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Dancing after Summer
The girl shoved her hands into the coat pockets and straightened, copying the meander of dreamers down the street. A bright red scarf swayed with her. She tilted her glowing head back when raindrops from the bright gray skies drummed on the rooftops for a moment then ceased, a sure sign autumn was drawing near. She felt excited. Something was going to happen today, she knew.
The ice truck chugged by and the girl watched everyone wave at kind Dan, who gave chips of ice to the kids in August. She mused on how nothing ever changed here. Everyone was always the same and progress always moved steadily along at the same rate. But she didn't mind. Every so often, or “once in a blue moon” as her father would say, something came along that shook everything up and unsettled it. Then, as quickly as it had come, it left, leaving things just a bit different.
At the corner drugstore she turned down a street. Sharp lines of new shops faded into the worn, crumbling walls of buildings that had stood for decades. Some still hummed with life, others stood silent and aging. The girl glanced back then ran through an alley and down another street, following the familiar lines of the town. She came to a halt in front of the old, towering mansion.
The girl closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. It drew her everyday without fail. Tales had been written here, life stories had been altered and skipped a beat. Tears had watered and smiles had sprang up. She stepped closer, peered up at the windows bordered by costly, swirling decorations that felt out of place in this simple town. Her eyes wandered down and she gave a start. The side door was gone, now a shaded black gateway criscrossed with nailed boards. It beckoned. She glanced over her shoulder then stepped forward eagerly, bending down and squeezing through the boards.
The darkness enveloped her and the girl blinked as she straightened, slowly making out shapes. A long hall stretched down on both sides. To the right she could just see a glimmer of sunlight through an arched doorway. She touched the wall as she walked, feeling cool yet welcoming stone, full of memories of times long gone. Through the doorway the girl stepped forward shifting sunbeams that shone through high windows. Everything was covered in a thin layer of dust that swirled then vanished when disturbed. Columns towered to the vaulted roof, making the large space feel open and airy.
The girl walked forward slowly, gazing in awe. The empty floor echoed with her footsteps like a lone drum when an orchestra holds its breath. Poised. Silent. She slowly turned in place, admiring the crystal chandeliers hung in midair above her.
“What are you doing in here?” A stern voice boomed through the stillness.
The girl jumped and whirled around. A boy in ragged clothes leaned against a shadowed column, munching an apple. He smiled then laughed at her defensive stance.
“Ah, I was only teasing you.” He shoved himself up. “If anyone took time to notice this building still exists, they wouldn't care about it, or who's in it.”
The girl hugged herself and eyed the boy. “I pity them, then. It's a sight to see.”
“Aye,” he agreed softly. “They used to dance in these halls from sunset to sunrise. So many people, they filled this place to the bursting. Swirling around and through and back – yet never missing a step.”
He hummed a lilting melody for a moment then glanced at the girl with a crooked smile, walking over to where she stood. “The gentlemen all in black, tall and kind. And the women glowing in every color alive.”
“And how do you know all this?” She laughed. “Perhaps you're older than you look.”
He laughed with her, pocketing his apple core. “Nay, I just imagine it. Only time I saw someone dance was my mother with my father, many years ago. He got a job. And they waltzed while my mother cried for joy.”
The boy was standing next to her now, and the girl felt full of happiness, as though she had found a long-lost brother or a missing piece. This was what the rest of the day had been waiting for, she knew.
“I've never waltzed before,” she said, holding out her hand like a child.
The boy smiled and his hand slipped into hers. “Just listen to the music.”
He counted softly. One, two, three. One, two, three. She followed his lead clumsily than faster and faster until they twirled around the room, dancing to the music only in their mind. The girl's mind filled with the sound of soaring violins and rustling silk. Of laughter and murmuring voices like the ocean, rising and falling.
They danced until the room faded to a darker tint and the summer sun faded to an evening, autumn chill. The music came to a flourishing end and the boy bowed as the girl blushed. They stammered good-bye and the girl ran from the echoing hall, slipped through the boarded-up doorway to run home through the twilight. It was only then that she realized she was crying.
She never saw the boy again. She visited the old mansion until hope grew dim and the building disappeared beneath progress. But she never forgot learning to waltz in the glittering sunbeams. And she never forgot the music.