A Dance For Christmas (Ornamental Match Maker Book 6)
A soft knock at his office door had Matthew setting his work down for a moment and smiling at the woman standing in the doorway. “How is everything going, Brigid?”
She leaned against the doorframe and folded her arms over her chest. “So far so good.”
It was her usual greeting and her usual answer, but Matthew would caution anyone who would come up against the woman who looked like a slightly taller than average Betty White. She might look like a sweet granny, but step over the line and she’d put you in your place.
It was one of the reasons that when he left his old firm, she was the only one he asked to come with him.
And it was the best decision he’d ever made in his career. Well that and paying the majority of the tuition for her to go to law school.
Brigid Kinsale was a top-notch lawyer in her own right and that was after starting law school in her sixties.
“You keep standing there looking at me, Brig, and I’m going to have to charge admission.”
He heard her soft chuckle.
“Well, I’ve been hearing from Iris all day long about your mood.”
Well that got his attention. Leaning forward in his chair he looked at Brigid with concern. “Did I say something that upset her?”
Brigid’s laughter told him he’d missed the whole point. Again.
“You can be so sweet and so dense all at the same time.” She waved off his concern. “How you can find the tiniest problem in paperwork and not see the big stuff in your life that’s staring you in the face.”
He had to admit being just the littlest grumpy that she found something funny that he was still clueless about.
“Well then,” he cleared his throat and leaned an elbow on the top of his desk, “maybe you’ll take pity on me and fill me in?”
She lifted her hands to wave at him to back down. “Keep your pants on, boss. I’m just testing the waters-”
“Even before I talked to Iris, I was dying to ask you how things went at the rehearsal.”
“Rehearsal, hmm? How did you know that Laura didn’t turn us down?”
“How could she?” Brigid looked affronted at the idea. “First of all, our Juliet is too cute for words and so talented and sweet, of course she said yes.”
He opened his mouth to speak and Brigid rolled right over him like a sixteen-wheeler with a cut brake line.
“And the way that Juliet has gushed about her ‘Miss Laura,’ even though it’s been years since she’d taken a class with her, I knew that ‘Laura’ would do it.”
Matthew was trying to ignore the ‘air quotes’ that Brigid had used when mimicking how he’d said Laura’s name.
“And lastly, even when Laura was dancing for The Adler Company as a principal dancer, she always… and I mean ALWAYS took time to meet her fans and do outreach when her fans couldn’t get to her. Of course, she’s helping our girl. So… how was the rehearsal with-”
“If you use those ‘air quotes’ again, I’m going to leave for the rest of the day and let you deal with the Mackie children.”
Brigid pressed her hand to her chest, nearly tangling her fingers with the beaded chain that she used to keep her glasses close at hand. “Wow, you must have it bad for her if you’re threatening me with the triple threats.”
Shaking his head, he leaned back in his chair. “I just don’t know what to think right now. This was supposed to be simple. Have her rehearse with us for a few weeks, a couple of performances and let Juliet have a few more memories of her favorite teacher.”
Brigid waved her hand. “But…”
“It’s too soon,” he declared. “I mean it’s too soon to think... to know if the connection is just a fluke or…” he stood up from his chair and walked to the side of his desk.
Leaning back against the hard, mahogany edge, he struggled to understand his own confusion. “How do I know if it’s just wishful thinking?”
Brigid let out a long and heavy sigh. “You’ve been on dates before now-”
“Sure. When Juliet said it was time for me to ‘get out’ every once in awhile, I asked a few people out. It just wasn’t the same, you know?”
She nodded. “You and Aimee were so good together, but you were both at your best when it came to your family. So if you’re feeling that again in your heart while you were out with Laura, then I think you should listen to that. Trust that.”
“It wasn’t a date.”
She shrugged. “It didn’t have to be a date. It doesn’t ever have to be a date, Matthew. But what you need to do is give yourself a break. You’ve been so tied up in knots trying to be both parents to that girl of yours that you’ve kind of forgotten what it’s like to be a man.”
That got him on his feet. “Now hold on…”
“No,” Brigid took a step closer.
“And your ‘mood’ that Iris noticed wasn’t anything bad. She wanted to tell you that she was happy for you. You walked in with a smile today that was a little different than normal. You joked more. Your smile was lighter, bigger. And twice,” she lowered her voice almost to a whisper, “she caught you singing to the radio. She said she’s never heard anyone make a country song sound so dang happy. Her words not mine, because you know I love me some Tim McGraw.
“But think about this before you tell me I’m wrong, Matthew. You don’t have to brace for the worst when you’re spending time with Juliet and Laura. Let the good have a chance to happen too, okay?”
He wanted to shoot off an answer. He wanted to smile at her and tell her that he’d think about everything and it would all be all right.
He wanted it to be. Lord knows when he’d met Laura, he’d been stunned by her natural beauty and her gentle demeanor.
But spending what amounted to a full day with her at rehearsal and then afterwards in his house, he’d been waiting for her to do or say something to knock her down off of her pedestal in Juliet’s eyes, but what had happened was finding out that he was becoming just as enamored of Laura as his daughter was.
And his heart knew just how dangerous that was.
“It’s hard,” he looked at Brigid and wondered how she always managed to see right through him when he tried so hard to put up walls, “it’s like I want to like her, but I don’t want either of us to get hurt when somewhere down the line that being a step mom is just as bad as it sounds and she walks away.
“It would crush Juliet.” He pushed on, realizing how crazy he sounded. “Listen to me rambling on about things that are so impossible that I don’t know why I’m even torturing myself about it.”
Before he realized it, Brigid had her hand laid gently on his arm. “You’re thinking about it, because for the first time since Aimee’s passing, you’ve met someone good enough to inspire the questions. And yes, it’s too soon to know anything more than one important thing.” She made sure he was looking at her before she continued, “Does she make you want to spend more time with her? Do you want to know more about her?”
He took a deep breath and met her concerned gaze. “Yeah, I want to know… everything.”
Brigid leaned in and brushed a kiss on his cheek. “Then give yourself a chance to try.”
When she left the room, he was still standing there when his phone rang and Iris told him that the Mackie children were there.
* * *
That night after dinner, Juliet dragged her dad to the couch and asked him to connect the television to the internet. He gave her a look that spoke volumes.
“Dad,” she groaned, “I finished my homework before you picked me up.”
Nodding, he reached for the remote and connected their television to the internet. “So… what’s the website and will I approve?”
She rolled her eyes so hard she fell against his shoulder. “YouTube.”
His hand froze on the remote. “Are you going to make me watch that boy band that sounds like a soda flavor?”
Juliet looked up at him with a sour expression. “What are you even talking about? Come on, please?”
“Okay, okay.” He shrugged and dialed up the website. “What are we going to watch?”
“It’s not what. Who.” Scrambling to sit up, Juliet grabbed the remote and grinned at him. “Just watch.”
He leaned forward, balancing his forearms on his knees. He knew his daughter well enough to know that she wouldn’t knowingly look up anything that he’d object to, especially with him sitting there.
He looked up at the screen and stared. The heading under the video was:
DEBUT PERFORMANCE: Laura Chun – Scheherazade
Juliet didn’t look up at him, her eyes were glued to the screen. “It’s Miss Laura’s first performance with the Adler Ballet here in Chicago. Miss Brigid at your office said she attended the show and thought that it was the most beautiful dance performance she’d ever seen. She thought we should watch.”
Leaning back on the couch, he lifted his hand and set it on her head. “Sounds like Brigid’s full of great ideas today.”
Juliet turned to look at him for a moment. “What?”
Matthew shook his head. “Never mind. Go ahead and start it.”
The music started as the curtains opened on an empty stage. A full wall backdrop of an opulent palace the only thing visible as the violins took the melody. When the first dancer stepped onto the stage Matthew heard Juliet gasp.
“It’s her! It’s really Miss Laura.”
She came to a stop about a third of the way onto the stage and she rose to the tips of her pointe shoes as if an unseen hand took hold of her and lifted her. When she lifted one foot off of the ground and extended it forward until it pointed long into the distance and then with a breath, she’d swept it behind her and reached out with an arm toward the audience. He just held his breath.
“It’s like she’s asking the audience to dance with her.” Juliet’s hushed tone was full of wonder and they watched as Laura moved across the stage with her face showing a full myriad of emotions to accompany the delicate movements of her body.
She danced, shy and sweet and then leaping for joy, reaching for the sky. And some of the moments were sentimental, as if she was remembering a love long gone… or a love that wasn’t meant to be.
And sometimes, when she stood still, almost as if she was breathing the music in and out of her body, it was her posture and the look on her face that kept the audience in thrall.
When the music ended and the video faded to black, Matthew felt Juliet lean on his shoulder as if she lacked the strength to sit on her own.
It took a moment for him to summon up the words to speak. “What did you think?”
“I wonder how long I’m going to have to train to be that amazing!” She leaned back on the couch cushion and looked up at him. “Have you ever seen anything so… beautiful?”
He brushed a strand of hair back from Juliet’s face. “Everyday, sweetheart.”
Even as she beamed at him, she groaned. “You say that all the time.”
“I mean it all the time.”
She looked up at him like a puppy dog, all sweetness and love. “I mean Miss Laura… I’ve never seen anyone on stage here in Chicago who could dance anything like her. I can’t believe she doesn’t dance anymore.”
Remembering something Aimee once told him. “She was injured during a show a few years after this was filmed. I don’t know the specifics.”
Juliet opened her mouth and he stopped her with a look. “You’re not going to ask her.”
“But I want to know.”
He saw the beginning of tears in her eyes. “I know, Juliet. You care about her, but sometimes, caring is not bringing up bad memories. What happened to Miss Laura might make her sad to talk about it. So, can we agree to let it be her story to tell…”
“When she’s ready to tell it.” She nodded. “Just like after Mom died. So many people wanted to ask about it. About how you and I felt. And after a while it felt like I didn’t have any words left inside me.”
Matthew lifted his hands and used his thumbs to wipe the tears from her cheek. “Just like that, sweetheart.”
She nodded and leaned her cheek into his palm. “Okay, dad. We’ll let it be her story, because I don’t want to hurt her any more than she’s already been hurt.”
He blinked back tears of his own. “That’s my girl.”
Juliet’s smile widened. “I’ll always be your girl, dad.”
Matthew couldn’t get a word past the lump in his throat.
She looked up at him and he saw the hopeful look in her eyes. “Can we watch more videos of Miss Laura?”
He laughed and nodded at the remote.
They spent a little over an hour watching Laura’s performances with the Adler Ballet and after Juliet fell asleep against his shoulder, he watched them all again.