Swan Dive was always crowded at this time of day on a weekday, and Arrah walked into the school's small lobby to a chorus of greetings from a group of younger students clustered around the main studio door. Most of them were in first grade Ceccheti, five girls and one boy between the ages of six and eight. And clustered - perhaps "huddled" would have been a better term - in the other corner were another group Arrah had never seen before - a group of five girls, some of them seated on the bench along the wall, two of them standing nervously in front of it. Beside them, a young man with light brown hair and a stubbled chin, who seemed more nervous than the girls, stood with his hands folded stiffly in front of him. He seemed to be in charge of the kids, and the children were unusually quiet for kids their age. None of them were older than twelve, and the youngest seemed barely seven. One of them, a little girl of about nine with dark hair and eyes, glanced up nervously from her lap as Arrah passed, and caught her eyes before her gaze darted down again. It was almost, Arrah thought, as if she were afraid to meet a stranger's eyes.
Areahannah walked to the end of the narrow hall that backed the main studio, and paused at the other end. To the right was the smaller studio, to the left was the reception desk and behind that, the door to the office. This door, Arrah went through, closed behind her, and set her backpack on the chair just inside. Quickly, she shed her street clothes and stepped out of the office clad in tights, leotard and sweatshirt. She paused to pull on her ballet shoes before moving into the smaller studio, and stood in the door until Ellen noticed her.
Ellen looked up from organizing a group of girls Arrah's age into a line, and smiled. She came over to the door after telling the class to run through whatever they'd just been doing, and ushered her daughter out into the hall.
"Arrah, honey, I need you to do something for me," Ellen said, as Areahannah finished pulling her hair up into a bun at the back of her neck.
"What is it?"
"Did you see those little girls when you came in? There were five of them, and a young man who seemed seriously out-of-place?"
Arrah glanced back up the hall, nodding. "Yeah, I saw them. They all looked awfully nervous."
"Ah, well..." Ellen glanced over her shoulder, then closed the studio door behind her. "The young man's name is Ben Carlton. He's their teacher at the Haven Home on Cherry Street."
Arrah glanced down the hall again, then back to Ellen. "Haven Home... like, the one by the river? That was in the paper?"
Ellen nodded, and Arrah suddenly understood. "I guess I get why they're nervous, then."
"The girls want to dance, and I'm told they had problems with the other schools nearer the group home. Apparently the administrations gave them trouble over applying with... ah..."
"The schools that take all the private school kids didn't want mutant orphans in their classes, right?" Arrah scowled. "Snobs."
Ellen granted her daughter a half-smile. "Don't be so uncharitable, dear." But it was clear that she agreed completely. "In any case, we're their third try, and while I don't want to go about advertising that we're unusually welcoming to certain types of students that other schools won't take..."
"...you do want it known to the mutant community that we have no prejudices like the other schools."
Ellen nodded. "Precisely. And I think that as long as their teacher knows, the message will be passed to the right people. Now... I'm currently occupied with this class - could you take care of signing them up and getting them organized into classes, dear?"
Arrah smiled. "Leave it to me."
Ellen grinned again, then disappeared back into the studio, and Arrah set off down the corridor in the direction that would lead her back into the lobby.
The little girls closest to the corridor started when she reappeared, and their teacher turned ever so slightly in her direction, tensing in such a way that Arrah took a wary half-step back. To put him at ease, and the girls, she smiled kindly at him, and tapped the clipboard tucked under her arm. "I'm Areahannah MacPine... can I help you?"
The young man furrowed his brow for a moment, then resumed an expression of diplomatic calm, something he seemed to keep constantly on standby. He held out one hand. "Ben Carlton. I'm from the Haven Home, and..." he gestured to the group of girls, "I'd like to register them for classes."
The nerves resurfaced as his eyes slid back to Arrah's face, and his shoulders tensed, as if he were bracing himself for an expected response. The girls all dropped their eyes, except the girl who'd looked at Arrah before, who stared Areahannah defiantly in the eye when she looked.
Arrah felt a stab of pity for the girls, and a surge of anger toward the last two schools who had evidently put these girls out the door previously. ::Stupid bigots,:: she cursed silently. The faces of the girls bore all sorts of expressions, from resigned to angry, She wondered what kinds of cold-hearted monsters could go to such lengths to disappoint litle girls. Then the anger redoubled as she realized that she knew.
::Stupid, rich snobs...::
She didn't let the anger show, though, and instead she crouched down in front of the apparently youngest of the girls. "How old are you?" she asked.
The little girl blinked at her in surprise, pushing long, dark-blonde hair out of her eyes. Arrah tried not to start too much when she saw that the girl's eyes were gold-brown and slit like a cat's - she held eye contact steadily, smiling.
"I'm seven years and seven months," she said, in a voice almost too quiet to hear.
Arrah scribbled something down on her sheet, then detached the page from the clipboard and handed it to the child. "You can write your name, right?"
The girl nodded. "It's Vanessa Reese," she said.
"Okay," Arrah nodded and placed the sheet on the clipboard, turning it around and handing Vanessa her pen. She pointed to a box on the sheet. "Can you write it, right there?"
Vanessa blinked at her a moment with frank shock, and then scribbled her name in blocky capitals in the space Areahannah had indicated. When she'd finished, Arrah handed the clipboard to the next girl, and stood up, motioning for Mr. Carlton to follow her down the corridor. When he cast an uneasy glance over the girls, Areahannah gave him a reassuring smile and nodded toward the door, where the tap teacher, a large fellow of about thirty, was standing, ushering in students. Geoffrey wouldn't let anyone untoward get inside, and Carlton seemed to follow her with more calm, now.
"I assume you're signing them all up for ballet?" she began, going behind the desk a moment to grab another set of forms, this one for home address and clothing order. "We also teach tap, jazz, and Irish, and there's a lady who comes in on the weekends to do Tai Chi. I don't know if you'd be interested in that, or if you've discussed this with your students..."
She trailed off as she came out from behind the desk, forms in hand, and gave them to him while a flicker of confusion passed from his face, to be replaced by cautious relief. "You mean - I mean - there'll be no problems, then? When I told the other schools where we came from --"
"My mother wouldn't say this, but I will," Arrah said, in a low voice that carried the sentiment no less definitely for its volume, "The other schools are full of politically-minded snobs that cater to private school kids and their country club parents. And they have different... ah... preconsiderations than we do here." She held his eyes as he digested the event of a diminuitive fourteen-year-old girl reading out the situation so precisely. His reaction would tell her a lot about him.
"We don't hold with refusing teaching because of *any* background factor," she said, and then, in a lower tone, added: "And that includes special ability. As long as they're willing to learn, we're willing to teach them."
She watched his face as it again changed - going, this time, from cautious relief to amusement, and his face split into a dazzlingly white, albeit mischevious grin. "And here I was worried about the neighbourhood," he said, apparently half to himself, with a chuckle. "I'm glad to hear it," he added. "The girls will be pleased. And we might look into that Tai Chi thing."
Arrah spent another half hour with Mr. Carlton (::Ben,:: she reminded herself - he'd insisted he not call her "Mr." anything) and his students, filling in forms and getting them scheduled into classes. After that, they left, set to return in two days for the first of the scheduled classes - which would be the Grade One Open ballet class into which Arrah had entered Vanessa. Once they'd found out they wouldn't be turned away here as they had at the other schools, most of the girls had been excited and nearly impossible to quiet. They'd left much happier than they'd arrived, and Arrah suspected that now that the word was out there, there would be a new crop of students drifting in, sometime soon. Probably very soon.
And Areahannah smiled to herself as she finally went to her own class, nursing a warm little personal glow for having surprised Rory and the girls the way she had. They'd seemed honestly resigned to another rejection, and it had brought her a thrill to change that expectation. Personal gratification, yes, but not without outside reward. So she allowed herself the rush. She and Ellen had done something good today.
"After all," Rory had said, after gently teasing her about her tendency to launch into miniature speeches with the consitency and perspective of someone twice her age, "The world needs more people like you and your Mum. If it had them, it would be a much better place."
Arrah held that to herself as she began her lesson. It made the deep worry from her earlier conversation seem a little less pronounced - not gone, entirely, but receded, and less real, and certainly not the dangerous monster her mind had made it out to be.