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Through the haze of champagne

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Frank was on the ground, falling. Falling through consciousness: lucidity was a slippery thing. The worst part was the confusion- nothing made sense- why am I falling? It doesn’t... it...

“Pneumonia?” A voice said, stricken. Tyres were squealing. Footsteps were pattering. A rhythm long forgotten sprang to mind. But that word still rang in his head above the tune of chaos around him. Pneumonia? Ridiculous. A cold was a cold, no matter your age. His chest seized. A hacking cough drew out thick, syrupy mucus. Frank sputtered; and he was falling... falling...

.

Adjusting his tie, Frank looked around the hall. The violins squealed their tune across the dance floor, filling the hazy air with what Frank assumed was a tasteful tune. There was a background murmuring, a rhythmical pattering, a feel of collective togetherness, but Frank was lost. He had joined the army for this exact day, the day of victory; but now, with his tie incessantly askew, he wasn’t feeling particularly victorious. The banner pronouncing ‘V-DAY’ hung overhead, a reminder of his isolation. A drink would be nice, he supposed.

An hour later, an empty glass of what had been champagne (champagne!) in his hand, his eyes wandered back to the dance floor. With the support of fool’s courage, he placed the glass clumsily ln the bar, hopping off the stool. He tripped on his own two feet- there was a reason he wasn’t dancing- but before he could hit the floor, someone was catching him, gripping his arms, taking his weight.
“Easy there, soldier,” a girl laughed. “Why aren’t you dancing, huh?”
“Can’t,” he mumbled, twisting around to see her face.
“Twoddle,” she retorted. “Follow me.”

She managed to grin him onto the dance floor, her curls bouncing as she smiled at him. She was gorgeous. He was starstruck. Give him a moment to collect himself and he’d be waxing lyrical all over her floral print dress. Open-mouthed, because something about the way her eyes were twinkling prohibited him from collecting himself further, he stumbled after her to the centre of the dance floor. It was warmer there; bodies were packed closely together, swaying to the violins.

“I’m Elizabeth,” she said, still smiling.
Frank stared at her. He was supposed to answer, wasn’t he? Damn.
“Frank,” he stuttered out. Her eyes were definitely twinkling now, merriment and intoxication probably making the entire scene much less embarrassing for her than it was for him. Her lips twitched like she was trying not to laugh. Shaking her head, she took his arms and placed him in an awkward hold.
“We’ll start easy, huh?” She smirked as he focused far too heavily on the way his hand sat on her waist. He managed a weak smile.
“Sorry, I-“ he began, but she cut him off with a shake of her head.
“Just feel the music and follow my lead.” She began to dance- to dance with him, he reminded himself, which meant that presumably he’d have to start moving his feet, too- but as he stepped one way, his body turned another and he tripped (because that was just his luck) and fell.

The embarrassment came hot and heavy over his whole body, sprawled stupidly on the floor, his face flushing red in the snap of a beat of the drums. The small tittering of laughter, whilst expected, still hurt, and he dreaded opening his eyes to see Elizabeth’s face. He creaked one eye open, ready to escape, and instead saw her smile still there, still mesmerising, wide and welcoming, and her pulling him up to his feet.
“So you really can’t dance, huh?” She said, brushing the dust off his shoulders. “Well that’s okay. You fix me a drink and I’ll teach you to waltz.”
Bewildered, Frank mumbled, “but I spent all my money,” because he had, just a few minutes ago on that ridiculously indulgent champagne when he was feeling sorry for himself by the bar.

She snorted. “Well, take me back to your place and I’ll nick some of your stock, then teach you to dance.” Frank, lost though he was, began to feel a little more at home.
“Okay,” he murmured, staring at Elizabeth. “Yeah, okay.”

.

“Frank? Frank, please darling?” There was a voice, a familiar one too. “Frank stay with me, okay?”

.

“Okay,” Elizabeth drawled. “Then call me Betsy.”

.

“B-“ a cough. A splutter. “B-“. Frank was trying so hard to form the word but there was a sort of resistance, a pressure pushing down on his throat.
“Frank!” A gasp and a cool, clammy hand on his forehead. “Frank, listen darling, can you do that-“ Could he listen? Of course he could: he’d listened to her teaching him to dance, hadn’t he?

.

“Frank!” Elizabeth- Betsy, Frank reminded himself- snapped. “Listen! Count the beat in your head. One to eight. It’s not that difficult!”

.

“Frank!” That was Betsy, snapping again. “They’ve put some tube thing down your throat to clear your lungs, so don’t try and speak, okay?” Well, it wasn’t like he did much of the talking anyway: she did enough for the both of them.

Frank shifted, groaning. He much preferred the warmth of his small apartment where Betsy was smiling as she told him off for his awful time-keeping to this dingy, low-lighted room that stank of sterility. He’d thought it was a cold, a simple, meagre cold, and yet here he was. And he felt utterly... exhausted. He felt drained, like the mucus in his chest was weighing him down, anchoring him where he lay. Like every rattling breath he took was more effort than anything he endured during the war. Like he was stumbling, tripping...

“Easy there, soldier,” Betsy said quietly. It wasn’t teasing this time. It was subdued and watery, muffled by the handkerchief she was using to dab at her eyes. Frank was staring up at her, the familiar face he’d loved for so long, and yet he still somehow felt like that haze of champagne hadn’t lifted, was still blurring his vision, making her image warp and dance again like she was twenty, young and lively.

“Oh, Frank,” she mumbled, lisfting his hand up to her face. “Dance with me Frank. One last time.” The tears were falling freely now, sliding down her wrinkled cheeks and dripping into the palm of his hand. I could keep them there, he thought blearily. I could keep her tears away from her. “Dance with me Frank,” she pleaded again, shaking now under the strain of her sadness.

But Frank couldn’t help it. He had a tendency to fall.