It was in Georgia, on an evening in January, when Ellen parked her car in her uncle’s driveway. She had just left Archie’s dance studio. She took a deep breath, got out of her car, walked up the steps onto the front porch and knocked on the door. Her arms were tucked tightly.
“I feel guilty,” she thought. “I haven’t been here for a long time.”
Her aunt, Susan, opened the door.
“I’m in a desperate spot, Aunt Susan!”
“What kind of a spot?” her aunt asked, laying her hand on Ellen’s shoulder.
“My dance partner — he disappeared! I was desperately counting on him.”
“And you’re wondering if your ol’ uncle can still cut it, is that it? At least, you flatter him … he’s out back.”
They walked through the house and opened the rear door onto the back porch, stopping at the threshold. Jeff sat with his feet hanging over the banister, staring out into the night.
Susan shook his shoulder and said, “We have company!”
Jeff managed to get on his feet, wavering, trying to get his balance and in a slurred voice uttered a few confusing words.
“It’s me, Uncle Jeff!”
Suddenly, Ellen backed away slightly with both hands over her mouth. Standing with his arms outstretched, hovering over her, she backed away farther.
Wiping tears away, she shouted, “You’re a drunk! You’re lost! Damn you, Uncle Jeff!”
She looked quickly at her aunt and ran out of the house down to her car. Before she got in, she took one last look back.
Standing behind her Aunt Susan at the front door, looking over her shoulder, his shirt tail hanging out, his red hair dangling down in his face, Jeff shouted, “Don’t leave, little Ellie.”
The state championship dance competition was just another dream.
The next day, she walked into Archie’s dance studio, paused on the dance floor and looked around. Archie already had engaged another dance team to represent his studio. Ellen must have seen the writing on the wall.
“You can still teach here,” Archie said. “We have some new students coming in.”
Ellen had no choice, since she needed the job. But somehow, some way, her dream still lingered.
Five months later, working with her assigned student, Ellen occasionally looked over her shoulder, watching the new, debonair couple glide across the floor, smiling and swaying with graceful movements. Constantly, she watched Archie gloat as he worked with his two new protégés.
Ellen reported for work the next evening and began teaching her assigned student one of the routine movements in a waltz. She suddenly froze in her position. The student continued to follow through with an underarm pass.
“What’s the matter, Ellen? Why did you stop? Who are you looking at?”
“It’s nothing … he’s probably that guy I talked to last week about dancing lessons. Excuse me.”
Ellen kept staring across the floor, squinting and straining her eyes at the silhouette standing in the darkened doorway. His legs were slightly apart, with one hand in his pocket and the other twirling a short key chain. His top coat was draped over his shoulder. With a slight, confident sway from side to side, he stood there looking around the dance floor as if he was evaluating the studio.
Ellen couldn’t resist any longer. Breaking away from her student, she slowly and cautiously walked across the floor, squinting more and more.
It can’t be … it just can’t be, she thought as she stepped closer.
She shut out all other sounds of the dance floor, faintly uttering, “Uncle Jeff?”
“I’m no ghost, Ellie,” came a voice from the silhouette.
“Uncle Jeff!” she blurted out.
Jeff extended his arms gently. Their hands coupled.
“But this can’t be … it just can’t be.”
“Yes, it can,” Jeff answered proudly. “I’m no ghost.”
Ellen felt a slight tremble in his hands.
“I regret what I said on the back porch that night,” she said.
“I had it coming. You woke me up. It’s hard to believe, but here I am.”
Ellen nearly came to tears when she reached and threw her arms around his neck.
“You look so different , so debonair — like you did when I was a kid,” she said.
“These past weeks have been a life time for me, Ellen. I never thought I could make it back. But I kept thinking about you, what you said,” he said, nodding his head gently. “Is the offer still open?”
“Are you kidding me, Uncle Jeff?”
“I’m dead serious, little Ellie.”
“We’re scheduled to appear in the state championship this season; I’ve arranged it and we’ve got just three weeks to get ready … I still have some pull, you know.”
Ellen’s eyes lit up like she’d discovered her present under a Christmas tree. Reaching and throwing her arms around her uncle’s neck again, bobbling with excitement, she said, “I can’t believe this!”
“Oh, we’ll rehearse over at Harry’s studio,” Jeff said. “He’s an old friend of mine.”
“Excuse me for a moment, Uncle Jeff!”
Ellen returned to her student and said, “I’m leaving now and give Archie a message. Tell him I’ve had it; he can mail me my pay.”
The three weeks whisked by. Ellen rehearsed diligently with her uncle. Jeff had taught her the art of dancing all her life; they didn’t really need much rehearsing.
And then that moment finally was before Ellen. Realizing her dream, she shifted from one foot to the other in a glow of what seemed unreal. She was standing among an elegant bouquet of other contestants, watching their nervous smiles and listening to their soft, controlled chatter as they waited for their cue.
Ellen gripped Jeff’s arm tightly, tugging until he bent over.
“I’m scared,” she uttered.
“Don’t be. Imagine it’s just another rehearsal,” Jeff said, extending his neck slightly and adjusting his bow tie. “We’re up next, so settle down.”
Ellen scanned the glitter of what seemed like a royal audience. She took a last look behind her at the other contestants. She couldn’t locate that debonair couple from Archie’s studio. Suddenly, the spot light illuminated them.
“That’s our cue,” Jeff commanded. “Let’s go.”
Stepping forward smartly, her blond hair bouncing rhythmically at every step, her yellow costume flaring outward, Ellen held tightly to her uncle’s arm as they approached the center of the grand ballroom.
Among bursts of applauding came the announcement, “Miss Ellen Young and her uncle, Jeffery Ashley.”
Bond lives in Richmond Hill.