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beats out of time

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“Can you stay late tonight?” Scott asks. They stand in the small kitchen area of the studio, fixing glasses of water. He is very close to her, his hip brushing hers.

Fran tilts her face towards his. Condensation slips down the grooves of the glass and around her fingers. Beyond them, Len leads a new class of beginners in their first ballroom steps, a foxtrot. She had been one of them, before. Now they look at her and see talent and strength and a force to be reckoned with. She wasn’t sure how it had happened, but it had.

“For?” she asks, teasing.

His eyes fix on her mouth. “Thought we could practice some new steps,” he says, voice low.

Something in her stomach swoops, hot and sweet. She looks out towards the open floor of the studio, bringing the glass to her mouth. “Latin?”

“Something like that, yeah.”

She smiles and sets the glass down on the counter. “Yeah. I can stay,” she says.

His hand presses to the small of her back, thumb rubbing small circles at the groove of her spine. It’s softer than a dance hold, promising something more. “Yeah? Good. That’s good,” he says, his mouth very near her hair. She wants to turn and curl into the breadth of his arms, press her face to the long line of his neck.

“Scott! Scott! We need you out here!” his mother trills from the far corner of the studio.

He sighs audibly, stepping back from her. “Yeah, all right,” he calls back before looking at her once more. “Tonight?”

She nods, willing the flush to stay away from her cheeks until he’s gone.

His hand lingers before he moves away out onto the floor. Everything is warm where he touched her.


Fran shifts around the kitchenette as twilight settles across the slick wooden floor of the studio. She still helps clean up at the end of the day, although Mrs. Hastings isn’t as abrasive with her. Placing at the Pan Pacific hasn’t changed much except no one seems to look at her like she’s a complete foreigner any longer. They still whisper and wonder about her and Scott now, placing bets on whether it’s just for the dancing or whether it’s lasting.

She pays them no mind, and neither does Scott.

At this point, she usually would check in at home. But her father and grandmother are out of town visiting relatives in Brisbane; the huge faith they have in her to be alone in the house, with a boyfriend even, is just another sign of how much her life has shifted in less than two months.

She moves out through the swinging shutter doors to the open floor, a strange beat tattooing itself against her ribs. This studio has seen quiet and not-so-quiet moments from her so often; it feels like home to her, when both she and Scott are here together.

Scott is late (which isn’t new). She sighs and goes to the record player. Len left in a waltz from the last class of the day. It’s slower than her pulse right now, but she shuts her eyes and begins to move to it, an even one-two-three. It’s not her normal rhythm but it’s good enough to pass the time as she waits. The windows are open, a soft breeze curling around her as she moves across the floor. The orchestra swells slowly in her ears.

Abruptly, a firm hand catches her at the waist. She opens her eyes and looks up to see Scott smiling in the dim light, a shock of dark hair falling across his brow.

“Getting started without me?” he asks, his hands firm on her waist as he pulls her into his chest.

She smiles, her hands resting on his chest. “Only killing time.”

“Yeah, thought so. It didn’t seem like your style,” he says, falling into step with the music easily. He leads her with ease; they fall into each other naturally now, after the months of dancing together. It was hard-earned on both of their parts and she stills cherishes it.

Her hand moves to his shoulder as one of his hands finds hers and stretches their arms into position. “I could be an excellent waltz partner.”

“But you think it’s boring,” he says with a grin, teeth very white in the dim light.

“Yeah, maybe,” she says, letting him lead as they twine their way across the open floor. Their shoes click softly against the wood, her skirt twirling at her ankles.


“All right, yes, completely boring,” she says with a short laugh, unable to keep the smile from her face.

“The waltz is a dance of living life in fear?” he teases, his hand on her back firm and strong as they pause and sink into a dip.

“It doesn’t have much going for it, I’ll say that,” she says.

Scott looks at her, mouth set in its usual serious lines. “Sorry I was late,” he says after a beat, pulling her back up.

They stop there in the middle of the floor, the music still swirling around them. She curls her fingers into his and tilts her head. “I’m in no rush,” she says. “Dad’s out of town.”

He sighs, his thumb brushing over her knuckles. “My mum, she’s still absolutely nutters over the Pan Pacific, and placing and all. Can’t get her to shut up about it.”

“I think that’s sweet,” she says, playing with the collar of his shirt.

The hand on the small of her back slips to her hip, finding the jut of the bone and stroking gently. She thinks she can feel his calluses even through the thin fabric of her shirt. “I just wanted to get here, with you,” he says, intense and soft.

Her heart skips a beat. She tilts her face up toward his and kisses him softly. There were boys before, and girls for Scott before, but it still feels new and fresh, like a new step she wants to practice every hour of every day.

With his hands on her waist, he backs her up towards the wall, biting at her lower lip. The wall is cool at her back. She slips her fingers into the soft hair at the nape of his neck as his hand slides down the length of her thigh. His hips fit to hers easily. Lifting her leg, she hitches her thigh over his hip as his fingers skim under the hem of her skirt to bare smooth skin.

“Fran—“ he whispers against her mouth. “I—I want—“

“Yeah,” she murmurs back, voice high and catching in her throat.

He’s looking at her the way he had watched her father perform the Paso Doble the first time, as if his dreams were materializing in front of his eyes. Wetting her lips, she slides her hands down his back, feeling every inch of muscle and strength there, and curls her fingers into the hem of his t-shirt, tugging up.

Raising his arms, he lets her pull the shirt from his head. It falls to the floor without a sound. Her shirt follows quickly and his fingers loosen her hair, curls falling at her shoulders. As she draws her nails across his chest and toward his belt buckle, he kisses her, mouth open and wet. His hands slide under her skirt towards her knickers, and her heart skips a beat.

Vivir con miedo, es como vivir a medias. A life lived in fear is a life half-lived. She had said it, and she means it still.

She sets her foot back on the floor as his fingers hook into her knickers and tug them along her thighs. As she steps out of them, his mouth falls to her neck and he breathes her name against the line of her throat. “Jesus, Fran,” he groans.

Fingers trembling just faintly, she unbuckles his belt; it joins their other clothing on the floor. The music is dim in her ears, still slow and eddying through an even one-two-three. “Just like every other practice, yeah?” she teases, her voice lower than normal.

He ducks his head into a laugh, his smile wide and white in the growing darkness. “Yeah, exactly.”

As she unzips his trousers his hands trail up to her chest, palming her breasts through the thin cotton of her bra. A soft hoarse sound escapes her throat as she arches into his touch. She thinks of the freckles dotting her skin, the paleness of her next to his deeply tan skin. His mouth moves over her throat and collarbones and she grips his hips tightly.

Soon he has her pinned to the wall with her thighs over his hips. She still has her dance heels on, and she presses them to the arch of his back as his fingers slip between her thighs to warm slickness. Her rehearsal skirt billows black between them. She can feel him hard and ready against the juncture of her hip and thigh.

“Oh, oh damn—“ she gasps before her tongue curls with her native tongue and Spanish slips from her mouth with ease. Her fingers dig into the broad expanse of his shoulder blades.

He groans and adds a second finger, his thumb fluttering at her clit. His mouth is near hers again, his hair falling across her brow. Please, she pleads in English and Spanish, her chest tightening with uneven breaths. She feels as light and full of joy as she had when he found her in the parking lot and asked her to dance, as when they’d kissed in the midst of a sea of dancers.

For a moment, there is nothing but the ache of anticipation. Then, he’s there, sliding into her and pressing her harder into the wall. She sighs and moans with it, pressing her face into his throat. All the muscles in his body are tense and shaking, but when he moves in her they both groan. He whispers her name again, voice cracking.

This is their new dance, for their eyes only. She comes with his thumb at her clit and her head thrown back against the wall. His mouth rests at the pulse in her throat, measuring time.

After, they lay on the floor she had mopped not hours ago, making a pillow of their discarded clothes. He pulls her into him with a strong arm at her waist. She tucks her face to the hollow of his shoulder, and he puts his chin to her hair. A cool breeze sweeps over them, cooling the sweat on their bare skin. The waltz record still plays, even and low.

The next time Len plays it during class, they are the first ones up to dance, with wide open smiles just for each other.