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Pas De Deux

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With thanks to iamnottrisha and taamagams!!

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Claire Beauchamp – Miss Claire to her students – sighed and rolled her stiff shoulders, squinting at the pile of lab reports yet to be graded.

Another Thursday night working late in her cramped office at PS 345, recognized for six straight years as one of Brooklyn’s top-performing middle schools. Two months ago she had started her fourth year as a seventh-grade science teacher, her creative approach to topics ranging from biology to buoyancy winning accolades from students and a precious tenure slot the year before.

She truly loved the school – so much so that after leaving Frank she’d bought a co-op just a ten-minute walk away, on the border of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens. The charming brownstones and tree-lined streets were the perfect antidote to her years living in a Manhattan high-rise, all cold steel and glass and cold neighbors and a cold husband married to his deals.

When she realized she’d been looking at the same diagram for five minutes, she sighed, feeling deflated. No use continuing tonight.

Quickly she organized the papers on her desk, shrugged into her blue peacoat, and slipped the remaining lab reports into her satchel. Already thinking about the Lebanese food she’d pick up on the walk home, and how Adso would wrap his furry gray body around her ankles as soon as she unlocked the front door.

She stepped into the hallway and locked the door behind her.

Faint music drifted from the direction of the arts wing.

Intrigued, she padded down the quiet hallway, passing lockers and darkened classrooms and walls covered with flyers of all colors and sizes. Turned at the corner –

Ah. Light blazed from the art studio, where Jamie Fraser hunched over a sink, his back to her, washing paintbrushes, fast-paced orchestral music blaring from speakers mounted at two corners of the room.

This wasn’t the first time that she and the second-year art teacher had found each other working late – and truth be told, seeing him there tonight made her smile.

Shaking her head – damn, she was just like her students sometimes, mooning over a ridiculous crush – she knocked loudly on the classroom door.

Jamie startled, turning to face her. Then smiled broadly, wiping paint-streaked hands on his denim smock.

“What’s it tonight?” she teased.

He fished a remote control out of his back pocket and dialed down the volume. “What did you say?”

“I said,” she smiled, slowly walking into the studio, “what are you listening to tonight?”

“Ah.” He leaned back against the sink. “Tchaikovsky – Swan Lake. I just got my hands on this great new recording from the Bolshoi, in Moscow. It’s amazing.”

“Ballet?” Claire’s eyebrows quirked, and she set her satchel down on one of the classroom tables – careful of the coffee cans full of paintbrushes.

Briefly Jamie turned away to set out the damp paintbrushes to dry on a towel beside the sink. “What – can’t a man have many tastes?”

“Well – whenever I’ve found you in here blasting your music before, it’s been anything from rock to folk to country music. I thought all of you artistic types were into the indie stuff.”

Jamie reached behind his back to untie the strings of his smock. “I only like the classics. Too much of art and music these days is bullshit. If you have to be told that it’s great, or told what political statement the art is making, then it’s not art.”

She smiled. Feeling refreshingly alert. “So, Mr. Artist – what is art?”

He hung up the smock on a peg beside the sink. Crossed the room to stand just a few steps away. Looking a bit tired in his flannel and corduroys – his eyes, however, so alive.

“Art is something that stirs you, and resonates with you, and that you know is beautiful.”

She swallowed.

He ran paint-stained hands through his short, thick red hair. “And, well – my sister is a professional ballet dancer.”

Claire laughed – tension suddenly relieved. “What?”

“Yeah.” Why did his voice sound so shy? “I grew up going to her practices and recitals. So I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for ballet.”

“Who was the Impressionist that was particularly enamored with drawing ballet dancers?”

“That would be Edgar Degas. The Met has rooms dedicated to his pastels.” Jamie tilted his head a bit. “Since when do science teachers know anything about art or ballet?”

She lifted her chin. “My uncle raised me after my parents died – he worked very hard to give me a well-rounded education.” She balled her hands into fists, safe within the pockets of her coat.

Jamie sat on the edge of the table. “My parents died too.”

Claire’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, I’m – ”

“Don’t apologize – please. Mom was an artist – she encouraged me, and my sister. After she died, my father did the same. And now, here I am.”

Claire swallowed. Wanting nothing more than to keep talking to this man.

“Do you like Lebanese food?”

“I can’t believe I’ve never been here before.”

Jamie wiped his mouth with a napkin before diving back into his piping-hot lamb sandwich.

“I love this place.” Claire took another bite of falafel, digging deep into the paper bag for another slice of pita. “It’s been owned by the same family since the turn of the century. And you saw all the grocery items, right?”

Jamie nodded, re-crossing his legs on the bench, watching the cars whizz by on Atlantic Avenue. “Do you live close to here?”

“Yeah. I love it. What about you?”

“I’m up in Greenpoint. I inherited Mom and Dad’s brownstone. It’s silly to be in such a big house by myself, but – ”

“But you can’t part with it. I understand.”

He turned to look at her. Really look at her – crazy curly hair pulled back in a messy bun, falafel crumbs on her coat, a smudge of white sauce on her chin.

Why hasn’t some lucky man snapped you up?

It took five seconds for his tired brain to realize he’d spoken the words aloud.

How he wanted to sink into the sidewalk.

But Claire set down her styrofoam tray. Pursed her lips. Really looked at him.

“One did,” she whispered. “But he threw me away.”

Chastened, Jamie reached across the bench. Wiped the sauce from her chin with the flimsy paper napkin from the take-out bag.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t apologize – please. I’ve got my own life now. My students – a job that I love.”

He didn’t say anything for a long time – watching her, and the taxicabs gliding by, and the hundreds and hundreds of people hurrying past on the sidewalk.

She cleared her throat. “Anyway. We got some baklava for dessert, right?”

“What are you doing tomorrow night?”

She blinked. “Friday? Um…nothing, I guess.”

He nodded. “Good. I want to take you somewhere, if that would be all right. Wear something halfway nice – we’ll leave from school.”

She raised her eyebrows. “Are you taking me out on a date, Jamie?”

He smirked. “Just returning the favor, Claire.”