Authors: Heidi Cullinan
Tags: #Contemporary, #m/m romance
Dance with Me
by Heidi Cullinan
First published in 2011
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Dancing with the feet is one thing, but dancing with the heart is another.
~ Author Unknown
for Susan Danic
Mike Webster for the music
Ricky Jimenez for the football advice and for giving Ed his neck injury
Keith for Minnesota domestic partnership research
Crystal Thompson for help on navigating the Twin Cities
Sue for alpha reading and general cheerleading
Dan, Crystal, Jason, Chris, Cate, Signy and Marie for helping me iron out the kinks in the draft
Jules for the Hail Mary in act three
The Goodreads m/m romance discussion group for the finer points of sex in a hot tub
Marie Sexton for moral support and so much more
Sean Roberts for translating my football nonsense into something remotely possible
and the Mary Greeley Medical Center Physical Therapy department for teaching me all the weird ways my body isn't quite doing it right and how to fix that.
It was the first game of the summer semipro 2009 football season, and this year Ed Maurer and the Minnesota Lumberjacks were going to take the league by storm.
It was the 2005 International Ballroom Competition in Toronto, and Laurie Parker and his partner were going to take the world of dance by storm.
The May evening was crisp and cold, but Ed's body burned with the thrill of the game. Sweat rolled down the back of his neck as his breath formed in clouds in front of his face guard. He could feel the pulse of the crowd burning inside him, the heartbeat of the game beating in time with his own. He was on fire tonight. His game wasn't just on. He
On the opposite side of the field, the quarterback called out the signals, the ball snapped, and the play began. Ed felt the symphony of men around him, felt the power of their bodies, smelled their sweat, their excitement, their determination. Ed made his reads—he knew this play, he had seen it in film study hundreds of times. He knew the ball was going to the receiver in the flat. Piece of cake.
His body hummed like a piano wire. He'd never been this on, never felt so connected to the game itself. He loved this. He lived for this. He knew with a certainty he couldn't explain but couldn't deny that this would be it. This would be the game of his life.
The ball flew through the air to the wide receiver, who turned and charged right down the path between Ed and the cornerback. Grinning, Ed headed for the ball as the rush of the game raced like electricity through his veins.
The thrill of what he was about to do filled Laurie like a drug, and only his years of training held him together as he waited with Paul in the wings to be called out to the floor. He rehearsed the trickier parts of the routine in his head, but it was only a mental exercise; they knew this dance backward and forward. This dance came from their soul.
The murmur of the crowd was a susurrus around his head, buzzing quietly as the dancers who had just finished took their bows and made their promenade around the edges to collect their praise. The couple wasn't as good as Laurie and Paul by half. None of them were.
Laurie Parker had conquered every other aspect of the world of dance; now he would conquer ballroom as well. To come in traditionally would have been too easy. What they were about to do had the blissful feel of being on the edge, the edge Laurie had always been trying to find and yet could never seem to grasp. Tonight would be the start of something new. He could feel it. Tonight he would crack the world like an egg and dance inside it. Tonight he would dance as he had never danced, and it would change the world of dance forever.
The announcer called their names, and he let Paul lead them forward into the spotlight on the floor. He heard the buzz of the crowd grow louder, heard their surprise, their shock. He felt Paul falter beside him, and Laurie squeezed his arm. Not to worry. This was how it would start, yes, but it wasn't how it would end. This was their revolution. This was the new beginning.
This was everything.
The music began, Paul moved away to take his place, and Laurie gave himself up to the moment, to the music, to the night, to the crowd, to his partner.
To the dance.
Ed launched himself at the wide receiver, sailing through the air. The receiver tried to twist away, but Ed swiveled with him and tried to take him down from the side. The impact rattled his bones and sent off a humming inside his ears. For a second, he thought the receiver might get away, but then Casey, the cornerback, appeared out of nowhere and slammed into the man and finished what Ed had started. They arced through the air in a strange sideways samba before they twisted once again and headed in a crashing heap for the ground beside Ed.
The sweat, the force, the grunts and growls of the men, and the roar of the crowd swelled, and Ed grinned, reveling in the thrill that to him was even better than sex.
Laurie leaped with perfect arc and form into Paul's arms and spun into the next part of the routine.
Their dance was perfect. Flawless. They hit every turn, made every leap, executed every step with precision and grace, but above all, Laurie knew their hearts and souls were in this performance. That as much as their technical perfection was what would make the difference.
And as the dance went on, Laurie admitted to himself that this was why he had done it, why he'd stepped away from the surety of his stage career, why he'd put in months for this routine, why he'd engaged in subterfuge and chicanery to have this chance. He didn't just want to be good. He didn't just want to be a legend. He wanted to draw off this last veil, to bring his whole self to the stage.
He didn't want to be Laurence Parker, ballet legend. He didn't want to be the celebrated modern dancer. He didn't want to be the toast of his mother's parties, the pride of his schools. He didn't want to dance on the pinnacle everyone seemed to keep pushing him toward. Not as the product they'd made him to be. Not as the Laurie so crafted that sometimes he felt he was carved from ivory.
Ed didn't see the danger coming until it was too late. Casey got out of the pile easily, but the wide receiver landed right on top of Ed. He tried to roll away, but the shoulder pads didn't make that easy, and all he did was make himself an even better obstacle. The wide receiver smashed him flat, knocking the rest of the air out of Ed, his elbow catching the side of Ed's helmet.
That wasn't what did it. That blow wrenched a little, yeah, but it didn't hurt. What screwed him was when the receiver tried to rise, tried to roll back off of Ed at the same time Ed tried to sit up to push him off. First he got a face full of cleat and a mouthful of mud. He shouted at the wide receiver to get off, and he shoved.
The cleat came down again, this time in the corner of his shoulder, caught against the base of his helmet, and pushed.
The song ended, Paul bent Laurie back for the final pose, and Laurie felt his heart rise up. The pulse of the dance still beat inside him, but he was ready for the next swell now: the roar of the crowd. This was the part of the performance he wanted almost more than the dance itself. This was when the magic happened. This was when everything would change.
But the roar didn't come.
There was some applause, but it was weak and uncertain. The susurrus returned, but it was dark and angry, not full of light and wonder. Laurie stood frowning, confused, and as he looked across the floor to the judges’ table, he saw the head of the organizing committee speaking intensely to the panel, glancing occasionally out at the floor.
The high of the dance still rushed inside Laurie, but there was a dark cloud closing around him, obscuring his euphoria and drowning his joy. Instead of feeling poised for flight, he began to fear he had propelled himself well past the edge and out into open space for a fall.
The pain cut across Ed's neck like a knife and shot out in lethal tendrils to explode inside his shoulder, chest, back, and head. Somewhere far away, a whistle blew, but for Ed there was only the pain. Pain like he'd never known, pain that scraped at his bones, pain that made it feel like his teeth were melting.
The receiver climbed off of Ed at last, exposing the field lights and the blackness of the night sky, but Ed lay still on the grass, unable to rise.
This is bad, he thought as the long muscle of his neck began to throb with white-hot pain. This is really, really bad.
This is bad, Laurie thought, and without thinking, he reached back for Paul's hand. But Paul had moved away, and when Laurie turned to him, he was more shocked by what he saw on Paul's face than by what he saw in the crowd.
"They hated it,” Paul whispered. “This is a disaster."
Laurie wanted to argue and say it wasn't, but the murmur of the crowd was getting louder, and cold fear was running down his spine. He saw the committee head coming out across the floor toward them, saw the whole committee standing now behind the judges, saw that all of them were upset. Very, very upset.
"I should never have let you talk me into this,” Paul hissed, fear and rage making his voice tremble. “This is all your fault!"
The committee head stepped forward into their spotlight, cold fury in her features that doused the last of Laurie's now very fragile hope.
By the time the paramedics came out to the field to put Ed on a stretcher, the pain was so intense he threw up, but retching only made the pain worse. Coach looked grim, and Liam had his helmet off, his eyes wide as he shouted down at Ed, looking scared as hell. But Ed couldn't hear him. He could tell that Liam was speaking, but he couldn't hear what he said, and even if he had, he couldn't have answered. God, he hurt so bad.
The stretcher lifted up, taking Ed's body with it. Liam disappeared, and night sky took his place, occasionally cut by the glare of lights as the paramedics rolled Ed off the field to the ambulance. But the movement only increased the pain, and he knew that by the time they got him into the ambulance, he'd be passed out. A shadow appeared beside the stretcher, and a familiar voice sobbed his name. Mom. That was his mom. But her voice sounded watery to his ears, and the world was darkening now, and Ed couldn't see her.