The holiday season had crashed upon Kendall's Dance Studio in a tidal wave of festive greenery, spangly cut-out banners wishing good cheer, and strategically placed dangling bits of mistletoe. With the Pan Pacific Grand Prix only a few weeks behind them, love was still in the air; Fran carefully backed down the ladder, knuckles going white as it trembled a couple of times, then leaned back with a smile on the last step to admire her handiwork.
She promptly fell backwards, tripping on nothing, "Mierda!" springing to her lips before she had even finished over-balancing. Luckily, she never hit the floor: Scott was there to catch her, tangling her in his arms and his mischievous grin. He turned all her falls into dancing now, and this time was like all the others: he spun her out to his finger-tips, the flick of his wrist inviting her to return to him again, before he led her away from the ladder in a sinuous arc of hip-swaying glory.
She took the impromptu dance as an excuse to survey her handiwork (when she could tear her eyes from Scott's, anyway): holiday decorations decking the walls in green and white and red? Check. A table set up with searing orange-red table-cloth (because that was the only appropriate color Shirley Hastings owned) for the refreshments? Check. Fairy lights dangled in the windows, not yet turned on in the waning afternoon, and the chalk lay swirled on the floor like -- well, like chalk, which doesn't glitter and is really nothing like snow.
It was nearly 30 degrees. Even in his shirt sleeves, Scott was already sheened with a layer of sweat that was rather disturbingly attractive. Drawing in a ragged breath and summoning a saucy smile, Fran stepped away from the circle of Scott's arms, playfully laying her palm flat on his chest. With a staccato beat drummed out by her heels, she rapidly backed him toward the ladder. His face betrayed his surprise at her initiative, while the fire in his gaze suggested his satisfaction at the turnabout.
They bumped up against the ladder, where Fran cut her eyes above Scott's head and his gaze shortly followed suit. It was Fran's turn to lead, to show Scott the steps; as the mistletoe swayed in the breeze of the oscillating fan, the two kissed with holiday intensity.
Liz Holt was flushed with self-approbation; well, either that or the Tropical Macaw blush, only $12.95 (a bargain, really) that she'd bought from Shirley Hastings. Not only had she been the one to restore the music at the Pan Pacific Grand Prix, thus single-handedly saving the day so that true love and spontaneous dancing could reign, but she'd discovered that she had a penchant for devising new steps.
She'd never expected that utter humiliation could be so freeing. She had nothing to lose anymore.
Smirking at her reflection in the dance studio bathroom's mirror, she finished putting on her sparkling ornament earrings. They were almost large enough to go on an actual Christmas tree, which Liz thought appropriate rather than gaudy. A glittering green bodice wrapped snugly around her flat tummy, flaring out in a swishy silver skirt; she thought that was appropriate too.
Her smiled broadened and she twirled, bursting out onto the main dance floor where the annual Christmas dance was in full swing. She sashayed into the center of a half dozen confused couples, her screeched "HAPPY CHRISTMAS!" heightening the effect, until she was able to pose dramatically in the center of a hastily cleared area. Everyone stared at her and she trembled, ever so slightly, with anticipation.
The music changed, a foxy version of "All I Want for Christmas Is You." It was perfect.
Liz Holt was tired of the man leading, tired of following where her partners went. She was done being defined by the Scott Hastings and the Ken Railingses and the Barry Fifes. She was ready to be defined by Liz Holt and, if it took dancing by herself, so be it.
Teeth flashing in a frenetic ecstasy, Liz began to dance.
Liz was actually managing to upstage Scott and Fran at the Kendall's Dance Studio official holiday bash; for all Fran's new acquired skill and inherent talent, she was prone to clumsiness and still had so much to learn. Scott didn't have eyes for any of it just now, Shirley knew: now he saw only promises in every twitch of her hips, noted only fire in her lips and eyes. Even being allowed to embrace his own style, he'd lost the competitive edge.
The rim of the punch cup in her hand was smeared with bright pink lipstick as she drank too long, critical thoughts shuttering through her brain like cards on a rolodex. Her makeup was melting in the heat of summer and the press of dancers. Shirley couldn't help the thoughts, but she could realize she didn't care about any of them. Not today, not tomorrow, perhaps not this month. And it wasn't because she had her happy face on - it's because she was, actually, happy.
She found her eyes straying over to her bespectacled man, so long stooped by a life lived in fear. By her life lived in fear partially, she realized. She'd been obsessed with winning for so many decades, for teaching winners, for forging winners out of her own children: so many fake gingerbread boys and girls, pressed from the same molds and expected to dance out in never-changing forms, the only differences between them their raisin-eyes or candy-buttons.
She bit the head off the gingerbread man in her hand. To hell with a strictly ballroom life!
She went tripping off toward Doug a moment later, pausing to watch as he puttered about with his camera. He swung around at her approach and she slowed, tossing her upswept lemon curls and affecting a coquettish prance. The lens of the camera swung down, but not enough to lose her in the frame.
Doug's eyes emerged, owlish behind his lens, full of a lambent hope. Shirley paused, suddenly overcome, almost feeling she could see herself thirty years ago reflected in Doug's eyes: a spunky and lissome peacock, not afraid of anything.
"Doug," she started, but he had already put the camera down and was pulling her into his arms. She swallowed the rest of her words and let him lead her into the dance.
Tina Sparkle really had no idea why she was at the holiday social hosted by Kendall's Dance Studio, except that her coach had said "New steps are in!" and "Better hobnob with the Hastings, Tina, because Fife is out!" She really wasn't sure what to think of any of this, beyond the dull ache of losing the Pan Pacific Grand Prix after she'd worked so hard and put up with Ken's odious gropings and alcoholic stench. (Okay, and also after she'd made a deal under the table to win - but Barry Fife had approached her first, and a girl likes to be a champion.)
She shifted uncomfortably next to the refreshments table, studying a headless gingerbread man someone had carelessly left next to the punch bowl.
"You and me are the misfits, then," she told it, before chucking it into the conscientiously attendant bin. No one had asked her to dance all evening. This repeatedly shocked her sense of the social graces before she remembered, again and again, that she'd been a traitor complicit with Barry Fife.
Well, she'd paid for that, hadn't she? She'd lost the trophy. She'd lost massive standing in the community. She'd even lost her partner, although Ken Railings wasn't anything to weep over.
Tina Sparkle wasn't used to being sans partner.
Unconsciously swaying to the rhythm of the music, Tina's eyes roved the dance floor until they drifted to a stop on her favorite subject. Liz Holt was a force to behold, a startling winter carnival goddess blowing through the heat of summer: her silver skirt flared with every daring move, flashing intoxicating glimpses of flesh with every prancing leap. Tina thought the room had grown a little warmer, and wondered vaguely if there was any ice remaining in the punch bowl.
Then their eyes met, and any thoughts Tina might have had melted away. She didn't realize she'd stepped out toward the dance floor until Liz met her half-way, flashing that hungry smile of hers.
"Dropped Ken, did you?" Liz opened, in her raucously direct manner.
Tina nodded. "Yeah, I just couldn't deal with him. No class."
She stood awkwardly for a moment, unconsciously leaning toward the shorter woman. Liz stepped toward her, taking Tina's waist in her arm, and asked, "How long's it been since you danced with a girl?"
"Too long," Tina breathed and found herself lost, like a beginner, in new steps.