At Woodstock, Teddy twirled her through ankle-deep mud, the brown gunk splattering her cream dress in round dark droplets, and she didn't care at all. The entrancing embrace of good music wafted her through the the unwashed crowds as though she were a cobra being teased by a swaying flute. Teddy led the way, fingers tangled through hers like brambles, unwilling to let go, and she spun after him with flowers threaded through her hair, prancing after him like a fascinated fawn following Snow White.
At least, that's how she remembers it. Her mind may be playing tricks, wrung out as it was by time and tragedy. Or maybe Teddy peeks into her dreams at night and makes them prettier, makes them sweet and hazy like an autumn dusk.
Nonnie swallows a sudden queasiness and grips James's hand – tight, too tight – and even though Ms. Claybourne is in the middle of giving him pointers on his stance, he squeezes right back.
“Yes, Mr. Martin, that's exactly how you should hold your shoulders,” Ms. Claybourne says, smoothing her bejeweled hand down his spine. It's not flirtatious at all, not meant to tease. Ms. Claybourne coos over the pair of them as though she were Mrs. Rosen come back from the dead, her fingers fluttering in the air every time she assists them with their stance. If she were one to flirt with a married man, she certainly wouldn't be attempting to steal James from Nonnie. She'd be trying her hand at richer, more handsome fare.
Nonnie hates thinking about James that way, that he might be lesser than other men somehow because he would never be rolling in money or gracing the cover of a magazine as some famous sex symbol. Their settlements from the shipping line were impressive, but none of them were racing out to buy mansions or anything. Just a few extras here and there – nicer furniture, a fancier car that might last longer than a used one … and dancing lessons.
Ms. Claybourne pats a friendly hand on Nonnie's upper arm and leans close to be heard over “I Could Have Danced All Night” and the rhythmic patter of novice footsteps on the ballroom's hardwood floor. “Are you all right, dear?” she asks. “Would you like some water or --”
“No,” Nonnie blurts out, then forces an unsteady smile. “I'm fine.”
“Are you sure?” James says. His own smile, always so even and easy to appear, falters as he moves closer. “We can go if you --”
“James, please.” She squeezes his hand again and closes her eyes, picturing steel where her spine would be. Teddy would be so proud of her since the ship. She holds her own now when she wants to. “I'm fine. And you promised we'd finish these classes before the year was out. We'll so busy after that, this is the last time we'll have so much time to ourselves.”
James's grin grows wider with that, and Nonnie feels his grip loosen somewhat on her hand as though he's about to reach for her swollen stomach once again. The baby's due in January, a present for the new year, and every time James sees her, his eyes dart to her midsection in a sort of soft comfortable awe.
Inside her, the baby squirms. A little dancer already, it seems.
Ms. Claybourne's brightly-painted lips pull up at the corners before she darts over to the record player to change the music, and James slips his arm tighter around her waist, pulling her closer. In the center of a maelstrom of awkwardly galloping teens and elderly couples shuffling around the ballroom, the pair of them are a bright and shimmering oddity. James is older, yes, and certainly older than her, but his body thrums with energy, and he spins her around to each new piece of music with equal vigor. With him as her partner, she locks in place and twirls along with him as gleeful laughter bubbles from her chest.
For the first time in a long time, she feels like that naïve young girl traipsing through the chaos of Woodstock, trailing after her older brother and leaving what few troubles she had dangling in the air behind her like abandoned soap bubbles floating off on the breeze.
Ms. Claybourne switches the record from the “My Fair Lady” soundtrack to Benny Goodman. The syrupy flow of strong swing pours from the speakers, and James sways back and forth in a silly move. She giggles, the last trace of that younger version of herself leaking out before it scampers away.
“You ready?” James says, and he leans forward to plant a gentle kiss on her lips.
Her eyelids drop for what feels like forever, and when she reopens them James is staring at her, his eyes sparkling with fondness. “More than ready,” she says, and tightens her grip on his.
Then, before he knows what's coming, she leaps into the steps, and with an enthusiastic whoop, James follows after her. The pair of them dive through the crowd as a matched set of crazy loons, swallowing life in great hungry gulps, and Nonnie imagines Teddy somewhere up above, chortling in deep guffaws as they both attack the dance floor like playful tigers.
The others part like the Red Sea, moving aside with practiced ease even as a few of them don't attempt to veil their rolling eyes. The Martins, they whisper to one another. You know, from that ship, some of them say. The ones without shame don't bother to keep their voices down as Nonnie and James pass. “Can you blame them?” one man grumbles to his wife. “You go through that sort of hell, you don't come out right.”
Nonnie ignores it all, pressing her stomach against James as they swing and dip, as he does a few fast and dirty steps with his feet which make Ms. Claybourne clap her encouragement from across the room.
I don't know, she thinks as James spins her toward the refreshment table. I think we came out just fine.