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Evening Dress

Functions. Awards dinners. Dances - I hate the damned things. But a couple of times a year, I have to put in an appearance and act like a reasonably sociable human being. It's one of the things about a hockey player's life that they don't tell you about at practice... although they should. I think these things are just about as hazardous as being on the ice.

So I've done my usual thing; I've come along just enough after the hour to slip in quietly. 'Fashionably late,' Connie calls it, and teases me. She always teases me about these things, but they're easy for her. She always looks wonderful and her dance card's always full. She actually enjoys this stuff.

I've been thinking about her all day long, letting my mind wander, wondering what she'll wear, how she'll do her hair... Things I don't usually let myself think about.

A touch on my arm - I turn, and involuntarily catch my breath at the sight of her. She's wearing a long, sleek, dark, strapless evening dress; it hugs her curves the way I wish I could, sweeps along her hips to trail at her feet just the way my heart does. She tilts her head, smiling bemusedly up at me, and I realize how I've been staring. "Hey," I say, just to say something. Anything. She laughs.

"Well, I guess the dress works," she says lightly.

"It's beautiful," I say. "I mean, on you." I've just never been good at this, especially when it's important. I wonder for the thousandth time why it's so much easier to talk to her about hockey.

Just then Luis Mendoza comes up behind her and leans right over her shoulder. "Connie," he says. "You look lovely tonight. That shade of green sets off your hair so beautifully." The unfairness of it slaps me right in the face. I could've said something smooth like that.

I think she even blushes a little. "Shall we dance?" he asks her, and she smiles at him. She's so beautiful when she smiles. I wish I could make her smile more often. "Why, certainly," she answers him, and says, "I'll be back, Guy," over her shoulder as she turns away.

"See you, Germaine." Luis says, taking her arm. Great.

I am striking a studiedly casual pose when a tall, leggy blonde steps up beside me. "Guy," she purrs, smiling.

"Becky." A cheerleader. We've exchanged pleasantries from time to time when our paths have crossed in the lunch room, but nothing more. She's obviously pleased that I've remembered her name. She twines one sinuous, gold-braceleted arm through mine. "Dance with me, Guy," she says.

"Okay," I say, and let her lead me onto the floor.

Apparently, by dancing with Becky I've given off some sort of signal that I'm safe, because after that dance is over I find I have no shortage of partners. Maybe this isn't so bad after all. Maybe all you have to do is lighten up a little.

I'm dancing with a little brunette named Anna when I look up and all at once see Connie from across the floor. Who is that guy she's dancing with? They're right under one of the lights, and she throws her head back, and laughs. Just the sight of her takes my breath away again. She is radiant. She's the loveliest thing I've ever seen. How have I let so much time go by, and not even danced with her once? I lean over to Anna and excuse myself and make my way across the room to Connie.

I tap the partner-of-the-moment on the shoulder. "Pardon me," I say, "but I have to cut in." He glances from me to Connie, but she's already let go of his arm and turned toward me, so he steps back and fades into the crowd.

I know I'm grinning, and I hope I don't look too foolish, but I can't help it. She puts her hand into mine, and I rest my other hand lightly on the small of her back, and we begin to dance.

"Guy," she says, "I thought you were never going to come and get me. You had your own little harem over there."

I shake my head. "One dance, Connie, and they all came out of the woodwork. I can't explain it."

She chuckles. "You'll end up with a reputation." I laugh.

The time passes so quickly - soon it's later than I'd thought. The band is winding things down. All of a sudden it's the last dance, and I know it'll be a slow song, a romantic song. I wait for Connie to step back, but she doesn't; one hand stays in mine, the other waits on my shoulder. The lights dim a little further. Before I even know what I'm doing, I've slipped my arm further around her waist. But she doesn't pull away - she eases closer, and settles her head softly against my chest. I let her hand go, and lay my own gently on her hair, and I can feel her sigh as she puts her arm around me and leans into me.

In the half-light I bend my head down and kiss her hair, and then I just stay there, with my face against her hair, stroking it softly with my hand, cradling her against me. We're swaying slowly in time with the music, but I'm not even sure you can call this dancing. ...I hope it's a long, long song. I kiss the top of her head again and her arm tightens around me.

I've waited for her all my life, I think, my face buried in her soft, sweet-smelling hair. tonight it's all right - it's enough. It's enough to hold her like this, enough just to see her like this.... Now I know that I would give up everything to see her in this light.

The music is over. I hold onto her for a moment longer than I really have to. She doesn't make a move away from me, but when I let her go she looks up at me with a kind of sad, quizzical expression. Her eyes are asking the question I know her lips will never form.

I just shake my head and smile down at her. "It's just that it's so nice," I say, explaining. "I can't believe how wonderful it is to be with you, to see you like this - in your evening dress, tonight." And I lean down and drop one soft kiss onto her forehead, and she smiles.

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