A Dance For Christmas (Ornamental Match Maker Book 6)

Chapter 1

Life was never boring for Laura Chun. Mornings were spent working with patients at the Charleston Rehabilitation Center, helping people regain strength, flexibility, and movement after surgery or injuries.

She didn’t mind that subtle dip in someone’s smile when they realize she’s not a doctor, but ‘just’ a physical therapist.

To her it wasn’t ‘just’ anything. What she did made a difference in people’s lives.

And she would know. It was a little less than ten years ago that she had been a promising young ballerina who had offers from American Ballet Theater, Joffrey, and a handful of others. Her life was exactly what she wanted, envisioning years of performing on stage before hundreds of people a night.

But one horrifying moment changed that plan and left a gaping hole where it had been.

That’s when she met her first physical therapist. She’d been cajoled and encouraged, and sometimes been given a swift verbal kick in the pants. They’d survived the worst days together and cheered the successes, but when it was over, Laura had walked out of the rehabilitation center a brand-new person with a true appreciation for every step she made.

That’s why she was devoted to her patients every morning and when she left the building there was always a little spring in her step thinking of what was to come in the afternoon.

Laura taught baby ballet for toddlers and those children in pre-school and after that, a ballet class for elementary school children.

It wasn’t the illustrious career she had once hoped for, but it filled her heart to the brim five days a week and she couldn’t wait to get there. Jogging up the stairs to the elevated train, she made sure to watch her posture and pull in enough breath to keep from being winded when she reached the top.

Pulling a token out of her jacket pocket, she dropped it into the tray and waved a friendly greeting to the worker behind the glass. It always gave her a little thrill to remind herself that this was the platform that they used to film the proposal from “While You Were Sleeping,” her all-time favorite romance movie.

It never failed to lift the corners of her mouth from a soft smile to a full grin.

“It’s going to be another good day, Laura.”

Someone walking by gave her a double take. The older man in a suit and a heavy winter coat had likely heard her talking to herself.

Turning to look after him as he moved further down the platform she rose up in the toes of her boots and called out. “It’ll be a good day for you too, sir. I know it!”

He lifted a hand and whipped his hand back in a dismissive gesture. It didn’t dampen her mood at all.

Not even the littlest bit.

When she breezed into the Flanders Studio of Dance, she shivered from head to toe and back again, enjoying the sudden rush of heat against her skin.

The receptionist behind the desk didn’t bother to hide her laughing smile. “How’s life on the tundra, Laura?”

Pulling off her gloves with a sigh, Laura affected a dramatic pose she’d seen too many illustrations of Sacagawea, a hand flattened above her eyes, peering off into the unknown… or the bulletin board as was the case that day. “We made great progress in tracking the lost group of explorers,” she stage-whispered, “but there is little in the way of food left in our stores. I fear we will soon be reduced to terrible circumstances.”

She turned to look at the receptionist and the soft-spoken woman looked a little green. “Cannibalism?”

“Yuck,” Laura made a face before she laughed, “Really, Kelly? I was talking about a trip to the grocery store.”

The two shared a laugh as Laura continued to peel off her outer layers. “How is everything today?”

“Great. Classes are all full to the brim. And Mrs. Flanders asked me to remind you that you have the option to start another class after the first two.”

Laura winced a little. It was possible. She wanted to shake her head and say that she was already working more than eight hours a day and leave it at that, but having enough of a waiting list to warrant another class? That spoke volumes.

And really, what did she have waiting for her at home besides a pile of clothes and a mess of tv series on her faves list on Amazon Prime Video?

Pushing aside the lonely image in her head, she gave the receptionist a nod. “I’ll have an answer for her next week Monday.”

Kelly jotted down the message and then reached down beneath her desk as Laura started for the ‘Employee Only’ door. “Hey, before you go back into the locker room and change, there’s a package for you.”

Laura did a quick about face. “A package for me?”

“Yep.” Kelly set it on the edge of the desk and tapped the plain brown wrapping with her fingertips. “I was showing a new family back into the hallway that leads to the classrooms and when I turned back around it was just there.”

“Strange.”

Laura approached the desk and peered over the top to read the neatly printed letters.

MS. LAURA CHUN

C/O FLANDERS SCHOOL OF DANCE

The address continued on in careful print. “Okay then,” Laura murmured, “they know who I am.”

Kelly leaned one hand on the desk and rose up almost out of her seat until she could point at the upper left corner with her pencil. “Look who it’s from!”

Laura looked at the letters and smiled as she read the words.

MRS. CLAUS

NORTH POLE

The two friends shared a hesitant smile before Kelly smacked a pair of shears on the desktop. “Open it.”

Laura could have demurred and waited until later to open it, but who passes up a gift from the wife of the big guy up north?

Not this girl!

Opening the blades, she used one side as a knife, easily cutting through the packing tape along the edge.

By the time she had made her way through three out of four sides of tape, Laura felt a little tremor in her hands. “Who knew Mrs. Claus was an expert packing specialist. She could teach a few of the guys at UPS a thing or two.”

Settling the shears back down, Laura lifted the top of the box. “Huh.”

“Well?” Kelly was leaning over, trying to see into the box. “What is it?”

Laura reached her hand into the cardboard box and withdrew a little green satin draw string bag with red ribbons gathering the fabric at the top.

Feeling the bag and its contents gently, Laura shrugged. “It’s not alive and if it was something dangerous it would have hurt me by now. So,” she tugged at the red ribbons and widened the mouth of the bag until she could be sure there was enough room for it to pass through the opening and onto her waiting palm.

Kelly sighed when she saw what it was, covering her heart. “They’re so cute!!”

And they were. A pair of satin pointe shoes that looked good enough for a fairy to wear them on stage but tied together at the top with a little loop.

“It’s an ornament,” Laura knew she couldn’t keep the soft wonder from her voice. “It’s a really thoughtful gift.” She heard the soft touch of sadness in her voice.

Kelly peered into the box. “There’s a note in the bottom.” She paused for a moment. “Or maybe it’s just a packing slip, but who knows.”

Who knew indeed?

Laura reached into the box and pulled out the folded paper.

Printed across the paper in a precise style were the words:

TAKE THE CHANCE AND DANCE

Laura repeated the words under her breath, but it didn’t manage to explain who had sent the gift.

If she had to guess, it might be some kind of Secret Santa event, but she certainly didn’t know she’d signed up. Laura just hoped that she wasn’t disappointing someone who might be expecting a gift.

The front door swung inward and little Ruby Simmons jumped inside with a little ‘ta-da’ and a big grin. “Miss Chun! You’re not dressed yet!” She pointed at the clock. “You better get a hustle on!”

Little Ruby’s mother adjusted the little boy she held on her hip. “Hush, Ruby.”

Laura chuckled. “Thanks for the reminder. I do have to change my clothes.” Tucking the box under her arm, Laura headed for the locker-room. There would be time later to investigate the unexpected gift, she had a dozen little ones about to descend on her studio.

Almost three hours later, Laura gave the girls the signal to make one long line before the mirror.

With an indrawn breath in time to the music, she took a step to the side, opening her stance into second position. The little girls copied her… for the most part. Some wiggled and one little girl on the end of the line stumbled.

“And bow to the mirror.” Laura lifted her arms above her head in an intact and graceful ‘o.’ Moving her second foot she tucked it behind her leg and bowed as she lowered her rounded arms all the way down until it mirrored the original oval-like frame. The girls managed to bow without falling over their feet.

Turning around to face the line she held out her hand and the little girl at the end of the line walked forward and took the offered hand. She in turn gave her hand to the next girl in line. As they walked all of the girls added themselves to the end of the line until Laura made her way to the other end of the line. As a group, they walked in a circle, once, twice, stopping on the third time. “Face in.”

The girls all did as she asked, some waggling their fingers at a friend or two across the circle.

“And bow to your friends.”

This time, the girls pulled themselves up tall, their arms curved at their sides like wings almost at rest.

“And…. Bow.”

They all stepped out to the right, like they had the first time and then as they crossed their left foot behind their right, they all lifted their right hands and covered their hearts as they gave a gentle bow to the circle.

The music on the CD player faded into silence and Laura looked out at the girls. “All right, ladies. Go forth into the world! Keep warm! Listen to your parents. Eat your veggies and-”

The girls called back at her. “Be beautiful inside and out!”

The girls rushed their teacher like a football scrimmage line, all clamoring for hugs.

And as awkward as it was, they managed to accomplish the whole conveyor belt of love in just a few minutes. When the door shut on the last of them, she let out an audible sigh. “Goodness. They tire me out!”

She turned toward the front of the room and began to put her things away from her class.

When the door swung open again, she couldn’t resist the mother tsk in her voice. “Uh oh, who forgot something today?”

Kelly’s hushed whisper turned her head. “You have a guest.”

“A guest?”

Leaving her things where they were, Laura moved toward the door. “Who is it?”

Kelly’s eyes were wide. “I don’t know… but he’s soooo handsome. That’s four Os, in case you were wondering. Oh, and there’s a little girl with him.”

That got Laura moving.

Taking hold of the door, she opened it wide and quickly walked into the foyer of the Dance School.

Standing just inside the doorway with the early evening colors of Chicago’s sky behind them. A man was helping a young girl remove her coat. It took a moment for Laura to see the girl’s face, but when she turned to pull her other arm out of her coat, Laura saw the long raven hair and heart-shaped face of one of her former students.

A young girl who had always held a place in her heart.

“Juliet? What are you doing here?”

It was as if the young girl who had spun and spun in front of the mirror until she was dizzy had just walked out that front door a moment ago and now, with just a second outside had returned a young lady a whole head taller.

Dressed in a soft tunic-like sweater and warm jeans, she looked every inch a young pre-teen beauty.

Beaming her unforgettable smile, Juliet looked like she was almost bouncing on the toes of her boots. “I’m here to see you, Miss Laura!”

Almost as if they’d planned the gesture, the two rushed into each other’s arms for a big bear hug.

“Oh, there’s no more lifting you up in the air any more, my Juliet.”

Giggling at her pet name, Juliet gave Laura another groaningly-tight hug before she stepped away. “I’m so glad we caught you. I told my dad to hurry up or you’d be gone.”

Nodding, Laura gestured back toward the studio. “You’re right, a few minutes later and I’d be on my way to the El.”

Juliet’s father winced at the statement, turning Laura’s head in his direction.

Kelly wasn’t joking. Juliet’s dad was at least a four ‘O’ on the handsome scale. Okay, maybe more like a six and the scale was only designed to go to a five.

But, and the but was big, he seemed to have an issue with her main mode of transportation. Oh well.

“We were hoping,” Juliet gestured at her father, “that you might come to dinner with us tonight so we can celebrate.”

Celebrate? She looked at Juliet hoping there would be more information. “Well, I’m always ready to celebrate, but I hope what I have in my bag to change into won’t make me look like a ragamuffin.”

Juliet laughed and elbowed her dad in the side. His huff of air looked almost painful. “Why would you look like a muffin?”

Her father cleared his throat, drawing his daughter’s attention. “It’s a different word altogether, sweetie. We can look it up later.”

“Or,” Juliet turned to look at both of them in turn, “Miss Laura could tell me what it means… at dinner.”

“No hint about that celebration?”

Juliet pressed her lips together and turned the invisible key at the corner.

Laura shrugged. “I have a blouse and jeans,” she brushed her hand over Juliet’s dark hair, “kind of like what you’re wearing. Give me a moment to change?”

Juliet, of course, gave her immediate agreement, but Laura turned her attention to the man standing just a few steps away.

“Is that okay with you, Mr. Benson?”

She watched the corner of his mouth twitch as if she actually made a joke. She wasn’t sure why but preferred the almost smile to the nearly definite stoic stare.

“That’s fine with me.” He reached out a hand and tugged on a long strand of Juliet’s hair. “It’ll give me time to wrestle the little monkey into her coat.”

“Dad!” Juliet rolled her eyes and sighed. “I’m not a little monkey anymore.”

Laura saw the little bit of resignation in her father’s eyes and took that moment to move away and give them a little space.

She walked back into her classroom and gathered her things before darting into the locker room to change and store her class supplies.