Getting the Beats: Part Two
"So Eric, will dance lessons be on today?"
"Lower your voice! And I didn't say I'll teach you."
"Nor did you say you wouldn't."
It had been a week since Eric's last performance with Encore, and that Royalboy Uni had been very persistent in asking Eric the same question when they met in school or at the studio to watch Encore's rehearsals. At that moment, they were in a busy school hallway; not only were they in the way of fellow schoolmates, they were getting plenty of odd stares from some bystanders and fans. The popular ones on scene were even sparing some of their glances toward Eric; Chadley himself stopped mid-talk with his fans to look their way with a surprised expression as though questioning his friend's sanity in even conversing with "King Skarl".
"I'll be late for class. Meet me at the studio after school."
"Sure thing, see you."
Lind left almost as immediately as he arrived when he got to the studio after school; because Eric led him out from the studio, to one of the parks nearby. Sitting himself on one of the benches, Eric looked Lind over, commenting, "You're a lot more persistent than I thought."
Lind sat down next to him, replying, "Well, you're about one of the best dancers that I've seen my age."
"I see. Is that why you asked me to teach you?"
"Yes. Also, you'll also be practising by teaching me."
"Hmm, point taken. But why do you want to learn dance?"
"It looked interesting, so why not? Plus, any dance team with me in it will be guaranteed a handsome member!" Eric snorted. And though he felt there was could be more to Lind's answer, he decided to brush it off. Wondering if he will be doing something without thinking through the consequences, the Skeith made his decision. "Fine, then. I'll teach you- "
"You really will?" asked the Uni in disbelief and happiness.
"Don't be too happy yet. I didn't say that I'll do it for free."
"Oh... But whatever it is, I don't mind paying for it."
It was settled after that; Lind would help Eric with his schoolwork, in return for dance lessons. Eric didn't like to ask for help from the "popular ones"; the ones he had the misfortune to encounter in school could be nasty to him and had gotten him into trouble before with his bad temper. But the Skeith was also well aware that Lind was one of the better students, ranging among the top five in their year. Therefore, any aid to better his grades was direly needed if he were to pursue his dreams to be part of Team Encore since above average grades were a requirement to even apply for the high school the team was representing. And with less than two years left in junior high school, it was not too early to start. Technically also, he wasn't the one asking for help in the first place since it was Lind that asked him to teach dance.
Both arranged to go straight to Eric's house after school since they weren't in any clubs. They were not likely to be interrupted and no one would know of their deal, which they meant to keep secret. And that was something Eric hoped would remain that way, or he'd have to deal with everyone in school laughing over his passion for dance, aside from his likeliness to a certain Meridellian king. However, sharp eyes were quick to pick up on the fact that the two of them leave school together once the dismissal bell rang.
"Your Highness, what is with you and Lind?" Julian, an orange Mynci asked.
"Didn't you hear what everyone has been talking about these past few days?" incredulously asked Miles, a white Blumaroo.
"Aside from the news Chadley's going to be on Neovision for some advertisement?" replied Eric as he chomped through shepherd pie.
"No, I didn't. And it's nothing much."
"'Nothing much'? Eric, the two of you had been seen leaving school at the same time and heading the same direction. And the fact you're drawing a lot more attention from the 'royals', you call that nothing?!"
"Well, I am 'King Skarl'! Any reason I shouldn't spare a few words with my fellow 'rulers', or even head the same direction as any one of them?"
"None we can think of," answered Greg musingly. "We do get along alright, but rarely mix with them. And it's no secret that it was some certain ones that named you 'King Skarl' in the first place."
"True and I've no liking for them mostly, but both of us happen to need each other's help."
At that moment, Lind trotted over to their table. "Eric..." All present at the table turned; and so did most of the students in the mess hall. Eric could hear the chatter turning into a soft buzz and sighed inwardly. His mother would have noticed what was happening and would definitely ask him at dinner tonight. Wishing that everyone would stop staring, he hoped the question would be quick and not about a technique they had worked on yesterday. It would be very hard explaining away to his friends. Which was why he was shocked when Lind eagerly asked: "Are those chocolate-chocolate chip cookies??"
"Are they serving it today in the cafeteria??"
"No... I packed it from home." And it was the truth; his mother had baked the cookies the day before and packed it in a paper bag as "something extra" for himself and his friends.
"I see... may I have one – no, make it two?? Please???" Was that..? It was! Surprise upon surprise! Lind Cheval was actually drooling! The whole table (and the onlookers) had never seen Lind pleading for anything or drool over something; what more heard any rumours of him doing just that. Eric just nodded, tongue-tied by Lind's sudden change of his typical cool and confident behaviour. "Don't mind him," a well known voice commented, just behind Lind as he helped himself to the cookies and bit into one happily. Chadley shot Eric a slightly embarrassed megawatt smile, explaining, "Lind's always had a great fondness for sweets, sometimes too fond. I guess it's a Uni trait of his."
After three months of coaching Lind, he had the basics of dance down. It had been tough months for the pair with Lind turning out to have poor rhythm sense and somewhat having two pairs of left hooves, causing Eric to lose his temper many times. But in those three months, Lind gradually improved and so did Eric's grades, thanks to Lind's guidance and persistence. Confident of his new capabilities, he was the one that broached the subject of trying out for their newly established school dance team to Eric. "What do you think?"
Hearing this, Eric tried to calm down his excited feelings and to think of Lind's current capabilities. By now, most of their school mates have gotten used to seeing Lind and Eric talking with one another in school and leaving to Fyora-knows-where after school together. Obviously, their deal couldn't be kept under wraps like they hoped since the most handsome Neopian of their year was involved. Lind's story of Eric needing help with schoolwork (which he was forced to back up) in fact was widely accepted; it stopped most if not all the rumours and wondering, and giving the fans more reason to like him for his "kindness" in helping Eric.
Knowing that there was more than what Eric revealed, Greg and friends questioned Eric for a while more before giving up, promising to help if he ended up in any problem. Eric felt bad about not telling the whole story, but he still felt the less people that knew what he was capable of, the less ridicule he'd get from other school mates. He was always thankful that his friends politely gave them the privacy to discuss in peace, moving farther from them whenever Lind came over to ask Eric's table for something (sometimes for the sweet treat that his mother packed).
"Eric?" Lind's voice brought Eric back from his thoughts to the noisy mess hall.
"You're going to need more than what I've taught you so far."
"Will you have enough time to teach me, then? The try outs are next week."
"What I'll do is teach you a few more complex techniques and how you can combine certain ones. "
"Really? Thanks! But, will you be trying out as well?"
"I should! After all, I am the one and only junior high student that can and has danced alongside Encore."
Eric kept an eye on Lind, as everyone attempted to follow the steps along with the beat that one of the leaders counted. He couldn't help but feel a swell of pride, watching Lind keep up and follow the beat even if he fumbled and made a few missteps. Also, he felt he was finally back where he belonged after so long. Oh, it was awkward at first and he actually regretted showing up for auditions since all the auditionees stared when he entered the gym, whispering and nudging one another. Now that his protected secret was out, he would have kicked himself for not seeing the consequences of joining the dance team, for letting his happiness carry him away and not think rationally. But he made himself stay on... at least for Lind's sake if not for his passion for dance. He was glad he did when one of the leaders demonstrated the steps and made everyone follow him. Eric's worries melted away magically, leaving only him, the beat and the dance steps.
Fifteen minutes later, the leader, a spotted Quiggle from his year, decided to take a break as most of the auditionees were breathless by then. Looking around the gym, he noted that a large number of students turned up. Remembering that he had seen and heard Chadley and some of the good-looking popular ones earlier, he groaned inwardly, knowing that this would turn out to be another of many "fan-girling" sessions. Then, he caught sight of the striped Xweetok he saw that day in the studio... was her name Rai? Since she was sitting alone, at the periphery of the gathering; he went over to her.
The Xweetok looked up and gave a small, shy smile. "Hello. I think I remember you... You were the Skeith at the dance studio?"
"Yeah. You're Rai, right?"
"Yes, that's me. Sorry, I didn't get your name..."
"I'm Eric. Which school were you from before?"
"I came from Chunghua High School. That's in Shenkuu."
"You're from Shenkuu? Wow... Then, how did you even get to know of Encore?"
Their animated conversation about Encore, the try out and dance in general came to a stop when the leader called for everyone to return to their places. And so, the try outs continued.
A month later, raps on a table immediately silenced the gym. "Thank you all, for coming! Without further ado, we'll announce the twenty finalists for the final try out." Mae, a perky Darigan Kougra from Eric's class called out the names. Eric himself was confident of his abilities, so it came as no shock to him when "Eric Garda; Year 2, Class 3" was announced as one of the first names. Then, he was surprised when Chadley's name was announced but recollected that Chadley wasn't half bad. The charismatic Zafara was able to keep up and learn the steps which grew complicated with each try out, for the past month. He was happy to hear Rai too would be one of the twenty, having noted early on in the tryout period that she was flexible and graceful with her movements. He also found the uncharacteristically shy Xweetok to be a great comrade even if she was a year younger than he as they went through the challenging try outs.
The remaining names were a little hard to catch as the noise level in the gym increased right after "Lind Cheval; Year 2, Class 1" was announced. Amidst the cheers from his fans, Eric managed to catch the stunned Uni's eye and give him a thumb up. Lind smiled and waved back at him, even as many of the popular ones crowded over. Chadley clapped the Royalboy Uni on the back, offered his congrats loudly, and flashed his sun-like smile at both Lind and their fans.
"Attention, finalists!" The gym was silenced again. This time; it was a lithe red Kyrii, one of the popular Devawn siblings from his year, Jazz. Behind her and watching everything with bemusement, the lanky red Kyrii twin brother Jayce leant against the wall with his arms crossed and that vaguely reminded Eric of someone he couldn't put his finger on as she continued. "First off, congrats for making it this far. We hope that the twelve of you will continue to show the same determination you've shown over the course of the try outs." Cheers echoed the gym again. And gave way to "oohs" of anticipation when she finished with "For the final try out all of you'll be expected to form groups and come up with a dance in a month's time. That's all, all the best!"
To be continued...