One thing he loves about dancing that he'll never tell Stella is that he gets to be in control. He raises his arm, she spins; he steps forward, she steps back; he wants to promenade or corte or send them in another direction, she follows his lead. He just has to put the lightest pressure on her back, or push forward, transferring his momentum to her through the delicious contact of their centers. In the Standard and Smooth dances, you're supposed to be able to put a sheet of paper between your torso and your partner's, and stay close enough that it never has a chance to fall. Since he was thirteen, he's never let that imaginary sheet of paper fall, not when he's dancing with Stella.
In the rest of their lives, it's totally different. She's the smart one; that "J.D." after her name says as much. She was the one who figured out how they could still manage to eat when she was making peanuts from a research fellowship in law school and he wasn't doing much better in his first years on the force. When they finally started making enough money to actually have a choice of apartments, she was the one who called all the landlords to set up viewings, dragging him along behind her so he could offer his opinion. (He didn't care if they lived under a bridge as long as Stella was with him. Well, okay, he needed the stereo so he could dance with her, and bridges don't usually come with electricity, but other than that, he didn't care.) It's not that he's helpless—he'd survived for her first two years at Northwestern, when she was living in the dorms and he had his own place, and he does his share of the laundry and cleaning and cooking (Stella's a terrible cook)—but she's really good at figuring these things out, making plans and making them work, and it's just easier to let her take over. Besides, she enjoys all that big-picture stuff; she's always saying, "In five years we'll," or "Ten years from now we should," and it'll be something big, like buy a house or have some crazy amount of money saved for retirement.
He's in charge of the details she'd otherwise let go: he reminds her to eat when she's brought home a thousand pages of case notes to go over, and takes her on night drives with the windows down, so she can feel the wind in her hair. He puts on something with the right beat, takes her in his arms, and dances her all around the apartment.
Another thing he loves about dancing that he tells Stella all the time is that she transforms when she dances. When there's no music, she moves confidently and sexily (there is never a moment when Stella isn't sexy, and if anyone says otherwise he'll kick 'em in the head), but when she's dancing to a rumba or a cha-cha she's hot on a whole new level. Those dances, the Latin ones, basically exist to show off a woman's hips, and she can move hers with the best of them. He doesn't have to do all that much—most of his steps are just the basic over and over again while she spins and twists and curls her free arm like a charmed snake, all those little details that turn it from just a shuffling of feet into a dance—so he can spend a lot of time watching her. She mesmerizes him, that's for sure; he leads her into an alemana or sliding doors and barely remembers to breathe, much less what to do after.
He knows the hip motion makes her feel sultry. (That was the word she'd used, back when they were teenagers and would spend hours practicing the figure-eight movement until it felt right, that one stretch and flex of the abs translating all the way down his leg, snapping his knee and foot into place for a long, long beat before he rolled his weight back onto his rear leg and did it all again, over and over.) And that sultriness (it's a good word) shows on her face, in the tilt of her shoulders, in the tips of her fingers when she extends them during a New Yorker or a Samba walk. Sometimes she looks at him from under her lashes, just a hint of a smile on her face, and goddamn, it's like having sex in public.
There's a reason he likes the Latin dances best.
Right now, Stella's at the kitchen table, taking notes on her notes on her notes, as far as he can tell, for a big robbery trial coming up next week. She's been at it for hours, and his neck is cramping in sympathy. He walks over to the stereo and pulls a CD from its case, slipping it into the machine. He selects the right track, and Queen pours out of the speakers, guitars and hand-claps setting the rhythm before Freddie Mercury starts singing about a crazy little thing called love. Stella raises her head at the sound.
He hustles across the room to the table and holds out his hand. "Dance with me?"
"The people downstairs are going to hate us, doing swing at ten o'clock at night," she says.
"Song's only three minutes long. Come on, you need a break."
She raises her eyebrow, but tosses her pen on the table and takes his hand.
One thing she loves about dancing that she'll never tell Ray is that she doesn't have to be in charge. Between them, she's usually the practical one, always has been, and she likes it that way. She hates being unprepared, and she's making a name for herself at work because she's always the one who knows every last detail, even the supposedly irrelevant ones, about the cases she's working on. She can't imagine anything more embarrassing than being caught unprepared in front of a jury, and it bleeds over into the rest of her life. In their marriage, she's the ground wire—and Ray's the electricity that makes grounding worthwhile.
But when they're dancing, Ray is the one who has to deal with the practicalities of making sure they don't run into anyone as they travel around the floor, or keeping their steps small enough that they don't bump into any of the furniture when they're dancing around the apartment. She helps, of course, squeezing his hand and telling him to watch out for the couple two inches behind them or the chair he's about to run into, but most of the time she can just concentrate on the position of her arms, on the arch of her back, on keeping her balance when he's spinning her a dozen times across the floor. (That's a step they came up with when they were kids, screwing around to some jive music after a lesson. She loves to spin when she's dancing with Ray, because no matter how dizzy she gets, he'll always catch her, hold her up and lead her back into a set of basics until she gets the ground back under her feet.)
Ray's an excellent lead, and she tells him this whenever she thinks his head won't swell too much from it. She's danced waltzes and tangos with partners who were afraid to get as close as you have to in order to actually communicate through your bodies. Ray's never been afraid to push his pelvis right up against hers, to hold her so that there's no mistaking what he wants to do.
Off the dance floor, he goes along with what she decides more often than not, because he just doesn't care as much as she does about how they're going to juggle that unexpected transmission repair bill or when they're finally going to replace that hideous hand-me-down sofa. But he'll think of the things she never seems to have time for: he'll take her for a drive along the water in the newly-repaired car, and rent a movie to watch on the new sofa. (Which they won't actually see much of, because first he'll start kissing her neck, and then they'll wind up using that sofa for purposes it was never designed for.) If she says she wants to get better at a particular dance, he'll collect every tape and CD they own with a song that has the right beat and spend a Saturday afternoon dancing with her.
They both like pushing each other to get better, to master this step or perfect that piece of technique. When she was fourteen, he told her point blank that her foxtrot heel turn was shit (which it was) and then practiced it with her a hundred times until she burned it into her muscle memory. She's put her hands on his hips and twisted him back and forth until he got the swivel right for the time step. He sometimes lets his technique on that get sloppy, and she's sure it isn't because he doesn't remember the correct way to do it. But she enjoys the review as much as he does.
Sometimes she'll take a break halfway through a song, feigning exhaustion (it's not always fake; Ray has this reserve of energy that she can never seem to deplete no matter how hard she tries) just so she can watch him. He's always graceful, lithe and catlike, but when he dances, he grounds that fluidity in the textbook straight-backed, square-shouldered male dance frame, and there's something incredibly sexy about it. She watches him, and her breath catches in her throat.
Right now, that nervous energy and effortless grace are on display as he wanders around the apartment, picking things up, putting them down, staring out the windows with a sigh. The police versus fire department baseball game they were going to cheer at this afternoon got rained out, and both of them are at loose ends. She gets up from her perch on the sofa and walks over to the stereo, where she selects a CD, puts it in, and hits "play."
Ray relaxes the moment the first note emerges from the speakers. She doesn't even have to ask if he wants to dance, because he's already holding out his hand for her. "Sinatra, huh?" he asks as he pulls her close, his other hand coming to rest in its usual place just under her shoulder blade.
"It seemed like that kind of day," she says as he steps forward, and she follows his lead.