Always A Dancer

Brittany took one last swallow of her drink as she saw Austin approaching her across the dance floor. The band was starting up a rhumba. That was probably Ugo's fault. He loved rhumbas, mainly because the man didn't have to do anything, but the women had to do a lot. Brittany didn't mind them, but they were getting a bit tiresome.

She took Austin's proffered hand and moved onto the dance floor. His touch on her shoulder was light but firm as he guided her around the floor. Ugo was always a bit careless, and you ended up running into five other couples because he was spending more time looking at the other women on the floor than paying attention to where he was going.

Austin never talked while he was dancing, and she never talked to him then either. But she could tell from his face that he wanted to talk to her. And she knew exactly what he was going to say, too, as soon as the dance ended, if she wasn't stolen away immediately. He'd tried to talk to her once before that night already, but Geoffery had taken her for a cha-cha instead.

She winced as the dull pain in her abdomen turned sharp for a second. She tried to hide it from Austin, but she never had been able to fool him. That was why their relationships had never lasted long. He started to steer her toward the edge of the dance-floor, and she couldn't resist without making a scene.

Then they were off the floor, and Austin was sitting her down on an unoccupied sofa. "Are you okay?" he asked?

She nodded. "I'm fine." And she was getting better. Her abdomen and her legs weren't hurting nearly as much as they had been a few minutes ago, were they? She was getting better.

Austin still looked concerned. God, she hated that. Why couldn't they just leave her alone, and let her dance?

"I talked to Dr. McGarrick today," he said. Anger flared up in her. Who the hell did he think he was, to go behind her back like that? Didn't he trust her? "He said that you shouldn't be exerting yourself so hard after your accident, and that you certainly shouldn't be dancing. Jesus Christ, Brittany! It's only been a week. Can't you take it easy for a few more weeks, let yourself heal?"

She beckoned over a waiter and grabbed a drink from his tray. "What the hell business is it of yours, Austin?" she said, downing it quickly.

"And he also said you shouldn't be drinking," Austin said, grabbing her glass away, too late to keep her from draining the dregs. "Are you trying to get yourself killed?"

"It dulls the pain," she said. "Don't you see, Austin? I have to dance. What would I do tonight if I wasn't dancing? I was antsy enough in the hospital. I couldn't wait to get out of that place."

Austin was silent for a moment, then he said, "What about the competition this weekend?"

"What about it?"

"Are you going?"

Brittany heaved an exasperated sigh. "I suppose you're going to tell me that I shouldn't."

"Not if you're going to be stubborn and keep dancing all week. You'll be back in the hospital by that time."

Another rhumba was starting up, and she was tapped on the shoulder. She turned, and there was Ugo, grinning. "Madame, may I have this dance?"

"Be right back, Austin," she said as she stood up to take Ugo's hand and go back to the dance floor. Just this once, she was glad of his interruption, and the fact that she was so popular after her enforced absence. She'd have to deal with Austin later, but not right now.

Ugo was just leading her into a promenade when her right leg went numb, and she stumbled into another dancer. "Sorry," she mumbled, trying to regain her balance and failing. She crashed down onto the floor. She felt something burst inside her.

She could hear the voices around her. "Who's that?" "Clumsy girl." "Are you alright, Brittany?" "Let me through, I'm a doctor!"

Her vision faded out for a second, and then she saw Austin above her. "You damn fool, Brittany," he said. He was crying.

She essayed a weak smile. "I guess I won't make this weekend after all." Then her stomach heaved painfully and she spit up a mouthful of blood-darkened bile, reeking of Scotch. "God," she said, before the room faded into blackness.

<This one's for Scott Evans, who challenged me with the words

dance
swallow
hemorrhage
clean
>

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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com