Author's Note: What I want you to remember, is that these are one shots. :) These are just little looks into every person's life.
To Dance with Another
Rain was not uncommon in the mountains; a vast majority of spring and early summer was spent drowning in it, so Valerie was not surprised when she woke to water hitting the roof with metallic pangs.
She rolled out of bed, her feet slapping against the cold wood floor, and immediately gravitated towards her window. Down below, cars were already roaming down main street, and she peered at them, wondering where they were going. There were billions of people here on Earth, each with families, jobs, occupations, lives, relationships, hurts, and pasts. And a handful of the 7,500 of Dodge's population were going on with those lives right now, right under Valerie's footsteps.
And she didn't know anything about them. As they knew nothing of her. Just like the Red Ford F150 pulled to a stop at the intersection. She'd never seen the car before, most likely wouldn't again, and she would never know about his/her life, and why he was suddenly going East down Main Street.
It's too early in the morning to think like this, Valerie groaned. She jerked herself away from the window and headed to the shower.
Thirty minutes later, as she got dressed in gray sweats and a pink Adidas tee-shirt, the rain had slowed to a mere trickle and allowed some weak rays of light to break the gray cover. The sight of sun made her feel better.
Downstairs, Kyle, their part-time employee, was sitting at the counter, and without a word, he slid her some burnt toast. He usually came in on Sundays just to clean and count the money, and do whatever her mother, Natalie, wanted him to do.
She gave him a concerned look; burnt toast was not her early morning repertoire. " Is Natalie not in the back?"
He shook his head, his flop of brown hair falling over his forehead. " She came down, nearly puked at the smell of coffee, and went directly back up."
" She did?" Valerie was instantly concerned. " Just now?"
" No." Kyle eyed the clock, whose hands were pointing to the eight and nine. " About forty-five minutes ago. You might want to check on her. She really didn't look good."
Valerie shoved away from the corner and bounded up the stairs. In her room, her mother was laying tangled in her sheets, face-down, the only light coming in horizontally from the shades.
" Natalie? Mom?" Valerie whispered, laying a hand on her shoulder. It felt cool to the touch. Her mother mumbled something incomprehensible and shifted, burying her face between two pillows. " Are you okay?"
" I have the flu," her mother groaned.
She smoothed her mother's hair, from her ear to the middle of her back, making a soft noise. It was what Natalie had done when Valerie was sick or miserable, and it had always perked her up. And her mother looked absolutely miserable, a sheen of sweat glistening on her bare arms and shoulder, though she was shivering. " I think you should go to the doctor," Valerie said finally.
Her mother shook her head weakly. " I'll be fine. I don't need a doctor."
" Mom"–she reserved the title for whenever she felt her side needed extra strength–" I think you should really go to a doctor."
" I'm fine." Her voice was hoarse, and Valerie instantly felt chagrined. Natalie was obviously in need of help.
" I think we need to get you situated more comfortable. You're all tangled up in your covers."
" I'm so cold," her mother moaned.
" Well, you won't be once you get your covers on."
A grin fluttered on her mother's lips. She allowed Valerie to free the covers and be covered with them correctly, barely moving herself.
" Is the light to bright?" Valerie asked.
Her mother answered in a weak no.
" I still think we should get you to the doctor."
" No. No, I-I'm good."
Valerie sighed, gave her mother another reassuring stroke with her hand, and then headed into the mini-kitchen. She took a glass of water and two ibuprofen and placed then on the side table, close to her mother's reach. Then she retrieved the throw-up bowl, dumping out the cleaners that it had currently inhabited and placed it on the floor beside the bed. Just in case. No matter how much she loved her mother, she did not want to be picking chunks of unknown substances off the floor.
" All right," she said, for lack of better words. Her mother was limp, stretched out like a doll. " Well, just relax." It was like she was talking to one; an unemotional, unresponsive piece of stuffed cloth. " Feel better. I'll come back later."
Her mother groaned. Valerie bit her lip. Her mother had a weak immune system and had been subject to bad colds and the flu in the past, but she always hated it when she was sick. It made her feel vulnerable as well.
" Just yell for me if you need anything."
A moan in response, and Valerie's gut wrenched in sympathy. She hated seeing her like this. There was nothing to do but wait. . . .
Since it was Sunday, Valerie sought her slippers in her room, and then sat down on the wood floor of the living room to stretch. She set the volume on the old stereo as loud as she dared it to go, making sure that Natalie's door was closed.
The dining table she pushed far to the edge and set the stools under the counter, creating a dance floor. Even with furniture out of the way, it was a small place to dance in but it made do on most occasions.
For a technical term, she danced lyrical. Dancing to music. Interpretive. In her dance academy she had trained in lyrical/contemporary, classical, hip-hop, and a little bit of ballroom and jazz. But out of all of them, her favorite was lyrical.
She loved lyrical because it was her way of dancing. It wasn't someone else; it was just hers.
Her whole life had been train, train, train, recital, train, train, train, recital. Even during the summer she had never let up. She had gone to gymnastics camps, dance camps; her summers were never summer. But there was nothing like the thrill of lyrical, dancing to the music, feeling it through yourself. Why she had put up with it all, why she had allowed her life to be consumed with hairspray and jealous mothers.
Normally while she danced it was only her and the music, nothing between her and her body and the dance. This time something was. Her thoughts, no matter how far she tried to push them back, no matter how hard she concentrated on the music, wheedled themselves in, pushed and prodded and demanded her attention.
It was simple stuff, really. Her irritating teachers. Her concern for her mom. But mainly about Cooper. Cooper and that goofy, spunky grin that always slanted down at her. Cooper and his strong, sure hands. Cooper, her partner at her Dance Academy.
He wasn't just a regular guy. He was nice, funny, and had a rich, infectious laugh. He made her feel giddy every time he grinned at her. He made her feel important every time he talked with her. And he danced too. You couldn't get much hotter than that, and as a bonus, he was pretty cute.
Why the hell couldn't she focus? She gritted her teeth, straining her ears for an internal interpretation of the music, and tried her hardest to stay on track. But then her mind's eye decided to flash with Cooper's rich laugh and smile, and her concentration shattered.
There was a click, and something snapped shut. She turned to find Cooper in the doorway, in his hands a camera. His mouth was in a lopsided smile.
" You just invited yourself in my house," she said slowly. She was sweating. If her life was a reality TV show, there would be no sweat on her back or under her armpits. But of course there was. Dance was hard and exhausting; Cooper knew that.
His smile just grew larger. " I wanted to show you what I meant earlier. Y'know, about the distractions. Come and see yourself dance."
" You invited yourself into my house," she repeated.
" Apartment technically," Cooper corrected her. " And Kyle let me in. He's a nice fella."
She grudgingly allowed a smile. " And you filmed me without my knowing."
" Yes, I did."
She rolled her eyes. Cooper was being intentionally unobservant. " Very well then. Come on in, Cooper Highsmith."
" Don't mind if I do," he said, pulling out the bar stool and settling himself on it. He looked her once over. " You don't dress as crazily at home as you do in practice. Where are the purple leg-warmers? The clashing orange shorts with the pink leotard?"
" Oh, shut up and give me the camera." Valerie snatched it and sat next to him. " How does this thing work?"
" You press this," he said, pressing a button.
A tiny image of her, dancing without restraints, began swirling around while Carrie Underwood sang and yelled and stamped her feet in the background. She wrinkled her nose as she watched her mini-image perform a particularly awkward move that she had thought was fine.
" Distracted there," Cooper said, waited a moment and then a few more. " And there. . . . and there. The only times your mind wasn't fully on the music."
" I must say that it is concerning me that you know my dancing so well."
He laughed a nice Cooper laugh. " Flattering yourself. Bernard would be able to see it as well. Hence the discussion on distractions that I've come to have with you."
" Have you come to ridicule me, Cooper?" Valerie said and then leaped from the stool. In her room, she switched into another shirt and rolled on her deodorant.
From the kitchen, Cooper yelled, " Not really. I've come to show you what you can't see."
She leaned against her door frame and looked at him. " What can't I see?"
" Well." He shrugged, placing his arms behind him on the counter. " A lot of things actually. I think you actually do see it, but you can't fully see it."
" And what can't I fully see?"
He sighed. " This conversation is not how I pictured it going."
" They never go as planned," she said. " It's true."
" Okay." He played with a ring on his pinkie finger" That's right. It never does go as planned. But what I'm trying to ask is why you don't focus? I mean, c'mon, Valerie. You could be really, really good. Hell, Bernard knows it! I know it! Well, I can feel it too. But you just don't focus enough!"
" What are you saying?"
" Why are you so distracted?"
" I'm not trying to be distracted!"
" Well, what are you thinking about then? Why is it, that you won't focus on the dance? Here and in practice."
She couldn't very well tell him the truth, now could she? That would just be too damn convenient.
" Think about it Valerie. Fix whatever you need to fix, and then focus. Because I don't want you to be distracted, because it hurts your performance." He got up to leave, giving her a long, sad look.
" Your camera," Valerie said, waving to the said object still on the counter.
His eyes flashed to it then to her. " I expect it back on Monday."
She arched an eyebrow. " Bye Cooper." She smiled, because she couldn't bear the sight of his sad face. " I'll see you later."
" See you later."
His footsteps faded away, and she was left with the camera. Taking it, she curled up on the couch and hit the replay button. There were places where she was very awkward. Her arm flailed, her foot was sickled, or she was completely off balance and barely managed to contain it.
Cooper was only looking out for her. He could tell when she was distracted, when she needed an extra push in the right direction. He was only being a good partner.
But what was the point of being a good partner, if they were the one that was distracting her? Cooper wasn't just a nice guy. He was cute. He was funny. It wasn't her fault she was affected by him!
She set the camera back onto the counter and started a fresh song. A sad song.
Valerie hit play.