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“Vanessa!” Claire shrieks, sticking her head into the bedroom they share. “Come on!”

“Claire.” Vanessa is using that patronizing, self-righteous tone she’s gotten so fond of in the past two years.

“Firstly, there is no need to screech at me like a fishwife. Secondly, I can’t drive you anywhere today. If you want to study for my AP Chemistry test and my AP Calculus test, and write my essay comparing the styles of Wordsworth and Blake, and also write a paper on the fall of the Ottoman Empire, than yes. I will chauffeur you to whatever mindless, trivial activity you desire.”

Claire stares at her sister for a moment. She doesn’t understand why Vanessa constantly has to act like she’s above everyone else, like her activities and opinions are the only things that matter, and that her word is the authority on everything.

“Whatever,” Claire snaps in response. “Look Miss Professorhead. I didn’t mean to disturb your brilliant thoughts, but I need a ride to dance class. It starts in forty-five minutes, and Stamford is thirty minutes away. And mom has a meeting at the library so no, she can’t take me. And no, I can’t miss because our fall recital is coming up and I need to practice my ‘mindless and trivial’ routine.”

Sometimes, being the youngest really sucks. She can’t wait until she gets her license, even though that’s three whole years away.

Vanessa just stares at her, narrows her eyes slightly.

“Get Nicky to take you,” she snaps. “I’m sure he’s just brooding in his room, as usual. I repeat. I am not the personal assistant to this family.”

“Nicky is lame and volunteering at the hospital today,” Claire says. A part of her wishes he was here. Nicky is more fun to annoy than Vanessa. If he was around, she would sit in his room and tell him the gossip of SMS. He would raise his eyebrow at her and snap “fuck off Claire” a billion times, but after a ton of grumbling about his tragic world, would agree to take her to dance, just to leave him alone. Besides, he would call her annoying, and her gossip insipid, but at least he wouldn’t go on and on about his all-important classes.

Vanessa just keeps staring at Claire.

“Well,” she says coolly, after a moment. “At least we can both agree Nicky is lame. Now go away.”

“Vanessa!” Claire stomps her foot. She’s getting desperate. “I seriously have to be there! I have a trio, and a duet for this recital! Myriah and Camille are counting on me to show up today!”

Now her sister’s not even looking at her.

“Well,” she tells Claire, as she thumbs through a ridiculously thick book. “You should have asked Myriah’s mother for a ride.”

Claire snorts. “Like I’d ask that bitch for anything. Besides, Myriah gets to the studio two hours before class to practice.”

“Hm,” is Vanessa’s contribution.

Claire is now pissed off. She’s tempted to storm across the room and steal Vanessa’s book, but something tells her that won’t make any progress.

“I’ll do your chores for the next two days,” she blurts out. “And you can wear those dark purple flats of mine that you like, for the next week.”

Vanessa looks up from her book, and gives Claire a lazy smirk. It’s reminiscent of a cat that’s just spotted a mouse.

“Two days?” She repeats. “Five days, and you’ve got a deal. Take it or leave it.”

“Fine.” Claire snaps. She normally wouldn’t give in this easily, but she now has to be there in thirty-five minutes.

Of course, Vanessa has to make a whole show of getting ready, complete with slamming her book shut, sighing dramatically, and then snatching Claire’s purple flats out of the closet.

--

Vanessa spends the whole car ride to Stamford playing horribly whiny sounding music. Claire doesn’t try to change it to a pop station though, like she does with Nicky, or put her feet on the dash. She tries to drown out Vanessa’s incessant whining that Nicky is a bastard for leaving her with this, and that she could have one essay done by now...

Not even Byron was this bad in high school, Claire thinks. That’s saying something. And he always drove her places, for the most part. Without bribes.

She misses all of the triplets, for various reasons, doesn’t understand why they have to be in stupid college. Well she does, but not having them around sucks sometimes. Like now. If Jordan was home, they’d be rushing down the highway right now, going 90, blaring ridiculous music. He’d get her there in twenty minutes, probably. They might even have time to stop for milkshakes on the way...

“What dance lesson is this anyway?” Vanessa asks, startling Claire. Vanessa is asking her a question about her life?

“I have ballet first and then jazz,” Claire tells her. “The trio I’m doing is for ballet, and the duo is for jazz. I like jazz better.”

Ballet is fine, but it’s so controlled, so focused on technique. In jazz, you can make up your own steps if you want, do crazy turns and not have to worry about keeping your form perfectly straight, at every second.

Vanessa snorts. “Of course you like jazz better,” she says dismissively, turning into the dance studio parking lot.

“Right. Well my one concession is that there’s a good tea shop around here, so I’m going over there, and then I’m going home to try and make up for the time I lost. Don’t call me to get a ride.”

“I don’t need a summary of your evening,” Claire snaps. “I’ll get a ride home with someone, and we’ll have a lot more fun. Believe me.”

She opens the car door, and sticks her tongue out at Vanessa for good measure.

“Mature,” she hears her sister mutter, as she rushes out of the car.

--

Claire has five minutes to spare. Fucking Vanessa, she thinks, running to the changing room and shoving her street clothes in her locker. She slips off her shoes and starts to lace up her ballet slippers, still glowering. It’s partially her fault, for not realizing her mom had a meeting today, but still. Would it kill Vanessa to be understanding, and not act like a snob for five seconds?

She’d wanted to get there at least twenty minutes early too, in order to practice their routine. She gets sick of being the one who rushes into the studio five minutes before class sometimes.

Of course, Myriah and Camille are already there, working on pirouettes. There are very few, but some benefits to having pushy stage parents, Claire thinks. Both of them are always early.

The three of them have been in dance classes together for years, have been doing trios together since they were all around nine. Claire and Camille are better friends (Claire thinks Myriah is sweet, though boring as hell sometimes), but all of them dance well together. Myriah’s technique is polished enough for both of them, while they’re better at pulling off jumps and more complicated spins.

“Was that good?” Claire hears Myriah worriedly ask about her pirouette. Claire and Camille are always talking about how Myriah’s biggest problem is that she’s a fantastic dancer--but she overanalyzes all of her steps far too much.

“Yeah!” Camille says. “All of them are great. Don’t worry about it--”

She breaks off.

“Hey Claire!” She gives her a hug. “We’re just working on turns.”

“Sorry I’m late,” Claire says breathlessly. “Vanessa was a bitch about giving me a ride. I really wanted to get here early. One day, it’s going to happen.”

“It’s fine.” Camille waves her hand. “You’re coming over to my house tonight, anyways. We can practice stuff then.”

“I am?” Claire’s surprised, but happy. She likes escaping to Camille’s house sometimes. Her friend lives on the other side of town, on McLelland Road. Her house is a thousand times quieter than Claire’s (both of Camille’s parents keep to themselves, and she only has one sister, who’s eight years older than her), but she has a huge bedroom, complete with a canopy bed. Plus, her own television and a billion movies, and an insane walk in closet. Claire’s only slightly jealous. Of course, she doesn’t have to live a few houses down from Karen Brewer (the most evil fifteen year old in the world), but still. She’ll gladly take going over to Camille’s house to watch Disney movies and gossip over Vanessa and Nicky’s bickering at the dinner table tonight.

“Do you want to come too Myriah?” Camille is asking now, even though Claire can tell she’s just being polite. Myriah has always been on the fringes of the group, which makes sense really. Claire and Camille just have so much more in common. They both think ballet is boring, and tap and jazz are better. They’re both short for their age, and both of their names start with “C.” Both of them are obsessed with New York City, and love Disney movies...

Vanessa, Claire thinks, would find this list to be incredibly banal (yes--she knows what banal means, thank you very much. She blames Byron, when he was obsessed with “SAT words of the day” and used to constantly use them in sentences. Claire and Jordan used to mock him for this, but some of the words had stuck with her), but she finds it to be a very important list. It’s good to know what you have in common with your best friend, even silly things, like your names beginning with the same letter. And Claire and Camille are more alike, while Myriah is just different from them. She’s quiet and serious and never gets in trouble for talking in class.

“That’s alright,” Myriah is saying now. “I have a piano lesson later tonight. Maybe some other time though.”

She always says this.

“Of course!” Camille nods. “You’re welcome anytime.” Then, she turns to Claire. “Oh my god,” she says. “Guess what I heard some of the teachers talking about when I got here.”

“What?” Claire asks, stretching out into the splits. They’ve got two minutes before class starts, so she should at least be warmed up a little.

“You’re not going to believe this,” Camille says. She pauses dramatically. “Apparently, at the fall recital, they might have--wait for it--agents coming to show.”

Claire’s mouth drops open. “Are you kidding me?” She squeals. “Oh my god!”

“Would I kid about agents?” Camille asks. “Come on, Claire.”

Of all the things Camille and Claire have in common is that they both want to be famous. The kind of “see your name in shining lights” famous. They talk about this at any opportunity they can get, practicing their autographs and paparazzi waves, and making up interview questions for each other when they’re asked to be on The Tonight Show. It’s their favorite game.

“Oh my god.” Claire says again. “This could be it!”
“I know. So now you see why we have to practice tonight.”

“Yes! Because we have to be discovered together, so we can go to New York or California so we can have our own show!”

“Oh my god, yes!”

Myriah is just staring at them.

“I hope,” she says solemnly, “that my mother won’t find out about these so-called agents.”

Claire just rolls her eyes at Camille. Myriah doesn’t understand. She’s jaded because her mother keeps entering her in pageants and talent shows, and then gets angry when some other girl is picked. Camille’s mother is like that too though, and Camille doesn’t seem to mind. She’s just as into it as her mother is, really. Myriah is just odd. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be noticed, Claire thinks. Nothing wrong with being the best.
--

They spend the last twenty minutes of ballet doing solos. All of the girls line up, and then one by one, do pique turns across the floor. Claire’s been practicing these turns, and she’s pleased to see her teacher smiling as she dances.

“Good energy Claire!” She calls out. “Watch the extension on your toe, but that was great!”

Claire’s used to getting yelled at about extensions, but she’s pleased. Their teacher doesn’t hand out praise (she’s now snapping at another girl to keep up with the rhythm of the music), so she’s happy.

Then Camille goes--Claire knows that turns are her signature--she’s also a figure skater which helps (Claire had tried figure skating, and quit after two lessons, after ending up flat on her back multiple times), but the grin fades from her face at their teacher’s praise for her friend.

“Camille! That was fantastic. Your lines are exquisite. If everyone did lines like that, I would be so happy.”

“That was so good,” a girl next to Claire mutters. “I wish I could look that smooth.”

For the rest of class, everyone seems to be talking about how great Camille’s stupid pique turns were. Claire tries not to let her irritation show, because she’s grown up and above stupid “nofe air” tantrums now, but she’s still annoyed.

She loves Camille. Camille is her best friend, and they’re so alike. This always seems to happen though. She does a solo, and everyone says it was “good.” Then Camille does almost the same solo, and their teacher practically falls over from praise, talks about it for days. Claire doesn’t understand it. They practice together all the time, know all the same steps. What is it about Camille, that’s just so much better?

Camille doesn’t even like ballet that much, but for some reason, everyone thinks she’s the best in the class. Even though Myriah is better at technique and Claire’s the best at huge jumps.

Most of the time, Claire can handle the fact that Camille is the favorite--after all, Camille’s so sweet and slightly oblivious to all the praise, but somedays, it just gets her. Especially now, when they’ve got a recital coming up, and there’s going to be agents in the audience.
--

“Are you alright?” Camille asks her later. “You’ve been quiet tonight.”

They’re lying on Camille’s bed, a half-eaten pizza between them. The Little Mermaid is playing, but for once, Claire’s not paying much attention to her favorite movie. She’s still thinking about the pique turns, about how later, even in jazz (which is what Claire’s best at), their teacher wouldn’t stop complimenting Camille during their duo routine.

“I’m fine,” Claire says.

“Claire.” Camille sits up, and looks at her. “Come on. What’s wrong?”

Claire doesn’t really know what to say. If this was one of her siblings, she would just blurt out that she’s tired of being second best, and be done with it. Camille is her friend though, and Claire doesn’t want to hurt her feelings. She also knows that she has to say something though, otherwise Camille will never leave her alone.

She shrugs. “I think I’m just nervous about the recital.”

“Oh you shouldn’t be worried about that! You’re going to be amazing! I mean, I get it--the agents coming is intimidating, but they’re going to love you. I bet they’ll want you to sign a contract that day, and then they’ll take you to Hollywood, and next thing you know, your name is going to be in big, shining lights. Claire Pike--”

She pauses for a second, and then looks carefully at Claire.

“What?” Claire asks.

“Well don’t be offended,” Camille says slowly. She gets up and goes over to her huge vanity, starts to braid her hair. “Have you ever thought about changing your name?”

“What’s wrong with my name?” Claire asks. She actually likes her name, middle name notwithstanding. Her first and last name however, have a nice ring to them.

“Lots of stars change their names!” Camille tells her. “I mean, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland...”

“I’m not them.” Claire’s getting annoyed. “What’s wrong with Claire? I like it.”

“There’s nothing wrong with it!” Camille turns to face her, eyes wide. “It’s just--Pike isn’t the best last name for a movie star to have. It’s about making yourself in the business you know. What about like...Claire Madison?”

Claire stands up. “If I have to change my name, you should change yours.”

“Don’t get mad! And Roberts is a perfectly fine last name. You know. Like Julia Roberts. I just think--”

“Of course!” Claire shrieks. “You get to keep your name, while I have to change mine! Because everything you do is perfect and everything about you is perfect! I like my name, and I’m not changing it!”

She storms from the room, not caring that Camille is crying now, and saying that she’s sorry and that it was just a suggestion and she didn’t mean to make Claire mad. All she can think about right now, is getting home. For the thousandth time, she wishes she had her license, so she could just drive away, but instead she has to call her mom and ask her to get her. She waits on the front porch, still seething, wondering why everyone seems to want her to be different. Vanessa thinks she’s trivial. Her dance teacher tells her she needs to work on her extensions. Camille thinks her last name isn’t suited for a star.

Meanwhile, Camille gets whatever she wants. All the praise. Their dance teacher and the students slobber all over her. She gets to go to private school, and has her own stupid bedroom, that she doesn’t have to share with annoying sisters that whine about classes and play terrible music. She gets whatever she wants, whenever she wants it, and she has the same last name as Julia fucking Roberts.

This is where Claire and Camille are different.

It’s really, really not fair.
--

Claire can’t stay mad at Camille for too long though. She calls Claire the next morning, pretty much sobbing to be forgiven, and that of course Pike is a perfect movie star name. Camille does admit when she’s messed up, Claire has to concede. And she can’t help it that she has the things she does. Claire should stop resenting her for it.

So she tunes out their dance teacher and other students when they go on and on, and instead focuses on perfecting her routine. Of course, this agent thing might not even happen. They may not even show up. There’s tons of people at her dance studio, so it’s very possible they won’t even stay to watch her numbers.

Even so. It’s good to be prepared, to know that you have the potential to be noticed. Claire’s sure that she has something to offer, at least. Some sort of spark. And she’s a good dancer. She’s been doing this since she was six years old, and she deserves to be recognized.

She fantasizes sometimes, when she’s practicing in the studio, about agents coming up to her. About signing that contract, and getting to leave this dull little town, being able to move to New York City or Los Angeles...
It keeps her going, makes her add in an extra hour, turn piques until her feet are sore.
--

The day of the recital, all of Claire’s family shows up. Even Vanessa, who had been told that her essays could wait. Of course, Vanessa is grumbling about this, but she has no choice. Pikes support each other and come to big events because damn it, this is just what the Pikes do. It’s like Jordan had told Claire once--they’re kind of like the mafia.

Byron drives down from Wesleyan, where he’s at college, and even Jordan leaves his beloved Manhattan to come home for the weekend. Jeff drove up with him, which has put Nicky in a foul mood (Jeff and Jordan home together always makes Nicky shut himself up in his bedroom forever, only coming downstairs to make comments about Jeff flipping his hair), but Claire is happy. She’s happy because her brothers are home, and happy because her dad made his famous waffles this morning (even though she’d been so nervous about the recital, she’d only been able to eat one). Happy that her whole family is out in the audience, even though Nicky and Vanessa look grumpy (but they always are), and happy that the auditorium is packed with people.

She keeps peeking out from behind the curtain, trying to spot official agent-looking types, only stops when her teacher tells her to come backstage.
--

The funny thing about recitals, Claire muses, is that you spend weeks and weeks practicing, pour all of your energy into a piece, and then all of a sudden, those hours of practice boil into three minutes onstage. And then, just like that, it’s over, time for the next big routine.

This one actually counts for something though, she thinks, sitting through all the beginners and immediate classes, until the advanced groups are called.

Their trio goes well, though Myriah is white as a sheet. Claire doesn’t blame her--Myriah’s mother is sitting in the first row, and never smiles. Claire sees Mrs. Perkins cringe when Myriah’s ankle wobbles ever so slightly on an arabesque.

Claire gives Myriah a hug backstage, on impulse.

“You did so well,” she tells her.

Myriah gives her a sad smile. “I’m glad someone thinks so,” she says, before going off to sit by herself. For a second, Claire feels bad for her. Maybe Myriah’s lonely, needs someone to talk to and watch movies with. Claire wonders if she’s ever had a good friend before.

These thoughts leave her mind a second later though, when Camille runs up to her, almost knocks Claire down with the force of her hug, proclaims she’s amazing and fabulous and if agents were there, they definitely noticed her, and now, they need to go run through their duo one last time.
--

The routine they’re doing is to an up-tempo song. It’s an older song too, picked out by their teacher, but the number is classic jazz. It’s high-energy, full of tight turns and some small acrobatics. Claire’s the most nervous about the part when they go straight from leg spins to dual splits, because if there’s one moment of hesitation, they can fall out of sync with each other.

As soon as the music starts though, the nerves leave her. This happens at every recital. When she takes that first step, she knows she has this. Dancing is her release, her way of showing that she has something to offer, her outlet for her endless energy. She’s able to take all the restlessness she feels, and channel it into a three minute routine, and and that in itself, is amazing.

Besides, she and Camille are good together. They’ve been each other’s partners for years, can keep up with each other, and Claire is sure that this is their best routine yet. She’s grinning as they go into splits in perfect unison, and then--

Her mood only improves when she notices, sitting in the second row, two official looking types. A man and woman. They’re watching the routine in earnest, smiling, keep whispering to each other.

Yes, this definitely the best recital ever. When they finish the dance, the auditorium is ringing with applause. Claire steps forward with Camille, and they bow together, then a second time. She grins even wider to hear the triplets (and probably Jeff) whistling loudly and screaming out how great she is--yeah that’s definitely Jordan and Jeff, and then, looking out in the first few rows, where the it’s still light enough to see everyone, is shocked to see that even Nicky is applauding (even though he’s also grimacing at Jordan), and that Vanessa has the ghost of a smile playing around her lips.
--

“Claire!” Camille yells, throwing her arms around her. “Oh my god. I just have to tell you again. That was so good.”
All of the routines have finished, and Claire’s standing outside the auditorium, waiting for her family. She also keeps craning her head, looking to see if anyone else wants to approach her.

She grins at Camille though, hugs her back.

“Well, I did have an awesome partner,” she says. “Hey. My family should be out here soon. Do you want to go out for ice cream with us?”

Camille nods happily, then blushes slightly. Claire knows why.

“Yes, Byron will be there.” Claire says, rolling her eyes. “Damn it. I don’t know what the hell it is with my friends having crushes on my brothers.”

She says this jokingly though. Nothing can put her in a bad mood.

“Claire!”

Jordan is rushing towards her, with Jeff close behind. Jordan gets to her first, actually picks her up and hugs her, but he can do that because he’s her big brother and her favorite sibling, and Claire feels happier than ever when he tells her that her routine was “fucking legendary.”

“Are you ready to go?” He asks Claire, a second later. “Everyone’s waiting--”

He breaks off, because that moment, two people are heading towards Claire and Camille, smiling widely. The people Claire had noticed earlier.

“Hold on,” she mutters to Jordan. She turns them, grinning. This is her moment. They’re going to tell them both how wonderful the routine was, and then they’ll be whisked off to sign contracts and then--

“Miss Roberts?”

Camille stares at Claire for a moment, before replying.

“Yes?” She asks, huge brown eyes wide. She’s chewing on her bottom lip slightly, shooting nervous glances at Claire.

“I’m Joanna Kelly,” the woman is saying. “My partner and I represent several talent agencies in New York and Los Angeles, and we were very impressed by your work today.”

The man nods in agreement. “We were saying we could see you in film, or onstage, even a television show. You have a great deal of promise, young lady. Are your parents here? We’d like to talk with you all further.”

“Oh.” Camille says. Her eyes are sparkling though, even though she keeps looking at Claire. “Well, thank you. Is it just me though?”

“For the time,” the woman says. She casts a quick glance at Claire.

“You were very good too,” she says with a slight smile. “Impressive, even.”

A consolation prize.

The woman turns back to Camille. “Now as I was saying, we’d like to talk to you and your parents if you have a moment...”

Claire feels a rushing in her ears. Tears are stinging her eyes, but she determines herself not to cry. She can’t look at Camille, who’s now chattering away to the agent (of course she is, she’s just gotten the opportunity of a lifetime), and definitely not Jordan or Jeff--

Suddenly, she's taken with the desire to run. To get the hell out of this auditorium. She’d been so stupid, thinking that she was the one who they noticed, but of course it was Camille. It’s always Camille.

She’s only half aware of rushing out towards the front doors, as fast as she possibly can. She can hear Jeff and Jordan yelling at her to wait, but she’s oblivious to their calls. She runs outside, still in only her leotard and jeans, before noticing a side garden, where there’s a bench behind a tree.

Claire sinks onto the bench, and only then, does she begin to sob. Fuck. She thinks. She’s trying to get it together, but just can’t right now. Hell, she doesn’t know how she’s going to walk back into that auditorium, face Camille again. She knows the gracious thing to is offer her congratulations, but all Claire wants to do is snap that for once, it should have been her that got this. Or the both of them, even.

Dancing is Claire’s thing. The hobby that distinguishes herself from the rest of her family, that none of her siblings have ever tried, It’s what she’s best at, what she loves to do. Vanessa gets her joy from stupid dead authors, and hell, all of her siblings do insanely well in school, but Claire wanted to do something different with dancing, something she could completely call her own. And with that, she wanted to be noticed, seen as important, above the rest. No comparison. Of course though, there’s always someone, who people will naturally compare you too...

This whole situation is just unfair. It’s stupid and lame and right now all Claire wants to is just punch something. Anything. She’s tempted to walk over to the nearest tree, and take out her anger on that--

“Claire?” A soft voice asks. “Are you okay?”

Claire looks up, tears still streaming down her face, along with rivulets of mascara. How attractive. And of course, the person enquiring after her, while she looks like a deranged raccoon, is Myriah, who has her hair arranged in a perfect bun, and has changed into an adorable dress.

Claire’s tempted to snap that of course she’s not okay and that generally when someone’s crying, it’s a sign of distress. Myriah looks genuinely concerned though, and Claire just can’t bring herself to do it.

“I thought your duo was wonderful,” she says to Claire. “Can I sit down?”

Claire nods. “What were you doing out here?” She asks.

“I’ve always liked this garden,” Myriah tells her. “And I was attempting to hide from my mother, who’s furious I didn’t tell her there would be agents here. This seemed like a good place.”

“Fucking agents.” Claire spits.

Myriah looks slightly shocked at Claire’s word choice.

“Well they are.” Claire wipes her eyes. “They like Camille. Not me. Not you. Even though we’re both better than her in some ways. For some reason though, everyone thinks she’s the greatest. Now, she’s going to sign some contract, and is probably going to go out to Los Angeles.”

“Oh,” Myriah says softly. She hesitates for a moment, and then puts her hand on Claire’s shoulder.

“I’m so sorry,” she says. “I know how much you wanted this.”

“Didn’t you?” Claire sniffs. “We work so hard.”

Myriah shrugs. “I think it would be nice sometimes,” she admits. “Even though what I’d rather do is act professionally when I’m older. I want to go to college first, and study music there.” She sighs. “Everyone goes on about how you have to get discovered when you’re young, but there’s a price to pay for all that.”

Claire looks at her in surprise. It amazes her that someone wouldn’t want that. The fame, the recognition, the parties...

“Besides,” Myriah adds. “Just because an agent likes you, doesn’t mean you’ll get anywhere. My mom keeps talking about California, but I think it’s ridiculous. It’s like putting yourself on a meat market or something. You pay thousands of dollars, go to hundreds of auditions, and get a hundred more rejections. Some people make it, but that’s rare.”

She pauses.

“This is terrible of me to say, but Camille might not get anywhere. Here, she’s a big fish in a small pond. In California, there will be hundreds of girls, just like her.”

“At least they liked her though!” Claire wails. “It’s always her! People go on and on, and then just pass me over.”

Shit. She’s starting to cry again.

Myriah shrugs. “Well,” she says. “I get tired of it too. The fawning. We all work hard, and it’s irritating when the teachers pick favorites. If it’s any consolation to you though, I think you’re a better dancer.”

Claire dries her eyes yet again at this news. “Really?”

“Definitely.”

Myriah smiles at her. It’s a real smile too, one of the first Claire has ever seen her give.

“Besides,” Myriah continues. “You wouldn’t want to live in Los Angeles. It’s smelly and full of smog and has horrible traffic. You’re meant to be in New York City or something.” she adds, looking at Claire. “Really. Camille’s going to go off to Los Angeles and we’ll see what that brings, but you two aren’t the same person. I’m sure that eventually, you’re going to be great. In your own way.”

Oddly enough, Claire feels better. Myriah seems so serious. The opposite of Camille, who’s drama and emotion and constantly flitting from one thing the next. Myriah is steady, practical. Wise beyond her years, as Claire’s mother likes to say.

Maybe Claire has never given her enough credit. She suddenly feels guilty, for all the times that she and Camille whispered off by themselves, all the times they called Myriah “boring” and didn’t invite her to sleepovers or movie nights. Maybe Myriah doesn’t want to gossip like they do, but she seems smart. Plus, she pretty much admitted that New York City is amazing, which in Claire’s book, makes one friend material.

“Do you want to come out for ice cream?” She asks Myriah, on an impulse. “And thank you. It’s true. New York is better than Los Angeles.”

“New York is wonderful,” Myriah agrees. “And thank you, but my mother is being stupid and insisting we go straight home. I’d come otherwise though.”

“Oh.” Claire says. Then, she presses on.

“Well do you want to come over tomorrow? We could watch Disney movies or something. Tell your mom you’re going to the library.”

Myriah giggles, suddenly sounding much more her age.

“My mom would not be amused,” she says. “I guess I could come over though, for a couple hours. I’ve never seen a Disney movie though.”

“What?” Claire stares at her in horror. “How have you gone thirteen years without seeing a Disney movie?”

“My mom doesn’t like them? She only lets us watch Rogers and Hammerstein musicals.”

“Your mom is mean,” Claire says. She’s laughing now.

“I know,” Myriah agrees, as they both burst into giggles.

“So,” Myriah says a moment later. “Are you ready to go back in? Your family’s waiting for you, probably.”

“Yeah,” Claire says, taking a deep breath. “Oh shit. I look horrible.”

“It’s okay.” Myriah rummages around in her purse. “Here. I have tissues.”

Claire smiles slightly. Of course Myriah has tissues. In the past, she would have mocked this with Camille, but now, she smiles gratefully, wipes the mascara from her face.

“One more thing,” Claire asks, as they head towards the auditorium. “Do you think my last name is a good movie star name?”

“Most definitely,” Myriah says. “Claire Pike. It has a very succinct quality to it.”

Yes. Claire decides. They’re going to be good friends.
--

Jeff and Jordan are waiting at the auditorium doors when they walk over. Jeff gives her a hug, which Claire thinks is sweet of him (he’s always sweet though, at least to her) and adds--

“Sorry, but that other girl sucked. Those agents are dumb as shit for picking her.”

“Yeah,” Jordan agrees. “Those stupid agents can go fuck a gorilla.”

Claire bursts into hysterical laughter.

“Do you like that?” Jordan asks her. “It’s my new favorite phrase. Of course, I came up with it myself. It’s an awesome saying, to reflect my own awesomeness.”

Claire sneaks a glance at Myriah, and almost starts laughing again. Her friend is staring at Jordan, with a bewildered expression on her face. Claire’s certain she’s never heard anything that crude before.

Consider this your introduction to the Pikes.

“Um, I have to go.” She says to Claire. “I hope you’re okay though. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She rushes off, shooting another confused glance at Jordan.

“Who was that?” Jeff asks.

“Myriah Perkins,” Claire says. “She’s in dance with me.”

“She didn’t seem to appreciate my creativity,” Jordan says. “I should be offended.”

“She’s just not used to it.” Claire tells her brother. “Her mom is crazy. Myriah got weirded out when I cursed earlier.”

“Ah.” Jordan smirks. “So it’s your job then, to corrupt her.”

“Precisely.” Claire grins. “As of today, I’ve adopted her.”

She’s feeling much better, as Jordan holds out his hand for a high five, and Jeff rolls his eyes and calls them ridiculous. So what if she didn’t get picked? Maybe it will always sting a little bit, she’ll always wonder what Camille had that she didn’t, but for now, it’s time to move on. All she can do is continue what she’s doing and then maybe someday, she’ll be the one who’s noticed.
--

They head back inside, to finally meet up with everyone else (apparently, Vanessa is getting annoyed because no one is being punctual and of course, this is cutting into her study time), when Claire spots Camille in the lobby again. Her parents are talking with the agents.

Claire is tempted to just snub her for a moment, but that’s not what best friends do.

“Congratulations,” she tells Camille, giving a hug. After all, Camille would do this for her. “You’re still invited for ice cream, by the way.”

“Oh my god, Claire.” Camille looks at her, eyes overbright. “You’re not mad? I’m really--”

“Don’t worry about it,” Claire says. “Really.” She pauses. “You wanted this, and you deserve this. Come find us if you want to go out with us.”

She continues on with Jeff and Jordan, amused because Jeff is saying that he still thinks Camille sucked, while Jordan’s muttering things about how being a bigger person is overrated sometimes, and Claire should have told her his awesome phrase...

Claire’s glad to have them. Yeah, she thinks. Being second best sucks sometimes, but at least she has people on her side. People that matter.

And every time she feels angry, she’ll just remember that Los Angeles smells and New York City is better anyways.
---