She remembers being little, curled up on the couch and watching figure skating on TV, afghan itchy around her legs. Dad had tried to bargain with her for TV time - he had a couple of game tapes in his hand - promising Dairy Queen if she'd get up of the couch, but she was cold, didn't want ice cream, and all she wanted was to be able to move like that, to glide on that thin blade like she didn't have to think about it, didn't even have to be awake, could just dream her way into grace like that.
She couldn't get her ankles to lock properly when she finally got to go ice skating, at a rink Mom had found an hour away. She was bruised, felt like a ton of bricks hitting the ice over and over, and tears wobbled their way down her face. She could see Mom in the stands, biting her lip, and she sniffed and let the fight go out of her.
Mom knelt in front of her to work the heavy laces free, chattering like she hadn't just blown sixty bucks and a whole afternoon to watch her galumph around the ice on her butt. Julie sucked up a big bubble of snot and let the soothing tone of her mother's voice wash over her.
"An' I was thinkin', hon, when I saw you out there on the ice? You looked too cold to be enjoying yourself, you know? But I did see you smile when that song you like came on." Done with one skate, Mom moved on to the next, pretending she wasn't disappointed. Julie flexed her frozen foot as carefully as she could.
They stopped for sodas and chicken nuggets on the way back, and she could feel the soda trickling cold down her throat. She turned the radio station tuner until she found something that felt quiet and right.
"Mom!" she said, pointing to the sign at the side of the road. They were almost home, and she knew Mom wanted to get back and get through the pile of bills she'd set aside that morning, but Mom just gave her a big smile and made the turn to get to the dance studio.
Sweat was pouring off her; she'd never wanted to cut her hair, but she wished someone would just invent something that would keep it from tumbling down the back of her neck whenever she spun or leaped or threw her arms up into the air.
Her bare feet pounded against the ground as the song blared from her cd player again; the soles were getting darker with every repetition, with every step she got closer to knowing the routine by heart.
"Five, six, seven, eight," she counted off to herself under her breath and then began to move. That last spin needed work, needed to be more controlled, so it looked like she was a whirl of energy.
She adjusted her ponytail, cued up the song again, and danced. She could feel herself smiling wide. Moving like this, grace and power both, was better than flying.
Her feet were aching, and her arms were like lead, getting heavier with every passing breath. She looked down at the carpet of the hallway, and it wasn't even an exaggeration to say she'd worn a track down the center of it, trying to shush her little sister, who'd been screaming and crying for the last forty minutes.
"Shh, Grace," she said for the millionth time, like a baby could understand English, like it would somehow work this time. Grace's little face was bright red, and it was amazing that someone so small could have that much to say.
"Come on," she muttered, adjusting the cap that Gracie's squirming had dislodged, running a hand over the baby's silky head. The cries went down about a decibel, and Julie smiled down at her sister in relief. When she started rocking her hips a little, rocking Gracie in her arms, the shouts died out completely.
She stood there, barefoot on the beige carpet, humming and smiling down at her sister who was looking up at her like she was the whole world, like there wasn't even room in her eyes for anything else. She was dancing. A tiny fist came up and bounced harmlessly off her cheek, and Julie cuddled Gracie closer. They were dancing, their first dance together.