Neville couldn't take his eyes off of the doors as they slowly began to open. Like a mirage, her frame came into view, as Florence stepped over the threshold. She wore a coral-coloured dress that swept against the floor that complimented her warm skin tone. Nervously, she fiddled with her mask as she entered, then hitched her dress up with one hand as she descended the stairs. Her curls bounced gently against her shoulders as she did so. Neville couldn't take his eyes off her, and finally, let out the breath he had been holding.
As Florence stepped onto the dance floor and looked around the room, she spotted Neville, JP, and Marlon waiting for her. Her face broke out into a smile as she made her way to them, pulling her mask over her face.
"Sorry I'm late," she said, looking up at them all through her fanned eyelashes.
"You're not. We've only just got here," said JP.
"You look nice, Sarge," said Marlon, looking her up and down. Neville's throat went dry.
"Behave," Florence told him with a laugh.
"Shall I grab some drinks?" asked JP.
"Yes, please. Are they serving champagne?" Florence asked, craning her neck to see the bar.
"I'll get you one," JP said, then turned to Neville. "Sir?"
"Anything," Neville stuttered out, remembering where he was.
"Okay. Marlon, you coming?"
Marlon nodded and the pair disappeared into the crowd. Sweat began to break out on Neville's brow. They were alone together. What would he say to her? What if it was awkward?
"Are you okay, Sir?" she asked, half-laughing. She touched his arm gently.
Neville gulped. The words came tumbling out. "Florence, you look incredibly beautiful," he said simply. "Not that you don't always look beautiful. You do look beautiful most of the time. In fact, all the time," he breathed. "But you look particularly beautiful tonight. I think it's the dress. It's a great dress." He was spiralling.
"Neville," she cooed, stopping him with a smile. Neville laughed nervously. "Dance with me," she said, taking his hand and walking through the crowd to the middle of the dance floor.
There was a band playing on the state in the middle of the room. Catherine really had gone all out for The Commissioner. They were playing an upbeat song, one that Neville began twisting his hips and ankles too and shimmying his shoulders. Florence did the same, happily grooving away surrounded by other citizens of Saint Marie, all having a good time, already well-oiled by the free flow of drinks. As the band finished their song, everyone turned to clap. Neville breathed out a sigh of relief. Yes, dancing was a good way to burn off his anxious energy. He could already feel himself starting to relax. But before he could begin a conversation with Florence, the band struck up a slow, melodic tune with picked harp strings and long smooth violins.
Neville and Florence turned to each other as everyone around them began dancing slowly in hold.
"Would you like to –?" Neville stuttered.
"Yes," laughed Florence, coyly.
Florence put her hand on Neville's shoulder, lifting her elbow, then held her palm out for him to take. Neville mirrored her, putting his hand on her waist, feeling his breath hitch in his throat. Her side was warm. He was acutely aware of his palm getting sweaty as he held hers. They swayed together for a few bars, Neville's whole body humming with the excitement of it all. Then, Florence looked up at him as though she wanted to say something, her mouth parted gently, accentuating the delicate curve of her cupid's bow. Neville shivered.
"This is a nice song," she said. From the way her voice was slightly higher and strained than usual, Neville deduced that she had wanted to say something else.
"It's nice to dance with you," he replied, wanting to say it but thinking it too bold at the same time. He was starting to think now would be the right time to tell her. They were masked, after all, so he could really pretend to be someone else entirely, like Prince Charming declaring his love for the Princess. But Neville shook himself out of his fantasy, realising that just because they were under the dim glow of fairy lights and swaying romantically in hold that it didn't mean it was the right time. He couldn't forget himself. Besides, JP could return with the drinks at any moment.
Florence inched closer to him, and Neville found his hand sliding around to the small of her back, bringing her into him, her breath tickling his neck. Neville and Florence's clasped hands turned inwards, resting on Neville's chest as they swayed in time with the music. Florence then rested her forehead against his cheek and Neville closed his eyes, thinking he must have died and gone to heaven. To hold her in his arms like this was too big a gift to happen on earth.
After a few more bars of music, Florence raised her head and looked up at Neville through her eyelashes. Her cheeks were rosy.
"Neville," she said quietly, her voice almost a whisper.
Neville realised their mouths were inches apart, and then, without thinking, Neville bent his head lower as Florence rose up on her tiptoes. Slowly, tentatively, they pressed their lips together. It lasted only a few seconds and was light enough to make Neville think he had imagined it.
They both pulled away, inhaling each other for a moment before Neville couldn't wait any longer. He pressed his lips ardently to hers again, showing his intent for the first time since he'd met her. They dropped their hold, as Neville's hands cupped Florence's face passionately. Her palm snaked up his chest, another on his waist, holding him there. They could be seen any moment, Neville thought, but the thrill of getting caught only spurred him on to show her in this short moment of time exactly what it was he wanted. Exactly how much she meant to him.
Neville pulled away, his knees weak. Then the realisation of what had happened between them hit him. "I'm sorry," he gulped, not taking his eyes off her. "But I've always wanted to kiss you like that."
"SIR!" Neville heard as JP called at him. He was certain that JP and Marlon were making their way back through the crowd towards them. He looked at Florence, hoping that his eyes were conveying everything else he wanted to say, but his time was running out.
"I –," Florence began, but then she must have seen JP and Marlon over Neville's shoulder as her face flew into a forced smile. "Hey!" she said. "Thanks!" Florence took a glass of champagne from JP's outstretched hand as Neville turned around.
"I got you one, Sir," Marlon said, handing a flute to Neville.
"Thanks, Marlon," replied Neville.
"We looked for you everywhere, Sir," said JP, gesturing to the ballroom.
"Can't come to a ball without having a little dance, JP," said Neville, forcing out a laugh. JP smiled and then began dancing, as the slow tune turned into another upbeat one. Neville's eyes flickered to Florence's again who looked meaningfully at him, her eyes full of the unsaid.