the first thing they notice, when piper ellen finch is born, is that even as a seconds-old, still-wet infant, she does not cry. the second thing they notice, when piper is a few weeks old, is that thank god
she takes after her mother, former pro-ballerina and fifteen years younger than her husband, in her soft features and delicate frame.
pretty girls won't have to work a day in their lives, her mother says.
(it's not until she's about to enter high school does piper notice, quietly, she got her businessman father's ambition and brains.)
if it's her genes that make her pretty, it's ballet that makes her beautiful. just like her mother. she spends three hours a day, six times a week in the studio. she's always one of the teacher's favorites, because even when she forces herself onto the tip of her toes for so long each day until her joints crack and her blisters bleed, piper does not cry.
through ballet, she learns to hold her head high and push through the pain. she learns to hide how she feels and hold back the tears. through her mother, she learns that beauty has a time limit and that, even when she's young, she always needs to be watching, always watching, for the day it starts to fade.
when her father leaves them for an even-younger woman at six, piper doesn't understand enough to cry; all she knows is she's moving with her mother into a downtown apartment that's much closer to her ballet studio, which means her hours get longer, even as her mother struggles to keep up with the payments.
it'll be worth it: ballet will keep piper pretty.
(unlike her mother, whose beauty faded far too soon.)
ridgeview high comes, and piper has it easier than most. even though they're poor, she's pretty and makes dance team. a senior elite invites piper to meet her pretty, popular friends, and she's smart enough to know how to play along and be liked.
too smart, actually. high school's also when piper realizes there's life outside the ballet studio: there's math and there's physics and there's astronomy.
but smart girls aren't pretty, and pretty girls aren't smart. piper already feels out of place among her friends with her last-season yoga pants and worn running shoes, so she hides her involvement with math team and astronomy club from her popular friends. when she gets a job during junior year at a downtown tutoring center, to help pay for increasingly-expensive ballet lessons and maybe-just-in-case college, she hides that too.
senior year comes all too fast. college becomes a not-so-distant reality. she could easily get a full-ride for ballet, her mother warns, but for anything else, she's on her own.
that's okay, piper pushes back. she'll work for it.