The Art of the Dance
This story takes place following Season 3 Episode 7. Hope you enjoy, and I'd love to hear from you in a review!
The locals said that autumn in Poplar had the tendency to produce some of the year's finest weather, and this fall seemed to be no exception. Though always busy, the streets had an extra bustle to them as people welcomed the crispness of the air and savored the final days of warmth before the bleakness of winter descended.
The noise of cheerful commerce drifted from the vendor stalls and the delighted shrieks of children at their play caused Tom Hereward to smile. He was again at work on the derelict bus engine, although the location was more favorable this time. This spot of maintenance was occurring on parish grounds rather than the side of the roadway.
He leant down to wrench a stubborn bolt free, and a kickball rocketed through air his head had just occupied. Tom raised his head carefully, mindful of further projectiles, and waved to the enthusiastic ball players. Their apologetic shouts reached him, and he smiled to show there'd been no harm. The power behind that kick might warrant the upstart of a Youth Football League, and maybe there was merit in a little more learned control…
Tom was about to plunge back into work on the engine when another friendly shout caught him. The portly handyman of Nonnatus House approached him with a face full of smiles, and Tom couldn't help but grin back. Fred Buckle may have a whole host of hair-brained schemes, but he also possessed an absolutely contagious enthusiasm.
"Oi, Reverend," the handyman greeted him. He wagged a finger at the curate. "You've given me proper inspiration, you have."
Tom wiped his grease covered hands on a rag, smearing rather than transferring most of the mess. He shook his head, but the smile stayed in place. "Fred, in the short time we've known each other, I've grown to be wary of that phrase. What are you hatching?"
If Fred was offended by the assumption, he didn't look it. "Your secret dance lessons had me realizing I could have quite the career as a dance instructor. And I've decided to put those talents to good use by teaching a new generation of dancers." His pronouncement had him looking rather pleased with himself.
"Starting a dance class for uncoordinated clergy?" Tom ventured teasingly.
"Future clergy, perhaps," Fred said. "The Cubs. Most of them scarcely know their left foot from their right, let alone how to move them. They'd do well with a proper lesson."
Tom thought back to the kickball that had almost lobbed his head off and decided that they had some idea how to move their feet. However, that natural instinct probably didn't extend to dancing. "I imagine they would. That's good of you, Fred." He gave a self-deprecating smile. "An early education can help them avoid some of the shame I've suffered. To say nothing of the toes of the girls they'll eventually court."
He thought of the number of times he'd managed to clip Trixie's toes during their alleyway dance and felt a slight blush invade his cheeks.
Luckily, the redness in his face was something Fred either didn't notice or kindly chose to ignore as he agreed. "Precisely. The world needs book men, Reverend," he said, referring to their earlier conversation. "Good Book men especially. But that's not to say they can't be dancers, too."
"How do you see this operation going?" Tom asked curiously. "Will you be getting the Girls' Brigade involved, too?"
Fred shook his head, appearing to have already considered the question. "Not this first go around. I think the Cub'll do best without the added distraction of actual girls."
Tom chuckled, imagining there was great truth in that. "Probably right. It might save them a bit of embarrassment, too." His own dance lessons had included the presence of a female, but it was a small mercy that his earliest attempts hadn't happened in front of the object of his affections.
"That's the thought," Fred agreed knowingly. "Now all I need are a few adult demonstrators."
"Well, I can vouch for Nurse Mount's prowess. And resilience."
"I'll ask her for certain. I'm after a few more though."
Already, Tom could see where this was headed, but he tried to stave off the inevitable with genuine suggestions. "P.C. and Nurse Noakes?"
Fred nodded, but said, "What about you and Nurse Franklin?"
"Fred," Tom began, wondering if there was any way he could talk himself out of this, "I'm fairly certain I wouldn't pass muster as a dance instructor."
"A demonstrator," his dance teacher corrected him. "And you'd be tip top. The boys need to see a range of experience."
The curate ran a hand over his jaw, belatedly wondering if he'd managed to stain his face with engine grease. "I'm to be a cautionary tale, am I?"
Fred's smile softened, seeing the younger man's discomfort. "The lads love you. And they look up to you. It would mean a lot if you showed them you were willing to learn, too."
Tom was startled and humbled by Fred's assessment. He shook his head, but smiled. "You're a hard man to argue with, you know that, Fred?" He shrugged. "I'll ask Trixie. Though I'm not sure she'd be willing to dance with me in public just yet."
"It's just the Cubs," Fred reassured. "It's more practice than public."
Tom laughed. "Fred, there is nothing more public than a display of any skill to a hoard of eleven year old boys."
The scout master grinned at that then clapped him on the shoulder. "Next Tuesday night! Make sure you're there!"
"You'll never believe what we're doing in Cubs on Tuesday."
Whatever it was, the total lack of enthusiasm in Timothy Turner's voice told his parents exactly what he thought of the chosen activity.
The Turner family sat around the dining table, basking in a seldom enjoyed free evening. Interruptions could still come, of course; medical emergencies never did abide by business hours. But it seemed to Patrick that these were far less frequent since Shelagh had joined the family. Maybe it was because family dinners were easier to sustain when there were three whole people to make an event out of it. Maybe it was because his son was far more appreciative of Shelagh's cooking than he'd ever been of his father's.
He was not about to question but was more than happy to enjoy it.
The meal had been eaten, but they remained sitting together since the conversation and laughter hadn't stalled. However, Timothy didn't appear too enthused about this new line of talk.
"Well, I think you'll be hard pressed to beat origami frogs," Patrick said, boastfully.
His comment elicited little from his son, but he got a slight smile from his wife before she asked, "What are you doing, Timothy?"
"Dancing." The way Tim spat out the word had Patrick thinking about frogs again. "Frogs were loads better. I'd much rather learn how to build a fire or set a splint."
"Both skills I'm sure you'll learn at some point," Patrick reassured him. "But dancing can be great fun!"
Timothy leveled him with the most unimpressed stare. "Dad," he said, making sure he had his father's complete attention before dropping his next statement. "Dancing's done with girls."
Patrick felt his lips twitch upward. "Part of the appeal, I believe."
"Patrick," Shelagh warned gently, but he caught the way she held back a smile.
He couldn't tell if Timothy noticed the exchange, but Tim's verdict likely would have applied either way. "Gross. Besides, there aren't any girls in Cubs."
Dr. Turner leaned back in his chair a bit, feeling as though he'd now diagnosed the source of the irritant. "Ah, we're to have a repeat of the Maid Marian performance, are we?"
Timothy's frown deepened. "I hope not." He looked to the medical professionals in the room with shallow hopefulness. "Any chance I'll grow by Tuesday so I don't have to dance the girl part?"
Shelagh offered him an encouraging smile and word. "Now I'm sure with Nurse Noakes involved the roles will hardly be so stereotypical. Perhaps you'll all take turns."
This didn't appear to brighten Timothy's outlook. "I don't see why we need to know anyhow. What good is dancing?"
"It's a fun pastime as well as a useful social skill," Patrick told him. "And someday there may be a young lady you'd like to dance with, and I'd wager you'd feel better knowing how."
This hypothetical scenario did not impress his son. "Gross," Tim proclaimed.
Shelagh raised an amused eyebrow. "That's our word of the day, is it?"
Tim was still looking for answers. "When have either of you ever needed dancing as a skill?" he demanded of his parents.
"My sixth form mixer," Patrick said, quick with an answer. "I had never danced a day in my life before that night when Doreen Farber asked me to." He lit an after dinner cigarette and shook his head ruefully. "I can still hear the squeak that jumped out of my throat at that question."
Timothy looked interested in spite of himself. "What happened?"
Patrick grinned sheepishly. "I trod all over her toes. Immediately thereafter I buried my nose in a book and didn't look up again until I was twenty-four."
It was an exaggerated account, but not by much. He'd tested the waters and found himself quite out of his depth. So he'd retreated into his fascination with medicine and subsequently gotten too busy for anything else.
"Sounds to me you chose right," Tim said. He turned to his other parent. "How about you, Mum?"
Patrick found himself listening interestedly. Shelagh didn't speak about her past often, and their marriage was still new enough that there were things he didn't know about her. He was always delighted when their precocious son would ask a question that opened them both to the other.
She smiled in recollection. "I admit, I was always more enthralled by the music than the dance moves - even as a girl." Patrick was able to picture that easily. She shrugged a little. "And dancing's not exactly a skill you have much use for as a nun."
Timothy looked smug as he turned back to his father. "See?"
"Planning on becoming a nun, Timothy?" Patrick teased him.
The boy rolled his eyes, entirely unamused. "I just meant, Mum doesn't have much use for it either. Why should I?"
Shelagh stopped him before Patrick could. "I hadn't quite finished. It's not a skill I got much chance to use, but I always saw a beauty in it. It's a language, you see. Of touch and trust." Her gaze turned his way, and Patrick wondered if her eyes on him would ever cease to thrill him. There was just a hint of shyness in her voice as she said, "I've certainly developed an appreciation for it out of the habit."
Dances with his wife were pure luxury. They'd spent so long maintaining a careful distance - physically and emotionally. Holding her in his arms closed the gap in every way.
Timothy interrupted his musings. "I'm not convinced."
Shelagh must have been paying more attention than he was, because she was quick with a rejoinder. "And it's a sport, too, you know."
"Dancing? A sport?"
His wife nodded knowingly, imparting great and privileged information. "To be done very well it takes an athlete's stamina and coordination. I'm sure there are plenty of cricket players who'd also make terrific dancers."
She'd surprised them both with that answer, and Patrick marveled at her argument. She knew their son well.
Timothy was clearly mulling over that answer - more so than he had on any other - and Shelagh kept the momentum going. "Give it a try on Tuesday. You might find that you quite enjoy it."
Patrick stood from the table, stubbing out his cigarette. He made his way toward the record player as he said, "And in the meantime, we'd be happy to give you a demonstration."
Tim sported a look of long suffering annoyance. "Don't be mushy," he told his parents.
"Too late," Patrick said, pulling Shelagh out of her chair. Her eyes laughed as she came eagerly towards him. "If you don't want to see, I suppose you could put the dishes away."
The music was a soft waltz, and they swayed happily along to it while Timothy retreated to the kitchen with a stack of plates. "We may have just undone all the convincing we managed to do," Shelagh told him. It was a slight admonishment for the way they had embarrassed their son, but nestled in his arms, she looked quite unrepentant.
Patrick shrugged lightly, and her hand on his shoulder lifted with the motion. "I think he'll wind up enjoying himself. The sports analogy was a good idea."
"It seemed a good way to appeal to an eleven year old boy."
"However," he said, savoring the expression in her eyes, "dancing's certainly more romantic than cricket."
She grinned up at him. "Just a wee bit."
Timothy took that moment to pop his head out the kitchen window and provide commentary. "Gross."
The gaggle of nurses made their way down the winding stairs of Nonnatus House, and their laughter filled the foyer, causing Sister Julienne to pause and smile. She watched them as they headed for the door, her heart lifted by the way they were together.
"You all look lovely," she complimented, taking in their festive appearance. Nurse Noakes was even among them, suggesting that an outing was in the works that had first required a group makeover. "Off to the dances tonight?"
Sister Winifred was the midwife on call, and so it would not be unusual for the convent's secular residents to enjoy an evening out together. At her query, Nurse Franklin quirked a small smile. "Of a sort," she admitted, glancing at her compatriots.
"We're actually headed to the Cubs meeting, Sister," Nurse Miller explained. "Chummy and Fred have decided to give them some dancing lessons, and we've all agreed to give them a spot of help."
Nurse Mount smiled at her diminutive companion. "Tonight we're dance instructors."
"What a splendid idea," Sister Julienne told them. She wasn't sure who was kept busier in the scouting world: the rambunctious squadron of youthful boys or the enterprising cast of adults charged with their education and entertainment.
Chummy nodded, pleased with her approval, but quick to share the credit. "It was all Fred. He's rather gung-ho about it." She smiled fondly at the thought of her son's namesake. "I'm as glad for him as for the boys."
Sister Julienne nodded with an expression of similar fondness. "As am I. For him it is a small pleasure long missed."
She could remember a time when Fred and Eleanor Buckle had stunned all of Poplar with their dancing ability. They'd found such joy in the sport. And in each other.
Of course, that was before the War. Before Eleanor's tragic death in the Blitz, when Fred had been deployed in the country's defense. Since then, dancing was something she'd scarcely seen Fred do. Many a year had passed since Eleanor's loss, and she suspected that he did not avoid the dance for memory's sake, but rather because he had no partner.
To dance with the Cubs and pass on that beloved skill would be balm for a wound which had healed but ached still.
The nurses nodded, each of them understanding her words to a degree. Trixie was the next to speak, hopeful and matter-of-fact. "And a small pleasure yet to be discovered by some young lads. It should be a full night, but I do believe we're ready for it," she said, taking Cynthia's arm.
"It will be good fun. Hopefully for the Cubs, too," Patsy added with a red lipped smirk.
The loitering in the foyer had attracted Sister Monica Joan's attention, and the older nun happily joined them. Perfectly lucid, she surmised their intent at a glance and heralded them with poetry. "'Through the dancing poppies stole a breeze, most softly lulling to my soul.' Keats." She waved them off in exuberant gesture. "Go and be as the poppies!"
Sister Julienne placed an affectionate touch on her eldest sister's arm. "Well said, Sister."
The nurses shuffled themselves into marching order, and Chummy sounded the charge as they plunged toward the door. "Tallyho!"
The two sisters looked happily after the party of dance instructors. After a moment, Sister Julienne asked gently, "Shall we to Compline?"
Sister Monica Joan turned to her, face alight. "Yes. For them it is the dance, but my soul is lulled by the breeze - the silence and the movement of prayer."
The Community Center was crowded with energetic boys. The chairs and screens that made their way out for clinic had been tucked up safe at the sides of the room. Perhaps the space felt smaller because said boys were seemingly incapable of remaining still. They chased one another across the open floor, filling the room with shouts and giggles.
Chummy rather hoped some of that energy might be channeled this evening. If so they might have several Fred Astaires on their hands.
She stood at the front of the room and gave a short blast on her scouting whistle. "Pack pack pack!" The boys closest to her stopped their running, and silence spread like a stain, creeping out around the edges. She noticed her old chum, Jack, calling the attention of a few boys at the back.
"See here, old things. Baloo is going to lead us in a very fun activity. You must all listen careful. And you much watch closely. And then you will all get a chance to try."
The scouts appeared interested enough, and Fred took the stage. "Tonight," he said, with a touch of the dramatic, "we learn the art of the dance." Chummy saw a few disappointed looks from fellows who had rather been hoping the exercise involved fire or setting bear traps. She noted one especially dramatic eye-roll from Timothy Turner.
Fred continued. "You've all got it in you; now you must learn to let it out." He cued one of the volunteer dance instructors, and Patsy Mount stepped gracefully up to join him at the front of the room. "Observe how Nurse Mount glides lightly. You must imagine yourself weightless as a bird."
The handyman stretched his arms in imitation of that light creature and pointed his toes with surprising agility. The Cubs looked on and the lesson began.
"It's hard to tell who's more nervous," Cynthia mused softly from the edge of the makeshift dance floor. "The scouts or Mr. Hereward."
Chummy and Fred had managed to corral the energetic youths so that they might be introduced to the topic at hand. Deciding that he could most effectively explain the method of the dance with a pair of models, Fred had selected a couple from his collection of adult volunteers.
He'd chosen Trixie and Tom. The boys had cheered obligingly, but the poor reverend still looked decidedly uncomfortable even as he mustered a brave face.
Patsy, standing near her, replied, "I should hope it's the Cubs. After all the hours I spent teaching Tom the basics of dance, he must have some of it down by now."
"He's doing quite well," Cynthia agreed, watching as he and Trixie maneuvered a simple box step. She gave her taller companion a smile. "But the Cubs don't have Trixie Franklin to impress."
The scouts were, for the most part, still too young to be overly concerned with what the girls of the world thought of them. Cynthia didn't believe that Tom Hereward was especially concerned with the girls of the world either, but she knew the real affection he carried for her friend. But their relationship was still new - they'd just barely started stepping out - and by his own admission, he was no dancer. She thought him brave to attempt so new a skill while on display, even more so for trying it in the presence of the woman he was hoping to impress.
"Oh, Trixie won't fault him for a few missteps. He must know that by now."
"No, she'll be very kind." Trixie was an indomitable spirit, but she also had a deep reservoir of patience and care. Cynthia could see it even now as Trixie smiled encouragement to her boyfriend. "And I do think he knows that. But there's still added pressure for him. He does so want to do well for her."
Patsy nodded, recognizing the issue. "Once he gets out of his head a bit, he'll do just fine," she said, confidently. The pair of them turned back to the dancing couple just in time to see Tom knock one of Trixie's heels out from under her. "Hopefully."
Trixie silently praised the makers of her winklepicker pumps for a sturdy shoe design as Tom's misplaced foot nearly ousted her off of them. She managed to right herself quickly in what she hoped passed for a graceful recovery. But the tittering of the scouts banished any notion that the faupax has been missed.
She was hardly vexed by a few laughing little boys, but she hoped that Tom wasn't taking it too hard. When she looked up at him, his eyes were apologetic. "I think I would actually rather be doing this in the jazz club," he told her quietly.
The other adult dancers had taken to the floor, providing something of a distraction for the attentive Cubs. Peter and Chummy danced to their right, and Patsy and Cynthia had formed a pair farther on. Fred traveled amongst the volunteer demonstrators, pointing out different steps or examples of especially fine movement. The music radiating out from the phonograph was of a moderate speed, and Trixie felt that if she closed her eyes and imagined the room with dimmed lights and cigarette smoke, she could almost pretend Tom's wish had come true.
"Really?" she asked teasingly. "Not the alleyway?"
Tom managed a smile, looking the smallest bit less nervous. "You're right; that's much more preferable."
Their first dance had taken place a few meters from the jazz club they'd been meaning to attend. Tom's nerves had gotten the better of him, but it had resulted in a lovely, private, and terribly romantic dance in a Poplar alleyway. She savored the unique memory, feeling it was so clearly them.
The alleyway had been something of a surprise, yet this wasn't exactly where she had pictured their second dance. "I admit," she told him, "I was a bit curious when you asked me to join you here tonight. You were so quick to come dance with the Cub Scouts that I began to wonder if it wasn't actually me you were afraid of."
She said it coyly, allowing it to pass a joke. Tom tightened his grip on her hand, looking confident for the first time since stepping out onto the dance floor. "I assure you, the dancing is the only thing I'm unsure of." Trixie returned his smile, and she couldn't pretend that she wasn't comforted. Tom then smiled ruefully. "But Fred can be very convincing."
"The old swindler," she said, fondly. Then, unable to keep the wince entirely off of her face, "Wrong foot, Tom."
He grew sheepish again, and she noticed the blush creeping up from his collar. His eyes flicked sideways at the group of Cub Scouts. "They're staring."
Trixie followed his gaze and met the eyes of several Cubs. "They're paying attention. Which honestly is a feat."
"It's perfectly nerve wracking."
The nurse deftly dodged another eager foot. She grew thoughtful. "You once said you're quite at ease preaching before hundreds. Well, the scouts are your parishioners, after a fashion. Pretend it's just another Sunday morning." Deciding that the mental picture of Tom dancing his way through his sermon would be a dangerous distraction next Sunday, she phrased it in a different way. "Focus on the public aspect of this exercise."
Tom's eyes traced gently over her face. "I'd rather focus on you."
A rather pleasant sensation rushed through her stomach at those words. "Well," she said primly, "that's quite acceptable, too."
Trixie had scarcely noticed Fred come over to observe their dancing technique, but there seemed something especially right about his commentary. "See the way Mr. Hereward gently maneuvers his partner into a spin? That's what to try for, boys. Communication. Confidence."
Timothy had known from the minute he heard the word "dancing" tossed around at a Cubs meeting that this was going to happen. The adults had stopped their dance at the end of the record, and his Akela had taken the stage.
"That's it; pair up, lads." Timothy had lingered on the back edge of the scout group, and he was pleased to find that Jack had as well. The two of them exchanged a look and a small shrug. "Now, one of you will need to dance the girl's part so that the other gets the chance to lead. Then we shall switch. Leaders, look to Baloo. Followers, keep your eyes on me. One, two, three…"
Another glance at Jack told him that he'd have no chance claiming the boy's part first time around. Timothy groaned, but a prompting nod from Nurse Mount had him moving reluctantly into position. He rolled his eyes.
The two boys stumbled through a few steps, both watching the ground as their feet scraped past each other's. The bigger of the two, Jack took larger strides, and Timothy found that he had to hop out of the way of some steps.
"This is ridiculous," Tim declared after they'd been at it for a minute or so.
Jack risked a look at his face and squashed Timothy's big toe. "It's not so bad, Tim. I heard they've got dances in school next year. We'll be loads better than most."
Timothy felt that his throbbing toe said otherwise, but Jack's bright outlook intrigued him. "You don't think it's … mushy? Dancing?"
His friend shrugged. "My brother likes it," he said. "And he's tough."
Jack's brother was tough. He was seventeen, and he worked down at the docks and rode a motorcycle. If he could find something likable about dance, maybe there was something to it. Timothy nodded thoughtfully and felt suddenly like he could contribute to this conversation. "You know, dancing's like a sport? It takes stamina and coordination and athleticism."
"Huh, I guess you're right."
Timothy grinned. He'd have to thank his mum for that one.
The car pulled into a space at the Community Center, and Shelagh raised an eyebrow at her husband. Patrick just grinned and made his way to exit. "Come on, Shelagh, there's no point in driving all the way home. Tim'll need picked up in half an hour."
They'd had a later night than usual at the clinic - he with a last minute patient and she with the files of three more on the roster for tomorrow. His reasoning was completely sound, but as he came around the car and opened the door for her, Shelagh couldn't resist sending him a knowing look.
"Don't pretend this is about petrol conservation, Patrick. You just want to see Timothy dancing."
He looked entirely unrepentant at having been caught out. "Don't you?"
They were entering the Community Center now, the sound of the record player greeting them in the hall. Shelagh lowered her voice. "If he sees us, he'll be mortified forever."
"We'll go in the back way, hide in the kitchen."
She was aware that her feet were carrying her in that direction quite without Patrick's prompting, even as she gave voice to one last protest. "Still, if he found out…"
Timothy had made no secret what he thought of dancing, and she suspected the adamant dismissal arose in part from a fear of looking foolish. She wanted to respect her son's privacy, to give him the chance to discover interests and experiences on his own. She wanted him to feel safe and at ease with the scouts and his friends and not as though his parents were prying or clinging too tight.
Shelagh didn't notice that her feet had stalled until Patrick squeezed her hand. "If he does, then it will have been entirely my idea," he reassured her. "He won't blame you for a second."
"He should," she said, tugging open the kitchen door and turning back to Patrick with a sheepish, but eager smile. "I really want to see him dance!"
Pairs of scouts waltzed with muddled steps and sloppy form, but with toothy smiles and happy laughter. Many of the lads had been unsure about the exercise; he'd seen it on their youthful faces. But they were beginning to enjoy themselves. Fred was pleased to see that even the oldest boys were coming around to the idea.
"Feel the rhythm of the music. Let it lift you up and pull you forward. Listen to the way it synchronizes with your heartbeat." His description may have come off a bit flowery for the younger crowd, but they were managing alright.
The handyman surveyed his young charges and nodded approvingly, indulging a mite of nostalgia. Eleanor had loved to dance, and the pair of them had two-stepped their way through their years together.
Those years had been too few, cut off cruelly by a war that knew no kindness. How he missed her, even now.
Fred considered the years that had followed his family's tragedy and thought himself lucky that the dance hadn't been lost to him. It would have been easy to pack in the habit as he eventually done with his wife's clothes and effects, passed on to others for enjoyment but without use in his own life.
But it hadn't happened that way. Painful as the memories of his loss were, the joy of dancing had not been taken from him. He'd danced with his daughters through their growing up years, teaching them the steps and the skill. He'd danced with them on their wedding days when they reminded him so much of their mum that he couldn't help but smile, proudly and tearfully.
It did his heart good to dance - and in more than just a medicinal way. Helping these lads to learn made his own distant loved ones seem close.
Fred Buckle's clear voice called an otherwise chaotic room to order. "And now switch your partners. You who led now follow. Everybody gets a go."
Tom glanced carefully around him - especially mindful of where his feet were placed - and took in the Cubs rearranging themselves to begin anew. They were being awfully good sports about it, but he observed a bit of grumbling from the newly dubbed followers.
His own partner made no move to extricate herself from his arms, but smiled and joshed, "My turn to lead then?"
He returned the smile. "Please. You can teach me."
Trixie studied him thoughtfully, but he found that there was nothing uncomfortable in her scrutiny. "You are much improved tonight," she told him. "It must be all this practice."
"Or the company."
"Twenty-five Cubs and half the Nonnatus staff?" she rejoined.
Tom couldn't help a grin at her quick wit. It was one of the many things he admired about her, and he found himself grateful for her ability to make him laugh. His smile softened and he leaned a little closer. "Or just one special partner."
Peter Noakes walked the beat around the makeshift dancehall, pausing to offer encouragement to a few dancers here and there. The activity was proving to be a challenge, but nothing that the enterprising group of boys couldn't manage.
When his wife had told him about Fred's grand plans, he'd anticipated a bit more resistance on the part of the Cubs. But they knew to mind their leaders and, moreover, that all games and lessons were chosen with their interests in mind.
He didn't attend every pack meeting, but he was always on call when an extra chaperone or costume model was needed. Or dance instructor, as was tonight's case. Mrs. Torpey had been good enough to watch Freddie for the evening so that his parents might enjoy a night out … with two dozen Cub Scouts.
Peter wandered through the shuffling scouts, one conversation catching his ear. Jack, one of the oldest boys and one Camilla had a special fondness for, was shaking his head, not yet moved into position for the evening's second dance. "I don't see why you and I are switching."
He was answered by another boy Peter recognized "I've got to learn the boy's part, Jack," Timothy Turner replied. "I can't show up to a school dance only to dance with you." The doctor's son looked disgusted as he imagined that scenario.
"Still. You're so short next to me."
Timothy rose a few centimeters, still quite behind his friend in the height department. "I'm growing."
Peter stepped over to the pair, laying a reassuring hand on Timothy's arm. "I'm certain you are. But, Jack, there's nothing wrong with being the shorter partner." The boys listened attentively, and Peter smiled as he gave them a different scene to consider.
"Someday you might just meet a girl who stands a bit taller than you in her heels. And then she might run you over with a bicycle, and you might fall absolutely in love with her."
Tim smirked knowingly. "Hypothetically?"
The constable winked at him. "Right. Point is - you never know who you'll end up dancing with." His gaze sought his wife across the room where she was demonstrating a dance move with a considerably shorter partner. "But it'll be wonderful."
He helped the pair of boys into their new positions, with Jack taking over the traditional girl's part. When the boys were moving along, Peter looked again for his favorite dance partner. Sometimes the dance was unexpected, and sometimes a love story began with a nun asking you both to the picture show. He grinned at the memory and saw Camilla match his gaze and his smile. And he didn't have to wonder if she found the story wonderful, too.
"He's doing so well!" Shelagh peeked through the kitchen door out into the great room of the Community Center, which for the night had been turned into a dance hall. Patrick's eyes were several inches above hers, trained on the same sight. She was fully aware that Timothy Turner's parents had crossed the line into officially spying.
Tim's steps were measured as he led Jack around the room. His eyes were stuck to his feet, but Shelagh thought his musician's ear gave a natural rhythm to his movements. She smiled proudly at her son.
Patrick took a step backward into the kitchen, allowing her to do the same. She closed the door carefully, mindful of any squeaks it might attempt. Shelagh turned to see her husband leaning back against the counter, grinning and looking carefree. For a moment, she was carried to a time still in the habit when she'd wished him the kind of happiness she saw on his face now.
He shook his head, stubbornly messy hair falling across his forehead in an endearing way. "I don't know that I've ever seen him dance. Not really."
"You have," she contradicted, finding a place beside him at the counter and relishing the feel of his arm slipping around her shoulders.
Shelagh nodded, eyes bright. "At our wedding party at Nonnatus." She chuckled. "He got swept up in a dance with Sister Evangelina."
Everything about that memory lifted her heart. It was a day long awaited and a joy compounded by the many loved ones in the room. It had been a blessing to see her Nonnatus family completely welcoming and loving the family she had then so recently chosen. Her dear sisters, her beloved son, and the man she'd fallen entirely in love with all together in one room in celebration. Anything had been possible that day.
Patrick was studying her with that boyish grin and laughing eyes. She waited for the tease she knew would come. "I thought you said nuns didn't dance," he said, referring to their conversation of a few nights ago.
"Not in the same way," Shelagh returned. "With children, perhaps, but obviously not for romance."
He tilted his head, and she felt the intensity of his eyes down to her toes. She wondered if his looks her way would ever lose their effect. She rather doubted it.
Patrick's voice was softer when he spoke next, free of the teasingly lilt she so loved. It took on a different timbre, but she couldn't say that she loved it any less. "Yet another reason I'm glad those days are behind us. I do so enjoy dances with you."
She held his arm. "As do I."
"Speaking of which." Her husband pushed himself away from the counter. He looked around at the countertops and cabineted walls as if inspecting them. "The setting might not be terribly romantic, but we have had some pretty memorable moments in a clinic kitchen."
How true that was. The old parish hall's kitchen especially had seen its share of Patrick and Shelagh moments. The first conversations that began their friendship. The building of trust. The forming of private jokes. The first forbidden kiss. And then later, the most welcome marriage proposal. Memories indeed.
He reached for her hand. "May I have this dance, Shelagh?"
She was already stepping into his arms, feeling for the thousandth time, with absolute certainty, that she belonged there. "I was saving it for you, Patrick."
Her husband's look was tender. But then his eyes crinkled and he gave a convincing parody of their son. "Mushy."
Their shared laughter filled the small kitchen.
Patsy waved off her last dance partner of the night. She'd thought that teaching Tom had been a challenge. He had nothing on a battalion of wiggly Cub Scouts. She shook her head to clear it. The time had been enjoyable, and she did enjoy a challenge, after all. All the same, the night's end was a welcome one.
The boys waited a moment more, giving their last scraps of attention to their Akela. "Well done, Pack," Chummy told them. "Now scamper off to your waiting parents. And don't forget we're making bird feeders next Tuesday for handicrafts, and we shall all need to round up some pinecones!"
The redheaded nurse gave another shake of her head. As fun as that adventure sounded, she thought she'd let the usual leaders tackle next week's session.
The boys raced each other to the doors, and Patsy began to tidy the space they'd vacated. The Community Center floor could use a good scrubbing, having spent the night being scuffed by the messy shoes of twenty-five little boys.
Having seen off their charges, the other adults congregated back in the hall. Fred beamed at the group of them. "Thank you all. It means a lot to those boys to have you willing to help them. Even if they don't say it." He met the eyes of each of his friends. "And it means a great deal to me."
Cynthia squeezed his hand gently. "Of course. We're happy to help."
"You really are an excellent dancer, Fred," Patsy told the scout leader. In the secret instruction of Tom Hereward, she'd spent most of her time dancing with the inept reverend. But tonight she'd had the opportunity to waltz with Fred as her partner. The big man had moved with a consistent and surprising grace. She'd not feared for her toes once.
Fred bowed his head in thanks. "Thank you, Nurse Mount. My old lady and I could cut quite the rug." He smiled in memory. "I held my own, but she was magnificent."
Patsy smiled, at both his modesty and the love she could see on his face. "I would have liked to see that," she told him honestly.
"We had our fun. I loved to dance. Still do." He shrugged. "But without Eleanor… Well, it's more good memories than bad now, but I don't hardly get the chance."
She'd thought herself rather worn out by eager Cub Scouts, but that moment decided it. "Cynthia, be a dear and start up the phonograph," she instructed the small nurse beside her. Her friend gave her a look of understanding and followed the request. A spirited tune began, and Patsy turned back to the man behind the evening. "One more, shall we, Fred?"
The expression on his face proved she'd made the right call. He accepted her hand and grinned wide. "Thank you."
Her husband tugged her back onto the dance floor, and Chummy giggled in a way that her mother would most definitely find undignified. The first dance of the evening had been theirs to share, and then they'd both been recruited to advise the participating lads in the art. It was fitting to end the night dancing together, just as they often did in their own small flat.
He coaxed her into a spin, and it didn't matter that she had to duck to slip back under his raised arm. Such things never did with them. With Peter, she could be entirely herself, and she loved him all the more for it.
Spinning back to him, she met his eyes. "You are absolutely my favorite dance partner."
Peter smiled, looking all the more dear to her. Instead of replying with words, he leaned in and kissed her, telling her rather succinctly that she had his wholehearted agreement. The dance moved at a decent pace, and they moved with it, humming snatches of the song in each other's ears.
The couples around them had begun to pair up for the evening's last dance: Patsy trotting along with Fred and the Noakes looking smitten with one another. Trixie turned to her date. "Have you got one more in you, Tom?"
"I do believe I have." He grinned and offered his hand in gentlemanly fashion. "I'm starting to see the enjoyment people find in dance."
Trixie settled back into his hold where she had spent a good part of the night. "Good." When they'd stepped their way through the first chorus, she gave him a teasingly curious look. "Now, I must ask. Are the Cubs going to show up on all of our dates?"
First they'd appeared on their trip to the cricket match. Now they'd gone for a date at an organized Cub meeting. It was becoming something of a pattern.
Tom looked chagrined. "I hadn't exactly planned for them to join us on any of them." He adjusted his hold on her, and she was pleased to be pulled just a smidge closer. "But no. I think our next outing will have to be just the two of us."
"I think I might actually make it into the jazz club this time." Tom looked at her earnestly, and her heart skipped a bit. "I'd like to dance, just us."
She flashed him a bright smile that she hoped communicated her real joy at that prospect. "I'd like that, Tom."
Cynthia returned from seeing one of the younger scouts out to his waiting mother. She peeked through the wide doors to the room that served as the Tuesday clinic and occasional dance hall. It continued on in the latter function. Peter and Chummy, Trixie and Tom, and Fred and Patsy were all swinging about the room, sharing grins and laughter.
She smiled at her friends and was about to rejoin them when a noise had her turning her head. The service closet was open and Timothy Turner was wrestling out a broom nearly taller than he.
"Oh, Timothy, you're still here!" she exclaimed, and the startled Cub dropped the broom.
The boy recovered himself and shrugged, toeing the broom out of the doorway so he could shut the closet. "I figured I might as well clean up while I waited."
Cynthia lifted the broom for him. "That's awfully good of you. And we appreciate the help," she told him, touched by his thoughtfulness. "But I saw your father's car out front."
The doctor's green automobile was parked off to the left of the Community Center's main doors. She'd taken it in while waving off some of the other Cub Scouts.
Timothy shrugged again, neither shocked nor concerned by this new information. "I haven't seen him. He probably pulled up and then got called away to a crisis. It happens all the time." He wandered to the window and peered out into the darkening street. "I'm used to waiting. Mum'll come get me if he takes too long."
"I know that's been the way of it too often," Cynthia agreed, remembering several evenings when the doctor's son had spent time at Nonnatus House after a Cubs' meeting while he waited for his father to come and fetch him. Since Mrs. Turner had joined the family, those times were more infrequent, and Cynthia wasn't certain this delay matched that pattern. She told Timothy as much. "But I don't think that's what's happened tonight."
"What do you mean?"
The nurse gave him a close lipped smile. "I mean, there's great pull in good dancing music." She paused, and they both listened to the upbeat music reaching them even through the closed doors. "I saw a light on in the kitchen."
The boy turned toward the clinic kitchen where a sliver of light could be seen under the door. He rolled his eyes. "I don't believe them."
"Who knew Tuesday night Cubs would make for our most romantic evening this week?" Patrick asked his wife as they danced. Her heels made her the perfect height for him to rest his chin on her head, and he did so now, savoring the moment alone with her.
Their day to day life was filled with patients and clinics and the citizens of Poplar. While he knew that neither of them would change it for the world, he had to admit that he would gladly take more time with his wife.
Shelagh stirred in his arms, pulling back the smallest amount so that she could look at him. Her eyes laughed behind her glasses. "Next time we should bring food, and then it's a proper date."
Patrick was about to reply when an opening door and a cheeky voice interrupted him. "I hope you're not planning on making a habit of this," his son said, eyeing his parents suspiciously. "Honestly, it's my one time away from you people."
The dance was paused, but Patrick and Shelagh made no move to step away from each other. The doctor shook his head at his son. "I don't know how you bear it," he said with mock sympathy.
"I manage," Tim deadpanned. He stepped forward and lifted his open hand. "May I cut in?"
Shelagh beamed at him. "You may."
"Which of us would you like to dance with?" Patrick could never resist a tease.
Timothy's return expression was everything he'd expected. "Mum, please."
"I certainly can't fault your taste."
Shelagh accepted his hand, and Timothy moved them tentatively into position. His mother encouraged him with smiles and soft affirmations. Patrick leaned on the counter, a wide smile splitting his face. Watching his wife and his son dance confirmed that absolutely everything was right in his world.
"Did you enjoy it?" Shelagh asked the waltzing boy.
Timothy looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well," he paused and gave them both a grin. "It is sort of like a sport."
The music around them was made complete by their laughter.
For the old, memories dance through the meadows of time, sometimes interrupted, occasionally lost, but eternally treasured. For the very young, the dance of life takes shape as they do, rising and falling in a melody of motion. The dance is for lovers, for seekers, for dreamers and doers, for anyone imbued with the impulse of life. There is a rhythm to our souls, made ever more beautiful when they find harmony alongside one another.