For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #191,
based on the image above from Shutterstock

Kessa Hopkins practically floated through the entrance of the Joffrey Ballet School; auditioning for the world-renowned academy was a dream come true for her. The road ahead wasn’t going to be easy. This was only half the battle; if she passed today’s audition she would have to pass a second, more difficult audition if she hoped to be accepted to the school. Joffrey’s admissions are highly competitive and only 4% of students go on to graduate. At least for now she had her toe in the door.

Kessa felt her first exhausting 90-minute audition went well but it was impossible to read the faces of the judges. When she was done the head judge thanked her for coming and said the review board “would be in touch”. Two weeks later, when the email from Joffrey finally arrived, Kessa was too nervous to open it. When she finally worked up the courage to read the email, she held her small drawing pad up to the computer screen and very slowly revealed one word at a time:

“Dear Ms. Hopkins,

We at the Joffrey Ballet School are pleased to inform you …”

“pleased to inform you…” Kessa stared at those four words for an eternity before letting out a scream that caused her cat to race out the room, paws frantically skidding against the wood floor as he made his escape. Kessa crept up to the computer to read the email in its entirety, praying she hadn’t misread the opening line. Relieved that everything was copacetic, she pushed the print button on her computer. Snatching the paper from the printer, Kessa jumped onto her bed, read and re-read the letter at least 10 times, folded it neatly and placed it under her pillow. Then, before anyone could say “on pointe”, she leapt up and pirouetted around her room until she was dizzy. 

“They liked me! They really liked me!” she breathlessly exclaimed to her reflection in the mirror. Then it hit her: she had to do this a second time, even better than the first. Euphoria dissipated into self-doubt; Kessa bounded up the stairs to her safe place – the loft where she spent hours painting and clearing her head. Kessa painted ballet dancers in the impressionist style using quick, loose brush strokes; she had an impressive collection of more than two dozen pieces of artwork in her loft.

Kessa was the real deal, a genuine hat trick with beauty, brains and talent. She was also her own worst enemy, quick to be overwhelmed with anxiety and self-doubt about her ability to succeed. As she painted she thought about the email from Joffrey. Okay, so she passed the first round; that was great. Now she had two weeks to prepare an eight-minute original routine as part of her next audition.

The email went on to explain that everyone would be dancing to the same piece of music – “Gymnopédie No. 1″ by Erik Satie. No notices would be sent out after the second audition; acceptances and rejections would be announced in person at the conclusion of the audition session. Kessa imagined how awful it would be being rejected in a room full of people. Talk about pressure! With that thought in mind, Kessa decided not to tell any of her family or friends about her auditions; she’d much rather surprise everyone with good news instead of hearing their sad words of consolation. 

The next two weeks consisted of Kessa planning her dance routine and sketching the ballet positions she planned to incorporate into her program. This was her tried and true method – plan, sketch and practice. Once Kessa knew her routine was solid, she would create paintings using her sketches as reference.

Time always seemed to fly by when Kessa was on a deadline; now the day of the audition was here. She packed up her art portfolio with the plan to pass the time during the auditions by sketching the other dancers. When Kessa arrived at the school, she was surprised to see only six other people had received callbacks. She barely had time to warm up when she heard her name. Kessa didn’t mind auditioning first; she’d be relieved once it was over and she could sketch the other dancers.

It didn’t take the judges very long to make their decision. Only two of the six dancers passed the audition; Kessa was not one of them. Upon hearing the news, Kessa’s heart sank; she closed her eyes for a few seconds letting the reality sink in, then turned and walked back to her corner of the room. While she was putting her sketches away, someone approached and said her name. Looking up, Kessa recognized one of the judges. “What could he want?” she wondered. Standing, she asked “Yes? What can I do for you?”

I was hoping you’d show me your etchings” was his response.

Despite her disappointment over failing the audition, Kessa had to laugh. “Sorry, that sounds like an old pick-up line only in reverse.”

The man laughed, too, and replied “Very quick on the uptake, Miss Hopkins! I admire that. Talent and a sense of humor, too.”

“Not talented enough, apparently” Kessa quipped.

“What happened today was unfortunate but if it’s any consolation, you were in the running. It’s a tough field, Kessa. You knew that going in.” His response was honest and he had a refreshing way of speaking. “But at the moment I truly am more interested in your drawings. May I?”

Kessa didn’t mind showing anyone her sketches; she was proud of her work and pleased this man took an interest. After a few moments he asked “Do you paint as well?”

“Oh, yes. Oils mostly” Kessa replied, intrigued by his curiosity. “In fact, I think I have one of my smaller paintings with me” and she started rifling through her portfolio, pulling out an 8×10.

The man took the canvas from Kessa and walked to the light near a window, examining it closely and speaking softly to himself. He turned to Kessa. “Tell me, do you paint ballet dancers exclusively?”

“Yes. Ballet and painting are my passions. Excuse me but who are you?”

“Oh, forgive me! My name is Julius DeWitt. My father is Dean of Admissions here at Joffrey.”

“Oh, I see” Kessa said, not quite sure how to react to that information.

“Kessa, I know your heart was set on attending Joffrey. Not passing an audition is a bitter pill to swallow. I was in your shoes once and what I thought was the end of the world was actually a blessing.” 

Intrigued, Kessa asked Julius what he meant.

“It would be much easier for me to show you. Please, Kessa. Come with me.”

Julius had a pleasant way about him and Kessa was curious. Gathering her belongings, she followed Julius down the hallway to a large, glass enclosed room. A plaque on the door read “The Julius and Cecile DeWitt Art Gallery”. 

Kessa looked around questioningly; the room was empty. “I don’t understand, Mr. DeWitt. If this is an art gallery, where are all the paintings?”

“We’re just getting started, Kessa, and are about to begin our search for an artist to fill these empty walls with beautiful paintings. After seeing your drawings, I believe you are that person. I would like to name you as Joffrey’s permanent resident artist.”

Kessa was stunned. This was not the direction she thought her failed audition would take her. “Mr. DeWitt. I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything, Kessa. Let me explain what we’re all about and then, after you’ve had time to think, you can decide.”

But Kessa’s heart was already doing jetées and pirouettes; she knew what her answer would be. 

NAR © 2022