Yuletide at the Heywood's has always been a small affair; homey even.
But there were nine people around our table for Christmas dinner that year.
Santa had come and gone, stockings were stuffed, their contents now lay spilt on the floor by the tree, and the presents had all been opened. The rituals thus satisfied, we ate our dinner.
It was not, as feasts go, a hugely indulgent meal. Mother liked for us to limit our binge eating to Thanksgiving. There was a ham, sweet potatoes, a few vegetables and a single cherry pie.
I had three guests, or to be more correct, I was one of four.
I hadn't completely moved in with Topher—with me leaving in ten days, that made little sense, but I kept a toothbrush and half of my wardrobe over there.
But the folks had invited us all, and Tammy.
She was looking glum, as she always did around the Holidays. Her mother had to work, and she didn't want to be alone around Leroy.
The last guest was Sanjin; in a daring move I'd have never contemplated, Gina had invited him to share our family time. I wondered how much she'd shared with Mother.
She was far less fragile now that her pregnancy scare had passed, and they were using protection every time; at least they told me they were.
He was only over for a couple of hours—his family had their own holiday traditions—and Gina was going to meet them after we were done here. She was growing up so fast.
It wasn't exactly obvious they were a couple. Gina was still clinging to the pretense that they were only dance partners.
"So Sanjin," Daddy asked, whether out of curiosity of a sense of protectiveness, I don't know, "what are you going to do when you graduate high-school?"
"Dance ze ballet."
"Professionally," Mary Jane asked, looking up from her plate. She seemed fascinated by our family.
"Of course. Vhat else?"
"The competition is pretty stiff," Mother observed. She looked at him and they locked eyes for a moment. "Are you sure you're good enough?"
"Yes. Qvite sure. I live for ze dance."
He was like a miniature Mikhail Baryshnikov.
"You're from Russia," Robbie asked him. He was suspicious of all Communists and any boy who wore tights and danced on his toes.
"Bosnia," Sanjin offered. "Is best country in Europe. But not as gute as America, no?"
He raised his glass.
"To my new country. May He see all of my dreams come to pass."
He gave Gina a lingering look; it wasn't lost on either of my parents.
"So Sanjin," Mother joggled his elbow, so to speak. She was just a bit nervous and didn't seem to know how to take him. "How long have you and Gina been dancing together?"
"Since ze beginning." That was pretty vague. He was either clueless and heading into a trap or playing a game of his own.
"You and Gina dance well together?"
"Hyes," he said plainly. "Hwe are perfect togezer."
"Perfect," Daddy asked. He snorted—then looked embarrassed. "Nothing is perfect, son."
"Hyou've never seen us dance."
"No," Mother admitted. "We have not. I should be interested to know the details of your dance."
Did she know they were having sex, or did she just suspect?
"Ve can show hyou."
"What," Mother looked shocked when he upped the ante. What was she talking about? "In here?"
"Zere is plenty room. Gina, do hyou have music? I gave to hyou on cass-ette tape."
Gina nodded, smiling like she'd birthed the world. Mother gave her the Look, and for the first time in my life, I saw it falter.
"Mother," Gina asked plaintively. "May we?"
"Yes, dear." Mother coughed uncertainly and cleared her throat. "You may."
Gina fairly bolted from the room and came back within seconds with a cassette tape. I offered to play it in my Grip, but she said she preferred the stereo in the living room.
We all moved into there and Mother served coffee while Gina and Sanjin cleared themselves a space and paced it out. Gina was a bit jumpy, but Sanjin had nerves of solid brass.
They took off their shoes and stretched while we all looked on, piled up on the couch and even standing behind it. I noticed Sanjin was wearing mismatched socks.
They turned the lights low, crouched in the dim circle in the middle of the floor, and waited for the music to start. When it did, they burst into a flowing repertoire of well-choreographed story, told only in body language.
I'd seen them dance before, but not like this; they were making love, totally dressed and in front of a roomful of family—they were simply incredible.
Baryshnikov looked like a walrus in comparison.
They spun and twirled together, keeping perfectly in step. Never stopping to look at their feet, never closing their eyes or breaking the intense gaze they shared. It burned like fire in their eyes.
At one point, he picked her up and held her above his head for a fleeting second; his arms trembling, hers outstretched, as if she were flying.
Then they collapsed into a pile, and I thought he'd dropped her.
But they rolled away from each other with exacting grace and came up in counterpoint. They moved like cats, dancing around a point that shuffled across the floor but never beyond the bounds they'd set.
They thrashed about feverishly, like they must dance the tarantella throughout the night and on to dawn, touching each other lightly sometimes, clasped together desperately at others.
It was as if they lived for each other's touch and the dance forbade them any consolation. They drifted past each other, darting in and back out, in fits and starts, but always perfectly balanced, perfectly aware of the other's presence.
And still they danced on. The piece was long, at least ten minutes, but they never slowed, or even seemed to tire.
At one point, they threw themselves bodily at each other, only to turn aside at the last moment, and pirouetted in opposite directions in a move that I was sure should have wounded Newton's pride.
They ended in the middle of the floor, freezing at the exact moment the last note died away. Sanjin was holding her gently, one hand on her abdomen, the other in the small of her back. Gina was on one foot, her other leg held straight behind her, arms thrown back like swan wings, the backs of her hands touching.
We were all gob-smacked.
Topher was the first to find hits voice.
"Bravo," he thundered, standing up and clapping with great gusto. Mary Jane was next and within two seconds, the entire house was on its feet, delivering a standing ovation. Mother had tears in her eyes; so did we all.
Gina and Sanjin bowed.
After they'd left, I cleared the table and started on the dishes. Mary Jane volunteered to help.
Mother cornered me in the kitchen and tried to nail me down.
"Dani, what do you know about this Sanjin?"
"He's a helluva dancer, Mother."
"Yes," she admitted, "but there's more to it than that, do you think?"
"I think it's not my business Mother."
"Fair enough, but it is mine. Should I be worried?"
"No," I assured her. "They are great together, and both have good heads on their shoulders. I shouldn't if I were you."
"Are you sure?"
"No, Mother, not at all. When can you ever really be sure? But I trust Gina to do the right thing."
"Yes," I told her, taking both of her hands in mine. "You raised her right."