Lou watched the two figures whirl to the music in unison, negotiating the maze of other couples on the dance floor as if they weren't there. You could almost believe that as far as the taller of the two figures was concerned, they weren't. His eyes never seemed to leave his partner, and the warmth in his look, in his smile was evident to anyone who cared to notice.
His partner was dividing her attention between him, the music, and all the hubbub of a busy dance, but he seemed to guide her effortlessly, letting her look her fill but keeping her out of harm's way. Her eyes shone as she took it all in, glittering with unconcealed excitement and pleasure, and that seemed to be all the reward he needed.
Lou felt her eyes prickle with a film of tears that made the lights and the dancing figures blur.
For what seemed like forever, Lou had been the one he'd led out on the dance floor, the one receiving that attentive look. The one he held close as the couples spun and whirled. She could still feel the solid strength of his shoulder under her palm, the warmth of his hand holding hers.
But tonight, Lou had stood there as his glance moved past her to the girl in his arms now, as he'd extended his hand to her, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. She supposed to him tonight it had been.
Another figure stepped up beside her and she blinked back the tears as quickly as she could before turning to look at him. She could tell that he hadn't missed them, though, when those familiar dark eyes crinkled a little at the corners as he looked at her. But he didn't say anything as he turned back to look at the dancers.
After a moment he observed, almost idly, "She looks pretty tonight."
Lou just nodded, not trusting her voice.
"And she's not a bad dancer," he continued, then turned to grin at her. "Not as good as you, though. Shall we?"
She looked at his extended hand for a moment, and then took a deep breath and smiled her acceptance. "Don't see why they should have all the fun."
On the dance floor he took her hand and drew her into the rhythm of the waltz, spinning her around with the grace she'd become familiar with over the years, but that could still surprise her from time to time. Lou looked up into his handsome face, seeing the affection in his smile that mirrored her own. Every so often she still felt a moment of surprise when she looked at him and realized that that troublemaker of a boy had become such a good, strong man.
The song ended, and Lou found herself standing next to the couple she'd been watching.
The taller of the two looked over and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could the music started again and his partner held out her arms to him with a bright smile. "Again?"
Lou's partner stepped forward. "Em," he started, "Dad hasn't danced with Mama yet tonight. How about we let them have one dance together?"
Initial hesitation quickly gave way to impatience as the music picked up, and Hunter sent a wink at his parents over Emma's head as he spun his sister away. Lou felt her eyes fill again as she watched the two of them cross the floor.
Jimmy took her hand and pulled her into his arms, dropping his head down so he could ask softly, "What are the tears for?"
She tilted her head back to look at him, into the same dark eyes she'd been admiring in his son a minute ago. She blinked the tears away so she could see him more clearly. "They just grow up so fast. Looking at her... it didn't seem like she could be our little Em."
He nodded. "All I could think about when we were dancing was that yesterday she was a little girl sitting on my knee, tonight she's at her first dance, and tomorrow she'll be a grown woman."
"And Hunter... he's so grown up. And so much like you at that age. Sometimes it's like looking straight into the past."
Jimmy's chuckle rumbled in his chest. "Now that might be something worth crying about."
Lou gave him a playful slap on the arm. "I wouldn't say you did so badly in the long run."
He grinned back at her, unrepentant. "You'll just have to make sure to keep him in line like you did me." He paused a moment. "Maybe you could try not to shoot at him, though."
Lou looked up at him, indignant. "I never shot at you!"
He sent her a doubtful look.
Lou looked away a minute, then back. "Well, once hardly counts," she continued defensively. "And I wasn't shooting at you, I was shooting past you."
Laughing, he just pulled her closer, and Lou decided to quit while she was ahead and laid her head on his shoulder, smiling a little.
Over the years, that shoulder had carried burdens, absorbed tears, and supported small sleepy heads. And after all this time, it was just as strong, just as welcoming as it had been from the beginning, when he'd been no more than Hunter's age.
"I love you," she whispered.
"Hmm?" Not surprising he hadn't heard, she supposed, with the noise and music.
She lifted her head to look at him again, smiled. "It's all right. I'll show you later."
Inspired by Imelda May's "Falling in Love with You Again"
You're my lover, my best friend
Author's Note: Alert readers will notice some similarities between this one and Raye's "I Wish You'd Stayed" - thanks for the inspiration and the beta, Raye!