If there was one thing Doug loved more than dancing it was his wife, Shirley. She was graceful and beautiful and when she kissed him he felt like he was spinning around on the dance floor, feeling the rhythm in his feet and the melody thrumming through his veins. She was everything perfect - or perfect for him. She fit in his arms like a she was made for him and he knew they were going to be together forever, dancing forever if he had any say in it.
To be fair, though, the only thing he thought he loved more than Shirley was dancing. It made his heart sing the way his feet moved so smoothly. It was as if he was born to dance, and born to love Shirley. No matter what else happened in his life, those two things would always remain true.
At least, that's what he'd thought two weeks ago. That night they were practicing for the Pan Pacific Amateur Five Dance Latin Championships. He'd shown her a new step, one he was calling the Bogo Pogo. It felt good to have her back pressed against his chest and his arms wrapped around her.
But she'd pushed him away.
"You know we can't, Doug." She'd sighed and pulled away from him. "It's not an approved step. We won't win."
"Who cares about winning, Shirl? It's the dancing that matters. Dancing our own steps, finding our own rhythm. We don't need to do what those fuddy duddies say we need to, we can make our own path, cha-cha-ing all the way.”
She heaved a big sigh again and he decided to pull her into his arms. He loved the feel of her hand on his shoulder, the way it seemed to hold her down when his ideas got too much for him and he was worried about floating way. They waltzed in familiar steps around the studio until he added in a little spin and she lost her temper.
"This is our career, Doug. I can't - I'm sorry, I can't."
She was in tears and he pulled her close. "Can't what, Shirley?"
"I can't dance with you. I can't dance your steps at the Pan Pacifics. There's our whole future to think of - a studio of our own, a family to support. We can't just throw it all away. I'm sorry, Doug. I'm sorry."
He let her go without thinking, stepping away from this woman - his wife - who was rejecting him. Who didn't want to dance with him, even though they were meant to move in each other's arms for the rest of their lives. She turned and ran from the studio, leaving him staring after her and feeling lost.
That led to today; to watching Shirley on the dance floor with Les. No more couple number one hundred. Now it was couple number fifty-five, Les Kendall and Shirley Hastings.
Oh, he'd told her that he'd forgiven her, and he'd even meant it. He knew that she was doing what she thought was best. She'd told him that Barry talked to her, explained the danger to their dreams. But he thought, as he watched Les spin her around the floor, her smile brittle and hard, that their dreams had died anyway.
It was time for him to wake up and start walking through life instead of dancing.
The lights blurred as he slid on his knees across the polished dance floor, making him feel dizzy. But when he stopped, Fran was there. Her red dress sparkled like stars in the spotlight and she was steady, grounded, a solid presence in the spin of the dance.
He couldn't get over the feel of her in his arms, the way she responded to the lightest pressure of his fingers and kept her eyes on his as if she trusted him, even after all he'd done.
The music spun around them like a spell and their feet moved together like they were one being and even under the sound of the audience cheering he could hear the rhythm in his heart and his gut and in Fran’s pulse where he could feel it under his fingers that rested on her neck.
Then the music stopped and he was going to at least leave with his dignity. They've lived without fear, danced their own steps, and now he'll take a bow and escort Fran off the floor. Until the clapping started and there was his father, tears in his eyes. More clapping, a rhythm to follow, and Rico and Ya Ya nodded at them, telling him to listen to the rhythm.
He turned to Fran, knew she'd follow him. She was the best partner he'd ever had, and she understood that following him didn't mean she was weak. She knew that putting her trust in him made them strong, on the floor at least, and he knew that away from here they were equals. He knew that her passion and her determination made him want to be better. Knew that in the future he'd be the one following her.
But for now as he began dancing he saw that she was as well.
The music came back on and he wondered if he'd ever feel more joy, but as he saw his father dancing, his mother looking up at him with a smile he felt as if his heart might burst. Then he kissed Fran and he wondered if he’d ever stop dancing.
"Well, I’m not saying my wife is fat, just that it would be hard to do the lifts this year."
Fran joined in the laughter of the group surrounding them, but a part of her - a large part of her - really wanted to punch her husband in the nose. At thirty-seven weeks she was getting really sick of the 'fat pregnant lady' jokes.
"You could have danced with Liz."
She was also getting sick of that.
Scott's dancing friends disappeared at the sound of Shirley’s voice, leaving Scott and Fran to turn around and face her.
Shirley, of course, didn't let Scott finish. "I'm just saying, a win for the studio would have been nice, instead of Ken Railings winning again."
Shirley was convinced that her son could still win the Pan Pacific Amateur Five Dance Latin Championship, but Fran was pretty much convinced that the judges would never forgive him for sliding in on his knees three years previous. Even without Barry Fife in the President's job, the judges didn't like the idea of new steps.
"You're so talented, Scott, you deserve to win and Liz could help you."
"Mum." Shirley finally stopped talking. "Fran's the only one I want to dance with ever again. She's the only one I'll compete with. She's the person that makes me the best I can be and I'm not going to be less than that by dancing with someone else. Fran is it for me."
Fran could feel her cheeks heat as the blush rose. That's why she loved him. She stretched, leaning on his arm for balance, and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
"The rhythm to my melody," he murmured against her ear, an echo of their wedding vows.
"And now it's time for the social dance!" the MC said behind them and Scott gave his mum a tight smile before he turned them both towards the dance floor.
"Can I have this dance? I should have asked."
"After what you just said? I'll never dance with another man again."
He laughed and took her in his arms, making room for the large belly that was between them.
"Except… no more fat comments," she said after a moment.
"I'm sorry. You're beautiful. You know that, don't you?"
She could feel the blush on her cheeks again, still not used to anyone thinking she was pretty. "Thank you."
She rested her cheek on his shoulder, ignoring the ache in her back from the extra weight she was carrying and the way she had to arch her back to manage the feat. They stayed that way even after the song had finished, swaying in each other's arms for another few, quiet moments. Then the pain that had been coming and going all day came back, starting at her lower back and becoming so strong that she couldn't stop the gasp.
"I think it’s time to go to the hospital."
"Looks like our son wants to get to the Pan Pacifics as well."
Kylie had finished her competition for the day. Just two years ago she would have kept her costume on, enjoying the pink frills and green sequins so different from the blue and white school uniform that she wore most days. Now, she just wanted it off. She pulled her jeans up under the full, purple skirt and grabbed a t-shirt out of her bag. The sooner she was changed, the sooner she could go find Luke and they could take off to the McDonald's up the street.
"Last year, I promise."
That was Scott's voice coming from the other side of the door.
"What?" And Fran. "No, Scott, I know you don't mean it. We don't want to give up."
Fran always sounded so earnest, like she always wanted the best for whoever she was talking to.
"I want to give up," Scott said. Kylie wondered if she should be listening in to a private conversation, but they were in the middle of the dressing rooms; they had to expect other people would be listening in.
"Yeah. You know as well as I do that the judges are never going to forgive us for '92. And with Hastings' Hunger coming together we just don't have the time. I’ll be travelling and filming. There’ll be no practice time, no time for us. It's time to give up competition."
"But you love to dance."
"I do, which is why I want to give up competition. I don't want to give up dancing with you; I'll dance with you forever. But I want Joaquin to grow up knowing dance is something you do because you love it, not because you want to win. And if he loves it, then I want him to dance for joy, not for a trophy. Okay?"
"Okay. Last year. But we do want to try to win today, right?"
"Don’t we always?."
Kylie heard them leave and snuck out of the change room. Luke walked in a few seconds later. "Ready for McDonalds?"
"No, I think I'm going to stay and watch the Latin finals."
"Yeah." After all, if it was Scott and Fran's last time in the Pan Pacific Grand Prix, she didn't want to miss it.
They walked out to the seating, seeking out her parents.
"Oh, Kylie, can you watch Jockie? I have to see about Natalie's dress."
"Sure." Her nephew's name was Joaquin, after Fran's grandfather, but her mother hadn't liked the name. Had said, "Oh, darling, I can’t pronounce that" and promptly christened him Jockie. Everyone called him that, even Fran's family. Everyone except Scott. And Kylie was sure that Scott only called him Joaquin to annoy their mother. It was his second birthday in two days and everyone was making a fuss of him, so much that they'd tired him out. He was fast asleep in his pram.
Kylie pushed him to the front of the stands and the jostling woke him up.
"Ready to see Mummy and daddy dance?" she asked him.
"Yay!" She settled him on her lap just as the dancers stepped onto the dance floor.
As always, Fran and Scott danced like there was no one else in the room. Their eyes never left each other as they moved around gracefully.
"They dance beautifully together," her mother said, sitting down beside them. "If only they'd stick with the proper steps they'd be winning every year." The still danced non-federation and they didn't care a bit.
"Hi, Nan!" Jockie chirped and her mother leaned down to pinch at his cheek.
"We'll just have to make sure you stick with federation steps, right, Jockie?"
"And we'll be relying on you to win the Pan Pacifics, Kylie. You're almost as good as Scott; if you concentrate on your dancing a bit more, you and Luke could take it out."
Kylie hummed noncommittally then yelled, "Come on number 100!" As she'd hoped it focussed her mother back on the competition and left her to wonder if she wanted to see herself on that floor in the years to come.
The smile on Shirley’s face felt brittle. It was that smile she always wore when she was waiting for a chance to cry.
"You did well, Natalie," she said as Clary led the girl off the dance floor. "We'll work on your arms at your next lesson."
"Thanks, Mrs Hastings."
She left them to walk towards the dressing rooms and found Wayne and Vanessa. She reached forward and fixed the collar of Wayne's shirt. "You two look perfect. Do us proud out there."
"We will, Mrs Hastings," Vanessa said before turning towards the curtain. Shirley stood and watched as they headed out for the New Vogue competition.
Liz was out there as well; her new partner had a perfect carriage as he turned her about the room.
It was always wonderful to see her students doing well, but none of her family were here today and that left her feeling empty.
"Kylie's not dancing this year?"
Shirley turned to face Marian, a rival from Danceland studios. "No. She's taking a couple of years off. Year twelve, you know. So important. And the Pan Pacifics are so close to the final exam time."
"Of course. But Kylie couldn't do dance as a year twelve subject? That's what Jasmine's doing."
They both looked towards Jasmine in the adult competition already and beautiful in neon pink.
"No, the school wouldn't allow it." The lie tripped off her tongue so easily, but the truth was that Kylie had given it up. Had actually sat at her dinner table and told her that she wouldn't dance any longer. Apparently Kylie had no great passion for dance and would rather spend her time in the darkroom on her photography projects. Neither of her children dancing anymore, and her husband off helping Scott and Fran today rather than being here supporting her.
She wanted to blame Fran for it all. Fran who talked about lives half-lived and who always talked about following passion and living life to the fullest. Fran who convinced Kylie to give up dance, or at least told her that it was okay to do so.
Really the whole family had felt out of control ever since Fran joined it. She took Scott away and Doug away and now she had taken Kylie away. Truly took Kylie away since Kylie was staying with them for the first two weeks of her summer break.
But maybe it was more than that; maybe Shirley had pushed them away from dance, put too much pressure on them. That's what Doug said at any rate. And now Doug was angry at her again, after a lovely few years where they were working again, for the first time since the sixties. She remembered telling her son once that she got bored of Doug, but it wasn't true; looking at him made her ashamed, brought back all her guilt from leaving him at their chance at the Pan Pacifics. Doug broke that day and she was the one who broke him, and now it looked like she'd broken the rest of her family as well.
Oh, she was getting melancholy in her old age. She hadn’t broken anyone, she was just lonely. She should concentrate on the young people around her, not the children who had left her to dance alone.
"Did you see us?" Vanessa asked as she came off the floor.
"You were wonderful."
Shirley's house was empty and she was alone. It was Christmas Day and she was sitting at her dining room table, alone.
Doug had been there in the morning when she'd woken up. He'd even pulled her into his arms, kissed her, and handed over a CD of her favourite love songs with a ‘Merry Christmas.’ Then she'd asked what he'd like for lunch and he'd told her he was going to Scott and Fran’s.
Shirley didn't think they'd been invited; thought everyone was still incensed about the argument with Kylie and the way she'd yelled at Fran at the dinner table and insulted Rico and told Kylie how selfish she was. But Fran had apparently visited while she was at the studio and asked Doug if they wanted to join her family for Christmas lunch. Perfect Fran. Of course she would invite them.
But Shirley had yet to hear an apology from her children; no matter what the argument was about or who insulted whom, she was still their mother and deserved to be treated with respect.
Doug had looked disappointed in her; she hated it when he looked disappointed and she'd tried to convince him to stay home and she'd cook a roast.
"Both our children will be there, Shirl. And our grandson. This is our family, and Christmas is a day for family. Today's the day when you forgive and forget, and they're willing to forgive you."
"Forgive me?" she'd asked. "What if I'm not willing to forgive them?"
"You were the one to insult them, Shirley."
"Go, if you're going to. Go have lunch with them. I'll be fine on my own."
"Don't be like that." He stepped closer to her, holding out a hand, but she refused to take it. "Well, come when you're ready."
He stepped out the door and started walking the few blocks to the milk bar.
Shirley pottered around the house, dusting a bit and folding the laundry, the sort of things she'd do on a Sunday morning when Kylie was off with friends and Doug was at table tennis. She walked into Kylie's room to drop off some clean laundry and found on the desk a wrapped present. It had 'Mum" written on it and she finally decided to open it.
It was a framed picture of her and Doug dancing, clearly taken at last year's Pan Pacifics. They were in the social and she was looking up at Doug with a bright smile. Doug looked down at her with love filling his eyes and she wondered yet again what she'd done to deserve the man. She'd driven both her children from the house, her youngest just sixteen years old. She'd betrayed her husband when they were barely married and spent years berating him to cover her own guilt.
A drop of water plopped onto the glass covering the photo and she realised she was crying. She didn't want to be alone on Christmas Day.
She picked up her handbag and walked towards the milk bar.
Shirley followed the sound of music and laughter down the side of the milk bar. Scott told her, at their engagement party, how he’d walked this exact path and found himself dragged into a dance lesson, after a bit of yelling. And now she was here, watching Fran’s father teach Jockie flamenco while Doug and Kylie danced around the table.
Shirley looked up to see Fran standing there, a bowl of potato salad in her hands.
”Jockie’s doing well with the flamenco.” Shirley felt a bit stupid saying it, but Fran laughed.
”He gets the arms, sometimes, but the footwork? He’s just making noise. Were you going to come in?”
”I wasn’t sure I’d be welcome.”
”You’re always welcome. We’re your family.” Fran transferred the bowl to one hand and threaded her other through Shirley’s elbow, then dragged her forward. ”Look who I found!”
”Nana! Merry Kissmas!” Jockie came running up and Shirley bent to lift him into her arms.
”Fran!” she said, stopping Fran from stepping towards the table.
Fran turned, eyes bright under the santa hat.
”I – I think you should call me Shirley, don’t you?”
Fran’s eyes got impossibly warmer and Shirley knew she recognised the peace offering for what it was. She stepped forward and pressed a kiss to Shirley’s cheek.
”Merry Christmas, Shirley.”
”Merry Christmas, Fran.”
”Merry Kissmas!” Jockie said, dragging Fran into a hug. Laughing, they both kissed him on the cheek and Shirley hid her face in his neck for a moment, just to get control of herself. Her eyes were perhaps still a bit teary when she looked up again, but Fran didn’t comment on it, just motioned towards the table and Shirley walked forward, to spend Christmas with her family.