"You can't throw away all the hard work your father and I have done."
All she'd ever wanted to do was dance, and she was good at it! They had given her all the classes, all the tutors, all the training anyone could have ever wanted. She had put in all the hours, she'd done all the recitals put up with the endless teasing over the fact that she weighed easily five times as much as the next largest dancer, who was not only a human but also a boy. Bri gripped her bag tightly and continued her run, trotting along the trail at a very brisk pace, concentrating on keeping her stride even, smooth, and balanced. Nothing would ever take away from her pleasure in bringing her body to its peak and keeping it there, stretching and toning every muscle until she could turn on a dime and leap over fences taller than her own withers.
But even that pleasure, that accomplishment, wasn't enough.
"You need to think about your future. You need to think about the stallion you'll eventually marry and support."
"There's more to me than the stallion I choose to marry," Bri muttered under her breath, fighting the crushing weight of disappointment with a flicker of rebellion. "They'll see what I'm made of when I'm on stage. Someday, they'll actually see me, and then..."
And then what? Where would she go? What would she do? How would she manage to "be herself" when the chances of being able to run a full 20-year career in dance was slim to none? The only nonhumans that really thrived in dance were elves, and even then it was usually in ballet. Bri was decent in ballet, but there weren't many productions that could be modified for a centaur in ballet. She stuck with the dances she was really good at - tap, step, and folk dancing.
And that was the frame of mind she was in when she saw the poster. The filly broke stride, sucking in a gasp of surprise. She'd met other centaurs, to be sure. None as rich as her father, and none that were dancers, but she knew some. This poster depicted not one, but two centaurs, each clad in brilliant green, dancing together. It looked like they were doing a reel, though that might be her personal bias.
Bri felt like her heart would burst. It could be done. It could be done! Then her gaze traveled downward to the bottom of the poster, where the name of the group was partially obscured by a smaller sign, stapled crookedly over the first.
10-month tour to all 48 contiguous states, auditioning tonight 5-8pm at the San Martin hotel
Bri checked her watch and felt her heart leap. It was a quarter to 5 now. If she turned back at once, she would have time to go home, get her leg wraps and a clean shirt, and still be early for auditions.
What would her parents say if they found out? Well, they would tell her not to go, for sure. But they would tell her not to do a lot of things in her life - this was one thing that was worth breaking the rules for. This was her dream. Still, she pulled out her phone as she turned back. Her brother had already moved out. He wouldn't tell their parents. He wouldn't have, even if he'd been under the same roof with them. She could trust him.
"Hey, Colt? I... have a favor to ask."
* * *
Lian finished setting up the tables - one at human height, and one at centaur height. He stepped back to check they weren't crooked, all the while thinking how unlikely it was they were going to find another centaur to dance with them. It would throw off all of their numbers, and Franci would have to choreograph entirely new dances to accommodate a two-legger. Two would have been better, but he didn't want to get his hopes up. One strained knee was all it took, and there went two of their dancers, and now there were five, and at least one of them needed to be running tech....
He turned away from the tables with a sigh, intending to tell Franci they were ready, and stopped dead in his tracks. A filly was pushing the door open, her hair gleaming like a freshly minted penny, her glossy red roan coat catching the late afternoon sun and throwing it back in a fiery shimmer that took his breath away. She was the most gorgeous creature he'd ever seen, and wonder of wonders, when she glanced around the lobby and spotted him, she turned toward him immediately and approached with cautious, graceful steps, her hooves muffled with the soft indoor shoes most city centaurs carried.
"Excuse me - is this where we audition for the dance group?"
Even her voice was beautiful. Low and smooth as melting butter. Lian felt his heart surge up into his throat, blockading the words he wanted to say and rendering him temporarily dumb. Trying not to gape like a landed fish, the stallion nodded. Her smile was so bright it nearly knocked him flat.
"Excellent. Is there any paperwork I need to fill out first?"
Lian glanced back at the tables he'd just set up. They were both still as empty as when he'd stepped away just a second ago. He still hadn't found Franci. And from the way he felt rooted to the spot, he wasn't sure he would be able to without his knees going weak on him.
"Franci?" His voice cracked, squeaking embarrassingly as he tore his eyes away from the pretty filly. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Franci? Where are those papers?"
"I'm coming, I'm coming. Keep your pants on." Franci emerged after just a minute or two, which Lian spent in awkward, helpless silence. The manager of their troup was a stocky mare with a flashy piebald coat. When she saw Bri, a grin spread across her face. "Tell me you're here to audition, and you'll make me the happiest mare this side of Dublin."
Bri nodded, and Franci let out a crow of delight. Shoving Lian out of the way, she led the filly to the table.
The grey stallion staggered, righted himself, and looked back at the table with a sinking heart before he moved through the doors and toward the stage they were to perform on tomorrow night. He had made a complete idiot out of himself, and he knew it. Hammering his brow with both fists, Lian silently cursed himself for being such a blockhead - he hadn't even introduced himself! He'd just stared at her like a moron.
"She won't even want to join up once she knows I'll be living on the bus, too," he muttered, and groaned to himself. That couldn't have possibly gone any worse.
"What's the matter, Cousin?"
Lian corrected himself. It might have been worse. Bryan could have been there. His cousin was perfectly proportioned, not too leggy or too long. His uncertain ancestry didn't seem to make any difference at all, his perfectly-groomed chocolate-brown coat only partially concealing the toned and rippling muscles in his shoulders and hindquarters.
"None of your business, Bryan. Come on, let's finish setting up for the audition."
"Ooh, none of my business, huh? Does that mean that little baby Lian has a secret?"
"It means shut your face before I shut it for you. Now come on." Lian stomped up to the stage and climbed the ramp, bending to lift the heavy monitor for singers and shift it into the wings.
Bryan laughed and danced around him, singing some stupid children's song about asking no questions and telling no lies. Lian did his best to ignore his cousin, who was the true idiot. Unfortunately, he was an idiot who had more natural talent in his little finger than most of New York could pull together. That meant that, until the tour was over at the very least, he would be stuck with him. Not that he didn't love his cousin dearly. He just... preferred to love him from a distance.
When the door opened again and Franci and Bri walked in, Bryan almost fell over himself, which was both satisfying and terrifying to see. If Bryan decided to flirt with the new girl, Lian didn't have a snowball's chance in the Sahara of ever catching her attention.