Oddly enough, it’s Kylie that first approaches Fran after the Pan Pacifics. Fran hasn’t been sure how she was going to fit in with the dance studio, but Scott keeps smiling at her and taking her hand and pulling gently and she’s just followed his lead.
It’s on one of those odd afternoons where she’s been trying to follow along to the tango which is similar in passion to the pasodoble, even with all the rules and carefully constructed arched eyebrows. She likes the firmness of the moves and the way she has to stretch her body in distinctive lines.
After their practice, Fran’s helping to put away the records when Kylie approaches her with a grimace.
“My hair band’s gotten all tangled and Mum’s on the phone yelling at someone, can you help?” Kylie asks all in a rush.
Fran smiles. “Of course. Have a seat and we’ll take a look.”
Kylie grins and hops up on the counter and Fran starts to detangle Kylie’s fine hair out of her sparkly hair band.
“Yikes,” Fran says. “You’ve got yourself a good tangle here.”
“I know,” Kylie says with a sigh. “It always does this. I don’t know why I bother with this one.”
“The sparkles?” Fran suggests.
“Most likely,” Kylie agrees.
Fran carefully unpicks her hair, apologising when she has to tug a bit.
“I have to say, this whole experience with you and Scott has really made me take a closer look at literary tropes,” Kylie says after a few minutes.
As per usual when Kylie says something, it takes Fran a second to parse out the meaning of it. In this case, she just decides to go with, “Oh? How so?”
“Well, clearly Scott’s been on some kind of hero’s journey,” Kylie says ruffling the ends of her hot pink satin skirt. “Overcoming adversity to win the trophy and all that. But you’ve been a wonderful example of a fairy tale.”
Fran pauses. “I have?”
“Oh yes,” Kylie says turning her head to look at Fran and smile. “It’s been like Cinderella brought to life! It’s been great fun to watch. What’s it been like to go through?”
“Ah, well,” Fran says. “To be honest, I hadn’t realised I was in a fairy tale. Let alone Cinderella. Although now that I think about it I did get myself a brand-new dress.”
Kylie nods. “See? That’s the thing, isn’t it? The people in the story never have any idea they’re in one.”
“Something like that,” Fran mutters.
“But you have been in one,” Kylie says, “even if you haven’t realised it. You’ve certainly followed the story line of one, with your humble beginnings to turning up at a ball and dancing with the prince.” She wrinkles her nose. “Not that Scott’s much of a prince. He leaves wet towels on the floor of the bathroom and has the horrible habit of eating far too fast.”
“Duly noted,” Fran says with a chuckle.
“But I have really enjoyed being so close to the story,” Kylie says. “I even played a minor part!”
“You played a very big part,” Fran says, remembering hearing how Kylie did her best to turn the music back on. “You stared down the dragon.”
Kylie giggles. “She certainly had the breath of one. Too many cigarettes, I expect. I actually have to do a project for school on fairy tales,” she says. “Ooh! You can help me! Wait here.”
Kylie hops down, her hairband still stubbornly clinging to a few strands. Fran watches her rifle through her bag and then come back to Fran with a bright lime green spiral bound notebook. She hops back up on the counter and Fran goes back to fixing her hair.
“I’m going to write down a list of tropes,” Kylie says writing quickly in the notebook. “And I want you to put a tick next to the ones that apply and a brief description.”
“Okay,” Fran says. “When do you need this back by?”
“ASAP,” Kylie chirps. “Please!”
“No worries,” Fran says.
Kylie tears the paper out of her notebook shedding tiny bits of white paper and hands it to Fran.
“Wow,” Fran says. “There are a lot of things on here.”
“They may not all be appropriate,” Kylie says, “but I bet some of them are.”
Fran eyes the list and wonders just what is being taught in school these days.
“Well, I’ll certainly give this a go. However, I think we’re done here,” Fran says as she pulls the hairband clear of Kylie’s hair and hands it to her. “My lady.”
Kylie giggles again and smiles up at Fran over her shoulder. “I like you, Fran.”
“I like you, too, Kylie,” Fran says bemused.
Kylie grins and hops off the counter to go chat with Luke, while Fran stares after her, her mind awhirl. A fairy tale? Really? Her? Just Fran?
The thought flies out of her head when Scott comes over to her with a serious face, but a cheerful glint in his eyes and holds out his hand. A familiar beat fills the studio, and then she’s gliding across the floor, her skirt swirling around her shins.
But the idea doesn’t quite go away for good.
She’s humming a waltz under her breath as she walks inside her bedroom the following evening. She’s not altogether sure she’s a fan of the waltz, but there’s something relaxing and soothing about three-quarter time. She’d been happy to give it a go with Scott earlier that afternoon and he’d teased her about the fierce look she’d had on her face.
“It’s not the pasodoble,” he’d said smoothing his hands along the curve of her back and grinning. “We’re not battling each other for dominance.”
She’d arched an eyebrow at him and he’d just winked, but she took his meaning and relaxed. Fran would never quite manage the plastic smiles that some of the other women had, but she could do relaxed.
In fact, Len has taken to calling her their Mona Lisa based on her smaller smiles and since he was beaming happily as he said it, Fran took it as a compliment.
She’s still humming as she changes out of her dance clothes into her pyjamas and heads towards bed. Her humming stops when her toe kicks something on the floor as she pulls her covers back. She bends over and spots the pair of shoes she was first wearing when she started dancing with Scott.
They’re still looking rather worse for wear and she remembers the day she bought them.
It was the day after she’d decided that she’d give fitting in in their small town one last go, after Natalie had encouraged her to come along to a free taster session of dance lessons at the dance studio.
She’d liked it. She liked the colour of the dresses and the feeling of whirling around a hardwood floor, her arms in the air. It reminded her of dancing as a child with her mother in their kitchen. The studio didn’t teach anything like what she’d grown up with, but it was something and it was accepted and, well, it wasn’t her father’s kind of dancing and she kind of liked that, too. The tiny flare of rebellion felt warm and welcome in her stomach.
She’d never fit in with these people, but maybe she could come close. She’d try really hard, at the very least.
“Happy feet need happy shoes!” Shirley had called out eyeing Fran’s worn sneakers. “If you want to be a real champion, you need to get those heels up!”
Fran had nodded manically and smiled back, determined to find a pair the next day.
A cheap pair, mind you.
She found the shoes eventually in an op shop, tucked down in the bottom of dingy plastic laundry basket. The straps were crooked and she had to work to straighten them enough to slip them through the buckle. They weren’t fashionable, but they had the right heel and when she put them on, she felt…lovely.
The moment ended when the bell over the door rang loudly and some teenagers barrelled in, their voices shrill and loud. She slipped the shoes off quickly and bought them without hesitation.
After her shift in the milk bar, she cleaned the shoes as carefully as she could, getting the rhinestones to sparkle even in the dim light of her bedside lamp. She slipped them on and shifted her weight in them. They were a little on the big side. She twisted her lips to the side.
“Socks,” she muttered.
After a few minutes, she stood up in the shoes again.
“Well,” she’d said brightly alone in her room, “let’s see if you can stand up to a step ball change.”
And they had, Fran thinks as she moves the shoes to her closet. They held up to new steps and old steps and she’d been wearing them when Scott had finally looked at her. Really looked at her.
“Fairy tale strikes again,” she murmurs, tucking the shoes next to her newer black patent leather shoes. The contrast is great between the used and the new, but Fran just smiles.
She hadn’t needed flashy shoes to dance the way she wanted to. She’d just needed courage.
Besides, she thinks as she crawls under her covers, if Cinderella had danced the meringue in glass slippers, she would have broken the heels with the first turn.
She makes a note on the paper that Kylie gave her.
Fran is not the traditional blonde Australian beauty.
She knows this. It’s impossible to not know this.
She has dark, unruly hair and fair skin and she cannot tan to save her life, she’s not petite and really, she knows all of this. It’s been repeated to her throughout the years by friends, not friends, some family and her own thoughts.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that even after the Pan Pacifics she’s still given some odd looks. Mrs Hastings in particular keeps looking at Fran like she’s some kind of alien that she just cannot figure out.
“Frannie, my dear,” Shirley says one afternoon with that crooked smile on her face that spells out how much she still doesn’t understand the connection between Scott and Fran but isn’t planning to say anything out right and is actually trying to be pleasant. “I love what you’ve, uh, done with your hair.”
Fran blinks because the truth is she hasn’t done anything with her hair, but she just says, “Thank you, Mrs Hastings.”
“If you wanted, my friend, Armand at the salon, would be more than happy to see if he can straighten those curls of yours,” she continues. “It might be a new striking look for you at the competition next month. Maybe attach some little red gems to accentuate your eyes? What do you think?”
Fran thinks that the last time she tried adhering rhinestones to her skin, she broke out in a rash due to the adhesive and the one and only time someone attempted to straighten her curls she ended up with slightly singed wavy lanks of hair. She highly doubts that Armand will have better luck.
The thing is - when Mrs Hastings is in a good mood, a genuine mood, she has some really good tips.
“You know laying a warm washrag over your face at the end of the day is a fabulous way to open those pores,” she’d said one evening. “Then give your face a nice, gentle scrub.”
She’d paused and then said knowingly, “My mother was a waitress and sweat and grease can be murder on a complexion, Franny.”
It was the first time anyone had acknowledged that maybe Fran had a life outside of turning up at the studio and Fran hadn’t known whether to be touched that Mrs Hastings was offering her advice or if it was a jab at Fran’s job.
So, she’d done what she’d always done and smiled. Brightly and falsely as she’d said, “Thank you, Mrs Hastings!”
Therefore, when now faced with rhinestones and hair straightening, Fran still smiles brightly, but says, “I’ll have a think, Mrs Hastings, thank you!”
The thing is: Fran has always known that she wasn’t some grand beauty nor was she ever going to be one.
But that was never the point, as YaYa had always put it.
“It is what is inside of you, mi vida,” she’d say when she’d catch Fran trying to colour her hair or adding blush to her fair skin. “When you are happy with what is inside of you, then the outside will shine.”
She supposes that she did shine at the Pan Pacific and she felt bright and beautiful when she was dancing. But there are always those few minutes though before she takes her shower in the morning when she stares at her reflection and wonders what Scott sees in her.
Then she teaches him something new or manages to keep up with him and he grins and well, she feels that inner beauty break through.
As she walks away from Mrs Hastings, she thinks of Kylie’s fairy tales and starts to wonder if Kylie may have been on to something because she keeps ticking things off that bloody list.
The thought occurs to her again when she’s walking home with Scott after he’d come by her house for dinner and dancing lessons with her dad and he asks, “What was your mum like?”
Fran pauses and then says softly, “Kind. Very smart. Practical. She did the books for the milk bar and watched every single penny.” She smiles. “She loved to laugh.”
“She sounds like YaYa,” Scott says squeezing her hand.
“There’s a definite similarity,” Fran says chuckling. “She was so beautiful. Tiny and full of life.” She makes a face. “I have no idea how I ended up so tall. Not at all the petite ideal, I guess.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Scott says stopping under the streetlight and tugging on her hand so that she faces him. “I like that I can look you in the eyes. That I can see what you see. It’s nice.”
“Yeah?” Fran says softly.
“Yeah,” he says nodding. Then he leans down and Fran forgets about her childhood wish to be tiny and blonde and just focuses on the real warmth of the man in front of her.
But, speaking of tiny and blonde…
The next day, Fran’s walking behind the bar to grab the soap flakes when Liz rounds it at the same time, a large bottle of Coke in her hand.
They manage to both pull up before colliding, but some of Liz’s Coke spills out of the bottle onto Fran’s skirt.
“Watch where you’re going, Frangi -“ Liz cuts herself off with what looks to be extreme effort. She closes her eyes and takes a breath while Fran just arches an eyebrow. Liz lets out the breath and opens her eyes and says a brief, harsh, “Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Fran says, still a little wary of the other woman.
“I’m trying not to be quite so abrasive,” Liz explains, “but it’s hard to dial back the bitch sometimes, you know.”
“Thank you for the effort,” Fran says, something like steel entering her voice.
Liz grins suddenly at her. “No worries.” The grin slips off her face as she looks away. “I, uh, wanted to warn you.”
“About what the others at the competitions might say about you and Scott. They’ll probably call you a partner-snatcher and all sorts,” Liz says looking her in the eyes.
“Okay,” Fran frowns.
“Look, I know I’m a Type A personality and can be abrasive, but the others might be worse than me,” Liz says and the image of a dozen Liz’s in yellow feathers flashes behind Fran’s eyes, but Liz continues, “Technically, you’re still just a beginner and you just swooped in and won the bloody thing, so expect some nasty glares and comments. We might be all smiles and glamour, but we can be a right catty bunch when we want to be.
“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” Fran says dryly.
“Plus considering Scott and I actually went out for a while,” Liz goes on, “people might, um, mention that, too.”
“I knew you two dated,” Fran says awkwardly.
“Yeah, well. Scott and I just did stuff because they all expected it. We were partners, what else were we going to do? It wasn’t anything serious.” She gives Fran a sly look. “However, the man has lovely hands.”
“Tell me about it,” Fran says unexpectedly giggling. She purses her lips and looks away, but Liz just grins again.
“So, that father of yours,” she starts.
“No,” Fran says firmly.
Liz shrugs. “Just checking.”
Then she’s off in a whirl of yellow and white and Fran takes a moment to admire the other woman’s sheer force of personality, before she heads to the dressing room to change her skirt.
Scott comes to find her on the rooftop later and looks concerned.
“Hey, Vanessa said that you and Liz were talking earlier.” Before Fran can say anything he starts to ramble. “Look. We didn’t exactly date, you know. I mean, we did. We were partners, but…it wasn’t… it was never.” He makes a face and then looks her straight in the eyes and says, “What I had with her was nothing like what I have with you.”
“It’s fine,” Fran says, taking his hand. “She’s just, you know, Liz. She takes a bit of getting used to.”
“Tell me about it,” Scott says rolling his eyes.
“She’s a great dancer, too,” Fran says. “You two looked good together.”
“I like how I look with you more,” he says quietly. “I like how I feel when I’m with you.”
Warmth fills Fran’s cheeks and she ducks her head.
“There is just one thing I’d like to know,” Fran asks hesitantly.
Scott looks up at her intently and says, “Anything, Fran.”
“Well,” she takes a deep breath and then asks, “What the bloody hell is a bogo-pogo?”
Scott stares at her and then when she grins, he laughs and whirls her around. “Well, mi Francisca, a bogo-pogo is the following.”
He pulls her in close and she tilts her face to his. He gives her a quick grin and then spins her out, his arm arching to the side in the air. She copies the pose. Her only warning is Scott’s cheeky wink and then he pulls her in close, thrusting his chest against hers and pulling her arm across him. She stifles a giggle because this feels absurd.
He then quickly whirls her so that her back is flush against his chest, his hands firm and warm and wide on her hips and oh, God, this was ill-advised, she feels her cheeks flush as he guides her pelvis back into the cradle of his and it’s a quick thrust forward and backward and it’s ridiculous and she shouldn’t feel this turned on and suddenly he’s spinning her and his mouth covers hers and, and, and…
They pull apart fifteen minutes later when they hear Les calling for Shirley and Fran knows there’s no hiding the blush in her cheeks or the hickey on her neck. Or, well, the hickey on Scott’s neck, but she really can’t bring herself to be too embarrassed.
Bloody Bogo Pogo.
Lovely dance move, that one.
And finally, the Happily Ever After.
“Your list, madam,” Fran says on Saturday morning handing a crisp sheet of paper to Kylie with her notes on it.
“Oh, crikey, Fran!” Kylie says grinning and reading. “This is brilliant! Thanks!”
“It was my pleasure,” Fran says and really means it.
“Wait. You didn’t tick Happily Ever After,” Kylie says with a frown. She looks up at Fran. “Why not?”
“Well, you do know that fairy tales aren’t actually real, right?” Fran asks.
Kylie rolls her eyes. “Of course.”
“Right then,” Fran says. “In that case, why would I tick something that happens behind a red curtain, when the real thing is so much better?”
Kylie’s forehead furrows as she thinks, but then she laughs. “Gotcha! That’s definitely going into the paper. Thanks, Fran! I knew asking you was going to be great idea.”
Fran chuckles as Kylie skips away to join Luke on the dance floor and then when a strong pair of hands settles on her waist, she sighs happily.
“Has Kylie done her astonish the grown-ups act on you?” Scot murmurs next to her ear.
“Something like that,” Fran says shaking her head. “She’s something.”
“I think she’s a changeling,” Scott says. “I don’t know where she gets half the stuff she comes up with.”
“I like her,” Fran says as she turns in the circle of his arms. “She thinks we’re a fairy tale, you and I.”
Scott frowns and shakes his head. “Nah. Not enough singing animals for a fairy tale.”
Fran pokes his stomach but he just grins and leans in for a kiss. Just as things start to get interesting, Shirley calls for him from downstairs.
They both huff and press their foreheads together.
“Feel like catching a film at the cinema later this week?” he asks. “Top Hat’s on for the late show. We can go and watch the professionals? Pick up some tips?”
“Sounds lovely,” she says smiling and pressing a quick kiss to his lips.
He grins back and tugs her back into the studio and Fran thinks, Stuff the fairy tale. Give me real life any day.