A/N: This is my first chapter story on this site and feedback is very much appreciated. Criticism does not offend me, so long as it is constructive.
Chapter One: New Horizons
The music swelled, and so did her light, ethereal steps. It seemed to the enraptured audience that she flew, dancing on air, on moonbeams. She spun a world of her own with her swift fluid movements, a world that just for a few moments she opened up to them and allowed them to peek inside. No one dared tear their eyes away. But all too soon, it seemed, the magic had to come to its end. With a few final, graceful steps, a few final notes, the dance ended and the curtains fell. There was a moment of total silence; then a thunderous cheer rose up from the audience. They knew that they had seen the rise of a star.
"Bravo, Téa, bravo!" Madame Marceau clapped her hands, her eyes shining with pride for her protégé.
The young dancer flushed, but a bright smile curved her lips. Her blue eyes looked bedazzled. She'd spent so many years of hard work and sacrifice, busting her butt for little reward or recognition. And now, the shimmering, sparkling fame that had suddenly burst open over her, bathing her in its luminous contents, was overwhelming. Overwhelming, but exhilarating. It was like she was caught in a sunbeam, everything golden and gorgeous. Or like she was a sunbeam.
"You were brilliant!" A petite blonde zoomed forward and hugged the brunette. "That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen! You were glorious! I half-expected you to fly right off the stage and into the blue sky!"
Téa laughed. Her sapphire eyes sparkled at her enthusiastic friend. "That's a bit much, don't you think, Emily?"
Emily shook her head vigorously. "No, that was amazing! I couldn't do that in a million years, shine like that." She grinned impishly at her friend. "I'm telling you, you were born a star!"
"No one is born a star," Madame Marceau chided her exuberant pupil. "Talent, yes, that is born, like a diamond is born from coal. But it must be mined, brought out, cleaned and polished until everyone can see it shine. It takes years of hard work and dedication to achieve the level of excellence that she has. It takes untold sacrifice. And so few, so few, have the fortitude to be their own miners, and bring out the diamond inside." She turned to her star pupil. "And that, my dear, is why you are so special."
The blue-eyed dancer smiled, but her mind reached out wistfully to bittersweet memories of those sacrifices that had littered her path and barred her way. The long, tiring hours of practice, the exercise, the diet, the places she'd never gone, the things she'd never done. The friends she'd left behind. A lump rose in her throat, and she had to blink back a tear that threatened to spill onto her cheek, spoiling her thick stage makeup.
The irrepressible blonde grinned at her teacher. "Right, right. Well, you've got to have like the Hope diamond or something inside you, because that was indescribable!" she told her friend.
The dancer smiled, then stifled a yawn. "Sorry, I guess that performance really wore me out." She covered another yawn, and blinked her eyes owlishly.
"You'd better go get some rest," Madame Marceau advised. She fixed a sharp eye on the young woman, who capitulated with a smile.
"Alright, but I'd better get out of this stuff first." She gestured at her costume.
"I'll help," Emily offered cheerfully, trotting off behind the brunette to the dressing room.
The blonde unclasped her friend's ornate necklace and unzipped the back of her blue top. "Thanks, Em," Téa said. She hung the tight little top up in the wardrobe, and laid the necklace carefully in its case. She grabbed a loose coffee-colored sweater and pulled it on. "The costume might be dazzling, but I have to admit, it's not exactly comfortable."
"Well yeah!" Emily wrinkled her nose. "How do you even dance in that itsy-bitsy skirt?"
"With difficulty," Téa laughed, as she stepped out of the pink skirt in question. She hung it up, walked over to the mirror, and pulled a face at her reflection. "Like taking all these bobby pins out. Sheesh, what do they think I am, a pin cushion?" She started grabbing at her elaborate hairdo.
"Here, let me." Emily pushed Téa's hands aside and grabbed a nearby chair. "Sit," she ordered.
Teea acquiesced with a smile, as Emily attacked the pile of chestnut hair. She picked through the mail stacked on the counter by the mirror. She had an astonishing amount of fan mail these days. She wasn't sure if it was possible to readall of it, let alone actually respond to it. She felt bad thinking she wouldn't, though. If someone took the time to write her a letter, shouldn't she have to courtesy to write them back?
After Emily dug out bobby pin after bobby pin, the brunette sorted through the letters, picking out a few to read. She skimmed a sweet letter from a little girl. "Aww, that's so sweet! She wants to be a dancer when she grows up, so she can be just like me." Téa laughed, a cheerful tinkling sound. "She sounds a lot like me at that age, actually."
She picked up another letter, a creepier one from a middle-aged man. She tossed that one in a hurry. Then something caught her eye in the pile of mail. The letter was thicker than most and the envelope was fancy. The return address said California. She frowned as she opened it. There were two envelopes, one inside the other. As she opened the second envelope, a thick card fell out. She picked it up and read what was inside. The card fell to the ground. The brunette's hands shook.
Emily looked at her friend in concern. "You okay?" she asked. She bent to pick up the card, curious as to the cause of her friend's behavior. The card was snatched out of her hands before she could read it. She stared up in surprise. "Téa? What's wrong?"
"Nothing," was the terse—and obviously false—reply. Then she sighed. "Em, I just want to be alone right now."
Grudgingly, the girl left the room, throwing a bewildered glance behind her. Whatever had made her usually cheery-tempered friend to act in this strange way?
Téa stared out the window, watching the clear blue sky go by. Her mind filled with memories of her girlhood in Domino, the days she had shared with her close-knit group of friends. Those days hadn't been your average high school experience; they'd faced all kinds of strange situations and more danger than most adults could ever boast. But through it all, they had remained strong by falling back on the iron-clad fortitude of their friendship, the one constant that had stayed with them throughout all their adventures. Friendship. The brunette could clearly recall her own, much-younger, voice saying, "Our friendship will last forever!" Forever. She smiled bitterly. Forever was a lot shorter then she'd thought back then. It had been a golden time, despite all the danger and struggles, but it couldn't last. Time, space, and life had gotten in the way. It was natural, utterly simple. They'd all taken their separate roads, and slowly grown farther apart, lost touch. It'd been over a year since last she'd heard from Yugi Muto. After all this time, the invitation had been so abrupt, it'd been a shock. Yes, that was all, a shock. The news was rather surprising too. She hadn't known. That was all. She's just needed to adjust to the idea. She was fine now.
Téa Gardener, you are such a liar. She shook her head softly, sadly. Her finger traced a heart on the glass of the window as the clouds whizzed past and the plane flew steadily on to California.