(1939-02-21) The Beauty of Slow Numbers
Details for The Beauty of Slow Numbers
Summary: Tessa restores Fabia's puppy to her; and finds herself swiftly embroiled in another 'dance lesson'. Frid makes the drinks.
Date: February 21st, 1939
Location: Upstairs at the Three Broomsticks
Related: Shall We Dance?
Characters
FabiaFridTessa

Fabia's Rooms


When the hour draws nigh for Tessa's dog-sitting duties to end (how Fabia does take advantage), and for the pug puppy Honey to be restored to her mistress's (valet's) care, the scene into which Frid admits her is perfectly normal for an evening in Fabia's sitting-room. (Except insofar as there aren't any attractive and inebriated blondes sprawled upon the sofa. Not even one.) Benny Goodman is on the gramophone, as he so often is; Fabia is sitting on the floor, as she so often does, surrounded by most of the rest of her record collection, in untidy piles; and Frid is… well, Frid is shutting the door without a sound and returning to a complicated procedure he's undertaking at the drinks trolley.

"Tessa, sweetie!" Fabia trills. "Oh, Honey, my love…" And she opens her arms to the puppy who comes barreling across the floor to meet her. "I thought you might fancy another dancing lesson? Or are you frightfully busy?"

The antics of the dog never fail to elicit an eye-roll from Tessa, though she does it facing away from Fabia, so her employer can't see it. As if it would make a difference if she did see it. "She was very good, Mrs. Fairfax," she merely says, "didn't give us a lick of trouble." She gave several other kinds of licks, of course, but that's to be expected from a puppy and we can't fault her for it. The last suggestion seems welcomed, as well, for Tessa smiles, "Of course. The girls can take care of things downstairs. They're all hoping I can be ready in time for my jaunt to Paris."

Preparing the cocktail Fabia has decided she'd like tonight — preparing it, that is, in quantities sufficient to keep her going for a hour or two — requires that Frid squeeze an unreasonable number of lemons. He is thus too busy to write a proper pose.

"Oh, you've decided definitely to go?" Fabia exclaims delightedly, scooping Honey out of her lap and holding that small (but getting bigger) bundle of fur and paws and ears snugly against her bosom, despite the squirming. "Really definitely? Oh, how marvelous, sweetie. Frid, do make Tessa — something with vodka? Or will you have a sidecar with me, sweetie?" She tucks her feet beneath herself and surges smoothly up onto them, still cuddling Honey, raising her voice slightly to be audible over the barking and the Benny. "I'm so glad she was good for you… It was awfully kind of you to keep her a little longer. Frid and I had just such a lot to do up here this afternoon, getting things out of drawers and so on, and it would have been a pest to have her climbing all over things." Big green eyes twinkle at Tessa, who must surely be aware (after all the time she's spent with Honey) of what an inconvenience she can be when one is trying to get anything done.

"Yes," Tessa replies, a little bit less effusive than Fabia but no less excited for that; she's just not quite as unrestrained a person. "I've thought about it, and you and Frid are right. I won't have the chance again any time soon, so I may as well take it now. You can certainly manage without me for a week or so. And I will have a sidecar, but just a small one," she says with a glance toward Frid and a grateful nod, "You don't need to fix me anything different." A laugh escapes her at the bit about Honey, "Of course, Mrs. Fairfax. We know how Honey can be." How well they know. She begins to say something else, but just then, the record begins playing, 'Dream a Little Dream of Me' comes on. "Oh, I adore this song!" Tessa says, humming a few bars under her breath.

"Very good, Miss Tessa." Somehow Tessa has been upgraded lately from a plain 'Tessa'. Frid nods to her, and automatically adjusts the quantities of lemon juice, Courvoisier, and Cointreau he is measuring into the cocktail shaker. Half what he's making for Fabia, that'll do for a small one. Or maybe a third.

The small yet stentorian barks issuing from Fabia's embrace have begun to take on a tone of frustration — Fabia leaves a smudge of lipstick in the pale fur atop Honey's head and leans down to free her. She commences straight away to sniff Frid's trouser legs, which have taken on a suspicious quality since last she mets him. "I'm rather partial to it too," Fabia confesses, coming nearer to Tessa. "I was going to turn it down a little but shall I just leave it, since we like it so much?"

"Oh, yes, please do! If we can dance to it," Tessa amends quickly, "I haven't quite managed how to figure out what songs are for dancing." So silly. Doesn't she know that -any- song is good for dancing? At least in 1939. "/Stars fading, but I linger on dear/," she sings, quietly, almost absently. She's got a rather nice voice; it's obviously untrained, but it's a clear, sweet mezzo, and what's more, she clearly enjoys using it. However, she happens to glance back toward Frid, and notices the dog sniffing around him. This breaks into her reverie, and she lets out a frustrated sigh. "Honey, come," she directs, snapping her fingers a few times to get the puppy's attention. Surprisingly, it actually works; Honey leaves off, and if she doesn't quite come, she at least begins to make her meandering way in a different direction.

Frid sends Tessa a grateful look as he sugars the rim of a second glass, and pours the sidecars without any further ankle-level interference. One is indeed twice the size of the other. He sets them on the coffee table — one moment he's by the drinks trolley, the next by the coffee table, without seeming to have been in motion from one to the other — and clears his throat discreetly. "Will there be anything else, madam?"

"Oh, we can dance to anything, sweetie," Fabia assures her, reaching out her silky-soft, diamond-bedecked hands to take Tessa's younger but shorter-nailed and, alas, barmaiding is a tough profession, somewhat more work-hardened paws. "That's rather the fun of being good at it — no matter what the band plays, one can enjoy oneself…" Her gaze flicks up to Frid as he gives that tiny 'ahem'. "Oh, I'm sure there'll be lots of anythings else," she promises him, beaming guilelessly, as though she hadn't already come up with a brilliant plot or three to keep him from enjoying any time to himself this evening.

And then she slips her arm around Tessa's waist and steers her slowly, dreamily toward — the coffee-table, so they can get to grips with those lovely yellowy drinks. "You have rather a pretty voice," she adds, "have you had lessons?"

When she gets close enough, Tessa grabs her drink, managing not to fumble it, though just barely. "Thank you, Frid," she says, giving the man a smile before she's whisked away again, as she presumably will be once Fabia's got a drink in her hand, as well. "A few," she says offhandedly, now comfortable enough with the steps to be able to chat and dance at the same time. Of course, it helps that the tempo's a slow one. "I took it up just when I left Hogwarts, but I stopped, you know, to look after Billy." Her smile turns a bit wistful, "I would have liked to continue. Maybe once he graduates."

Frid unbends just far enough to raise an eyebrow half an inch at his employer's… threat. Then, he thinks better of it, and lowers it again, his gaze swerving away towards the nearest wall. He will simply stand there until he is required. For the next round, one presumes.

The beauty of slow numbers — one can have a pretty girl in one hand and a cocktail in the other. Besides, isn't it time for Tessa to face her next terpsichorean challenge? Namely, sipping daintily from one's glass whilst keeping one's feet moving. It's only half a drink, suitable for a beginner. Fabia's glass is full almost to the brim, but then, she's a pro, isn't she. "Oh, but he's only just started at school," she exclaims, guiding Tessa with that hand on her waist even as she drinks a deep heavenly lemony gulp of her drink. "You really oughtn't to waste so much time, if it's something you enjoy. Singers aren't like dancers, on the shelf at thirty-five, but even so… There's never any time like the present. There really isn't. If you keep putting something off till it's a better time, you may never do it at all, and what a shame, really, sweetie."

Tessa watches Fabia sip from her drink while moving effortlessly, and of course, as is always the case of a true artist, she makes it look simple. So simple, in fact, that Tessa has to try it. She manages a small sip, really just a drop, before the glass jostles a little from her movements around the floor. She doesn't spill it, thankfully, but it's a near thing, and she lowers the glass again, giving the offending beverage an aggravated glance. "Well," she says, looking back to Fabia to give herself a bit more practice with an easier distraction before she tries for another drink, "perhaps you're right." She leaves it at that; voice lessons, after all, are quite expensive.

There is nothing for Frid to do. He contemplates sleep.

Because he is a traitor. Fabia, however, is wide awake and rendered rather chirpy by the compounded pleasures of a delicious drink, a favourite Benny record, and a tremendously pretty girl with whom to share the aforementioned. It's not as though she's worried about the cost of voice lessons — she is proverbial for never worrying about the cost of anything much, leading as she does, as Frid exists to make certain, a charmed life. "Do sing a little more," she urges Tessa; and never mind that the girl already has her hands full, literally. "You really do sound so pretty." How beguiling her smile—! Who could say no to it?

And of course, Tessa would never mention the real reason for her reticence; her employer is quite generous, and it would make it seem as though she were hinting at getting her to pay for them. So, she merely smiles, and then attempts another sip of her drink, this time managing it a bit more deftly, as they aren't turning at the exact instant she puts the glass to her lips. "Well," she says once she's swallowed, "All right." The song's in the last bridge, so there's not much left, and though she hasn't yet had much to drink, something in the atmosphere of the room lowers her inhibitions a little. "Stars fading, but I linger on dear," she sings, "Still craving your kiss…" And for someone who's never really been in the position of the singer in the song, she manages to get a good amount of feeling into the words, "I'm longing to linger 'til dawn, dear…just saying this…"

Fabia, dancing, is so attuned to the music that if she glances round at Frid, or raises her glass to drink from it, even those things seem to happen in perfect time with the notes — and now, as Tessa sings, her head is swaying gently with Benny's orchestra and the barmaid's voice, her smile is small but terribly fond, and her big green eyes are gazing deeply into Tessa's… Entranced, is the word. After Tessa falls silent she's quiet a moment longer, till she's certain there's nothing more to come, nothing for her to interrupt. And then: "Lovely, sweetie," she sighs. "Very, very lovely." And the rim of her cocktail glass touches her lips, and the tip of her tongue licks away a little more sugar before she drinks.

While she's singing, Tessa isn't self-conscious, and she meets Fabia's gaze levelly. Once it's over, though, a hint of color rises in her cheeks (nothing that would be enough to power a country, certainly, but perhaps a few houses). Her eyes drop for a moment, and she takes a step back; or attempts to, anyway, depending on whether Fabia relinquishes her or not. It's difficult to gauge whether the instant of discomfort is from the rapt attention her employer's shown her, or the praise she's given. "Thank you," she says quietly, lifting her own glass to her lips and taking a rather long sip. In fact, it might better be called a gulp. It seems to steady her, and she then looks back to meet Fabia's eyes again, "I enjoy it, anyway."

And Fabia does let go of Tessa — but half a breath after she tries to step away, giving the impression that it's a conscious response to her retreat. She's still gazing at Tessa, a little more anxiously, aware that something's the matter but not able to put her small French-manicured finger upon what. "Things one is so good at always are rather enjoyable, aren't they, sweetie?" she inquires sympathetically. And the song winds down; and she drains her glass and puts it into Frid's hand as she passes him en route to the gramophone. "What shall we have next?"

Tessa certainly isn't forthcoming with what might be on her mind, if, indeed, anything is. She merely finishes her own drink and places her own glass on the table near Frid, though shakes her head at the man's inquiries about whether she'd like another, giving a vague wave to punctuate her polite refusal. "Something quick, I think," she replies, and her tone is certainly what it usually is, with no hint of anything that's amiss, "I have a harder time with those."

Whether Fabia would care for another, is not in question. Frid is already making it, and to make one for Tessa as well would hardly be out of his way. Still, if she's the sensible type, there's nothing for him to do but quietly approve whilst he measures the necessary components and pours them over ice. Ah, good old Frid. Not useless at all.

Happily, Fabia has the ideal record in mind — she set it aside carefully atop one of the stacks whilst she was combing through her collection in search of, well, it's slipped her mind now, but she was definitely looking for something. "Quick," she agrees, nodding to Tessa over her shoulder; and changes the Benny for the Duke most expeditiously. The jaunty syncopated rhythm which rings out sets her feet in motion even before she turns back to Tessa. "Come here, sweetie," she giggles, holding out her hands whilst obviating the need for her young companion to move anywhere at all — Fabia is simply there beside her, taking her into her arms and whirling her gaily about the sitting-room. … Those parts of it which aren't ankle-deep in records, anyway.

Dancing to Duke Ellington is not for the faint hearted (or the less-than-sure footed), and so Tessa doesn't have time to think on anything else but placing her steps, although dancing with Fabia does make that quite a bit easier than dancing with anyone else. Her cheeks are still flushed, but at this point it's probably due to the pleasant exertion, as there's a wide smile on her face. Whether due to the alcohol, the atmosphere, the company, or a bit of all three, she's soon laughing with Fabia as they move easily across the floor, somehow managing to avoid any obstacles, which would certainly impress Tessa if she were to notice it.

Fabia's eyes are alight, she's smiling irresistibly; she can't resist interpolating bits that amuse her, such as spinning Tessa out and pulling her back in again, or raising their arms in the air and doing a quick double (or triple) twirl herself. She tries to give her partner a little warning beforehand — though, as it happens, there's no warning before she spins Tessa around and into a different configuration, both of them facing the same way, with Fabia holding Tessa's waist from behind and chirping into her ear: "Try going forwards, sweetie!" The guiding pressure is still the same; all Tessa has to do is move her feet in something like the right rhythm, whilst Fabia sees to their direction. And giggles. She's rather enjoying this.

The more interesting steps that Fabia intersperses with the easier ones might have confused her partner, but Tessa's gotten the hang of it now, more or less, at least enough to know that her chief duty as the follower is to…follow. However, once she's turned around with her back to Fabia's front, she's a little more hesitant. Forwards? Well, she knows how to walk, right? So this shouldn't prove -too- difficult…maybe. And in fact, Tessa manages it, due in no small part to Fabia's assistance. She steps in time to the music, possessed as she is of a good enough ear to hear the beat. "I did it!" She exclaims, perhaps a bit more proud than is precisely warranted, but to be fair, she's a bit buzzed.

"Oh, you did! Well done!" declares the small, proud, enthusiastic creature who's more or less cuddled up against her back. And Fabia gives Tessa a congratulatory hug before twirling her round again and into their original face-to-face arrangement for the end of the song. Another hug ensues, even more spontaneously, in the second or two of silence before the strains of the next (rather slower) number begin to drift from the gramophone. By then of course Fabia is making a beeline for the second sidecar Frid has ready and waiting for her. She raises it to Tessa and beams at her. "You really aren't the least bit bad at this," she promises her, "and you'll be marvelously good soon."

Tessa finds herself returning the hug almost before she's realized it's actually happening; she doesn't mind, though, and it's quite enthusiastic, once it's registered on a conscious level. "Thank you, Mrs. Fairfax," she replies, moving toward a sofa and settling down on it. Well, perhaps 'settling' isn't the right word. It's more like she flops down, and she's a little breathless as she does so. "It's so good of you to teach me," she continues, "I'll feel so much more comfortable now."

"Oh, sweetie, I'm hardly doing a thing," Fabia protests, "only letting you practice a bit, with someone who won't step on your toes… Practice is the great thing, you know, with anything physical, you can't expect to get the knack of it unless you put in a decent amount of time." And she, whose photographs taken in a variety of tutus adorn every wall of the sitting-room, knows, it is well-established, a thing or two about practice." She slips out of her shoes and curls up on the sofa, with her feet beneath her, near but not really too near to Tessa. She sips her drink gratefully. (Well, let's be truthful, she's been sipping her drink gratefully since perhaps half a second after her fingers curled round the stem.) She's thirty-odd years older than Tessa and at least one sheet closer to the wind, but is she breathless? No. Merely glowing. It suits her. "Anyway you're musical, and that's half the battle. I do a little of everything, myself," she admits, "I can play the piano a little, and sing a little, it's the same talent showing itself in different ways. If you have music in you, you can make it or move to it, either one."

It's certainly true that practice makes perfect, and as Fabia speaks, Tessa's gaze flits from photo to photo, her smile turning a little wistful for the second time that evening. After all, they are so elegant, and it's really a stretch to imagine that Tessa might actually equal any of those poses. She's the practical sort, though, and isn't of the temperament to indulge wishful thinking for long, so she turns back to Fabia, replying, "I think you're right. At least, my mother used to say much the same thing." Her smile twists, just for an instant, before it rights itself again.

Well, that's a first. Tessa mentioning… either of her parents, really. Fabia's lips part upon an eager question; but before she can utter it, Tessa's expression shifts, and somehow Fabia manages to convert her remark into something less nocuous. "Well, then, that must be whence you inherited your good sense," she declares. "Are you sure you wouldn't like another drink? Perhaps something weaker," she glances up at Frid, quite as though her wish were his command, "just to keep me company?"

The comment about 'good sense' brings a laugh that's really more of an extremely unladylike snort, though Tessa manages to cover it up enough with a cough that it might be able to pass uncommented on (though not unnoticed, as we've just established). She doesn't expand on that, though, and merely glances to the laconic Frid and the drink cart. "Perhaps just some water, please, Frid," she says, a note in her voice that's almost…ashamed? Maybe not. It's hard to say. She turns back to Fabia with a smile that's a little sheepish, "I'm afraid more than one, and you'll be obliged to carry me to bed."

With a punctilious nod, Frid fades away from the sitting-room to fetch a glass of water. What, you thought Fabia kept water on tap or something?

"Oh, is that all you're worried about?" Fabia giggles. Two glorious gulps of her sidecar. No, wait, make that three. It's so smooth, so mild; particularly from the point of view of a woman accustomed to copious gin martinis. "You're off the clock, sweetie, I declare it. And if you can't walk in a straight line by yourself, we'll make sure you're all right. Won't we, Frid?" He's still gone, in search of water; but Fabia assumes that, because she's here, he must be too. "If you want another one, you may as well have one. It's early yet."

Tessa waves the suggestion off once more, though with enough good nature that it hopefully won't offend. "Thank you, Mrs. Fairfax, but really, I oughtn't," she replies. "I'm sure I'll begin to say all sorts of nonsensical things, and you'll find it quite a bore." She settles against the sofa, crossing one leg over the other and tilting her head back, letting her eyes slide closed for just a moment. Surely she can't have been -that- affected by just the one drink, or the two songs they'd danced to; she's a young woman, after all. Maybe it's just nice to relax, if only for a moment.

"Oh, I like nonsense, sweetie," Fabia puts in helpfully. "It's all I ever talk myself, you know. It's the only thing I know anything about." And, with that terribly witty paraphrase from Oscar Wilde, she drinks another substantial mouthful of her sidecar and holds it for a long moment, savouring the taste, before swallowing and leaning her head upon her hand, against the back of the sofa. "You're such an interesting girl, Tessa," she sighs, "I wish I'd invited you up here more, sooner. But I've just — had so little time, you know." As Tessa surely does know, having shown so many visitors up to see her in the afternoon or the evening — and shown the same visitors out again the next morning, with variously sheepish expressions.

"Of course you haven't," Tessa says, opening her eyes again and smiling sweetly at Fabia, the combination of the aftereffects of pleasant exertion and a little bit of alcohol rendering her much more unstudied than usual. It's not that she's fake; she isn't. Her usual friendly demeanor, her vivacity when serving customers, and her willingness to take direction good-naturedly, is all genuine, and no one would ever have cause to doubt it. But she has constructed a wall, so well-camouflaged that it's only noticeable in its absence. "I'm glad to have come now, though."

Fabia is ever a mirror of her friends' moods. The more relaxed and contented Tessa is in her presence, the more she is herself, responding unconsciously to the shift in the girl's demeanour — though later on, she may think about it, and conjecture the existence of that wall. "Well, then, we're agreed, it's pleasant," she says complacently, reaching out to pat Tessa's hand with her own. "And we must do it again."

Just then Frid returns with the glass of water, which he sets down before Tessa with a small, very correct bow. Up here, she counts as a guest in Frid's scheme of things, not a fellow labourer beneath Mrs. Fairfax's yoke. "Another, madam?" he inquires of Fabia.

"Oh!" Fabia regards her glass. Somehow it's nearly empty. How inappropriate, at this stage of the evening. "Yes, please, Frid sweetie."

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