(1937-10-14) The Dance
Details for The Dance
Summary: Audrey tries to cheer Ranjali up, and finds herself in Ranjali's shoes.
Date: 14 October, 1937
Location: Audrey's Apartment
Related: Comforting Ranjali; immediately follows A Vengeful Dame

Audrey's Apartment, London

This entire apartment is decked out in bold colors, heavy use of drapery, and hardwood floors. Nearly everything is done in art deco style, from the furniture to the very modern sculptures in nearly every corner. The walls are dressed in numerous framed posters for plays and singing engagements starring Audrey Taylor.

A vestibule just inside the front door is lined with racks and storage space for outside wear and poor weather accessories. Just beyond this foyer, a spiral staircase leads to the top floor of the apartment, where a balcony looks down over the parlour before leading to two upstairs bedrooms. Down in the parlour, several comfortable chairs, a sofa, and a chaise lounge are turned to face one another in a social circle. A vaulted fireplace dominates most of one wall, the mantle laden with several awards and photographs of Audrey Taylor. Slightly out of place, sitting beside a drooping candle, is a tattered, folded, and torn photograph of a freckled young man.

Beyond the parlour, sliding glass doors lead out onto a small balcony, thick with flowers, with a lovely view of Notting Hill.

Audrey left late in the morning, insisting to Ranjali that she had to take care of something, and pleading with her to stay in the apartment until she got back. She was only gone for a couple of hours, and at last the door opens, and Audrey reappears, dressed in a crisp, cream-colored jacket and skirt than ends just below the knee, showing off her black stockings with the seam up the back. Her hair is sculpted to the shape of her head, with a thick sunshine curl clinging to one cheek. "Ranji? I'm hoooome."

Ranjali didn't argue, feeling very much that she did not want to see much of anyone for some time. She's not even ventured downstairs yet, so that when Audrey arrives the first thing to be heard is the sound of the guest bedroom/closet door opening, followed by Ranjali's feet in the hall. She appears at the landing, her smile small though her eyes are lit with happiness at the sight of the blonde. She's also changed since Audrey left, and is now wearing something rather unusual, as compared to her everyday clothes. Her clothes consist of two pieces in various shades of blue; a small top with sleeves that end at her elbow and a lower hem that barely reaches to her ribs, and a full skirt at her hips that flows all the way down to her ankles, both of which feature heavy embroidery. Her hair is worn completely straight and loose, swinging over her shoulders as she leans over the railing. "Hello… welcome home."

Audrey carries her peacock-feather hat in her hands, already unbuttoning her jacket. As she steps out of the vestibule, she gets a better view of the top of the stairs, and her breath leaves her. "Ranji…oh, my, aren't you a vision. Just…stay right there a moment!" Audrey squeaks excitedly, and hurries to a closet in the foyer, soon emerging with a boxy contraption in her hands. "Just smile and keep looking beautiful." She lifts the box to her face, and after a moment, there is a POP and a flash!

"What?" Ranjali freezes, her smile gone in her sudden confusion. It returns, shyly, as she is asked to 'keep looking beautiful', along with a blush. At least until the flash goes off. With a small squeak of surprise, she pulls back, squeezing her eyes shut. "A-audrey… why do you need a picture of me?"

Audrey blinks, her smile fading. "I'm sorry…did I do something wrong? I just…wanted to capture this moment. You look so lovely up there and…" She nibbles at her lip, worried that she's stepped over some line she didn't see.

Ranjali blinks a few more times, her blush growing with each word Audrey speak. As she catches the tone in the other woman's voice she smiles again. "No please don't… I'm sorry." Turning, she hurries down the stairs to join Audrey on the first floor, her hands held out before her, "You simply surprised me, I'm not that used to sudden pictures."

Audrey sets the camera down on her coffee table and receives Ranjali's hands in her own. "It's alright then? I'd love to put it on my mantle." She looks back to the fireplace mantle, which hosts numerous pictures of Audrey herself — and a single, tattered photograph of a freckle-faced young man.

"Its alright, yes." Ranjali, still blushing deeply, follows Audrey's eyes to the photographs. "Y-you really… want me up there with all… " And then she sees the tattered photograph. Sucking in a soft breath, she takes a step closer, though tries to keep hold of Audrey's hands as she does so. "Is… that him?"

Audrey follows Ranjali to the mantle, keeping one hand linked, which tightens as they near the photograph. "Yes," she breathes. "That's Toby." She reaches a hand up to caress the frame protecting the weathered picture, then her fingers move to the drooping, melted candle beside it. "I light a candle for him every night…so he can always find his way back to me." Her voice cracks a little. A soft, sad smile colors her lips.

"Toby." Ranjali echoes, so soft her voice is practically a whisper. She stares intently at the man, taking in his every feature as she gently squeezes Audrey's hand. "That's lovely, Audrey." She murmurs after a long moment, "He looks… like a truly wonderful soul."

Audrey nods, sniffling a little. "He was…he is. He gave his life to give me one. I wouldn't be here if not for him." She tugs at Ranjali to feel her closer. But she turns to her with a slightly forced smile. "But…enough about that. Today is about you."

Ranjali steps closer even than the tug would have brought her, starting to reach a hand up toward Audrey's face as soon as she hears the sniffle. But she pulls back when the blonde looks at her, shaking her head a little. "It doesn't need to be, really. You've done so much for me already. And I've had quite a lovely day, here. Thank you."

"Nonsense," Audrey insists. "You've had a difficult time, and I'm here to make you feel better. So, I have wine. I have whiskey. I even have ice cream. You get comfortable. I'll pour the drinks and scoop the ice cream." She starts to go toward the kitchen, but lingers a moment, reluctant to let go of Ranjali's hands.

As soon as Ranjali hears the words 'wine' and 'whiskey' her smile fades. "A-are you certain that I should be drinking?" She looks worriedly at Audrey, and then at the floor. But she doesn't resist when Audrey starts moving, and rather than letting go just goes along with her, also reluctant to be separated.

Audrey balks, "Oh…oh how stupid of me. I'm sorry, Ranji. No. Just ice cream, then." She gives Ranjali an apologetic wince. She continues on, tugging her along and sitting Ranji at the bar separating her kitchen from the living room. "I hope vanilla is alright. I'm mad for vanilla."

Ranjali smiles again almost instantly, trying to look forgiving (though really, she just looks relieved). And by the time she's seated she's even chuckling, "Its fine. I so rarely have ice cream at all, its a rare treat. Thank you." She leans forward, resting her elbows on the table, and looks around the kitchen curiously. "I, ah, spent the afternoon looking through your costume collection. I do hope that's alright? You have such fascinating things… "

"Of course, it's fine. I told you, you're welcome to anything in there." She dishes up a heaping bowl of vanilla ice cream, sliding it over to Ranjali, then starting on her own. "Did you find anything you like? I don't think I have anything to compare with what you're wearing." Her eyes drift down to Ranjali's bared midriff.

Ranjali's blush, which had faded somewhat, returns in full force. "Ahh… I'd nearly forgotten about that." Noticing belatedly where Audrey is looking, she sits back to place a hand over her stomach. "Is it so indecent? I can go get the saree, if it would be better. Its, ah, a common thing to wear, where my mother is from. At least, indoors it is."

Audrey blushes a little, herself. "Oh, no, it's fine. It just adds to your mystique. Please don't cover up." She reaches to touch Ranjali's hand reassuringly. "You're lovely, and you should always dress like this. It suits you."

Ranjali ducks her head in embarrassment, but she slowly removes her hand, placing it back on the bar. "Thank you. I… admit I've always loved these clothes. The way they move, especially when you dance… " She chuckles, "When I was little, when I first went to India, I thought that this was how princesses should dress, in storybooks."

Audrey takes a spoonful of ice cream, eyes fluttering at the flavour. She really loves vanilla! Then her eyes snap open, lighting up. "You dance? Oh, Ranjali, won't you show me?"

Oh now she's done it. Ranjali swallows and bites her lip. Very, very slowly, she lifts her head to look up at Audrey. And then, even more slowly, she nods. "A-alright… m-maybe after the ice cream." Reaching now for her bowl with both hands, she follows suit and tastes a small spoonful. Her own reaction to the flavor is dampened somewhat by her rising nervousness, but she does give a little sigh of happiness at the taste.

Audrey gives Ranjali a beaming, pearly-white smile, brimming with excitement. "Please don't be nervous. I had no idea that you were a performer as well. It's something for us to have in common!"

Ranjali reaches up to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear, "Oh, its certainly nothing like what you can do. Obviously, I mean, I learned it in India. But I've… well, I've not performed really for anyone besides my mother's family. You get up there in front of all those people…" Before she can go on, she quickly takes another bite.

Audrey gives Ranjali a coy smile. "Want to know a secret?"

Ranjali blinks. Unable to reist grinning a little, she tilts her head, eyebrows high. "Most certainly, I must admit… do tell?"

Audrey leans on the bartop, looking across at Ranjali. "I…am…terrified every time I get up on stage. It's the most nerve-wracking thing. What if the audience doesn't like me? What if they boo?" She visibly shudders.

Ranjali gapes. Her eyes widen, her lips part, and she just sits there, looking completely shocked. "No." After a second, her eyes narrow, the possibility that this might be true starting to occur to her. "Truly? But you are so spectacular? You…. you OWN the stage, no matter where it is. How can you be afraid?'

Audrey loves hearing that, and it shows in her adoring smile. "Thank you, Ranji. But it's true of a lot of performers. I think it's a good thing, though. I feel like I have to please the audience every night. It's the ones that start to feel that the audience owes them something that lose their edge. They stop trying to get better, and it shows."

Ranjali watches Audrey as she listens, considering carefully the singer's words. She continues to eat her ice cream, taking a few more bites, then slowly starts to nod. "I see, there is a truth in that. It did surprise me, at first, to see how much you valued your fans. Before I knew you. But I see that it is just another part of what makes you so fabulous."

Audrey giggles, looking down at her ice cream. "You're making me blush, Ranji. I'm just a woman, like you. But yes, I do consider myself very lucky to be doing what I do, and to have fans."

Ranjali looks down at her bowl. "Forgive me. I get carried away." She reaches up to tuck another lock of hair behind her ear, looks up from her bowl, and offers a shy smile, "I will dance for you. But… there is only one thing. Indian music is quite… different. And my singing is far less accomplished."

Audrey pinches her lips. "Hm…I don't have any records of Indian music, and I don't think they play it on the wireless. Is there any other sort of music you can dance to?" She comes around the bar, abandoning her ice cream, and beckoning Ranjali toward the sitting area. She pushes aside a few chairs to make room for dancing.

Ranjali sneaks in one last bite before standing and going to the sitting area with Audrey. "I'm not sure, really. Something with drums? The dances are all quite… scripted, but I think I could try something different, if its simple enough." She bites her lip to think, running over possibilities in her head.

Audrey goes to a shelf where her record collection resides. "I know…this is a recording for a short-lived play I was in. There were several scenes that took place on a fictional island, but the composer tried for a Polynesian sound. Do you think that would work?" She is already removing the record and placing it into her phonograph, carefully setting the needle on a particular groove. Tribal drumbeats accompany a somewhat modern orchestral melody.

Ranjali closes her eyes for a moment to listen, and slowly nods. "Yes, yes this will work nicely." She takes a deep breath, then stands. Glancing around, she finds a spot relatively free of furniture. Moving into the middle, she drops down into a position that is similar to kneeling, in her nervousness forgetting to wait until Audrey has actually sat down again.

Audrey excitedly hurries to the sofa, kicks off her shoes, and curls her legs up under her. Her eyes are intensely focused on Ranjali. She may love the spotlight, but she also loves witnessing art in motion.

Ranjali is still for a moment, getting a good feel for the music. Once she is ready, she holds one hand out, extending her arm, then slowly rotates and pulls the hand back in to her chest. Her head turns, slowly, her eyes closed, and the hand rises, the tips of her fingers touching her temple, then lifting off to the side. A number of similar motions follow, her other hand joining in the dance. At first, her arms, hands, and head are all that moves, while the rest of her remains perfectly still, balanced on one knee.

Audrey's elated smile softens as she watches, transforming into open-mouthed awe. Her bosom lifts with a heavy breath, hand touching her neck. She has seen this sort of dance imitated on stage, but it was always a pale, westernized shadow of…this.

And then Ranjali's eyes open and her hips begin to move. Carefully, and with the tiniest of wobbling, she rises in time to her swaying hips and the music. Once she's on her feet, though, the dance truly begins to take off. She dances toward Audrey, spreading her arms before her, then spins, her hair flying around her like a veil. Her hands continue to move the most, moving through a series of poses with careful precision, accentuating the movements of the rest of her body. At one point, she drops to the ground in a single, fluid motion, and bends over far enough for her chest to touch the carpet.

And as the dance progresses, her confidence increases, and her expression changes. At first, she is carefully composed, her face a mask. But the lighthearted music is infectious, and by the time the song ends with her standing back where she had started, one hand drawn down over her face to rest lightly against her chest, she is smiling brightly, breathing heavily, and looking rather more excited than she has since Audrey has known her, really.

Audrey clasps her hands in front of her mouth, taking a few shivering breaths as actual tears well up in her eyes. "Oh, Ranji. That was…so…beautiful." She rises, stepping slowly over to Ranjali, speechless. She reaches for her hands once again, compelled to be near this incredible creature.

Eyes shining, Ranjali reaches out and grasps Audrey's hands. "Thank you." She murmurs fervently, breathless. "I'd forgotten how much I loved it. And that music! So wonderful. Its a far slower dance, usually, but I think I may prefer it like that. Did you really like it?"

Audrey is still breathing heavily, overwhelmed. "Ranji, it was pure magic." The look in her eyes is not unlike the one Ranjali has when she first laid eyes on Audrey…starstruck. She squeezes the healer's hands, standing close, and completely enchanted.

"Thank you." Ranjali may have been flushed before, from the exertion. But the color on her cheeks darkens as Audrey continues to look at her like that, and soon enough she has to duck her head again. "You… you should come to India with me, sometime, to visit my family. My aunt, who taught me, is a true master. I think you would like very much to see her dance. And she also sings, far better than I."

Audrey's mind goes back to a conversation from earlier in the day. "Wolfgang wants us to take a vacation. You and I. He even has a place in India he can send us. He's…very generous. I think it could be good for you…to get away for a while." She lifts her brow questioningly.

Ranjali stares at Audrey, stunned. "You… wish… to take a vacation with me?" Blinking, she tries to process this. "I… ah… " Then she frowns, her head tilting, "Who is Wolfgang?"

Audrey smiles softly. "Wolfgang Montague. He owns the Natrix Club. He's a friend of mine. I…went to see him today, while I was out. He's very concerned, and he wants to help. He's just that kind of man." She squeezes Ranjali's hands again. "What do you say? A week or two away from it all?"

"O-oh." Ranjali flushes, remembering now that she had, in fact, met the man. Well, at least he wasn't there to notice her forgetfulness. Slowly, she starts to smile again, and to nod, "Yes. Yes, I would like that more than anything, I think." Because, in the end, its a week or two of being more or less alone with Audrey…

Audrey shrugs, smiling. "Then maybe you can dance for me to real Indian music. I would…really…really, very much like that." Her mind flits to her own engagements — her play, another nightclub — but the hell with it. She has an understudy, and she'll just reschedule the club gig.

Still blushing, Ranjali nods. "I will. Maybe I can even teach you a little of it. You could certainly do the dances… oh!" Suddenly, she bites her lip, looking worried. "Ah, when would we be leaving? I think I, ah," She grimaces, and looks down, "I need to see Miss Cooper first. And I should tell my parents… "

Audrey smiles, overjoyed. "We can leave any time. The sooner the better. But…why do you need to see Genevieve?" A memory of their last conversation concerned Miss Cooper comes to mind, and Audrey's grasp on Ranjali's lands unconsciously loosens.

All of a sudden, Ranjali looks miserable. "I think… I may have agreed to have dinner with her." Her shoulders droop and her gaze shifts to the floor as she continues, "I'm really not sure what came over me. I was quite determined to keep my distance from her, except as a friend. But I just… accepted her." Turning away, she pulls her hands free and wraps her arms around her bare midsection.

Audrey feels a developing connection between them suddenly snap out of her reach. "No…I understand. You…you enjoy her company. If she makes you happy, Ranji…"

Ranjali spins around again, shaking her head and looking almost afraid. "Oh, Audrey." She whispers, "I wish I knew how to make you understand." With a sigh, she moves over to the sofa and sits, her elbows on her knees and head in her hands. "Miss Cooper… she is so much like Thora. Had I not met you… I would probably… well I'd probably be feeling things for her that I've been feeling for you."

Audrey goes to sit by Ranjali, suddenly very aware of just how must distance is between them. "Ranjali…I have no claim to your heart. I…I love the way you look at me. But I didn't…I didn't appreciate it. Until…" Is it hot in here? "When you danced, I…I saw this whole other aspect of you. The goddess came out." She takes a deep, steady breath. "But if you see a future with Genevieve, I won't stand in your way." Her voice is tinged with sadness, and she certainly doesn't look happy. "I just thought-…it doesn't matter. You deserve to be happy."

Ranjali peeks up at Audrey, out of the corner of her eye. "What? What did you think? Because if you thought that since the moment I first say you I've wanted far more than to be your friend, no matter how many times I tell myself that its impossible, then you would have been correct."

Audrey's breath hitches, and her hands shift about, trying to find something to do in her nervousness. "Ranji…I wanted…to kiss you. I mean, before I was curious. But after you danced…" She shakes her head. "You are an amazing woman. I don't know if what I'm feeling is what you want. This is new to me."

Ranjali goes very still. Her eyes close and her lips part slightly, and it takes a few slow breaths before she can speak. "I know. I don't expect you to just… sweep me off my fet or anything. I'd kept myself from any real hope at all. But then… it seemed to bother you, when I looked at another woman. Or talked about one. And then I couldn't help it anymore."

Audrey sighs, looking down at her hands shamefully. "It's because I'm selfish. I am. I'm horribly selfish, and…I'm afraid you won't look at me like that anymore if you find someone else. And it's completely understandable that you wouldn't. I can't expect you to stay hung up on me forever. But…as I said, I'm a terrible, selfish person."

Ranjali slowly sits up, dropping one hand. With the other she reaches out, gently pressing the back to Audrey's cheek. "I don't mind that." She says, "And I think you greatly underestimate the hold you have over me. So long as you keep dancing the way you did at the Natrix, I doubt I'll ever be able to stop… ah, looking at you like that."

Audrey smiles weakly at Ranjali. "You say that…but I know how this goes. You will find someone and fall in love, and that person will become your world…and rightfully so. Even if you continue to enjoy my performances…maybe I'll titillate, but it won't be the same. You won't…adore me like this."

Ranjali watches Audrey, her eyes scanning the woman's face as she speaks, determination setting her jaw. When Audrey is quiet again, and before she can loose her confidence, she pushes herself forward and leans in close, pressing her lips to the other woman's. She pulls away only a few seconds later, saying quickly before Audrey can speak, "I shall have to go to bed soon, and I think we both need time to think. But let me just say this one thing before I go. I am going to have dinner with Miss Cooper, because I told her I would and I shan't go back on my word. But should you decide that you do want more from me, I will be here. And even if you do not, I would like more than anything to go to India with you. Thank you for the ice cream. And for everything else."

Audrey sits and stares, stunned. Her fingers go to her lips, as if in disbelief, and the corners of her mouth curl into a girlish smile. She swallows, and wets her lips, tasting the lingering essence of Ranjali there. She nods a quiet assent, and rises, offering a hand to Ranjali. "Yes…of course. Let me at least walk you to your room."

Ranjali's intense relief allows a smile to crack through her intended calm face. "Alright." She takes the offered hand and stands, walking carefully to the stairs. She'd hoped, by this point, to have dramatically swept off so she could hide her own reaction to the kiss as long as possible. But its getting harder with each step. Her blush has returned, her eyes are shining, and she has to keep closing her eyes to sigh softly, remembering the entire three seconds as though they were a lifetime.

Audrey gasps softly as they reach the stairs. "Just one moment…I'm sorry." She hurries to the mantle, and taking up a box of matches, she strikes one, and lights the drooping candle next to Toby's picture. She spends a moment whispering a silent prayer, her fingers resting on the frame. Leaving the candle burning, she hurries back to Ranjali to escort her upstairs.

Ranjali nods hurriedly, biting her lip in worry for a moment. But while Audrey lights her candle, she takes a moment to lean agains the railing, closing her eyes and giving a little shiver. By the time Audrey returns she is mostly recovered, able to walk steadily to the guest room and even to smile, if hesitantly, when they reach the door. "I'm sorry if I startled you. Or if I was too forward. I, ah, tend to feel a little bolder, whenever I dance."

Audrey gently touches Ranjali's arm. It's a gesture she's done a thousand times, but somehow this time it carries deeper meaning. "I like bold. I'm just very confused right now. I feel like we made a connection tonight…but I'm still afraid that I'm just toying with your heart, and then there's this matter with Genevieve, and…" She sighs, gathering her thoughts. "I'm used to uncertainty. That's pretty much every relationship I've ever had. I just got used to a certain degree of certainty with you…and now that's gone. So…I'm scared. I don't know my next move, and I'm not used to that."

Ranjali reaches up, laying a hand gently over the one on her arm. "Just… don't stop being my friend, whatever you decide? And be honest with me. I will try to do the same, as long as I understand enough to do so. And get some sleep. I myself shall sleep far better knowing I am not alone here tonight."

Audrey nods, inhaling deeply and letting it out slowly. "Sleep well, Ranji. You never have to be alone again. You are welcome here as long as you like." She rubs Ranjali's arm affectionately, and gives her a little finger-wave as she turns to head to her own bedroom.

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