Coloured ribbons stream from the flower garland encircling her auburn hair. Hazel eyes twinkle beneath stage lights, glossed ruby lips parted in a dancer’s smile. Boot-clad yet dainty feet step and skip and stomp as crisp cotton petticoats bounce beneath an embroidered skirt lifting and swirling around her. Slender arms weave gracefully as lace-trimmed sleeves frame her rosy glowing cheeks. The dancer and the dance are one.
The music swells. Then stops. A heart beats… a breath is drawn… then, thunderous applause. Smiling, the diva bows deeply, humbly raising to blow extravagant kisses of gratitude to her admirers, represented now by the deferential grey-haired MC as he comes to bestow a large bouquet of roses. A curtsy, a final kiss, and she glides into the wings.
Janet stops to admire herself in a large mirror as her sister Susan hurries toward her with a towel. She takes it, her eyes never leaving the mirror, and dabs gently at her forehead, under her eyes, above the lace collar at her neck. “So, how was I, really? Did I keep the symmetry when I danced troika from stage left to right? It felt a little off – “
Suppressing a sigh, Susan reassures her sister, “It was flawless, Jan. Perfect symmetry, even the arc from top left to bottom right and across. You were glorious!” Her sister tilts her head, frowns, and Susan, well-rehearsed in masking true feelings beneath a soothing neutral gaze, wonders if she’ll pitch a fit and accuse her of sarcasm and jealousy. But no, Janet merely turns and walks to her dressing room.
Susan looks into the mirror that has just released her sister’s reflection. She sees the hazel eyes and heart-shaped mouth so like her sisters, yet not fitting quite as nicely in her paler rounder face. Cursing the injustice of genetics and the cruelty of fate doesn’t change the facts: she is pudgy and pasty-faced no matter what she tries to do, while her sister always glows with vitality and looks graceful even in sweats. But she does have something Janet doesn’t, and the knowing touches her lips with a smile as she turns away, mirroring her sister’s movements.
Janet is changing, grateful to be free of the constrictions of her ethnic costume, and groans softly as she slides into jeans and pulls on a soft sweater. Her movements are a study in unconscious grace, yet a scowl mars her perfect features. She sits down to brush her hair, each stroke angrier than the next as her mind replays the scene she witnessed last night.
Carl and her sister sitting at a tiny table at Izba, smiling, sipping wine, chatting. Janet remembers the way they had huddled together at the cottage in July, supposedly talking about a book Sue was reading for her MBA. Carl had just earned his and Sue was eager to pick his brain; that made sense. But what was so funny about a book for an MBA? And she saw them again the next day, whispering together. Now this, this betrayal – at the very place where Carl had proposed!
Janet knows Susan is jealous of her. I can’t help it if I’m the pretty one, she thinks. But I work hard on my dancing in spite of my natural talent. Susan tries, but she can barely keep step in the group dances and she looks lumpy in her kroj. She is fairly smart, though, and lucky – getting a job with a Fortune 500 company that’s paying for her MBA. Well, she’ll need a career since she’s never going to snag a husband. Is that it? Is she making a play for my fiance? How absurd! But Carl! What on earth is he thinking?
“Do you really think we can pull it off?” Susan asks, frowning. “I think she suspects.”
“No, you’re wrong, Sue,” Carl insists, “I love her dearly, but you know Janet’s always focused on her own – hmm…”
“What?” Susan wonders.
“Maybe you’re right, maybe she does suspect something.”
“Should we have the party somewhere else? I want it to be a surprise – after all, she’s my sister.”