A/N: After I saw the show I had such a strong post-musical-obsession phase that I just had to write this XD. It's probably going to be a oneshot, unless I get a lot of feedback or something. Whoever spots the musical reference in the last paragraph gets a cookie! Oh, and enjoy!
Disclaimer: I don't own Billy Elliot (the story), or any of the characters I used in here.
Background info: (Like I said, only saw the musical, so forgive me if it's different from what happens in the movie!) The long coal miners strike has just ended, and the small town in England which our characters live in know that it's going to fall apart. Billy, the protagonist who had been friends with both Michael (the gay friend who he played "dress up" with) and Debbie (who he danced ballet with in her mother's class), was accepted to the Royal Ballet school and left for London.
The floor of the dance studio was cold, and Debbie's heavy breathing echoed off of the walls. Once again, she tried a round of pirouettes. She failed, as she'd been doing for the past hour or so, but this time it was worse; she tripped over her own tired, weary feet.
"Ugh!" She landed on the floor with a thud and grunted with frustration.
"Damned floor…" turning over, she examined her knee, which was at the moment bright red. It would probably swell up later, and mam wouldn't be happy. "Just great."
Debbie had been practicing truly hard lately, but not from inspiration after Billy's amazing feat. Really she was just doing what everyone in town had been doing after the end of the coal strike: going through the motions; knowing they were hopeless, helpless, and pointless, but going through them anyway. She'd never be a great ballet dancer. If she was lucky, maybe she'd end up being a teacher, like her mam. Not that she'd inherit her business, though. No one was sure how long her mother would be able to keep having classes. Definitely not long enough for her to take them over.
For some reason Debbie couldn't quite identify, tears gathered in her eyes. She told herself it was simply because of the steady throbbing behind her right knee which seemed to be mocking her as the tears began to spill over. And they wouldn't stop.
Debbie walked up to the darkened window - the closest thing to a mirror in the room. Weakly, she curled the corners of her lips up into a smile. The grin looked hard and cold, plastic-like, like the Barbie nurse that Michael had gotten at Christmas time. It frightened her, the girl in the glass who seemed as though she was so fragile she'd fall apart with a single touch. Although it wasn't too surprising. Debbie thought about how she'd been not so long ago, all smiles and acting like the little kid she was. The one who she supposed people thought was still there. Sure, she still went around, trying to seem perky and to look on the bright side. But there wasn't much of that to look at lately. Whenever she was alone, the façade crumbled.
Seeing her lifeless reflection the tears only came faster, and as a sob escaped her mouth, a pitiful sense of relief washed over Debbie. Her reflection now, looking afraid and frustrated, seemed much more real. Stepping abruptly away from the mirror, inspired, she tried her pirouettes again. Anger made her turns sharp, practically giving her whiplash, but somehow the movements seemed more fluid and genuine than they had before. Until, of course, her neck snapped, shooting pain making her stumble.
It was as if something else, besides her neck, snapped inside of her. Another chunk of her composure slipped away and she fell to her knees, burying her hands and howling. Flopping forward, she beat on the floor. "Why him?!" She shouted to the biting air. "Why not me?!"
Suddenly the one thing that Debbie tried deliberately not to think about came rushing into her mind, and she found she couldn't push it out: Billy Elliot. Before, when he was around and muddling through dance lessons and making a fool of himself, she had grown to like him. But now how she thought of him was much more complex.
The first layer, the one she showed to the world, was just happiness. She was happy she'd gotten to befriend him, gotten the chance to learn beside him. Happy she could point at him, the boy who was accepted to the Royal Ballet School, and say "I know him."
Lying just slightly under that was bitterness. And then, just under that, was a murky place that Debbie didn't like to think about. It was furious, hopeful yet cynical, and extremely desperate. She had been taking classes longer than him. Her mother was the teacher, for God's sake. And she'd thought she was really good.
But then Billy had showed up, and sure, he'd had his trials and tribulations, but overall it all came so easily to him. And he made Debbie realize that, sure, she was good. But he was great. She was decently talented, and he was awe-inspiring. She was the dreamer, and he was the dream.
And in a way, she'd fallen for him. Granted, it was "falling" for someone as much as someone her age could, and that was a fact that had been readily pointed out by any adult within earshot when she had talked about him, and the love had crept into her voice. But her mind justified that by saying that it only made it worse. Sure, adult love had more emotions, more caring, more understanding, while little kid love was mostly want, sometimes with a little admiration. To her, that made it seem more pure.
But, looking back, she realized she'd never really liked him. Sure, she'd liked him as a friend. A very, very dear one. In a sick sort of way she still did. But what she'd liked-liked was his talent. It was like when some other child had something better than her, and she would want it, but in a far off sort of way, knowing she couldn't have it. With Billy, it hadn't seemed like that. After all, he lived in the same town she did. His father was another man on strike, his mother was dead. He was as normal as anyone else. She didn't realize until later that, despite all this, he was unattainable. Untouchable.
The echo-ey room distorted the sounds of her cries, and Debbie didn't realize just how loud she'd been until she heard the door creek and she clamped a hand over her mouth. The contrasting silence pushed up against her ears.
"Debbie?" The rush of relief at hearing Michael's voice was immediate. It took a second for the horror to hit her, too. Frantically rubbing her eyes and streaky face and she picked herself up on the floor, she called "Come in!"
And come in he did, his head popping in to the sight of Debbie in an impromptu stretch. It may have worked, actually, if her face weren't so puffy. And if he hadn't heard her.
A look of concern crossed over Michael's face. "What are you doing here?" He meant the question seriously, but the tight grin that Debbie had plastered on for impersonation's sake grew a bit more genuine and she took in the boy's outfit: flowy purple skirt and a cardigan which just peeked out from under his coat. A small laugh burbled to her lips, and the look on his face only made it turn into a steady stream of hysterics.
"I could ask you that, too," Debbie gasped out between bouts of laughter.
"You're mental, you know," Michael said matter-of-factly, giggling a bit himself.
"Says the boy in the skirt - you look like a puff."
Putting his hands on his hips indignantly, Michael insisted "I like this outfit."
"Yeah." Debbie fluffed out her tutu. "That's the problem."
The look on Michael's face softened at the words. "Actually, that's what I wanted to ask you," he said, pulling her by the wrist over to some chairs by the wall. Debbie tensed up and didn't say anything as he directed her across the room, or as they sat. "What's the matter?" Michael asked point-blank, staring straight into her face.
"What do you mean?" Debbie retorted. It may have been more convincing if she hadn't found her friend's dark, caring eyes so unnerving at the moment. Well, not "friend" exactly. Michael had been Billy's best friend - for all she knew, he still was. But since Billy had left, the two had made some sort of need-based acquaintance-ship of their own.
Michael's gaze didn't waver. "I couldn't sleep, so I snuck out and went on a walk. And I heard you outside before." This made Debbie look up, surprised. As she did so she noted a slightly cracked window. Fuck, she thought to herself. She'd never been much of a swear-er before, but she'd picked it up recently. Her mother, Mrs. Wilkinson, didn't exactly approve, but there wasn't much she could do. When unfortunate circumstance had already stolen most of one's innocence, accepting swear words didn't really spoil much. "You were…yelling, sort of," the boy continued.
"And you're face is…" faltering, Michael simply reached up with one hand to brush her cheek wordlessly.
Debbie's shoulders stiffened at his touch. "I told you, I don't know what you're talking about. I'm fine. I…"
She hadn't even realized how close she was to crying again until she felt the cool air blast the fresh wetness on her cheek. Michael pulled his hand away, a tear caught on his finger glittering in the dim light. The boy nodded slightly, putting his hand over Debbie's tiny shoulder.
"Do…do you th-think we're all going to be okay?" Her voice came out weak and frail, wavering as uncertainty choked up her throat. It was amazing. She looked forward, and a week seemed like a near eternity, and yet it felt as if the future kept hurtling towards her, a big question mark on the horizon growing larger every moment. Maybe this was what her mother meant when she reflected onto her own youth and lamented about how time passed so quickly.
If this is what it's like to grow up, Debbie thought tersely, then I don't like it.
"Of course we are!" Michael said brightly. "We can get out of here someday. Why, just look at Billy!"
At this a small sob escaped from Debbie's throat.
The boy's bright-eyed face fell. "Hey, it's alright…" Michael uncomfortably tried to wipe her tears away, but they kept coming and he resorted to patting her back. Debbie wondered if the words brought a bitter taste to his mouth, like they did to hers. They tasted like a lie.
Apparently he'd noticed her change as he'd mentioned his friend. "Are you upset about Billy or something?"
Debbie's face scrunched up real small. "Do you…do you miss him?"
"Of course I do," Michael said with a nod. "I wish we could keep in touch more, but…it's a bit hard at times. I…I really liked him a lot. I still do." A weird look crossed over the boys face, and he shook his head to clear it.
Thinking of all the girls who had suddenly dropped ballet classes, Debbie nodded understandingly. "I don't know if I do," she murmured. "I mean, I do, but I'm so…so mad at him!" Although her face was still wet and shiny, no more tears seemed to be coming. Debbie figured she was probably cried out. "Why does he get to be so lucky?"
"Well sometimes you've got to make your own damn luck! You just can't worry all of the time." Michael bit his lip in thought, then smiled resolutely. "Why don't you come over to my place tomorrow? We can dress up."
Debbie frowned. "What for?"
"We need a reason?" The way Michael said this, as if genuinely surprised, made Debbie smile, the hardened trails on her cheeks making the movement feel crusty.
"Tomorrow it is," she said, the two shaking hands as if they just finished a business deal.
"Debbie?" A voice chimed from outside.
"Oh, shit!" Debbie and Michael stood up quickly as Mrs. Wilkinson entered the room.
"Hello, Miss," Michael said in a friendly tone to Debbie's mum. She, however was having none of it, waving her hand as if to swat the words away like a mosquito.
"What have you been doing, Debbie?! I saw you weren't home and have been looking for you! Do you really think I have all this free time I've been dying to waste?" She put her hands on her hips, looking angry and annoyed.
"I know," Debbie said in a small voice. "I'm…I'm really sorry." She raced up and threw her arms tightly around her mother's waist, burying her face into the fabric. If only she could stay there forever, with her mother's smell in her nose and the solid feel of her, the coolness of the jacket against her hot skin, and never have to grow up or face the future or think about much of anything besides how lovely it was to hold her. Slowly, as if surprised, Mrs. Wilkinson put her arms on her daughters back, patting it and adding to the feeling of safety.
If only all of our problems could be solved with a hug, Debbie thought, both wistful and sad.
Letting go, Mrs. Wilkinson held her daughter at arms length and asked harshly "Now just what the hell were you thinking?"
"Well," Michael piped in, "I'll see you tomorrow, Debbie…." He trailed off uncomfortably as he walked towards the door.
He walked a few steps backwards slowly so he was facing Debbie's mother. "Yes, Miss?"
"What are you wearing?" Mrs. Wilkinson asked, a bit of shock in her voice.
The boy grinned, and Debbie turned her head enough to catch some of it and to smile back. "One of my favorite outfits," he responded simply before walking out the door.
"Mam?" Debbie murmured softly, as if any noise too loud would break the moment like a snowflake. "Do you think I could ever be a dancer?"
The question had everything - all of Debbie's wonders and worries, hopes and reservations, dreams and acceptances of reality - woven into one innocent-seeming inquiry. Little did Debbie's mum know it, but she held her daughter's heart, along with one of her last scraps of innocence, in her wizened hands.
She looked her daughter over, from the knee which was starting to turn purple and blue to the crusty and puffy cheeks, to the feverish looking eyes, and simply said "Not you're face looking like that."
Debbie was about to protest, when she shut her mouth. It wasn't a yes, but it wasn't a no. It wasn't much of an answer, really. Walking out into the night, she gazed at the moon and the stars which probably looked down and knew everyone's fate, and marveled that maybe those were the only kinds of honest answers anyone really had.