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Feel the Beat

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Clarke Griffin decided at 4 AM on a very cold New England morning that she was going to murder her boyfriend. 

She was tense for 80 different reasons, and 20 of them were the fact that Finn was supposed to have arrived at her apartment an entire 15 minutes earlier to pick her up.  Normally, she was the picture of patience.  Right now, she felt like walking herself to the theater and leaving him to catch up.  A puff of breath gave away the sigh of frustration she had let out, and she shifted the dance bag on her shoulder as she checked her watch again.

4:03 AM.  

Finn Collins was going to die.

She heard screeching tires, and the next thing she knew, there was a heap of car wheezing its way up to the curb with as much speed as it could manage before it fell apart.  Any other day, seeing the car limp along on its last legs earned a sympathetic pat from her, but today, it was all she could do to leap in and close the door in time for the car and its driver to shoot off onto the road again.  

“Where the hell were you?” she demanded, tossing the dance bag into the backseat and throwing on a seatbelt.

“Roberta wasn’t as accommodating this morning as she usually is.  This cold weather just isn’t good for her old bones anymore,” he replied, speaking as quickly as he could to calm her down.  A quick grin accompanied a glance over at her seat.  “I brought you coffee, if it helps.”

Clarke snatched the styrofoam cup out of the cup holder and took a big sip.  “No,” she snarked, “But I won’t say no to free coffee.”

Finn looked wounded.  “It’s Dunkin Donuts.”

“Now you might be getting somewhere,” Clarke murmured, nodding in approval.  Warm steam gently wafted out the lid’s opening, and the car filled with the smell of coffee.

The radio jumped between static and snippets of a song Clarke might have recognized if she had been able to hear more of it at once.  The almost-silence that had fallen in the car lasted a few more moments before they came to a stoplight, and Finn turned to her.  “You nervous?”

She shrugged.  “Who wouldn’t be?”

A grin full of false bravado challenged her immediately.  “Me.”

“Yeah, right.”  She rolled her eyes.

Neither spoke for a moment before Finn quietly admitted, “I’m nervous as hell.  What if they rip my technique to shreds?”

Clarke shook her head.  “Nah, they don’t do that at auditions.  They save that for Vegas.  That’s when they weed out the true weaklings. 

“Aren’t you a real ray of sunshine this morning?” Finn snorted, hitting her lightly on the arm before turning up the radio a bit and humming along to the static song.  With the blanks filled in, Clarke recognized it.

Her phone buzzed, and Clarke fumbled to balance her coffee while she dug it out of her pocket.  Finn glanced over to see her almost spill on her lap before holding her phone up triumphantly.  “You know, they make cupholders for people like you.  Just so you can put your hot coffee down and not burn your legs off hours before your big audition.”

Clarke barely looked up.  “I like to live dangerously.”  

The text was from a girl at her studio, who she had convinced to audition.  The girl was the same age as her, and had mentioned that her boyfriend was auditioning.  Clarke didn’t know her all that well outside of classes, but that conversation had ended in them exchanging numbers.  A few days later, Clarke had convinced the girl to audition as well.

“Do you mind if we meet up with someone after we’re checked in?” she murmured, splitting her attention between speaking and replying to the text she had received.

“With?”

“A girl from my studio.  She’s auditioning today too.  So’s her boyfriend, actually.  But I want to meet up with her, since I convinced her to come.”

Finn shrugged.  “Sure.  Whatever you want.”  He went back to humming along with the song on the radio, and Clarke found herself zeroing in on her coffee.  

She was ridiculously nervous, and had been for the past week.  This was the show she had been watching since she was a little girl, and now she’d have the chance to be a part of the cast.  She couldn’t mess this up.  

____________________________________________________________________________

By the time Clarke and Finn had parked, retrieved their bags, and sprinted to the theater, the line stretched out the door and around the corner.  With a groan, Clarke settled herself down in line, prepared to wait as long as it took to register.

“You know, we wouldn’t be this far back in line if you would actually take your car to a mechanic that knows what he’s doing,” she snapped, draining the last of her coffee and jogging forward to tuck it into the trash can at the corner.

“Roberta doesn’t approve of the newer medicines.  I hold her together with duct tape and dreams,” he defended, looking more than a little wounded.  “She’s old and frail.  All this modern medicine is too much for her.  She’d never be the same." 

“If we actually got to where we were going on time for once, I think I’d be ok with that.”

Finn shrugged.  “Or, someone could get a car.”

“Talk to me after I’ve paid off my student loans,” Clarke groaned, running a hand through her hair.

With a nod of sympathetic understanding that can only hold the emotion of a kindred spirit, Finn slouched against the wall, yawning into the crook of his elbow.  Clarke tugged the hat she had on down over her ears and shivered slightly.  March in Boston was always bitterly cold.  It didn’t matter how much the people on the news tried to convince her with their sunny smiles that spring was here when she could still see her own breath regularly in the morning.  

The sun rose a bit higher in the sky, and the line started to move finally.  Clarke glanced behind her to see the line had stretched itself all the way down the block and was steadily gaining people still, wrapping itself around the next corner.  “At least Roberta got her ass into gear soon enough to get us here before we got stuck back there,” Clarke mumbled, and Finn laughed.

“I told her you would understand,” he beamed.  With another eye roll, she ducked around the corner, finally coming in sight of the theater doors.

For whatever reason, her breath caught in her throat at the idea of actually stepping through them.  What did she think she was doing, auditioning here?  She’d watched so many dancers go through this same process for years, and had always dreamed of being one of them.  But now that she was here, was she really ready?  Could she really match up to them?

Finn’s hand came to rest on her shoulder.  “It’s alright,” he whispered.  “You’ll knock ‘em dead.”

With a nod that was half an acknowledgement and half reassurance for herself, Clarke kept moving towards the theater doors.

___________________________________________________________________________

Paperwork in hand, Clarke stared down at the paper number slip pinned onto her hip.  3027.  This was really happening.  

Finn slipped an arm around her waist, shouldering his own dance bag.  “Want to go find a seat?”

She nodded.  “My audition’s not until around noon, but I want to see everyone audition.  How about you?”

He glanced at his sheet of paperwork.  “I’m closer to 1:30.  Promise you’ll stick around until then?”

“You’re my ride home, aren’t you?”

“Fair enough.” 

They found seats towards the back of the theater on the left, where they wouldn’t be blocked by the judges’ table.  Finn drummed his fingers nervously on his dance bag, and Clarke could see he wanted nothing more than to lace up his shoes and practice until his audition time was called.  

“You’ll just tire yourself out,” she reminded him.

He flashed her a nervous smile.  “Try telling that to my feet.  And to the butterflies in my stomach.”

She was opening her mouth to say something else when she heard a familiar voice behind her.  “Clarke?”

“Wells!”  She jumped out of her seat to meet him.  Neither of them seemed to know what to do for a moment beyond stare at each other before Wells reached out for one of the most awkward hugs Clarke had ever participated in.

She cleared her that as they broke away.  “Uh, Wells, this is my boyfriend, Finn.  I’ve told you about him a few times.  Finn, this is Wells.  We, uh…”

“We broke up a year or so ago.  It was mutual,” Wells finished for her, reaching forward to shake Finn’s hand.  Silently, Clarke thanked whatever was listening for people who handled awkward social situations ten times better than her.

After a moment of silence between the three of them, Clarke tried to start up the conversation again.  “So you decided to audition? 

Wells nodded.  “Yeah.  It was tough, but I feel like this show could be a huge learning experience for me, no matter how far I make it.  It’s worth at least auditioning, right?”

She nodded.  “Definitely.”  Before she could say anything else, her phone rang.  Excusing herself, Clarke ducked into a quieter alcove near them.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Clarke.”

“Hey!  Where are you?”  Clarke glanced around, looking for a sign of someone else on the phone, or even a glimpse of dark hair.

“I’m hanging around in the lobby.  Tell me where you guys are sitting and I’ll meet up with you there.  I can text my boyfriend and have him get over there too when he gets in.  He said he’d be here, but he hasn’t replied to any of my texts.”

“I’m sure he’s here,” Clarke reassured her.  “He’s probably just distracted.  I’ll see you in a few.”

She made her way back to the seats she and Finn had saved, only to see that Wells had drifted off.  “Where did he go?” she asked.

Finn shrugged.  “He saw someone from his studio and went to go talk to them.  I guess he’s sitting over there. 

“We should save those two seats.  My friend will be here soon, and she’s trying to get in contact with her boyfriend.”  They threw their coats over two of the seats in their row and fell back into the other two, chatting aimlessly until someone stopped in front of them 

“Clarke?” a very different voice asked from the one a few minutes ago.  She glanced up again and smiled, barely noticing the faint frown creases between her friend’s eyebrows.  

“Hey!”  Clarke stood and briefly hugged her friend before turning to Finn.  “Finn, this is Raven.  She’s the friend I was telling you about?  And Raven, this is my boyfriend Finn.”

When Clarke turned back to glance at Finn, she caught him snapping his jaw shut from where it had been hanging down.  Huh.  That was weird.  He cleared his throat, and let out a little wave.  "Uh, pleasure."

Raven’s eyebrows shot upwards, but she quickly smoothed over what looked like surprise with a grin.  “Oh, the pleasure’s all mine,” she said, sliding into the seat next to Clarke.

Finn glanced over at the two of them, and Clarke met his gaze.  For whatever reason, he almost looked guilty, but she had no idea why that would be.  Attributing it to nerves, she shrugged it off and focused on asking Raven about her audition time.  

“I’ve been here a while, so I’m going closer to 11:30 I guess,” she answered.  For whatever reason, she seemed more distracted than Clarke would have expected.  Suddenly, she stood up.  “I have to use the bathroom.  Clarke, come with me?”

“Of course.”  They both stood up, and Clarke promised Finn they’d be right back.  They had barely made it out and to the bathroom when Raven was yanking Clarke into an empty stall.  With a little yelping noise, Clarke fell in next to her friend.  “Raven, what the hell?”

“I’m really sorry about what I’m about to tell you, Clarke,” she hissed, flipping through her phone.

“Which is what, exactly?”

Raven shoved her phone into Clarke’s face.  “Our boyfriend is a lying, cheating asshole.”

Clarke reached out to steady the phone in front of her and pull it a few inches back from her face.  On the screen was a picture of Raven kissing a boy that must have been her boyfriend.  He looked pretty similar to Finn, she thought to herself, before realizing that the guy in the picture was Finn.  She stared at the picture in shock.  Her mouth opened, but she couldn’t make any words come out until she finally forced up an, “Are you kidding me?”

Raven grimaced.  “Sorry.  I wouldn’t make shit like this up.”

“And you didn’t know?”

“No, of course not.  There’s no way I would have kept dating him if I had known, and I would have let you know as soon as I found out,” Raven replied, shaking her head in both response to the question and disgust.

“Damn.”

“You can say that again. 

Clarke ran a hand through her hair and let out a slow breath.  This had to happen today.  Of course it did.  Shaking her head as if to clear it, she turned her gaze back to Raven.  “What should we do?”

____________________________________________________________________________

11:30 came sooner than any of them thought it would.  Before they knew it, Raven was being called up to the stage.  She took a deep breath and squeezed Clarke’s hand tightly.  For a second, Raven was worried her nerves would follow her to the stage, but any nervousness she had been showing signs of faded away as she let out a big breath.  Head held high, she made her way up to the stage, standing in front of the microphone with more confidence than she had felt all day.

Judge Nigel Lithgoe set aside his papers and looked up, sitting forward in his chair.  “Hello.”

Raven smiled.  “Hi.”

“What’s your name, dear?”

“Raven Reyes.”  

“And how old are you?”

“I’m 21.”

“What style will you be dancing for us today?”

“Jazz.”  She threw out a few jazz hands to make her point, and Nigel chuckled.  

“I see you’re itching to dance.  Alright, let’s see what you’ve got for us today.”

“If I can, Nigel?  I’d like to dedicate this dance to my now ex-boyfriend who’s in the audience today, and is just finding out that we’re no longer together.”  She smiled sweetly before giving up the microphone, and Nigel’s eyes widened.  The judge next to him, Mary Murphy, laughed in surprise, while the third judge of the day, Adam Shankman, stared open mouthed at the woman before him.  

Nigel cleared his throat as she took her starting position.  “Well, alright then.  Cue music.”

Raven’s audition was a true testament to her power as a dancer.  She had designed it to focus on accenting the beats of a sharp piece of music, and had thrown in her tumbling to showcase the full range of her strongest abilities.  She kicked, turned, and hit every accent with a sense of finality.  Channeling all the energy she had, she brushed each one off and shoved it away.

She focused on the sensuality of what she wanted to say, slowing down for a few moments and extending her lines as much as possible before throwing herself into the next motions.  As much as she could, she drew the contrast between the power in her tumbling and the beauty in her lines, while still blending it together to appeal to to her audience.  Between the energy that was created by the dance and the energy egged on by her choice of song, which was about a breakup, Raven's power shone, hitting the audience and the judges head on.  It was intense, and she worried that it was too much for a moment, but then realized that they hadn’t cut her off immediately, which had to mean that the judges at least were enjoying it.

Finally, she spring forward into her favorite part of the dance.  What started as a front handspring ended in a split, and coaxed a few gasps from the audience in front of her.  She dragged herself forward a moment and rolled off the ground again, smiling quietly to herself at her success.  That seemed to be enough for Nigel, who raised a hand to cut off the music.

As the audience applauded, she took a few breaths, trying to pull herself together.  This was the moment of truth.  If she made it through here, she could make it to Vegas.

Once the audience had quieted, Nigel spoke.  “Did you know you were going to be breaking up with your boyfriend today?”

Raven shook her head.  “No.  I only just discovered what was happening today.”

Adam snorted.  “That’s a rather ironic choice of song, huh?”

 For a moment, Raven had to think about her music.  Realizing suddenly why everyone was so amused, her eyes widened in delight.  “I guess it was fate,” she shrugged, and Nigel laughed.

“I guess it was.  As far as your dancing goes, I think you’re spectacular.”

Mary nodded.  “I agree.  Your power is phenomenal, and you are definitely something up on that stage there.”

“You rocked it, without a doubt.  I loved every second,” Adam finished.

Hearing three positive reviews, Nigel lifted a slip of paper off the desk.  “Come and get your ticket and go chat with that boyfriend now, will you?”

____________________________________________________________________________

Clarke could have spent the rest of the day congratulating Raven and celebrating her success, but her audition wasn’t booked too long after Raven’s.  As a result, she was dashing into the theater right as they called her name, nerves gone in her rush to make it up to the stage.  She barely even registered what was happening until she was standing in front of the judges, catching a glimpse of Raven and Finn sneaking back into the theater over their shoulders.

Nigel smiled up at her, and she smiled back at him as brightly as she could, brushing hair out of her face.  “What’s your name, dear?”

“Clarke Griffin.”

“And how old are you, Clarke?”

“I’m 21.”

“Where are you from?”

“Charleston, Mass.”

“A true local,” Nigel joked, and she couldn’t help but laugh.  “This says here you’ll be dancing contemporary for us?”

She nodded.  “Yes.”

“Well, I’d love to see it." 

“If you don’t mind, I’d also like to dedicate this to my ex-boyfriend, who is just now realizing that he lost both girlfriends in a single day,” she added, before turning around and taking her starting position.  Behind her, she could hear Mary Murphy screaming the way she did when she was excited.  In any other situation, that would have been concerning, but here?  It was reassuring.  

She turned around just in time to see Adam Shankman stand up and run a hand through his hair.  His eyes were wide, and he took a few steps to walk off what had just happened.  “Oh man.  Ohhh man,” he laughed, taking a breath and sitting back down.  “Alright, Nigel, I’m together.  She can start now.”  There was another second of quiet, followed by a murmured, “Oh boy.”

Nigel cleared his throat, obviously trying not to laugh.  “Cue music.”

Where Raven’s audition had focused on hard hitting accents to demonstrate her power, Clarke’s contemporary tried to focus more on the power that came through the fluidity in her motions.  She found herself falling between one motion and the next, hyper aware of each and every little motion in her body, from her toe to her leg to all of her. 

She found herself pausing to appreciate the music as she balanced on one foot, extending the other vertically over her head.  Before she was there for too long, she fell fluidly into a roll.  Each muscle in her body moved exactly how she wanted it to, from the rolling textures to the sudden stops that accented a flowing motion.

Her lines, she could feel, were better than they ever had been.  Each motion was extended beyond what she had ever felt like she had done before, as if she were reaching for something every time she moved that was just out of her grasp.  

As she let herself fall gently backwards, trusting her body’s strength to cradle her down safely, she felt the music fading away, and let that affect how she ended the performance, as if letting go completely of what she had just done and releasing it to the world.  

She was so focused on this release that she nearly missed the roar that went up throughout the assembled crowd of dancers in the audience, as well as the judges.  Almost in surprise, she found her way to the front of the stage again to face judgement.

The judges, as it turned out, were nearly speechless.  “Wow,” Nigel murmured.  “That was something.”

“You have something in you that is just an absolute delight to watch,” Mary continued, picking up where he had left off.  “That spark we look for in dancers is inside of you and it isn’t just a spark, it’s a fire." 

Adam shook his head.  “Damn, that boy is one unlucky bastard.  You’re absolutely stunning to watch dance.  He’s going to regret whatever he did to you ladies, because you are going to slaughter him with the combined power in your dancing and leave no trace of a body.” 

With a laugh, Nigel simply held up a ticket and waved it at her.  “You’d better come get this, before Adam can warmonger even more, because there’s absolutely no question that you are going to Vegas.”  

With a little yelp, Clarke made her way off the stage to receive the ticket.  No amount of praise from the judges, though, could have felt as good as the redness in Finn’s cheeks when he greeted her after she came offstage.

 ___________________________________________________________________________

Wells stepped up to the stage after he heard his name called feeling more like he was going to pass out than anything else.  He still hadn’t quite recovered from the heart attack Clarke had given him earlier, when she had started to dedicate her dance to her ex-boyfriend.  He had thought they had stayed friends after the breakup, and was incredibly alarmed and confused at first.  Had she gotten the idea from the other girl that had done that? 

As it turned out, she wasn’t calling him out, and she had actually known that other girl.  They had been dating the same guy.  He had nearly collapsed out of relief when he realized they weren’t talking about him, and was suddenly very thankful he had worked things out with Clarke and was still good friends with her.

When Nigel called for his name, it took everything in him to keep his voice steady.  “Wells Jaha.”

“And how old are you, Wells?”

“I am 22 years old.”

“What style will you be doing for us today?" 

“I’ll be performing contemporary.”

Nigel set down the paperwork and smiled up at him from the desk.  “Well, I can’t wait to see it.  You don’t have anyone you want to break up with while you’re up here, do you?”

His eyes widened, and he shook his head.  “Nope, all set.”

Nigel chuckled, and Wells nodded, taking that as his cue to get into position.  Once he saw that the man was ready, Nigel called out, “Cue music!”

The contemporary piece Wells was performing was of a much jerkier side to the style than Clarke had auditioned with.  Instead of relying on fluidity, Wells relied on the extension of each and every motion.  He stopped himself before fully extending some, worked to reach as far as he could in others.  As much as he could, he stuck in pieces of fluidity to add more texture to his choreography.

His performance was breathtaking when it came to texture, and he knew he had designed it to be.  When he performed, Wells focused on what each texture was in the greater picture of the piece, wanting every second to be memorable for a different reason.  By the time he reached his ariel, he could hear the sighs of the judges’ pleasure with his routine.  Within a few seconds, Nigel had stopped his music and he was racing to the front of the stage, eager to hear their thoughts.

Nigel just shook his head.  “That was an incredibly dynamic contemporary adventure,” he commented, “and I enjoyed every second.”

Adam nodded in agreement.  “You can do it all.  You got everything in there.  You’ve definitely got a lot of potential hidden away in there.”

“You are something dynamic indeed,” Mary laughed, smiling at the man in front of her.  “so you’d better come get your ticket to Vegas up here!”

____________________________________________________________________________

Partially out of courtesy and partially to see what would happen, Raven and Clarke stuck around to watch Finn’s audition.  Both holding a ticket to Vegas, it felt good to be secure in the knowledge that they had passed onto the next stage.  They could deal with the heartbreak later, too.  After what had happened with the judges, Clarke realized she could use that to fuel her until she got home long enough to cry into some Ben and Jerry’s like any good teenage girl.  And maybe some alcohol, like any good 21 year old woman.

Finn hadn’t been able to completely shake his nerves, but he appeared confident enough if you didn’t know him, Clark realized.  He was standing in front of the microphone with what looked like confidence and an easy smile, but Clarke knew they were both fake.  She almost felt bad for distracting him the way she had with her earlier reveal, but couldn’t quite bring herself to be totally disappointed in herself, and it looked like Raven felt the same way.

Nigel set aside his paperwork and sat forward.  “What’s your name and where are you from?”

“My name is Finn Collins, I’m 21 years old, and I’m from Boston, Mass.”

Nigel, ever observant, had noticed where Finn had been sitting.  “And, are you the boyfriend?”

Turning a little pink, Finn nodded.  “I am, yeah.”

“Not anymore, you’re not,” he murmured, turning back to the papers for a second as the audience laughed.  “It says here you’ll be dancing jazz for us?”

“Yes I will,” he replied, trying to gain some of his confidence back.”  

“Well, I can’t wait to see it." 

With a “Thank you,” Finn turned to take his position on the stage, waiting for Nigel’s call of “Cue music!” to begin his audition. 

 Finn focused all of his energy into his leaps.  Jumps were his strength, and he had packed his routine full of leaps that accented the music.  Within the first few seconds, he was delighted to hear noises of pleasant surprise from the audience and the judges.  Internalizing that, he threw himself into the next series of jumps, crossing the stage and kicking out with as much power and force as he could muster.

For all the strength and sturdiness that his routine had, there was a hypnotizing, fluid quality to it.  Between jumps, he made the transition seem rather effortless, and found himself feeling as though he was barely skimming the ground between each leap.  By the time his audition was finished, he felt like he was centimeters away from flying.  He made his way to the front of the stage, ready to face the judges and feeling like he had gained some confidence back from his performance.  

Mary was the first to comment.  “Well, I don’t think any of us were expecting that from you.”  A few laughs in the audience rose up to meet her comment, and she continued.  “Your legs are so powerful.  You just keep launching yourself.  It’s incredible.”

“I totally agree.  I don’t know what you eat for breakfast but I want some,” Adam added, laughing.

“I would like to see you in something other than your own style, though,” Nigel finished.  “Your jazz is good, your jumps are astonishing, but I would like to see how you handle some of the other styles this show will throw at you.”

“It’s a yes from me to choreography,” Mary agreed.

“Definitely,” Adam added.

“Now go make good with those two ladies waiting for you offstage,” Nigel laughed, shooing Finn towards the stairs as he thanked the judges.

____________________________________________________________________________

Raven gladly drove Clarke home, partially because Finn had stayed for choreography and mostly because she wouldn’t have wanted to drive home with her now ex-boyfriend anyways.  Once they arrived outside her apartment, Clarke was hesitant to leave her newfound friend alone, though.  She hovered at the door, holding it open and seeming unsure of whether or not to say something to Raven.

“Are you gonna close the door or what?  It’s getting cold in here,” Raven complained, smiling a bit in teasing. 

What the hell, Clarke thought.  “We just made it to Las Vegas and simultaneously broke up with our cheating boyfriend.  Do you want to come in and eat Ben and Jerry’s and watch bad movies with me?”

Raven grinned.  “Hell yes." 

Both of them texted Finn back a “Congrats!” when he let them know he had made it into Vegas week from choreography, then turned back to their ice cream and made a calendar to count the days until their plane left.