Chapter 2: Dance Lessons

At the presentation, every step is planned. The choices of dance speak of the politics of the day. The order of the suitors is reflected in the ebb and flow of power. — Renard Robins-Grace, Musings of a Failed Society

Dame Dorin’s School of Dance was a small studio on the corner of Apple and Oak. It used to have a reputation of being a great school but time and scandal had whittled away at its reputation to nothing more than an old building with too much paint and creaking floors. However, Dorin’s lessons were still cherished and her price low enough for those seeking to enter High Society.

Galadin had been training for a month now. Dame Dorin’s teaching style was brusque but effective. She had precise ideas of where the hands, feet, and hips all went to ensure a courtly dance in synchrony with everyone else on the floor. Much of the presentation came in viewing the dance from above, where everyone couldn’t see their neighboring couple’s effort.

His mother stopped at the entrance. She looked up at a nearby clock tower and hissed between her teeth. “I’m late. Go inside and behave.”

“Yes, Mother.”

She gave him a perfunctory kiss on his cheek before crossing the street.

Galadin watched her until a trio of mechanical vehicles roared pass, obscuring everything in a cloud of sharp-tasting steam. He turned and headed up the stairs.

“Gal! Wait for me!”

He turned as Kalir, one of his new friends, bounded up the stairs. He wore a leather jacket with an embossed symbol of the Tarsan Navy. Unlike Galadin, Kalir had a letter of commission as a junior officer. As soon as the summer ended, he would be heading to the naval base a few leagues along the coast. Like all officers, he was expected to be married before he gained more than a few ranks. The presentation balls were the perfect time to find a wife for an upcoming star.

“How are you doing? Usually you beat me here,” asked Galadin.

“Well, I want to claim Missun’s hand for practice.”

Galadin shrugged. “You can dance with whoever you want.”

“But she’s the prettiest.”

He couldn’t explain that he had no interest in either of the girls that took classes with them. They were nice and friendly, but he didn’t find his eyes drifting toward them when they weren’t looking. Nor did he want to talk about their bodies as often as Kalir did.

“You can have Talin,” Kalir said patted Galadin’s shoulder. “She’s pretty enough.”

Kalir ran his hand through his thick hair and smiled. Galadin could see why both Missun and Talin teased him.

A surge of guilt rose inside Galadin and he looked away. He knew he was supposed to be flirting with the girls. He spent his time watching Talin instead despite knowing that it wasn’t right. When his cheeks began to grow flushed, he cleared his throat to distract himself. “Usually you beat me here” before he realized he had already said that.

“I got distracted and almost forgot to show up.” Kalir glanced over his shoulder as a second man started up the stairs.

The newcomer was just over six feet tall. He had a hunch to his movements, magnified by his hands buried deep inside a pair of plain, functional trousers. His deep tan possessed a hint of red; he appeared to be someone who had spent much of their days out in the open. He wasn’t quite slender nor was he fat, just thick with the flex of muscles with every step he took to join them. He also wore a Navy jacket, though this one also had a First Lieutenant insignia.

Kalir twisted his face and gestured to the door. “Come on, we’re late.”

The other man chuckled and then gestured for Galadin to go ahead through the narrow door.

Galadin stared at him for a moment, a strange fluttering growing in his stomach. The second man had much of Kalir’s handsome features, but they were refined with age and a sense of grace. “Um, I’m Galadin.”

“Benard, Kalir’s older brother.”

Kalir glared before storming inside.

Benard grinned. “I’m afraid my younger brother doesn’t care for me. Whenever I’m around, he’s sour on everyone else. Don’t take it personally. I think he doesn’t want to be seen with me.”

“Oh,” Galadin said before he headed up the stairs. “Why?”

“Probably the same reason most of my family hates me: I prefer the company of men in my bed instead of women.”

Galadin froze when he heard words that reflected his own thoughts only moments ago. He didn’t know if he was interested in men sexually, but he knew that he found them far more attractive and alluring than women. Was that the same thing? Or was it just a desire for friendship like his two uncles who live together?

“I-I…” Galadin stammered.

Benard reached around Galadin. His arm brushed against Galadin before he caught the handle and pulled it open. “Here, let me.”

A waft of his cologne, a musky scene with a hint of cedar washed over Galadin. It smelled good. It also set off a rapid beating of his heart.

Nervous, Galadin look at him with confusion. He wanted to ask questions, starting with “why?”

The naval officer inclined his head and then smiled, his lips curling and drawing Galadin’s attention. “Don’t worry, it isn’t contagious.”

“No… I… I didn’t think… sorry.”

Benard gestured again. “Please, don’t worry about it. Let’s enjoy an afternoon of tripping over our feet instead?”

“Okay,” Galadin said in a distracted voice. He felt hot and dizzy. His stomach fluttered as he mulled over Benard’s words. Like men?

Inside the studio, Dame Dorin paced back and forth. Her neat bun of light brown hair had a few strands peeking out like a fan. “Three, only three? I can’t work with only three gentlemen. Why couldn’t at least some of the ladies come?”

Kalir looked disappointed. He turned and peered out the window.

Dorin grumbled for a moment. “They aren’t coming, Besire Kalir. All three of them had a case of… bad food and are too sick to learn how to dance. Damn the Couple, I can’t reschedule this. There are far too many lessons before the balls.”

Benard stepped up next to Galadin. His body heat and scent washed over Galadin again, sending little flutters from their closeness. “Then you be one of the partners.”

She narrowed a glare at him. “You should have remained on the sea.”

He shrugged and smiled. “I earned this, Dame. You know that.”

She stared at him for a moment. Galadin could see her resolve cracking.

“We can switch leads, it’s better than nothing. You and I trade places with the boys.” He had a smirk that Galadin couldn’t tear his eyes away from.

“That is improper.” She turned on him. “You might think it is fond idea, but I will not allow you to—”

Benard interrupted her with a grin. “Blame me then. That’s how I got here, isn’t it? By the way, how are your brothers? I heard they just got out of hospital.”

She took a deep breath and let it out, her body shaking with the effort to calm down. When she spoke, her voice was calmer. “You don’t have to remind me how you earned that commission, Besire. Or that you saved them.”

He inclined his head but said nothing.

Galadin frowned as he looked back and forth.

“Not more than a few minutes at a time, I don’t want you giving them any foul ideas.” She pointed accusingly at him. “And no touching where you aren’t supposed to.”

Kalir held up his hands. “I’m not dancing with… my brother. I’m not the girl!”

She almost lost her temper. “Fine, you dance with me.” She pointed at Benard. “Start with Galadin and switch roles. I’ll give directions to all three of you.”

Galadin’s heart beat faster. He turned to his new partner. His throat felt dry and constricted. He wanted to reach out and touch him, to feel the rough skin on his fingertips.

Benard smiled warmly and gave a little bow. His smile was hard to look away from. He seemed more comfortable with himself than anyone Galadin had known, as if he had chosen his body and wore it like a well-tailored suit.

Galadin felt a little jealousy. He didn’t feel the same about his body. It was wrong, it didn’t fit. He couldn’t say why, only that he was uncomfortable with the man in the mirror.

“Now, the first dance we’re going to do the Fox Square,” announced Dorin. “Start with Galadin and Kalir in the lead. Lift your right hand up, palm up…”