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a life half lived

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The memories have grown imprecise, and fractured with time. The past comes to her in bits and pieces, as impressions, sensations: late nights, muggy summer air, the rhythmic sound of dance steps against hardwood. She remembers curling up in her grandmother's arms, her body slow and heavy with sleep; she remembers her mother, laughing, her hair a dark arc behind her as she twirled in father's arms.

Grandmother cups her face after Fran stumbles, wipes the tears from her cheeks, and says: "dancing is in your blood, Francesca. You must believe."

Fran believes, but: there's a rhythm beating in Fran's heart and mind that her feet can't follow.

The flyer comes in the mail: a man and woman, glossy and smiling and in perfect step. Fran bites her lower lip, and wistfully traces the proud line of the woman's spine with her fingertip. Fran thinks: maybe. . . no, I shouldn't. . . but, I want to dance.

"Dance classes?" her father says, later (weeks later, when Fran has decided, when she is absolutely certain). He shakes his newspaper, frustrated. "You already know how to dance, Francesca. Or do you think I haven't taught you well enough?"

Dancing is in her father's blood. His feet know how to carry him forward where Fran's fail her, year after year.

"Please," Fran says, "please."

There are photos of dancers all over the studio. Mrs. Hastings is a dancer, a champion, and there are things that Fran can learn from her. She is learning, and so Fran doesn't give up even when Mrs. Hastings smiles, and shakes her head, and says: "oh, Fran--no, no no! That's all wrong!"

Fran has made up her mind, and she won't ever quit. She loves dancing, and if Mrs. Hastings' kindness stings, it is still bearable.

(Fran hates the smell of apricot.)

The steps come easier, at home, late in the day. Fran helps her grandmother cook, and dances between fridge and oven and sink. Fran dances, and her grandmother follows. In the end, they laughingly fall into their own steps.

Her grandmother's voice is warm with love and memories. "You have a good eye for dance," she says, "like your mother."

Scott Hastings is confident, nearly arrogant. Fran's breath comes quicker the first time she sees him dance. He is powerful, commanding, and Fran thinks that he is the perfect image of masculine beauty.

She doesn't talk to him. He nods at her politely when they pass, without really noticing her. Fran isn't surprised, and doesn't mind--Scott Hastings is a dancer, a star beyond her reach.

(She uses Mrs. Hastings' apricot facial scrub for the first time; rinses it off with a sick feeling of disappointment in herself.)

Fran doesn't start to fall in love until the first time she catches Scott practicing his own dance steps. Fran watches him, silent and unseen. She presses her hand to her chest, and feels the impassioned rhythm of her own heart.

She thinks that maybe--just maybe--Scott Hastings might understand her. The thought makes her blush, and makes her feet shift in anticipation.

Fran dreams of late nights, muggy summer air, and hardwood vibrating beneath her feet.

It's not a dream; not anymore. Fran is a dancer, and she isn't afraid.