Harlan’s Dancing Academy was an unimposing institution. It was located at the heart of the old downtown. The building was constructed of slightly crumbly brick. Inside was a different story.
Oaken hardwood floors gleamed. The lighting was slightly dimmed, giving a constant feeling that it was always just before dawn. One wall of tinted windows gave a panoramic view of the aging city. The remaining three walls were entirely mirrors, broken only by a large set of double doors. Scattered around the edges of the room were quite a few folding chairs.
All this dwindled to the grandeur on the floor. Dancers whirled and prance, spun and slid. Each pair moved separately but in respect to each other. Skirts brushed the floor and the stiff cloth of suits rustled. Harlan’s was in full swing in more ways than one.
Harlan’s was a long ago established and respected dancing school. There were certified instructors to teach patrons everything from tango to swing. All things ballroom thrived on the polished oaken floor. Many costumers already could dance well, they simply can to find dancing partners.
The couples laughed merrily as they took their steps. Occasionally partners traded of partners, or a person stopped to rest their sore feet. In all the happy bustle, few noticed that one young man remained seated the entire night. Every once in a while, someone would ask him for a dance. Each time he would give a smile that did not quite reach his eyes and politely refuse. This went on through the whole of the night.
After many hours, it was closing time. Customers drifted out, chatting and tittering, still half drunk for the atmosphere. Soon the only people in the Academy where a few of the instructors, the cleaning crew, and the lone young man. One of the instructors pulled away from the rest as they were exiting and strutted across the floor to stand in front of the towheaded renegade.
The instructor was a long, lean, lanky fellow. He walked with a swing in his hips, as if he never stopped dancing. Remarkably, his hair was dyed a garish shade of grass green. Eyes the exact same color as the hair raked over the form of the young blond customer. The instructor smirked and put a hand on his hip.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Mickey the Mouse. What’s the matter, twinkle toes? You haven’t had a dance all night. Did ya finally make my dreams come true and broke an ankle?”
Michael Morstend barely glanced up before returning his gaze to his wingtips. “Go away, Yuriel.”
The green-eyed Yuriel dropped gracefully into the seat next to Mike. “”Go away, Yuriel!’ What’s this? No scathing comebacks? Mousey must really have his tail in a trap tonight, folks!”
Mike didn’t even look up. “Just go away. Please.”
Yuriel sat bolt upright in his seat. He stared at Michael and really looked at him for the first time that night. The two were old rivals. Uproarious battles of words took place between them every time they met. It was tradition. After all, the two best dancers in the city should be nemeses. Never ever in the time that Yuriel had known Michael, (seven years,) had one said ‘please’ to the other.
Impulsively, Yuriel seized Mike’s chin and forced him to look up. Michael’s eyes were a murky blue gray this night, the color of a sea in storm. Yuriel searched those heartbreaking despair filled eyes, feeling more than a bit frightened. He forced himself to tear his gaze from Michael’s so he could inspect Mike for a clue as to what was wrong. It only took a moment for the green haired boy’s eyes to settle on the large class ring on Mike’s left pinky. Of course...
“When?” Yuriel’s whisper barely reached Michael’s ears.
“Two weeks ago.”
Michael turned his face to the ceiling and barked a hoarse laugh. “I’m ‘to boring and predictable.’ I’ll ‘never make myself into anything worthwhile.’ I need to ‘grow up and take things more seriously.‘ Of course don’t forget ‘It’s bad enough worrying about if I’m looking at other girls. She also has to worry about my goggling at boys!’ But the main reason is that my daddy isn’t going to leave me a chain of fast food restaurants when he dies.”
Yuriel smiled an understanding un-smile. The last time he had seen that obnoxious class ring, it had been on the delicate hand of Miss Barbary North. She flashed that ring around enough that nobody with eyes couldn’t have seen it. Barbary had been going out with Mike for over three years. The pair was not surprising, in fact it was almost expected. Miss North was a very fine looking woman, and was always up for a party. Mike was devoted to her, showering her with gifts and bending before her every whim. Until now, it had always appeared that she was equally besotted with him. Yuriel was startled by this series of events, especially that line about liking boys, but was carful not to let his surprise show too much.
“Well,” Yuriel murmured, “at least think of this. She’ll lose that figure of hers fast going out with Rolly-polly Ralph. There are some drawbacks to being heir to the Cooky’s Kooky Ice Cream franchise.”
Michael snorted mirthlessly, once again closely examining his shoes.
Yuriel gazed at the downcast young Morstend before slapping his knees and standing. “You, Mouse, are going to dance with me. You can’t come to Harlan’s and leave without having a single dance. I’ll even let you lead.”
Mike mutely shook his head and scuffed his shoe on the floor.
“Alright,” Yuriel growled softly, roughly pulling Michael to his feet, “I’ll lead!”
“Michael,” Yuriel breathed softly, “dance with me.” Yuriel’s skilled hands brought Michael into proper tango position. “One, two, three and four...” Mike, lost and confused, automatically matched his body to the other man’s movements and followed.
It didn’t matter that there was no music. It didn’t matter that the lights where shutting off all around them. It didn’t matter that they had always been the closest thing to enemies. All that mattered was the movement. Here the lunge, there the dip. Tiny clues, felt rather than seen, cued the boy’s as to what the other was planning. They unconsciously traded the lead back and forth and forth and back. It was senseless. It was the only thing in the world that made sense.
For the first time since his heart was broken, Michael was able to cry without weeping. Tears silently fell from his closed eyes and blazed trails down his cheeks. If Yuriel noticed the shoulder of his shirt getting damp, he did not comment.
After many minutes had passed the two pulled away from each other. They stood an arm’s length apart awkwardly avoiding each other’s gaze. Yuriel opened his mouth, closed it, cleared his throat and tried again.
“Hey,” he mumbled, rubbing the back of his neck, “ya need a ride home? It’s late.”
One of the corner’s of Michael’s lip twitched upward as he shook his head. “No. I know a cab driver who hangs out on this street. He owes me a favor.”
Yuriel nodded and hurriedly turned around to gather up his belongings. He was not blushing, damn it. It’s just that exercising made him flushed. It didn’t matter that that flushed appeared a full two minutes after he had stopped dancing...
Mike himself walked quickly to the door and opened it. He was halfway over the threshold when he paused. He turned and looked at where Yuriel was changing into a clean t-shirt.
“Yuri?” Michael’s voice carried smoothly over the sounds of the night.
“Yuriel swiftly pulled the t-shirt over his head and glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah?”
Yuriel quickly wiped his head away from the door. “It’s no problem. You just looked like you needed a dance. This chances nothing, remember. All I want is for my rival to get out of his funk.”
“I know. Thank you anyway,” Mike half chuckled. “You know... That was the first time you’ve ever called me by my real name... Was kinda nice.”
Michael was out the door and halfway down the street before Yuriel even had a chance to reply.