He doesn’t recognise her when he first sees her from across the ballroom. He actually does a double take when he recognises her stance, her mannerisms. But otherwise she looks very completely different to any other time he’s seen her and to be honest he’s a little surprised at just how striking she looks.
Her hair is falling in perfect copper ringlets to frame her pale face instead of being scraped back hastily with an elastic band and she looks an absolute picture of elegance in the long gown she wears. It’s a far hue and cry from her usual attire – she’s always preferred khakis and t-shirts to ruffles and flounces and horror of horror – skirts.
There’s no mistaking those icy blue eyes however – outlined in a soft smudge of kohl or not.
Daniel hovers awkwardly as he watches her from across the room. He might be comfortable in a suit and tie but in his own skin? God, half the time he feels about ready to crawl out of it and go hide out under a rock somewhere. There’s a glass of champagne in his hand but he hasn’t drunk any of it yet and by now it’s probably gone warm and flat. He’s not sure drinking would be a very smart thing for him to do anyway – he’s klutzy enough without adding bubbly into the mixture. That and…well he has enough trouble remembering things as it is without deliberately obliterating his memories with too much alcohol.
His eyes dart around the room once as is his habit and then they return to Charlotte. She’s nursing a practically full glass as well as she listens intently to some dashing young man who is telling her what is undoubtedly a very funny story judging by the smug grin on his face and the wildly gesticulating hands.
Daniel just sighs and wishes for the millionth time that he wasn’t completely socially inept. He’s always preferred books to people but there are a select few people that he does enjoy being with and when they’re not looking at you…well he can’t very well just walk up and steal her away from whoever that is. God what would he even say?
This reminds him of his prom – the one high school dance that he allowed himself to be bullied into attending against his better judgement. He’d spent that night as a wallflower too, gripping a glass of punch tight in one hand as he watched everyone else enjoy themselves. There had been a pretty girl from his chemistry class there that night dressed in blue – or was it purple? Green? He would have asked her to dance if he hadn’t been terrified of stepping all over her feet. He always got flustered too easily and apologised incessantly.
It makes meeting girls difficult to say the least. Not that he generally tries to meet girls – and no it’s not because he likes men whatever people might say. He likes girls – he thinks that they’re interesting with all their bumps and lumps and curves. Aesthetically and biologically he has a basic understanding of them – it’s all the other things about them that he doesn’t understand. Their feminine wiles if you follow. And Charlotte is enough of an enigma as it is.
His eyes dart back to her again. She’s shifting restlessly, toying with the strap on her gown as if she’d love nothing more than to just snap it off. Dan almost smiles – she hates thin straps – before she glances up unexpectedly and sees him watching her.
Daniel freezes on the spot, a deer in the headlights, but to his immense surprise her eyes actually light up a little and she excuses herself swiftly from her friend and begins to stride across the room towards him.
“Dan!” she calls out, delighted, when she’s close enough.
“Hello Charlotte,” he returns awkwardly.
“It’s so lovely to see you again!” she says, leaning in to kiss him fondly on the cheek. His knees go wobbly with surprise at the gesture. “How are you?”
“I’m good, yeah,” Daniel nods and tries to smile, ending up with a half-grimace instead. “Yeah good. How…how are you?”
“I’d be better if I wasn’t in this bloody princess dress,” Charlotte plucks at the shiny fabric she is ensnared in distastefully. “And I’m wearing the most awful shoes – I can hardly stand up in them let alone walk.”
“Ah,” Daniel says because he’s not sure what else he can contribute. Charlotte lifts up the hem of her dress just slightly to inspect said shoes and he looks at them too, unsure as to whether or not he should comment on them or not. “They um, they look like they’d hurt?” he offers lamely but Charlotte rolls her eyes in a long suffering way that has nothing to do with his limp conversation skills.
“Tell me about it,” she grumbles. “My feet are absolutely killing me. I should really just take them off but I’d probably get kicked out – classy joint like this.” Dan wonders if he should say something further about her shoes but before he can comment, Charlotte’s attention shifts again and she’s smirking at the champagne glass in his hand. “What’s that for? Decoration?” when she senses his confusion she elaborates slightly. “I know you don’t drink Dan. Have you even had any of it?”
“Not yet,” he says, feeling a little bit defensive. “I don’t really like champagne.”
“Well I don’t either,” Charlotte announces, plucking the delicate glass flute from his hands and discarding it with hers on a nearby table. Returning to him she plants her hands on her hips in a way that is so endearingly Charlotte that Dan can’t help but smirk. Even when she’s all gussied up she still manages to keep that tough-as-nails veneer. To be honest he wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d turned up with combat boots on underneath her dress – just in case she needed to make a quick getaway.
She’s looking over his shoulder now, a distracted look on her face and he realises that he’s been silent for too long, thinking to himself, and she’s probably seen somebody else she’d rather be socialising with than poor, awkward Dan. Which is why he’s so surprised when she turns to him abruptly and says, “Would you like to dance?”
“Wha-dance?” he stumbles over the word like an unexpected step and to his surprise he has a sudden, horrendous vision of himself – awkwardly young and treading all over a girls toes before stumbling on his own feet and dragging her down to the floor with him in a tangle of limbs. It’s then that he remembers that he had been forced to take ballroom lessons as a child but being as gawky and un-coordinated as he was he had soon stopped, shamed by his abysmal lack of talent. “I-I don’t…dancing with me is…what I mean is that…”
“Look,” Charlotte says softly, taking a step closer to him and Dan almost recoils from having such a close physical proximity to someone else. Instead he freezes. She’s so close that he can feel her breath against his skin – if he wanted to he could count each individual eyelash, dark against her milky complexion from the mascara she wears. “That bloke who I was talking to before is making his way over here to talk to me again and he’s the most obnoxious, horribly stuck up, chauvinistic baboon I have ever had the misfortune to meet. Now I’d much rather keep talking to you but he’ll not hesitate to butt in and take over our conversation without a moments pause and you’re far too polite to tell him to just back the hell off…”
“Please Dan?” she pleads. Her breath is sweet and she’s standing close – very close – and her hand is resting on his shoulder…wait when did that happen? Every tiny freckle that has been powdered into obedience by her makeup is visible up this close. Dan swallows. Normally he’d have already drawn back if someone was in his personal space like this. Even being with a small group tends to make him feel uneasy and claustrophobic – it’s almost like he’s worried that they might suddenly turn into a stampede and crush him to death beneath their many shoes. But being this close to one person? He always gets panicked when he feels like somebody is crowding in on him – even if they’re not. He just feels more comfortable keeping the world at arms length.
But when it’s Charlotte…he just can’t seem to step away.
“I’ve had a rotten night so far,” she’s telling him now, earnestly. “And I don’t really want to talk to anyone else here but you.”
Flushing with pleasure, Dan tries to tell himself that she’s only flattering him like this because he’s an easy scapegoat but he honestly can’t help himself from obliging her request anyway. He doesn’t want her to leave him alone and lonely in this vast, overflowing ballroom. And if that means that he has to dance with her…well he’ll just have to warn her that he’s probably going to crush her toes and embarrass himself.
“I’m probably going to crush your toes,” he warns her. “With dancing I’m…you’re sure you really want…? Because I can understand if…”
“My feet are practically numb anyway,” Charlotte says, taking his hand and beginning to lead him out onto the floor. “I’m not exactly a fabulous dancer and these shoes have dangerous heels – I’ll probably end up hurting you more than you’ll hurt me.”
“I don’t think you’re right about that,” Dan mutters but Charlotte merely laughs. Despite her grumbling about her dress and shoes she seems bright and airy tonight, almost carefree. Dan likes seeing her smile so much.
“Come on then,” she says, taking one of his hands and sliding the other onto his upper back. “We’ll just sway back and forth a bit. It’s not like we’re going to be entering any competitions.”
And sway they do, side to side and around in small circles with Dan avoiding her light blue gaze as much as he can. It’s not that he doesn’t want to look at her but the tension held between two people when their eyes lock is too much for him normally – let alone when it’s her. She’s got intense eyes, pale and strong like the rest of her whereas he is softer, shyer with his gaze.
But he doesn’t need to look at her to dance with her – especially when she’s the one steering so that they don’t bump into the walls. At one point she does a small but daring twirl that surprises him so much that he nearly ends up in a half nelson before he realises what she’s doing.
Her hips rock gently from side to side, moving gently like a wave of satin beneath his hand and when he looks at her he sees that she’s smiling at him quietly, happily and somehow, miraculously, he doesn’t accidentally stomp her toes into oblivion and for once – for once he doesn’t feel like he needs to think of something to say.
After some time has passed Dan meets her eyes for an instant longer than a flicker and then he has to look away again but the respite is short lived as she catches his eye again deliberately and raises an eyebrow.
“Are you scared of me Faraday?” she teases him gently, and he gets the sense that she’s said this to him before. Before he can muster an answer however, there’s someone calling out Charlotte’s name and then a young woman in an equally shiny dress comes bustling up to them. She too has an impressive collection of auburn curls and blue eyes. Dan wonders briefly if they might be related.
“Charlotte I’m heading off now,” she says, completely ignoring him. He goes to step back, to let Charlotte talk to this person whoever she is but Charlotte maintains her hold on him. “Did you still want a lift home with me or...?” She glances at Dan then and the possessive way Charlotte is still hanging onto him and she rolls her eyes emphatically. “Shall I just let you make your own way home?” she guesses.
Charlotte rolls her eyes back impatiently. “Have you already called the taxi?”
“Fine,” Charlotte says in clipped tones. “I’ll meet you outside. Don’t leave without me.”
“Don’t be long,” the younger woman warns and then smirks over her shoulder at Dan as she leaves.
“That’s Veronica, my little sister,” Charlotte explains in a long suffering voice. “Well...one of them anyway.”
Dan can’t think of anything to say so he just nods and Charlotte sighs.
“I should go. We should catch up some time,” she tells him and then leans in to press her cheek against his in something halfway between a hug and a goodbye kiss.
“Okay,” he agrees, his arms uncertain as to whether or not to wrap around her bare shoulders.
“Thank you for the dance,” she adds as she pulls back. “It was lovely Dan.”
“You’re welcome,” he says. “It was...it was nice to see you. And to dance. With you.”
“It was lovely to see you too,” Charlotte says with a soft smile. And before he can quite believe what’s happened she’s leant forward and pressed her soft lips against the corner of his mouth and then she’s gone and he’s left to watch the swish of her skirts as she pushes her way through the crowd.