Chapter 12: One Last Dance

The homosexual, as an aberration against the divine will of the Couple, has no place in society where it can spread like poison. But like all curses, it remains in the shadows to only poison a few.

—Tantol da Disrobin, Faith of the Families

“Thank you, bedame, for the lovely dance,” said the older gentleman looking for a second spouse.

Glorias curtsied. “My humble thanks for your company, Tasire.”

He escorted Glorias to the edges of the dance where Maran sat alone at a table. He bowed deeply to Galadin’s mother. “I bring your daughter safe to your side,” he intoned the ritualistic words before slipping away. From what he said while dancing, he already had his name on two more cards before the evening ended.

Glorias gave her mother a nervous smile. It froze on her face when she saw a strange look expression on her mother, one that she had never seen before. The shimmering tears were one thing, but this was almost sadness, as if she wished they weren’t deceiving everyone that evening and Glorias was a real girl.

“Glorias!” The seamstress approached with three others surrounding her. Lily wore a brilliant dress that looked like a thousand feathers, each one the prescribed green of the dance yet somehow appearing to be a different color. Her ability to tint anything appeared to have no bounds.

On one side, Kendrick walked next to her with her fingertips resting on his elbow. On the other, a man Glorias didn’t recognize held Mindil’s hand. The second man looked slender compared to his wife but it was obvious they were in sync by the way their feet stepped in harmony and the way Mindil’s bountiful hips swayed without touching his.

Lily pulled Glorias into a hug that wouldn’t risk marring either of their makeup. “You look beautiful, my dear.”

“Thank you,” Glorias whispered back.

“How does it feel to be out here?”

“Like everything I ever wanted.”

A sob startled her. She looked over to see tears on her mother’s face. She was smiling as she held a piece of silk to her lips. “Mother? Is there—”

“You are so beautiful. I didn’t think it would touch me, but then just now, I couldn’t stop thinking about you as a daughter,” she said through the tears. She glanced to her side, where one of her friends would have been sitting if things were different. Then she took a deep breath and looked back. “You are my daughter, aren’t you?”

The world spun around Glorias as she looked at her mother. “Really?”

“Y-Yes!” She staggered up out of her chair. Stepping around the table, she grabbed Glorias. “My baby. I’m so sorry.”

Glorias hugged her mother back. She could feel her crying, the soft sobs shaking her body as they held each other tightly. “Thank you. Thank you so very much.”

His mother kissed her sweetly. “You are so beautiful.”

When they broke the embrace, Lily and Mindil were still there smiling broadly.

Maran pushed her hair back. “S-Sorry, I didn’t mean to do that.”

“No, it’s beautiful seeing you two.”

Mindil glanced over. “Dame Maran, you look alone here.”

Lily’s eyes widened and her fingers tightened on Kendrick’s hand.

Maran gave an apologetic look. “You can probably guess why though.”

“Well, we’re looking for a place to sit. Would you mind if we joined you?”

Mindil’s husband lifted his head. “What about our seats—?”

Mindil stamped on his foot with her heel. She smiled sweetly. “A mother should always have company when her beautiful daughter is on the floor. May we?”

Glorias blushed.

Maran stammered for a moment and then hugged Mindil. “Thank you.”

Kendrick chuckled. He withdrew from Lily, kissed her cheek, and turned to the other man who Glorias had not previously met. “Come on, Hasan. I bet we could find some drinks for our wives.”

He turned to Maran and Glorias. “Would you care for anything, dames?”

Maran lifted her glass. “More of the blush? And grape juices for my da… niece… Glorias.”

Glorias blushed and smiled.

Kendrick nodded and then tapped Hasan on the shoulder. “Come on.”

Hasan sighed but followed the other man away.

Lily took Glorias’s hand and sat down. After a moment, Maran and Mindil joined them.

As they were settling down and talking about the fashions, Glorias glanced at her dance card. There were only two more slots left in the evening but no names filled the lines.

The rush, the point of being someone else faded. She was disappointed but at the same time happy that the other lines had been filled in. For someone who thought she would never be able to live even a day as a lady, having five men wanting to dance with her was like reaching the stars. She smiled and ran her finger along the last few lines.

Mindil picked up the card and frowned. “A pity, so few men have good taste.”

“Do you want to stay the night?” asked Lily.

Glorias nodded with a sad smile. “Yes, even if I can’t go out again, I want to enjoy this evening. I don’t want it to ever end.”

“Then we would be honored to keep you company. As people say, silks should always stand next to their best works.”

As Glorias blushed, her mother pushed a glass of wine over to her. As she took it, she lifted the glass. “This is everything I hoped for. Thank you for the wonderful night.”

“So, any cute guys?”

“Mindil!” chided Lily. “What my lovely friend said is: are you feeling like a beautiful debutante here?” She reached out and took Mindil’s hand, holding it firmly.

Glorias hesitated. Knowing that the fantasy had to end ached. She wanted to it to keep going, to not worry about a secret or being exposed. Why couldn’t she be born like this?

She couldn’t go back, that much she knew. Wearing the dress, hearing her name as Glorias, and being told she was beautiful was everything she craved. It felt like walking out into the sunlight for the first time.

Maran spoke quietly. “You can keep doing this, if you want. Your father and I have already talked.”

Glorias’s eyes teared up. “Really? I can?”

“Yes, I promise.” She chuckled. “I didn’t know this day was coming for years but I do now. It just… took me a while to realize that I shouldn’t stop it. Your father was right. Just don’t tell him that, I hate it when he’s right.”

Glorias started to say something but someone’s presence interrupted her. “Excuse me.”

The voice quickened Galadin’s pulse. It was Benard. Trembling, she looked up to see the Navy officer standing a respectful distance wearing a sharp black suit. He stood at attention with an easy smile that somehow brought an instant warmth to Glorias’s cheeks.

“Oh my,” whispered Mindil. “I like Navy boys.”

“Shush,” responded Lily in a low voice.

Glorias’s heart beat faster as she looked at the broad-shouldered man who stood with one hand held out. He had cleaned up since Glorias had last seen him.

“I wasn’t aware that you had a beautiful daughter coming to this affair, Maran da Kasin ho Kamer.” He bowed deeply. “I beg for forgiveness for not requesting it earlier, but when I saw her at the table, I realized I had to come over.”

All four of them let out soft sounds, giggles and sighs.

“I would be honored if I may have her hand for this dance.”

Maran cleared her throat. “It’s… she’s my niece… from the country.”

He cocked his head and grinned. “Indeed. But even if she’s but a niece, she has your beautiful eyes and I would be deeply honored for a dance.”

Glorias whimpered, her face growing flushed as she stared up. She desperately wanted to say yes, the memory of their touching during dance lessons still bright in her thoughts. The easy way Benard spoke and moved, the firmness that they held hands while dancing, it was another thing she hoped to finally have.

“Glorias?” asked her mother.

Galadin didn’t know if Benard knew that Galadin and Glorias were the same. She almost said no, but she couldn’t pull her thoughts from the smell of his cologne and the electric touch between them. “I… yes,” she whispered.

Benard bowed again and held out his hand. The song was about to start.

When he took Glorias’s hand, sparks coursed through her body. She felt exposed and bared, every part of her nerves burning with anticipation.

Benard guided her to the floor, turned around, and then slipped his hand around Glorias’s waist. It was firm and strong.

With weak knees, Glorias turned into the first position, her hand in a position to be led. It was just like Dame Dorin’s lessons, except this time it was finally clear her role between the two of them.

“What do you think about these dances? They are simple enough.”

Glorias laughed nervously. “I haven’t had enough lessons and Dorin—”

With a start, she clamped her mouth shut. She didn’t want to reveal that she already knew Benard as a different person. Her heart pounded in her chest as the music swelled up.

“I know what you mean. I feel like I’ve been going to this old lady’s lessons forever but she keeps matching me up with women who really aren’t…” He smiled broadly. “My thing. You know what I mean?”

He winked and drew Glorias around in time with the music.

Glorias’s stomach clenched. She knew exactly what Benard wanted, he was gay and wanted a man not a woman. The surreal sensation draped over her as she struggled with who she was. Benard would want Galadin but at the same time, it was Glorias that he was dancing with. Of all the men, of all the possibilities at the ball, he was the one man could accept Glorias for who she was.

She may be exactly what Benard had been looking for. A troubling stiffness strained underneath the green dress and Glorias was thankful that the garment would hide her sudden desire.

The music brought them in a circle. Glorias’s dress swirled out in perfect harmony with the other dancers. She felt like she was in one of the paintings that she had admired for years. It brought tears with the feeling of being complete.

Too soon, the music slowed and came to a stop. When a ripple of applause filled the room, the dancers began to drift back to their tables.

Glorias didn’t want to leave. She looked into Benard’s eyes, wondering if there could ever be anything between the two of them. New fantasies rushed through her mind, setting her skin on fire and quickening her heart.

“I don’t want to leave,” Benard said quietly.

“Do we have to?”

“No,” her partner said. “You never have to leave.”

Glorias’s heart skipped another beat. In that moment, it felt as if Galadin has ceased to ever exist. All the fear, terror, and doubt burned away, leaving only an intense longing and happiness.

The musicians started up a quieter dance for the intermission between the formal ones. Normally it just filled in the silence but, this time, Glorias wanted to keep dancing.

Benard ran his fingertips starting from Glorias’s elbow to her wrist. “Now, do you remember the Fox step from Dame Dorin’s class? You were very good at it but I seem to recall you were in the lead at the time.”

Glorias shivered with fright and excitement. She looked up. “H-How… when did you know?”

He smiled and drew her close. “When I first saw you, I thought you were a beautiful. Nothing has changed.”

Her blush grew hotter.

Benard gently turned Glorias’s wrist until it was Benard taking the lead.

Glorias’s breath locked in her throat. She trembled as she looked up into Benard’s warm eyes.

“May I lead this dance?”

With a happy smile blurred by happy tears, Glorias nodded. “Yes.”

“Good, because I couldn’t wait to ask for a chance to dance with you tonight. I would be honored to fill your dance card for the rest of the evening, Bedame Glorias kia Kasin.”