One drink in.
“Caleb, Caleb, dance with me!”
“No, but thank you though, Jester.”
Two drinks in.
“Come on, Caleb, you promised me you could waltz.”
“Maybe I will show you later, somewhere more private.”
Three drinks in.
“Caaaleebbb, you cannot keep a lady waiting all night, you know.”
“I am going to bed now.”
Jester knocked on Caleb’s door ever so softly, as only to disturb his reading, not his slumber. No response. She frowned. Maybe the faintly raucous noises of the tavern below disguised her knock. She tried again.
“Caleb? Are you asleep in there?” Her face pressed up against the door jam.
Bed springs creaked and the door opened, leaving Jester at eye level with Caleb’s chest. She peered up at his tired face, that had nothing to do with how late it was, and cracked an innocently mischievously smile up at him.
“Oh, good! I haven’t woken you up.” Jester said much louder this time as she pushed past him into the room.
She planted herself in the center of the room while Caleb pressed the door closed. A single candle from Caleb’s nightstand was the only source of light, casting dramatic shadows on his face. Jester thought they made him look nice, still the same shape of Caleb but obscuring some of the grime.
“What do you need from me?” He asked.
“You said you would show me how you can dance if we were in a place that was more private.” She stated. “Everybody else is still fucking around downstairs so this is probably the best time you are going to get.”
“I don’t know, Jester, I haven’t waltzed in a very long time.” Caleb fidgeted with his hands in front of him, staring at them intently.
“It’s okay!” Jester shouted. “I am going to let you in on a little secret, I lied earlier. Just a teeny tiny bit though, don’t worry. The truth is, I am not so good at waltzing. I only learned one time and, like I said, I was not so good at it. I am definitely not as good at it as I am at the piano. But that’s okay! Because I was thinking that you could teach me so I am better, you know, for later.”
Caleb spent a little more time contemplating his fidgeting fingers before glancing up to Jester, his weary eyes showing a faint dance of jollity, the likes of which she had only witnessed in a few particular bookstores.
“Waltzing is not really so hard, so long as you have a good leader.” Caleb’s crooked smile didn’t look like it knew how to carry itself. Jester wanted to squeal and pinch his cheeks but she restrained herself, unwilling to jeopardize her dance.
“Is that a yes?” Jester eyed him from under a raised eyebrow.
In answer, Caleb took her hand in his and pulled her just close enough to be considered dance partners. He positioned her hands on him with a few mutters and even less eye contact. When he finally decided to acknowledge her in full again, Jester beamed at him so brightly it was like there were two candles in the room. It scared his gaze off but not before a shy smile crept across his lips.
“You are going to step backwards while I step forwards, like this.” He stepped forwards, landing on Jester’s toe.
“Ow! Oh, I didn’t know you meant now. I’ve got it, I’ve got it, don’t worry Caleb.” Jester tried again, this time successfully stepping in time with her partner.
“Now just follow me, like you are making a box with your feet.”
Caleb’s feet glided across the rickety wooden floor with an elegant grace that betrayed any self deprecations, followed by Jester’s clunky but well meaning steps. He was clearly much better at this than he advertised.
“I’m doing it, Caleb, look!” Jester shrieked. Her ankle wavered a bit but she saved it, catching herself on Caleb. He tightened his grip on her and gave her a concerned look, which she answered with a sheepish grin.
“Yes you are.” His chuckle disappeared into the dark corners of the room.
They spun circles around the room, in and out of the flickering candlelight that obscured their figures and features, giving the illusion that they were dancing with a stranger. Jester almost believed it, for in this moment, she could hardly recognize her travelling companion. The Caleb she knew didn’t dance, or god forbid, smile while doing it. She was dancing with a stranger, a mysterious and handsome stranger she wanted to see in brighter light.
Eventually, Caleb’s ingrained grace bled into Jester, turning their cautious tiptoeing into a familiar dance. With each step, Jester inched herself closer to Caleb, forcing them to be real dance partners. The ones she read in her romance novels did not dance at arm's length, they embraced each other.
“You know,” Caleb said nearly inaudibly, “I have not danced like this in a very long time. This is good. I missed it.” The earnest in his voice tugged at fragile strings inside Jester. “It is just like I remember it. Although, it is much better with music. Music makes it much more,” He considered his word choice for a moment, “romantic.”
Jester gasped softly then concentrated on the candle on the nightstand. Her eyes glowed for a moment as a soft, three part melody flowed from the corner of the room. Caleb spun his head around to the corner, unable to spot a source of the tune. But the satisfied smile on Jester’s face when he returned gave it away. His entire demeanor softened. His face easier on the world, his tension filled muscles relaxed into the melody, his self conscious mind allowing Jester into his space and treating her like a real dance partner.
A newfound energy prompted Caleb to let go of her waist, a gesture Jester didn’t realize she would dislike so much until it happened. He twirled her arm up and over her head, causing her skirt to flair and brush against his shins. She giggled as he seamlessly pulled her back into his embrace, closer than before, his hand now wrapped around to her lower back instead of placed firmly on her hip.
“I have never danced with a boy before. Not for real, I mean, not like this.”
“You call alone in my room, ‘for real?’ Wouldn’t you rather it be on a dance floor in a room full of people?” Caleb asked, the self conscious Caleb she knew so well.
Jester considered it for a moment, then stated with unabashed confidence, “No.”
“Then I hope I am a good first partner.”
The pair danced around the room silently, their synchronous steps growing slower and their bodies growing closer. Their waltz turned into a stagnant, yet intimate swaying in each other’s arms. Jester let her hand fall down to Caleb’s bicep, making room for her head on his shoulder. He tightened his arm around her waist and leaned his head against hers, cradled between her horns. She could hear him humming the now familiar notes of the song into her ear as he trailed his thumb across the back of her hand.
Jester wished this moment would never end. The thought took her by surprise. Caleb was the boy who smelled funny and seemed to only like books and pushed people away. She didn’t recognize the man across from her. Upon further inspection, he didn’t actually smell so terrible and apparently liked dancing and was holding her rather closely.
Caleb was a present hand wrapped in old newspaper. Discarded among the beautiful bows and opened last, but inside was the only gift you still treasured years later.
The rumbling sound of footfalls and drunken whoops filled the hallway and next door room. The rest of The Mighty Nein had returned from their revelry. Jester reluctantly picked her head up from Caleb’s shoulder, breaking them both out of their candlelit and violin accompanied trance. She stepped away but Caleb’s hand trailed down her arm as she did, their fingers tangling up with each other’s.
Disappointed, Jester said, “I should probably go, before Nott comes back.”
“Yeah,” Caleb breathed. He held Jester’s eyes for a record breaking amount of time, encapsulating them in a sentimental melancholy she didn’t quite understand, but somehow found herself sharing. “Thank you for making me do this.” He said earnestly. “I wish very much that we could do it more often.”
He took both of Jester’s hands in his. The candlelight flickered on the jumble of fingers between them. They had stepped closer once more, looking as if they were cradling something precious in the space between them. But it was only their hands.
“So do I.” Jester gulped, sure her hands were getting sweaty in his. “You know, Caleb, I think you-”
The door drunkenly slammed open, ruining their candlelit moment with a wall of torchlight and a goblin shaped shadow. Nott entered the room. She was swaying in place- very unlike the way Jester and Caleb had just been- and taking in the scene of her two friends in the middle of the room clasping each other to the tune of a phantom melody. Jester halted the music as she and Caleb untangled their fingers guiltily and turned their bodies to face Nott, their shoulders just brushing each other’s. The contact through Caleb’s thick cloak still shivers down her arm.
“Hello Jester,” Nott slurred her words. With any luck she wouldn’t remember this tomorrow. “What are you doing in my room?”
“I was just leaving right now, Nott. I was just saying goodnight to Caleb. I did not want him to have to go to bed all alone without saying goodnight to anybody if you were going to stay down in the tavern. But you didn’t! So everything is okay and Caleb won’t be lonely.” Both Nott and Caleb stared silently at her. Nott’s impaired motor systems trying to process the information; Caleb’s sidelong glance looking endearingly at her. “OkayIamleavingnow, goodnight Nott!”
Jester darted past Nott and into the hallway. She stopped a little short, peering back around into the room. Softly, she said, “Goodnight, Caleb.” She couldn’t maintain eye contact for more than a second before her burning cheeks forced her to drop it. She darted down the hallway without waiting for an answer.
In their room, Beau was face down on the bed and snoring, fully clothed. Jester snuck into the room and climbed under her covers with a blissfully disappointed sigh. After a few moments of her mind racing with dance steps and musical notes and clasped hands, a gravelly, accented voice sounded in her head. “Goodnight, Jester.”
Jester giggled, causing a shuffle and a louder than normal snore from Beau. She covered her mouth but used thaumaturgy once more on her pillow. She fell asleep to memories and the melody of Caleb’s waltz.