Category: Hines/Kym, angst & romance. My pretend boyfriend Tristan makes an appearance, but not as my boyfriend.
Summary: This season, wearing tassels is harder than it used to be.
Author's Note: Set yesterday, on the Tuesday after 80s Night. Inspired/demanded by paparazzi video of the after-party.
You pick up your phone the first time it buzzes. The P.A.s take them away for the show, of course, but you – and the rest of the cast – have gotten into the habit of sneaking yours into the dress rehearsal.
You hear his smile almost before he speaks, imagine how it lights up his face, how his eyes brighten. “Where’d you hide it this time?”
You laugh, quietly, slipping behind the curtains to hide in the relatively less populated area around the backdrop pulleys. “I could’ve hid it in my hair last night.”
You’re thinking about twelve different things – if the last 8-count in your Rumba fits the music as well as you thought when you were choreographing it, where Tristan is, where David is, if wardrobe will finish mending your white dress in time for you to try it on before the live show – and you miss what Hines says next. “Pardon?”
“Just saying good luck. Go get back to work.”
He never caught on to “break a leg.” In his chosen field, that’s literal more often than not.
“Watch,” you tell him. You haven’t had much time to talk this week, but he at least knows you’re dancing tonight and you’re excited. “You’ll love it.”
He laughs. “I’ll be there.”
Someone’s calling your name, and you barely notice saying goodbye, but his laugh sticks in your ears.
You love the design of your dress, love how it feels and moves and sways, but this time it feels awkward when you put it on, like it doesn’t fit. You can’t quite put your finger on it until Liane finishes testing the strength of the mended seam and you’re walking from the quick-change to hair and makeup touch-up.
“You look great,” Tristan compliments you as you pass backstage; he’s headed the opposite direction and you’ll meet up later. You’ve got at least ten minutes before the cue for your dance.
And you realize what feels wrong – every other time you’ve put this dress on, you felt a flurry of anticipation for the look in your partner’s eyes. You designed it last season based on how it would look in motion, how it would complement Hines’s formal white military jacket, but in the back of your mind, you wanted to see how he’d look at you. You wanted to show him that much skin through almost nothing but fringe, and just see. You skipped the nude fabric across the back that wardrobe recommended so you could feel his hands on your skin when you danced.
You don’t know what you mean to say – it’s too late to change, and it would be even more unprofessional than designing a dress to turn your celebrity partner on in the first place – but you end up saying to Tristan, “I wish we’d been able to rehearse in it.”
He bobs his head. Nancy’s there next to him, and she reaches up to fuss with his hair, mumbling something about how he can’t even dress himself. “It’ll be fine, Kym,” Tristan says, giving you a curious look like he’s missing something.
“Of course it will.” He’s a professional, like you – he can adjust mid-dance for fringe that might be longer than they expected without even thinking, and it won’t throw him.
You were thinking of someone else.
“Ten minutes,” a P.A. tells you, and you retreat into hair and makeup, trying not to feel disappointed that Hines is 3,000 miles too far away for you to see the look in his eyes when you step on stage.
You lose yourself whenever you get to perform with another pro. You turn into nothing but extensions and muscles and the music-filled air that slides under you when your partner lifts you off the ground. You don’t think, because you don’t have to – don’t have to count in your head and watch your partner’s eyes for signs that he’s forgetting, that he’s going to overshoot or miss a step, that he’s panicking on stage.
You lost yourself on the floor last season, too, but Hines was an exception. He’s not a professional, but you always knew without thinking exactly where he was going to move next.
So it’s strange, just a few beats in, with Tristan leading you with the sure hand of someone who dances like it’s his native language, that you catch sight of the camera and snap out of the dance long enough to think: I hope he’s watching me.
You don’t miss a step, and just as quickly you’re back in it, the thrum of live music flowing over your skin and your body reacting as easily as breathing, the warmth of just dancing filling you through your fingers and toes and the curve of your back, and you’re happy.
You’re the pro, you’re the one who said we did really well, but this season is unpredictable, anything could happen when you and David powwowed before the show started, but being told you’re in jeopardy always hits you right in the stomach. This time, David handles it better than you. You’re mostly joking when you cover your face with your hands, but you still appreciate David wrapping his arm around you while you make sure you’re still breathing.
Hines told you a few days after week two, once the feeling of near-defeat passed enough for you to joke about it, that you looked like you might throw up on stage. He said it in sympathy, added that he’s so glad they didn’t put him through that last season, and you bit your tongue to keep from asking him to fly to L.A. for every single Tuesday, just in case. Thirteen seasons in, you certainly don’t need someone there to pick up the pieces if you’re eliminated from competition, but you can’t help feeling like if he were here, even not as your partner, you’d slide safely through each results show without a scratch.
Last season, when you cared most about making it through, you were lucky enough to never have to wait to learn that you were safe. You needed the finals, and not just because Hines’s competitive drive magnified your own. Every Tuesday at 6, when the cameras started rolling, you remember grabbing for his hand and thinking that you couldn’t stand it if your season ended early, because there already wasn’t enough time.
Back then, before you got drunk on tequila and kissed him, before he sat next to your hospital bed and held your hand and fussed with your painkillers and told you you’re the only thing that matters here, you thought you’d only ever get to be his partner for ten weeks.
Tom waves you off the stage, the red light still stinging your eyes.
“It’s okay,” David tells you with surprising calm, using his one-with-the-universe voice. “If it’s us... I’m done here. It’s okay.”
You know what he means, know he’s saying it to lift any guilt or pressure from you. He’s been telling you this for weeks; he feels like this is all “a beautiful gift already,” and he’s not going to look it in the mouth and get angry if he doesn’t make it through to the end.
It’s probably something you should learn, this equanimity he has about the idea of losing, but you’re anxious and maybe – Hines was right – a little nauseous, and all you can think is that it’s weird David doesn’t ask how you will feel if your season ends tonight.
You’re the pro, this season, more than a partner.
David, your star, is the only thing that matters here.
It’s the music that does it, the menacing rumble of the drums that makes you feel sick. You hold David’s hand, planning how you’ll walk down the stairs, and for just a second you wonder if Hines is watching, how he looks on the couch, if he’s nervous or holding his breath or has his hand wrapped around his phone waiting to call you if you’re the one headed home.
Tom calls David’s name as safe, and you jump, ripped out of your thoughts with such surprise that your arms are around David in congratulations before you even figure out what happened.
David laughs in your ear, and you hug him as your heart starts to slow and you think about Coco, and next week, and Maks and Anna and Carson walking down the stairs, and only a little of your attention is taken up with your imaginary Hines smiling on his couch and texting you You did it or Good job or That’s my shawty like he always does.
And then your heart’s in your throat, because you hate the moment at the end of Tuesday’s show worse than any other in the week, and you leave all thoughts of Hines behind.
You’re hugging Carson and trying to laugh instead of cry when he says Just look at Anna’s pink outfit and then you can’t be sad!, so you somehow miss getting your phone back before you go through the press line.
It feels more like a roller coaster than usual, because you never know if each interviewer’s going to bring up the bottom three or ask about Broadway week while everyone’s both laughing with Carson and bemoaning future weeks without him, and you feel jerked unfairly between sadness and jazz hands all your way down the line.
When you’re done, Jane hands you a muffin she found somewhere along with your phone, because after knowing you for so long she can tell when you’re starving before you say a word.
There’s no text from Hines, so you call him, craving his voice more than the empty calories in your hand.
You’re expecting glowing congratulations, or an apology for not messaging you sooner, so it’s strange when he just says, “Hey.”
You wonder if he’s playing a video game, because it’s unusual for him to ever have you on the phone and not be talking. You nibble the edge of your snack, and ask, “Are you busy?”
Then nothing. You actually have to ask: “What did you think?”
“It was good,” he says. “You’re the best.”
You frown. This isn’t at all what you were hoping for. You reach for something to say to excite him, and because you’ve been wondering, because you’ve been keeping it as your little secret since you first suggested it to Tristan, you ask, “Recognize the dress?”
There’s a pause. Your stomach sinks.
“Yeah,” he says.
“Are you okay?” And you think, your mind racing – you’ve worn your other costumes before, wore your Freestyle gold at nearly every gig all summer, and you wouldn’t have thought-
“It’s weird, seeing- you did a great job. You looked great.”
You aren’t sure what’s smarting, your heart or your ego, but your voice comes out defensive: “That doesn’t sound like a compliment.”
“Of course it is. You know all about the Rumba. This is what you do.”
“And?” You have the same feeling with David, sometimes, when he’s talking but none of the words seem to make sense together.
“And nothing. It’s got no right to bother me.”
Frustration is catching up with your anxiety, fighting it out in your chest.
He says, “I’m not used to seeing you dance like that.”
With someone else, you fill in. Wearing that.
The anxious butterflies harden. “It’s just dancing.”
“It’s my problem, not yours.”
You let that hang there, feeling the same weakness in your knees that you felt standing at the top of the stairs with the red light in your eyes.
When he speaks again, his voice is softer. “I’m sorry. You’ve got to go to the party. Say sorry to Anna - I’ve got tickets for her and Jonathan whenever they can get out here.”
“You did good,” he says, but you barely hear it. “Tell Tristan good job, too. I told him he’d go far this season.”
“Love you.” For the first time in weeks you have that fear in your gut like your words might not be returned.
You’re still starving, but you throw the muffin out, barely touched.
You go right to dinner with Derek, Karina and JR, and then straight to Tom’s midseason party. Your roommate Glenn already planned to go home before his own evening plans to walk your dog, but now you’re wishing you had a reason to go there yourself. The dress you put in your car this morning matches how sexy you expected to feel after tonight.
Derek, at least, wolf-whistles you, which always makes you feel better.
You still feel like you’re acting when you pose for the paparazzi, but David’s inside and he hugs you so hard he spins you around, and then he gets you caught up in his unique brand of madness that has made this partnership so much fun.
You usually skip drinking if he’s there, out of partnership solidarity, but not tonight. He even waves you on when you down your first shot, maybe sensing that you need it.
He leaves though, too soon. You match shots with Cheryl – which is how some of your best and worst nights have started – but hesitate when Peta declares a round of body shots and drags the seemingly always shirtless Val onto a table to serve as their more than willing tequila vessel.
You’ve all grown up some from the days of group hotel rooms in Vegas and enough liquor to wipe a year from your memory, but there’s still a casual sexuality between you. It’s never made you self-conscious before. Even Anna takes a shot, licking tequila from Val’s stomach while her husband watches with a smirk.
You do, too, licking salt from Kiki’s wrist first. Sharna shoves a slice of lime toward your mouth before turning around to stick her tongue in Oksana’s mouth, and the alcohol burns your throat. You feel guilty, and not specifically about this.
The crowd disperses into smaller groups and you’re left standing in the no-man’s-land that always seems to form between Maks’s group of friends and Karina’s.
Sasha tries to strike up a conversation with you, about cricket of all things. You ignore him to check your phone again, even though you know Hines is asleep. Your vision’s blurry, but clear enough to see that he hasn’t woken up to text you any words that might make you feel like you aren’t too far apart.
You find yourself seeking out Tristan, because everyone here knows Hines, all the dancers, but Tristan is the only one who knows you and Hines together. You all three went out to dinner in Pittsburgh before Hines left for Latrobe, and you were giddy, glowing with the echoes of Hines watching you get dressed for the evening, him kissing you after parking the car. Tristan even joked about it, about the “unwritten perks of winning Dancing With the Stars,” and Hines squeezed your hand on the table as he laughed. He told Tristan, “We’ll drop you off on our way home,” and it made so much sense that his home was yours too.
Tristan teased you at the bridal show about picking out black and gold china patterns – there were plenty to choose from, it being Pittsburgh – and instead of saying no, you said not yet.
Even with your history of telling Tristan more than you plan to, you’re surprised to hear the entire story come pouring out of your mouth.
“He doesn’t think you’re being unfaithful, does he?” Tristan’s accent is stronger when he’s drunk, but he’d sound incredulous with any accent in a way that suggests he’s never heard your entire sordid history with the Dancing With the Stars franchise.
You only think about that when you match drinks with Cheryl and then some, so you know you’re probably far from making sense.
“No,” you say. “He’d say something. Ask something.” Hines and Tristan text each other often about hot spots in Atlanta, and they both always tell you to say hi to the other. You spent half the summer dancing with Tristan; if Hines were truly suspicious, you would have heard about it by now.
“I think,” Tristan says, with a gravitas he might have picked up from his dance partner, “that he’s not even thinking of you stepping out on him.”
“I said it’s just dancing.” You have to work to ignore your own jealous thoughts when you know women are throwing themselves at Hines, and you’re sure Hines does the same, but you trust him at least enough to be sure he’d tell you right away if something happens. You think he trusts you far more than that. When he looks at you sometimes, when you see yourself reflected in his eyes, you feel like maybe you really did hang the moon and stars and have just forgotten.
“That’s it, though.” Tristan still sounds like he’s revealing the secrets of the universe. “I mean... for him, you’re not just the only woman he’s having sex with. You’re the only woman he’s ever danced with. So that’s...” he waves a hand. “It’s like your thing together. For him.”
For some reason, tears brim in your eyes, fogging your vision further. You blink them away. You sound a little overly dramatic and a lot drunk when you say, “I can’t stop dancing.”
“I don’t think he asked you to, did he? I mean, he’s got burly guys slapping his arse every Sunday, and you’re not jealous of that.”
Your head sinks to his shoulder. You just want to go home, and you should mean your bedroom, but you’re imagining another bed where you’ve spent less than ten nights all put together. He always smiles when you crawl into bed next to him, even if he’s already asleep, and you almost choke up with how much you want to be there instead of here.
“Stop that,” Tristan says, like he can see you regretting your whole season. You told him in June that you didn’t know, that you weren’t sure, that you felt insane thinking about using physical therapy as an excuse to take a season off when your star is at its highest just because you feel like you’ve found it. You blamed your confession at the time on painkillers, and stopped short of spilling all of the cluttered thoughts in your head about Hines and his son and uprooting your entire life, but you’re grateful now that he knows. You’ve told some of the others too, of course, have even gushed on at length to Cheryl, but she’s too cynical to do anything but laugh at you, most of the time.
“I’m going home,” you announce, because your empty bed is at least better than this nightclub, and you’re reasonably sure you’ll fall asleep wherever you are in about 45 minutes.
Tristan is saying he’s done too, you can share a cab, but you’re already most of the way to the door.
The flashbulbs are disorienting, blinding you to the point where you can barely see the pen you’re using to sign your name on the glossy photos that are shoved under your nose.
You lose your way amid lights and cameras, and you grab the nearest hand – Tristan’s – in the probably vain hope that the hand’s owner is more sober than you are. JR pulls you both out of the way of a car, yells something at you that you’re too wasted to catch. You bury your nose in Tristan’s shoulder to get away from the flashing lights and he lets you, because he’s your friend, because he likes you. He smells good, you think, like he’s young and uncomplicated, but young and uncomplicated isn’t what you want anymore.
Just when you think you’ll die on this high-trafficked street corner with no cabs to be seen, JR rescues you again when he waves you toward his already packed cab. You end up half in his lap in the backseat when Tristan sits in front.
“Chivalry is dead!” Kiki announces, and launches himself across JR to drop a sloppy kiss your cheek.
“Kym,” Tristan says from the passenger seat. “What’s your address?”
You recite it, and he repeats it to the driver, louder. It sounds right, but you don’t listen too closely. You trust him, even if the only cab he managed to pour you into already had three people in the back seat.
You trust him as a dancer, or your routine would have been far less impressive. You remember the lift in the Rumba tonight, the feeling of flying in perfect balance with another person’s center of gravity that was once your favorite thing in the world, and imagine how different it would feel, how much better, with someone else’s hands under your arms. How maybe, with him, you wouldn’t even need to leave the ground.
Tristan steps out of the cab to open your door, and then closes it on the sounds of JR and Kiki and Kiki’s buddy all making oooooh! sounds, like Tristan might not get back into the car.
Instead, he asks, “You gonna text him to say that you got home okay?”
It’s too complicated to explain that it’s not the kind of relationship where you keep that detailed a watch on each other’s daily activities, so you just say, “He’s sleeping.”
“Tell him anyway,” Tristan says with a know-it-all grin, in the same voice you always here him using when he and Nancy get into one of their Do what I say / Do what I say first fights backstage.
You trust him, but, “When did you become such an expert?” The cab next to you is bouncing with the movement of the rowdy occupants inside.
He laughs. “I’m a pro now, remember?”
You stumble just a little on the walkway, and they wait until you manage to unlock your front door before the cab pulls away.
You fall into bed, Lola licking at your hands for attention, and you’re in no shape to remember how to spell.
The phone rings, and you don’t intend for him to pick it up before you get the chance to leave a tequila-drenched voicemail, but you hear his throat clear, and: “Kym?”
“’M home. Didn’t mean to wake you.”
There’s rustling. “It’s five a.m. here.”
“Doesn’t feel that late,” you say, except it almost does, and you aren’t even counting the time difference.
“You doing okay?” You hear the smile in his voice, the way he’d fold you into his arms if you were there with him, kiss your neck like it’s his favorite part of you, like it’s partly his. You break it, you bought it, you hear in your head, and giggle into the phone without explanation.
“You need water,” he says. He still sounds half asleep, and you’re aching to join him in unconsciousness, wherever you both happen to be.
“In the morning.”
“Water,” he repeats. “Water... water...”
You leave the phone on the bed while you stumble into the bathroom, brush your teeth, down one glass of water and refill it for later.
When you come back, he’s still on the end of the line.
“Your team’s gonna kill me,” you say. “Keeping you awake...”
“Let me worry about that. Water?”
You make something that’s as close to affirmative as you get when your face is buried in a pillow. You still feel, a little, like you might cry, but you’re pretty sure it’s just the alcohol.
He doesn’t sound asleep at all anymore. “You were amazing tonight, Kym.”
You can’t even think of the dance, just the costume, and Tristan saying You’re the only woman he ever danced with. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m serious. You’re amazing to watch. I know I could never do that with you.”
“It’s not the same without you.” You expected that having another celebrity partner would be a let-down, that you’d have to rally your enthusiasm to go through the motions again with someone who isn’t Hines, but you didn’t expect the way you dance professionally to change. Hines is right – as incredible an amateur as he is, he can’t do what Tristan or Tony or Mark can when they dance with you.
You hope it makes sense when you say, face still half buried in pillow, “I could settle for less. I don’t need all that.” You’ve never been happier than teaching him the basics, step by step.
“You’re drunk,” Hines reminds you, not unkindly.
You roll over on your back. Lola snuffles closer to your face, sniffing at the mascara you’ve smeared on your pillow. “I miss you.”
“You’d miss dancing, too.”
“I miss you.”
He’s quiet, but it’s not awkward this time. If he were here, you think he’d be running his hand through your hair, leaning closer to kiss you.
“This is new,” he finally says, in the low quiet voice that has always meant he’s speaking only to you. “But it’s fine.” You hope he’ll say it right as he does: “I love you.”
You pull Lola to your chest, nuzzle her fur, and you say it back. You always feel the same tug in your heart when you do, like you’re so very close to getting everything you want.
“Go to sleep,” he says. “Quickstep tomorrow.” He’s keeping track of your dance schedule with David, like he’s graduated from student to assistant coach.
You pull the blankets up. “Aspirin tomorrow.”
He laughs. “Good night.”
It’s impossible, because it’s just a phone call, but you feel his kiss on your forehead.
You’re asleep before he even hangs up the phone.