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Pretzel Bites (1.)

by Dest


Was this some type of joke? Arii tried to hold back the bitter laugh, but it pushed through as a snort. It wasn’t funny in a haha way, but she could only laugh at the day’s absurdity.

“Ariiana Daniels and Xavier Miles …”

The scene from earlier played in her head like a loop. With an orange leotard, fairy wings, and ballet slippers, she had sat on the stage of the Winsley auditorium with the rest of the Harvest festival hopefuls, a mixture of kids who passionately tried out and waited with bated breath and nonchalant ones who already knew every kid was guaranteed a part, but still eager. Arii had once believed the worst dancers always got the smallest roles. Her shoulders slumped, and she probably exhaled her hundredth sigh since the announcement.

Besides the sell-your-soul-for-a-mere-whiff pretzels, the Harvest festival youth dance segment was the highlight. The festival coordinators always included performances from the local community center’s dance groups. The 8 to 12-year-old dancers were usually the most popular. Maybe it was because this was the easiest age group to determine which tween would one day become a talented teen dancer or pumpkin #2. But Arii was finally starting in the lower teens, 13 – 14 years old, category.

From the stage, the casting director and choreographer had rattled off a list of groups in twos. Like a sitcom plot, she had gotten long Xavier. Long hair pinned into a top knot. Long graceful arms. Long legs that would surely trip her if they danced together. This was arguably God’s gift to dance packaged as a gangly boy.

Arii shrugged off the straps to her glittery fairy wings and tucked them beneath her arm, feeling her mood darkened. Did the Winsley festival have something against her now? She tried to rummage through her memories for whatever offense she committed to be punished like this. She had been dancing in the festival since she was four years old, heck, back when her dad and mom were still together. If she had done something, why wait almost nine years? Either they wanted to make an example of her, or see her die from embarrassment.

Being paired with Xavier ensured all eyes on her. No more watching the girl in front of her to remember moves. Xavier’s dancing commanded attention and adoration to feed it, and, in return, repaid watchers with its elegance and perfection. 

Watching Xavier by himself would’ve been fun, but the added stress of having to perform with him… NOOOO! Arii had to compartmentalize all her energy on stage: don’t fall, don’t forget, and don’t eat too many pretzels before performance time. And try to have fun or something, but that part came from Dad and wasn’t originally a part of her mantra.

Shaking herself out of her thoughts, Arii stopped moping in the auditorium and headed backstage. She moved aside the velvety, burgundy curtain to see the twins, Desha and Dina. They were holding hands and giggling like the most cheerful eight-year-olds she knew. The wooden floor beneath them was covered in glitter from their fairy costumes. Their ballet shoes shimmered, and Arii could hear the faint sounds of the leather stretching.

The backstage area was nearly empty. Props were skittered behind the curtains, pumpkins, fake trees with construction paper, orange leaves, and hay-stuffed scarecrows. Other kids had promptly left after finding out their partners. Why were the twins still there?

“Hey, Desha and Dina,” Arii said softly. Even if their happiness brought feelings of jealousy, she couldn’t take her disappointment out on them.

“Hi Arii,” they said in unison, smiling. The identical twins were dressed in the same gold leotard and tutu with only their hairstyles differentiating them. Desha’s hair was pulled tightly into a bun with ringlets of black curls flowing while Dina’s box braids were pinned under. Traces of glitter trailed up their small, light brown arms. Arii would have commented on their cuteness if a brilliant idea hadn’t bubbled into her headfirst.

“Soooo,” she started, folding her hands as a gesture of importance. “Are you two happy with your partners? Because if you’re not, I don’t mind talking to the director for you.” Arii wondered if the director had dared to split them up. If he had, that would give her a reason to balk at the Xavier-decision. She could play the role of the kind, older teen who switched partners with one of the younger twins, so they could feel more comfortable. If she had to help one of the twins, then she couldn’t be paired with Xavier. Problem solved. Harvest festival Coordinators 0, Arii Daniels 1!

The twins looked at each other knowingly before squealing, “We are!”

So much for that, Arii thought, feeling a pang of jealousy again. She hung her head and pulled at her tutu for a moment, obstructing her disappointed expression. Without one of the twins as an option, she would have to tell the festival dance coordinators why exactly she needed a new partner. Hey, I don’t want to work too hard, and being partnered with the king of dance is making me anxious. I just wanna dance for 5 minutes, then explore the festival booths and stuff myself with pretzels. Okay? She couldn’t be that blunt. 

Well, she could try but the festival coordinators were probably the sensitive, artsy type, so they would most def take that as mouthing off. Was it worth potentially being kicked out of the whole festival? Or incurring the wrath of polite, diligent Grandma, who Dad always passed off the role of discipline to.

Lifting her head quickly, she sighed for the hundredth and one time when the twins asked who was her partner.

“Xavier …” she mumbled.

Dina blinked slowly before biting her lip. “Ooh, he’s amazing, so umm… why did they pick y—,” Dina started.

“Stop Dina,” Desha whisper-hissed, pulling her sister’s arm. She gave her a look before cheering on Arii. “You guys are gonna be so good!”

Arii gave a weak smile.

“You’re so sweet, but I won’t be dancing with him,” she said, heading toward the backstage exit.

Their bugged-out eyes made them look like frogs.

“Well, why not?” Dina asked, inquisitive as ever. “You’re tall, and he’s tall.” She pointed at Arii’s head.

“Don’t point, Dina!” Desha chastised.

Ignoring her sister, Dina continued her lecture. “You’re both skinny, you both like orange and yogurt, and you… Never mind, you’re bald and he’s not. But yeah, he’s perfect for you.” Desha gave a dismissive clap before doing a cartwheel.

Arii patted her mostly shaved head, feeling the curls. Little kids never seemed able to tell the difference between a low cut and an actual lack of hair. Not that it mattered too much but Arii had more important things to think about. 

Could she get Xavier to agree they needed different partners? The thought of the confrontation created a film of sweat over her hands. What did he think? She had been so shocked that she never tried to see Xavier’s reaction. They hadn’t been sitting anywhere near each other on the stage, but, again, he was so tall all she had to do was turn in his direction to see his... disappointment? Anger? Laughter? Xavier was always so expressive in his dancing. He danced big as their choreographers liked to say, covering the stage with his movements. Would it be the same for non-dancey matters? Arii tried to imagine his face, twisted into a frown.

The loud swing of the auditorium door opening shook Arii out of her thoughts. The short breeze cooled Ari momentarily and kicked up the whiff of vanilla. The festival was a month away, so it should have been too early for food vendors to be around.

“Anyway, good for you two,” Arii said, waving them off, her curiosity for the sweet smell and the potential for food taking her attention. The twins went back to twirling, and she pushed open the auditorium exit. Stepping down the stairs, she shielded her eyes.

Her brown eyes had to readjust to the bright sun after being inside the auditorium for so long. There was a nice, green field across from the auditorium where the food and craft vendors, the sound stage, and however many tightly-packed adults and kids would be placed the day of the festival. She couldn’t find the scent of vanilla anymore, only the smell of freshly cut grass. Her stomach growled. It was after 3 pm, and she was hungry for dinner. Could her mind have been conjuring up the phantom smells of food? If it was, that was super dumb!

Arii walked to the front of the Winsley auditorium building. Adults with clipboards and scratchy beards or ponytails and glasses were rattling off about permits and booth spaces. They were standing around in pockets of groups all around the entrance. One of the festival coordinators was off to the side with a group of what looked like college students, handing out flyers.

Outside, there was a small food truck with two people manning it. There was a short line of dancers and whoever waiting in line for—vanilla pretzels! Found it! Arii cheered in her head before deflating. Why couldn’t tutu’s have pockets? She had a little money in her purse but had left it with her dad.

Dad was still in the parking lot, sitting in the car, reading his detective novel. He was a nurse who worked a strict 12-hour schedule, three days on then three days off. Arii felt grateful though he was her dad. What else was he supposed to do? It was so much better than having to survive a ride with her easily aggy grandma. Dad liked to pretend that the common person didn’t need to take his mama in small doses. Her grandmother could be all dragon lady at times, a blunt, Southern woman, with no room for foolishness or “children’s mess” as she called it.

Arii was going to have to be careful with how she phrased things. First, she didn’t want to make her dad feel like he wasted her time driving her on one of his free days when he could’ve been sleeping, just for her to be in a mood. She especially didn’t want to hear it from her grandma, because she would tell her as always, about how much money they wasted to buy her things. This year the dance had a serious ballet foundation, so pointe shoes were required. Not that the choreographer was going to have a bunch of kids potentially breaking their tippy-toes, but it was more for uniformity.

It sucked she didn’t have any good news for her dad. Arii’s father was like a flexible empath. Somehow, he could turn off sharing feelings and emotions with his patients at the hospital but not with her. He would surely feel her waves of disappointment and confusion before she opened her mouth.

Before Arii made a beeline to the parking lot, she decided to sit on a bench. Give herself time to steel herself. Maybe she could get her dad to intervene with the coordinators. But before that, she was going to talk to Xavier.

“1 calm Arii… 2 calm Arii… 3 calm Ariii,” she breathed out slowly, closing her eyes. “4 calm Arii…” Counting helped to keep bad thoughts away momentarily.

“5 calm Arii... 6 calm Arii,” a voice finished. Her eyes snapped open to Xavier scooting closer to her on the bench. A way too big, white t-shirt hung off his skinny frame followed by black leggings that cut off at the calf. “Does saying your name keep you from freaking out?”

Arii gave an embarrassed yelp. She practically flew to the other side of the bench. His footsteps must have been soft as marshmallows. 


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Sat May 14, 2022 7:46 pm
PaigeFantasy wrote a review...



hi! this was interesting to read. the descriptions being both delicious and descriptive. i can just SMELL the pretzels. so good… :)
reminds me of my mom, her being a foodie and all lol.
Arii must really not like Xavier if she had reacted like that. what had happened between them to do that? or is he just annoying?
this story was unique, and i like the way you told the life of a dancer. good job. :)




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Mon Mar 14, 2022 2:52 pm
RandomTalks wrote a review...



Hey Dest!

RandomTalks here with a short review!

This was actually a very nicely constructed first chapter. I did not expect to get into the story so immediately, but the simplicity of your use of language and the quirkiness of the character's narration hooks the readers to the story and at once pulls them in for the journey. Your words were easy to follow, they proved for a simple and yet entertaining read. I also really liked the way the story emitted the same energy as the character. I could feel Arii's personality embedded in every one of her thoughts and it is really great how you have managed to bring her alive in the very first chapter of the novel.

“Ariiana Daniels and Xavier Miles …”

I like the way you have opened the novel here. Usually, when starting on a novel, I prefer a bit of context before diving into the scenes because it is easer to know what you are getting into that way. However, you have opened directly with a scene, and the introductory sentence itself had just the right amount of exasperation and punch that can be found throughout the rest of the chapter. It sets the mood and tone right away and acts as a great hook as the readers immediately become curious as to what must have happened to elicit such a strong reaction from the character.

Besides the sell-your-soul-for-a-mere-whiff pretzels, the Harvest festival youth dance segment was the highlight.

I really liked the fact that you did not immediately go into the details of the festival. It forms an important background for the novel as the very story seems to be based around this dance segment. You included short, direct descriptions and scattered them all over, so that the reader can form their own idea about what the scene looks like without getting into all the repetitive particulars. Your descriptions were very much in line with the tone of the story and I liked the fact that you were always providing us with visuals. So even if we are moving from one point to the other, we can always imagine the scene playing out.

Arii shrugged off the straps to her glittery fairy wings and tucked them beneath her arm, feeling her mood darkened. Did the Winsley festival have something against her now?

Coming to the characters, Arii seems like a very well established character with a very unique voice of her own. She feels like a teenager, sharp and sarcastic, if not a little snappy at times. Her thoughts are presented in a manner that we can actually feel her personality in them, and I like how it helps the narration take a voice of its own. I did feel that she was a little dramatic at times though. Her thoughts and reactions just seem a little too much sometimes without any reason, and it takes away the uniqueness of her character as she feels like just another character taken out from a YA novel. However, it may be because we have only met this character and we do not really understand her motivations right now. For example, this entire dance thing at the festival seems to be a voluntary initiative of hers. And even if its not, I find it a little interesting how she takes interest in the dance program, but is not willing to put the work into it. She seems adverse to the idea of being partners with Xavier for the sole reason that it would require her to work hard and I was a little surprised at the lengths she was willing to go to change the partnership. Maybe, despite the confidence with which she carries herself, she really is just scared that she wouldn't be able to live up to Xavier's performance.

Her eyes snapped open to Xavier scooting closer to her on the bench.

It was interesting how Xavier was in the background of the plot from the very beginning of the chapter, and yet we only got to meet his character at the very end. Throughout the chapter, we heard different characters describe him, speak of him and compliment his dancing skills. All of it led to an idea being formed in our mind; we drew a sketch of him in front of our eyes and fitted it wherever he was mentioned. It made his character all the more compelling; the anticipation to finally meet this character we have been hearing about from the very beginning. It also made the scene of his entry at the end more exciting as it was barely long enough to confirm our idea about this boy.

Arii felt grateful though he was her dad. What else was he supposed to do?

Here, I did not understand the meaning of the sentence. You have phrased it in a way that seems like Arii is asking what else her father was supposed to do than be her father. It does not make much sense though, or maybe I did not get what you were trying to say. But I agree with Plume that the bit with her grandmother seemed a little unnecessary. Maybe, her father ties directly to the story as Arii was heading to him before she was interrupted by Xavier, but her grandmother does not have any need to take up much space of the narration right now, especially because we were already at a pause and were waiting for Arii to take the plot forward.

There are some other things I am curious about. The main one being, the title of the novel. For some reason, mentions of pretzels came popping up at random corners of the story and since it is in the very title of the novel, I was wondering what role it plays in the larger theme of the story? I was also a bit surprised by your decision to end the chapter in the middle of a scene like that/ I get that you were trying to maintain the suspense of meeting Xavier, but the way you cut off seemed a little abrupt and I had to pause a moment to realize that the chapter was over there.

Overall, this was a really great beginning to the story. I am curious to see where you take it.

That's all!

Keep writing and have a great day!




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Thu Feb 17, 2022 3:33 am
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Plume wrote a review...



Hey there! Plume here, with a review! I noticed your work has been in the Green Room for a bit, so I decided to give it a review!!

I think so far, your story is very good! I read what I think was a first draft of it from 2018 that you published on here, because I wasn't sure if I was coming into the story a few chapters late, but it looks like this is a rewrite. I love the improvements you've made!! It definitely feels like it could be published in like, a short story magazine for kids.

One thing I think you did very well was the flow. I really loved how you started with an already-established conflict and then had Arii go through one method of trying to fix it before she's ultimately confronted with it at the end. I think the background knowledge about the Harvest Festival was evenly dispersed throughout, so it didn't feel like a big, expository infodump at the beginning, and all the info you shared about it was relevant. I think your character descriptions were really lovely too, and throughout, you peppered in lines that were either very humorous or relatable. Overall, I think you succeeded in making it very engaging. Nice work!!

Specifics

Watching Xavier by himself would’ve been fun, but the added stress of having to perform with him… NOOOO!


I thought that that "NOOO" was a little jarring to read. I think instead of that, you could just explain how it made Arii feel.

Well, she could try but the festival coordinators were probably the sensitive, artsy type, so they would most def take that as mouthing off.


Since this is a written work of prose and it appears in the narration, I'd change "def" to "definitely." Generally, slang terms are only really acceptable in the dialogue of a professional story.

Why couldn’t tutu’s have pockets?


Small thing here: "tutu's" should be "tutus," since you're just using the plural form.

It sucked she didn’t have any good news for her dad. Arii’s father was like a flexible empath. Somehow, he could turn off sharing feelings and emotions with his patients at the hospital but not with her. He would surely feel her waves of disappointment and confusion before she opened her mouth.


I'm not sure if all the paragraphs about Arii's dad and grandma are necessary. While they add nice details, the details aren't exactly relevant. I think maybe a couple sentences' worth of description would suffice for the both of them, since it seems like the main conflict here is between Xavier and and Arii and between Arii and herself.

Overall: nice work!! This is definitely reminiscent of a story one would read in a children's literary magazine. I think you did a really nice job introducing the conflict, and I'm curious to see how Arii and Xavier's conversation goes! Until next time!!




Dest says...


Thank you so much for the feedback! I really appreciate it because I know how long it can take to read something and then go back to highlight areas for improvement. I%u2019ll make those changes you suggested.

Yes, this is the rewritten version from the original 2018. It had to be done because that one was lacking a lot.



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Sat Jan 29, 2022 8:41 am
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Manjari Agrawal says...



hi, nice story, love it.





He began to wonder why he had felt uneasy at all. It was like a man wondering in broad daylight why a dream had appeared so terrible to him at night.
— Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart