So far the semester ball had been something of a disappointment. Balls, Janae thought, were much more entertaining to prepare for than to actually attend. She had been excited to wear the new gown that her aunt had sent her, but now that she was here she realized that though it wasn’t exactly out of style, it was something an older woman would have worn. The large roses and all the pleats and ruffles had seemed luxuriously elegant when Janae had first pulled the gown from the box, but now that it was on her she couldn’t help thinking that she looked rather like a self-important set of drapery that had been tied about the middle with a bow.
Janae looked around for Tessa and spotted her along the other wall, chatting with a group of friends. The dim gaslights in the assembly hall, the tall windows, the decorations, made it almost seem like a romantic place. If only Janae didn’t feel so out of place here. This wasn’t the kind of thing she liked at all. Balls were only entertaining, she thought, if someone was paying attention to you.
“Miss Flandry?” Janae heard Madame Zabriski calling her. She turned around to see Madame coming toward her, a big smile on her face, and a young man in tow. Janae’s eyebrows twitched up when she recognized the boy from last week’s fencing club adventure.
“Janae Flandry, this is William Clifton. He asked me to introduce you. I understand you encountered him at the fencing club last week, but that he never got your name.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Janae said, a little stiffly, as William shook her hand.
“I don’t know if you’re free at the moment, but would you care to dance?” William asked.
Janae stood up, watching William warily. Was he up to something again? “Certainly.”
The band was playing a moderate waltz. Janae thanked her feet for not stumbling for the first full turn around the floor. William spoke first. “I just wanted to let you know there are no hard feelings on account of you utterly humiliating me last week.”
“I should hope not,” Janae said, “Since it seemed rather obvious you were trying to humiliate me!”
“Humiliate you?” William seemed honestly shocked. “How so?”
“Taunting me like that, letting me get ahead, and then mowing me down to the last point.”
“I wasn’t trying to humiliate you,” William said. “I merely wanted it to be more of a challenge…”
Janae made a strangled sound in her throat. “So you’re saying that otherwise I wouldn’t have been a challenge?”
“Not exactly what I meant,” William said.
Janae stumbled a little, and William stopped for her to regain her balance.
“Sorry,” She said, “I’m not as practiced at my dancing as I am at my fencing.”
“You’re not? What a shock.” He nearly laughed. “Madame Z said you’ve put in more practice hours than many of her team members.”
“I love it,” Janae said. “It’s a fantastic game.”
William led Janae through the same figure that had tripped her before, and she stumbled again. “Trying to trick me up, are you?” she asked.
William let go suddenly, and Janae stopped herself two steps away from him.
“That’s your trouble!” he said, like it was a revelation. “All round this floor, I knew something was wrong. You think we’re having a battle. That dancing is some kind of contest. Fencing is a debate. Dancing is a conversation. Now, come, try again, and this time, listen!”
Janae stepped forward, felt him take her hand, felt the other hand securely on her back. Determined to show him she could do this, she tuned all her senses to his movement. The music played, he stepped forward, and she glided back, her eyes on the chandelier, her heart beating faster. He was right, she had been thinking this was a contest. William led her through the figure again, and this time she kept her balance, twirled out and back, and then continued the dance in perfect time.
Read the previous scene: Fencing Club