The audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation as Danielle Hamilton gracefully dropped to the floor, ending a three-hour show. Panting with exhaustion she listened to the crowd, the sound of hands clapping and voices cheering. The show was a success, no doubt about that, and for a moment she enjoyed the satisfaction of it. As the lights went to black and the stage was covered in near darkness she got up, ready to take her bow when the spotlights were turned on again. Noticing the chorus in the wings of the stage, seeing they were applauding her too, she signaled for them to join her on stage for yet another bow, and another and another. Danielle looked at the audience, hundreds of faces, glowing with enthusiasm and admiration. In the heat of the spotlights she felt beads of perspiration rolling down her face and neck. She didn’t mind, this was what made it all worthwhile. The getting up early in the morning, the grueling practice sessions, the endless rehearsals, the pain and frustration, this heat they all had to endure. Yes, this made it more than worth it.
Looking up into her partner’s eyes she saw him smiling down on her, slowly nodding, his face beaming with pride.
In the side wings Steve Savage looked at Danielle equally proud and listened to the applause. The audience loved the show, they loved Danielle, but then … they always had. Ever since her first show Broadway had fallen in love with this little lady, and ever since her first performance, every performance resulted in something like this. A standing ovation, applause that went on and on, whistles, voices cheering, and masses of flowers for Danielle. His Danielle. He was the one who found her, who took her under his wing, gave her the chance to do what she so desperately wanted … to dance on Broadway. He had to wonder though if he had done the right thing by giving her this chance. If it wasn’t for him she probably would have left New York, gone back to her family in Los Angeles and gone to work in her father’s firm. Because of him she got the chance to make her dream come true, but looking back, Danielle’s life had been like a nightmare.
Ten years ago Steve Savage had been to the theater and did not feel like going home after the performance. Home was just a luxury house with a lot of expensive furniture, but where nobody waited for him. Once, when he was considered the top manager of everybody who was anybody on Broadway, he had a beautiful wife and lots of friends. But ever since the car accident his life had changed. His wife left him, so had his friends, and his agency lost one client after another. People were horrified by his facial scars, thinking that someone who looked like this was not capable of handling their careers. One day Steve Savage could not take it anymore and decided he would leave them before another one could leave him. He closed down his agency and lived quietly at his secluded home in Connecticut. He had enough money to secure him a life of luxury and although it took some getting used to he learned to enjoy life again. But every now and then he got lonely and restless, longing for the bright lights of Broadway. At such times he would put on a dark suit and hat, and hide his identity and scars behind the high collar of his black cloak. In the theater, in the privacy of his box he was safe, nobody could see him and he could enjoy the music and the dancing.
“I feel like a walk, Oscar,” he told the driver of his limousine. “You go on, when I’m ready to come home I’ll take a cab.”
The old Mexican was more than just a driver and gardener to his employer, he had proven himself a friend. In the months following the accident it was Oscar who kept away curious reporters and always kept an eye open for photographers eager to capture and expose the mutilated face of Broadway’s most famous manager.
Steve walked for a long time, his hands deep in his pockets, his hat pulled down against the cold October wind, his thoughts going back to the day of the accident. April 1st it had been, three years ago, somewhere in Los Angeles. The crash was his fault. He had skipped a red traffic light and smashed into a car. Both had slammed on brakes but it was too late. The last thing he remembered was hitting the windscreen. When he woke up he found himself in a hospital room, and the leaves on the tree outside the window told him it was autumn. There had been no police investigation and no insurance claim.
Over the years he had often wondered why. The accident had clearly been his fault. Suffering from guilt, he had never driven a car again.
Steve slowed his pace at a local dance studio, hearing music and the sound of feet on a wooden floor. He went inside and listened wondering whom those feet belonged to. As the dancing stopped he could hear a girl sobbing, crying with anger “Why? Why? Why?”
He was about to go inside when he heard footsteps and another voice, comforting. “Don’t cry, Danny. You will get your chance, I know you will.”
“How can you say that?” the dancer disagreed. “I’ve been from one audition to another, nobody notices me.”
For a while it was silent, then the voice he recognized as the dancers’ spoke again. “I’m good, I know I’m good. Why doesn’t anybody give me a chance to prove that? Why?”
“You have to give it time, Danny,” the other voice said. “Someone will notice you.”
“Someone just did,” Steve made his presence known. “You’re good all right.”
Both girls looked in his direction, seeing no more than a figure dressed in a black cloak and hat, standing outside the door in the dimly lit corridor.
“Who are you?” the girl who sat kneeled by the dancer asked. “What do you want?”
“To help,” Steve said before he could stop himself. “That is, if you want my help.”
The dancer slowly straightened up. “How can you help me? How do you know I’m good? Have you been watching me?”
“I have recognized talent whenever I saw it,” Steve explained. “In your case I recognized it as soon as I heard it. You were dancing with anger and that is something I’ve always looked for in a performer, emotion. Whether it’s a dancer, a singer or an actor, a performer has to be able to put feeling in his or her work. You didn’t just dance with your feet, you danced with your heart.
That’s how I know you’re good.”
“And how can you help me?”
Steve hesitated. If he were to help this girl it would mean giving up his privacy, coming out of anonymity. Right now it meant stepping out of the darkness into the light. How would they react to him? The way he looked, the scars on his face. Would they be afraid of him? Scream and back away. Would they be disgusted, distrust him, and want nothing to do with him? He watched them looking at him, waiting. Hesitantly he took two steps, moving from the corridor into the studio and removed his hat. Both of them were staring at him, holding their breath. They had frowns on their faces and questions in their eyes. He suddenly became painfully aware of his disfigurement, of the scars that lined his face. One ran across his forehead, a second formed half a circle around his left eye, a third cut him across the right cheek.
“My name is Savage, Steve Savage,” he said to break the silence. “And you are?”
“Danielle Hamilton,” the dancer stepped forward to shake his hand. “And this is my sister Laura.”
Steve noticed the firm grip of her hand, the broad white smile that lit up her face, and the sparkle in her eyes. She was hot and perspiring, her hair was pulled away in a bun and slightly damp at the edges, but he could see that she was beautiful.
“What do you want me to do?” she asked.
“Put your trust in me,” he said. “If I am to help you, the one thing I want is your absolute and unconditional trust. I will take your life in my hands and control it. You are not to make a move without consulting me about it first. You are to do as I say with no questions asked. Think you can do that?”
She looked away for a few seconds, then looked back at him again. She looked straight into his eyes, holding his gaze without blinking, then nodded.
“If you’re willing to give me a chance, I won’t let you down.”
“Come on,” Steve said, “it’s late, let’s go home.”
“Oh that’s all right,” Laura joined them. “We live nearby.”
“No you don’t,” Steve raised an eyebrow, “not anymore. I’m taking you two to my home and I hope you will make it your home too. You can return in the morning for your personal things, but you won’t be living there anymore.”
Laura looked from Steve to her sister and back again. “I would like a word with my sister, alone please.”
As the applause went on more and more flowers were brought on stage. Bunches of roses and carnations, and baskets of lilies and orchids. Standing next to Steve, Laura glanced up to him, he looked so proud. But then he always did where Danielle was concerned. With a vague smile she remembered the night Steve had come into their lives.
“Are you out of your mind?” She had flown off the handle just as soon as Steve had left the studio, after suggesting she and Danielle come and live with him. “You can’t go with this man, you don’t know anything about him.”
“He is Steve Savage,” Danielle had emphasized the name as if he was Santa Claus. “Haven’t you ever heard of Steve Savage?” She hadn’t, but Danielle obviously had.
“Until a few years ago he was the hottest manager on Broadway. He handled everybody who was anybody. Then he was involved in a car crash and disappeared off the scene. Laura, do you know what this man can do for me?”
Laura had to admit she had no idea what Steve Savage could do for her sister. But then she had never been as interested in the happenings on Broadway as Danielle had.
“Do you think we can trust him?”
“Absolutely,” Danielle bobbed her head. “I would trust him with my life.” “Good, because that’s exactly what you’re about to do,” Laura stated. “The question is, what’s in it for him?”
Steve had taken them to his house, a place he described as his little hideaway, but what actually was a huge double-story luxury cottage. Even in the dark Laura noticed the beauty and charm of the place, something straight out of a fairy tale book. Whitewashed walls, a brown thatch roof, light brown oak windows with shutters, hundreds of red geraniums on the sills, and an enormous oak front door. Inside everything was cottage style as well. Warm colored carpets and rugs scattered over terra cotta floor tiles, robust oak furniture, cream woven curtains, tasteful ornaments, lampshades, and plants.
“My housekeeper has a flair for interior decorating,” Steve explained, seeing Laura’s inquisitive gaze. “She likes the place … cozy.”
He had taken them upstairs where they each had their own bedroom with on suite bathroom.
For Laura it felt wonderful to be in a house again. She was used to the space of the Hamilton mansion and although she had never complained to Danielle, she had hated living in a tiny apartment. If Mom and Dad had known about their living conditions, they would have insisted they return home immediately. Which was exactly why she had told them lies in her letters. She could not let her parents know that money was tight and Danielle did not have any luck landing a part in a show. After watching her sister dance she knew it was only a matter of time before someone recognized that talent, and with Steve’s arrival someone had.
However, for Danielle the hard times were far from over, in a way they had just begun. On Steve’s orders she would rise at 6:00 a.m. for a grueling day of training. Running, aerobics, and of course, dancing. Making her remember combinations, commanding her to do dance routines over and over again, not allowing for a single mistake.
Where personal appearance was concerned Steve sent Danielle to a beautician to learn the art of on stage make-up.
“And my hair?” Danielle asked, when she noticed Steve looking at her long tresses.
“You can have it trimmed now and then, but no more than that,” Steve said, holding up a warning finger. “No drastic cutting, no coloring, no perming. You’re beautiful as you are.”
“Doesn’t it bother you to be told what to do and what not to do?” Laura asked her sister when they were alone.
Danielle merely shrugged her shoulders. “No. He knows best.”
In one thing however Steve did not get his way. When he suggested a name change Danielle categorically shook her head.
“I was born Danielle Hamilton and I will remain Danielle Hamilton,” she claimed, and for the first time Steve came to know there was a limit to what he could expect of his pupil. She had a mind of her own and when she said no she meant it.
“All right then,” Steve gave in, “Danielle Hamilton it is.”