She knows she’s made a mistake before the class even begins.
For starters, the dance studio is small; it looks like it can barely handle five people, let alone the fifteen or so that are in the room. Regina chose the school specifically because it was far away from her office—even the thought of someone knowing she signed up for dance lessons makes her grimace—but may have overshot given the dilapidated building they’re in and the paint peeling off of the walls in the hallway.
Secondly, the majority of those signed up for the class seem to be Regina’s age, but they also seem to know each other, judging by the fact that several are standing in cliquey little groups, talking. They’re bubbly, likely here to meet new people and make friends, and a sneer stretches across her face before she can suppress it.
But the biggest clue is the instructor. Regina had found Miss Blanchard’s Ballroom for Beginners class online, and judging by the name she had expected someone older, more reserved. Someone more refined. Instead, Miss Blanchard is all wide smiles and teeth and sparkling eyes as she personally greets every person that comes through the door.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Miss Blanchard grins as she extends her hand, and Regina hesitates longer than appropriate before she takes it. “Is this your first dance class?”
Miss Blanchard is still holding her hand, but Regina pulls it back, a tight lipped smile all she can muster in the face of the other woman’s enthusiasm. “It is.”
“Excellent,” she says, eyes crinkling as her smile widens. Those teeth again. “You can set your things down over there,” she gestures to a table in the corner of the room, covered in coats and bags. “If you need to change there’s a bathroom down the hall where you came in. We’re going to be starting in about ten minutes,” she adds, glancing at the clock barely hanging on the wall.
“Alright,” Regina manages, as the woman's effervescence mellows a little when she shares the information. Perhaps she’ll be more tolerable once we begin, Regina tries to tell herself. Miss Blanchard smiles once more before touching Regina’s forearm with a gentle pat and turning away. Her long yellow skirt flows wide around her calves, and Regina breathes out slowly.
The studio is warm, and the light Spring trenchcoat she has on is already stifling, so she begins to unbuckle the belt as she moves into the studio to the table Miss Blanchard had mentioned. It doesn’t look incredibly stable. The weight of the few items already on the tabletop looks like it’s testing the strength of every screw holding it together.
Lips pursed, she slides her bag off of her shoulder slowly, and sets it on the side of the table pressed up against the wall. She unbuttons the coat next, and slips it off before folding it over once and setting it down beside her purse.
Across the room she hears a few people shouting and laughing, and when she turns back to face the door she sees a couple entering the studio, and waving at a few of the others. Regina’s barely been here for five minutes, and she’s already feeling out of place.
Most of the other women are in longer skirts or yoga pants, and Regina glances down at the grey sheath dress she’s wearing. It’s movable, something she’d considered before dressing in the morning, but it’s likely not going to be ideal. Still, it’s what she’s worn, so she runs her hands over the front to smooth out any wrinkles from her jacket and pulls her phone from her purse.
It’s not quite 7pm, and since she has time before the class begins she wants to check in with Henry. Immediately she sees a text from Marian, but when she opens it the message just reads: Henry had dinner and is doing his homework. He wants me to tell you to have fun. Please, just try?
Regina’s lips twitch at the text, at the sentiment from her son and the exasperation from her friend. Glancing around, she sees that the majority of the others are still in their little groups, talking animatedly and laughing. Exhaling slowly, she types back: I’m surrounded by teenagers in the bodies of thirtysomethings. Fun in this situation seems highly unlikely.
She’s locking her phone and putting it away when she hears, “I haven’t seen you around here before,” in an overly-silky voice behind her. Turning, she sees a shark of a man, teeth bared in a way he seems to think is charming.
Rather than reply to the obvious come-on, she waits for him to identify why he’s talking to her. He seems confused at first, a little speechless at her lack of response. “I’m Dr. Victor Whale,” he holds out a hand. “And you are?”
Her irritation is instant; she has no interest in tiptoeing around this man, especially after a long day. Baring her own teeth, she gives a false smile. “Not interested,” she says, and holds eye contact with him as his hand drops to his side.
“OK, it looks like we’re ready to start,” Miss Blanchard says near the mirrored wall at the front of the small room.
Regina follows the others as they move closer to the front, and brushes past Dr. Whale to the other side of the room. She has a feeling she knows what kind of fun Marian would like her to have, but even if she were open to the idea—and she absolutely is not—it wouldn’t be with anyone who drops a title in their first ten words.
“It looks like we have a few new faces today,” she smiles at two girls in the back, and then looks at Regina, her eyes soft and face sweet. Regina fights the urge to roll her eyes. “My name is Mary Margaret, and I think it’d be nice to introduce ourselves first.”
Lovely, Regina grits her teeth. “Circle up,” Mary Margaret gestures with her hand, and the class steps back until they roughly form a circle. “David, will you start?”
“I’m David,” he holds a palm up in greeting, before looking to his left and nodding for the woman beside him to go. They’re halfway through the circle—just about to Regina—when she sees movement at the now-closed double doors to the room. They open almost silently, just a small thud as the right door separates from the left, and then a woman starts to slip through them, moving carefully.
It’s clear she’s trying not to pull focus, in the way she holds the handle bar down and rolls her shoulders to the side. However her movements aren’t graceful, her arms are too long and she knocks the toe of her boot into the other door as she tries to turn to close them.
“I’m Ariel,” the woman beside her says in a sweet voice, and before Regina can take her turn, the woman at the door completely wipes out; her bag catches between the doors as they close, and in tugging on the strap she ends up flat on her back.
The rest of the circle finally notices her at the noise, and Regina purses her lips to still the amusement spreading across them. “Emma,” Mary Margaret says sadly, disappointment hinting at the edge of the name.
“Sorry I’m late,” she winces, and stands up, finally tugging her messenger bag free and letting the doors close with a bang.
Emma tries to duck her head as she moves toward the coat table, and Mary Margaret moves her focus off of the other woman and back to Regina. She raises her brows to indicate Regina should introduce herself.
“My name is Regina,” she murmurs, and tries not to get stuck watching the clumsy woman struggling to take her hideous leather jacket off. Emma hurries from the table to join the end of the circle next to Mary Margaret, smiling apologetically at the teacher as the circle wraps up introductions.
“Wonderful,” Mary Margaret claps her hands once, and reclaims her place at the front of the room. “Tonight we’ll be working on the waltz, so we’ll start off with some of the basics, and then we can break off into pairs.
“Let’s spread out, and everyone can find some space.” Regina walks slowly closer to the wall behind her, and clasps her hands in front of her, waiting. One of the other women—Mulan, if she remembers correctly—comes to stand at her side, an appropriate distance away, and nods at her in acknowledgement, but nothing more. It’s a nice change from the loud squealing and laughing from the other students, and Regina settles a bit.
Almost as soon as she thinks it there’s another bark of laughter behind her, and she can’t help but turn toward the sound. It’s Emma, who apparently insists on being a disruption through the whole class. Regina watches for a moment in disgust as she elbows one of the younger men in the side before she pulls her long hair up into a ponytail.
“We’re going to start with the basic box step,” Mary Margaret says, and the room starts to quiet again. “As the name implies, we’re going to be making a square with our movements. Start with your left foot,” she taps her thigh softly, “and step forward.”
She waits for the rest of the class to copy the movement. “Now bring your right foot up to meet the left, and over to your right side so you’ve made an L with your steps.” Regina does as instructed, up and over, and settles in the new spot. “And now to finish the box, we step back with our right foot, then over with our left.” She finishes the step. “Up and over, back and over. Go ahead and try it.”
Regina hesitates a moment, feeling foolish and exposed in the front row, and doing something so simple. Gritting her teeth, she tries to focus on her own movements only, stepping forward, then to the side, back and to the side.
“You’re doing wonderfully,” Mary Margaret says, as she walks along the front of the line. “Keep going.”
Shaking her hair back over her shoulders, Regina repeats her movements, feeling far too stiff with her small steps and angular movement. “Perfect, Regina,” Mary Margaret smiles at her as she passes, and the compliment makes Regina grit her teeth harder.
They continue like this for at least two full minutes, but Regina has already done the step what feels like a hundred times. Still the repetition is oddly soothing, and she falls into the rhythm easily.
“Now,” Mary Margaret says, drawing their focus back up. “For each half of the box, you’re going to take a quarter turn,” she says, and raises her arms up in her frame as she demonstrates. “Take your first step forward, and pivot your body to the right so that your second step,” she taps her right leg before returning to her hold, “lands with you facing the other wall.” Dropping her arms, she nods, “Go ahead.”
Regina feels more foolish this time—somehow—as she pivots her body per the instruction and turns to see Mulan’s back as she does the same. Again, and Emma is in front of her, shoulders slouched but arms slightly raised like she’s copying Mary Margaret.
Regina must be a split-second slower than Emma, who turns to catch her out of the corner of her eye before Regina’s feet move again, turning her toward the wall beside her, head forward. “Excellent,” Mary Margaret beams, and soft music starts to fill the room. “Keep going.”
She moves from the wall, to the front, to Mulan—looking uncomfortable, but rather graceful—and then to Emma. Regina keeps her focus forward this time, moving to the music and watching her breathing as she twirls.
“Wonderful! Alright, let’s partner up, and we can talk about rise and fall.” The room starts to pair off, and Regina stays in her own dance space, feeling unexpectedly exposed. Dr. Whale catches her eye from a few feet away, the other women having mostly paired up already, but he barely takes a step toward her before he reroutes and smiles tightly at one of the older women near him, holding out his hand.
The dancers have almost all been paired off, Mulan and a shy man with glasses being one of the last, and Regina holds her head up high and doesn’t shift on her heels at the odd sense of rejection she feels.
“Hey,” Regina hears from behind her, and when she turns she sees Emma standing there, hands stuffed in her back pockets. “So I guess it’s you and me?”
Looking around, she sees that the entire rest of the class has in fact partnered off. Still, she turns to Emma and sizes her up; she’d rather not end up with a broken toe, considering the clumsiness Regina has witnessed already.
Emma’s got knee-high boots on over skinny jeans, and a long-sleeved shirt pushed up to her elbows. She’s tall and lean, almost a little gangly, and Regina finds it likely that she doesn’t have the greatest control of her limbs. Overall, Emma doesn’t look very promising. But considering her only other real option is to continue practicing on her own in front of a dozen or so other adults, it seems she will have to do.
“I suppose it is,” Regina finally answers, and takes a step closer to her.
“Emma Swan,” she holds out a hand, but keeps the other in her pocket.
Regina is hesitant before she takes the proffered hand, but gives a small smile when Emma’s fingers settle for the briefest moment on her own. “Regina Mills,” she flips her hair away from her face with her free hand, and then pulls back from their handshake.
“OK, so now that you’re all paired up, David could you come demonstrate with me?” David smiles at Mary Margaret before weaving his way through a few couples, and coming to stand at her side. “Face your partner, and we’re going to go over the frame. Posture is very important in ballroom dance, and you need to make sure that you are standing up straight, lifting through your ribcage,” she illustrates her words, “and keep your shoulders parallel to the ground when you hold your frame.”
Mary Margaret raises her arms. “Ladies, you should have your right hand up like this,” she moves her wrist to indicate her right, fingers curled into a light C as she speaks, “at eye height. Your left hand will rest just below your partner’s shoulder, on their upper arm.”
Nodding her head, she looks at David. “Gentlemen, take your lady’s right hand with your left, and you will place your right hand with your fingers resting on her shoulder blade.” Mary Margaret quiets, and the couples turn to one another.
“Uh,” Emma starts, shifting between her feet. “Want me to lead?”
Regina waits for a moment before she slowly agrees. “If you’d like,” she says with a nod, and raises her arms up, shoulders back. When Emma doesn’t immediately step into their hold, she quirks a brow. “Is something the matter?”
“Uh, no,” she steps forward, and settles her fingers around Regina’s hand. It takes a moment for Regina to place her hand on Emma’s arm, and as she slides her palm up she can’t help but notice the strong muscle there, surprising on such a slight—and uncoordinated—woman. Perhaps gangly isn’t quite an appropriate adjective after all.
Regina looks up and they are much closer than she realized, even though they have plenty of space between them. Still, Emma is a stranger, and so when she closes that distance so she can settle her hand on Regina’s back, Regina swallows hard.
Emma’s hand is too low, resting on her waist, and so Regina looks her in the eye. “I believe your hand goes on my back, Miss Swan,” she says with a raised eyebrow. “I understand you may have some issues with spatial reasoning, but I prefer not begroped as you work those out.”
“Sorry,” Emma winces, and her hand slides up from Regina’s waist to her upper back. Her fingers glance the dip of her spine on the way up and Regina can’t help but feel gooseflesh rise on her arms.
“Keep your elbows up,” Mary Margaret instructs, “and try your box step with your partner.”
Emma looks back to her from Mary Margaret, and clears her throat. “So uh,” she says as she steps forward with her left foot. Regina barely has a chance to step back herself, and she narrows her eyes. “You saw that?”
Emma gestures toward the door with her head, and Regina purses her lips. She steps forward now as Emma steps back. “Your graceful entrance, dear? How could I have missed it?
“Great,” Emma rolls her eyes, but her eyes are full of self-deprecating humor when she looks at Regina. It’s a little startling, holding eye contact with another person for this long, in this close proximity. A stranger, no less. “I hate those doors,” she mumbles, and her fingers flex on Regina’s back.
“Perhaps you should be on time then,” Regina can’t help but respond, and she holds Emma’s eyes even as they narrow at the comment.
“Yeah, I guess I should,” her words are a concession, but her tone is placating, and Regina angles her head to the side a bit, intrigued.
“And now turning,” Mary Margaret announces as she and David begin to turn around in a circle with their movements.
Emma begins to spin them, and Regina tries to take larger steps to match Emma’s pace. It seems Regina’s comment has struck a nerve.
“Shouldn’t you be dancing with your friend?” Regina asks after they’ve turned in a full circle.
Brows furrowing in confusion, Emma asks, “What?” Regina nods over Emma’s shoulder to the man she’d been elbowing. “Will?” She snorts, and shakes her head. “No way. He comes here to hit on girls. Plus he’s like a brother to me.”
“I see,” Regina murmurs, and refocuses on the dance steps. They’re becoming second nature again, falling into an easy step with Emma. She’s not big on small talk, or getting to know a stranger, to be quite honest, but the thought of being this close to this stranger in silence seems somehow less appealing. “Does that mean you come here often?” Regina asks.
And Emma starts laughing, her eyes twinkling with amusement as her arms start to fall out of hold and her shoulders slump. Regina stops moving, her eyes narrowing, and she realizes what she’s said. With a grimace, she pulls her hand from Emma’s and holds it up. “That wasn’t—”
“I had a feeling you weren’t the type to pull your punches, but…” she trails off, and before Regina can respond, Mary Margaret pulls their focus again.
“It looks like everyone has it, so now let’s go over rise and fall.” Regina drops her hand from Emma’s arm and turns toward the front, glancing only once at Emma out of the corner of her eye. Embarrassment still burns hot in her chest, and she breathes slowly to try and snuff it out.
“When you step forward, be sure to shift your weight to the ball of your foot, so that your heel lifts from the ground. You’ll stay on the balls of your feet as you move, but your heels should drop a bit further to the ground when you take the second step, so you have rise,” she and David demonstrate slowly, freezing on the rise. “And fall,” and they both step into place, their heels dropping lower, but not touching the ground. “Rise,” they take another step, raising on the balls of their feet, “and fall,” and settle so their heels touch the ground.
“So we’ve gone over the basic step, now let’s talk about turns. For the men, you’re going to start the box step like always,” David leads her forward. “But then you’re going to raise your left hand higher, and guide the woman through your arm. Then finish the box, and only pivot to meet her at the end.
“Ladies, you’re going to go under his arm on step two, then take step three, and another one, two three,” she steps in a circle, “to meet him again.” She and David demonstrate a few more times, before they turn to face the rest of the class. “Thank you, David,” she smiles, and he heads back to his partner in the middle of the room.
Regina licks her lips, hopefully ready to move past her unfortunate comment, but Emma is smiling at her when they face each other again. “Shall we?”
Nodding sharply, Regina steps back into Emma’s space and takes her hand again, resting her own back into position. Mary Margaret turns the music up, and Emma resettles her hand on Regina’s shoulder blade. Her fingers grip Regina’s hand a bit tighter now, and she steps forward until they are close.
Emma moves forward, Regina back, and she tries to focus on staying on the balls of her feet. The rise is easier than she’d expected, and when Emma starts to rotate them again to move in a wider arc, she follows easily. “Turn?” she prompts, and when Regina nods in confirmation Emma holds her hand up high, and lets Regina spin beneath.
Her steps are small and a bit too slow, but Emma pivots like she’s supposed to, and is there to meet Regina as she comes back into her space. “You’re a natural,” Emma smiles, but there’s a hint of a smirk behind it, like she’s teasing Regina. “Now we’re even on the pick-up lines, right?”
“Mine wasn’t a pick-up line,” Regina bristles, but continues to follow Emma’s movements back, to the side, forward, to the side.
“And neither was mine,” Emma shrugs as she guides Regina into another spin. When they rejoin, Emma applies a bit of pressure to her back, and lifts their arms until they’ve angled a bit to finish the spin.
“You don’t seem all that inexperienced,” Regina notes, and is sure to keep her expression neutral and free of all traces of innuendo—despite the words that seem to scream anything but, suddenly.
Thankfully, Emma doesn’t comment this time, just continues to sway Regina around the room. While the motion had been a bit soothing earlier, it’s starting to become almost enjoyable; she’s not entirely displeased with her presence in the class, it seems.
“I’ve been to a handful of these classes. Plus I’m friends with a few of the others,” she nods her chin toward Will, “and Mary Margaret’s my roommate.”
Regina can’t help but raise her brows at the last bit. “I see,” she murmurs, but doesn’t, exactly. Emma is friendly, but doesn’t seem quite as chipper as the other woman.
Pursing her lips, Emma looks at Regina for a long moment. Too long, really, with their close proximity and the pressure of Emma’s hand on her back. The feeling is beginning to grow into something pleasant, which Regina is absolutely not here for. Besides, she knows that it must have nothing to do with the woman who is touching her, and everything to do with the touch itself—something she stopped treating interchangeably years ago—considering how rare physical contact was these days.
“Yeah, trust me, I didn’t think it was going to work when we moved in together either.” Emma seems to tug her closer, and her steps begin to pick up in speed slightly, until they’re with the music perfectly. “But she had an extra room and I needed a place to crash…”
“Mmmm,” Regina murmurs, and lets music fill the silence between them
They continue to dance for several minutes, swaying gently with the steps. Their eyes meet several times, and each seems to be more and more intrusive, this shared moment between no-longer-strangers.
Eventually, Mary Margaret calls them back to the front to end the class. The hour has gone by more quickly than she’d expected, especially after her initial impression, and she’s not terribly dreading the second class next Thursday.
“It looked magical,” Mary Margaret swoons, and this time Regina does roll her eyes covertly as she turns to get her coat from the table at the back.
The dancing has left her warmer than expected, perspiration leaving the back of her neck slightly damp, and she runs her fingers through her hair to get it away from her warm face. “It’s more exercise than it seems, right?” Emma comments beside her, and she hums in acknowledgement.
It’s too warm for her coat right now, and her car is parked just around the corner of the building outside. So she slips her purse back on to her shoulder and drapes the coat over her arm. “There’s a diner, just a few blocks down that a few of us go to after,” Emma reaches toward the table to grab her jacket, and slips it on. “If you wanna come with.”
Regina watches Emma closely as she ducks her head under the strap of her messenger bag and adjusts it as she steps from the table to let another get their things. “I thought you weren’t using a line earlier,” Regina raises a brow slowly in challenge.
“I wasn’t,” Emma defends, and Regina watches her tilt her head down a little. “I mean, I’m not.” Her brows furrow a little. “It’s a group thing,” she says, and it sounds a bit guarded.
“Of course,” Regina nods, and shakes out her jacket before resettling it on her arm. “But I’m afraid I’ll need to pass. Good night, Miss Swan.”
She moves past her quickly, and tugs her phone from the purse pocket as she heads toward the door. “Bye, Regina,” she replies, and Regina barely hears it before she’s leaving through the double doors and heading down the hallway toward the exit.
“How was it?” Marian asks as she opens the door, a hopeful smile on her face.
Regina hesitates, but steps over the threshold when Marian gestures for her to come in. She’s cooled since the class, and her trench coat is back on her shoulders, but left unbuckled. “It was rather unexpected, I suppose.”
“And is that good unexpected?” Her hopeful face grows a bit more mischievous, and she asks in a softer voice, “Did you dance with one of the teenage-thirtysomethings?”
Regina huffs out a laugh, and follows Marian through the foyer and toward the living room where she expects her son to be. Before they near the archway of the space, she licks her lips and clasps her hands in front of her. “I did,” she purses her lips. “One that came in ten minutes late and tripped all over herself in the process.”
“Herself,” Marian smiles slowly, and steps closer to Regina; one of about four living people that can without repercussion. Five, if she counts Emma Swan, though the thought alone is ridiculous. After all, it hardly seems fair to accept a stranger when the only reason to do so was circumstance. Clinical circumstance, even.
“Well,” Marian crosses her arms, and leans against the wall at her side. She’s dressed down for the night, in jeans and a homey sweater, a far cry from the suit she wore to the office that day. “I suppose that is unexpected for a dance class. Did you choose her?” Marian’s glee at such girl talk is apparent, and Regina only manages to contain her derision because she has become accustomed to the flaw. Not to mention that Kathryn and Marian usually get this aspect of friendship out of their systems with the other, leaving Regina out of it.
Unless she is the source of that girl talk, it would seem. “No,” she replies easily. “There were more women than men.”
Marian shakes her head a bit. “And you didn’t approach anyone,” she concludes. “Well, I like this girl already if she wasn’t scared off by your aloofness.” Regina narrows her eyes but the threat is hollow. “Henry’s watching TV if you need to get going.”
“Thank you,” Regina exhales, grateful to be moving off of the previous topic of conversation.
“He’s always welcome here, you know,” and Marian’s hand brushes her back as she guides Regina forward. “Plus it gives me some quiet time when Roland is in that big-kid-worship-mode,” she whispers, leaning close with a warm grin.
Their boys have been around each other since Roland was born five years ago, and Regina smiles when they walk into the living room, Roland sitting on the floor, his back against Henry’s leg.
“Hey, mom,” Henry smiles when he sees her come through the doorway. “How was your class?”
“It was fine, dear,” Regina smiles back at him, already growing too big for the 13-year-old he is. “Did you have a nice night?”
“Of course,” Henry beams at his aunt Marian standing at the back of the couch, before she strokes the back of his hair lovingly. “You ready to go?” he asks, and flips on his phone to check the time.
“Yes, do you have everything?”
“In my bag by the door,” he nods, and ruffles Roland’s hair at his knee. “Hey Ro, I gotta go.” Roland looks up at him with those sad, giant, child eyes, and shakes his head.
“So,” Marian slides up to Regina’s side as Roland starts tugging at Henry’s leg—a fight they’ve both seen too many times to count. “When’s your next class?”
“Next week, Thursday.” Marian smiles, and Regina ignores it. “Would you mind picking Henry up again that night?”
“Of course not. Are you going to dance with your klutz?” Regina purses her lips at the moniker.
“The classes cycle through, I have no idea if she’ll be there again.”
“But you want to,” Marian raises her brows, wanting something from her friend.
“Roland, why don’t you come say goodbye to Henry at the door?” Regina ignores Marian’s narrowed eyes at her change of subject, and holds out an arm as Roland rounds the couch to hug her hip.
They walk toward the door, and Regina brushes Roland’s hair away from his face as Henry slips his backpack onto his shoulder.
“I suppose I wouldn’t mind,” she says on a sigh, owing Marina a scrap of gossip for babysitting. “She didn’t step on my toes once,” Regina muses, “which was also rather unexpected.”
“You know, if she’s good on the dance floor—”
“Goodnight, dear,” Regina cuts her off pointedly, and bends down to kiss Roland on the top of the head. “Henry will be back next week, Roland.”
“See ya then, bud,” he shakes Roland’s head lightly with his hand, and then gives Marian a hug before he heads out the door. Regina wonders where it comes from, sometimes—Henry’s affectionate nature—when she herself is only really demonstrative with him.
“So," Henry draws out as they head down the pathway from the house. "You danced with a girl?” Regina looks over at him as she falls into step beside Henry. The question seems teasing—and rhetorical—judging by his smirk. “And you didn’t hate her?”
This time he looks over, and she raises a brow. "It’s rude to eavesdrop, Henry,” she scolds lightly out of habit, but her face falls slightly as she considers his words. “Because she was a woman?”
Slowing as they near the Benz parked at the curb, Henry snorts. “No, because she was a person.” Pursing her lips at her son's snark, Regina slows, too, until they've stopped at the passenger side door. As she reaches into her purse for the keys, Henry asks in a smaller voice, “You met someone you like?”
She's not exactly sure what he's asking, but his question seems heavier than the previous comments. "There are people I like,” she says easily, and resettles her purse on her shoulder. "I like you. I like Roland. And Kathryn and Marian,” most of the time, she adds in her head.
But Henry tilts his head down a little, an unimpressed look on his face. "You know what I mean."
Regina's back stiffens under Henry's stare, and she leans down to unlock the car door before opening it. What he's implying is something they've never discussed—the possibility of her dating—and to be honest, it's not a conversation she ever intends to—or expects to need to—have. After losing her husband a decade ago, and having her son pull away from her for almost two years after discovering he was adopted—and only just getting him back the past year—dating is the furthest thing from her mind.
Not to mention that—should she ever consider it—she's not quite sure how Henry would feel about the idea. If he would go through a fresh sense of rejection and abandonment, if it would make him feel like he wasn't enough for her. If he would pull away from her again. Possibilities she can't stomach even in the abstract.
Flipping her hair back from her face, she turns back to him with a dismissive, "I'm not there to meet anyone, Henry. I'm doing this to learn a skill."
Henry's eyes narrow a bit as he watches her face. "Honestly?"
Regina bristles at the challenge, and the memory of the pact they'd made to be open with one another. "Honestly, dear."
"'kay," he gives her a small but genuine smile, satisfied with her answer, and slips into the passenger seat.
The next class day comes quickly, after a long, busy stretch at work. By Wednesday, she’d considered not going back, the idea of spending an hour in that dance room nearly exhausting on its own.
But Marian—and Kathryn, once the two have had a chance to talk—have spent their time making sure Regina will be doing just that. Is she there again? comes the text from Kathryn, a similar one from Marian not far behind. She ignores them both, and walks into the room quickly, heading straight to the back to deposit her bag and coat. Glancing up as she turns, she sees much of the same crowd as the previous week, but possibly a few different faces. “Hello,” Shy Glasses smiles at her, setting a briefcase and jacket on the center of the table. “Regina, is it?”
“Hello,” she nods, and he slips his glasses off of his nose.
“I’m Archie, it’s nice to meet you.” He wipes his glasses off with a cloth from his pocket and slips them back on his nose. “Was last week your first class?”
Regina crosses her arms over her chest, guarded at the question. “It was. Yours as well?”
He smiles genuinely, and slips his hands into his pockets. “It’s rather fun, isn’t it?” he continues to make conversation, and Regina glances at the clock on the wall—possibly more precariously hung than the previous week—and notes they should be starting soon.
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Archie looks over her shoulder toward the door, and rocks a bit on his heels as he points out, “It looks like your partner is here. Have a nice night, Regina,” he smiles again and steps away from the table to stand beside an older man named Marco.
Emma has indeed arrived, and when she walks through the door she heads to Mary Margaret at the front, who is talking to David animatedly again. Her hand settles on his arm quickly in a familiar gesture, and then she turns her hand to look around the room.
And her eyes settle on Regina. She gives her a small smile before she turns back toward her roommate and stands with them for a bit.
Regina feels warm, despite the light silk shell she wears with her dress pants, and she brushes her hair back from her face as she walks over toward her space in the studio. She tries not to watch as Emma breaks from the others to drop her stuff on the table, but Regina can’t help but sneak a glance out of the corner of her eye as Emma passes.
Mary Margaret laughs at something David says, and then gestures for him to step back toward the rest of the class. “Welcome back,” she addresses toward the entire group, and puts her hands on her hips. “Tonight we’ll pick up where we left off last time with the standard waltz, so let’s partner up.”
“Hey,” Emma slides up next to her, and when Regina turns she’s got both hands stuffed in her back pockets. “I guess it’s us, again?” her eyes open a bit further, and her lips thin as she says it. Behind her, Regina can see that there are still people partnering off; that they aren’t stuck together quite yet, like they’d been the week before.
The implication of Emma seeking her out is a bit too strong, makes her feel like the “girl talk” she’d had to endure all week had a point, and that makes her uncomfortable.
She looks around for a moment, scans the rest of the people in the class. Most of them are young, perky, and Regina has no interest in attempting to partner with any of them. Archie had been calm and tolerable when she’d arrived, but when her eyes fall to him Mulan is tying her hair back into a low ponytail as she comes to stand at his side.
Regina looks back to Emma, shoulders rolled forward as she stands with her hands in her back pockets, a poster for bad posture. Still, she murmurs, “I suppose,” in her most disinterested voice. Emma’s shoulders loosen, but her brows furrow, and it looks like there’s a hint of hurt in her expression.
“Great,” she replies instead, and when she smiles it’s plastic and tight across her lips. “Do you wanna lead this time?”
“Alright,” Regina agrees slowly, a bit surprised at the question. At the front, Mary Margaret is starting to give a brief review of the basic box and turn, David once more helping her demonstrate.
Stepping forward, she raises her arms into frame slowly, the movements not quite as natural as she’s switching sides. Emma slips into her spot, taking Regina’s left hand and letting her own left settle on Regina’s shoulder. Her fingers are firm, but her palm rests gently, and her elbow lifts to let Regina reach around to her back.
Emma’s shoulder blade is solid under her hand, and when they move their arms to fit into their frame more securely, Regina can feel the strong bone shift underneath her hand. It’s an odd sort of intimacy, and she swallows when Emma steps even closer, their chests nearly touching.
The class begins to fall back into the rhythm of the previous week, and Regina takes a small step forward, glancing down at her feet for a moment until she can fall into a smooth sway. When she refocuses on Emma’s face, she can see how her neck is elongated, her shoulders straight, and her chin is held high.
“So,” Emma says, and Regina’s eyes slide up to meet hers. She feels a little caught at the way she was staring at Emma’s features, so she straightens up a bit, and starts to lead them into their rhythm. Emma doesn’t seem to notice, just adjusts her grip on Regina’s hand. “How come you’re taking lessons?”
Regina’s brow arches, and her fingers stiffen slightly on Emma’s back. “Why is that important?”
Emma lets out a low laugh. “Because I figure if we’re going to be doing this for a few more weeks we might as well—”
“Bond?” she cuts Emma off to ask. Regina isn’t entirely sure she meant to, but Emma’s assumption that they’ll be partners for the rest of the lessons makes her nervous, makes her itch a bit. Makes her think too much about that toothy grin Marian gave her when she’d left work a few hours ago.
“I was going to say ‘be friendly’, but apparently that’s not likely any time soon.” Her words are harsh, but when Regina meets her eyes her expression is neutral.
It’s been so long since she’s started a relationship of any kind; the last had been with Marian and Kathryn at work, requiring little effort on her part and a lot of time. Quite frankly, Regina just isn’t sure how to interact with people in a personal—even casual—way.
Perhaps she’s beginning to understand why her friends are taking such joy in her attending these classes. And having a partner in any form.
She isn’t sure she’s comfortable with this reflection, or realizing just how long it has been since she’s had a friendly conversation with someone outside of the office. And Emma has been quiet since her comment, just dancing with her easily, and focusing on a spot beyond her shoulder.
There is something unusually appealing about the quick drop in the conversation, and the complete lack of pressure to continue speaking. “I’m taking these classes for work,” she finally says, and watches Emma’s reaction closely.
Her eyebrows twitch at the answer, and her movements become just a bit smaller. Lips quirking up in a smile, she snorts, “For work? What are you, a spy?”
“I’m afraid my answer will disappoint you, dear,” she says. “I work at a business consulting firm.” Holding out her arm she nods for Emma to spin. Once she’s settled again, Regina adds, “And sometimes we need to woo clients.”
“Woo them, huh?” Emma takes a step backward, amusement playing at her lips. “Woo them by taking them dancing,” she clucks her tongue, and Regina’s eyelashes flutter closed at the way Emma latches on to this. She doesn’t know the woman well—barely knows her at all—but she has a feeling she’s just ramping up. “Who are your prospective clients, the cast of RENT? Billy Elliot?”
Regina opens her eyes. “Are you quite finished, Miss Swan?” she asks, meeting Emma’s eyes as they move away from the center of the room.
“The town from Footloose?”
Brows climbing in irritation, Regina levels Emma with a long look. The other woman doesn’t seem fazed in the least, however. Instead she smiles wide at Regina, and her hand slides up to the curve of her shoulder.
They’ve barely begun the class, and Regina begins to feel her exhaustion from the week begin to lift the tiniest bit as Emma lets the subject drop. “Wouldn’t dancing hurt our chances, in that scenario?”
Emma smiles like she’s trying not to, and her hand resettles in place. “Kevin Bacon, then, I don’t know. Or, that summer camp in the Catskills,” she taps her fingers on the back of Regina’s hand.
“Dirty Dancing, for that last one.” Regina hums in acknowledgement. The music changes, but Regina can see Mary Margaret walking around the room, making corrections in the pairs, so she keeps them dancing. “And I suppose you’re taking this class as some sort of dance-movie junkie?”
“Hardly,” Emma laughs, and lets Regina spin her again. Once she’s back with her hand on Regina’s arm, she nods her chin toward Mary Margaret. “She makes me come to classes, sometimes. To make sure I’m not rotting away in our apartment, or something.”
“I see,” Regina murmurs. “And have you served your sentence now that you’ve come to two classes?”
Emma shrugs. “I don’t know,” she says, and Regina swears she can feel Emma’s fingers almost caress her shoulder as she adds, “I don’t think I mind so much this time.”
Before she can even knock on Marian’s door, Kathryn opens it. Her lips are curled up in an easy but knowing smile, and her eyes are glinting in the low porch light.
“Hello,” Regina purses her lips, and slows as she climbs the last of the few steps. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised you’re here.”
Kathryn crosses her arms over her chest and leans against the frame. She’s blocking Regina’s entry into Marian’s house, and Regina has no doubt that’s her intention. “I don’t know what you mean, Regina. Marian invited me over for dinner.”
“Mmmm,” Regina hums dryly at Kathryn’s feigned innocence, and clasps her hands in front of her. “And did she tell you to keep me out of her house in return?”
Kathryn looks over her shoulder before stepping out onto the porch and pulling the door closed a bit. “There are two impressionable young boys in there, and I wanted to ask you how it went.”
Kathryn’s slight awkwardness around children—even the two boys she’s known for years now—never fails to make itself obvious in her behavior around them. “It was a dance class, dear. And we’re still just learning to waltz. There was nothing untoward about it.”
Kathryn’s lips curl up in a smile. “So there was an it?” Regina does nothing to suppress the irritated flutter of her eyes before she steps forward, brushing past Kathryn to enter her friend’s house. “She was there again?”
“She was?” Marian joins in, entering the foyer from the living room, and smiling at the conversation.
“She was,” Regina confirms, and holds up a hand. “And we danced again, and it was all very clinical.” Both women watch her like they’re waiting for more, for something. “I may as well have been learning how to crochet,” she adds, and her friends look at each other.
And smile. Like Regina gave something away with her denial. (Which, for the record, was just a clarification, not a defensive statement. In any way.) Sighing at the obvious joy they’re gleaning from her situation, Regina crosses her arms over her chest. “With the amount of reality television readily available to the two of you, there is no reason to turn my very uneventful dance class into some great drama.”
Her friends continue to smile, their lips thinning as they try not to start laughing at her words, and so she drops her arms and walks past them to Marian’s living room. Henry is there as he was the previous week, and when Regina comes to stand behind the couch he looks up at her.
“Hi, Mom. How was it?” he asks, and it holds none of the expectation of her friends outside of the room. She’s never been more grateful.
Her mouth relaxes into a smile and her shoulders loosen a bit as she rests one hand on the top of her son’s head, gently brushing his hair away from his forehead. “It was fine, thank you. How was school?”
He shrugs, and bounces his knees up to draw her attention to the open math book in his lap. “School. You ready to go?”
“Hey, Henry? Why don’t you keep working for a bit while we get your mother some tea?” Kathryn says in the archway behind them, eyes darting from Henry to Regina, and giving her a withering look that brooks no argument.
A large part of her would like to just collect Henry and leave, and avoid this dish session she’s about to endure. But logically she know she can’t escape the talk completely, just postpone it, and she’d much rather have this discussion in the confines of Marian’s house than at work.
Henry puts his hand on hers over the back of the couch and says, “I’ve got a test tomorrow, so can we go home in like five minutes?” He’s giving her an out and she’s never been more comfortable with the idea of her little boy growing up.
“Sure, dear,” she squeezes his fingers—my little hero—and turns to follow Kathryn into the kitchen. Marian is already at the stove heating the kettle, and Kathryn slips onto one of the stools at the counter. “Where’s Roland? I would have thought he’d be glued to Henry’s side as usual.”
“He had a field trip at school, so he went to bed early,” Marian says, and leans against the counter. “And you are not going to change the subject.”
Regina’s lips press into an almost grimace, but she takes the seat beside Kathryn, and rests her hands on the counter. “Truly, there’s nothing to tell.” And there isn’t. Although the light conversation she’d had with Emma hadn’t exactly been awful. And the way Emma was both playful—clearly not taking her roommate’s class seriously—and surprisingly smooth as she danced, was possibly the smallest bit charming.
“That’s not true,” Marian narrows her eyes, but her lips are quirked up in a small smile. There is nothing malicious about the way her friends are pressing her, but she doesn’t do personal talks, hasn’t in years. The idea of opening up to anyone—even her closest friends—is enough to make her shoulders stiffen defensively.
“I don’t recall you being there,” she snaps coolly, and it isn’t anywhere near the venom she would give to anyone else, but it’s crueler than she usually is with these two and she clenches her jaw at her own behavior.
But Marian’s smile doesn’t fall, just softens in understanding. And beside her Kathryn leans her head on her hand, like she’s settling in for a long wait, if that’s what it takes.
Curse her patient, patient friends. And their girl talk.
Exhaling, she laces her fingers together. “She invited me out again, after class.”
“Again?” both women ask, catching the detail left out after the previous week’s class.
Regina doesn’t blush—she’s a thirty-eight year old widow after all, not a schoolgirl—but discomfort settles into her spine and makes her want to shift on the stool. “Not in a romantic sense. She asked if I would like to join the class in getting a late dinner after the lesson.”
The kettle whistles, and as Marian lifts it from the burner of the stove, Kathryn smiles too-sweetly at her and tilts her head a bit. “That sounds like a date to me, Regina.”
Brows rising, Regina scoffs, “With other people?” before she can stop herself. Because it doesn’t matter if it was or wasn’t a romantic invitation—which it was not—Regina isn’t interested in anyone, let alone a woman likely ten years her junior with the coordination off the dance floor to match.
Pouring the water for their tea, Marian glances up through her lashes with a sympathetic smile. “I believe the kids call them group dates,” she teases.
“Group hangs, moms,” Kathryn corrects, eyes sparkling. Marian laughs as she steeps the tea, and Regina feels a smile tugging at her own lips. When she reaches for the mug Marian starts to slide her way, Kathryn reaches out, and sets gentle fingers on her wrist, and clears her throat.
She stiffens, knowing what’s coming next, and the humor leaves her face, her body. “Regina,” she begins, and holds firm even as Regina starts to pull her arm back. “I’m not going to push,” she looks to Marian, “neither of us is. But we just wanted to remind you that it is OK...”
Kathryn doesn’t finish her sentence, and Marian just watches her with kind eyes, reiterating her sentiment. That it’s OK for Regina to move on, to date someone, to stop mourning Daniel.
They’re both wrong, of course; she will never stop mourning the death of her husband.
Her vision begins to blur slightly and so she blinks, slips her hand from Kathryn’s grip and brings the mug Marian has made for her to her lips. It’s hot—scalding, nearly—but the slight pain of the heated porcelain is a good distraction from the topic at hand.
Both women are still waiting for a response, and Regina is ready to give her usual it’s not OK, and I don’t want to move on, and that is all I have to say on the matter. But her week has been long, and she is tired from the class, from dancing with Emma and speaking with her and all that bonding.
So instead she raises the mug to her lips to blow air on the water, and murmurs, “You’re both grasping at straws, I’ve barely known this woman a week.”
Marian slides Kathryn a mug, and leans over the counter to rest her elbows on the wood. “This isn’t about her, Regina, not really.” Regina catches Kathryn nodding softly in the corner of her eye. “We just wanted to remind you that if you were to start developing romantic feelings for someone—in a week or in ten more years—that Daniel would want you to be open to that.”
Regina’s shoulders tense further, and she sets the mug down as she stands. It doesn’t matter how close she’s become to these women, hearing anyone speak for her husband sends chills up her spine.
“Thank you for picking Henry up again, Marian.” She slides her hands over her coat. “I’ll see you both at work tomorrow.”
“Regina—” Kathryn starts, but quiets as Regina’s jaw clenches, her displeasure clear. “See you tomorrow,” she finishes instead, and wraps her hands around her mug as Regina turns to leave the kitchen.
The third class marks the beginning of a new dance, according to Miss Blanchard’s online schedule. The full course runs 14 weeks, covering seven dances in that time, and today they move on to the foxtrot.
Regina gets to class that Thursday a bit earlier than usual. Her workweek has been lighter than the one before, and things between her and Marian and Kathryn have been a bit on the distant side since they cornered her in Marian’s kitchen.
Still, they are her closest—only—friends, and things will return to the way they were soon enough, just as they always do when either woman tries to push her too far.
The dance room seems a bit fuller than the previous week, though it looks like many of the same people have returned from the waltz. Regina scans the room briefly, and notes—not that she was looking for Emma, exactly—that her partner is not yet present. Which may only mean she hasn’t arrived yet, and as she seems to be rather irresponsible this could easily be the case. Or perhaps she really did fulfill her duty to her roommate by attending the previous lessons, and she will not be returning.
Regina walks across the room to set her things down on the table in the corner, and tries to not acknowledge the smallest twinge of disappointment she feels at that thought. After all, as she’d told her friends, she barely knows the woman. It’s not as though she even has a right to be disappointed, really. Because she’s not.
“Excuse me,” a calm voice sounds behind her, and Regina steps to the side as she sets her purse down and reaches for the buttons of her trench coat.
Mulan is standing with her own jacket draped over her arm, and when Regina moves aside she sets it down on an open space beside Regina’s purse. “Of course,” Regina nods politely before falling silent.
Mulan’s own partner does not seem to be present yet either, and as she sets her coat over her purse, she considers the reserved woman beside her. Since the first class Regina had found her maturity—in comparison to the other people in the class, though she seems to be rather young herself—appealing. Perhaps if Emma was no longer in the class she could pair up with Mulan. Surely having another reasonable partner lined up will help ease some of the disappointment she feels.
Mulan turns from the table to face out at the room, and Regina shifts on her heels as she settles beside her. At the front of the room, Miss Blanchard is dancing with David—of course—and giggling loud enough to drift across the room and over the music playing softly. Beside her Mulan’s eyes flicker over their movements, before her eyes flutter as though she’s suppressing the urge to roll them. Regina smirks.
“Quite the fairytale couple,” she murmurs, and she does nothing to hide the derision in her tone. “I wonder just how many birds it takes to dress her in that skirt."
Out of the corner of her eye, Regina can see Mulan’s lips twitch as she tries to suppress a smile. David spins Mary Margaret around with him in a wide turn, and when the slow he dips her back, his elbows up and leg extended out.
Mulan angles her head toward Regina a bit, and says softly, “I’m sure the deer did most of the heavy lifting,” through a barely-visible smile.
It seems Mulan would make a decent partner indeed.
The studio door thuds a bit as it’s thrown open too far, and when they look over in that direction, Regina can see Archie and Marco standing with an older woman—appropriately called Granny—by the entrance.
“Have a nice class,” Mulan offers with a nod before she turns to walk away, and Regina can’t help the renewed discomfort at the fact that she is, once again, potentially partner-less. And perhaps a bit disappointed the obnoxious crash wasn’t signaling her own partner’s arrival.
“Trying to replace me?” she hears behind her, and when she turns to look over her left shoulder Emma is there, sliding her hands into her back pockets. She must have come in when Regina wasn’t looking.
Relief settles over her quickly, but she keeps her face impassive. Crossing her arms over her chest she turns to face Emma fully, and raises a brow. Ignoring the question—and sudden sense of familiarity Regina feels for this woman who is still little more than a stranger—she says, “I was beginning to assume you’d managed to escape Miss Blanchard’s guilt.”
Emma laughs, and Regina is a bit taken by the sound; full and rich and honest, if a bit jaded. “Yeah, that’ll happen.” Shifting between her feet, Emma worries her bottom lip with her teeth for a moment before she says, "She's taken, by the way."
"Excuse me?" Regina asks, arms tightening across her waist.
Shrugging, Emma pops her chin in Mulan's direction. "She's taking these classes to surprise her girlfriend. Well, fiance, soon." Emma's eyes slide back to Regina, and she watches her carefully for a long moment. "You know, just in case you were interested. I've seen you look her way a few times."
Raising a brow, Regina asks, "You have, have you?" When Emma thins her lips and continues to hold her gaze, Regina clears her throat. "I'm here to learn how to do the foxtrot, Miss Swan. Not gossip about our classmates." Regina quirks her brow in challenge before she walks past Emma, toward her usual spot in the room.
"It's not gossip, you know. She explained why she was taking the class at the diner after the lesson last week," Emma says, taking her place beside Regina. "Why don't you join us this time? You can tell everyone how you're not a spy."
"What a tempting offer," Regina says dryly.
“We’re going to get started in a few minutes," Mary Margaret announces from the front of the room. "Let's have everyone come to the center of the room.” She turns to the speakers beside her and lowers the volume a bit.
Regina starts to move toward the center as instructed, and Emma follows. “She keeps telling me how nice it is to see me make a friend ,” Emma whispers beside her, and Regina swallows at the way Emma emphasizes the last word. She’s not quite sure how to read Emma’s intonation; as if it’s ridiculous that they would be friends after just two classes, or as if the word is a simplistic description. (And the latter thought truly is ridiculous—they’ve spent two hours together. She blames Marian and Kathryn and girl talk for the idea even entering her thoughts.)
Emma is watching for her response, and because she isn’t quite sure what Emma means, she simply hums, and looks away, toward Mary Margaret making everyone form a circle in what is quickly becoming their routine.
When she begins going over introductions, Regina can’t help but tune her out a bit, her attention still stuck on what Emma had said. Because while they were absolutely not friends—two classes, after all—the idea didn’t feel quite as absurd as it could.
Regina glances at Emma out of the corner of her eye quickly, and she is standing with her hands in her back pockets, shoulders rolled, and hips pressed out a bit in a horrific pose Regina’s seen a dozen times over the past two weeks. She’s awkward and lanky and klutzy when she’s not dancing, and she smiles too brightly at her own jokes. And yet she’s patient and gentle and her presence is oddly comforting for a woman she barely knows.
Emma is compelling in such an unexpected way. Regina is not one to give her time or interest lightly, but there is something about the other woman that she can’t quite shake, even after such brief interaction.
Of course, it’s likely this sudden interest has been stoked by Marian and Kathryn’s unrelenting notion that Regina has some sort of romantic interest in Emma.
She can appreciate that the mere possibility is a novelty for her friends; she was married to Daniel when both Marian and Kathryn started working with her, and she has consistently turned down offers to be set up by both of them since his death.
Not that she’s considering dating anyone now. Even if she could see herself developing romantic feelings for Emma Swan—and that's a rather large if—she’s perfectly content in her life with Henry. And has no interest in putting their recently repaired relationship through any sort of strain, or make him uncomfortable with her moving on from his father.
Mary Margaret clears her throat at the head of the circle, and Regina refocuses on the group, realizing the introductions have stopped at her. She states her name quickly, and the introductions continue to Emma, who is eyeing Regina a bit curiously.
“Today we start with one of my favorites,” Mary Margaret says, once the introductions are finished, “the foxtrot.” She breaks the circle to walk back to the front of the room, and the rest of the class takes it as a cue to spread out.
“If you were here last week, you already know the proper frame.” Before she can even call for him, David steps forward and holds up his arms to help her demonstrate. “Ladies place your left hand on the curve of your partner’s shoulder, and take his with your right.
“And gentlemen, you’re going to place your left hand on your partner’s shoulder blade,” she and David turn so the class can see. “The steps for the foxtrot are going to be two slow steps, followed by two quick steps.” She looks from the class back to David, still holding his position.
“Slow,” she steps backwards as David steps forwards, “slow,” and they move again. “Now to the side we go quick-quick,” and as she says it she takes a step to the side and another quick step to bring her feet together. “So we have slow, slow, quick-quick,” she says as they demonstrate a bit faster.
“Thank you, David,” she smiles, and he steps back into his spot. “Let’s all try it a few times individually. Take two steps forward and then two steps to the side.”
Regina doesn’t start immediately, her eyes moving around the room as she watches the rest of the class follow their instructor. Satisfied the others are occupied with their own steps, she takes two forward and to the side as instructed.
Mary Margaret lets them continue for nearly a full minute before she calls their attention back up. “Wonderful!” she smiles. “Let’s partner up.”
“I’ll lead again?” Emma asks as she steps closer to her.
It seems fair, trading back and forth, and Regina nods, “Alright.” Mary Margaret gestures for them to begin, and Emma steps right up into Regina’s space and slides her hand over Regina’s side to settle against her back.
The touch is tame, just a brush before her fingers curve over her shoulder blade, and then her palm is cupped slightly in a perfectly appropriate way. But Emma tugs a bit at her hand as she grabs it, and Regina steps in until they are closer than they were, and gooseflesh rises just a bit on her skin.
Her arms are bare but for the small cap sleeve on her gray dress, and even in the warm studio she shivers a little. “You know,” Emma starts, and takes a step forward that Regina matches as she looks at her partner with guarded interest. “There’s a bathroom here. You could change before class.”
Regina scoffs, and her shoulders relax a bit. “I’ve seen the hallways of the building; I don’t hold out much hope for the facilities,” she snips, but a small bit of self-doubt kicks in as her skirt pulls a bit around her knees. “Have I not been keeping pace with you?” she raises a brow in challenge.
“I’m just saying, yoga pants might be a bit more comfortable,” Emma takes another step forward, forward, and to the side. “Or, you know, I could ask Mary Margaret to loan you a skirt,” she smirks.
Regina takes a step to the side one beat too soon, and Emma tugs her back before they’re thrown off. “That would be ill-advised.”
"I've seen you eyeing them, too," Emma smiles, and leans her head closer as she spins both of them to change direction—something they haven’t been instructed to do, but feels somehow natural already. “I think she has one in hot pink.”
“You’re playing a very dangerous game, Miss Swan,” she narrows her eyes but her lips start to curl up into a smirk of her own.
Emma’s eyes flicker down to watch the movement of her lips, and suddenly she is dipping forward, closer to Regina as she presses a bit more firmly on her back. Regina’s breath catches at the realization that Emma is moving closer, until she stops, noses almost close enough to brush.
“Are you sure you’re not a spy?” she stage whispers, and suddenly she is back to their appropriate distance, leading Regina into step once more.
“It looks like everyone is getting the hang of the steps, so let’s talk about turns,” Mary Margaret calls from the front of the room. Regina drops her hand from Emma’s, and then begins to lower her hand from Emma’s shoulder, Emma pulling her own arm back to her side after a moment.
“To start let’s try a natural turn.” Mary Margaret gestures for David to assist her, and Regina catches Emma’s face pull in a sort of exasperated amusement, her brow raised and one eyebrow lowered. “Gentlemen, you’re going to start with a step forward, but this time you’re going to step between your partner’s feet a bit.”
David takes a step with his right foot, his thigh brushing Mary Margaret’s as she steps back. “Ladies, you’ll step back, and then both of you move in a half circle,” she demonstrates and it looks like they’re rotating around the others’ legs, “and then take a slow step back, and another.
“So it’s slow,” David steps forward as she steps back, “quick-quick,” as they rotate halfway, “slow, slow,” they take two long steps behind Mary Margaret. “Thank you, David,” she gives him a sweet smile, and even across the room Regina can see her blush. “Try it with your partner, now,” she instructs the class.
“Ready?” Emma asks, and when Regina nods she takes her in her arms again, and Regina’s not certain but she thinks they’re closer than they’ve been.
Emma takes her step forward, and the contact is startling. Really, it’s the fact that it’s not-quite-contact, but she feels it like a jolt up her spine. Because Emma’s thigh has barely brushed hers before she’s stepping back to accommodate her, and yet the smallest bit of heat is rising to her cheeks.
Another small step and Emma is turning them, her palm flattening on Regina’s back as her fingers press a bit harder on the back of her hand with the spinning motion. Once they settle again, Emma steps them back for the last two slow steps of the combination, and they rest for a beat after.
Emma’s eyes meet hers as they pause, and they look a bit heavy, maybe even a bit startled. And it doesn’t make sense for such brief contact—especially when physical contact has been a constant in their relationship—but Regina feels the same.
There was something about that spin that felt oddly comforting. Before, even such a minor spin had felt slightly disorienting, like a headrush after standing up too quickly, perhaps. Yet this time Emma’s palm so warm on her back had been grounding.
“Not bad,” Emma murmurs, and it’s thicker than it should be. Before they can settle for too long, Emma leads them into another step, and another turn. And then they’re dancing, simply but smoothly, and it’s what they’ve been doing for two weeks already, but nowit doesn’t seem as stilted.
They’re beginning to truly move together.
Marian and Kathryn’s teasing springs to mind suddenly, and her back stiffens. Where their playful comments had been a nuisance before, it now feels dangerous. Because—barely three weeks in or not—Regina does feel some connection to this other woman, even if that connection is simply this complementary chemistry that she cannot deny.
And absolutely cannot entertain.
She feels vulnerable, suddenly, and far too exposed. There's been too much talk from everyone around her about dating, and having fun, and moving on, and her steps quicken out of beat.
“Hey,” Emma ducks her head a bit to catch Regina’s eye, and furrows her brow. “Are you OK? You seem a bit more tense than usual,” she slows their movements, but doesn’t stop.
Regina does. “Do I?” she asks, and her jaw clenches as she raises one eyebrow. “And you would know this after the two hours we’ve known each other?” Emma’s face registers surprise at her tone. “Despite what Miss Blanchard has said, we are not friends.”
The shock fades from Emma’s face and is replaced with something harder, something colder. “Yeah,” she raises her elbow back up from where she’d let it drop with their pause. Restoring her frame she clamps her lips and flattens her palm until it barely rests against her back, all sense of comfort gone from her hold. “I won’t make that mistake again.”
The rest of the class goes by slowly, dancing with Emma in silence and feeling guilty for how she pushed her away, even if it had to be done.
When Mary Margaret finishes teaching them the feather finish, Emma drops out of Regina’s arms quickly. She barely mutters a ‘see ya later’ before she’s grabbing her jacket and heading out the door.
Regina grabs her own coat as soon as she can reach the back table, and is slipping it on when she hears, “Haven’t seen Emma run out like that outside of a police raid before,” in a thick accent.
“Excuse me?” Regina turns, eyes narrowed at the comment and the presumptuous approach. Behind her is Emma’s friend from that first class, the one she’d rough-housed with when she arrived. Will, she recalls.
Will ignores her question, and gestures with a thumb toward the doors she’d gone through more than a minute ago. “Just mean you must have stepped on her toes quite a bit, or said something pretty awful.”
“And if I did?” Regina asks, voice like ice. “It was a private conversation; between the two of us.”
Holding up his hands, Will’s face opens until he looks like a small boy. “Right you are. Can’t blame me for being curious, though. She’s got a pretty thick skin.” Will stuffs his hands in his pockets, and Regina wonders if there’s any relation between the two of them. “Must have made a hell of an impression.”
Guilt settles low in her stomach again, and Regina finishes buttoning her coat quickly. “Yes, well I’m certain she’ll get over it,” she says before excusing herself and heading out the door.