“Are you all right?” Gabriel asked gently. His chestnut eyes were wide with concern, his warm hands wrapped gently around your much colder ones. “You’re shaking. We don’t have to do this if you don’t want to. Do you want to stop?”
“No!” You cried. You instantly felt your cheeks begin to burn, and you couldn’t help yourself but look down and focus intently on your toes. “It… it’s okay,” you continued, attempting to calm yourself and prepare for the oncoming embarrassment. “I just… I don’t want to disappoint you, o-or to make you feel bad, or –”
Gabriel squeezed your hands encouragingly, a kindly smile gracing his features. He clicked his tongue. “Please, don’t worry about disappointing me. I know this is new to you, I would never expect you to be perfect right away.” He extended his hand, tracing his finger across your cheek and lifting your chin to refocus your gaze. “It means a lot to me that you’re willing to try this.”
There was a moment of warm, companionable silence. The familiar warm tingle of butterflies fluttered in your stomach as Gabriel cradled your chin, as his round, almost puppy-like eyes filled your focus. Even when you closed your eyes, the image remained in the forefront of your mind. You took a slow, deep breath, in, and out, before you opened them again. “Okay,” you replied softly, thankful that your voice had stopped quivering. “Just… can we take it really slow? So I can learn how to do it properly.”
Gabriel’s smile stretched into a grin as a twinkle came to his eye. “Of course. Very slow, nice and easy,” he murmured. He hesitated for a moment, but eventually took his hand off your chin, instead wrapping it around one of your own. Your fingers were still pale and cold, but they were warming up quickly against his soft, slender palm. He stepped a little closer, shrugging one shoulder slightly. “Remember, like I showed you. Your left hand on my shoulder, my right hand on your waist.”
You nodded fervently. You almost hesitated to place your hand on such an expensive-looking blazer, but the softness and suppleness of the incredibly fine weave quelled your fears. It felt so pleasant to the touch, you almost wanted to rub your hands all over it, but the thought was quickly broken by Gabriel stepping in just a little closer, and wrapping those long, delicate fingers around your waist. Once you were satisfied with your position, you looked up at him – he was still smiling patiently, waiting for you to be ready.
“Now,” he continued softly, “I’ll be leading you, so just follow my feet. Remember, your right foot back first, then your left, and just alternate like that.” You pressed your lips together, trying to follow. He squeezed your hand slightly, reassuringly. “Don’t worry, I’ll guide you. We’ll take it very slowly. It’s okay if you stumble a little at first, but I won’t let you fall. Ready?”
Apprehension was doing its best to claw into your heart, but you nodded resolutely all the same. Gabriel closed his eyes for a moment, and raised his index finger on the hand grasping yours. You felt more than heard a slight whooshing, as though the slightest breeze fluttered momentarily through your fingers. Suddenly, entirely of its own accord, the grand piano tucked in the corner of the room opened its lid, propping itself open to reveal its strings and keys. As though an invisible player was sitting there, a single note rang out. It was quiet, yet it reverberated effortlessly through the columns which flanked the room, bouncing off the glass ceiling as though it was coming from the stars far above you. Gabriel’s eyes opened again, twinkling. “Right foot back. One, two, three…”
[Chopin – Waltz in A minor, B.150, Op. Posth.]
The keys began to sing a graceful, unhurried melody, stirring your dance partner into movement almost before you were ready. Gabriel moved with such smooth, deliberate poise that your stomach immediately clenched with how awkward your steps felt. Right back, left back, right slide, left forward, right forward, left slide, right, um… back, left… you stumbled over yourself after only a couple bars, treading on Gabriel’s toes none too gently. “Sorry,” you whispered, your cheeks beginning to burn again. You tried to compensate, but all you achieved was getting your legs tangled yet further. Your heel knocked against the side of his shoe, and you felt yourself begin to fall – but he caught you. One tiny pinch of the hand on your waist and you were balanced again, though your pride had fallen and shattered on the smooth marble tiles.
“No worries,” hummed Gabriel, bringing you to a momentary stop, rubbing his thumb across the back of your hand. “You had it for a moment. I’ll help count you. One, two, three, four, five, six, one, two, three, four, five, six…”
Gabriel’s patience was immeasurable. Despite your gawky, fumbling steps, he guided you through the movements, supplying a constant, even rhythm. It felt bizarre at first, simultaneously far too fast and far too slow. You constantly felt slightly off balance, and you were certain you would have fallen had Gabriel not been supporting you. But slowly, little by little, you began to find your feet. You still had to devote all of your focus to putting your feet in the right place, but they were beginning to follow Gabriel’s a little more smoothly.
“…four, five, six, there we go, very good. Just like that. Keep this rhythm. Not as hard as you thought?”
Gabriel’s voice was sweet and smooth as honey in your ear, but you were barely paying attention to his words, so intensely you were focused on how your feet were moving. You were vaguely aware of him twisting your wrist ever so slightly, gently trying to bring you into a more open, graceful posture, but your angular pose was all you could manage while you were so fixated on the repetitive movements.
“Relaaaaax,” murmured Gabriel. There was no hint of reproach or frustration in his voice, merely gentle encouragement. “Your feet know the movements now, but the rest of your body is stiff as a board. You can loosen up.”
“If I loosen up,” you muttered through gritted teeth, nearly losing your footing and having to rely on his movement, “I’ll mess up the footing, I can’t focus on two things at once here.”
“Then just focus on me,” replied Gabriel calmly. “I’ll help keep you in time. One, two, three, four, five, six, one, two, three, four, five, six…”
Reluctantly, you attempted to drag your attention off your feet, looking up to Gabriel’s face. Somehow, he was still smiling gently, lending a note of warm, rosy colour to each word he spoke. Inwardly, you expected to feel yourself collide with his feet at any moment, to topple over and fall into his grasp again, and yet…
“…one, two, three, four, five, six…”
…miraculously, you kept your footing. Your feet were moving almost automatically now, shifting in time with his movements, with his words. You could scarcely believe it, but focusing on his words really did seem to be helping. Not one to look a gift horse in a mouth, you listened to his deep, even tones ever more intently.
“…four, five, six, one, two, three…”
It was remarkably… easy to listen to. Just the simple, gentle cadence of the numbers, keeping your mind running along one focused track, quieting any other intrusive worries or momentary distractions.
“…there we are, very good, following the rhythm of shifting and swaying and turning and twisting, back… and forth… across… the floor… it feels… so natural now. Soft, and sweet, simple and neat, curving, turning, ever so easily…”
…when had he moved on from counting? You didn’t mind, of course, Gabriel seemed to possess an excellent knack for rhythm. Every word seemed carefully chosen to fit the rhythm, as though behind his words, the count was still going. It was certainly more interesting than just the same numbers over and over again, yet equally easy to keep your focused rhythm on…
“…one, two, three,
four, five, six,
seven, eight, nine,
ten, nine, eight,
seven, six, five,
four, three, two,
one, two, three…”
You… you had completely stopped paying attention to what your feet were doing. You weren’t stumbling, so you assumed that they were doing the right thing. It wasn’t that you couldn’t feel them, exactly, you had just… just… focused in so intently on Gabriel’s soft, sweet, simple and neat words were all you could pay attention to. The world was shrinking down to this moment, his chocolaty brown eyes the only thing you could see, the words the only thing you could… hear… the sway the… the only thing you could think… about…
“…swaying, and shifting, and slipping, and blinking, and dripping, and dropping, further, ever further, back… and forth… and back… and forth… across… the floor… ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one…”