Episode 176 – Susan’s Big Night

By Friday, the rest of the Wheatly clan descended on the Nation’s Capitol. Sharon did go so far as to arrange a special tour of the White House for her parents and the rest of the family. However, she was happy to leave the actual tour guide duties to Jodi and Tiffany, especially since a flare up of potential hostilities in Dubai took most of her focus that day.

“I’m so sorry, Maman,” she told her mother. “But it is one of the more annoying realities of my job that if something is going to happen, it will be on the day I least want it to.”

“It is how things happen, ma choux,” Madeleine said. “As it is, I am glad to see Jodi coming out of her shell. We should be proud of her.”

Saturday was an easier day, but by that afternoon, Sharon found herself caught up in getting Susan ready for the gala at which her dance would appear. Susan was less than cooperative. But June stepped in and practically dragged Susan from the rehearsal hall.

“Your dancers need time to rest,” June insisted. “And you have to look good for tonight.”

“But what if–” Susan began.

“No buts,” said June. “There is nothing you can do now that will help. If anything, you’re probably making your dancers more nervous than not. You’ve done the hard work. Now let it happen. I’ve seen the piece. It’s wonderful. Let it go and get glammed up for your date with my brother.”

Susan wasn’t entirely convinced, but finally wheeled herself meekly behind June to the waiting limo that took them back to the hotel where Susan would have been staying if she hadn’t moved out. Her whole family was there, but there was little time. Soon the presidential limo arrived and Mark came to the door of the suite to be introduced and take Susan out to the car.

“Phoof!” Madeleine Wheatly hissed as soon as Susan was gone. “She is as bad as Michel before a big show. It’s no wonder I’ve never liked performing.”

“I’m not that bad,” Michael protested.

“No, you’re worse,” said Inez. “And the stakes aren’t as high anymore for you.”

“They sure are if I don’t want to end up on the casino circuit,” Michael grumbled.

Susan, for her part, was beyond nervous. However, Mark immediately realized her nervousness was not about him, for a change, and found it refreshing.

“June tells me it’s a really good dance,” he told Susan before they got to the theater.

“Really?” Susan groaned. “It feels like my entire life is up for grabs.”

Mark nodded. “I know what that feels like. And I remember when I lost that one campaign, it sure felt like my career was over. But a very wise friend of mine pointed out something that I think you’ll get more than most folks.”

“What?”

“Everything is almost never up for grabs. Granted, life happens. You know that better than most. But it doesn’t mean game over. You find a new direction. You try again. You try to correct whatever mistakes you made. But this dance is not your last chance. Whatever happens tonight, you will go away from the experience with options. Maybe not the options you wanted. Maybe, and I happen to think this is more likely, with more options than you’ll know what to do with. And you’ll come out a better, stronger person no matter what.”

Susan suddenly sniffed and blinked back tears. “You’d think I’d be strong enough by now.”

“Are any of us?” He reached and patted her shoulder. “Look, I think the reason you’re so nervous now is that you’ve put it all out there on that stage. And that’s usually a good sign that you’ve done something special. I really believe that.”

“You’re not going to get me to calm down,” Susan said with a annoyed chuckle. “I don’t care how right you are. And you are right. But, damn it. I have a right to be nervous.”

“Yep.” Mark looked out the window as the limo pulled up in front of the Kennedy Center. “But we’ve got to go make nice now. Can you manage it?”

Susan looked out the window and took a deep breath. “Yep. Let’s go make nice.”

There was a buffet reception before the performance set up in the foyer of the theatre. Art from all the other festival participants lined the walls. Susan did her fair share of schmoozing, but it was almost unendurable. The night crawled. Then there were the other performances, all of them quite wonderful. But Susan couldn’t pay any attention. Her dance was the last on the program. All she wanted was to go first and get it over with, but she had to wait.

And then it was time. She was seated in the presidential box next to Mark. Her family surrounding her. As the light came up on the stage with the two dancers, she felt her mother’s hand on one shoulder and her father’s hand on the other. Her sister Sharon was on her other side from the president, and Sharon gently took her hand. June was on the president’s other side and smiling at her. Just beyond her, Michael gave her a big grin and a thumb’s up, and Inez waved. Sarah, on the other side of Sharon, put her hands together and signalled her support, with Jodi, Tiffany, and Toby all waving. Only one person was missing, Susan realized with a start. But that would come later. She hoped.

The sad, crashing notes of Sparrow Without Wings, by Michael Wheatly, started. There was anger, with the one dancer pinned to the ground through the whole dance and the other fighting her. The was despair and frustration and slowly but surely, there was growth, and as the music swelled to its finish, the two dancers were moving together, the one still pinned to the floor, but the other moving along, going where the pinned dancer couldn’t. The dance ended. There was a brief hush, then the auditorium exploded with applause and cheering. The dancers took their bows, then waved at Susan in the box. She was surrounded by family members and the president, all, like the rest of the audience, on their feet, applauding with abandon.

It was sometime before the audience quieted enough to let everyone go. Susan made her way through the closing reception, accepting congratulations and even a few business cards. But Madeleine noticed that her daughter was wilting and nudged Mark, who agreed and collected her.

Susan told Mark to stay in the car as they came up to the hotel. He did help her out and into her chair, and she rolled into the lobby alone. Apart from the crowd outside, no one really noticed her and she wheeled herself into the bar.

Max was there, waiting for her.

“Well?” she asked.

“You nailed it,” he said with a happy grin on his face. “That was just unbelievable. Not a dry eye in the house.”

“Did you like it?”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Good. I’m beat. Let’s go home before my family gets here.”

“Sure. Want me to push?”

“Yeah, I’d like that.”