When the initial offer comes in, Joe's first impulse is to refuse it. Just like he's done the last two times they asked him, just like he's done the three times that Dancing with the Stars has asked him. Like Harrison says every time, he doesn't need to do some sort of reality show to bolster his fan base; they've just come off a cross country tour, the last album is still selling like hot cakes and it's time to relax now, write some new songs, get ready to get back into the recording studio and make some new music before they do the whole thing all over again. "Take care of your real career," his agent tells him, "not some imagined one."
Joe nods because he knows Harrison is right.
Then he stops and thinks.
After all, they've just come off a cross country tour with all the gruelling hours and hard work that entailed, one that began a scant month after Iris's wedding. Oh, she told him that she and Barry didn't mind delaying their honeymoon, after all what would the band be without their backup vocalist and best guitar player? They'd enjoyed the tour, they always did, but his baby girl deserves a break, deserves some time to set up home with her new husband and maybe, just maybe, work on giving Joe some of those grandkids he always asks about.
There won't be much time for that if he's dragging them to song writing sessions.
Besides, the idea has some sort of appeal. He's performed on the show twice, even done a few twirls around the floor with some of the dancers. He'd enjoyed it, it had been fun and one of the girls, long dark hair with a New York accent and legs for miles, had told him that he could be her dance partner any day. (That had made one of the other pro dancers, a short guy with floppy hair, glare at Joe, who had just ignored it.) So maybe he wouldn't be a complete embarrassment to himself.
Then there was the challenge of learning a new skill, of being paid to learn a new skill even. Live in a different country for a few months, have the BBC footing the bill?
Harrison nearly swallows his teeth when he hears the words, "I'll do it," but Joe's mind is made up and he won't be denied.
It all seems like a great idea until his name is actually released. His practically dormant Twitter account picks up a thousand new followers in the next couple of days, all before he's danced a step. Iris takes great delight in reading some of the blogs devoted to the show, not to mention all the comments already playing guess who will be paired with who. She cackles as she reads some of the entries, shakes her head. "I knew this show was big over there," she muses, "but I had no idea it was this big." She puts down her phone, the biggest smile he's ever seen, absent her wedding day, on her face. "This is going to be fun."
Barry shoots Joe a look, rolls his eyes. "This is what you're leaving me with?" he asks and Joe mock glares at him, without too much mocking.
"Yeah it is... so you'd better take care of her."
Except that Iris refuses to miss the launch show so they fly over with him, have prime seats right on the red carpet as Joe and all the other celebrities (Joe hates that word, wonders what he should replace it with. Contestants? Competitors? Victims?) emerge from a succession of giant stagecoaches (because why the hell not?) and do their best to dance towards the stage. It's hard when the screaming public means they can barely hear the music but from the two thumbs up that Iris shoots his way, he doesn't think he did too badly.
Being on the red carpet with fourteen other people isn't too bad, especially since he already knows them a little from the few days of group rehearsals they've had. It's more nerve wracking when he's actually standing on the stairs in the studio, giant glitterball superimposed on the screen behind the live band. For a brief, crazy moment he considers trying to hide in with the band - it's far more his wheelhouse - but seeing as they're all clad in dark suits and he's wearing something lilac and sparkly with a deep vee that shows more of his chest than he's ever exposed before, he thinks he'd stick out like a sore thumb. They divide the men into groups of three to pair them off with the professional women and he's among the first lot to be called. He's grateful for that because he's far more nervous than he thought he'd be and the sooner he gets this over with, the better. He ends up standing with a retired Premier League footballer and a soap actor who looks even younger than Iris, both similarly attired to him and smelling of fake tan and nerves. The soap star gets paired with a blonde Russian who lets out a shriek of delight - Joe has seen him move during dance rehearsals, he can't actually blame her - while the footballer is paired with Miss Long Hair and Legs who had been eying up Joe all through the rehearsals. If she's disappointed she doesn't show it, sashaying and shimmying into the footballer's arms and he, it must be said, looks thrilled with life.
Then it's Joe's turn.
The host, Tess, a tall willowy blonde, takes his hand and introduces him, going off script to tell him, "You're shaking, you poor thing!" like he doesn't already know it. He manages to say something about usually having his band behind him, which allows the host to mention Iris and Barry sitting in the audience. The camera pans on to them and he can't help but smile at Iris's huge wave.
"So... which one of these lovely ladies will you be making sweet music with?"
He'd be rolling his eyes at the way too obvious line if he wasn't so preoccupied with his churning stomach and there's a long wait with a thumping heart beat - much slower than Joe's own - in the background while the camera pans along the five ladies waiting with fixed smiles.
One of the dancers breaks from the ranks with a cheer and a grin on her face, and Joe feels himself smile as she does a series of quick turns across the floor and lands at his side, drops one hand onto his chest and kisses his cheek. As greetings go, it's one of the milder ones - one of the male professionals will later literally grab his celebrity partner and spin her off her feet before dipping her low to the ground, making her shriek in what Joe hopes is excitement but rather suspects might be something else - and Joe operates on instinct, slides one arm around her waist, taking her hand from his chest and bringing it to his lips. There's a bit of an ooh from the audience, another one from Tess and she wisely waits until the clapping calms before she asks them, "So, are we happy with this pairing?"
"Very happy," Joe says and he's not just saying that. He'd had a turn around the floor with Caitlin last season when he'd performed on the show, when she and her professional partner, Cisco, had been one of the three couples who performed as he sang.
"Caitlin?" Tess is smiling at Caitlin. "You approve?"
"Absolutely," his new partner says, grinning up at him. "I think we're going to have a lot of fun together."
The group dance, with all the celebrities and pros on the dance floor for the first time, passes without any major mistakes from Joe, and is the kind of delightful carnage that has his Twitter mentions (Iris has schooled him on actually how to work the damn account - "People want to hear what you have to say, Dad, you need to use this!") showing more activity than he can keep up with.
Not that he has much time to keep up with them, not once rehearsals proper start. "We're starting with the waltz," Caitlin tells him as he tries to ignore the twin cameras in each corner of the room, the operators following their every move.
"That's slow, right?" He'd been dreading something like high energy like the jive but he knows he's said the wrong thing when Caitlin purses her lips.
"Yes... which actually makes it harder. We're going to need to work on your technique, your hold, your posture..."
He's nodding like he knows what she's talking about. "What's the song?"
Her lips twitch. "It's Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls. Do you know it?"
Now his nodding is more enthusiastic. "That's a great track." He rubs a hand over his lips. "It's my daughter's name, actually."
Caitlin looks down so that the camera can't pick up her expression. Joe doesn't miss it though; if it's not a full eye roll it's definitely close. "So, let's get started," she says before he can ask anything else and then she's pulling and prodding at him as she begins to teach him the steps.
By lunchtime, he's ready for a break and thanks to some small miracle, the cameras deign to leave him and Caitlin alone with their food. They eat in silence for a couple of minutes before he says, "So, what was the look about?"
Caitlin blinks, like she doesn't know what he's talking about and this might be the first day they're spending any proper time together but Joe's good at reading people, knows she's not faking it. "What look?"
"When I told you Iris is my daughter's name. You made sure the camera didn't catch it, but I did. So?" He makes a 'gimme' motion with his hands and she smiles as she relaxes back.
"Sometimes," she tells him, "we're allowed to pick the music. Sometimes it's picked for us. This was the latter."
Now it's his turn to blink. "The producers gave us that song on purpose?"
"Yep." She plays with the straw in her drink. "And for week two, we have the cha cha." That's news to him. "To Soul Man." She takes a sip of her drink to let that sink in.
Joe slumps back in his chair. "You're kidding me."
"And strangely, neither are the most eye roll worthy choice I've ever heard of," she continues. He must look sceptical because she goes on, "It's just the way it is, you get used to it. You could have Buzz Aldrin on the show and he'd be waltzing to Rocket Man, or Life on Mars, doing a tango to I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper..."
She's warming to her theme and Joe tilts his head. "Can we bring that to the producers?" he asks. "Dude's gotta be almost ninety years old, I'd like to see that. I might even vote for him."
Caitlin's been a stern taskmaster all morning and that's the first time he's heard her laugh. She throws her head back, her messy ponytail swaying back and forth as her shoulders shake and when she looks at him, her eyes are dancing with mirth.
It's a good look on her and he decides she was right - this just might be fun.
Three weeks later it's opening night and Joe is revising his opinion. His nerves on launch night are nothing compared to the butterflies that have taken flight in his stomach and as he paces the corridor backstage, holding his arms up in what he hopes is perfect ballroom hold, he swears he's forgotten every step of the dance. That they've put him in a morning suit isn't helping him - he can't quite get used to the swish of the tails and the bow tie feels like it's about to strangle him.
His partner's voice, crisp and stern, she who must be obeyed, comes from behind him and he turns, ready to fire a hundred questions at her.
Then he sees her and his jaw actually drops, something that he would have said was just an expression, something that can't happen in real life.
He'd already seen her hair and makeup during rehearsals and anyway, the sleek ponytail, curled into a perfect s-shape isn't that far away from the ratty one she usually sports at rehearsal. The leggings and t-shirts she usually wears, however, are a million miles away from the dress she's sporting at the moment. It's pale pink with a full skirt that swishes as she walks and when she does a little twirl like Iris used to when she was a little girl, he sees that it's backless, save for two sparkly straps crisscrossing. There's some sort of scarf-like bits of material attracted to her wrists giving an almost wing like illusion and he's not a man who's given to fits of hyperbole but the only words he can use to describe her are ones like ethereal and otherworldly.
Except what comes out is, "Wow."
A pleased blush coats Caitlin's cheeks as she steps towards him, taking his hands. He goes into hold straight away and she grins. "Bit of a difference from training, I know." She drops his hands, smoothes the shoulders of his suit jacket. "And not just for me."
He looks down and grimaces. "I feel like a penguin."
She arches an eyebrow. "As long as you don't dance like one, we'll be fine."
Just then, they hear a call - "Five minutes!" - and they're on their way backstage.
The introductions go well - he doesn't fall down the stairs which was a recurring nightmare he'd begun to have - and they're not dancing until halfway through so they have plenty of time to sit upstairs in what Caitlin calls "The Clauditorium" watching their new friends go through their paces. Some of good, some are very good - Mr Soap Star more than lives up to his partner's shriek of joy - and a couple let their nerves get the better of them. Which doesn't help Joe's nerves in any way and Caitlin keeps shooting him quick glances, reminding him he's going to be fine. There's not enough saliva in his mouth for him to respond and then suddenly their names are called and her hand is warm in his as they wave to the cameras before they go on.
They get into position, bodies close together, right side to right side, heads almost touching but not quite, as their training VT is shown and one of the weirdest feelings Joe's ever had comes over him as he listens to his own voice talking about who he is and how he's looking forward to this. He hears Caitlin talking about how well he's doing, hears the name of the song being mentioned and then, in an unexpected twist, he hears Iris's voice. "I can't wait to see him," she says and he can hear the smile even if he can't see her face. "I know he's going to be amazing."
A lump rises in his throat and he sucks in a breath. "Hey." Caitlin's voice is so quiet he can barely hear it, her lips hardly moving as her hands comes up to cup the back of his neck for their starting pose. "You and me. Just like training."
He looks down at her and nods and just as the music is about to start, he does what he always does on stage. "This is for Iris," he thinks. "My baby girl."
Then the music starts and they are off.
He doesn't remember much of the dance when the music stops, but Caitlin's arms are around his neck and she's laughing with sheer joy. His is more of relief that they got through it and he almost forgets that they have to go over and actually get their marks. As he approaches Tess, he realises that some people are standing up and Tess takes great delight in pointing that out to them.
"Did you enjoy that, because we did," she trills and Joe nods, pulls Caitlin a little closer with the arm that's around her waist.
"I did," he says. "I can't remember huge amounts of it, but Caitlin's smiling so it can't have been too bad."
Which leads nicely into Caitlin being asked for her opinion and her hand covers Joe's heart as she talks. "He did a fantastic job," she says. "He's worked so hard in training on his hold, on his footwork, and I don't think you could have done that any better."
The judges have their own opinions, of course. Bruno, the loquacious Italian is up first with a, "My dear, that was simply charming," and an admonition to be careful to finish off his lines. He waves his arms to demonstrate and nearly takes out the eye of Len, the judge sitting beside him, who offers praise for his heel leads. Joe glances down at Caitlin, who'd drilled those into him and says, "You were right," because she'd said Len was all about the technique. He means it to be just for her ears but Tess hears everything, announces, "She put those in just for you, Len!" Darcey, the elegant former ballerina, calls the routine, "Simply lovely," and echoes Bruno's comment about finishing lines. That leaves Craig, the so-called meanie of the bunch, who leads with "cloyingly saccharine," and points out that Joe's hand and in particular his thumb was in the wrong place on Caitlin's back. The crowd boo and Len looks disgusted but Joe looks down at Caitlin and grins. She grins back. "Told you," she whispers and he nods, because she'd warned him that that was the type of thing Craig would pick on every time she caught him doing it. Which, to be fair, had been a lot.
"What do you think of those comments?" Tess asks.
"I think they're fair," Joe says. "I know I still have a lot of work to do but it's all about improving every week and building on that..."
"The journey," interjects Caitlin, a gleam in her eye that Joe doesn't quite understand but Tess seems to approve.
"All about the journey," she echoes and sends them up the stairs to Claudia.
The other host, all dark hair and eyeliner, is quite the character and when they reach their spots for the camera, she claps Joe on the shoulder. "I'm so sorry that you look so awful in tails," she tells him, completely deadpan as everyone else laughs. "Caitlin, it must be so hard to dance with him looking like this."
"Dreadful," Caitlin agrees, a tone in her voice and look on her face that manages to convey the exact opposite sentiment.
"Quite." Claudia nods. "And our first j-word of the series, might I add..." There are hoots from the other dancers and Joe makes a mental note to ask about that later on. "But you're happy."
Joe points at Caitlin. "As long as she's happy, I'm happy," he says.
"Oh, I'm happy."
"And the scores are in."
They're enough for middle of the pack - a five from Craig, sixes from the others - and that's more than enough for Joe. "I've been dreaming about getting ones," he tells the backstage camera, laughing when Caitlin swats his chest.
"Only with a zero beside it," she orders and just like he did when they were paired together, he catches her hand and kisses her knuckles.
Training for the second dance seems harder than the first, whether that's because it's faster, or has totally different technique or the fact that they only have one week instead of three to master it. He does discover that he's not too bad at moving his hips and although he's not too keen when Caitlin initially gives him a bit of solo work to do, he has to admit that when he sees it back on training footage, he doesn't look totally terrible.
On the Wednesday, they take a break from training for their weekly visit to the nightly It Takes Two show, where they are interviewed about their training and thoughts on how week one went. Caitlin's professional partner Cisco is there with his partner, a British tennis player Joe's never heard of but they bond over blisters and technique difficulties while Cisco presses a twenty pound note into Caitlin's hand with a twist of his lips and a shake of his head.
"Word to the wise, never bet against this woman," he tells Joe.
"Wasn't planning on it," Joe says, looking at Caitlin because he knows he's missing something.
"Cisco and I had twenty bucks on which of us could say 'journey' first," she explains, folding the note and tucking it inside her bra while Joe hastily averts his eyes.
"Lunch tomorrow's on you," he tells her and she high-fives her agreement.
When show night comes, Joe's once again in the corridor, convinced he's forgotten his steps, when a wolf whistle halts him in his tracks. "Did they stitch you into those trousers?" Caitlin teases and when he turns to look at her, what he hopes is a witty retort on the tip of his tongue, his jaw drops for the second week in a row. This time, it's to do with what she's not wearing rather than what she is - the hot pink top, the same colour as his with sparkles a plenty, could charitably be described as a bikini, while the skirt, all frills and lace, is short enough to qualify as a belt. Acres of tan, toned stomach and leg are exposed to his gaze, while her hair is a riot of ringlets pulled back into a ponytail.
He forces his mouth closed - there are cameras everywhere and the last thing he wants to do is come off like some dirty old man, ogling a girl who's not that much older than his own daughter - and takes a step towards her. "I've forgotten everything."
"It'll all come back once the band starts," she promises, sliding her arm through his. "Come on, from the top, you do the music..."
Just like in rehearsal, he sings along as they walk through the dance and he wonders idly how any of the girls survive in those outfits in the dead of winter if Caitlin's so cold in October that there are goosebumps on her arms.
The dance doesn't go quite as well as the first - he forgets his hips entirely, then gets muddled up on heel and toe leads and Len's eagle eyes don't miss that. Craig takes issue with the placing of his leg and how it's too flexed - Caitlin actually hisses her disapproval and Joe's taken aback because he's never heard her do that before. The word "spatulistic" is used to describe his hands and Joe has to cop to that one because, once again, Caitlin's been warning him about shaping all week. The scores take a very slight dip - two fives and two sixes - leaving them solidly middle of the pack when facing into the public vote. Caitlin's face is tight when she realises that and he doesn't understand why until she explains some voter maths to him - this week, the ones at the top are likely safe, the ones at the bottom will get lots of votes to keep them in while the ones in the middle, like them, are easily forgotten, thus they're in the most dangerous place on the leader board.
Which is enough to make him nervous all over again and it only gets worse when they line up for the actual results. He and Caitlin are made stand at the top of the stairs, her at his right side, her left arm around his waist, his right around hers. The BBC do their part to ramp up the drama - as if they need to - by placing the two lowest ranked couples in a dance off for survival and as couple after couple is called safe, Caitlin's fingers begin to flex against his side. Four couples are left standing, the sound of that heartbeat echoing Joe's own, and then he hears his name and Caitlin's shriek of joy as she throws her arms around his neck and leaps into his arms. He hugs her back, leans back and lifts her higher, puts her down as she says "Thank you," to the voting public and he follows suit. When the light above their heads goes off, she heaves a sigh of relief, leans heavily against him as her head falls against his shoulder, his arms continuing to circle her waist until the last couple is called safe and they head back to the Clauditorium for a group interview.
Joe gets the prime spot on the couch right next to Claudia, who asks him the expected question about next week's dance, even gets him to try his tango face on for size. She hoots when he does it and he decides to take that as a good thing. He's surprised when she directs the next question to Caitlin, who's standing behind him, her hands on his shoulders. "Caitlin, in all the years we've been on this show, I've never seen you react like that, ever. Tell me, are you excited?"
Joe twists his head to try to see her but he can't quite manage it. "I am," Caitlin admits and he can hear her smiling but he'd bet his bottom dollar that she's blushing too. (He looks at the show when it airs the next night; she is.) "I think knowing that we were in that dangerous middle zone, and then we were left until near the end..."
Claudia nods. "Did you think you were on your way home?"
He guesses Caitlin is nodding (she is, the recording proves it) and Joe says, "I'm just glad that people voted for us, so thank you." He blows a kiss into the camera and Claudia moves on to the next couple. Caitlin's hands squeeze Joe's shoulders and he fights the urge to reach up and cover them with his own.