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It Takes Two to Tango but Three to Swing

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Lucy tapped her foot nervously against the floor, an old nervous habit. Where was her sister!? They were supposed to take the stage at any moment.

“Sorry, sorry!” Amy whispered, sliding into place next to her. “You all good?”

“We’re on in sixty seconds,” Lucy whispered back. “No, I’m not good. This idea is insane.”

“Well, it’s too late. I did it. I talked to the judges and the crew, they’ve swapped out the song.”

Lucy took a few deep breaths. “Mom’s going to kill us.”

“She’s going to learn that she needs to bring her dances into the 21st Century.”

“No, she’s going to kill us.”

The couple on stage finished and took their bows, and the announcer bellowed, “Lucy and Amy Preston!”

Shit. Here went nothing.

Lucy let Amy take her hand and lead her out onto the smooth square dance floor in the middle of the room. Her heart was pounding. She agreed that their routine to Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman” had gotten old. She agreed that Mom needed to update her dance choreography. She agreed with everything that Amy was saying.

But did they have to make their objections known this way?

She got into position, counting in her head to calm herself down. Counting out the beats—one two three four, or one two three, or whatever the count for that particular dance happened to be—helped her.

Lucy didn’t dare look Carol Preston’s way as the music started up, and instead of Tarzan and Jane were swingin’ on a vine, there was the ding of a bell and…

Dance apocalyptic, bands they make her dance apocalyptic now,

Bands they make her dance apocalyptic,

Bands they make her dance apocalyptic now,

Bands they make her dance apocalyptic…

They held still for that intro, and then Amy led Lucy into their first step, and away they went.

Here was the thing: she really liked dancing to this song. She really, really liked dancing to it. And all of their secret late-night practices were paying off, as she moved into the movements spurred by Amy’s hands, or feet, or hips. She knew they looked good, dirty blonde and thick, dark brunette, spinning around on the dance floor, almost of the same height.

But was it going to be good enough to finally get them the points they needed?

If it wasn’t good enough, and they didn’t get better points, and Mom was mad at them for nothing—

But I need to know—if the world says it’s time to go, tell me will you freak out?

Smash, smash! Bang, bang! Don’t stop! Chalang-alang-alang!

Lucy refocused, smiling bright and wide for the judges, shoulders back, hand out with flair, ankles, knees, calves, all of it lining up.

Did the judges look like they liked it? What were they scribbling down? Fuck, they’d been so close to first place so many times, and they’d stagnated, they knew it, everyone knew it except for Mom, somehow, and Lucy was determined, she wanted that goddamn trophy—

Amy tugged on her a little more firmly and Lucy focused again. The steps were automatic by now, but automatic wasn’t good enough. She had to be in the moment.

You gotta life, but the zombie’s in the front yard,

Take a bath, but nothing gets the funk off,

You’re on TV,

Rockin’ and a rollin’

‘Cause the dead just love to rock n’ roll…

She couldn’t see Mom’s face, which was a good thing. Carol would be absolutely livid, and Amy seemed to be feeding off it. Lucy could feel the fierce joy in her sister and couldn’t help but feel it catch onto herself a little, like a flame jumping from one burning building onto another. She imitated Amy’s movements, the two of them mirroring each other, and then Amy grabbed her and pulled her in, spinning her out, and Lucy’s feet made quick work across the dance floor.

There ain’t no order in this courtroom!

Amy turned her in their most complicated spin, and Lucy made sure to get her arm into the right position, hardly daring to breathe until it was done.

She struck her final pose as Amy intentionally, continuing the bit, mouthed along to the final words of the song: What’s the matter? Your chicken tastes like pork? You had triplets instead of twins? Does your food taste plastic?

The crowd cheered, and Lucy thought they might have been cheering more loudly than necessary, but the crowd always cheered and so she couldn’t be sure. Maybe they were just being polite, maybe…

Amy tugged her into their bows, and then they hurried off stage to where Mom was waiting.

Shit, she looked like she was a volcano about to blow her top. “What exactly did you two think you were doing?”

“We were doing our routine to a song that would actually get us to the podium,” Amy replied.

Lucy’s heart pounded in her throat. She knew she should probably speak up, but she couldn’t seem to find the words.

“You went against the suggestions and order of your coach, is what you did, how can I possibly trust you?” Carol replied, using that patented I’m disappointed voice that always made Lucy’s stomach sink.

“They’re going to put us up on that podium,” Amy insisted. “And it’s going to be because we did something new and daring, instead of the same old things—”

“The things that work, the moves that are proven to—”

“If your traditional shit is working so well then why haven’t we gotten first place!?” Amy snapped.

Carol’s nostrils flared. “I ought to throw you off the team for this you rebellious—”

“You don’t have to throw me off,” Amy replied, her face blazing. “I quit.”

Lucy’s head snapped around to stare at her sister. “You—you what?”

The announcer began to list the winners.

“I’m not putting up with her anymore,” Amy said, staring at Carol even as she addressed Lucy, the two women staring each other down, so similar in face but so wildly different in temperament. “And you shouldn’t either.”

“—and in second place,” the announcer said, “Lucy and Amy Preston.”

Amy pointed up towards the ceiling in triumph as Carol snapped, “You would’ve gotten first place if you had just—”

“We never would’ve gotten on the podium if we had—”

Lucy wanted to clap her hands over her ears. Amy had already chosen to quit, what was the point in continuing to argue about it? She grabbed Amy’s wrist and tugged her away instead. “One moment, Mom.”

She turned to her sister. “You’ve got to be kidding me. Are you crazy?”

“No, you’re crazy if you stick with her!” Amy replied, finally lowering her voice a little. “You’re better than what she wants for you, and so am I. It’s time we performed what we want. Didn’t you like performing that?”

“Of course I did, I helped you pick out the song!”

“Then go after it! I’m not putting up with her anymore, if she can’t see what we did and appreciate it, then I’m not standing for it anymore. And neither should you.”

She did stand for it.

She stood for it, because Lucy wasn’t like Amy. She wasn’t—she knew Carol had been the best in her day, and she couldn’t choreograph on her own, and—and she wasn’t—she wasn’t brave like Amy was.

And so she stayed.

Amy didn’t… Amy was too kind, Amy was too loving, Amy never said a word against her for it. Never judged her. Or if she did judge her, she did it in the privacy of her own home, away from where Lucy could see it or hear about it.

Carol complained about Amy, about Lucy, about everything, but she had been complaining about everything that her daughters did for the last three decades so Lucy was used to that.

After a week of complaining, Carol brought on Lucy’s new partner: Wyatt Logan.

Wyatt was… he fit the type. Lucy wasn’t surprised that Carol had picked him. He had that all-American slightly old-fashioned good boy look that Carol favored, like he’d stepped out of a World War II campaign poster.

Lucy liked him, though. Liked him a bit too much. He cracked sly jokes while they were doing their warm ups, followed instructions, and rolled his eyes conspiratorially when Carol’s back was turned.

With Amy gone, with no friends, of course she latched onto her new dance partner. And she knew—she knew—that dancing created a false sense of intimacy, she had been dancing since she was five. The physical connection, the fact that you were staring into your partner’s eyes a lot depending on the dance, she got it, really. But she had been dancing almost exclusively with Amy for years, competing, and so she’d kind of… forgotten. She knew, intellectually, but she hadn’t really… yeah.

The best part, the most fun part: Wyatt was married.

Yeah.

Nothing happened. She wouldn’t do that. Wyatt and Jess were struggling, and his being away from home on the dance circuit clearly didn’t help, but Jess sounded lovely. Lucy said hi to her a few times on Skype, and once, she and Wyatt had gone out with a few other dancers and he got a little tipsy and told the story of how he proposed to Jess by opening the ring box upside down, and Lucy’d thought her heart would explode with how damn cute it was. She wasn’t going to do that to someone, anyone, but especially not someone who seemed as good as Jess.

But she wanted something to happen. Imagined, what if? And that—that was almost as bad as doing it.

The worst time was when they stayed up late, practicing their swing, because there was this one lift that Carol wanted them to do as a showstopper and Wyatt was struggling with it, and the both of them were so frustrated, and Lucy felt like she might actually beat her fists against the walls of the dance studio until either the walls broke down or her knuckles were bloodied down to the bone, or both, and she hated her mother so much in that moment and Wyatt mistook it for her being mad at him and she took his face in her hands and said no, I need you, and that was when she ran straight to Amy’s apartment.

Amy poured her a cup of coffee and ignored her concerns about the late hour. “I just got back from the club, anyway.”

Amy was trying her hand at DJing when she wasn’t working on some more modern dance choreography.

“I need to quit, don’t I?” Lucy asked.

“Mom is a lot of things, including manipulative, but I really do not see her hiring a hot married guy specifically to torture you,” Amy replied. “Besides, she wanted you to marry a doctor or something, remember Noah?”

“Please do not remind me of my past romantic mistakes,” Lucy moaned, burying her face in her hands on the table.

“I have to remind you, we’re both invited to his wedding to Dave in two months.” Amy winked at her and then passed her the milk and sugar. “And I like Dave. He's much better for Noah than you were. But really, Lucy, I think—I think yeah. I think a break would be good for you. It’s been good for me.”

“He’s a good person.”

“I know.”

“I haven’t done anything.”

“I know.”

“Mom would be so angry—”

“I know.” Amy stared at her, her expression gentle but unyielding, and Lucy stirred her coffee, wondering why she was half speculating about sipping it right now while it would burn her throat, why she wanted that. “Lucy, you’re burnt out. When was the last time you went out with friends? Of course you’re falling for the guy, he’s the only one you talk to besides Mom. When was the last time you did anything besides dance?”

She reached out and took Lucy’s hand. “Take a break.”

Lucy sank back into her chair. “Mom will kill me.”

“But you might actually start enjoying what you’re doing again.”

Lucy’s phone buzzed. She pulled it out, finding a text from Wyatt.

I told Carol I quit—I need to go back home and fix things with Jess.

Lucy didn’t know what the look on her face what, but judging by Amy’s concerned, “What?” a moment later, it must’ve been pretty bad.

“Wyatt’s quitting.” She set her phone down. Amy picked it up and read it, because Amy had never understood what ‘privacy’ meant.

“After tonight, I’d be pissed at him if he didn’t.”

Lucy buried her face in her hands again. “Fuck. When did my life become so fucked up?”

“You fell for the wrong guy, it’s fine, it happens. He’s going to go fix things with Jess, you’re going to take a break and get your groove back. Like Stella.” Amy grinned.

“I’m not going to Jamaica.”

“You should do something, Lucy. Take some time for yourself. Then come back, find a partner that Mom didn’t pick for you, find a coach or, hell, coach yourself!” Amy pushed the coffee back towards Lucy. “Get a new start. Mine is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Lucy sighed and began to sip her coffee as Amy took her phone and began scrolling through it.

“Wow,” Amy said after a moment. “Is that Jess? How the hell did that man leave his wife alone for months, look at her arms…”

“Please stop looking through my texts with Wyatt.” A new start. Taking a break. Finding a new partner.

She could do that, right? She was in her thirties, for crying out loud, she could be an independent adult for once in her life, away from Mom, right?

…right.