Lessons by Djinn

Ruth feels Jim's hand on her braid, tugging at it a little as if he can pull it down.

"Doesn't this take a lot of time to put up?" He catches a strand of hair, and it pinches.

"Ow." She slaps his hand away. "Yes, it does. I'd like to leave it up." She is not sure how she ended up sitting on the floor like this, her head back where he could get to it, or how he ended up sprawled above her on the couch, playing with her hair. "This isn't what you're paying me for."

"Dancing can wait."

He's had the strangest attitude about the lessons, has since he walked through her door five weeks ago.

"Why are you really here, Mister Kirk?"

"To learn the waltz."

Pushing herself up, she says, "Well, Jim, darling, this is not the way to learn it." She feels his hand on her arm, trying to pull her down.

He forgets how strong she is--dancing is hard work. Drawing him up, then with her to the dance floor, she moves his hand into position on her back. "Ready?"

"Say it like you mean it," he murmurs, his eyes burning--she thinks he's practiced that look in the mirror. He knows how handsome he is. But that's not why he practices. He is handsome but around her--and probably most women--he lacks confidence.

"Say what like I mean it? 'Ready'?" She keeps her voice languid. She's learned over the years how to turn off these young cadets who come to her for dancing lessons and end up wanting more after a few passes around the floor.

"'Jim, darling.' Say that like you mean it." His hand tightens on hers.

"Relax or you'll spoil our line." She urges him out, counting softly for his benefit--"one, two, three, one, two, three"--she knows the dance as if it is part of her.

He has gotten better. He has gotten much better. She relaxes even as she assesses his new assurance. Wanting to test him, she delays her next step, trips a little.

He catches her, moving them along with barely a break in their form.

"You've been faking." Turning her face up to him, she smiles. "Where did you learn to dance?"

"Here and there." His smile is a dangerous thing, full of determination and a little bit of chagrin. It is dangerous because it is so charming.

"Have you competed?"

"No." He laughs. "I have other goals."

"A starship of your own?" It is the goal of the other cadets too. Certainly that annoying boy Finnegan never shuts up about it.

"That's one of them." His hand on her back presses more firmly, his body is closer. "There are other dances..." He has moved them close enough to rumba.

"I don't teach Latin dances."

"But you know them." His pelvis is pressed against hers, she can feel he is interested in more than just the dance.

"I know many things. That doesn't mean I'm going to do them with you."

He smiles. Again, it is a very dangerous expression. "Dance with me?"

"We were dancing."

"This dance. Dance this dance with me." He calls for a music change. Strauss gives way to something Cuban.

Then he is moving her, his hips swaying, her own following as if helpless to resist. Suddenly, he is not the only one interested in more than a dance. She tries to pull away, but his grip on her is like steel.

She attempts a diversion. "A fox trot might be better."

"So might a tango," he says with a grin. "You want to switch to that?"

"No." Never the tango.

"Rumba it is, then."

He doesn't falter, and she stops trying to resist, lets him lead them into a dance she has not done like this for years. Close, sway, swing. It has sensual, almost violent, steps.

She has not forgotten how to do this. She can feel the beat through her entire body, the heat of the rhythm filling her. "Don't, Jim."

"Don't, Jim, darling," he murmurs, pressing against her more tightly, which she would have bet he could not do and still stay upright in the dance.

"What is this about?" She is aroused, but she can still think. She can still recognize a chase for exactly that. He is seducing her for a reason. "You came here to get me, not lessons. Why?"

He smiles, and it is a surprised look. Clearly, he did not expect her to figure this out.

"I'm not stupid," she says, pulling away slightly. "Dancing is performing. Like acting, you need a brain to memorize the steps."

"Just as you need personality to infuse into them."

"Yes." She is sick of that too. Men who think she is nothing more than blonde hair and a great pair of legs. The Finnegan boy is like that. Always groping, always trying to do just what Jim is doing, with much less success.

The Finnegan boy...who goes on and on about someone named Jim.

She pulls out of the dance, causing them both to nearly fall. "You're doing this to get one over on Finnegan?"

It irritates her. No, it angers her. He's using her to get back at a boy. Once again, she is nothing more than a thing. "End music."

The room goes dead except for the sound of his footsteps on the dance floor, chasing after her as she storms off. "Ruth, wait."

She is startled to feel tears on her cheeks. Has this silly boy made her feel something? She turned off her emotions years ago, after Carlo died. She tried to dance with other men; it didn't work. Eventually, no one asked her to partner them. Eventually, she faded away into obscurity. Her life is now teaching cadets how to dance well enough to not embarrass themselves at official functions.

"Ruth." His hands on her back are gentle, reminding her of how Carlo used to touch her.

She can feel herself shaking, is not sure if it is in anger or some other emotion. "Get out. I'll refund the rest of your lesson credits."

"I don't care about the credits." He is pulling her close, his chest so warm she wants to stay there forever. "This is about Finnegan, but not how you think."

"He hates you. He wants me. You get me, and you hurt him."

"You're right. He hates me, and he wants you. He talks about that, what he wants the two of you to do." He takes a breath. "But if I get you, I don't hurt him; I protect you."

He turns her, despite the fact that she is fighting him. She is strong; he is stronger.

"Ruth, I want you for you. Keeping him off you, that's just an added extra."

"Keeping him off me? You think I can't do that for myself? You think I'd ever let him touch me?" She pushes him away. "You're glib and charming. You're a thousand times more dangerous to me than he is."

It is the wrong thing to say. He grins. "Really?" Grabbing her, he pulls her in hard against his chest.

It is the movement of a tango.

"Call for music," he says, as he nuzzles her neck.

He is making her start this. Damn him.

"And if I won't?" But her knees are nearly buckling, and she is having trouble forming words.

"I can. But I think it should be your choice." He has moved up to her ear, his breath hot like Carlo's used to be. "Why do you dance alone, Ruth? You're so beautiful."

"I had a partner once. He died." She can feel his lips stop moving. "I've danced alone since then."

He pulls away, studies her. "I didn't know." He touches her cheek, where another tear has stolen out. "Do you want me to go?"

And she sees in his eyes that he will go. His compassion is overwhelming, even more so than his desire.

"Music. Tango. Eight-beat intro." She smiles at him. "This does not mean I'm letting you seduce me."

"No," he says gently. "It means more. You're letting me partner you."

She did not expect him to understand the difference. She wonders if he will always surprise her.

"I will seduce you, though," he says, becoming a boy again. He laughs as she trips on the opening.

"Stop distracting me."

"Yes, ma'am." He is all business then, their steps long and sensual as they cover the dance floor, turning, dipping, back again. He holds her the way a tango demands. Close, possessive. As if he is making love to her while they dance.

She can feel the barriers she put up since Carlo died breaking. The barriers that kept her sane, but kept her dance without passion, without life. She may have gone on when he died, but this part of her did not.

And she's missed it. God how she's missed it.

The music ends, they are both breathing harder.

"Again?" he asks.


He calls for music, a specific piece. "Mi Noche Triste." It is a classic, one of the first.

Carlo hated it. She dances it anyway.

"Another?" She asks, leaning in before he can answer and kissing him. He will not seduce her if she seduces him first.

She can see by his grin he is thinking the same thing. "La Cumparsita. With a long intro."

The music indulges them, lets them kiss, bodies pressed together in a way that has little to do with dancing. Then she hears the intro change and give way to the last free beats.

He has already assumed position. "Ready?"

She senses he is asking her about more than just this tango.

Smiling, she nods. "For anything," she murmurs, and sees him smile as he catches it.

"You should compete again," he says.

"Compete with me."

"I can't. I'll be in space."

For the first time she is sorry that she will lose one of her students to the stars. She holds him tighter, lets the beginning of sadness color her steps. The tango is not just about sex. It is about life. And about loss.

She has not danced the tango since Carlo died. It was the last dance they ever had together. That evening in Buenos Aires, in the bar on Avenida Corrientes. They danced the night away, as if they somehow knew it was their last. Then she walked him to the shuttle port, and he climbed onto the little transport that would take him to visit his ailing uncle. A transport that never made it to Mar del Plata.

She has always wondered why she chose to stay in the city. What was so important that she could not have gone with him? She wanted to die with him, not be left to carve out what little life she could without him.

"Are you all right?" Jim asks, and she realizes she is clutching him in a way that has nothing to do with tango.

"My husband...I died when he died."

He does not offer sympathy or any words of wisdom, but his hand on hers tightens. It is the right kind of support. There is nothing to say in reply. She has been dead. Now...now she lives again.

"I only want what you want to give." His voice is pitched low, as if they are surrounded by a crowd rather than alone.

She realizes she could give this young man everything. But she thinks he does not want quite that much of her.


The music has stopped. They need to go again. Or they need to walk upstairs and fall into her bed.

She has not made love since Carlo. Four years ago in a few weeks.

She looks up at him, lets herself play with his hair. "This may be more than you bargained for, Mister Kirk."

"It may be." He smiles. "And I've told you. It's 'Jim, darling.'"

He is pushing her off the floor, toward the couch. She has forgotten about that as a venue for love. But when they get there, he does not lie down or push her down. He sits, pats the seat next to him. Sitting, she looks at him, trying to read his expression. This is confusing.

"I don't know you," he says. "And you don't know me."

She can feel herself relaxing, had not known she was tense. "You know all that matters." She realizes she does not want to wait, wonders if that is what he intended--for her to have this epiphany. Can a boy be so smart?

"Let's go upstairs, Jim, darling." It is odd to call him that. Odd, but nice.

She thinks she can get used to it. She just hopes she won't get too used to it. He is leaving her. Someday, he will graduate, and he will leave her. Not dying, not so final. She may see him from time to time. But he will never belong to her, not the way Carlo did.

She still feels the emptiness in her heart where Carlo lived. The part that will never be filled.

Maybe it is good that this young man will never be that to her.

She will enjoy this for what it is. She will not try to make it what it is not. She leads Jim by the hand, up the stairs, through the gossamer draperies that divide off her living area from the changing rooms.

She has never brought a student up here. Then again, she does not think Jim is her student anymore. At least not in dancing.

"Have you made love before?" she whispers as she begins to take off his clothes.

"Once or twice." His grin falters. He is not lying, but she can tell he has not been satisfied with his encounters.

"It is like dancing, Jim. You can let me lead until you feel comfortable."

She senses he is about to argue, so she pushes him down and begins to kiss her way from his lips to parts south. Any protest he has gives way to a groan.

She takes him through the steps, leading gently, the way she would a new dance student. She shows him how to please her, how to please himself, how to please them both while they dance this intimate tango of flesh.

In no time at all, he has begun to lead, the transition seamless, his steps assured. The same magic he has on the dance floor finds its way here, and she is no longer worried that she has made a mistake. She no longer worries about anything--not even that she does not conjure up Carlo until she and Jim lie sated, curled around each other. And when she does conjure her husband up, he does not stare at her with disdain or disappointment, but with love.

"Dance again," she thinks she hears, realizes it is Jim who has said it. The words coming from him as he dozes.

Once he is gone, once he has left her for the stars, she will do it. She will find a partner and dance again.

In the meantime, she will practice with him.