tiny theater was dim inside, and smelt like peanut dust and scorched butter.
Benton knew better than to ask for popcorn-- you'll spoil your appetite,
his grandmother would say, and besides, it's a waste of money when we
could pop corn perfectly well at home.
"Come along, Benton, don't dawdle," she said, urging him forward with a hand on his back. "Give the man your ticket."
Benton gave his ticket to the usher, tucking the torn half that was returned to him safely in the pocket of his pants. He couldn't wait to see the movie, even if it was going to be a stupid dancing movie.
He hated dancing.
He loved the movies, though, and every time they went Benton would ask to sit up front, but his grandmother said he would ruin his eyes and made them sit towards the back, on the aisle so they could leave midway if need be, without causing a disturbance.
Benton wasn't sure what he'd expected, but it wasn't anything like this. *This* was Fred Astaire? He was so... ordinary looking. Tall, and thin, and starting to go bald. Wasn't he supposed to be handsome? His grandmother had seemed to think so, but Benton couldn't see why he was anything spe-- oh.
He sat in the dark wide-eyed and utterly still, his eyes locked on the tuxedo-clad figure on the screen. His grandmother had cried when Quinn had brought him home, and he'd felt so bad about it that he'd done everything she asked without complaining since then, but he'd finally rebelled at the dance classes. He hated them, they were hot and embarrassing and miserable, they were... nothing at all like *this.* The ballroom was filled with dancing couples, but they were only a background for the man who seemed able to count the steps and lead and keep from bumping into anyone, all at once, all so fast, as though it were just as easy to dance around the floor as to walk. Benton thought of the scuffed floor of the community center, of his fear that his hands would be damp when he had to dance with June, and stared at the screen, amazed. This man, he felt sure, never suffered from sweaty palms. He looked like he was even having fun, smiling and talking to his partner as he twirled her around. If Benton tried to do that, he'd probably cause a disaster. He had a brief mental image of himself and June on the floor, on top of the debris of Mrs. Luniak's record player, and shuddered.
The woman's dress was floaty, trimmed with feathers, and he could barely see her feet flashing beneath her skirt. She looked as though she wasn't paying attention to the dance at all, as though all she had to do was put herself in her partner's hands and fly. He was suddenly, fiercely resentful of the fact that the boy always leads. It didn't seem fair.
When they emerged into the waning light, his grandmother turned to him. "There, now," she said. "Don't you want to go to dance class so you can learn to dance like that?"
"Yes, ma'am," he replied. Later, he overheard her telling Mrs. Luniak, the dance teacher, that Benton wanted to be like Fred Astaire.
It wasn't Fred Astaire that Benton wanted to be, but he never mentioned that to anyone.
He jumped, hitting the mute on the remote control and looking up apologetically at Ray, who stood in the bedroom door, blinking sleepily.
"I'm sorry, Ray," he said. "I thought I had it low enough not to disturb you."
Ray made a dismissive gesture, wandering over to the couch to flop down next to him. "Nah, I woke up on my own. I just can't sleep good during the day." He yawned. "Damn, I hate the night shift." He looked at the television with a grin. "Old movies, huh?"
Benton felt a little self-conscious. "My grandmother took me to see this when I was young. She felt that I needed to learn ballroom dancing, and I was... reluctant."
Ray grinned. "So she figured Fred Astaire would be an inspiration?" Benton nodded. "Did it work?"
He cleared his throat. "Well, I certainly attended the class, though I'm afraid I never attained more than a certain technical proficiency."
"Yeah, I get that. Dancing, it's not just the moves. You gotta have inspiration." A bittersweet smile crossed his face. "Otherwise, it's all one-two-three-four, just feet, no soul."
"Yes, exactly," Benton said, "and you always have to be thinking about where to go, and how to lead, and *floorcraft.*" He infused the last word with twenty-five years' worth of loathing.
"But when you've got the inspiration, it's something special, though," Ray said. "Fred Astaire, now, he was practically made of inspiration, you could see it everywhere. My mum used to say he had a face like an old shoe, but when he moved he made you think he was the best-looking man you'd ever seen."
"He was an amazing man," Benton said, watching Astaire extend a hand to Ginger Rogers on the screen. He could feel Ray watching his face, but he didn't turn around.
"I wanted to be him, you know?" Ray said.
Benton stared at the television, where a ballroom full of figures spun silently. The old agreement rose to his lips, but he bit it back. He turned to Ray, taking strength from his drowsy, open face. "I didn't," Benton said, and felt the words pushing to be said. "I never wanted to be him, I wanted--" He broke off, looking back toward the screen as though he'd find reassurance there.
He felt Ray's fingers, slim and strong and dry, slip into his. It was almost, Benton thought, the hold they would use if they were dancing. He felt Ray lean against him, head close to his ear.
"What did you want?"
"I wanted to dance with him," Benton whispered to Ray. "I thought it would feel-- like I was flying."
Ray brushed a kiss over his ear. "I ain't no Fred Astaire, but--"
Benton said. "You're better." And Ray's mouth soft on his
felt like flying.