“You have to let me lead.”
“I’m trying, I don’t know what I’m doing!” Helena Wells was trying. She had certainly danced before, round dances with men and women, following a simple waltz or two step. It was, she thought, an established fact of her character that she was graceful and lithe. But her favorite dances had been those times she had confounded her audience and asked women to dance, leading them as a man would, sometimes in a suit but not always. The joy of those dances was often the scandal, the murmuring around the room, or conversely the act of seduction right below public notice: oh, look, two friends dancing! There must not be sufficient men to partner. But here was Myka, in a cleared off space in a forgotten corner of the Warehouse, preternaturally calm in her work clothes, leading. And Helena was flailing.
This was all Claudia’s fault. Claudia had insisted they take a break from inventory to try steps from some historic dance manual (not historic enough, clearly!) and dark horses Steve and Myka had both turned out to have taken tango classes in college. Steve, it transpired, was also a good teacher; he was letting Claudia lead and they were slinking around the room and laughing at each other, tripping good naturedly and doing exaggerated kicks. He was even teaching Pete. That Pete might succeed at something Helena could not was too galling. Myka had waited a beat, watching the rest, and then with a challenge in her eye and a smile about her mouth, had stepped in close and asked Helena to dance.
Helena could feel Myka’s right hand pressing gently at her back, her left held Helena’s, not out loosely to the side, but close in and taut. This wasn’t a waltz. Helena stumbled again trying to remember the sequence of slow and fast steps outlined in the manual, utterly failing to capture the giddy abandon of Claudia and Pete or the sensual experience of this so called dance.
Myka was laughing. “Stop trying to do the steps, and stop trying to lead. I know what to do. Just follow where I move you.”
“But, I don’t know how to do that.” This was too embarrassing.
“I can tell.” Myka gave her an indulgent smile, which was as frustrating as anything Helena’s feet were doing.
“Don’t patronize me!"
Myka rolled her eyes. "Ok, I won’t. Let’s try this…” Moving her hand from Helena’s back gave them a bit more space. She put Helena’s left hand onto her chest, near her shoulder, and braced herself in the same way. They were squared off, shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, but with a cushion of air between them. Helena looked down at their hands and was drawn back up to Myka’s eyes. There was nothing patronizing about them now. Helena took a deep breath.
“Ok? Bend your knees a little. Now I am going to push against you. Push back. Do you feel that?” Myka pressed in with both hands, shoulders, and knees.
Helena nodded. Of course she felt it. When did she not feel the tension of Myka next to her? She breathed in again, into that square of space between them.
“So, you’ll like this part, keep pushing. But you can feel what I want you to do, here?”
She stepped forward, her leg sliding between Helena’s, and pressed lightly down and forward with her arms. Helena stepped back without thinking. Myka smiled again, made to move forward again and stopped. At the slight pull, Helena stopped too. “Yes, just like that. Keep pressing back into me, but yield a little and move with me. Ok?”
Another nod. Yield to me? With Myka’s long leg sliding between hers, HG Wells was at a loss for words.
Myka stepped forward again, twice now, and stopped. Helena moved back as she felt Myka come into her space and the second step felt dizzying, like tentatively putting a foot into space. Instead of space, she found Myka’s arms, Myka’s steps. They were dancing, and Helena couldn’t even remember to worry about her feet.
“Look up. Trust me.”
Just as Helena was beginning to suspect there was a subtext to this tango, Myka slid her arm around the small of Helena’s back once again and pulled them closer. They took a few more steps, each time negotiating but keeping the inches of space between them. Helena had never seen Myka move with such smooth confidence; it occured to her that she had never felt Myka’s hands on her in this way.
“And when I want you to turn…” Helena could feel Myka’s upper body turn, light pressure carrying her with it. This time she was stepping outside Helena’s legs, not between them. She turned. “Yes. And on the long step, you can just slide back. There.” Myka stepped and Helena turned again, sliding backwards, and Myka was holding them together. “Again.” Helena pivoted and slid back the other way. They followed that step, and then Myka moved to the side once more. “That’s good. And if I turn you like this?” Myka turned fully now, and Helena walked around to face her again, so they were square. They took another step, and paused. “Exactly. Can you imagine the scene you would have caused in London, dancing the tango, Helena?”
Myka’s eyes were sparkling, and while meeting them Helena still couldn’t quite formulate a reply. A part of her brain distantly considered that Myka usually avoided allusion to her time lost to the bronze, and Helena usually appreciated this, but right now she was caught up imagining that scene before her, but with Myka there too Helena could only smile. And then the music was playing and they were moving and neither of them said anything for a while. Helena didn’t miss a step and Myka didn’t look away.
On a slow beat, suddenly, Myka was stepping between her legs again, but this time her knee brushed against Helena’s thigh, and Helena found herself sliding her right foot up and across Myka’s leg. She heard Myka take a steadying breath, and say, “Like that, yes.” And then she stepped forward again, shifting weight so that Helena would continue the movement into a slide back and they kept dancing. Myka’s smile grew.
When the song ended, Myka let Helena go, but neither of them stepped away. The music started again, and when Helena moved just a fraction of intent back into her arms, Myka put her hands back.
“May I?” They danced again. This song, slower than before, held a sweet pathos in the singer’s voice. Slower meant more pausing, more moments where they negotiated each step, where Myka pushed her and then pulled her back in, where Helena stepped without looking where she was going. At some point, Helena realized that Steve and Claudia were gone, but she could not have said at all when that happened. Had it been one song, or several? All she could say for certain was that Myka’s eyes were sparkling green and holding her captive, her hands were kindling and keeping Helena steady, and the air between them was crackling with tension.
Finally, the music came to an end. Helena looked around and shook herself. They hadn’t been moving quickly but she was out of breath all the same. Myka watched her with intensity. They were still standing close, perhaps too close and Helena needed to say something. She brought her hand to her mouth. “Who was that, the singer?” came out breathy, a whisper.
“Carlos Gardel.” Now Myka was looking away, to the table where a record player sat on a shelf, absently running her hand through her hair.
“Myka did you… was that… did you use an artifact on me?”
There was a beat, and then Myka looked sharply back. Helena couldn’t read the expression on her face, but her eyes flashed with something defensive and hard; she snapped her reply.
“Because that would have to be it, right? I couldn’t do this without some kind of warehouse assist?” Myka gestured at Helena, walking over to the table. “You can, but I couldn’t possibly. No, Helena. I used an artifact, in that the Gardel record plays with the intensity and length of a band. But Gardel didn’t do anything to you. That was all…”
Then Myka pursed her lips, slapped her hand on the table, and walked away. Helena blinked and tried to figure out what she’d done wrong.