Set directly after the end of Ballet Shoes; Pauline, Petrova, and Posy have embarked on their careers, but what became of Winifred?
Written for: Tami (spiderflower), who made a request via the lovely saffic community.
Disclaimer: Neither the characters nor the setting belong to me, and no money is being made from this fanfiction.
In Hollywood Sylvia, relieved of her worries about money, looked younger and fresher than Pauline could ever remember seeing her. Even so, her gaiety had a slightly forced quality, and this, Pauline realized, was out of concern that she, Pauline, might be feeling unhappy at supporting them all, and having to be so far from home to do it.
"Darling Garnie," Pauline told her one evening as they sat in their tiny apartment, which had sand and cacti instead of a lawn, and had sadly been furnished by someone over-fond of bright colours. "You know I don't mind at all. And it's an adventure."
And indeed, at first it seemed impossible that she could ever feel homesick here. One might, easily, be desperately homesick from across town or across the country, but here everything was so unfathomably new and strange that there was nothing to remind her of home. During the day she was surrounded by the noise and lights of the studio, or else hard at work in the studio school, and while the bustle of a film in production sometimes made her head hurt, she was too busy to think of home.
So, Pauline told herself firmly, there was nothing, absolutely nothing, to be sad about. Posy was ecstatic to be doing exactly what she was meant to be doing-her hurried postscripts to Nana's cosy letters made that abundantly clear-and Petrova, relieved of the tedium of dancing, was happily taking flying lessons twice weekly and regular lesson-lessons from the doctors every morning, and working in Mr. Simpson's garage on Sundays. It had worked out splendidly for everyone.
Except that at night Pauline had begun having peculiar dreams. She dreamt that she was back at her first-ever audition, for Alice in Wonderland, and Winifred, in her too-tight mustardy-yellow dress, looking even more pinched and worried than she had done that day, said plaintively, "I'm falling."
Pauline, waking from these dreams, shaken, would tiptoe to the sitting room, which she tried to remember to call the "living room," and sit looking out. At night, there was no traffic. There were no radios, no chattering, no harsh lights and no sticky heat. There was just the huge night sky, and the strange vegetation, and sometimes the scurry of a wild animal. She sat alone, night after night, too troubled by her dreams too much appreciate this new beauty.
Very late one night she decided that the solution was to make Winifred a dress; if she could just be sure that Winifred, so clever and so nice, no longer looked so all-wrong, maybe the nightmares would end. Like all plans hatched at three in the morning, when one is all alone and feeling wretched, this one took on the urgency and seriousness of a knight's quest or a solemn vow.
All her walks became window-shopping excursions until she was sure she had chosen the exactly-perfect colour and fabric, and then her efforts to help Sylvia became mostly a hindrance, although she did help with size. "No, that needs to be bigger," she would say, vaguely trying to draw Winifred's shape in the air with her hands, or, more often, "No, that should be tighter-Winifred doesn't stick out much there at all." Sylvia, silently much more worried about all this than she let on, stitched patiently, and then had a quiet word with Mr. Reubens.
Petrova had once suggested that Mr. Reubens couldn't possibly care about any of the actors he represented any more than a stable owner could care about a particular racehorse, but that had been unfair. Mr. Ben Reubens was a decent sort, and while he would never have claimed to have understood some of the things necessary to his actors' happiness, insofar as it was possible he wanted them to be happy.
He had no interest in "beating around the bush," though, and would bluntly say things out loud that most people would know to carefully avoid. "Your guardian tells me that you're worrying yourself sick over sending an audition dress home to some friend of yours," he said now. "What's that about?" And Pauline was so startled that she found herself telling him all about Winifred, and how important it was that she find work, and how unfair it was that someone who could act and dance and sing as well as Winifred could should be so often turned down because she wasn't pretty.
"At least," Pauline corrected herself, "she's not pretty in the way stage managers notice. She's sort of quietly pretty if you take the time to look at her, but she always looks worried, and stretched, and so she doesn't sparkle."
"Not the sort to catch their eye?" Mr. Reubens said, nodding in understanding. "Not leading lady material?"
"No," Pauline agreed sadly.
"But you say she can act?" he asked. "And sing and dance?"
"Oh, yes," Pauline assured him. "She's really good."
He looked at her thoughtfully for a while, chewing on the end of his cigar. "Suppose," he suggested, "I delivered that dress for you myself, next time I'm across the pond, and checked out this Winifred kid of yours?"
Pauline shook her head, not daring to hope. "You'll see her, and it will be like all the other auditions. She won't look right to you. She's the sort of pretty you can only see once you know her."
"There's something called a character actor," Mr. Reubens told her, "that doesn't depend on looking pretty so much as on looking interesting, and being able to act." And hope flared up as he explained further.
Sylvia, unexpectedly, thought this plan more of an additional worry than a solution. She wrote long letters to Posy and to Petrova at once, in which she mentioned sending for Winifred as a faint possibility, annoying Pauline, who'd secretly begun to think of it as a certainty--surely something so perfect couldn't be going not to happen, when she was hoping for it so hard. Really, of course, Sylvia was just trying to find out if the others minded.
Nana's return letter was encouraging, comfortably pointing out what a good thing for Winifred's whole family it would be if she could find work in America, and reminding Sylvia that Nana had found, when Winifred was in her care, that she was a sensible and well-behaved child. Even more encouraging was Posy's scrawled note at the bottom. "Winifred dances beautifully," she'd written. "Of course she won't do what I will, but it's idiotic that what talent she has should be wasted because stage managers pass her over. Send for her at once if your Mr. Reubens has sense enough to fix that."
They'd both known, really, that Posy wouldn't be budged from Manoff's side for anything, but Sylvia was still stricken by the thought that maybe Petrova would feel that it ought to be she, and not Winifred, that they were sending for. Petrova, reading Sylvia's letter out loud to Dr. Jakes as they had their beavers, saw this immediately. "She thinks I'll think Pauline has chosen Winifred to be a sort of replacement sister," she told Dr. Jakes.
"And do you?" Dr. Jakes asked.
"Of course not," Petrova said scornfully. She struggled to find a way to make Dr. Jakes see just how wrong an idea that was. "She wants Winifred as a companion," she said finally, "the way you have Dr. Smith. It's not anything like having a sister. Although," she added hastily, "it's just as important, in its own way. Maybe even more important."
And after that Dr. Jakes and Dr. Smith had a quiet word with Sylvia, or as quiet a word as was possible over the static of a transatlantic 'phone call, and everything was settled. Winifred's mother, having talked things over with Miss Jay, decided that Mr. Reubens was Winifred's best prospect for finding regular, well-paying work, and she dispatched her to Hollywood in his care, confident that Winifred would "do us all proud."
When Winifred arrived at their apartment it was Christmas Eve, and Pauline and Sylvia had just decorated the artificial tree, and were eyeing it critically, unable to decide if there was really anything wrong with it or if it was just the strangeness of decorating an aluminium tree with the sun beating down outside. Winifred had carried her own suitcase in from the taxicab, and was standing shyly in the doorway when Pauline saw her and ran to hug her, too excited to greet her properly. It was Sylvia who had to welcome her, and show her the room she would share with Pauline, and talk them through supper; both Pauline and Winifred had been struck dumb with sudden shyness, and their silence held right through bedtime.
When Pauline woke, late that night, Winifred was sitting on the window-ledge, looking out at the stars in the velvet darkness. Pauline went to sit beside her. "Sometimes there are coyotes," she offered, and Winifred smiled.
"It's beautiful here," she whispered, and Pauline smiled back. They sat contentedly in the cool air, looking out at this strange new world of dry grass and night-blooming jasmine. The good thing about Winifred, Pauline thought peacefully, was that it was perfectly comfortable to just be with her, without having to talk at all. Winifred slipped one thin hand into Pauline's and all was right with the world.