By Stephanie Grella
This Story Won Third Prize in Our Contest
The boys at school didn’t like Mathieu, but all the girls did. He was the only boy ever allowed at girls-only sleepovers. He played with our hair like he was one of us, brushing his own and wishing it was long like mine, blonde like Olivia’s.
Mathieu and I were in the same ballet class, but he also did tap, jazz, and pointe. The girls crowded around him in adoration, insisting he teach them how to do a proper pirouette. His legs were long and lean, longer and leaner than any of ours. He moved around the room as I imagined a swan glided across water.
Grade four recess meant rehearsing with Mathieu in the schoolyard, twirling and rolling barefoot on the edge of the soccer field. One day, a group of boys hissed at us from afar. They called Mathieu a girl. They called him a ballerina. They said he had no balls. When I heard their words, I stopped in the midst of a dizzying turn, but Mathieu kept going. His toes remained in a perfect point as his hands fluttered in the air like the brush of a butterfly wing.
I didn’t understand why the boys were snickering like they did when they called Jason four eyes, or Gwen an elephant. Those labels were mean, but what they called Mathieu wasn’t.
To me, Mathieu was a girl just like me. We laughed in a shared high range and he hugged me like I always thought a sister would. Mathieu was a ballerina. He was the most poised, elegant ballerina amongst all the girls. Mathieu didn’t have balls. In fact, I had never seen him with a baseball, basketball, or football, like the sweaty boys our age often gripped against their dirty bodies.
The bell rang, and as Mathieu and I step-ball-changed toward the school, the huddle of boys trailed us. I could hear their whispers behind me, louder than the scrapes of our heels against the tarmac.
“Keep dancing, ballerina!”
“Where’s your skirt, ballerina?”
“Here, you could use this!”
I saw a basketball bounce off the back of Mathieu’s head. I stopped in the middle of my half-finished step and glared at the laughing boys.
“What’s wrong? Did I hurt your girlfriend’s feelings?” one of them said.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to chase after the bouncing orange ball and whip it right back, but when I turned, Mathieu was in the distance. He never stopped dancing. His quick, clean step-ball-change didn’t miss a beat. I didn’t need to protect him from anything. I ran ahead and synchronized my feet with his. Step-ball-change, step-ball-change.
The boys were far behind us now, their chants barely audible over Mathieu’s melodic humming.
“Keep dancing, ballerina! Keep dancing!” They called out to us like cheerleaders.
And so, we did.