Getting the Beats: Part One
The school bell rang, signaling the end of another session... and that it was now lunch time. Eric heaved himself out of his seat, wishing time would fly faster; he could hardly wait for school to be over.
"Eric! What's for lunch today?" A red Scorchio sidled up to him.
"Knowing my mum, it'll be pasta, mashed potatoes and meatballs. She might've mentioned broccoli as well."
"And nothing special?"
"Hmph, she won't tell me either. We'll have to see what she came up with."
By the time they got to the mess hall, there were already three queues for the food. Luckily for Eric, it meant that his mother would be busy in the kitchens and making sure that there was enough. She would not have the time to ask him how his day had been thus far... and as often as he told her that questions like that could be saved to dinner time at home, she would still ask him. Not that it was a bad thing his mother was one of the serving ladies, but it was already hard enough for him since he was known as "King Skarl" by his school mates thanks to his likeness to that blue coloured Skeith king, down to the hot temper and brown hair that Eric inherited from his father, a blue Skeith himself. Also, his mother was well known for being the loudest and roughest serving lady so she became known as "Mrs. Loudmouth" among the students though she was friendly to all. While it was only the popular ones who dare to call him "King Skarl" to his face, the faeries knew what he'd be called next should the family connection be made by his schoolmates. Thankfully, Greg, his close friend, and their two other friends who also happened to be in the Woodworks after school club with Greg were ones he could trust to keep this quiet.
Bringing their trays of food to a corner of the cafeteria where their friends were, they sat and surveyed the food that was served. It was as Eric predicted, and it appeared that the special was fruit salad drizzled with honey. Greg got down to discussing their latest club project and also life in general. Eric was drawn into conversation every now and again but unlike his friends, he mainly focused on finishing his lunch quickly. Once done, he spent the time he wasn't talking to the others with his eyes shut, seeing in his mind's eye the steps for his practice later on, but it was shattered by an outburst of annoying giggles. His eyes shot open, scanning the room for the source. It came from the table of girls, not too far away from a table the popular ones were sitting at. That explained it.
"Any table with that Chadley Tuffington will definitely have those gigglers nearby," stated one of their friends wryly. "Hah, if it's not him then it'll be for Lind." "That too, is not surprising."
Among the Neopians in their school that the faeries choose to bless with good looks at birth (or hatching, in some cases) were the ever charismatic green Zafara; Chadrick Tuffington IV (aka Chadley) with a smile that blinds many, sending girls hearts aflutter and Lindsor (aka Lind); a Royalboy Uni who knows he has the looks and dresses the part. Considered as two of the popular ones in school, these good looking Neopian specimens from their year were hardly seen without each other and their fans.
"I'll say that Chadley's got everything, though... His grades aren't too bad, he's the looks. I'll admit I wish I'd even at least half the fans he has."
"Well, you seem to forget Lind's got a decent fan base as well." Eric listened in to his friends' comments, not letting on that he too sometimes wished for that. At least these were the type of Neopians that anyone would not laugh at. Rather, they were the ones that others would laugh with! Unlike him, whose likeness to King Skarl, with rough and loud-mouthed serving lady as a mother and a "secret passion" that would make him the laughing stock of the whole school if both his mother's identity and his passion were to be revealed. "Wonder what got those girls giggling like that."
"Very likely, something witty Chadley or Lind said," muttered Greg. "In any case, I find those girls too noisy."
"Me too," seconded Eric. "If all of you are done, can we get out of here? We're too close to their table."
"Come on, then!"
"Got it, everyone? Now, I want to see you all do it without me. Kyle, count the beats."
"One- two- three- and- four," counted a cloud Blumaroo.
Eric immediately visualised the next step as an Eyrie taking flight and circling from a rocky plateau, imagining he was as free and powerful as one. That would make it easy for him when he recalled the steps and practice on his own later. Everyone was busy trying to move correctly to the beat that nobody noticed the entry of a striped Xweetok. Even the red Kyrii who was demonstrating the steps earlier was so involved in watching the others' movements that he didn't notice the Xweetok or the other Neopian that entered the studio soon after. Only at the end of the third set of eights, they heard an unfamiliar voice asking, "Excuse me. Is this Encore?"
At that, everyone stopped in mid-stance and turned. Eric was surprised to see it was Lind, the Neopian he least expected to come into a place like this. And who is that Xweetok? He tensed up, wondering what was going on. "Hold on. I want to see the last part first, everyone." This, the Kyrii directed to the dancers who did as he said before he turned back to Lind.
"Yup, that's us. How may I help you?"
"I just want to ask a few things."
"Will it take long? We're on a tight schedule today."
"If that's the case, I can wait."
"Sure. Take a seat... over there." Jack pointed to a set of benches behind the dancers. "And you- " He turned his full attention to the Xweetok.
"Ah, I also want to ask some things, but I'll wait also. And may I bring in my pet Juma? I promise I'll keep hold of him the whole time and won't let him make noise."
"Fine with me, but make sure you really keep hold of him. Some of them are afraid of petpets," he replied, indicating the dancers.
Half an hour later, the dancers were allowed to take a breather. Jack then, gestured at Lind and the Xweetok to come up to him. Eric watched him go up to Encore's team leader as he took a big gulp of cool Achyfi Ice. Though he was near enough to hear them; he could only hear bits and pieces that don't make sense over the chatter of the other dancers. Then one of the dancers made a remark on the complex steps that they had just learnt, Eric put them out of his mind and discussed about the dance with the others until Jack called them back to position.
At the end of the session, Jack motioned to Eric to come over to him. Going over, he suddenly felt apprehensive, with every contented feeling from the practice dissipating. "Was my performance today bad? But Col was just saying it was amazing I could even keep up with your complex choreography," he stated.
"Well, Col is right about that. And it had been a great help to the team," Jack replied. Hearing that from a team leader who expected hundred and twenty percent dedication from the dancers in itself was praise. And yet, Eric could sense a "but" was going to come next. "But I thought I should inform you that Randell's been discharged from hospital and is ready to rejoin the team. He'll be back next week."
In that moment, Eric felt as though the floor beneath his feet gave way... and that was not due to his heavy weight. "Meaning that – "
"After this week's performance at Auction House Committee Dinner, you'll not be needed to help out with other performances."
"Still, wouldn't you need an extra around? Just in case an accident like Randell's happens to anyone?" Eric knew he was just grasping at straws, just to try to stay on Encore. However, he would do anything to remain.
Heaving a sigh Jack leaned back against the wall and crossed his arms, replying, "You do know that we actually don't accept Neopians your age. It was only because of Randell's parts being really important, your ability to learn his parts quickly and your size hiding your actual age that an exception was made. Otherwise, we wouldn't consider your offer that day."
Though cruel sounding the words, Eric knew that Jack was right. And whenever he crosses his arms, he meant what he said. Still, it meant that the one thing that Eric looked forward to every day was now gone. Sure, he'd still be allowed to come and watch them rehearse for their performances just like before, but the idea of having to sit on the sidelines again, not being able to join in and working hard to perfect a performance; that's what made him miserable. His day only really started when he came in to practice with them and it was over when he left the studio. Eric really wished now that he was as old as he looked.
Meanwhile, Jack could tell the younger Skeith standing in front of him was trying his utmost best not to break out a tear. His dedication was remarkable, better than some of the dancers on his team! Eric would always be present, every time Encore had their daily rehearsals and whenever they had their bi-monthly dance classes which they held for younger Neopians; he was one of those students who would quickly learn the steps and do it well, a natural dancer despite being heavy set like all Skeiths. Jack felt bad about telling Eric what he had to tell him but as one of the team leaders, what must be done must be done.
"Eric, I am sorry. But Encore is my school's representative dance team, therefore any replacements should've been my schoolmates. We're actually risking team disbandment for letting an under aged student take part in performances and competitions on behalf of a member. That was the whole reason why we agreed that you'll stop dancing for us when Randell comes back."
"I understand," Eric replied after a long silence.
"Good. One more thing, if you're going to attend our school in the future, you're more than welcome to join Encore. We'll drag you to our practices if we have to, 'cause you're that good."
Stunned, he stated, "Gee... I don't know what to say."
"You could just thank him, since that'll mean you're unofficially part of Encore," Lind quipped as he came up to them.
He started and tensed up again, forgetting that Lind was present earlier and not expecting him to still hang around the studio (the Xweetok had left) and was even more so, when he waited for him as Eric gathered his belongings. Stepping out of the studio, he wondered about Lind's coming to the studio and waiting around for him like that. He didn't have to wait long.
"You're really good. I didn't expect you of all Neopians to be a dancer."
"Well, I certainly didn't expect you to turn up at the studio like that. What were you there for, anyway?"
"I guess I can tell you since you're sort of an Encore member. I thought of joining the team."
"What?? Do you even dance?"
"No. I don't. But I was hoping to learn as I perform. Yes, I know," Lind added "that they don't accept members our age. The leader talking to you just now confirmed that. Still; I saw you performing with them when I was with my parents at a function. That's why I thought I had a chance."
"Huh, I didn't know anyone would recognise me. And it still doesn't explain why you were hanging around."
"I am getting there. The leader told me and Rai-"
"The Xweetok, she's also a new student at school."
"Oh. No wonder she looks familiar."
"Anyway we were told that you're only with the team temporarily, that this week's performance will be your last with them and he would be informing you today. He also told the both of us to keep quiet about this as it involves Encore's integrity as a team. I hung around to see if he really would inform you and to see how good you were... which made me decide on this."
"You can teach me to dance."
To be continued...