Fex: That awkward moment when we kind of forget this story exists...

Blacks: This chapter ... ugh. Blame me, guys.

Fex: Oh, come on. It's not that bad. But really, we're sorry. Honestly. Next update with definitely not be as long in coming.


Okay, so. Today was the day, so to speak. Costume picked out (simple black), dance ready, music done...

I felt weird to think that only a few days ago I'd been feeling the same nerves, waiting to perform with the rest of my dance group for the first time. This time it would just be me up on that massive stage, performing the dance I had worked endlessly on to the whole of the ITAC. And this time, the stakes had been raised. With fifteen of us gone with the last round, there was an even slimmer chance of getting though this time round.

Now I was sitting alone at a table in the dining room, picking at the breakfast on the plate in front of me and playing around on my laptop. I checked the length of the mix of 'Possibility' again, making sure it was the length I needed it to be. I looked up briefly to see if I could spot Nikki or Fang anywhere, but not spotting them. Nikki had been ill with nerves – literally- and I was not one to cope with sick. So I assigned Fang to look after her until she recuperated. I allowed myself a brief moment to laugh in my head at the look on his face as I pushed him towards the green-faced, blue-haired English girl before I brought myself back to reality.

Glancing over to the other side of the room, I saw some of my friends (including Savannah, Milan and Toby) crowded around a table. They'd offered to move up and let me sit with them but I opted to sit alone, where I could check over my song obsessively.

"Max?" I heard a high, feminine voice call from behind me. I didn't recognize who it was and turned, a confused expression on my face. I came almost face to face with Miss Tomlinson, the woman who had given me my place here at the ITAC.

"Miss Tomlinson?" I asked, getting up out of my chair and standing in front of her.

"Yes! Oh, it's so good to see you Max!" she said, smiling big and clapping her hands in a very girly way.

"Yeah!" I exclaimed. "I thought I would have seen you sooner; you made it seem like you would be here from the start!" I said, remembering what she had said at my interview.

"So did I! But there were some complications at home, so I couldn't leave until yesterday. But I'm so glad to finally be here! And also glad to see you haven't been eliminated yet!" She giggled.

"Me too." I said, feeling the nerves at the thought of my upcoming performance return with full force.

"I'm sure you'll go far," Miss Tomlinson said reassuringly. "Anyway, you're performing soon, right? I'm on the judging panel."

"Yeah. I'm just checking on my song now," I indicated the open laptop behind me. She peered around me to catch a glimpse of the screen. A mixing program Toby had recommended was open.

"You're not making it shorter are you?" she asked, looking slightly worried.

A feeling of dread settled in my stomach at her words. "Yes. Why?"

Miss Tomlinson suddenly looked kind of sad. "It's against the rules for this round, sweetie. You gotta dance for the whole of the song."

At her words my stomach dropped and any semblance of a good mood vanished. I suddenly had a whole minute of the song with no dance to accompany it. I felt like screaming and pulling my hair out; I really should listen to the rules better.

"I'm so sorry, but it won't be accepted if it's shortened." She looked genuinely upset at this. Then she checked her watch. "I'm supposed to go for a judge's meeting...you still have a little time, sweetie. I hope you can make it."

She got up and, in a whirl of soft orange skirts and perfume, she left.

Goddamnit.

I left my food alone. Breakfast was nowhere near as important as getting this freaking thing done. I had cut almost a minute from the song. That meant that I needed approximately one minute.

I could do it, but it would suck and I would be dead by the end of the day.

Screw it. Better dead then flying home.

The practice room was empty. Good. I could figure this out.

I had cut a chorus and one of the verses, leaving the fading end intact but jamming it together with a fade tool that Toby had taught me how to use to make it seem gapless. I wanted it to sound professional, and it did.

Of course, now I would have to throw all that work out the window and try to figure something out.

The chorus...I could just do the same thing as I did for the other choruses. But that seemed wrong, somehow. Like it was the easy way out, which logically I should just do, since I had, what, two hours before I had to be on the stage for my tech time.

I broke out the whiteboard that we had used to plan our first dance, erased something in Fang's handwriting that I couldn't read, and tried to break down my moves for the chorus. It was mostly sways and turns, with two leaps. I had to modify them in some way to get them to look original, but not be original, since I didn't have nearly enough time to actually choreograph and perfect a new sequence.

That was it.

Original, but not original?

I silently thanked every deity in the world, along with Dylan. Dylan most of all, because he was the one that had made us learn the thing in the first place. The thing being retrograde.

Retrograde is a maddening skill for a dancer to get. It's really, really obnoxious and usually takes forever, but you can cheat with it, not do a true retrograde. Because retrograde basically means you take a sequence and do it backwards.

True retrograde would go something like this:

Original sequence: Right turn, leap with left leg in front facing stage left, kneel with right leg up, still facing stage left.

Retrograded sequence: Start kneeling with left leg up, facing stage right, then get up and leap with right leg in front facing stage right, then left turn.

Dyl had learned about it during his brief stint in actual, professional dance lessons. He tortured us with it for about two weeks until we mastered it; he told us it was one of the only foolproof hole-fillers. The audience will look at it and feel as if something is slightly familiar, but they won't be able to tell exactly what unless they understand the concept of retrograde itself. Which the judges probably would, but that wouldn't matter overmuch.

Thank the Lord above. I had a solution for at least half of my problem. A quick review told me that my other verse was only about four eight-counts of choreography. If I could knock the retrograde out in an hour and tie it in to what I had, then I could do the verse in the remaining time and get out of there to my solo time. I felt a wave of relief rush over me and the temptation to stop practicing and celebrate my stroke of inspiration was hard to ignore. But I reminded myself that if I didn't get this down now, I could be waving goodbye to England this time tomorrow.

Boy, that was a sobering thought.

But I kept it in my mind, an incentive to make me work faster, stronger, better than I ever had before. I couldn't fail this, not now, not ever. I'd worked my butt off to be good enough for this competition, and I was damned if I was leaving it just because I forgot to listen.

After a short while others began trickling into the practice room after their breakfast, looking at me and probably wondering how long I'd been there before dumping their things on the floor and getting to work themselves. I saw a flash of electric blue followed by a flick of black hair and noticed that Nikki and Fang had entered, but didn't act on it. I was too focused to bother greeting them.

And that was how I carried on for the remainder of my training time. Well, until my ten minute slot on the stage, that is. I caught a glimpse of the time on a turn and started, realizing I only had a few minutes to get there. Fang and Nikki had already gone, already on the stage and I followed her lead, darting out of the door and down the corridor. I reached the door just as she came out. She gave me a reassuring smile.

"Dude, it's so fun in there," she said. "The tech guy's really nice and he does whatever you want. Hey, look, there's Fang."

I looked around. Fang flicked a wave. He was leaning against a wall, with a tote bag under his arm. "What's in there?" Nikki asked as she walked by him. Fang just put a finger to his lips and smiled. Maddening, that boy was.

"Next," called a voice from inside the auditorium.

"Good luck," Fang said smoothly, his voice carrying down the hall.

"You too," I told him. He didn't have to know I was planning to sneak back through and figure out what song he was doing. Also how pyrotechnics came into play. Ohmygod. This was going to be so fun.

The stage seemed so much bigger when I was the only one on it. The tech booth was raised, so I couldn't see the people in it very well, but they had a mic back there.

"Hey, Max," a guy said, the vowels smooth and my name rhyming with "fox." British.

"Hi," I said back, my voice sounding small and weird, echoing back at me in the empty space.

"You have a CD for us, correct?"

"Yes."

"Give it to Ted over there, he'll bring it up."

I looked around to see a guy with a headset coming out onstage, probably the backstage manager. I gave him my disc and he ran up the aisle of the house and up into the booth. I could see him behind the Plexiglas for a second before he came back down and took his place again.

"Now I want you to show me where your starting position is," he said. I moved to it. The lights moved with me. "Any special light color you wanted?"

"Blue," I said. I had decided that yesterday. The regular lights went out and were replaced by the ones with gel sheets over them. They gave the light a blue cast.

The rest of the solo time was basically me figuring out how to do my dance on the stage. Mine was easy enough to get the hang of; it took two run-throughs, which ate up the rest of my time. I was reasonably well-prepared, and though I messed up once on my retrograded sequence, my new part flowed...okay. It wasn't the way I'd like it to be, but it was okay.

Now came the fun part; eavesdropping on Fang. Nonchalance would be essential to pulling this operation off. I tried not to overdo it as I opened the door to the hall where Fang was still waiting, now with his iPod headphones in. I waved at him and pretended like I was walking away, back toward the practice room. But when I heard the door close behind him, I started running.

Exploring the ITAC with Nikki had shown me that there was a door behind the auditorium that led to the backstage area. It was almost never locked. I could enter through there, listen from the wings, and then beat it.

I got there just in time. The same guy in the booth was asking Fang if he was ready. "Yes," Fang said, his flat voice reverberating around the room, though he hadn't spoken particularly loud.

"All right, here we go," said the tech guy.

When the music started, I had to clap my hand over my mouth to keep from giving a shriek of laughter. No way. No way. I hadn't been planning to watch, but now I absolutely had to.

Oh my God. This was too good.

"Do you ever feel like a plastic bag?" Katy Perry sang, her carefully synthesized voice booming over the stage.

Oh my God. I felt my jaw drop under my palm as I listened to the song. I could just see Fang start to move, doing a combination that looked fabulous paired with the music.

But my attention was drawn away from the dancing teenager before me after a minute or so and to the bursts of light on either side of the stage. It took me a few moments to register that they were sparklers—actual fireworks, going off in a pattern similar to the beat Fang was dancing to either side of him.

So this was what he had been hiding. I watched for a few more seconds before scurrying away before he walked out and saw me.

I darted down the corridor and through the doors that led to our practice room, still seeing Fang dancing to Katy Perry, of all people, with fireworks exploding left, right and center as he moved.

But I kept a straight face as he entered after me, making myself look busy so he wouldn't be suspicious. I debated trying the dance again but a glance to the clock told me I only had five minutes until we broke for lunch, and there was no point working myself up again for so little time. I settled for gathering up my discarded hoodie and bottle of water and making my way to the cafeteria, walking slowly so I wasn't too early.

I'd barely gone two steps out of the doorway when Nikki skipped up to me, a devilish grin on her face and her blue hair swinging around her. This couldn't be good.

"C'mon then!" she wheedled, looking up at me like a puppy. (Yes, looking up. I have found someone shorter than me. Iggy would be proud)

"What?" I questioned, casting a glance at her as she skipped beside me.

"I know you spied on Fang."

Ech.

"It was obvious you would. So. Dish the details!" she exclaimed, actually clapping her hands slightly.

"No." I wanted to see her face when she saw it for herself. Plus, I'm just that evil

"...what?" she asked innocently. I didn't look at her. I knew what she was doing; it was something Nudge and Ella always used to do when they were younger: Bambi Eyes. I was quite proud of myself when I saw her turn her head slightly out of the corner of my eye, and then deemed it safe to face her.

"You'll have to wait." I smirked.

"But whhhyyyyyyyy?" she moaned, looking at me in despair.

"Because it will be better that way, trust me." I winked, and took her silence as an opportunity to speed up slightly and finally get to the cafeteria.

The Food Hawk was there again, which kind of sucked because (shock) I wasn't hungry. None of us were, judging from the queasy looks on people's faces as they smelled the bars of food. Toby actually put a hand over his stomach and gagged a little.

"No way," Nikki said, backing away from the array of food. "I was already sick twice today. I am not eating anything else."

"She'll kill you if you don't." I hadn't even noticed Savannah come up, but here she was, Maya at her side. She was wearing yet another of her hats, this one decorated with blue, green, and purple feathers, bobbing over top of her head like some bird crest. Maya had on skintight black pants and a low-cut shirt, presumably for her theater monologue. I couldn't help looking around to see if Fang was watching her. He wasn't. He was staring at the Chinese food with an expression of displeasure on his olive-skinned face.

"Nikki, they have rice," I told her. "Eat that. It won't kill you." She shrugged and took a plate. Savannah reached past me and plucked a Diet Coke from the display.

"I'm getting a salad," she told me. "Care to join me?"

I went with her, Maya tagging along and chattering the whole time about her monologue. Savannah layered Caesar dressing on her lettuce and went to sit with her music groupies. Maya had a few chunks of meat and put her head together with other theatre people. I dropped down next to Fang with my own small plate of salad.

"Ready?" he asked.

"You have no idea."

"Yeah, me neither."

"Oh, you guys are so wimpy!" Nikki came bouncing back with a plate of rice with soy sauce. "I, for one, am going to kill it. And so is Milan." The African in question, who she had somehow found, smiled and waved from behind her. I moved up slightly and then both sat down, Nikki somehow looking as perky as ever despite looking like she would upchuck just a moment ago.

"You say that now! Just wait until I fall flat on my face in front of everyone," I said to her, looking down at my plate morosely.

"Don't be so negative." She gave me a death glare. "You will be fine, Max." I smiled at her sarcastically and turned to face Fang, giving him a despairing look. She shot one back before a blank expression covered his face and he began eating. I sighed and took his cue, shovelling a forkful of food into my mouth under the hateful eye of the Food Hawk.


"Can you please step forward and tell us your name? Nice and clearly now, into the camera."

"Maximum Ride."

"Okay, Maximum, thank you. You can begin now."

I took a shaky breath, feeling my heart beating a mile a minute in my chest. All I could see in from of me was the judging panel; the lights thankfully blocked out the massive audience sitting only a short distance away from me. Though being able to see the faces of my friends would have been a comfort. Maybe.

I turned and took a few small steps until I was at the center of the stage. I lowered myself onto the floor, lying on my side and stretching my legs out. I turned my eyes to the floor and felt my breath catch when the lights changed from bright white to soft blue, and gentle music began to play from the speakers surrounding the stage, the first piano notes.

I tried valiantly to quell the feeling of nervousness that threatened to rise within me at being first up. Sure, I knew someone had to do it, but I never thought it would be me. I mean, don't they usually do these kind of things in alphabetical order? I mentally slapped myself and realized that I should be dancing in about...yeah, now.

I lifted one leg slightly and delicately moved my leg back on forth, allowing it to scrape the floor softly. I did this for a few bars, trying to remember to relax my face muscles and not look too tense.

I waited until the third line of lyrics ended and the humming began and slowly raised my torso, swinging my legs out towards the front of the stage at the same time. I used this momentum to get me on my knees and continued to turn until I was standing, facing the audience once more with my left leg positioned in what I hoped was a graceful pose.

I then took a few slow and elegant steps forward, keeping my head down and my muscles relaxed. I forcibly removed all thoughts that weren't to do with my dance out of my head and let myself concentrate fully on how my body was moving, how I was going with the flow.

I reached the end of my walk and stopped. I lifted my arm above my head slowly, moving my head at the same so I could look at it, and also to give me some more interesting lines. I lowered it on the other side of my head, my eyes now facing the front once more as my arm gently swooped around my skull. I let my body lean into the direction it took me, my eyes closing as I went with what felt natural. This took me into another spin until I faced forwards, one foot pointed slightly.

This was where the beat picked up slightly, and the moment it did I let my back sort of collapse. I turned to the side, my arms hanging down in a way that didn't look limp, but graceful, and my neck extended as my head tilted back. This movement was sudden, and hopefully matched the new pace of the music.

I moved from this position to angle my left leg under my body, tuning slightly as I did so . I kept slightly crouched and stretched my left arm out in from of me, pointing to a dark corner of the auditorium. I stayed there for almost a second before drawing up, pulling my arms up to my chest and my legs together. I was like this for a heartbeat before crouching low again and spinning softly, allowing my arms to float around me as I turned and stood up again, constantly ensuring I was relaxed and fluid.

Thank the Lord, I didn't mess up the first part, but pretty soon was the retrograded sequence, and I was still immensely unsure about that.

Traveling across the stage was the hardest part—I had only practiced a couple of time on the stage and I wasn't confident about it at all. I managed to do it okay—I didn't travel as far as I wanted to on one of the diagonal crosses, but I made up for it with the next sequence, stepping back a little farther than I would originally.

To be honest, I don't remember much at all about most of the dance. When I dance, I kind of blank out. I remember the beginning and the end. And that's what I remembered from my Possibility solo. About it, really.

When I stumbled back to my seat, it was with shaking limbs and a dry throat. Nikki handed me a water bottle. I sucked it down and she gave me a smile. Since there were so many solos to do, the music, dance, and drama students were doing theirs separately. In different rooms. We got the stage because we needed the most tech. There was a smaller, less hardcore stage for the drama people, and a music room for the musically gifted.

Layne went next, thus proving that they weren't going in any sort of order, since her last name started with a B. She spoke her name and then performed—I was expecting froufrou, boring pirouettes and grande jetes, but no. She was going more modern with her choice, her lighting dappled like a forest. She was wearing a ripped green dress with spandex under it, and her makeup was like Lady Gaga dramatic, accenting her cheekbones and the corners of her eyes with black makeup.

It was gorgeous. She was through. Most definitely.

In fact, most of them were gorgeous. I hated to condemn anyone, especially someone I liked...but really, I suspected that Toby might be one of the ones aiming toward going back home. And a couple of ballet people.

Fang was last. Go figure. The suspense was killing me.

I was glad that I hadn't told Nikki about what Fang was going to do. Because if I had, I wouldn't have been able to see the expression on her face when the opening notes played. Oh my God. You should have seen the crowd. They were like, raving. Especially at the end. I heard a couple of people debate Fang's sexuality because of his song choice.

I was right about the whole cutting process. Mostly. One of the hip-hop dancers that I never thought would go was cut. Toby—I thought he would have started sobbing, but he actually just pumped a fist in the air and shouted "IT WAS AWESOME WHILE IT LASTED, BITCHES," earning him a warning look from the judges and a laugh from everyone else. We all shared a hug, and, well...that was that.

I was worried about Savannah though. She had been stressing the night before about all of this. She had changed hats about seventeen times and then thrown them all around the room in despair. Nikki and I had to clean up.

For that matter, how had Maya done? I wasn't exactly sure what I wanted her to do. I kinda wanted her to get out of here, leave me alone, and stuff. But at the same time that seemed a little bitchy. I guess I'd just have to wait and see.

The dance students (what was left of them, anyway) all walked out of the auditorium together, feeling a definite sense of loss. And anticipation. For whoever would come to meet us in the cafeteria for dinner.

We, dramatically, were the last ones there.

"OHMYGODMAXNIKKI!" were the words that exploded out of Savannah's mouth as she threw herself on us. Her hat fell off, and Maya, who was behind her, gently picked it up and placed it on her own head, where it perched at an angle, the feathers bouncing gently. When Savannah stopped assaulting us, she removed it from Maya's hair and laughed at the frizz it caused.

"So you got through as well?" Nikki asked Maya happily.

"Obviously," she said, grinning. "I thought it was a little dicey for a while. Turns out judges don't like it when you say "fuck" onstage. Go figure."

"Eh," Fang said.

"Eh," I agreed. "I'm starving."

"God, same," Nikki said dramatically. I had a feeling this meal was going to be a lot bigger than our lunch.


And so. I don't know, I was being a pain in the ass with writing this chapter :L I also had a case of Royal Wedding Fever. Very badly.

Pretty, pretty please review? We'd love your opinions!

-Blacks. (Fex couldn't be bothered to write anything here. Lazy bugger.)