“With Ivan,” Sissy said. “Well, most of the time, and all the time with Rachel Ann.”
“She’s a special girl,” Sandy said.
“So sweet,” Sissy said.
“You were that sweet,” Charlie said. “Rachel Ann reminds me of you, Sis.”
Surprised, Sissy’s head jerked to look at Charlie and then at Sandy.
“It’s true,” Sandy said. “The only one who was sweeter was Charlie. He was such a kind boy, so like Dad.”
“We have this programming,” Sandy said. “Maybe it came from Mom or Dad. Maybe it’s a past life or past experience, whatever. I don’t know. But we have it.”
“I’m doomed to feel this way for the rest of my life?” Sissy asked.
Sandy felt the heat of Charlie and Sissy’s eyes on her face.
“No,” Sandy said. “But, you’ll feel this way as long as you do the same things. Stay with me and Aden. Stay at the Castle or with Ivan and you’ll stay the same. If you want to feel differently, you have to do something different.”
Neither Sissy nor Charlie responded.
“I know it sounds crazy,” Sandy said. “I know it does. But it’s the only thing I’ve found to be true in my life. We have to do something different to feel something different. If you don’t want to feel so alone for the rest of your life, then you have to try something new, make new friends, and work on that feeling. What would it be like to be away from Ivan?”
“Horrible,” Sissy said.
“But survivable?” Sandy asked.
Sissy sighed and gave a slow nod.
“And Ivan?” Sandy asked.
“He wants me to take this opportunity,” Sissy said. “Learn as much as possible. Grow. It’s only two years, and stuff like that.”
Sissy leaned over again.
“Are you sure you’re not just afraid it will be too hard?” Charlie asked.
Sissy didn’t sit up or say anything.
“I knew it,” Charlie said. “You were always like that. You’d rather not do anything that have to face something that was too hard for you. But really — name one thing that’s been too hard for you?”
Charlie’s challenge caused Sissy to sit up straight. She didn’t respond for a while. They watched the party wind down and the dancers begin to leave. Sissy sighed.
“So,” Sandy said.
“So,” Sissy said.
“You’re staying Paris, aren’t you?” Charlie asked.
Sissy didn’t respond.
“Claire is going to drive you crazy,” Charlie said. “She’s very motherly.”
“Helene is one of my favorite people in the whole world,” Sissy said. “If I could be half as gracious as she is, I’d…”
Sandy grinned and didn’t say anything. They sat in silence for a few minutes. A few dancers came up to say goodbye to Sissy and chat for a moment. When they left, Sandy sighed.
“I was talking about what we should fight over,” Sissy said.
“Oh,” Charlie said, sheepishly.
“You prove my point,” Sandy said. “We don’t fight about those things because we’ve had to raise ourselves. Charlie spent more time on the streets than at home. And you, Sis — you were either taking care of Mom or in rehab.”
“Dancing,” Sissy said.
Sandy and Charlie nodded.
“We didn’t have the normal family,” Sandy said. “Maybe that was bad. Maybe it’s good. Maybe you need it so badly now because you almost died and have been sick.”
“I don’t have answers,” Sandy said. “But I’ll tell you this: you two are grown up. I don’t care about your age. You’ve basically raised yourself without help from anyone.”
“We had you,” Sissy said. “That was really great.”
Charlie nodded. Sandy blushed and continued on.
“You know what you need to do, what’s next for you.” Sandy said. “Aden and I are only here in case you get in trouble or skin your knees.”
“To talk things through,” Charlie said.
“So what’s the hold up?” Sandy asked.
When Sissy didn’t respond, Charlie knocked into her shoulder. She looked at him.
“Not so long ago, I was really unhappy,” Sissy said. “I mean, Mom, and not eating, Charlie was living on the streets. I felt so alone, so terribly alone.”
Sissy nodded. She glanced at Sandy and Charlie to see if they were listening. She smiled because she held their full attention.
“Now I have so much,” Sissy said. “I have real friends like Wanda. Charlie is safe and happy. I have Ivan, and I’m even making new friends, nice friends like Piper and Ramona. None of this happened before. It was just me facing the wall of insanity.”
“You’re not alone anymore,” Sandy said.
“You’re afraid that moving here or London is like going back to that lonely place,” Charlie said.
“Yes,” Sissy said. “I mean, I know that Ivan and me are going to be okay. It’s crazy but I know in my heart that’s true. I know that I’ll talk to Sandy every single Friday like we do now. Wanda and I will talk on Tuesdays. I know that I can call and talk to everyone at any time and they will drop everything to help me. I am not alone anymore.”
Waiting for Sissy to finish what she had to say, Charlie and Sissy didn’t say anything for a moment.
“I just…” Sissy said. “These people speak French, all the time. Sometimes, it’s okay and other times, it’s like talking to Martians. Exhausting. Even now, I have that feeling…”
Sissy pressed her hand into her chest and folded over.
“If I were standing right next to you,” Sandy said, “would that feel any different?”
Sissy stayed quiet for a long moment. Charlie put his arm over her shoulder and rubbed her shoulder with his hand. Sissy shook her head. She stayed like that for a moment before sitting up.
“It wouldn’t make any difference,” Sissy said. “I’ve been at the Castle with everyone and still felt that way.”
It had been a whirlwind of dance and flight. Sissy, Ivan, and her friends, Ramona and Piper, had met Seth O’Malley and Sandy at Kensington Palace. Sissy and Ivan had danced a short ballet inspired dance for the Duke and Duchess’ young daughter and then were rushed back to Paris where their outdoor ballet parties was continuing at the gated entrance to Les Jardins du Tuileries.
Tired but exhilarated, Sissy and Ivan were the stars of the show. Ivan encouraged and supported the young dancers, including the male members of the Esprit de Corps from the New York ballet where Ivan was teaching. Sissy danced and laughed with her friends. She made new friends with the older students from the Royal Ballet as well as from the Paris Opera Ballet. Both schools had come to the outdoor show to share their talented students with the Internet. Parisian bystanders were joined by Londoners to watch the dance.
A piano from the Paris Opera Ballet appeared the moment Seth arrived. Sandy had helped Seth set up and ha sat with him until he was comfortable. Not sure what drew her attention, Sissy looked up and noticed that Sandy was sitting alone. Sissy zoome over to talk to Sandy.
“May I?” Sissy asked.
“Please!” Sandy said.
Sandy held up the thick blanket on her lap. Sissy scooted under its warmth. The sisters sat together for a few minutes just watching the crowd.
“I wanted to…” Sissy started.
“I know,” Sandy said.
“You do?” Sissy asked.
“You’re thinking about staying here — either in Paris or London,” Sandy said with a shrug.
“I was hoping you could help me think it through,” Sissy said.
“What does your heart say?” Sandy asked.
“Oh,” Sissy blushed. “Go back to New York and stop this foolishness.”
“That sounds more like Mom,” Sandy said with a laugh.
Sissy grit her teeth and nodded.
“I think it’s hard for us,” Sandy said. “Our minds tell us that we need to have this kind of nuclear family. Father, mother, children. We should get up together, go to bed together, and eat some meals together. We should fight over things like…”
“What TV programs we watch,” Sissy said.
“Or staying out late with your friends,” Sandy said.
Sissy’s older brother Charlie plopped down next to Sissy. She gave him some blanket.
“We’re talking about…” Sandy said.
“I heard,” Charlie said. “We should fight about boyfriends, girlfriends, ‘Did you do your homework?’”
“‘I found a cigarette in your backpack,’” Sissy said with a nod.
“No you didn’t,” Charlie said. “Not my backpack.”
“Why is that funny?” Charlie asked. “I do not smoke — cigarettes or anything else.”
“I was talking about what we should fight over,” Sissy said.
“You silly, silly man,” Sissy said. “You say on one hand that we can do anything, everything is possible; and on the other hand that we must say ‘good-bye’ because we are living in different cities.”
Ivan watched her face.
“Seth and Ava are often in different cities,” Sissy said. “You saw Nash and Nadia at the dance party?”
“They don’t live in the same city,” Sissy said. “My ballet tutor used to say that we can have everything if we are willing.”
“I am willing,” Ivan said, meekly.
“It won’t be easy,” Ivan said.
“You’re about to start a whole new career, while still teaching every day,” Sissy said. “You’ll fall into your work and hardly remember that I’m gone.”
“That is not true,” Ivan said.
Sissy gave him a hard look.
“That’s only slightly untrue,” Ivan said with a laugh.
Sissy grinned. The car stopped at the gate of Kensington Palace. They waited to be approved to go onto the grounds.
“I will miss you — every moment, every day,” Ivan said.
Sissy looked at his face. He raised his eyebrows and nodded. She leaned back into the comfort of his arms.
“Have you picked a school?” Ivan asked.
“I think so, but I want to talk to Sandy first,” Sissy said.
“Sandy?” Ivan asked.
“Sandy has helped me with every big decision I’ve ever made,” Sissy said.
“This is true,” Ivan said.
He gave Sissy a long look.
“I want to go to our home,” Sissy said. “We can sit down and really talk.”
“And if I won’t let you?” Ivan asked.
“Why wouldn’t you?” Sissy asked.
“You know in your heart where you want to go, right?” Ivan asked.
“I would not love you if I didn’t tell you to go with your heart,” Ivan said. “Don’t hesitate or make excuses or try to make it easier for everyone else. Go with what your heart is telling you. Do it now before you change your mind or chicken out. This is your future. Everyone who loves you will understand.”
Sissy smiled at him.
“What?” Ivan asked.
“That’s my Ivan,” Sissy said.
They pulled up to an area of the Kensington Palace garden that had been set up for them to dance. Principals from the Royal Ballet were waiting for them. Piper and Ramona got out of the vehicle first. Sissy was climbing out when Ivan cleared his throat and pointed.
Sandy was standing next to Seth O’Malley beside the stage. When Sandy saw Sissy, they ran to hug each other.
“How?” Sissy asked.
“O’Malley,” Sandy said. “He wanted to be here for you. He knows the Royal family from some work he did for them. He asked, and I wouldn’t dream of saying ‘no.’ Plus, someone had to film it for Teddy!”
Sissy hugged her sister tight. Ivan touched her back.
“They are asking for us,” Ivan said.
Sissy nodded. She squeezed Sandy’s hand and went to join Ivan to meet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
A shuttle from the House of Windsor had scooped up Sissy, Ivan, and her friends, Piper and Ramona to take them to Kensington Palace to meet and dance for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. They were rushing to get there before their toddler daughter went to sleep. The shuttle would take Sissy and Ivan back to their party in Paris after this short visit with the Royals. They were taking a charter back to New York City, so they could leave at any time.
For most of the trip, Ivan had hung back to allow Sissy and her friends to chat. Sissy now sat tucked under Ivan’s arm in the back of an armored vehicle with James Kelly at the wheel. Piper and Ramona were up front so that Piper could show Ramona the sights.
“I think you should stay here,” Ivan said in a low voice.
Sissy scowled but didn’t respond.
“This is the biggest thing that could ever happen to you,” Ivan said. “You will grow in ways that you cannot expect or imagine.”
Sissy looked up at Ivan.
“Would you like that?” Sissy asked. “If I grew in unimaginable ways?”
Ivan smiled at Sissy but didn’t respond.
“Is it possible you’re attempting to control this whole thing?” Sissy asked.
Ivan pressed a hand to his chest. He pretended to be surprised and offended by her words. Sissy grinned.
“I need some time …” Sissy started.
“You don’t have time,” Ivan said. “This is a tremendous opportunity. No one is going to wait for you to see if you’ll take it.”
Sissy sighed and looked at him.
“What?” Ivan asked.
“You are acting like you’re my teacher and I’m your student,” Sissy said.
“I am your teacher and you are my student,” Ivan said. “I always hoped for something like this but never imagined that it would actually happen. How could it? You lived in Denver. Your mother canceled your ballet studies!”
Sissy sighed and leaned back.
“What?” Ivan repeated.
“You can be very infuriating,” Sissy said.
“This is news?” Ivan asked.
Sissy chuckled and turned to him.
“You want to be across the ocean from me?” Sissy asked.
“Never,” Ivan said. “No.”
“You’ll stay here with me?” Sissy asked.
Ivan shook his head.
“That’s what I need time with,” Sissy said.
“What will time give you?” Ivan asked. “Will it help you make a decision? Because if you don’t know it, I know that you’ve made a decision already.”
Sissy shook her head at him and looked away. A few minutes passed before either one dared to move. Sissy sighed.
“I don’t know how to do this,” Ivan said in a low voice. “I don’t know how to say ‘good-bye’ to you and ‘hello’ to the opportunity in the same moment.”
“We were apart for years!” Sissy said.
“We weren’t … this,” Ivan said, softly. He touched her chin. “You make every day wonderful for me.”