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In a Yellow Wood

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Drina never felt quite right during the winter. She had never felt less like herself than during the current winter. It had been bitterly cold with the dampness working its way into one’s bones and not even any snow to lend beauty to what had been an otherwise miserable season both personally and professionally. The mist had been laying low to the ground all day, but she ignored the inner voice that sounded suspiciously like her grandmother telling her to hail a taxi and instead walked home along Euston Road then cut through a little square on the way back to her flat.

The bright scarlet scarf and grey coat of a Dominick student drew Drina’s gaze before she realised the little girl wearing them was sobbing into her hands. Her painful knee forced a usually graceful stride into something more hobbled as Drina hurried over to the girl. “Did someone hurt you?” she asked. “Should I summon the police?”

When the girl looked up, Drina revised her estimation to around 13 or 14. “Miss Adamo! I - you -” She’d gasped audibly upon recognizing Drina & now took a deep breath, trying desperately to compose herself. “No, no, I’m fine.”

“You’re clearly not,” Drina replied, firmly but kindly. The face sparked her memory, and she added, “Penelope? What’s wrong?” It had taken a moment to recognize her through the tears, but the student before her was certainly Penelope Bernoise. The Company’s tours had ranged from the Far East to more usual France and Germany, and Drina hadn’t seen Catherine Colby’s daughter in nearly a year.

She seemed more embarrassed than startled at being recognized and reached up to scrub at her eyes with the backs of her hands. “I really am fine. I’m just being silly, and it’s so embarrassing that you of all people caught me at it.”

Drina couldn’t help a half-smile at the memories of her own student days when any acknowledgement from those in the Company was half-terrifying and half-elating. But for Penelope who’d grown up with her mother and father as the principal dancers at the Dominick, she thought the reaction more surprising. “You could tell me if you’d like to. It can’t be terribly silly if it’s upsetting you.”

“Oh, no, I couldn’t.” Her eyes landed in horror on Drina’s wrapped knee. “Oh, Miss Adamo! You shouldn’t be standing out here in the cold. You’re already hurt…” Penelope trailed off, snapping her mouth shut as if commenting on the fact would make it worse.

“It’s not a problem...” she began, but now that she’d stopped moving, the cold was insinuating itself into already painfully stiff muscles. She eyed the younger girl’s still tear-stained face, unwilling to leave any Dominick student, let alone the daughter of her friend and mentor, alone in such distress. “Would you like to come back to my flat with me? It’s not terribly far, and I have some chocolate biscuits laid in.”

Penelope looked up in surprise then nodded, reaching to pick up her bag from the ground. “If you’re sure?”

Grant was in New York on business so the flat was dark when they arrived. Drina had given in and hailed a taxi for the short distance; they’d sat silently in the back seat of the car as Penelope attempted to regain her self-possession. Drina unlocked her door and pushed it open, gesturing for Penelope to follow her in. To her amusement, the girl looked around in undisguised curiosity. The rooms were warm and comfortable, decorated without a fear of color. In a place of honor were the small paintings of Montmartre that Grant had bought in Paris when they’d met there by chance. Next to them was a large painting of a view of Central Park with the skyscrapers in the background. Penelope stood, looking at the painting for a moment before exclaiming, “Oh! It’s the backdrop to New York Rhapsody!”

“Grant - my husband - had it painted as a wedding gift,” Drina agreed, smiling affectionately at the painting.

“He’s from New York, yes?”

“He is. He’s there now too. We met on a ship to New York that you and your parents were also passengers on.”

“I remember that. Though of course I was very young then,” Penelope mused with all the dignity of a teenager remembering her seven year old self.

A plate of the promised biscuits was procured and tea poured before Drina, her leg now propped up on a chair with a cushion, asked, “Would you like to talk about why you were upset?”

The younger girl looked down, focusing on playing with her cup of tea. “I - it’s stupid.”

“If it was making you cry, it’s not stupid,” she said, reaching to help herself to a biscuit. “But you certainly don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“In the book Mr. Amberdown wrote about you, he said you used to worry about people thinking you were just Ivory’s daughter,” Penelope said in a rush. Drina nodded but didn’t speak. “You were so good though, no one could think that even if they had known. But - me.” Her eyes started to fill again with tears, and she blinked quickly to try to make them go away.

“You think people think you’re only Colby’s daughter?” she asked compassionately. Deciding not to tell the world who her mother had been was a hard choice, but at least Drina had gotten to make it. Penelope wore the name of the Dominick’s fairytale pair - ballet partners who also were in a real love story. Even though both Bernoise and Colby were mostly retired now, the Dominick’s audiences still loved them devotedly.

“I am. And - my mother and father said they never wanted me to do ballet, but I made them let me audition for the Dominick,” Penelope said. “And now - I don’t know if I’m good enough and even if I am, I don’t know if I want to dance.”

The idea of not wanting to dance was completely foreign to Drina who needed ballet as desperately she needed sunlight, but the way Penelope had said it - as if she was admitting to a crime - went straight to Drina’s heart. “You’re worried your parents will be disappointed if you don’t want to?”

Penelope nodded, tears streaming down her face again. “I had a part in the matinée last winter, and Mother was so proud. I wasn’t cast this year, and I didn’t feel as sad as I should’ve. Mother and Father might tell themselves they don’t want me to dance, but I know they do.”

“Catherine Colby and Peter Bernoise only want you to be happy,” Drina said, leaning to take Penelope’s hand in hers. “If that’s dancing or if you want to be a doctor or raise chickens on a farm somewhere.”

A tiny smile appeared through the tears. “Can you picture Mother on a chicken farm? It’d be like - you on a chicken farm.”

Drina smiled back. “I’ll have you know one of my dearest friends lives on a farm, and I feed the chickens whenever I stay there.”

“Truly?” She took Drina’s offered handkerchief to dry her eyes.

“About the chickens? Or your parents.”

“Both, I suppose,” Penelope admitted.

“One day I’ll show you some photos of the farm. My friend just sent me some of her daughter with the chicks she’s raising,” she said. “And your mother and I talked about it once just before she retired. You’re right. She is terribly proud of you, but she’d still be terribly proud if you decided you wished to go to a regular school instead of becoming a Senior Student.”

Penelope looked at Drina for a moment before deciding to trust her on this for the moment. “It’s awfully nice of you to take the time to talk to me. Especially with - everything else going on.”

“Your mother and Miss Volonaise always took the time for me,” she said. “And everything else is - everything else.”

“I don’t know how you stand it!” she exclaimed, sliding a glance towards Drina’s propped up leg.

“Injuries happen when you’re a dancer,” Drina said, not letting any of her own pain and frustration show. “You have to train to keep them from happening and live with them when they do.”

“But how will you live with it if you can never dance again?” The moment she’d said them, Penelope wished desperately she could take the words back. How could she say something like that to Miss Adamo who’d been so very nice to her and who she’d admired since she was a little girl?

“Oh, Penelope,” Drina sat back. She’d known rumours had been circulating the ballet world of London, but they hadn’t been said to her face before. “It’s not like that, darling. There was a worry for a bit -” there’d been more than worry from the moment she’d come out of an easy tour jeté at a wrong angle and her knee at collapsed under her in the middle of company rehearsal “- but I’m hoping to be ready to dance again by the time we start rehearsing for the spring season.”

Her face lit up in relief. “That is the best news I’ve ever heard. Will Sleeping Beauty be on the programme again? We were all looking forward to seeing you in it finally.”

“Now you’ll be able to see Rose - Miss Conway, I mean, dance the part. She was dancing in Milan, you know. The Dominick is lucky to have her back.” Seeing Rose dance Aurora filled Drina with mixed feelings. She hadn’t spent much time with her friend since Rose had left the Dominick, and it was a joy to be able to do so again, but Drina had dreamed of dancing Aurora since she was a little girl and for it to be put off was heart-breaking. If she had been a more jealous person, Drina would have quite resented her friend.

Penelope nodded, taking the hint. “I remember her as the Lilac Fairy.”

“She was beautiful. And she will be as Aurora too,” Drina said with a smile. She watched Penelope for a moment. “Penelope, before, when you said you weren’t sure about dancing. Do you mean it? Or were you afraid of being injured?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Sometimes I want to never stop dancing, and sometimes - there’s so much in the world, and I only know of the dancing parts.”

“You can’t let ballet make you narrow.” The words Miss Volonaise had spoken to her a decade ago had stayed with Drina to a greater or lesser extent. As she passed them on to Penelope, she wondered if she should be taking the advice to heart again too. “You should keep exploring. If you become a dancer, it’ll be good for you to have broader horizons. And whether you do or not, you’ll know whatever it is is what you really want.”

“I don’t want to disappoint anybody either.”

“I’m certain you won’t.”

They shared a smile then Penelope glanced at her wristwatch in surprise. “Oh! It’s so late. I must go home before anyone worries. Thank you so much for the tea and talking to me.”

“It was my pleasure. I hope you’ll stop by often.” Drina stood as Penelope did and reached to touch her arm. “Whether you have worries or not. Shall I call your mother to tell her you’ll be there shortly?”

“Would you?” Penelope paused at the door. “Would you also - Miss Adamo, I’m sorry to ask. But would you not tell her what we talked about?”

“That stays between us,” she said reassuringly. “Without a doubt.”

Penelope smiled with all the warm charm of her mother in that moment. “I’m so happy you’ll be dancing again soon,” she said over her shoulder as she closed the door behind her.

The enthusiasm was touching, and the sentiment was shared. And somehow, even through the winter of bitter cold and injury-laden troubles, Drina’s own heart was lighter as she reached for the phone to call Catherine and let her know that her daughter was on her way home.