Dance With Me
Sometimes life requires a partner.
Ed Maurer has bounced back, more or less, from the neck injury that permanently benched his semipro football career. He hates his soul-killing office job, but he loves volunteering at a local community center. The only fly in his ointment is the dance instructor, Laurie Parker, who can’t seem to stay out of his way.
Laurie was once one of the most celebrated ballet dancers in the world, but now he volunteers at Halcyon Center to avoid his society mother’s machinations. It would be a perfect escape, except for the oaf of a football player cutting him glares from across the room.
When Laurie has a ballroom dancing emergency and Ed stands in as his partner, their perceptions of each other turn upside down. Dancing leads to friendship, being friends leads to becoming lovers, but most important of all, their partnership shows them how to heal the pain of their pasts. Because with every turn across the floor, Ed and Laurie realize the only escape from their personal demons is to keep dancing—together.
La Bouche pulsed through the gym as Ed pushed his way through, some remix of “Be My Lover”. Generally Ed preferred to leave the nineties right where he’d left them, but he had to admit, this song always made his toe tap.
Of course, not once in his memory had the song come with a hyped-up chipmunk with a mic screaming over the top of it.
Laurence Parker was some big-time dance instructor whose family lived in Medina and who used to dance on Broadway or something. He was everything Ed hated in a man: rich, from the suburbs, and a freaking billboard for gay stereotypes. His whole life Ed had fought the “gay is girly” shit, and he was damn sick of it. Gay could also mean a semipro football player. Who listened to Britney, yeah, but he knew a few of the other guys on the team who did too. Really, Ed was a pretty macho guy who happened to be gay.
He was overly feminine both in his looks and his gestures. He was a dancer and an aerobics instructor. He fussed about getting dirty. He was stylish and graceful.
He listened to Barbra Streisand.
They weren’t great reasons to hate somebody, but Ed got his back up every time their paths crossed. So far in the month Ed had been coming to the center, they’d fought over Ed’s mess in the locker room, space on the bulletin board, whether or not it was unhygienic of Ed to spit into the drinking fountain, whether or not everyone from the suburbs was a pompous ass, the relative merits of dancing and football, and above all, the volume of the music Laurie used to accompany his classes.
This wasn’t the first time the P.A. system had failed to work the way the maintenance people swore it was wired to. On other nights when he was in the weight room with a client, Ed had been content to vent his spleen and make Parker as worked up as he was. Sometimes he’d managed to get the volume turned down, but that was it.
Tonight was different, and so tonight he planned to make his approach differently. To start, he smiled as he wove his way to Laurie through the throng of sweaty, flailing, middle-aged women. But Laurie didn’t smile back.
“No.” Laurie flipped up the mouthpiece of the mic, still stepping from side to side in time to the music. “No, I will not turn down my music. No, it is not my fault the system keeps screwing up. No, I will not use a CD player, because I can’t. And yes, I have to count, because that’s the way we do it in aerobics class.” He gave Ed a withering look. “Did I miss anything? Or have you thought up some new idiotic objections?”
“I’m teaching a class too.” Ed nodded to the hall. “In the weight room. In five minutes. Where right now no one can stand to be for more than ten seconds because it sounds like the aerobics class from hell.”
“It’s not my fault—”
“No, it’s not. But you’re the only one who can do anything about it right now. I want to know what it takes to get you to use a different sound system for tonight.”
Laurie pursed his lips. “There is no other—”
“There is, actually. It’s old, and it’s fussy, but it would work for one night. This class of mine isn’t like training somebody where I can go out to the hall and explain something and then use sign language to communicate in the weight room itself. I need them to hear me.”
“Tell them to come back next week when the system is fixed.”
“I have as much right to be here as you do. You get your way every time this happens. It’s your turn to bend over.”
The look Laurie gave Ed could have cut glass.
“I’m sacrificing too,” Ed said quickly, because he honestly did not want to piss Laurie off further until he got what he was after. “So I want to know: what is it you need? Something here at the center, something outside of the center, you name it. Your car washed and waxed while you direct me from a lawn chair, your flowerbed dug up, whatever. What do you need?”
Laurie regarded Ed thoughtfully for a few beats. “You really want it this time, don’t you?”
“I do. Surely you can think of some suitably degrading task you’d love to give the meddling Neanderthal in exchange for one half of one night on a subpar sound system.”
Laurie blushed and looked away. “She wasn’t supposed to tell you I said that.”
“Give me something. Anything. Something embarrassing. I’m never going to give you a better opening than this. Anything, buddy. Anything.”
For a minute Laurie seemed haunted and oddly vulnerable. “Anything?”
Laurie’s expression became hard again. “What I need is for you to come one night a week and be my assistant at my dance studio.”
Ed blinked. Dancing assistant? “What night?”
“Tuesdays. Seven to eight. For five weeks.”
Ed grinned. “Consider it done.”
Ed rolled his eyes. “Then tell me already. My class is about to start.”
“As my assistant, mostly you’ll be dancing with me.”
Ed shrugged. “Okay. Is that all?”
Laurie regarded him with extreme suspicion. “You will dance with me. Just like that?”
“Do I have to do it naked or something?”
“I’m serious about this. So if your plan is to agree now, get your way, and then stand me up—”
“If I’m not there, you can go to Vic to get your pound of flesh. You know she’ll be good for it. Now, can I get you the damn sound system?”
When Laurie nodded in reluctant approval, Ed hurried to the stage. But before he had half the equipment out, he felt a hand on his arm. Laurie was there, holding out a business card.
“You’ll lose your class time. I’ll do it. Here, take this, and go.”
Ed stopped with one speaker hoisted in midair and raised an eyebrow.
Laurie pressed the card into his hand. “Six forty-five next Tuesday at the address on this card. Wear comfortable clothing and dress shoes with a heel. If you do this for me, it really will be a favor, and I don’t mind hauling out the equipment and pausing my class to do it. But if you don’t show up, I’ll collect the pound of flesh myself.”
“Fair enough.” Ed put the speaker down, pocketed the card and stuck out his hand. “Thanks, buddy.”
Laurie put his hand in Ed’s, his slim fingers swallowed in Ed’s beefy paw. “You’re welcome.”
“See you at quarter to seven on Tuesday,” he called out, breaking into a jog and vaulting off the edge of the stage for his class.