged her with a wink.
"I already have something in mind. But we do need to tweak our other routines a bit. On another note, I think Nadia mentioned a new troupe dance gig." The elevator arrived and they entered with a large crowd of other people. They were congratulated by several.
"She didn't say. She'd give me more details when we got back." The two separated as the elevator opened to Alex’s floor.
"Welcome back you two." Nadia waved to them from behind the front desk of Ally’s Upper West side New York City studio. "Wow. If you bring back any more trophies we're going to run out of room." She laughed, looking at the five large trophies the champion couple carried into the studio. Nadia was a typical Latin dancer, average height, with a very slim build. Having only moved to New York five years ago, her Russia accent was still thick. She was forced to look up to Ally and Alex.
"I may rent a storage room just to keep them." Alex joked.
"Better be a large one." Ally said as she maneuvered the trophies into open spots in the studio’s reception area. It was getting hard to find spots to put the trophies. The shelves behind and above the couches starting to get quite full.
"Of course, of course. Now, paid show?" Alex asked eagerly, rubbing his hands together eagerly.
"Ah right. We have been asked to perform for Lady Regina Primrose's engagement party next month." The blond said smiling.
"Someone's actually marrying that airhead?" Ally muttered.
"Ally! You should be ashamed!" Nadia chastised.
"You should know me by now Nadia. That kind of person is just an annoyance." Alex tried to hold in his laughter but failed. Nadia sighed looking between the two. "Anything she requested other than me?"
"The routine mentioning clowns and jokers." Ally rolled her eyes as she walked back to her two friends.
"And she can't even remember the name of the song. Great. So me and Alex, you and Max, and Sarah and John. Of course Pamela for quick changes. DJ?” Nadia nodded. “Traveling expenses and lodging?"
"Paid for already, its all set. Sorry we accepted it without consulting you but it was a really good offer. More than we usually charge." She answered in a hurry.
"It’s all right. Just make sure your passports are current." Ally walked into her office to start planning the set list. Nadia looked relieved.
"Nadia,” Alex asked as he put his arm around her shoulders. “Why do I think there's something you're not telling me?" Nadia quickly looked to Ally’s office before leading him farther away and lowering her voice.
"Alex, you must keep Ally away from all mention of this wedding."
"Why?" he asked skeptically.
"You know how she gets when a member of royalty is mentioned." He nodded, knowing all to well Ally’s odd aversion to politics and royalty.
"She's marrying a prince?" He was even more confused now and unconsciously raised his voice.
"Yes, Crown Prince Allen of Escala. Now shh." Alex glanced over to Ally who had headphones on and clearly was off in her own world. Nadia let out a sigh of relief. "We're not flying directly into the country because we need to get her there. Oh we are so dead if she even hears a whisper of the full details." Nadia scurried off to teach the group class that had come in while Alex still pondered everything. He had been dancing professionally with Ally for 3 years now and still had yet to understand the intricacies of her strange aversion to royalty, the aversion to politics he could understand better.
The next few weeks consisted of the studio on high alert not to let Ally hear who Lady Regina was marrying. Which became increasingly difficult as it was on every news and entertainment outlet possible. They secretly let their more gossipy students know that the topic was taboo in the studio. Everyone complied with the request without much fuss. Soon they were on the plane to London, their stop over flight before the final destination. Their fingers crossed with hope they could get their boss and close friend to their destination without her realizing.
The six dancers, and one helper, made their way through customs. They joked around as they waited for each to finish. Nadia hugged her partner Max, he was 5’9”, Russian, and had been dancing with Nadia for two years. Sarah was 5’7” born in the US to Ukrainian parents. Light brown hair fell to her shoulders and framed her brown eyes. Her partner John was 5’11”, American with a Hispanic background of some sort. His sandy brown hair was curly and sometimes fell into his hazel eyes. All six were in their early 20s. Pamela, the helpful quick change, make up and hair assistant, was also Ally’s seamstress for all her costumes. She was in her 30s, dyed red hair, a former dancer herself, she always made the six of them look impeccable. The van that picked them up from the airport for the 3 hour drive into the neighboring capital was roomy. Ally, to the relief of her friends, slept from shortly before the border until they stopped finally. She didn’t catch any glimpse of the road signs telling her where they were going.
"We're here Ally." Sarah said. Ally woke groggily, stretching as she got out, the sun glaring from its noon position above the castle. Not being a morning person, she slowly took her time to adjust to the bright light. Ally stopped, rubbed her eyes and stared at the immense stone structure in front of her.
"Oh hell no."
Ally backed away and attempted to re-enter the van that had brought them there but it was gone. She turned to her fellow dancers.
"Why would you guys not tell me about this?" She said with clipped words, glaring at her friends.
"Because we would've had this reaction a month ago and we wouldn't be here now." Nadia said. Alex placed her suitcases near her. She stared at them for a good minute before he sighed with resignation.
"Come on scaredy cat. It’s just a castle." He put one of the suitcase handles in her hand and started towards the entrance with his own.
"The building isn't what I want to avoid as much as what's inside." She said under her breath as she hesitantly stepped forward, the all too familiar architecture looming over her. At least it wasn’t the main entrance. They were led inside to the east wing to their rooms. They would stay overnight before heading back out in the next day. After they put the things down that weren’t needed for the show tonight, they were led to what would be their prep room, just off the grand ballroom by a young servant.
Inside they started setting up their costumes for the quick changes they'd need. There was a TV which Sarah turned on to watch the news coverage of the event.
"Well, she already knows." Was her reply as the others looked between Ally and the TV.
"It's fine. Can't run from it now." They all settled in, having several hours between now and when they would go on.
"And we're back to covering the engagement party between Lady Regina Primrose and Crown Prince Allen Ruden of Escala. It's a high society event that will only be rivaled by the wedding," the announcer prattled on.
"They should be shot for allowing this marriage to take place," Ally muttered.
"Who should be shot?"
"His parents." Everyone except for Ally continued to comment on the various people attending.
"And now Crown Prince Lucian and his sister Princess Fiona of Dasarna have arrived."
"Oh my god, Prince Lucian looks as good as ever." Ally took a quick glance at the screen and raised an eyebrow. He did look good, he had filled out the lanky frame he had as a teen. "Six and a half feet of pure sexiness." Nadia swooned.
"Yes, too bad about the rumors that he's gay." Sarah pouted.
"I have no problem with that." John said with a smile. Nadia threw a pillow from the couch at his head. He caught it easily and stuck his tongue out at her.
"Of course you wouldn't. Why are all the good ones gay or taken?"
"Sin’s not gay." Ally said as she finished hanging her costumes. Everyone looked at her.
"And how would you know?" Max asked.
“Sin?” Both Sarah and Nadia asked at the same time. Ally refused to answer as she started to stretch. A knock sounded at the door which luckily took their attention from Ally's lack of an answer.
"Greetings. I have brought a light dinner for you before you perform." The older servant bowed as two serving tables were wheeled in. He saw Ally, clearly recognizing her. He opened his mouth to say something else but shut it after Ally glared at him. "Yes, well, enjoy your meal." He shut the door behind him and the other two servants, giving one more glance to Ally.
They nibbled on the food, not wanting too much before dancing. The girls donned their make-up, fake eyelashes, heavy eye shadow, and bright lipstick. The make-up wasn’t competition heavy, but more than they would normally wear. Ally pulled her long hair into a bun, using gel and hairspray to keep every strand in place. Nadia braided hers, securing it in a small bun. Sarah pulled hers back with a clip and left it alone, just spraying it in place. All three guys had it easy as they slicked their hair back with gel.