"Get ready to tango, Pax. It's going to be a long ride." I smiled at my assistant, who held a clipboard close to her chest as I buttoned up my tuxedo vest.
Tonight was the final show of The Nutcracker, and I was getting ready to attend, just like any other year. I had been going since I was a child and never really stopped.
"You know I can't move my feet properly like that. How the hell am I supposed to tango?" She smiled playfully at me.
"I don't know, take dance lessons? They're there for a reason." I raised my eyebrows at her.
"Just shut up and put your vest on, dumbass." Her eyes rolled back, a habit she picked up from a teacher we had back in college.
"Hey, I could fire you, you know." It's not like I would ever. I can't handle everything by myself--
"No way. You wouldn't. You'd die. I know you will." --and she knows it.
"Eh. I need a little credit here. I mean, look around us." We were in my office, large enough to be a classroom. Bookshelves hung on the walls full of books and awards. There was a substantially large closet beside the door. There was a glass display case for the record collection I own. A record player sat on top of a stool in the corner of the room.
Stuck In The Middle With You by Stealers Wheel was currently playing.
"Fair enough." She said as she checked the clipboard. "You have at least two more hours before curtain. Are you sure you want to go this early?"
"Yes, I am," I replied courteously. "If I am buying the opera house, I have to make sure that the building and its staff are in good shape."
"Well, I did a background check on everyone, to be sure. None have pretty serious criminal records. So, in terms of safety, you should be fine." She waved me off.
"Though, I would advise you to look at this if you want to charm them into liking you. Your possible future employees would need the help." She handed the clipboard she held earlier. On the sheets of paper were things each person enjoys, along with their pictures. She even went so far as to do background checks on the dancers.
She's so over the top.
She grabbed the coat hanging on the closet door and helped me into it.
"I'll get going then." I smiled widely. "I have to make sure they give me good seats. Are you sure you and Arlo don't want to come with me?"
"We're both very sure." She rolled her eyes. "And as if there's any doubt they won't give you the best seat in the house. They'll bathe your feet if you ask them to. Not because they like you, but because they're most likely deathly afraid of you."
"And that is why I'm asking if you guys are sure."
"Yes. We are very sure. We have plans for tonight." She looked at me sheepishly. "We can go next year if you want. Just not tonight."
" Oh. So it's that type of activity tonight, huh?" I smirked. "Well, have fun then. And be safe!" I said as I began walking out, tapping the clipboard she handed me.
"Wipe that smirk off, you asshole!" She shouted from inside the room as her fiancé who, was waiting outside the door, came into the office. "And we will!"
"Please, just don't fuck in my office, Arlo!" I shouted as I got into the elevator.
"You got it, boss!" He gave me a thumbs-up as the elevator doors closed.
I had known both of them since high school. We were all in the AV club together. Pax was the president, while Arlo was the treasurer.
I have no idea why we had to have a club president as if there weren't just three of us in the club.
We were together most of the time back in high school, up until we all left for college, where we lost touch with each other.
When I founded my company, I was in dire need of a few right-hand people. And that's when I thought of these two people I had spent most of my teenage years.
After a few weeks, I contacted both of them and inevitably convinced them to work with me while my company was still competing for its place at the top of the ranks, while they stayed by my side, helping me through each step.
Walking out of the elevator to the car was a hustle. Blinding lights were flashing, and people were clamoring at themselves as I stepped out of my building.
"Ms. Edmund! Over here!"
"Are you going to the Casa dell'Arte Opera?"
I smirked. I love it when the attention is on me.
Soon enough, my guards were able to push and shove their way through the crowd. One of them opened the door for me.
As the car door shut and the engine started, I took the chance to look through the sheets of paper on the clipboard I held.
They contained a short description of an employee and their most recent 'criminal record.'
Pax loves making sure small things aren't overlooked and taken into account.
- Mark Goodman, 34, January 20, 1986. Always brags about his vintage beetle that he converted. Unpaid parking tickets.
- Martha Smith, 45, July 26, 1975. Likes to talk about her ceramic figurines and cats. Unpaid parking tickets.
- Jane Hyland, 27, November 14, 1992. Enjoys talking about ballet, likes jazz. Improper turn.
It went on for quite a bit. Most of the people listed had unpaid parking tickets or improper turns listed in their current criminal backgrounds; nothing serious .
I eventually made it to the page that contained the information on the dancers.
- Marcus James, 21, January 21, 1998. Likes broadway and Barbra Streisand. Unpaid parking ticket.
- Emily Jacobs, 19, October 10, 2000. Always talks about Harry Potter, favors Ginny Weasley because of their matching hair. Jaywalking.
- Darcy Anderson, 20, October 15, 1999. Likes makeup, latest trends. Unpaid parking tickets. Unable to attend court.
- Gianna Johnson, 18, April 6, 2001. Enjoys shopping. Unpaid parking ticket.
Most of the dancers were almost identical. Most of them are typical stuck-up trust fund babies.
I glossed over most of them. Until my finger stopped on a picture of a girl with teal hair.
- Billie O'Connell, 19, music buff, enjoys art and crocheting. Vandalism.
Who would've thought one of these trust fund babies would be interested in anything other than clothes.
I looked at her picture once more.
Her face was blank, and she was looking straight at the camera, looking bored. One of her eyebrows stood up, while the other laid the other way.
Well, that's irritatingly cute.
Couldn't imagine how annoyed her dance agency must be. They rarely accept unnatural-colored hair from their dancers.
Then she must be a good dancer to get exempted.
She seems like the only one with an actual personality. All these other people have similar interests. Makeup, ballet, shopping, clothes, and Broadway, were for whatever reason, widely loved by this group of people.
I carried on looking through the file, though I was still thinking about little Ms. Vandal.
The buildings were blurring into each other as we passed by them. Car horns took turns blaring at each other. Merchants could be heard yelling to attract customers.
In no time, we arrived at the Opera house. I let go of the clipboard and left it on the empty car seat.
As I walked through the corridors of Casa dell'Arte Opera House in New York City, I could hear people outside the building's walls shouting my name. They were stood just outside the entrance hoping to get a glimpse of me. The cameras kept clicking and flashing until a manager asked them to leave.
My guards pushed open the doors and let me in. They stayed outside the doors shoved the reporters back.
"I am so sorry for that, Ms. Ackerman. We usually have more security here, but they were on their break." The sweaty man beside me tensely gritted his teeth, hissing anxiously, as he approached me and twiddled with his fingers. Still, I looked towards the entrance of the theater hall. "We didn't expect you to arrive so soon."
Marcus James, according to the file earlier.
"Yes, well, a few things got canceled," I replied firmly. "And traffic wasn't so bad." I can't blame them. I'm an hour and a half early. No wonder they weren't ready.
He looked around and stammered, silently asking for help from his colleagues, who I saw were shaking their heads at him.
"Uh, would you like to sit in the lounge in the meantime?" He gestured towards a fairly-sized room that had sofas and coffee machines and a few old magazines. It looks like a faculty room rather than a lounge, but whatever, I guess.
"Sure." I could only fake my smile, though the nervousness of the people around me never failed to amuse me.
He led me through a dingy corridor and into the room.
He was once again twiddling with his fat fingers when he started walking away.
When I was left alone, my eyes scanned the room.
The inside is visible from the room's glass walls. A long hallway covered in wooden doors stretched from one part of the hall to the other, where the dancers were getting ready for their show tonight.
"Uh, Ms. Ackerman?" I faintly heard from behind me. I turned around, and it was the sweaty man once again. "We have an after-party once the show finishes. Will you be able to attend?"
"I'm afraid not. I haven't got the time. Though, thank you for the invitation."
"Oh, yes, of course." He was almost shaking in his shoes. "Though, if you change your mind, you can bring anyone you want."
"Ah, yes, thank you." Who would I even bring? "I'll make sure to keep it in mind."
With that, he scampered away to his colleagues who were hiding behind a wall.
I sat down on an uncomfortable couch near the back and grabbed a dusty old magazine on the coffee table adjacent to it. I skimmed through each boring page after the other; pictures of skinny blue-eyed blondies promoting bottled liquids on beaches and ranches filled the pages. I ran my fingers over the cheap sofa leather with my other hand holding the magazine. The old thing had tears and holes in the armrests.
From the corner of my eye, I could see people huddling over themselves, trying to look into the room.
Over the years, I've learned not to entertain girls who flock and parade themselves. They'll only create little fantasies in their heads and believe in them, then get upset if they don't turn into reality. And then I'll be pinned as the asshole.
I looked up from the magazine page, and the girls' eyes widened. They all excitedly smiled at me, and I gave them a polite one.
There were three girls in front of the small crowd of dancers. They noticed that I was looking at them, so they fixed their appearances and approached me.
They opened the glass door and strode in confidence.
A blonde girl walked in the middle of their little trio, their leader, perhaps. Her posse walked behind her following her every step.
"Good evening, Ms. Ackerman." The one in the middle said, twirling the loose strands of hair around her fingers. She had a look of flirtation in her eyes as she peered up at me through her eyelashes.
"Good evening, miss," I replied, looking back down at the article I was reading earlier.
"Darcy." She said, looking down at the booklet I held and pushing it away from my body.
"Good evening, Miss Darcy." I wasn't even asking for her name because the old and crinkled booklet seemed more interesting. Still, I wouldn't humiliate a woman by saying that out loud.
Darcy Anderson, basic brat.
"So, are you excited for the show tonight?" The brunette on the first girl's left asked and fixed her posture when I looked at her.
"Yes. Quite delighted." I gave her a tight-lipped smile. "It's been a while, miss."
"Gianna. But please call me Gia instead." Once again, I never asked for the name.
People always tell me their names even if I never asked for them. I've never needed to ask for people's names because I get them unwillingly.
"Miss Gianna." I only gave a fake chuckle to her. People like this tire me.
Gianna Johnson. Shopping.
"I take it that somebody here told you about the after-party celebration we're having?" Cowering behind their leader, a ginger-haired girl spoke up. Her red hair matched the freckles on her face and her tinted cheeks.
Emily Jacobs, according to the clipboard. The wanna-be Ginny Weasly.
"Indeed somebody had." Pulling the magazine towards me again, only to be pushed by the blonde girl.
"Should we expect you there, then?" reddie asked.
"You shouldn't hold your breath over it. My schedule is compact, and I have somewhere very important to be after this." Pax scolds me all the time for not being punctual if I end up late to meetings.
"Oh. Well, we do hope that you change your mind--"
"Back to the dressing rooms, now! " A whispered yell came from the now open door.
The same sweaty Marcus from earlier is now standing in the doorway, looking harshly at the girls.
He hissed and glared at them, and with a heavy hand, pointed toward the dressing rooms on the other end of the hall.
They all scattered to the back, except a small, petite girl in the back of the small crowd. The air conditioning in the hall made the blonde hair of the wig she wore flow a little. She gave a subtle respectable nod to the man who was already walking away and looked back at me.
The girl wore a white costume with a tiny skirt that hung loose. She donned a silver tiara on her head, and behind it was a tightly pinned bun.
Her costume seems to resemble the dewdrop fairy.
She looked frightened when my eyes met hers, and it caused her to run back to where the other girls were.
She's one shy little dewdrop fairy.
See you on stage, little Ms. Vandal.
Laughing to myself, I continued where I left off, reading the rest of the magazine's contents.
After some time, I finished reading through three magazines of different lengths and widths before another manager came to escort me to into the performance hall, half an hour early.
The room had a high ceiling that hung gold chandeliers from it. In the middle was a flat circle-shaped light. The tall walls had different tiers that held balconies and box seats for VIPs and others willing to pay extra for a small amount of privacy.
She pulled back the curtains to my box and motioned to the velvet seat in the middle. Refreshments sat next to the couch alongside some fake plants.
I sat down and faced the closed stage curtains. I saw the three girls from earlier peeking out behind them.
I wonder where Miss Vandal is.
A woman sitting nearest the stage got up and pushed them back behind the curtain, then got behind them herself. Subsequently, I heard a woman reprimanding people.
The ballet master, I suppose.
"Only a little bit before curtain, people! You have to do better and not get distracted!"
People began to pile into the main hall and got into their seats, true to her word, after a few minutes. Chatter began to fill the silence.
I heard people in the box beside mine whispering amongst themselves,
"That's her, isn't it?"
"I think so. Every holiday season. Never missed a year. Always here."
"Yeah. I heard a manager talking about it earlier. Some greasy, sweaty man with a nametag that says 'manager' on it."
Well, it seems like that's another thing to add to his file: 'Is a little tattletale.'
I tuned out of their conversation and looked towards the stage again. Soon enough, everyone was sat down.
The lights and chandeliers then dimmed until they were turned off completely.
The story is set on Christmas Eve, where family and friends have gathered in the parlor. They were decorating the Christmas tree with colorful ornaments and tinsels. When they were finished, the children were summoned, and they stood around the tree, looking up in awe of it.
The party has started. A march is played, and presents are given to the children. Suddenly, as the grandmother clock strikes eight, a mysterious figure enters the room.
Drosselmeyer was a magician, local councilman, and Clara's grandfather. He was talented with his toy-making craft and gave handmade toys to the children.
Four beautiful dolls danced, which delighted the guests. They danced and danced until he had to put them away for safekeeping.
Though their sadness didn't last long, Drosselmeyer had another surprise. He had another toy in his hands; a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a little man. Deemed uninteresting by the other children, they ignored it. Clara, on the other hand, fell in love with it immediately.
Her troublemaker brother, Fritz, accidentally breaks it, and Clara is devastated.
Luckily enough, Drosselmeyer fixed the poor wooden nutcracker, and all is well again.
It then cut to the night, after everyone was in bed. Clara wished to see the beloved nutcracker and returned to the parlor to check on him.
She approached the bed. As the clock chimed midnight, she looked up and saw Drosselmeyer was sitting atop it.
Almost instantly, mice began to fill the room. And the Christmas tree grew to bewildering heights.
She looked beside her, and her beloved nutcracker grew life-size.
Not long after, Clara found herself in the middle of a fierce battle between the gingerbread soldiers and the mice, led by their king.
The nutcracker led the gingerbread soldiers. The cookie soldiers were being eaten by the mice.
They were joined by tin men, who fought alongside the nutcracker. The dancing dolls acted as field doctors who would carry away the wounded soldiers.
The mouse king advanced on the nutcracker and his army. So Clara helped the only way she could. She threw the shoes she wore at the mice king, which distracted him long enough for the nutcracker to stab him.
The mice army retreated, and the war was won.
Then suddenly, the wooden nutcracker turned into a prince! He led Clara through a pine forest and beckoned them into his kingdom. And that was where the first act of the play ends.
Clara and the Prince arrive at the beautiful Land of Sweets ruled by the Sugar Plum Fairy in his place until his return. He returned to his wooden form, where he told the fairy about how Clara had saved him from the Mice King.
In honor of her heroism, a celebration of sweets ensued. Chocolate from Spain, coffee from Arabia, and candy canes from Russia. They danced. Danish shepherdesses performed on their flutes. Mother Ginger has her children, the Polichinelles, emerge from under her enormous hoop skirt to dance; a string of beautiful flowers perform a waltz. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier performed a dance as the night ended.
And there she was.
In all her glory, she danced so beautifully. She moved with the music played and smiled the entire way.
She was enjoying her time on the stage.
From then on, as I watched in awe, it was evident why they gave her the part. She moved so gracefully, and every move of hers was calculated and exact. She was not exaggerating her movements, and instead, she let them flow out of her.
She smiled as she danced, looking at the crowd. She was charming them.
Her eyes turned to mine, and through all the bright light shining on her, her cheeks pinkened. She gave me a small smile before bowing and following the cavalier backstage.
She's breathtaking, and I'm left in admiration.
A final waltz is performed by all the sweets, after which the Sugar Plum Fairy ushers Clara and the Prince down from their throne. He bows to her, she kisses Clara goodbye and leads them to a reindeer-drawn sleigh. It takes off as they wave goodbye to all the subjects who wave back.
I've been to this show every year of my life, yet somehow this is the best one I've been to.
Is she new?
How come I've never seen her before?
I have to catch her before she leaves.
Will she be at that after-party?
I have to get her some flowers.
I hurry out of my viewing box and rush to the entrance.
Within that hour, the reporters have lessened, and my guards are just standing beside the door.
"Do you want us to take you back home, Ms. Ackerman?" Sully, my bodyguard, asked. He fixed the suit he wore and tugged it down.
"No. Not quite yet, Sully." They opened the doors and accompanied me to the car, blocking the few reporters left. "Is there a flower shop nearby?"
"Yes, there is, Ma'am. We passed by one earlier." The guard beside me, Christopher, answered. "Shall we take you there then, Ma'am?"
"Yes, please. And quickly." I replied curtly, shoving the clipboard I left in there to the side.
Due to the New York traffic, we got there a little later than I would've wanted.
A little bell on top of the door signified that someone had entered the dainty little shop, and the brown-haired woman looked up. She was sitting behind the counter with a phone in her hands.
"Oh!" She exclaimed, straightening her posture. She seemed to be in her sixties. She gave me a kind smile and flitted her eyes over to my bodyguards, who were standing behind me. And that's when her posture faltered a little.
Sensing she was probably intimidated by them, I gestured for them to wait outside. And she visibly relaxed at that.
"Good evening, Ms. I was hoping you'd have some sunflowers and roses still?" I gave her the kindest smile I could, knowing my guards probably scared her.
"Oh, yes I do, dear." She replied and turned around, grabbing a few of them. "Do you want a bouquet, or just a flower each?"
"I'd love a bouquet of both, please."
"Alright, deary." She picked a few red roses and yellow sunflowers and laid them out on the table.
"Honey!" She called out to the back until a man with a funny mustache appeared.
"Yes, dear?" He popped his head out, smiling at her.
"Will you come and help me, please?" She motioned to the flowers laid out on the table. "These need wrapping, hun."
"Yes, dear." He saluted and diligently wrapped them up while she picked out some twine.
Together, they wrapped and tied the flowers together. The woman grabbed them and handed them to me.
"That'll be sixty-five dollars in total." She pressed a few buttons on the register as (--whom I'm assuming is her husband--) handed me the bouquets.
I took them from him and handed her a hundred-dollar bill in my pocket that was already waiting for me.
She took it and did a double-take.
"No, no, deary. Just sixty-five dollars." She said as she gave me back the bill.
"Oh, no. It's almost Christmas." I smiled at her. "Just have a merry Christmas," I said as I exited the quaint little shop.
We drove back to the Opera house, now with the flowers.
As I got out and climbed the steps up to the entrance, which startled the sweaty man that greeted me earlier.
"Oh! Ms. Ackerman! We thought you had left already!" He cried out, fiddling with his fingers again.
"Yes, well, I left to go get flowers to send my congratulations to some people."
"Oh. Do you want me to give the flowers to them on your behalf? We wouldn't want to trouble you more." He awkwardly smiled.
"I'd like to send them myself, actually." I smiled passively. "Will you please lead me to where the dancers are?"
"Yes, yes, absolutely."
He led me through the same halls he did earlier in the night. We reached the end of the hall. Chatter, noise, and cheers were heard on the other side of the door.
"They're just on the other side." He opened the door.
"Finally! The pizza is here! We can eat now!" An annoyingly high-pitched voice squealed. One belonging to one of the three annoying girls prior.
The cheers stopped once they realized it was not the pizza delivery guy.
I cringed at the silence that filled the room.
"Is your ballet master still here?" I asked the room that was still staring.
"Yes. What do you want?" A woman appeared behind the crowd of dancers. Her eyes also went wide when she saw me.
"Pardon me. Slight delivery problem." She chuckled nervously.
I grabbed the bouquet of roses and gave them to her.
"Here. Congratulations on leading a good show." I smiled as she shyly accepted them.
"Thank you, Ms. Ackerman. I shall go put these in a vase." She said, smelling them and walking back to where she was before.
The dancers looked at me again.
The blonde girl, Darcy, from earlier approached me again.
"Well, hello again, Ms. Ackerman. Are those for me?" She smirked and reached for the sunflowers I held.
"Unfortunately, they are not." I gave a polite smile once more and pulled the flowers close to my body. Her little smirk dropped.
Why do I always have to pull things toward my body around this girl?
"Is, uh, Billie O'Connell still here?" I searched the small crowd. I saw Darcy's face fall. I tried searching the room for teal hair, but I saw none.
I looked towards the back, and I saw her standing there. Eyes wide and cheeks pink. Her hair was no longer covered in the blonde wig. And what I expected to be teal hair was now a short and silky brown-colored hair.
"Yes, she's still here." She smiled fakely at the girl. "Why? Do you need her to mop your floors or something?"
She was laughing under her breath.
"Uh, no." I smiled at the girl.
She was pushed forward by a ginger-haired man and sheepishly walked toward me.
"Do you mind talking somewhere a little more private?"
"Uh, yeah, sure." She said, looking at me through her bangs, twiddling with the end of her shirt.
I opened the door I came through and held it open for her.
She passed by me.
Due to her height, the top of her head just about reached my nose. It was cute. She was probably around five feet, four inches. Considering that, she most likely was barely able to hit height requirements.
"Well, uh, what have you called me out here for?" She asked, shrinking into the enormous shirt she wore. The graffiti-designed shirt reached her knees, where you barely see the tiny shorts she was dressed in.
"I just wanted to congratulate you on such a great performance tonight," I said, fixing the polo shirt I had on. "You were absolutely captivating."
"Uh, thank you." Her face flushed.
This time, she gathered up enough courage and confidence to look up and glanced at me. Though how much courage she had only faltered and looked down once more.
"Are you--uh, going to the party?" She questioned as she played with the few simple rings on her fingers.
"Do you want me to?" I smirked, which caused her eyes to widen.
"Uh, no!" She called out. She was so nervous, and it was adorable. She seemed so scared. "Not unless you want to, I mean."
"You still didn't answer me, Billie." I smiled warmly.
"Yes. Yes, I do." She whispered as if people were listening.
I looked back at the doors to the dressing rooms, and sure enough, her co-workers were looking through the little glass window and listening through the crack in the door.
They scampered away when they saw me looking at them, though.
As I turned back to her, my phone rang. I grumbled in annoyance and took my phone out of my pocket.
Incoming call from Pax...
"I'm sorry. This will only take a minute." She nodded and walked toward the door once more to give me privacy.
"Where are you? You're going to be late for the meeting tonight!" Pax angrily muttered through the phone.
"I know I am." I sighed. "Cancel them. Everything else I have for tonight. I'm tired. Good night."
"What? You insisted on these meetings-"
"Good night, Pax." I cut her off and ended the call.
I walked back towards Billie and smiled.
"That was my assistant. She just called to say that I was free for tonight." I smirked.
"Ah, I see." She seemed unsure of what to do, and I could tell she was itching to say something else.
"What is it?" I asked.
"I'm flattered you wanted to compliment my performance, but I just have to ask, why me?" She said, looking up at me from time to time.
"You stand out the most, out of all of them." Handing the yellow sunflowers I had in my hand to her, my hand slightly touched hers, and it caused her smooth cheeks to turn pink. "You look as if you love the art of dancing itself rather than all the attention you receive from it."
"Well, it's always been what I've wanted to do, which could be a contributing factor--"
"And it's theirs, too." She's so shy. Perhaps no one compliments her enough, so she isn't used to receiving it, hence why she has no idea what to do with herself. "Your love for what you do shows whenever you're on stage. I can tell they're all just doing this because they have to."
Her eyes widened. She couldn't get a word out, looking embarrassed. She fiddled with the flowers she held in her hands, nervously looking at them.
"I--Thank you, Ma'am." She stammered, finally working up the courage to look at me.
"Thank you, Sir. " She corrected herself; her face turned a darker red.
I smirked. What else are you hiding?
All in due time, I guess.