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Authors: R. Cooper

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Dancing Lessons

BOOK: Dancing Lessons
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Dancing Lessons

By R. Cooper

 

Two years of living with his controlling boyfriend left Chico worn down long before that boyfriend revealed he’d been seeing someone else. With no other choice, Chico moves in above his cousin’s garage in a small town in the redwoods, where he merely goes through the motions. To get him out of the house, his cousin pushes him to volunteer at a local dance studio to help with their annual show.

He’s not expecting to end up in a dance class, or to start feeling alive again in the arms of his dance instructor. Rafael is the studio owners’ son and was once a well-known dancer in his own right, but now enjoys being a teacher. Although Chico likes him, he’s afraid of taking a chance. But Rafael is determined, and it only takes one dance for Chico to start to realize he might still have something to learn.

 

To my ever-so-patient mother. How do you do it?

 

Acknowledgments

All the love for the people who encourage these random ideas: Paulina, Kristen, Lucy, and my lovely hoard of Tumblr people. (Yes, I am hoarding you. Mineminemine.)

CHICO WONDERED
if it was possible to be lost while knowing exactly where you were. He stared at the exterior of Winters Dance Studio with its fresh coat of white paint and huge flowering rosebushes, and thought about what the hell he was doing here.

The last place he belonged was somewhere like this, even if he had no intention of dancing. The building was midcentury, but not in that 1950s plastic sense. It had been built with sturdy grace, almost like a church among the redwoods.

The trees provided some shade, although there weren’t as many around the studio as there were farther up the road, where the tail end of town became the coastal mountains and forest again. He hadn’t ventured out that far and wasn’t sure he would. Chico liked the trees, but he liked having houses nearby too. If he walked back the way he’d just come, but stuck to the road, he’d end up in the main part of the little town known as Brandywine. But to be honest, that sounded about as exhausting as spending his free time volunteering, or whatever, at Winters Dance Studio.

The studio was larger than some of the other buildings in town. He noticed three separate entrances as he walked up. One was probably for deliveries. The other was a huge set of french doors, currently closed. The door at the front must be the main entrance.

Of course, Chico couldn’t see the other side of the building, but he was guessing it had at least one more door. Signs were up everywhere advertising the school’s annual “graduation” performance, and more posters for a ballet called
The Clockwork Dancer
, which Chico had never heard of. Not that he knew much about ballet besides once seeing
The Nutcracker
.

Although only early May, the afternoon sun and his short walk had him sweating and tired. He used to walk everywhere in the city if he couldn’t get John to drive him, which was most of the time. Chico never drove himself in the city because he was terrible at parallel parking, especially on a hill, especially in a hurry. But even walking the steep hills of San Francisco every day didn’t used to leave him this worn out. Maybe his cousin was right, and he’d been spending way too much time inside.

Cars lined the already narrow road. That might be why some people were pulling up to the front and letting their kids out before they either drove home or, if they lived farther away as many of them likely did, went to look for a place to park and wait for their kids to be done.

He should have brought his car or maybe stopped to change out of his work clothes before heading over here. A black dress shirt and black pants weren’t exactly comfortable in the heat or appropriate for whatever work he would end up doing. But he’d been focused on getting this over with and not what it meant to do it.

He made a beeline for the main entrance and sighed when a cool breeze greeted him once inside. The foyer wasn’t large, but it seemed spacious somehow, despite the cabinets and shelves along the walls displaying an obscene amount of trophies and award statues. Those took him by surprise. While Brandywine had a long history as a vacation spot among the redwoods for San Franciscans, it wasn’t where anyone would expect an award-winning dance studio to pop up. The city itself, maybe, or somewhere in the surrounding Bay Area seemed more likely locations. And yet a sign outside proclaimed the studio had been there since 1952.

He saw framed newspaper articles too, as well as photographs and a few items in shadowboxes. He thought one was a pair of satin toe shoes, and he felt even more out of place, because something like that reinforced the idea this place was serious. It wasn’t just a small-time, small-town dance studio where toddlers learned jazz tap and seniors took swing dancing lessons.

A teenage girl exited a room on his left and floated down the hall, completely unconcerned with his presence. They were about the same height, maybe five feet five inches, until she stood up on her toes for a moment, bouncing as if testing her shoes.

Chico stopped to let her pass, then changed his direction. No way was that girl going to wherever the rest of the volunteers were. He paused at a door covered in fliers for dogsitting and a sign-up sheet, and then knocked.

No one answered. He mentally yelled at his cousin, then put his hand on the knob and knocked again. If this place had an office, it had to be close.

The door cracked open.

Chico waited, but when no one yelled at him, he stuck his head in and saw that the room was indeed some kind of office. It held a messy desk, a calendar on the wall, a small whirring desk fan, an empty bench seat opposite the desk, and a sign on the floor that must have fallen. It read “Please Leave Office Door Open During Regular Studio Hours.” Straight ahead was another door, also closed, although he could hear voices coming from the other side of it.

He propped open the door and stepped inside. He could wait on the bench. Or he could leave.
Or
he could see if his cousin was on the other side of that door, ready to tear him a new one for being late. Davi was convinced Chico would do anything to avoid leaving his apartment, and though his cousin wasn’t entirely wrong, Chico didn’t want to deal with Davi’s expression if he went back to his little converted space above Davi’s garage.

With a sigh, he picked up the sign and left it on the bench. Then he crept forward to the other door. The murmur of many voices on the other side got louder. The people in this town were very serious about their activities and volunteering. He supposed small towns had to be, in order to survive, or maybe it gave the residents something to do. Brandywine wasn’t isolated from the rest of the world, but it didn’t make getting there easy.

The town was about twenty minutes of long, winding road from the coast, or a different thirty minutes of meandering down the mountain to the freeway and the next big town. Surrounded by trees and cabins—with a weird mix of tourists and residents with money, and tourists and residents as broke as Chico—the town got its name from an inn and bar that had once been its largest building.

The scenery was lovely. The name was charming. The people were nice enough. In different circumstances, he might have wanted to vacation here. Some of his old friends used to visit another town nearby for parties once or twice a year. He’d like to see that when he was in a better mood.

But he wasn’t visiting, and Davi thought it was time he met people. So here he was, walking toward a group of volunteers so slowly he might as well have been stuck in cement. He made a small sad sound when he reached the door, but pushed it open to poke his head inside.

He froze.

The people on the other side of the door froze with him, although distantly he realized this was likely because he had stopped like a deer in the headlights at the sight of so many people—people who were obviously
not
the group of volunteers.

Somewhere, other people were still chattering excitedly over quiet strains of classical music.

Chico blinked a few times, suddenly, extraordinarily aware once again of how not-small-town he was, not even this one with its hordes of summer tourists from around the country. His wasn’t the only dusky face in a room of pale ones, but there were so few of them he still stood out. Then there was his look—his undercut with glossy loose dark hair on top, the piercings at his ears. At least he hadn’t worn any of his many rings today, not on a workday. Not even to sell men’s shoes at a department store part time.

He hadn’t thought about his rings in a while. Except for the studs currently in his ears, his jewelry was packed away somewhere from his hurried move out of the city. His hair was neat for work, and the earrings he could leave in, but if he hadn’t been forced to leave the house today, he would have been in the shorts he’d slept in for the past four nights.

Oh God, he was a disaster.

“There you are.” A low, husky voice broke through Chico’s moment of self-awareness, but he was still so stunned it took him a second to understand the welcoming words were directed at him.

He couldn’t think of who would say something like that to him, and he turned his head to find out, only to go dry-mouthed when he identified the speaker. He hadn’t gotten this parched and shaky since a sixth grade spelling bee. Not even for coming out to his parents, but he’d had Davi to take some of the heat, since the year before, Davi had announced he was trans, and the family had collectively lost their shit.

At the other side of the room stood a man with a calm manner, dark hair, a clean-shaven face, and a dancer’s body. Chico didn’t know much about dancers, but he instantly identified the slim but muscular figure, the strong shoulders and arms, and the ridiculous thighs in his fitted pants. The man wore an athletic shirt in navy blue, but otherwise wasn’t dressed how Chico had imagined a dance teacher would dress.

But he was definitely the instructor. For one thing, he didn’t have a partner. For another, everyone else in the room turned toward him when he spoke, before looking back at Chico.

Chico would have liked to say he didn’t know the man, but he remembered only too well how he’d run into him on his first day in town. Brandywine proper had about six streets, but the tiny roads through the trees that led to the houses outside of town could be difficult to find. Chico had gotten thoroughly lost and finally parked his little hatchback covered in rainbow flag stickers in front of the grocery store and begged for directions from the first person he’d found.

That man. Of course Chico had picked that man when exhausted to the point of tears by the move and the long drive and then getting lost, wearing a tight pair of shorts John had hated, and a lavender mesh T-shirt Chico bought to be ironic and then put on because he hadn’t cared about anything anymore. He had picked a handsome, clean-cut man with hazel eyes and dark brown hair slivered with gray to practically cry on as he tried to explain how he was looking for Davi’s house, could someone please tell him where Alberi Lane was, please, he just wanted to go home. And that man had come over and told Chico that he lived on Alberi Lane, and he could tell him how to get there, no problem, don’t worry, and Chico had felt like an idiot for being on the verge of a breakdown over something as simple as directions.

He had tried to block out the memory, but the man’s calm manner was a painful reminder of what a fool Chico had made of himself. The dance teacher was probably in his late thirties and gorgeous and controlled, and, shit, he could have been one of the Winterses who owned this place. No one like that would understand how someone could be Chico’s age and yet such a complete failure at life.

He had also started moving toward Chico in the time Chico had been gaping stupidly at him.

“Come on,” the man said, and extended his hand in a graceful movement reminiscent of a Disney prince. He stopped in front of Chico and smiled at him so warmly Chico almost turned to look behind him to see who else was there.

“Don’t be shy,” the man added, when Chico couldn’t remember how to make words come out of his mouth. He shook his head, as if part of him wanted to deny being shy, and the man took that as a sign Chico needed more of that soothing tone directed at him. “Don’t worry about being late or not having a partner. You can still learn.” He put a hand over the one Chico had on the doorknob and pulled it gently away.

Chico found his voice at last. “Oh.” That hand was as warm as the man’s voice, as controlled and sure, and Chico couldn’t remember ever fixating on a hand this much. But it had been nearly six months since the last time anyone had touched him in something other than a hug. “Okay,” he agreed blankly, then shook his head. “No, wait. I’m lost again. I’m not here for a—”

He wheezed to a stop when the man clasped both of his hands around Chico’s suddenly much smaller hand. The dance teacher was about five or six inches taller than Chico, and he carried himself with the kind of posture that gave him height, or presence. Or maybe that was his body, toned and sunkissed and casually strong.

BOOK: Dancing Lessons
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