Disclaimer: I do not own nor do I claim to own any characters or concepts related to The Princess and the Frog. This is a nonprofit work of fanfiction.
I ought to have crossposted this ages ago. My apologies for the delay.
In St. Louis they dined at a particular restaurant which Naveen claimed to be the finest the city had to offer. "It's nothing beside the Palace, of course," he added as she dressed.
"So long as you remember where your loyalties lie," she said. She smiled sidelong at him across the room. The beads around her throat glimmered as she turned this way, then that, studying herself in the mirror. Gold-beaded straps over her dark shoulders, sequined white satin smooth over her breasts, flat upon her hips: he kept his hands to himself. He followed her into the night.
Beneath the starry lights of the restaurant she shimmered like a small star herself. As the waiter bent to pour the wine, it occurred to Naveen once more how incredible it was that he was here, sitting across a table from Tiana, his wife. The waiter left them.
"What're you looking at?" said Tiana, lightly teasing. Her earrings twinkled, white diamonds flashing like small fires against her throat.
"Oh, nothing," said Naveen. He turned the menu over. "May I recommend the fish? A little bland, perhaps, but the sauce, c'est magnifique."
She smiled at him over the table. "I'll keep that in mind," she said.
The house band returned shortly before the waiter returned with their food. The trumpeter was able enough, certainly no Louis, but the woman who stood before them to sing had a remarkable voice. Here and there a table emptied as the dance floor began to fill, diners rising to take a turn before the stage. Naveen tapped his heel, then stilled at the waiter's approach.
Tiana had ignored his advice, selecting instead the filet mignon. She looked down at her plate, then she looked to his.
"These portions are awful small," she said, doubtful.
He considered his plate: the delicate, pink fan of fish, the bed of diced asparagus, the sauce a golden spiral swallowing it all. "But so beautifully arranged, yes?" he said.
She smoothed her napkin over her lap. "Doesn't matter how pretty it is if it doesn't fill anybody up."
He shrugged, unperturbed.
On the stage, the woman singing receded in favor of a horn solo, which bridged the space between one song and the next. Under the cover of the thin light, Naveen exchanged a small cut of fish for a cut of Tiana's steak. He fumbled the fork and she laughed, hiding behind her hand.
"Yes, yes," he said, "so amusing. I'm glad you find this so funny." He bit down on the meat, vengeful.
Tiana ate the fish with greater circumspection. She held the fork out, a graceful, lazy extension of her hand, and looked over his shoulder. Something fluttered across her face, something nearly wistful.
"And?" he prompted. "Your professional opinion, please, Miss Tiana."
She swallowed and said with quelling primness, "I'm not going to talk shop in someone else's restaurant."
"It's delicious, I know," he said, but Tiana was not listening.
He followed the line of her gaze to the polished stretch of floor where swirled glittering dancers, too numerous by far for him to count. Tiana reached for her wine glass. Her bracelets tinkled at her wrist; they chimed against the glass. He looked back at her.
Naveen gestured expansively, encompassing the floor, the dancers, and the band, which roared through a wildly upbeat rendition of Everybody Loves My Baby, "but my baby don't love nobody but me, but me," vowed the singer.
He said, "Would you like to dance?"
"Oh," she said. Her fingers tightened around the bell of her glass. "No. No, I'm fine."
He held his hand out to her and Tiana looked at him over her glass, her eyes dark, the wine black beneath her fingers.
"It would be a shame for such a beautiful woman to sit through such a beautiful evening," he said.
"That's a very sweet thought," she said, "but the beat's a little fast. I think I'll sit it out."
He curled his fingers into his palm, then shrugged, rolling it off. He poached another scrap of steak from her plate.
"You thief!" she said, indignant. "Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"I'm afraid there is no hope for me," he said sadly.
The singer on-stage shot through the last few lines, belting them out like notes on a horn: "Everybody loves my baby, but my baby don't love nobody but me!"
A couple raced by their table, the man giggling, the woman tugging at his arm; they jostled Naveen's chair. "Sorry, sorry," called the man. He turned with her onto the floor. Naveen stared absently after them.
As the band settled, the second trombonist working at his keys, the singer laughed breathlessly and said, "Maybe something a little slower this time. All right?"
The pianist saluted her and they began again, softer now than before. A number of couples abandoned the floor, seeking a minute's respite.
Naveen turned back to the table. He reached for his glass. The music rolled behind him, like a wave swelling and fading and swelling again, not aimless, but unhurried.
Tiana leaned forward upon her arms, crossed over the table. Her earrings trembled, coming to rest against her jaw. She picked at her napkin, straightening the folds. She looked up at him.
"That offer still open?" she said.
He lowered his glass, still half-full. The dark wine shivered up the side. "Offer?" he said.
She picked at her napkin, shy, then inclined her head toward the floor. "Dancing," she said. In the glimmering light her brown eyes shone. "You still want to?"
The glass was cool against his fingers, the wine chilled. "Do you?"
She tipped her head, as if thinking. The saxophonist played three low, sweet notes. Tiana smiled. "I might could manage this," she said. "So long as you don't expect me to do anything too flashy out there."
He rose from his chair and said, "You may be as stodgy and as boring a dancer as you wish, my princess," and laughing, she took his hand.
Out upon the floor, he fitted his hand at the small of her back as she set hers upon his shoulder. One step forward, then another, and together they turned, not extravagantly. She took economical steps, minding his toes. Her eyes remained fixed on his, and her grip on his hand was firm, not too hard but not yielding, either.
"Good," he said, "good." They stepped together, the soft movements of her feet, her legs, her hips so near. "See how well you are doing?" He turned again with her and drew her nearer. Her beaded skirt fluttered, whispering over her knees. "You are a natural."
Tiana eyed him. At the corner of her mouth: a smile, trembling. "Are you sweet-talking me?"
He made a show of considering this, leading her through four neat steps round before concluding, "Perhaps."
She fingered his sleeve. Her lashes drooped against her cheeks. The effect was unintentional, he knew, the artfulness indeliberate; nevertheless he wanted very much to kiss her.
"It's working," she said.
"Then I will continue," he said. He guided her into a flourishing two-step turn that sent her skirt flapping and her earrings swinging, and her necklace trembling as she laughed, surprised.
"And you didn't even step on my feet," he admired. He bent his head to murmur, "You're quite accomplished, for someone who says she cannot dance."
"If you don't mind," she said, "I'm trying to concentrate on not stepping on your feet." Her eyes crinkled.
"Oh!" he said. "You are trying to make a joke."
He tightened his grip around her waist, stepped neatly forward, and dipped her. Her foot swung up, brushing along his thigh; her skirt slipped up her thigh, flashing a long stretch of smooth, dark skin. Her earrings swayed, glittering.
"Very amusing," he said to her throat.
Tiana drew nearer, her hand light on his shoulder. "You're supposed to warn me before you do something like that," she said, her tone arch, her look half-pleased.
He ducked his chin. "I'm sorry," he said. He meant it. "Next time I will tell you of my surprise."
"Not much of a surprise then, is it?"
He shifted his fingers at her waist, directing her into another gliding turn. She smiled at him again, radiant, brighter even than her dress or the bits of jewelry shining against her skin.
"You should dance more often," he said to her, low enough the music half-swallowed it.
She laughed. "With these feet of mine?"
"An excellent point, as my toes well know." And over her laughing protest, he said, "But—"
The song drew to an end, that last trumpeted note warbling between them, faint and sad. Tiana stilled, then so did he. She lifted her face to him. He lowered their hands, still joined.
"It makes you happy," said Naveen.
She looked away and there was something shy in that, something vulnerable. Strange to see, in her.
"Naveen," she said.
From the stage, a sudden blast: they both jumped as the trumpeter belted out a series of quick, ascending notes. Tiana looked to the stage.
"'S wonderful!" sang the woman, loud and clear. The band swang with her, as quick and as strong. "'S marvelous, you should care for me. 'S awful nice, 's paradise. 'S what I love to see!"
He took Tiana's hand up again, brought it briefly to his lips. She turned to him again, her eyes wide. He grinned at her over her fingers.
"Do you know," he said, his voice low, her hand at his mouth, "what I would like most of all to do with you this evening?"
Her eyebrows arched. "Excuse me?" she said.
"The Charleston," he said. He kicked demonstratively once.
"I don't know, Naveen," she said. "I'm not very good—"
"What do you always say to me? If you do not practice, how can you perfect whatever it is you're practicing?"
That was it, he thought; if it was not, Tiana did not correct him.
"Dancing in front of all these people's not exactly what I had in mind when I said that."
"No? Well, it's true anyway." Gently he stroked his thumb across her knuckles. "You shouldn't worry. No one here knows who you are. They will not look at you, unless of course it is to admire your fanciful feet. Or your taste in dance partners."
She smiled at this, but she did not dispute his arrogance. Her gaze flickered back across the dance floor, lingering on the vibrant stepping of the woman next to them. So. He drew her close, closer, and bent to touch his mouth to her ear.
"You can do the Charleston. I've seen you do it."
"That's different," she said. Her hand fluttered against his shoulder. She turned, looking to the next couple over and the people beginning to drift back onto the floor. "There aren't half as many people in our house."
A different approach, then. "Can I not peel a potato?"
He felt her smile soft against his jaw. "I think you got the hang of it," she allowed.
"So if I can do that," he said, "you can do this."
She stepped back once, to look up at him. The string of beads was off-centre, drawn high and to the left; they gleamed against her clavicle, at her throat.
"You've made my life so gla-mo-rous," sang the woman on-stage. "You can't blame me for feeling a-mo-rous. Oh!"
Tiana looked down to his collar. She smoothed his jacket sleeve. "Well," she said. "I guess me dancing is less likely to end in bloodshed than you and the potatoes."
"Please." He rolled his eyes dramatically. "I think I know how to hold a knife."
"Do you now?"
"Oh, yes," he said. "I'm a very quick learner. Much like someone else I know."
"Really," she said. "And who might that be?"
"Someone," he said vaguely. "A woman. About your height, I think. Very light on her feet. Less grouchy."
"Oh, so I'm grouchy, am I?"
"Did I say that?" said Naveen, surprised.
She granted him the honor of her third driest look, a look so dry his tongue stuck to his teeth and his throat threatened to close; his breath scraped in his chest. Or perhaps, he thought, that was simply the arch twist of her mouth or the touch of her hand on his neck that made him feel that way. The incandescent nearness of her. He reached up to take her other hand in his.
"Tell me," he said. He swallowed the rasp. "Do you remember the first step?"
"I remember," she said, smiling at him.
This story was originally posted at livejournal on 05/31/2010. It was written for the 30_kisses challenge at livejournal, for the prompt "our distance and that person."
Technically TP&TF takes place smack-dab in the Prohibition, but there's booze all over the dang place in this film, so. I do what I want, etc.
The song the woman sings at the end is "'S Wonderful," which was composed by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin. I nicked the title for this story from that song, too. It was introduced on Broadway in November 1927, in the musical "Funny Face." Personally I think this story occurs in late 1926 or early 1927, well into Tiana and Naveen's first year of marriage, which would make the inclusion of the song a bit of an anachronism. So, whoops. "Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don't Love Nobody But Me)" was composed by Spencer Williams, with lyrics by Jack Palmer, in 1924.