The strap of my favorite sandals broke when I was halfway down the road to the bus stop near my new rented apartment. I had to go back home to change my shoes. So I missed my bus.
I missed a bus, for the first time in my life, on the first day of my cool new job. Google maps on my phone showed I would be an hour late if I waited for the next bus. So even before I made a penny out of being Mr Niklaus Mikaelson’s personal assistant, I was spending a cringe worthy number of dollars on a radio cab to work. Such is life!
But I put on my brave smile and decided I’ll not be bothered by anything life threw at me that day.
Turned out, I shouldn’t have thrown that challenge to life first thing in the morning!
My outrageously pricey cab got stuck in one of LA’s famous traffic jams, and dropped me off a whooping ten minutes after eight, that is ten minutes too late, to Rebekah Mikaelson’s Arts Center, Hollywood Blvd, or R-MAC as everyone affectionately called it.
Rebekah was already in, fiddling with the music system in the corner. The cleaning lady was cleaning the glass wall. But my traitorous eyes found him the moment I entered. Entwined in an intimate embrace with Haley, the not so good dancer!
My heart skipped a beat right when it took a nose dive towards my stomach, which was ready to churn and hurl my hasty morning breakfast, at the scene in front of me. I really wasn’t having a good morning.
“Much better than yesterday love! But still not good enough. Frankly I’m getting tired of this charade.” Klaus said with a blank face and an even voice and pulled Haley’s hands away from himself. Her face dropped. “Rebekah, you’re supposed to come up with actual options for me. What is wrong with you?”
“And you’re supposed to train them, make them good enough for the show, not whine all day!” Rebekah retorted, without even turning towards him.
Klaus’s eyes flashed with anger.
“My office. Right now.” He half growled and walked towards the door towards the back rooms. Rebekah rolled her eyes and started after him. He was through the door when he called out before the door shut, “You too Caroline!”
Uh oh! He saw me! He must know I wasn’t on time!
I just hoped he didn’t chew me out for being late. I didn’t want a disciplinary meeting with the boss added to my already lovely morning.
Rebekah was in the room when I reached the unmarked door, ‘getting chewed out’. I waited a while to give the poor girl some privacy and gird my mental lions before I knocked. Klaus opened and bowed for me before gesturing for me to go inside.
“Look who decided to join us this morning.” he mock smiled, “Caroline my dear, please come in. Did your alarm clock fall on your head and break this morning?”
Don’t lash out…Don’t talk back…Don’t lash out…Don’t talk back…
“I am sorry. It…It won’t happen again.”
“What?” he gasped, “No excuses?”
“Would the excuse matter?” I smiled sweetly.
He looked as if he didn’t expect that response.
“No. Not particularly. It’s just fun to listen to the lame things people come up with under duress. You’d be surprised how not original they can be.” he replied with a straight face that had me confused whether he was being serious or just an ass.
I went with him being just an ass and maintained my own straight face.
“I suppose we are about done here.” Rebekah interjected, impatiently tapping her heels, “I have things to do, brother! I’ll take your leave.”
Brother? They were siblings?
Klaus ignored the retreating Rebekah and went to sit in his leather chair behind his desk.
“You brought the filled in paperwork I suppose?”
Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!
I knew I was forgetting something when I left home for the second time, after changing my shoes! Couldn’t it have been something less important? Like my wallet or cellphone?
“Ummm…Did I have to turn it in today?”
He cocked an eyebrow at me.
“Assuming you wanted the job? Yes of course!”
I shifted on my uncomfortable heels (because I had broken the comfortable ones) trying my damnedest to not look like a deer caught in the headlights of a passing truck. I decided to stick to as much truth as possible because one, I was a shitty liar and two, yeah one covered it all.
“Well I was supposed to get a copy of my ID notarized. Between yesterday evening and today morning, I didn’t get the time to get it done. I thought I’ll turn in everything together?”
Klaus didn’t look impressed.
He rolled his eyes in exasperation as he typed something in his laptop.
“Well when can you get them completed?” he asked, getting a little more irritated than he already looked.
“I can bring the other papers tomorrow. I’ll submit the ID as soon as I can afterwards.”
He stopped typing and gave me a look I couldn’t understand.
“I thought we were doing away with excuses today?”
“It’s not… an excuse…”
“It’s not? Well then get everything sorted in the half hour of your lunch today.”
“Moving things along…” he cut me off with a wave of his hand and resumed his typing. Somehow I breathed easier when he was not looking at me. And this had absolutely nothing to do with his deep ocean blue eyes either.
“First, get me a no foam skimmed latte with an extra shot, no sugar, from this charming coffee shop a block from here and I usually want it first thing in the morning if I am not having English Breakfast Tea, black mind you, again without any sugar.”
“What, right now?”
“Then I need you to go get the roasters from Stephan and see everyone we need this week is informed a day in advance.” he continued the monologue calmly, completely ignoring me and my unimportant questions. “Make sure today’s on-call artists are here when we start rehearsals. Rebekah has the potential lead dancers list, a bloody short one by the way, which you will need to go through and see which ones make sense for us, so that I don’t have to waste my time taking out the trash, so to speak. I believe there are some I haven’t auditioned yet.”
“But what am I…”
“Get in touch with Marcel. Fix some time with him in the next two days for a set planning discussion.”
Would he shut up for one second?
“And can you check if the dealership has procured my car or not.”
“Oh yes and call Katherine Petrova’s office and confirm my lunch meeeting…”
He finally paused to stare at me, surprised at the yelling no doubt.
“Why are you shouting Caroline?” he asked, completely clueless. Really?
“I am sorry. But…Can I…” I cleared my suddenly constricted throat, “Can I get a notepad or something to write everything down? Please?”
“Shouldn’t you have started noting already?” he frowned.
“Ummm I just came in and…”
“An entire ten minutes late. Yes I know.” he said coldly.
I gulped to wet my dry throat.
“I…umm…I’m sorry. But as I was saying, I just came in. So I’ll just uhh…find something to write on…hopefully somewhere here…”
I frantically dug into my huge bag for some paper and pen, anything to write on actually and thankfully found my planner and a pencil sticking in it. He was absolutely silent, glaring impatiently at me, as I fumbled with the small diary to open it at the correct page and start writing. I waited with the pencil ready, for him to start speaking again.
He took his time to start speaking again, waiting exactly till I was sufficiently self conscious under his glare.
Lesson number one? New boss didn’t like to wait, or repeat himself, or excuses, or questions.
Lesson number two? I was stuck with a douch!
Klaus left for some meeting directly after our meeting. I sighed and trudged out of his office, in my uncomfortable heels, in search of this Stephan…and Rebekah…Then that Marcel…And to find someone who knew Katherine Petrova’s contact number.
I had a feeling this would be a long-ass-day.
Ever had that nagging feeling that everyone around was judging you and I dunno, maybe waiting for you to fall on your ass or something? I had that distinct feeling as I went about my day around the studio, trying not to come in anyone’s way as much as I could.
But apart from that one nag, there was an energetic undercurrent to everything around there, the music, the laughter, the chatting groups, the dancing. The dancing part was my favorite. So many different styles, coming to life under one roof, being performed and learnt with an eager passion and a fierce ease. It was also the only thing that eased my discomfort and didn’t let me feel out of place. I could identify with that kind of energy and as long as that held, I belonged here just as much as the others.
I still didn’t know anyone other than Rebakah and Klaus. Klaus was not in the building and Rebekah had made it clear she didn’t want me hanging at her coat tails! Her words not mine. So I decided to take things in my own hands and start getting around to know the people I would be working with. I started with a little bit of unobtrusive recon.
I learnt that they had a number of choreographers, who were busy with different groups of dancers in different corners of the huge main hall. They kept to themselves and mostly ignored me. The dancers were different. They had their own groups and little hierarchies, like a mini society thing going on. Having dealt with that kind of thing since child hood, I quickly recognized that Haley was some kind of the alpha mean girl, complete with two sidekicks I didn’t know the names of, yet. Most of the other girls seemed to flock to these three, apparently trying to be seen with the ‘cool kids’. Then there was another, less prominent group with a few less mean looking girls. They were all dressed in little white ballerina dresses, albeit over comfortable leggings or yoga pants. They didn’t look interested in going anywhere near Haley. They had separate dance routines than the other group and were keeping to themselves.
The guys were just circling in or around one of the two subtle groups.
I watched them all carefully, trying to find where I could best fit in, while I made a gazillion calls to dancers, backup artists, offices of set designers and such. My phone was burning hot on my ear as I spoke with it charging side by side.
In the middle of waiting for Marcel’s assistant Diego to confirm a time for me, my phone tinged with a new message. From Klaus. Just as I was getting to open it, Diego came back on the line and asked me if 11:00 AM tomorrow suited me. Belatedly, I realized that I didn’t know what Klaus was doing at 11:00 AM tomorrow, or at any other time for that matter, and hastily came up with the usual spiel of ‘I’ll-confirm-with-the-boss-and-let-you-know-as-soon-as’. I hung up and checked the message.
‘Did you check for my car?’
“Shit!” I cursed under my breath. I had completely forgotten about the car. Plus I still didn’t know what dealership he was talking about. Before I could get hold of Rebekah to ask about it, I got a call from Klaus.
“Did you check with the dealership yet?”
Yeah! No hi. No hello. Straight to the point.
“Umm no. Which one should I call?”
There was a pause on the line and I mused if he was trying to glare at me through the phone or something.
“You did not ask me in the morning. Or anytime afterwards.”
“I…I thought to ask Rebekah.”
“Are you Rebekah’s assistant?”
“And did you get time to ask her anyways?”
“No I was just…”
“Then did you think about asking me perhaps?”
Like he gave me a chance to have a conversation this morning, or right now! Could the man be any more annoying?
“I didn’t get the chance to ask you and you were in meetings so I couldn’t call you.”
“A text message then?”
“You’ll have to hang up in that case. So that I could text you for further instruction!” I replied tartly, before even thinking about what I was saying.
The call abruptly ended. I stared at my phone in shocked exasperation.
Only to ting five seconds later with a text message from the boss. With the address and contact information for an Audi dealership in town. I didn’t know why, but I had this sudden urge to stomp my foot and hit something.
Instead, I made the supreme effort to calm down and hit the call button on my phone to make the call to the Audi dealership.
“Ummm Devina? Is Devina here?”
The ballerinas all turned to me at once, as if they had choreographed that move. One of them, the prettiest and tiniest one, stepped forward and nodded with a slight smile.
“I am Devina. You’re the new assistant right? Carol…?”
“Caroline.” I smiled back and held out a hand to shake. Her smile widened and she shook my hand firmly. “You are really good on your toes Devina. Done that since you were a toddler I guess?”
“Pretty much.” she shrugged, a little embarrassed now, ” Thank you Caroline. So you know Ballet?”
“Oh I got some training when I was a kid. Haven’t worn my ballet shoes for years now. But I used to love it. Hey by the way, the roaster here states you are needed tonight for some kind of audition. You’ll be here right?”
“Oh.” she scrunched her brows, “I’ll have to talk to my mom. But yeah ok, I’ll tell her and let you know.”
“Alrighty then.” I grinned and put a yellow dot against her name on my list, “I’ll catch you later.”
“Ok.” she grinned back and turned to her practice again.
I liked this one.
My first day went by sooner than I could breath. Apart from the few confrontations with boss-man, everything else was as smooth as could be expected from a new workplace. It was 7:00 PM and the only people still around were Devina’s group, their instructor Camille, Rebekah and me.
The ballerinas were working on a few disjointed steps. Rebekah looked like texting on her phone. I was sitting apart from everyone, without my shoes on, just resting my feet and waiting for Klaus’s OK to go home. Earlier, he had asked me to wait for him before I left for home tonight. I didn’t know why he wanted me to stay so late, but I guessed it was still my first day and I had to listen to him anyways.
Devina called out my name and gestured for me to join them. I left my heels by the bench and went over to see what she wanted.
“Hey Caroline! Want to put on the shoes again?” she grinned.
“Shoes?” I looked back at my own sandals resting by the wall and turned back to her, confused, “I was just resting my feet.”
“Ohhh no no. Not those shoes.” she shook her head excitedly, “these ones…” and waved a pair of white satin ballet shoes between us, “They are Camille’s. You too look the same size. Want to try them on? Maybe stretch some of those sleeping calves?”
I looked at the shoes and my heart became a little heavy at the amount of emotion the little things whipped up in me. It had been so long. Too long…When I had had to dump them at the back of my closet because…
My hand went out to touch the shoes and feel the soft satin on my fingertips again. Devina shoved them into my hands. I looked at Camille and she just nodded and gave me an encouraging smile. Slowly, I sat down and spread out the laces to put my feet through. They fit perfectly. The laces blurred when I was tying them up and I covertly blinked away the wetness in my eyes. A pair of soft hands reached out and took the ribbons, to tie them firmly around my feet. Another pair of hands helped me up.
“You know how to stretch right?” Camille asked with her professional instructor voice.
I nodded and started the lunges and stretches. It felt good to be bending this way again. My body was cramped, muscles rigid with disuse. But I could still move. The others turned back to their practice and left me alone to get re-acquainted with my feet again.
I completed the warm up stretches, just when they broke for water break. Camille sent the girls off to get something to drink and relax for ten minutes and then came to me.
“How do you feel?”
“Not very good. I can hardly keep still on the tip toes.”
“That’s understandable. Want to try some moves?”
“You’ll have to help me. Like a lot.” I smiled nervously, “I might fall on my face.”
“Don’t worry. No one’s here to watch you falling anyways. The girls went to the water cooler at the back to gossip.” she laughed, and I realized we were indeed alone in the studio. Even Rebekah was no where around.
“Ok.” I straightened out my stance, “Can you give me some music?”
She nodded and went at the back of the room. Mozart’s Moonlight Sonata gently came on through the speakers. Camille didn’t come back into the lighted area, giving me time to get comfortable.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, letting the music flow through me, fill me, and start moving with me. I crossed my feet, braced my arms in the third position and started swaying gently to the lilt of the piano. As the music swelled, my arms raised themselves, up in the fourth position and I pirouetted once, paused, pirouetted again twice and came back to face myself in the huge mirrors again.
It came back easily, fitted like an old beloved shoe, as if I hadn’t ever stopped. I took another calming breath and raised myself on the tip toes for my next pirouette, and the next. The room was half lit, the only sounds being the piano playing on the speakers. That and the sound of my own breathing. For the first time in a long while, I felt one with myself. I felt at peace. I went into the fifth position, and extended my left toe towards the side, taking a turn on my right toe tip. My hair, loose over my shoulders, swung with my turns. My arms ached a little from keeping them in position for so long but I didn’t want to stop, knowing very well how it felt to stop. No. I wanted to just go on turning with the music…
A small movement in the mirror caught my eye and shook me out of my trance. I squinted towards it to see what it was, forgot my balance and slipped. I would have gone down and hurt myself bad if a pair of strong arms hadn’t caught me, just in the nick of time.
His brilliant blue eyes shone in the spot lights as he looked at me in wonder, his face an open book of emotion I had not seen on him before.
The music was switched off as Camille came forward to ask me if I was alright.
Klaus gently put me on my feet and held my shoulders a second too long, no doubt to make sure I could stand, before stepping back.
“Please tell me you didn’t sprain your ankle Caroline.” Camille was saying, while Klaus just stared. Then he just turned around and walked towards his office.
So, out of all the moments today, this was the one time when this annoying man decided to keep quite. I sighed and turned to Camille to thank her for the shoes and reassure her that I was fine. Thanks to Klaus!