PAS DE DEUX

By JoAnn Baca

 

For SandyX

 

This story can be read as a stand-alone, but there will be more context if you have first read “To Be At Home,” which was posted earlier this Winterfest.

 

As Catherine and Vincent wandered a convoluted route through the Tunnels, both were anticipating this often-postponed date.

They rarely called their times together “dates,” but this had been a special occasion: the ballet. And it wasn’t just that they were excited to see the ballet company, which, yes, they were. But ever since Vincent had described taking a teenaged Lisa to view a ballet - from a secret perch on a hidden ladder with a line of sight from the back of the theater stage - they both had dreamed of sharing a similar experience.

It was a hike, and not an easy one, especially as her clothing and shoes were not best designed for the sometimes acrobatic maneuvers this kind of trip to the ballet required – something better done wearing flats instead of heels and a dress somewhat less fitted than the evening wear she had selected. But hopping over large pipes and squeezing through narrow passageways were part of the price to be paid for the viewpoint they would eventually reach. And Catherine had been determined to wear the dress she had chosen over a week ago for the occasion of the originally scheduled date – which had met with an unfortunate run-in with a toddler who had shed her diaper, necessitating the first cancellation of this date. Little Melly, the toddler in question, had been responsible for the second cancellation, too, as she had had trouble settling into her new home Below, and had found comfort only in Catherine’s arms. A trip to the cleaners for the dress coupled with the discovery of a way to wean Melly away from Catherine meant that their original plan finally could be put into practice.

“They say the third time’s the charm,” Vincent murmured as he helped Catherine over yet another utility conduit in yet another ill-lit sub-basement. She stumbled a bit coming down and Vincent was right there, steadying her.

As she leaned against him for a moment longer than absolutely necessary before righting herself, she thought Hmmm…maybe wearing these heels wasn’t such a bad idea after all! Aloud she said, “It had better be! This is the ballet company’s last performance!”

“We will appreciate it all the more, knowing all we endured before getting there.” Vincent’s lips twitched into the small smile that always melted her heart.

“Yes,” she replied solemnly. “We endured much…but this dress endured the most of all!”

That earned her an actual chuckle.

She recalled how his nose had flared at the less than lovely scent when he had first come upon her in this dress – after it had been made the worse for being used by Melly as a repository for her tears…and the flooding of another kind of wetness. 

“It’s emerged unscathed, and smelling nice again…I hope,“ she added. His senses were much more acute than hers, and a part of her worried that, despite dry-cleaning, perhaps the dress still retained a hint of…Melly-ness.

“Not to worry, Catherine,” he assured her. “Your cleaners did an admirable job.” He leaned toward her, inhaling deeply to show her he wasn’t afraid to do so, then he bent closer to press a soft kiss to her temple. “Perfection,” he murmured, his voice a heavenly rumble that sent shivers down her arms.

Her heart was beating harder than it had a minute ago, despite the fact that neither of them were moving at the moment. His proximity always caused her heart to race a bit, but when he showed her affection like this, the racing became a gallop. She took a deep breath to try to calm herself.

“It’s not much farther.” He took her hand to guide her forward once more, and she was grateful for the excuse to take some deep breaths and let them out slowly.

True to his prediction, within a few more minutes she began to hear faint sounds of the orchestra warming up, the signal that the ballet would start soon. The sound increased in volume as Vincent led her to an alcove far behind the stage, and from there to a narrow gap between the stage and what looked like years-old scrims and stored scenery. She sneezed as their passage stirred dust.

They pressed themselves through, making a path where she was sure none existed – she couldn’t have found the way without Vincent, as it couldn’t be discerned from where they had entered – and suddenly they emerged into a space for them to stand without brushing against anything. Before them was a metal ladder.

“It was easier to get to when I was smaller,” he whispered in apology, helping Catherine shake the dust from her coat while she brushed cobwebs from the shoulders of his cape.

Far from being put out by the odd way they had entered this secret domain, she replied, “It’s magical!” Her smile was enough to convince Vincent of the truth of her statement, even if he couldn’t have felt the joy flooding through their Bond.

The musical preparations had reached their crescendo and were slowly ebbing away. While he couldn’t be seen from their vantage, Catherine knew the conductor would shortly appear to audience applause.

“Let me SEE!” she murmured excitedly, long months of anticipation making her impatient now. He swept one arm in an arc towards the ladder, wordlessly inviting her to climb. She reached out and grabbed the sides and placed a foot on the first rung…when a sudden sound caused them both to freeze.

A soft shuffle of footfalls – someone was approaching their hiding place from the stage above their heads.

Vincent guided Catherine down backwards and then they silently melted into the tangle of old scenery. Crouched low, they held their breath as the footsteps grew louder. Someone was standing near the edge, just above the ladder.

Catherine’s heartbeat was so strong it echoed in her ears. She was just about to whisper to Vincent to run when heavy footsteps echoed and a man’s voice called out.

“Ma’am? Ma’am, what are you…?” the man said, desperation tinging his words.

“Oh, Philip, everything’s fine,” answered a familiar female voice. “There’s no need to follow me around like a puppy dog.” The archness in the tone, impatient and condescending, could only belong to one person: Lisa Campbell.

“The ballet company assigned me as your guide, ma’am. I need you to – “

Lisa cut him short. “Do not refer to me as ‘ma’am’! I am not your maiden aunt!” The softer footstep stomped on the stage for emphasis.

“Ma… Miss Campbell, I apologize. But…you need to come with me. You have to be standing by the proscenium so you can surprise the audience and present the retiring prima ballerina her bouquet. It’s supposed to be happening…well…now!”

“I know the plan, I’m not an imbecile.” The last was said in a feminine growl, but Lisa’s voice grew softer as she changed the topic. “Did you know that I saw my very first ballet in this theater?”

The voice of the man named Philip was agitated as he replied, “That’s…uh….that’s nice, but we really need to…”

Ignoring him, Lisa continued to reminisce aloud. “A fan brought me here…right here…. To this theater, I mean. He adored me passionately, you know. Like only a moony adolescent can for a star beyond his reach.”

Catherine felt more than heard Vincent’s muffled gasp of surprise at Lisa’s dismissive description of him.

Philip’s voice grew desperate. “I see. But, please, we have to go! They’ll be holding the curtain and….”

As if oblivious to his increasingly frantic attempts to get her attention, Lisa went on, her voice languid. “Watching that ballet was the most amazing experience, almost as if the company was performing for only me.” She sighed dramatically. “It made me determined to dance here myself one day. And I did, dozens of times. To thunderous applause.”

Her footsteps began to retreat, and her voice grew faint with distance as she scolded her escort. “Come now, Philip, don’t make me late for the audience.”

Breathing out a sigh of relief, Catherine waited for several heartbeats then approached the ladder once more. She brushed herself off again, thinking that the pre-performance presentation would occur before the curtain was raised, so there was no chance she or Vincent would see Lisa Campbell’s moment in the spotlight. What they had heard from her was more than enough, however, to sour the evening.

Vincent materialized beside her. Catherine turned to face him. He wouldn’t meet her eyes as he once again shook his cape free of dust.

Anger flared inside her at the damage that woman continued to do, even if unwittingly. “She was just protecting herself and your shared past, Vincent. She could hardly have admitted who had brought her here, or how.”

“Perhaps.”

Single-word responses when he was upset were almost never good where Vincent was concerned.

The unseen audience began to clap wildly as the announcer finished saying Lisa’s name. The sound rolled over them, echoing in the vast backstage area.

Reaching out to him, Catherine enveloped Vincent in an embrace. She laid her head on his broad chest and squeezed him hard, trying to express her reassurance and devotion in equal measure.

“Oh, Catherine…” He enfolded her in his strong arms. “I’m not in need of your comfort…although I’m glad to accept it,” he said.

She pulled back to look up at him, her eyebrows raised in surprise.

Vincent tilted his head and regarded her solemnly. “The experience of having known Lisa – long ago as a child and, more recently, as an adult – makes me treasure you all the more,” he said. “She wasn’t able to receive what I could offer her. Even if it wasn’t love, then or now, it was…an expression of the warmth we felt for each other…a simple gift. But she wasn’t ever generous enough to allow me that.”

Her smile was one of sympathetic understanding, and it encouraged him to admit, “You have always been ready to offer me whatever I have been prepared to accept. And you have always had the generosity in your heart ready to meet whatever I could give. For that, I’ve always been grateful, even if I’ve never been able to tell you that until now.”

Stunned by such a direct admission of his feelings about her, Catherine reached around him for another, longer hug, willing him to sense all the love she felt for him, hoping it was spilling from her heart into their Bond. “It’s always been love, Vincent. Always.”

He tightened his arms about her in response, his cheek caressing the top of her head.

They heard the conductor tap his podium and the overture began. Muffled footsteps reflected the hurrying of many dancers taking their places. Even though they were reluctant to interrupt their conversation, the ballet was what they had come for. So Catherine and Vincent ended their embrace and they, too, took their places, just as the curtain pulled back. 

Light flooded the stage, illuminating the costumed performers while casting the couple on the ladder into deeper shadow.

Catherine stood transfixed as the ballet began to play out, her unique point of view allowing her to admire the familiar dance steps in a new way. She smiled and whispered, “It’s heavenly!” to Vincent.

And behind her, Vincent pressed close, holding her fast against the rails of the ladder, molding himself to her form as he relished the rare intimacy. He stared not at the twirling, leaping dancers but at the flutter of Catherine’s eyelashes as they brushed down and upward, at the fullness of her slightly parted lips. Her fragrance filled his nostrils, both the delicate perfume she wore and the underlying simplicity of her skin’s own scent. He was in a heaven of his own, the magic created not by the ballet but by the woman standing so close.

Catherine, too, became so enraptured by Vincent’s closeness that she couldn’t focus for long on the ballet. His powerful legs encompassed hers from thigh to ankle, holding her tightly against the ladder, while his torso held her firmly from shoulder to bottom. Soon enough, she forgot to watch the dancers, her eyelids slipping closed and her breath coming a bit fast, her concentration completely on the compelling physical and emotional contact with the man she loved. She was warmed by him, and warm because of his presence – something perceived both within and without. His even breaths, the soft beat of his heart, called to a corresponding pulsing in her blood, and she leaned backward ever so slightly to deepen their connection.

He released the ladder on one side, his arm reaching around Catherine to draw her closer against him, and he bent to nuzzle her earlobe.

His hot breath on the sensitive flesh beneath her ear sent shivers through her body. Catherine moaned softly in response. She took one hand from the ladder and pressed Vincent’s arm against her chest.

The dancers were turning in fouettes, keeping themselves spinning for long moments, as Catherine turned so that her back was against the ladder’s rungs, Vincent holding her steady as she completed the turn then moving one hand to the back of her head, his fingers burying themselves in the lush fall of her hair. She bent her head backward for a moment, accepting the caress, stroking her head against his hand, letting him know she had no fear of his sharp nails.

Vincent stepped to a lower rung. Face to face now, they gazed into each other’s eyes, seeing how love and desire looked close up. As the music swelled and soared, they came together in a kiss that seared through them like a firestorm.

The spotlight on the prima ballerina was not more brilliant than the lightning in their souls, and they knew at once that the fire they had ignited would never die – it had been banked for years, needing only a moment like this for the flames to flare into full life. No power could quench it now.

The sound of applause cascaded around them, momentarily confusing them. They had almost forgotten where they were. With their inability to concentrate on what they had come for, it wasn’t prudent to stay longer. Besides, they had another kind of rendezvous in mind now – no longer something from Vincent’s past to be shared, but a moment entirely of their own making to rush toward.

“I know a place,” Vincent murmured as he pressed a kiss to Catherine’s throat.

“Take me there,” she replied, her voice hoarse with wanting.

Without another word, Vincent descended the ladder, lifted her into his arms, and vanished within the forgotten remnants of ballets past, casting off old memories, ready to make new ones.

 

The ballet was over, and Lisa was finally free of the babysitter the producer had assigned to her. The decision for Lisa to present flowers to the retiring dancer had been designed to honor Lisa’s mentor. No one knew their rivalry had erased any semblance of friendship long ago, and they had for years maintained only a professional cordiality – and that only in the presence of others. Tonight both had gritted their teeth and performed as expected for the unsuspecting crowd, and been amply rewarded by applause. But Lisa – never one to enjoy sharing the spotlight – had ensured she was the last to take a bow and exit the stage before the ballet began. She had her limits, after all.

Now she was alone once more, with no one caring where she wandered in the now-empty theater. The usual scrum of admirers was absent, since the producer had insisted upon secrecy. And with that came the opportunity to reminisce without any hangers-on to flatter or enchant.  

She was drawn yet again to the shadowy place from which she had seen her first ballet. Her memories of that evening were still so sharp, so clear: standing on the ladder, gazing into the future she dreamed of, her mind already on brand new toe shoes and a costume fitted just for her…. She smiled to herself, recalling the brightness of the footlights, the elegant lines of the corps de ballet, the synchronized movements set to lushly performed music. How transfixed she had been by it all.

Her heart fluttered a bit.

Ballet – her first and only love.

She laughed at how sentimental she was - so silly, after all these years. Turning, she left her past behind, as she had left everything behind once before, her thoughts upon the lights which only glowed for her Above.

 

At the same moment, Vincent and Catherine came together in a dance of their own making, the ballet they had attended forgotten in the fervor of a more personal pas de deux. Dusty memories of an outgrown life held no sway now. They were creating their future from this new, fiercely beautiful present.

The secret place where they were hidden from both their worlds held more than lantern-lit furnishings scavenged from the world Above. It held two hearts as full as two hearts could be, and a Bond that thrummed between them, reflecting the radiance of their love. That light shone from his crystalline blue eyes as he gazed into the luminous green of hers, and their bodies seemed lit from within as they came together as one.

Loving each other was so perfect, so natural, they felt as if they had loved this way through many lifetimes…and perhaps they had. But whether or not they had loved in the past, this was their present, their future, their always. Their embrace encompassed all that they were:  hearts, souls, minds and bodies inextricably intertwined - a dance for two that was profound, passionate, and theirs alone.

 

The theater was dark. All was still. Left alone, the past ebbed away, never to be resurrected. Dust motes floated down to rest once more upon forgotten scenery.