Enjoy the Dance

Dance with your heart, and love will follow.

 

Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.

 

Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.

 

But Spenser and Tomás’s world is poised to crash around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.

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Excerpt

While his boss got ready to go on his first-anniversary dinner date with his husband, Tomás Jimenez argued with his mother on the phone as he dry-mopped the dance floor, sprayed down the mirrored walls, and disinfected the barre of the Dayton’s Bluff Parker Dance Studio. “No, I don’t need a new sweater, Mama.”

“But they’re on sale. Only two dollars. In a nice blue. It would bring out your eyes.”

 

“I don’t need a sweater. Save the money, okay?”

 

“You would look handsome in this, and I want you to have it.” She sighed. “I’m going to buy it. You’ll wear it to church. If you ever go again, God save your soul.”

 

Tomás rolled his eyes but scuttled his frustration, because he knew from experience it wouldn’t do him any good. “Mama, I need to go. I’m still at work. I need to finish up.”

 

“I left your plate in the oven. When will you be home?”

 

“As soon as I finish up here, which will happen a lot faster if I get off the phone.”

 

“Don’t be rude.” He heard a rustle of hangers in the background as she sifted through racks of clothing. “We’ll still be out when you get home. When we finish here, we’re going to the other thrift store on the east side of St. Paul. The baby needs new clothes. Oh, I meant to tell you this morning, but you left so early. We have the kids tonight.”

 

Wonderful. This meant his sister was still on her fun bender, out partying while he worked himself to death. Not the time or the right person for that fight. “Okay. Tell Dad to be careful driving.”

 

“Of course. He’s always careful.”

 

“I’ll see you at home. And don’t buy the sweater.”

 

“I’m buying the sweater. I love you, mijo.”

 

“I love you too.”

 

When Tomás hung up and tucked the phone in his pocket, he saw his employer had come out of the dressing room. Laurie Parker smiled wryly at Tomás. “Your mother, I assume?”

 

The entire conversation had taken place in Spanish, and his parents were the only people Tomás spoke to in that language, so it was an easy guess. Though the loving exasperation in his voice while addressing his mother probably gave him away more. “Yes. She’s buying me a sweater. And making sure I know I have dinner in the oven.” He waggled his eyebrows as he gave Laurie a proper once-over. “Looking good, boss. Ed won’t know what hit him.”

 

Laurie waved the compliment away, but Tomás knew the flattery was appreciated. “He should be by any minute. He’s running late, he said. Has a surprise.”

 

The trepidation in Laurie’s voice was endearing. He and his husband kept each other on their toes, and Tomás wasn’t ashamed to admit he was jealous. “One year already. Seems like yesterday I met you and you were getting ready to go to Iowa to get married.”

 

Laurie stopped fussing with his tie and leaned on one of the support pillars at the edge of the floor. “I didn’t expect everyone to remember, but they had a big banner at Halcyon Center this morning. My mother sent flowers, and Ed’s parents gave us a lovely card. Duon left a gift for me too. A ream of paper, with a note explaining that’s what we get for a first-year anniversary. I won’t tell him I can see the hole exactly where he took it from in the supply cabinet.”

 

Tomás leaned on his mop handle. “When did he stop by? I didn’t see him in class tonight, which surprised me.”

 

“I assume it was earlier today, when I was still at Halcyon. I’ll have to ask Effie. But you’re right, it’s odd he wasn’t around.”

 

“I’ll check on him tomorrow. Make sure everything’s okay.” Tomás picked up his cleaning supplies and carted them to the closet. He had his mouth open to ask Laurie about the next day’s classes when something in the trash caught his eye. “What’s this?” He pulled out the flyer, then swore. “Hell, who brought that in here?”

 

Laurie glared at the paper as well. “Someone had taped it to the door when I arrived.”

Tomás buried the flyer in the trash once again, but the green-and-blue-on-white image was burned in his mind. Vote Yes: Marriage Equals One Man, One Woman. “This is what, the fifth one this week?”

“Yes. I assume someone knows a married gay man owns the studio.” Laurie pressed fingertips to his temple. “I’ll be so glad when the election is over. I can’t run to the store for a gallon of milk without passing a million signs to VOTE YES or VOTE NO on the way. To say nothing of the newspapers, ads, and Facebook posts.”

 

“What happens to your marriage, if it passes?”

 

“I don’t know. I would like to think nothing, but I honestly have no idea.” Laurie folded his arms over his abdomen. “I worry about our insurance, if it were to pass. I have Ed on mine, and you know how much health care need he has. If they pass this and for some reason I can’t carry him…”

Holy shit, yeah. That would be bad. Tomás squelched the sick feeling in his gut and did his best to appear breezy. “You’ll find a way to work it out. And thank God for the health-care law. At least you have a backup.”

 

“I suppose.”

 

Laurie didn’t seem reassured, and it was clear this was a heavy concern for him, one that dwelling on it didn’t help. Tomás changed the subject. “Where are you going for dinner?”

 

“La Belle Vie. And thanks to Ed’s surprise, we’re nearly late for our reservation.” On cue, Ed’s car pulled up out front, and Laurie relaxed, glancing at Tomás. “Would you mind closing up before you go?”

Tomás waved him away. “I’ve got this.”

 

He locked the door behind Laurie and finished securing the studio for the night. The building had a security system far more sophisticated than Laurie’s other studio because of the neighborhood it was in. While the St. Paul studio was where Laurie’s heart was, the classes in Eden Prairie brought in the money that kept this place going. The instructors over there made more money as well, and Laurie had offered Tomás a job there several times. But Tomás liked the students here. They were, by and large, his kind of people. Far more nonwhite faces. The Dayton’s Bluff studio attracted a wider swath of socioeconomic status too. Some classes were over half students present because of a scholarship. But they all had heart.

No, this was the studio where Tomás wanted to be.

 

But because he took the pay cut to be here, he had not one job, not two jobs, but three jobs, and only enough time between them to shovel food into his face and get a few hours sleep. His coworkers, the ones who didn’t know his full story, all scolded him for working so much. Ed and Laurie had been at the front of that line, until Tomás’s meltdown last spring when he’d gotten drunk and confessed it all. It was shortly after this discussion when Laurie had expanded Tomás’s hours and increased his salary as much as he could, and Tomás didn’t let himself be proud about it, simply accepted the extra cash.

Once the studio was locked up for the night and the alarm set, Tomás drove home. He lived in East Midway, in an ancient four-story apartment building overlooking University. He’d lived there since he was eight, before the construction had begun on the Metro Green Line, before the sex shop had closed. When he and his sister were young, his mother insisted on walking them to school because the neighborhood was bad. Now it was partially gentrified, to the point that every year they were nervous the landlord would sell and their rents would go up, or they’d be kicked out entirely because their grim three-bedroom spread would become shiny new condo space.

It was still his familiar shithole for now, and as he turned into his parking lot he saw the even lower-rent building across the alley had a huge VOTE YES sign in the front yard. In the streetlight it practically glowed. Tomás curled his lip at it. He was pretty sure the place was owned by the guy who kept getting sued by the ACLU for refusing to rent to refugees.

 

God, sometimes the world made Tomás so tired.

 

Thinking of the ACLU dragged up the nagging thought that Tomás did need to call the lawyer tomorrow. And his sister, to have it out with her about chasing potential new boyfriends instead of finding a job. Of course, she wouldn’t answer when she saw his number. He needed to call Duon too and make sure he was all right. But first he was going into the apartment and eating his plate from the oven in blissful silence. For at least a few minutes nobody was going to need him. Maybe he’d crawl into bed before his parents and the kids came home, and he’d get an almost decent night’s worth of sleep for a change.

Except he wasn’t halfway down the dimly lit hallway when the door across from his apartment opened. Tomás stood straighter and smiled at the cute white guy who lived across the hall. He was ninety percent sure the guy was gay, because every time Tomás made eye contact, the man blushed like a wallflower hoping someone would ask him to dance.

 

But today the white guy didn’t smile back, and his blush was more of a flush from being stressed. In fact, he seemed upset.

 

“Tomás?” The man held out his hand. “Hi. I’m your neighbor, but I don’t think we’ve ever been properly introduced. I’m…Spenser. Spenser Harris. I live…here.” He gestured awkwardly at his door.

God, but this guy was adorable. Tomás wanted to wrap the guy up in a blanket, soothe him, then climb into bed alongside him. He held out his hand. “Tomás Jimenez. Nice to meet you.” When his flirtatious tone failed to settle Spenser, Tomás became serious too. “Is something wrong?”

 

Spenser ran a hand through his straight, light-brown hair, which was styled in an artfully messy way Tomás’s dark curly hair would never tolerate. “I…don’t know how to explain, to be honest. I suppose you could say I had something of a surprise when I came home. Someone was here, in front of my door, someone who knows you. Hurt. I’ve done what I can to calm him, but he’s asking for you.”

Tomás held up his hands. “Hold on. Slow down. Who is looking for me? Who’s hurt?”

 

“Duon. Your friend Duon is in my apartment. Sleeping on the couch, waiting for you. His cousins beat him up, and his grandmother kicked him out.” He frowned. “Or he ran away. I’m not entirely sure.”

 

Tomás sagged, staring stupidly at Spenser. Worry tangled with weariness and shock, though to his shame, his predominant emotion wasn’t an eagerness to help but rather a sense of exhaustion. I can’t take on anymore. Pushing this thought aside, Tomás drew an unsteady breath and forced himself to stand straight. “It’s okay. Thanks for taking care of him. I’ll move him over to our place and figure out where to go from here.”

 

Spenser held up a hand. “There’s one other problem. It’s fine for him to go with you, since he clearly knows you, but he’s been badly beaten. And I’m a teacher, which means I’m a mandatory reporter.”

Tomás stilled. “Mandatory reporter of what? To whom?”

 

“Of child abuse, and possibly neglect. The beating was done by his cousins, and it was his grandmother who kicked him out. I don’t have a choice. I have to call DHS.”

Tomás could only blink at Spenser until disbelief gave way to quiet rage. “Tell me you’re kidding.”

Spenser stood straighter, jutting out his chin. “This is a serious situation. I can’t send Duon home to be hurt again. Maybe it will work out with his grandmother, maybe he’s wrong and she’s worried for him, not glad he’s gone, but if not—”

 

Goddamned white people. The thought of what this asshole’s searching for a savior cookie would do to Duon and possibly Tomás’s family made him tremble with rage. “Whatever the hell is wrong with Duon and his family, bringing the Department of Human Services into it isn’t going to fix shit. I can take care of this, but you can’t—”

“You don’t get to figure out where to go from here, and neither do I.”

 

Oh Jesus Christ. The sick feeling in Tomás’s stomach curdled into full-on dread. White boy wasn’t cute at all, not anymore. He was a meddling monster determined to wreck everything. “You have no idea what it means, calling in DHS. You have no idea what you’ll do to Duon.” To me.

“I do, actually.” Spenser looked about as weary as Tomás, but he had steel about him as he gestured to the closed door of his apartment. “Why don’t you come inside, and we can all work together to get him through this situation?”

 

Tomás thought fleetingly of his promised dinner waiting in the oven. Of the silence in his apartment, the soft solitude of his bed. Of his parents and his nieces and nephew, who were due to come home any moment. Then he thought about Duon huddled in this stranger’s apartment.

Nodding, Tomás gathered his mental forces and followed Spenser inside.

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