Note: Here, dear readers, is another story addressing an off-screen moment I wish could have been on-screen. Upon seeing "Dance, Diane, Dance", I always wonder how Diane coped with the fact that this chance to reclaim a lost dream had just blown up in her face, because it was all make-believe. What's more, how did Sam (and maybe Frasier) cope with what had happened? And ultimately—seeing as that episode is the one right before "Chambers vs. Malone"—is there possibly a connection between the events of the former and Diane showing up in the beginning of the latter with her firm conviction regarding a certain proposal…?
The title is from the classic song "It's Only A Paper Moon".
All three were silent as they walked out of the theater, to the parking lot. It was only when they arrived at Sam Malone's car that he turned to Diane, and asked, "Hey, um…did you take your car, or…?"
Diane Chambers said nothing…standing still, her gaze fixed on the theater housing the Boston Ballet.
"Hmm—oh," Diane blinked, and turned to him, shaking her head, "N-no, I…I took a taxi."
Sam nodded. "Well, uh…let's take you home, huh?"
Diane frowned, and shook her head, "Sam, should we be getting back to the bar? I-I mean, after all—"
"Honey—" Sam took her arms, and sighed, "I'll give you the day off. I think you'll need it, okay?"
Diane looked at him, saying nothing…and if Sam knew her face, she was struggling to keep herself together. Finally, she nodded, "Right, um…well, thank you, Sam."
"Yeah…okay, let's get you home."
"Uh—Sam?" Dr. Frasier Crane held up his finger. "I…think it would be best if I were to call a cab of my own. I—have some things to take care of at the office."
"Sure, great. See you around, Doc."
Frasier nodded…and paused. He walked up to Diane, and sighed, "Diane…I—I want you to know, I'm…so sorry. For—well, for everything."
Diane swallowed, and nodded, "I know," she whispered.
Frasier nodded slowly, and replied in the same tone, "I…can't tell you how deeply I wish I hadn't—"
"Frasier," Diane straightened up, "I know why you did it. I'm not angry."
Frasier nodded, and forced a smile. "Well—I'll see you both tomorrow, perhaps?"
The other two nodded, and he walked away.
Sam opened the passenger door, and Diane sat down, putting her coat and bag to the side of the door after Sam closed it after her.
As they drove, Sam found he couldn't take it anymore—the sight of Diane sitting there, in silence, struggling desperately to keep herself from breaking…so hurt inside. And dressed as she was, in that ballet suit (or whatever you called it) and small skirt with her hair in a ponytail, she looked so "girlish", and innocent, and so vulnerable. In this case…vulnerable to getting hurt. And so, he found himself straining for something to say—anything.
"You know," he said, "I was just thinking…one time, I was pitching—and there was this one guy, on the other team—" he'd usually have given names, but under the circumstances, he didn't think she deserved to be even more lost than she already was, right now—"and he'd been making the rounds about what a great batter he was, and how he was always looking forward to reading any pitcher sent his way, and—well, I just so wanted to drum all that smugness out of him. I just—before the game, you could ask me what I wanted, what I was really dreaming about doing…it was striking him out—no nonsense, no teasing him, just putting him in his place, proving him wrong—he wasn't in control; I was. And when I was up there, on that mound…and he stepped up to the plate—boy was I ready to take him down."
Diane swallowed, blinked, and turned to him, "What happened?"
Sam sighed, and shook his head, "He hit a run, my first pitch,"
Sam nodded with a smile, "Hit it right out of the park. Guess…it wasn't my day for dreams, I guess."
Diane nodded, her gaze lowered.
"Well—sweetheart, what I'm saying is…some things, you can't—"
"Sam," she quietly interrupted, "Can—can we pull over?"
"Why, is something—?"
"Just…please, pull over."
Sam frowned, but he did, shifting to park.
Diane stared at her hands as she wrung them…looking as if she was trembling a little. At last, she looked at him with heartbreaking eyes, and said in a small voice, "Sam, hold me?"
Sam straightened in his seat, and nodded, opening his arms. Diane pressed her face against him—and sobbed, letting it all out…soaking Sam's shirt with her tears.
Sam held her gently, feeling a dark kind of churning inside him. It always tugged at his heart, whenever she cried like this—and whenever she did, there was nothing he wanted more than to make things right…to cheer her up, and comfort her. He couldn't ever stand to see her break down like this—giving up on fighting. There was always that "innocent" part of her—the inner "little girl" that wanted to teach the world to sing (with or without the Coke)—and whenever he saw that part of her get hurt, he just couldn't stand it, whatever was going on between them.
"Hey," Sam whispered, "It's okay…. Honey, it's okay…."
Diane shook her head, still sobbing.
"Look…Diane, I know, it's not fair, but—"
"Oh, Sam—" she looked up at him, "It isn't. It isn't! Why am I such a failure at—at everything?!"
"Hey, you're not—!"
She shook her head, "I…I'm sorry. I…I shouldn't think it, but I…oh, Sam—!"
But Diane buried her face in his shirt again, her sobs louder and uncontrolled.
"Hey, come on…" Sam whispered in her ear, "You're not a failure—"
Diane straightened up, sniffled, and sat back in her seat for a moment. Finally, she shrugged, "Why, you're right—I'm only a dreamer. A dreamer who cannot accept the reality of her own limitations, and can only humiliate herself by daring to think her dreams can come true—!"
"Now, just hold on—that wasn't your fault, okay? I should've told you before, but I…I just couldn't."
Diane nodded, "It…it's all right, Sam."
"No—come on, it's not all right. Look, Frasier thought you'd be devastated if you read what she really wrote—and I knew it was a bad idea, but I went along, anyway. I—"
"No," she shook her head, "It's…Sam, we can go."
"Right…" Sam resumed driving. Diane stared ahead, and went on:
"I should've seen how terrible I was—but I let something too good to be true convince me it was true—that I had talent, that I…that I could dance. I couldn't face reality—I'm a fool."
"Hey, will you stop being so hard on yourself—I mean, how were you supposed to know? How could you know we were pulling the wool over your eyes—?"
"Sam, just—please, don't blame yourself…and don't blame Frasier."
Sam gave her a smile, "Well, that's not fair—next step for me would've been to blame Frasier. It was his idea."
Diane didn't smile back. "Sam, I don't want you to 'blame' anyone—not yourself, not Frasier. It was my own fault—the two of you wanted to spare me pain, and my stupidly hopeful persona refused to leave well enough alone—"
Sam put a hand on her shoulder, "Hey, you're not 'stupid'…okay?—one thing you're not, Diane,is stupid."
Diane said nothing, looking off.
In a few minutes, they arrived at Diane's building. Sam parked, and turned to her, "You gonna be okay?"
For a while, Diane leaned back in her seat, gaze lowered. Finally, she shook her head and whispered, "I don't know."
Part of Sam told him not to say the words that followed…but another part knew he had to—consequences be darned, "Need me to come with you?"
Diane turned to him, eyes widening a little in astonishment. But she didn't grin at him, this time—didn't give him that "knowing" smile she'd been tossing him a lot lately, the big smile that said I've got you, Sam Malone—and there's no escape from your feelings of love for me! She just sighed, and nodded—and the smile she gave was timid and unsure. "Thank you, Sam."
Sam nodded, trying not to notice how drawn he was to her, right now, "Okay…"
He got up, making sure to lock his door. He went around to the passenger side, and opened it. Diane got out, and stepped aside as Sam locked the door. Sam turned to her…and saw how stiff she was, as she looked away at nothing in particular. She held the coat and bag tightly, hugging herself close as she swallowed.
As far as Sam was concerned, this was almost worse than her breaking down in tears. There was no sudden reversal for her—no revelation that the poem Sam sent to the magazine was one of hers…this was real. A dream—albeit a dream that had only recently found new life—had been crushed for her. She was hurting inside…and vulnerable to more. Sam couldn't handle that.
Sam put his arm around her, resting his hand on her shoulder, "Let's get you up, huh?"
She swallowed, and nodded, "Okay."