Lyric

He stood over her. Not overbearing. Not authoritative. Just…over her. His hand came to rest gently on her shoulder, a a surge of protective warmth and LOVE surged through her veins, so deeply, so fiercely, her skin, her blood burned with the passion of it. She couldn’t bear to look up and see him. Not even his hand. Not even turn her eyes to see his feet. She clenched shut her eyes, torn and bitter at the shame of her guilt and emptiness and utter lack.  She failed, again and again. She wasn’t strong enough to do what the others could do, not clever enough. Not bold enough.

<I didn’t ask you to do what they’re doing.>

But you gave us all a purpose, her thoughts delved ahead, shamelessly.  A bold purpose, a true purpose. One she’d failed at doing.

<Why, then, do you try?>

She wanted to say it was because she desired it. That she longed to see the True Purpose come to fruition.  But He knew the truth in her heart before she could find the words to explain it. Because I’m supposed to, she told Him. You told us to. You gave us Your Purpose, and set us into this world to accomplish it.  She waited for his admonition. His disappointment. A true follower would desire to see His Purpose carried out. A true follower would not obey out of obligation or a sense of duty, but because of the joy that came from Him and his Life.  This would mean she was not a true follower. That she was doing something wrong. He would send her back into the world, and when the time came, He would turn His face away when she came with so little.

<Do you love Me?>

Her eyes moistened and she blinked rapidly to clear them. It should not have been a difficult question to answer. All her life came from Him. His hands had brought her into being, His arm protected her from the Enemies.  She had been made perfect by Him.  All these things were known.  All these things were truth. All these things would surely, surely mean One was deserving of love.  A bitter shell of shame and terror began to solidify over her heart.  No…she barely whispered. No, I do not. Please don’t turn me away. Please don’t turn your face. Please don’t take your hand from me, your Presence from Me, your Love from me. I won’t be able to handle it. I won’t be able to bear it. There’ll be nothing to stand for, nothing to live for. No purpose. No Truth.  I want to, she said. I do, I do, I do want to. If I did, would I be better?  Would you like me better?

<Why do you think doing better would change how I feel about you?>

Oh, it must. If I loved you, I would be joyful. I would gladly do my work. I would be filled with such desire for the Purpose it would overtake my fears.  I would do better. You would not be ashamed of me. You would not turn your face when I fail.  You would see me doing as the others do; their Purpose with joy and eagerness.  As you first called us to do, for which you Formed me to do.  I would be worthy of You.

<No one is worthy of Me.>

Of… of course. of course I know that. Of course I know that we were re-made out of the dark. Of course I know that our first existence was one of selfishness and anger and…I just want to make you proud.  I don’t want to grieve you with my failings.

 

<But I Made you anyway.  You are Mine.>

Yes…yes, she knows that.  That was why He deserved it. Love. Honor. Obedience.

<Why do you still fear?>

Because I don’t do enough. There is so much. Too much.

 

<Do you believe I would turn you away?>

Wouldn’t you? One who is disobedient? On who knows Your authority, yet turns away?

<You are Mine.>

Yes, yes she knows that.  But she’s not doing enough. Not doing her Purpose. The right way, the right direction.

<You are Mine.>

Yes, yes, she knows that. But constantly distracted, desiring of other things.  Selfish. Fearful. Not enough.

<You are Mine.>

Yes…yes…

<You are Mine.>

…Yes…

<Can anyone take away what is Mine?>

…No. No, of course not. But it would not be taken away, merely left behind…

<You are Mine.>

But I’m not enough!

<That is immaterial. I did not Make you to be enough.  I Made you to be Mine.>

But I’m not doing my Purpose! Your Purpose!

<You are Mine.>

What if I get it wrong, my entire life? What if I never find my Purpose?

<You are Mine.>

Will I ever get better? Will I ever love You?

<Do you trust Me?>

….She doesn’t know what that looks like.

<You are Mine.>

 

 

A surge of protective warmth and LOVE surged through her veins, so deeply, so fiercely, so true: her skin, her blood burned with the power of it. It called to her, called to the deepest abyss of her weary soul, her tired wings. Deep called unto the depths, and she could not help but lift her eyes. Her soul fought past the brokenness, the fear, the shame and the guilt to find the wellspring of Life and Hope.  Past his feet, past his hands, up to the radiant Light and Breath that was Him.  His face was acceptance and love and truth.

<You are Mine.>

 

 

 

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Writing Prompt #4: First Look

She only took shortcuts through the park when the need for expediency overrode her natural discomfort in being near children. But she was running late; the optometrist appointment thad gone nearly 30 minutes overdue and there was far too much to do to miss any work time and far to much to do this evening to stay later and make up for it. Feeling extravagantly out-of-place in her grey, tailed business suit amidst the forest of yoga pants, T-shirts and jeans, spattered with dirt and day-old milk, she maintained a quick step through the alternating pads of Astroturf and wood-chips towards 5th avenue.

It was always the same, the park. The same screaming, crying kids running over kingdom come, collections of women in their mid-twenties hovering protectively over expensive walkers, hair hastily gathered into messy buns drinking deeply from their Starbucks vanilla lattes. Probably arguing over different approaches to spanking or changing diapers or what to cook for dinner when their husbands came home. It was a lifestyle, a dream – no, a nightmare that oozed droplets of dread down her spine: chained to a couple of kids, stuck at home with the vacuum and dustpan and cookbooks…her potential, her skill, her ambition washed away in a flood of diapers and baby wipes. She averted her eyes as though even gazing upon them would draw her in, kicking and screaming towards the inevitable doom.  Scanning elsewhere, somewhere with a view more pleasant, her gaze caught on him.

Him. A man – not wholly unusual, in today’s gender fluid society of free-thinkers and role confusion, that sort of thing was to be expected.  He didn’t look trans, though. Or gay. He was…oh, god! The back of her neck heated with a flush of exhilaration. He was handsome, the late afternoon sun reflecting in the dark mop of hair that hung, just so deliciously over his eyes, shaded by classy, modern thin-rimmed glasses. He reached up with one graceful hand, (she noticed the current model Rolex with an appreciative thrill) to brush it away from his face as he shifted.  Unlike other man-moms, he was clad in a crisp white button-up and tailored black suit pants that were as alien to the playground as her stilettos.  An equally black suit jacket was folded neatly over the back of the bench on which he sat, so naturally casual and leisurely to make a model envious. A fluttering shiver of excitement and erotic interest rippled across her flesh. A Career man. A handsome, young, career man. Her steps slowed ever so slightly  as she drank in the rest of him: his sleeves were folded up, revealing well muscled forearms  – and seated within the protective circle of his right arm, was a young girl.

A swift current of chill hesitation: a child? His child? Disappointment followed on the heels of her initial thrill, flooding over the blaze of first attraction: an abrupt gulf, impassable void that forever set him apart. A single father? Baggage, probably. Injured and anxious over his ex-wife, shared custody of the kid, no freedom to date, obligations. Yet she watched him, unable and indeed, unwilling to stop drinking in the sheer eye-candy of it all (that is, if she ignored the kid). A child’s book lay open on his lap, and hovering atop it was the tousled head of the little girl. He encouraged her inaudibly, with what she imaged was a deep, soothing baritone lost in the clamor of the playground.  His fingers traced the pages of the book, and settled upon the child a singular look of utter adoration as she poured her focus on the words.

Her stomach twisted with wholly unfamiliar sensation. A strange, disturbing, frightening motion; an insensible, unconscious, magnetic draw towards the enthralling beauty of the moment. Unconsciously her hand traveled towards her chest and her breath quickened in her chest. The girl finished a word and gazed up at her father with eager excitement, hope and confirmation.  He drew her close into his arms, and planted a soft kiss in her hair.

Her heart pounded in her chest, blood pulsing. The sun beat down upon her skin and sweat gathered under her arms. A surge of lighthearted eagerness, anxious desire, fascination: hunger to be close to him. Her pace slowed she drew close to passing them.

God, what was wrong? He was no real life Adonis, she saw hundreds of handsome men, handsome career men, handsome young career men a day: glistening with sweat in the gym, buying her cocktails with a flirting grin at the bar. She re-directed her rising hand from holding her pounding heart to brushing a non-existent strand of stray hair from her forehead. What was it about him, this man, that made her feel as though she were a teenager again, rife and swelling with hormones/? What, in her perfect realm of men, models, rich clothes, premiere apartments, 401ks, stocks portfolios, cocktail hours and self-reliance made this man turn her weak at the knees and, despite everything that frightened and repulsed her about children, be the most beautiful man on earth?

~

Alana worked her way through “because” and at the abrupt shout of several kids across the playground, Nathan glanced up. As always, the park was alive with children of all ages, some of which he recognized as frequent visitors. Glancing at his watch (a gift from his father in law) with a twist of his head, he grimaced. Had to return to the office soon. Turning back to his daughter and pulling her closer to his side with a crooked smile, he caught a glimpse of an anomaly.

A woman, drastically out of place amongst the primary colors of plastic and playground equipment with her tailored skirt and suit jacket, hair drawn up into a severe and perfect ponytail, was taking a brisk stride across the path as though nervous she would be attacked. Her jacket failed, and in fact accentuated the curves of her waist and hips, swaying confidently with every step. Her calves rippled with toned muscle on her steep heels. Her blouse stooped dangerously, enticingly low and he lingered a few seconds longer on her chest before averting his eyes. She was altogether lovely – or would have been, if every step on those stilettos wasn’t lined with a sharp edge of self-reliance and confidence that was just the this side of arrogant and supercilious. Looking at how her gaze traveled around the park with the barest hint of distaste sent a twist of revulsion and anger down his neck. Her scrutiny settled on a group of women on the other bench, shifted to disapproval and aversion, and she hefted a paper-thin phone in her fingers, unconsciously quickening her pace.  Nathan’s eyes slipped away. She may have had the body of a world class model, but she was quite possibly the most singularly un-attractive women he’d ever seen.

Writing Prompt #3: Alt. Ending

Jaime giggled behind her computer screen.

“He’s doing it again!” she said is a hushed whisper, and tapped her co-worker with the tip of her pen with Amy didn’t respond. “Amy!”

“..what?” Brushing a thick curtain of brown hair away from her face, Amy straightened from her phone screen. “Who’s doing what?”

“Jim!” Jaime hissed. “Dancing his feet under his desk again!”  A pinched grin twisted across Amy’s mouth, and her eyes flickered past Jaime’s desk to where the Jim Kennedy, 55-year old CFO of Cressex Industries, Lmd, was tapping his feet in a sprightly rhythm in the open pace beneath his desk. Amy met Jaime’s gaze and they shared a secret giggle.

“Do you think he’s trying to teach himself how?” Amy reached for a tube of strawberry chapstick and popped the cap open. “Watching Youtube videos, or something like that?” Jaime scoffed. “You can’t learn how to dance from a video.”

“Sure you can,” her friend disagreed. “I know a guy from church who taught himself how to break dance from a bunch of Youtube tutorials.”

“That’s not break dancing,” Jaime muttered, sending a swift analytical glance back towards their supervisor. She watched Dancing with the Stars, and figured herself educated enough to figure out if it was a real dance step or just aimless…tapping. Her eyes narrowed in attempts to count the steps of the business-brown loafers.

“It looks like a waltz,” she decided.

“Stop staring!” Amy poked Jaime with her pen in return. “He’s going to notice!”

“He hasn’t already,” Jaime retorted, but abandoned her surveillance, turning her attention back to the Excel spreadsheet spread across the screen in front of her with a weary sigh.

Eventually, others in the office noticed: being a modern, 21st century office in a modern, 21st century sort of town and a modern, 21st century sort of business, Cresssex was a very open space with lots of glass and chrome, and usually taciturn and serious Jim Kennedy’s brown shoes tapping out anything, from a waltz to a mazurka (and occasionally accompanied with swift swaying or soundless counts was visible to nearly everyone.  Melina from marketing found it charming, but lost interest after the first few occurrences, the guys from IT rolled their eyes but threatened to tell Jim they knew she saw it to Jaime’s mortification,  and the receptionist (a high school student named Callie) who was doing a work-study in her senior year now blushed furiously whenever Jim spoke to her. but it didn’t stop – nearly every day, right after lunch (and sometimes mid-morning), Jim’s office door would surreptitiously close, and a moment later, his feet would start moving.  Jaime, Amy, and two others in the accounting pool took it upon themselves to figure it out, and finally acquiesced to Amy’s suggestion and assumption that he was teaching himself to dance.

“What for, though: Martha asked around a french fry. “He doens’t have any kids, no father-daughter dances to prepare for.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Amy admonished. “Maybe he just wants to learn. for himself, you know.” She stared out the window for a melancholy moment. “I used to want to learn how to play the piano, but I never seemed to have the time.”

“Plus, he’s not even married,” Jaime looked enviously at Martha’s fries and hamburger and gave her microwaved Lean Cuisine a desultory pick with her fork. “So who’s he dancing with?”

“Maybe he’s dating! I don’t think he’s gay,” Martha suggested brightly. “Not that gay guys can’t dance together, of course,” she added quickly, lowering her voice, eyes flickering to a group of men sitting to their left. Jenny, the controller and Jim’s immediate assistant, snorted.

“He’s such a nerd, though,” Jaime said. “With those 80’s glasses and shoes. He even wears white socks with them.”

“So does your father, and somehow he found someone to have sex with,” Amy retorted. Jaime shrieked in false insult and threw one of Martha’s fries at her.

“I don’t think they’re anything wrong with just wanting to learn a new skill,” Jenny said, nodding to Amy. “I wish I knew how to dance.”

“I guess not,” Jaime agreed. “But still, at his desk, in front of everyone in the office is hardly the place to do it!”

This topic of discussion re-instated a renewed interest in Jim’s new hobby in the form of an office pool: on just what Jim was training for. Some ideas were relatively harmless (training because he was dating a new woman), some were woefully ignorant (because the employee in question was so ignorant as to Jim’s life they didn’t realize he wasn’t married or had kids), and a handful that were outright ridiculous (he was teaching himself how to play the pipe organ).  Like all attractions however, eventually, Jim’s daily rhythmic routine lost interest, especially as the year-end came around and the accounting apartment was buried in P&Ls, bank statements and last-minute invoices. Callie returned to school for the Spring semester, and a temp started in her place. Martha and her boyfriend finally got engaged and one of the marketing guys broke his leg on a Christmas ski trip, and Jim kept on dancing. Until one day, the owner of Cressex Industries called a meeting.

“This isn’t ominous at all,” Michael hissed over his shoulder. The conference room was slowing filling up, and behind him, Jaime patted his back. “Relax. If he was going to fire anyone, he wouldn’t do it with an audience. I bet it’s just a new big client contract.”

“If that’s the-oh!” MArtha’s mouth snapped shut as the owner of Cresex (Jonathan of the same name), stepped forward. Jim stood just to the side looking apprehensive, but since Alex Matthews, head of marketing, Stacy Andrews, East Coast Sales Director and Sinjeh Parvel, head of IT also stood next to him, Jaime didn’t think much of it.

“Good afternoon, all” Jonathan said sprightly. The man had taken over from his father a handful of years ago, and bounced up and down on the balls of feet that hadn’t been worn away by the daily grind of Career. He started with the usual: updates on various departments, a couple new hire annoucements (“I hope this one lasts,” Jenny hissed, as the newest receptionist waved awkwardly from the side at John’s introduction), and one happy send-off to a heavily pregnant sales rep.

“And, last but not least, I’m sorry to say that Jim here, is going to be taking a bit of a break for a couple months – going abroad, if I’m not mistaken?” Jonhathan glanced back for affirmation, and Jim nodded wordlessly.

:Anyway, I know we’ve just finished out tax season, but we’ve done our best to catch up, but you fellows in accounting will each need to pick up a little extra from day to day,” his gaze swept across the room, lingering every so briefly on the four women. “Jim’s been a member of Cressex since my father got started 15 years ago, and I think it is high time he took a break. And it isn’t anywhere close to making a dent in your stored PTO, either,” he added to polite laughs.  “Jim?” Jonathan pressed the older man. “Any plans? Last requests?” Give us a hint on what you’ll be doing?”

A half-smile twisted the man’s lips at the gathered co-workers, most of which Jaime was certain he knew couldn’t care less, but he just turned it into a self-deprecating laugh and shrugged. “eh, I’m sure you’ll find out,” he said enigmatically. This was met with another smattering of polite but additionally confused laughter. Amy lifted her eyebrows at Jaime, sho shrugged.  Several people stopped to chat with Jim after the breif meeting, shaking hands, offering well-wishes, but he easily side-stepped all inquiries about his plans.

“Aw, shoot,” Jenny suddenly slumped down at her desk. This means I gotta do payroll.”

Without the daily reminder and Jim’s empty office, the excel spreadsheet with the office betting pool gathered metaphorical dust. 3 payroll periods came and went and Jenny found herself dreaming about a sabbatical of her own after the 4th person had come to complain about their direct deposit.  The office continued forward as always, but someone, less-so, without Jim.

On the Thursday night the week before Jim was due to return Jaime was barely settled into her recliner with a mug of hot chocolate, a bowl of Reeses pieces and a blanket when the soundtrack music of the competition began. She took a small sip of her drink and grinned at the titles. Since Dancing with the Stars was off syndication for the season, she got her fix for professional dancing in elsewhere: in this case, a dancing contest filmed in France that her niece had told her about. Although she’d missed the first 4 episodes, watching it made her think about Jim, and occasionally she entertained the idea of learning herself, but when it came down to it, she couldn’t convince herself she had the talent or the time. So she lived vicariously through the dancers on television instead.

Lit by shimmering track lights, several disco balls the camera roved over the dance floor, panning across the 10 couples who had survived through the initial qualifications.  She popped Reeses into her mouth as it moved through introductions, zooming in on each contestant at a time – and her hand froze, mouth dropping open in shock when she recognized one.

“Holy. shit.” She stared at Jim Kennedy, 52 year old CFO of Cressex Industries Lmt.  He wasn’t wearing brown loafers. He wasn’t wearing white socks or wearing aviator-style reading glasses.  No tie or blazer or pastel polo shirts. Jim wore a bright, gold button-up with with sleeves that matched the slinky dress of the woman half his age in his arms to the letter.  The camera moved ahead to the next person, but Jaime didn’t even notice. Jim! She shoved the blanket off her lap, barely avoiding sending the bowl of candy across the floor and dove down to the DVR. She smahed the rewind button – but, no it was him…she sat back on her heels as the show moved on, stunned. This was his sabbatical?! A dance competition in Paris? Jaime snatched the blanket and her drink and settled there on the floor.

The first dance was a swift samba around the rectangular dance floor. The camera zoomed out to give a bird eye view of the entire floor, and Jaime kept her eyes fixed on Jim and his partner weaving in and out if other couples as though perfectly choreographed with #9 sticker on his back. It might have been awkward or uncomfortable to see your boss shimmy and shake on national TV, but she was, at this point, too spellbound by the idea to consider any other reaction that dumbfounded awe. An announcer’s voice began to speak over the music in French, but after a second an English translation spoke over him.

“and here, our judge Analise Martin-” Jaime gasped in excited recognition, “top female salsa champion and 3-time winner of Dancing with the Stars, stepping in now to choose those who will move onto the next level, oh that’s well, there’s #2 out, too bad, she had promise, but that slip of the foot, ah yes, #4, excellent form, and oh, look at that lift-!” Gasps of amazement broke the silence, -and yes!  Confirmed #9, very good!”

“This is unbelievable,” She muttered to the empty living room, not taking her eyes from the screen where Jim was sweeping his partner across the floor in some fancy in-sync footwork. Teaching oneself to dance for fun was one thing…

 

Being a dancing contest, it didn’t take long for her to get invested. Despite being at the most, an amateur dancer whose experience was at her cousin’s wedding last spring, Jaime felt she was learned enough from the other dance shows to make objective calls on Jim’s performance and the judges’ calls. But even so, she caught her breath whenever when Jim and his partner passed a little too close to the judges.

“And now, our final number!” The DJ announced after Amy clicked through the broadcast commercials.” And we’ve got five couples left, once dance to go – a tango, ladies and gentleman, the dance of passion, let’s see how our couples do here!”

Jaime curled around the bowl of forgotten Reeses in her lap as the 3 judges milled between the 10 dancers like sharks in a shoal of fish.

“-and here, and that’s too bad, Alice Jackson out, and, oh, Very nice, good sportsmanship there,” several boos from the crowed met the disqualified dancer’s obscene gesture,  “and here we have – just four couples – oOH, no!” Gasps and cries of alarm and horror swallowed the pounding music and Jaime unconsciously leapt her her feet, scattering chocolate everywhere as,right in the middle of a turn, Jim’s foot lost purchase, his ankle twisted and he collapsed to the ground with a shout of pain. The music played along for a second more before screeching to an abrupt halt and the judges and several people on the edges of the dance floor rushed in to attend to him. The smooth, edited feel of the live show vanished as the camera view switched with a shudder, flashing from the overhead view to center on the shocked and white faces of the announcers, who hastily tried to cover the accident, “…several paramedics on the floor just for such occasions, looks to be nothing too serious – yes, we can see he’s getting help, but definitely not putting any weight on that foot-”

“Show the damned dance floor, idiot,” Jaime snarled at the television – and as though they heard her, the viewpoint switched to the floor, where the crowed had already lessened and two men were gathered under Jim’s arm, leading him off the floor. His forehead was  covered with a sheen of sweat, but he looked alright otherwise: but the announcer was right – he kept his left foot completely off the floor. She held a thankful palm to her chest and leaned back with a relieved breath. The man was in his 50s, it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility for him to have a heart attack! Several of the couples milled about nervously, as if unwilling to illustrate their perfect health in the aftermath of Jim’s accident, and someone in the production department apparently came to their senses and the screen flashed away to a Ford commercial.  Jaime rolled her eyes and reached for her drink, and only then noticed that, in her alarm, the bowl of Reeses pieces ad been thrown across the room, and chocolate candies were scattered across the floor. “Aw, crap.”

 

 

The next morning, as she mulled her her coffee and several people chatted easily over the box of donuts someone had brought in, Jaime wondered about Jim. He’d not come back on for the remainder of the show, although he’d been awarded 4th place (and a small plaque) in absentia. He was probably fine, she thought, taking a sip. But she wondered if she should tell the others. They’d get a thrill from it – they’d want to throw a party when he got back, put the plaque up on the wall. She glanced at Amy, who was already buried in her email. After the show, she’d been buzzing with the thought of sharing such news with the office. Now…she wasn’t sure. He hadn’t said anything to anyone. And if you ignored the fact that everyone in Cressex was a nosy busybody, hadn’t given any indication of his plans. In the face of his secrecy and the effort he took to maintain it, she felt wrong for wanting to share., especially since she was the one who started the entire rumor mill in the first place…If it were her, she’d be mortified. And it hadn’t even been American television – what was the chance anyone in the office would honestly have been watching French syndication? If it wasn’t for her niece doing her French abroad studies, even she wouldn’t have known about it!  Jaime wrapped her hands around the warm mug.  Part of her longed to share. To laugh about who won the pool (though she didn’t want to pay up her portion), and warn everyone about his injury. But there was another, stronger part that said it wouldn’t be fair, and it wouldn’t be respectful. So she set her mug aside, pulled her keyboard in front of her, and focused on her work without, forcing the gossip mill from her mind.

 

Jim returned to the office the next Tuesday. He walked in behind Jenny, who was holding the door open with a very worried look as he sidled in on his crutches. Cries of alarm and concern rose from those gathered in the reception area.

Jim waved them off. “Just a small accident at golf, my own fault,” he said with a embarrassed grin. “Had to cut the vacation short, but I’m fine.”

“How long do you have to be in that?” Alex said, pointing to the thick white cast wrapped around Jim’s left ankle. Jim grimaced. “Three more weeks,” he said. “Old brittle bones, I guess.” Jenny groaned in sympathy and held open the inner door for Jim to walk through; she was carrying his briefcase, too.  He didn’t look any different than before, at least on the outside, Jaime decided. But having seem him dance: having seen the broad, exhilarated grin as he glided across the floor lent a new, rare…more intimate dimension to how she saw him now. He left the glass door of his office open as he balanced his crutches in the corner with a thanks to Jenny. Jaime wanted until he settled himself in his chair before standing. With a forced leisure she was certain was painfully obvious, she meandered across the walkway and leaned against the doorjamb. Jim glanced her distractedly.

“Something I can do for you, Jaime?” He said, reaching around the computer to switch it on.

“Just…curious,” she said, trying to find the right thing to say. How did she tell him she knew…that she saw, that she was amazed, inspired, proud…

“How was the weather in France?” she finally said. Jim froze, his eyes skewing her to the spot, his face dashing through a number of emotions: shock, horror, embarrassment, alarm, even fear, before settling on an combination of wary suspicion.

“…fine, fine weather,” he managed to say.  Jaime smiled and bit at her lip, lowering her gaze to his desk in an effort to be as casual as possible.  “It looked great,” she said. “Wish I could have been there to see it – at least until the storm,” she added, flicking a eye at his leg. Jim’s eyes narrowed, but after a tense second, his frown finally eased into a knowing smile.  He nodded with a grateful twist of his head, and turned back to his computer, effectively dismissing her. It was enough – and Jaime felt a sudden kinship with him for their shared secret. As she settled back into her desk, her eyes were drawn to his feet: one in casual brown loafers, the other in a white bulbous cast. But his eyes were shining and a pleased grin was playing around his mouth. Jaime looked at her hands, lifted and poised above the keyboard, and began a google search for dance lessons.

 

Writing Prompt #3: Dancing

 

Jaime giggled behind her computer screen.

“He’s doing it again!” she said in a hushed whisper, and tapped her co-worker with the tip of her pen with Amy didn’t respond. “Amy!”

“…what?” Brushing a thick curtain of brown hair away from her face, Amy straightened from her phone screen. “Who’s doing what?”

“Jim!” Jaime hissed. “Dancing his feet under his desk again!”  her co-worker tried to smother her grin when her eyes flickered past Jaime’s desk to where the Jim Kennedy, 55-year old CFO of Cressex Industries, Lmd, was tapping his feet in a sprightly rhythm in the open pace beneath his desk. Amy met Jaime’s gaze and they shared a secret giggle.

“Do you think he’s trying to teach himself how?” Amy reached for a tube of strawberry chapstick and popped the cap open. “Watching Youtube videos, or something like that?” Jaime scoffed. “You can’t learn how to dance from a video.”

“Sure you can,” her friend disagreed. “I know a guy from church who taught himself how to break dance from a bunch of Youtube tutorials.”

“That’s not break dancing,” Jaime muttered, sending a swift analytical glance back towards their supervisor. She watched Dancing with the Stars, and figured herself educated enough to figure out if it was a real dance step or just aimless…tapping. Her eyes narrowed in attempts to count the steps of the business-brown loafers.

“It looks like a waltz,” she decided.

“Stop staring!” Amy poked Jaime with her pen in return. “He’s going to notice!”

“He hasn’t already,” Jaime retorted, but abandoned her surveillance, turning her attention back to the Excel spreadsheet spread across the screen in front of her with a weary sigh.

Eventually, others in the office noticed: being a modern, 21st century office in a modern, 21st century sort of town and a modern, 21st century sort of business, Cresssex was a very open space with lots of glass and chrome, and usually taciturn and serious Jim Kennedy’s brown shoes tapping out anything from a waltz to a mazurka (and occasionally accompanied with swaying or silent, mouthed counting was visible to nearly everyone.  Melina from marketing found it charming, but lost interest after the first few occurrences, the guys from IT rolled their eyes but threatened to tell Jim they knew she saw it (to Jaime’s mortification), and the receptionist (a high school student named Callie) who was doing a work-study in her senior year now blushed furiously whenever Jim spoke to her. but it didn’t stop – nearly every day, right after lunch (and sometimes mid-morning), Jim’s office door would surreptitiously close, and a moment later, his feet would start moving.  Jaime, Amy, and two others in the accounting pool took it upon themselves to figure it out, and finally acquiesced to Amy’s suggestion and assumption that he was teaching himself to dance.

“What for, though?” Martha asked around a french fry. “He doesn’t have any kids, no father-daughter dances to prepare for.”

“Oh, that’s nice,” Amy chided her. “Maybe he just wants to learn. for himself, you know.” She stared out the window for a melancholy moment. “I used to want to learn how to play the piano, but I never seemed to have the time.”

“Plus, he’s not even married,” Jaime looked enviously at Martha’s fries and hamburger and gave her microwaved Lean Cuisine a desultory pick with her fork. “So who’s he dancing with?”

“Maybe he’s dating? I don’t think he’s gay,” Martha suggested brightly. “Not that gay guys can’t dance together, of course,” she added quickly, lowering her voice, eyes flickering to a group of men sitting to their left. Jenny, the controller and Jim’s immediate assistant, snorted.

“He’s such a nerd, though,” Jaime said. “With those 80’s glasses and shoes. He even wears white socks with them.”

“So does your father, and somehow he found someone to have sex with,” Amy retorted. Jaime shrieked in false insult and threw one of Martha’s fries at her.

“I don’t think they’re anything wrong with just wanting to learn a new skill,” Jenny said, nodding to Amy. “I wish I knew how to dance.”

“I guess not,” Jaime agreed. “But still, at his desk, in front of everyone in the office is hardly the place to do it!”

This topic of discussion re-instated a renewed interest in Jim’s new hobby in the form of an office pool: on just what Jim was training for. Some ideas were relatively harmless (training because he was dating a new woman), some were woefully ignorant (because the employee in question was so ignorant as to Jim’s life they didn’t realize he wasn’t married or had kids), and a handful that were outright ridiculous (he was teaching himself how to play the pipe organ).  Like all attractions however, eventually, Jim’s daily rhythmic routine lost interest, especially as the year-end came around and the accounting apartment was buried in P&Ls, bank statements and last-minute invoices. Callie returned to school for the Spring semester, and a temp started in her place. Martha and her boyfriend finally got engaged and one of the marketing guys broke his leg on a Christmas ski trip, and Jim kept on dancing. Until one day, the owner of Cressex Industries called a meeting.

 

“This isn’t ominous at all,” Michael hissed over his shoulder. The conference room was slowing filling up, and behind him, Jaime patted his back. “Relax. If he was going to fire anyone, he wouldn’t do it with an audience. I bet it’s just a new big client contract.”

“If that’s the-oh, quiet!” Martha’s mouth snapped shut as the owner of Cressex (Jonathan of the same name, Jr), stepped forward. Jim stood just to the side looking apprehensive, but since Alex Matthews, head of marketing, Stacy Andrews, East Coast Sales Director and Sinjeh Parvel, head of IT also stood next to him, no one thought much of it.

“Good afternoon, all” Jonathan said sprightly. The man had taken over from his father a handful of years ago, and bounced up and down on the balls of feet that hadn’t been worn away by the daily grind of Career. He started with the usual: updates on various departments, a couple new hire announcements (“I hope this one lasts,” Jenny hissed, as the newest receptionist waved awkwardly from the side at John’s introduction), and one happy send-off to a heavily pregnant sales rep.

“And, last but not least, I’m sorry to say that Jim here, is going to be taking a bit of a break for a couple months – going abroad, if I’m not mistaken?” Jonhathan glanced back for affirmation, and Jim nodded wordlessly.

“Anyway, I know we’ve just finished out tax season, but we’ve done our best to catch up, but you fellows in accounting will each need to pick up a little extra from day to day,” his gaze swept across the room, lingering every so briefly on the four women. “Jim’s been a member of Cressex since my father got started 15 years ago, and I think it is high time he took a break. And it isn’t anywhere close to making a dent in your stored PTO, either,” he added to polite laughs.  “Jim?” Jonathan pressed the older man. “Any plans? Last requests? Give us a hint on what you’ll be doing?”

A half-smile twisted the man’s lips at the gathered co-workers, most of which Jaime was certain he knew couldn’t care less, but he just turned it into a self-deprecating laugh and shrugged. “eh, I’m sure you’ll find out,” he said enigmatically. This was met with another smattering of polite but confused laughter. Amy lifted her eyebrows at Jaime, sho shrugged.  Several people stopped to chat with Jim after the brief meeting, shaking hands, offering well-wishes, but he easily side-stepped all inquiries about his plans.

“Aw, shoot,” Jenny suddenly slumped down at her desk. This means I gotta do payroll.”

 

Without the daily reminder and Jim’s empty office, the excel spreadsheet with the office betting pool gathered metaphorical dust. 3 payroll periods came and went and Jenny found herself dreaming about a sabbatical of her own after the 4th person had come to complain about their direct deposit.  The office continued forward as always, but somehow, less-so without Jim.

“He’s just a fixture,” Alan said, filling up the remainder of his coffee mug with creamer. “It’s odd not to see him there. Like, missing the parody of the Mona Lisa in the hallway outside the bathrooms.”  Jenny shuddered. “God, I hate that thing. We’ve tried to move it twice but the sales agents keep putting it back.”

“He didn’t die,” Martha said, twisting her ring around her finger. “He’ll be back in what, a week?

“Tuesday after next, I think-”

“Guys!!!!” Amy slammed through the front door, nearly crushing the doorstop and practically colliding with Michael, who just stepped out of the storage closet with a handful of toilet paper. “You will never believe this!”  She was grinning so wildly she looked half-crazed, and Chris, coming in behind her looked almost frightened. “I know why Jim was taking dance lessons!”

“What?

“Come on, come on, comeon!” Amy grabbed Matha’s arm and dragged her across to her desk. She was beaming and as they rushed through the maze of cubicles, actually yelled down the hall towards the IT department.

“HEY, ALEX!  YOU WON THE POOL!”

Half a moment later, a tousled red-head popped up from around the corner. “You have GOT to be kidding me.”

 

Most of the office swiftly gathered in the space of 10 seconds (the other half not yet arrived), and Amy was practically vibrating with excitement.

“I recorded it last night and emailed it to myself, you will not believe it!” She didn’t bother to sit down, just leaned over her chair, pulled up her email, skimmed past several new ones and clicked the mouse so fiercely that the receptionist (who didn’t seem to care one way or the other about Jim’s secret hobby) looked up in alarm.  Amy clicked open the link and set the tiny video to full-screen. A paused, blurry screenshot of several couples in bright clothing resolved itself into a video of a dance floor lit by shimmering track lights, several disco balls and accompanied by a pounding, moving salsa.

“There!” Amy’s finger skewered one of the male dancers. He wasn’t wearing brown loafers. He wasn’t wearing white socks or aviator-style reading glasses.  No tie or blazer or pastel polo shirts. Jim wore a bright, gold button-up with with sleeves that billowed with his movement around the dance floor and matched the slinky dress of the woman half his age in his arms to the letter.

“Holy. shit.”  They stared at Jim Kennedy, 52 year old CFO of Cressex Industries Lmt, dancing a swift samba around the rectangular dance floor, weaving in and out of other couples as though perfectly choreographed with a #9 sticker on his back on national broadcast television. It might have been awkward or uncomfortable to see your boss shimmy and shake on national TV, but everyone was at this point, too deeply stunned and spellbound by the idea to consider any other reaction other than dumbfounded awe.  Amy turned her computer volume to the max and stepped to the side, letting others gather closer to the screen. An announcer’s voice began to speak over the music in a bottled, tinny voice:

“and here, our judge Analise Martin-” Jaime screeched in excited recognition, “top female salsa champion and 3-time winner of Dancing with the Stars, stepping in to choose those who will move onto the next level – oh that’s well, there’s #2 out, too bad, she had promise, but that slip of the foot… ah yes, #4, excellent form, and oh, look at that lift-!” Gasps of amazement broke the silence, “- and yes!  Confirmed #9, very good!”

“This is unbelievable,” Alex murmured, an opinion obviously shared by the rest of the shocked IT department crowded in behind him.

“Why didn’t he say anything?” Jenny asked, not taking her eyes from the screen where Jim was sweeping his partner across the floor in some fancy in-sync footwork.

“Would you have?” Amy asked, beckoning Paula over from where she’d walked in and stopped short at the crowd around the desktop.

“Wait- ” Chris, head web developer, reached over and slapped the space bar, pausing the video, and held up his hands to forestall the disappointed groans and complaints.

“Hey, if we’re gonna watch this, we’re gonna do it right.” He grinned at a couple confused glances, took two steps to the right, and flipped on the projector screen.

 

Someone had found popcorn, someone else had closed all the blinds and everyone had taken part in moving the incredibly heavy solid mahogany wooden conference table to the back of the room so all of the chairs would fit. Someone else had swiftly explained the situation to Jonathan Cressex, who, after spending a few blank moments staring open-mouthed at the video on Amy’s desk, was speaking non-stop to his father on his cell phone and trying to convince the old man it wasn’t a practical joke. Alex had taken it upon himself to collect his winnings and was probably wise in doing it; so many people were in shock at Jim dancing on national television they were handing out cash without even thinking about it.

“Ladies and gents!” Chris announced from the doorway, his hand on the light switches. “May I present, our esteemed CFO: Jim Kennedy!” he slapped the switches down, the lights went off to a wild cheer and the video began to play.

Being a dancing contest, it didn’t take long for people to get invested. Despite being at the most, amateur dancers whose experience might have been obligations at family weddings, everyone had an opinion on the contestants. Groans and cheers (and arguments against the professional judges’ calls) were mixed with each disqualification and breaths of anxious anticipation when Jim and his partner passed a little too close to the judges. The lights were bright and hot, and Jim was sweating, but his steps were light and he kept pace with the beautiful blonde within the circle of his arms.

“And now, our final number!” The DJ announced after Amy clicked through the broadcast commercials.” And we’ve got four couples left, one dance to go – a tango, ladies and gentleman, the dance of passion, let’s see how our couples do here!”

“Oh gosh, I can’t look,” Martha groaned, hiding her face between her fingers. Jenny’s gaze was riveted and she accidentally nearly dug a finger into Martha’s eye trying to pull her hands down.

“You wimp. It’s incredible. I never knew the old man had it in him.” Martha grimaced. “Oh, please don’t make me think of my boss like that!” Behind her, Alex threw a popcorn kernel at them with a hush. The seconds ticked by impossibly long, yet terrifyingly quick as 3 judges milled between the 8 dancers like sharks in a shoal of fish.

“-and here, and that’s too bad, Alice Jackson out, and, oh, very nice, good sportsmanship there,” several boos from the crowed met the disqualified dancer’s obscene gesture,  “and here we have Mark Robertson out too – just two couples left now – what an incredible performance here by Jim Kennedy everyone, easily our eldest contestant, still in the running!” Cressex Industry Lmt exploded in loud cheers and applause to match the television audience and the camera zoomed into Jim’s face. A sheen of sweat covered his receding forehead but Jim Kennedy had never looked more alive and was grinning broadly despite it all, and in the private minds of everyone gathered, the tiny, repressed spirit of childhood dreams lifted it’s head and whispered…”wouldn’t it be cool…”

Caught up in the unfolding drama, no one noticed the door at the back open.

“Our last two contestants, people, and a $50k prize to the winner! Let’s see here, oh, wow..a beautiful sequence, look at that!” Disappointed sights echoed across the office. Jim was an older man, and couldn’t replicate the energy and strength of his younger competitor. And 30 seconds later, a hand dropped down on his shoulder. The video continued for several more minutes as the judges and television audience cheered the winners, but the previously exuberant mood in the conference drooped in defeat.

“Damn,” Chris slumped into his seat as Jim moved off the floor. “I thought he had it.”

“He should have,” Michael agreed. “They should have made allowances for his age.”

“No, then it’d be pandering,” Amy stood up and stretched her arms over her head. “It means more when someone can overcome something like that.” Jaime twisted her lips, watching the frozen image of the winning dancers. “Maybe. Still, he should have one. a $50k grand prize!”

“They did award $25k to second place,” Jim announced from the doorway. A cacophony of screeching chairs filled the room as everyone in the room abruptly came to their feet in combinations of embarrassment, shock and excitement, and Jim grinned cheekily. He lifted a plaque with his name etched on it.

“And I got a new paperweight,” he added.  The moment of silence stretched out a second more, then suddenly collapsed as everyone was crashing towards Jim, laughing and hugging and drowning him in a barrage of congratulations and questions and cheering. Someone grabbed the trophy and lifted it over their heads and Jonathan senior pushed through to meet Jim with a huge grin on his face.

Swept up in the middle of it all, Jim glanced past the crowed of heads to the winner of the competition, frozen on the screen.  And dismissed him. It hadn’t been about the prize money or notoriety. It’d been about the dance.