Then You Look At Me

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Dance With Me

~If I can have this dance tonight, I promise that you won’t forget. I’ve been searching all my life for something that I won’t regret. Could it be that you’re the one I’m looking for?~RINI

Chapter Theme Song: ‘Aphrodite’ by RINI

°°

Rainey

Ansel and I step into the ballroom filled with people talking and laughing above low instrumental music. Everyone here is from the fashion industry, and they are all adorned in their best attire, each probably secretly hoping their dress cost way more than the others’.

Tables are surrounding the large dancefloor and waitresses are actively walking about, pouring champagne and serving appetizers while a few people are waltzing to the music on the marble-tiles.

I spot my mom laughing with two ladies at her table, and Jeff, burying his head in his phone while he disregards their conversation.

“I hate settings like these,” I grumble, already feeling the urge to make a U-turn and return home. The heels are already hurting my feet, and I can see where my ankles are visibly red.

I catch sight of a group of girls at a table to our left, staring at me with faces of displeasure. I tug my dress further down my thighs, and Ansel looks at the action.

“You okay?”

“I just hate people staring at me.” I frown.

“I think they are staring because you look really beautiful,” he states, while he politely declines champagne from a waiter by a shake of his head.

The group of girls is now looking at Ansel while they smile among themselves. A clear look of admiration is etched on their faces, and I feel a strong pang of jealousy washes over me. Our arms are linked together, and unconsciously, I tighten my hold on his bicep causing him to shift his face to me.

“What?”

“Those girls…” I mumble. “It’s just so obvious that they’re thinking really bad stuff about me…not that I really care anyway…”

I do. Deep down somewhere, I do.

Ansel tracks my focus with his eyes, and when he locates them, one of the ladies wave a hand to him shyly. Without returning the gesture, he pulls his focus back to me, leaning down to my ear.

“Who cares what they think, Rain? I think you’re the prettiest in this room.”

I smile at him; he sure has a way with words. His eyes are sparkling under the crystal chandelier, and the lighting makes his face appears smoother than it already is. I can clearly see why the girls are staring at him so hungrily.

“Oh my God, Ansel?”

We drag our gazes in the direction of the voice, and to my utter discomfort, Lea—Ansel’s ex— is approaching us. What is she doing here?

She’s dressed in a beige dress that is sweeping the floor as she walks, her matching color heels peeking out beneath the lace fabric at each step she takes. Her hair is neatly braided in a crown, and her makeup is mild, almost non-existent. Now that I am seeing her in a bright room, she has a baby-face and big green eyes.

I look at Ansel, hoping to read his facial expression but as usual, it gives nothing away.

“I didn’t think I’d find you here. This is a great surprise.” She smiles. Ansel doesn’t return her greetings, and I finally notice a shift in his countenance as a quick wave of displeasure washes over his face.

Lea’s eyes drift to me and her bright beam slowly wavers. I can tell from her expression that she’s bothered by my presence. I can’t say the feeling isn’t mutual. I greatly detest the anxiety I experience whenever I see her. Her presence makes me insecure, and I am not usually that sort of person.

“I am happy to see you, Ansel. I really am,” she continues. I sight the endearment in her forest eyes. When Ansel doesn’t respond to her statement, she shifts her focus back to me, and the gleam is gone in a flash. “Hi, I saw you at that party, right?”

I nod. “Yeah, I guess you did…”

“I’m Lea.” She attempts to keep her smile. “And you?”

“Rainey,” I respond reluctantly, looking away from her instantly. My attitude probably came off a bit feisty since Ansel glances at me with a concerned expression.

“My aunt is an active member of the fashion industry, hence why I’m here,” Lea says to him.

He tears his eyes away from my strange expression and slightly nods to her statement. He hasn’t said a word to her since she appeared, and I can tell his silence is painful for her since a sad gleam flashes in her eyes.

“Have you been fine?” She tries again, and the result is the same. Ansel just nods his head again before looking away from her. I feel an ounce of pity on her behalf.

“Lea?” An older lady calls to her from one of the tables surrounding the large dancefloor, and she nods to her before looking back to us.

“Uh, enjoy your night guys…Ansel, I hope later we can have a talk?”

Ansel finally speaks, but the words are so politely painful that it would have been better if he had not said anything at all.

“Maybe not, Lea,” he replies, rendering a tight-lipped smile. “I think we have already discussed all we needed to. Have a good night.”

I see the clear look of heartbreak and disappointment on her features as she nods sadly and turns away. I can’t help but wonder what caused the breakup between them. Did she perhaps cheat on him? There is a small silence before Ansel decides to speak.

“She’s my ex-girlfriend…in case you’re wondering.”

I nod, staring at my feet. “I know…Alex told me.”

He says nothing else, and I bring my eyes up to study his expression. His unbothered demeanor has returned, and he seems fine even though he just ran into his ex a minute ago.

I want to ask what happened between them even though it’s none of my business, so I open my mouth to pose the question, but the voice of my annoying aunt interrupts my speech. I snap my lips together as I watch Aunt Yolanda and her daughter Kelcie make their way over to us. I unlink our arms to grip my forehead in distress.

“Not tonight,” I grumble.

Ansel hears the comment and arches a perfect brow in curiosity. “Who are they?”

“My aunt and cousin…” I roll my eyes.

Yolanda is my mother’s sister and they share the same personality and appearance. She has her own clothing stores just like my mom and they are partners in the fashion industry. Kelcie—her daughter— has never liked me, but that’s fine with me because I don’t consider her my cousin anyway. She’s equally as fake as her mom and considering Yolanda hates my dad, I can tell she’s not fond of me either. She just pretends to like me, but I can effortlessly see through the fake hugs and kisses. Tonight, I lack the energy for hypocrisy.

“Oh my, you grew up so fast.” Yolanda moves in to kiss my cheek, but I politely ward her off with the flat of my palm. She looks at me with a creased forehead, and I smile.

“It’s the virus thing that’s going around. What’s the name again, the coronavirus? Yeah, they said we should stay at least six feet away from each other.”

Yolanda and Kelcie exchange glances and Ansel tries to hide a grin, swinging his head in the opposite direction.

My aunt presses her palm against her bust, her brows furrowed. “Are you saying I have the virus?”

“No, no I am just saying one of us could, I mean I could have it as well, we don’t know.” I shrug.

“Oh…” She clears her throat, but I can tell she’s still offended. Good for her. “I just spoke with your mother, and she said you’d be here soon. Wow, you’re all grown up, how old are you now?”

“Seventeen.” I force a smile. My eyes catch the way Kelcie is checking out Ansel with a subtle bite of her lower lip. Ansel is oblivious to her blatant flirting since he’s busy observing every other detail in the ballroom, or maybe he notices, but as usual, is pretending not to.

“Oh my, I just can’t believe. It was just the other day you were running around in diapers,” Yolanda continues. “Time sure moves fast.”

“But you’re still a midget.” Kelcie coughs out.

I swallow the lump in my throat. I’m short in stature, but I am not a midget. It’s just that Kelcie is a little big-boned. She’s a year younger than me, but she looks a lot older. She used her weight and height to her advantage a lot when we were kids. I remember that one time I ended up dumping cake on her face at her eleventh birthday party. She was being mean to all the kids, claiming she could because it’s her party. She shoved me headway onto the mat and I almost busted my lips. As a treat for her ‘birthday,’ I gave her all the cake she needed. The memory makes me smile a little.

“Still being a weird goth, huh?” She taunts. “Look around, you’re the only one here who looks like someone from a funeral.”

I simper, taking a swift second to absorb the loud yellow dress she’s wearing. “Mmm. And you’re still being a slut, huh? Look around, Kelly. You’re the only one who looks like big bird from ‘Sesame’s Street.’”

Ansel looks amused, his eyes slightly widening as he looks at me. Yolanda and her ill-mannered daughter gasp in sync, their lips parting in disbelief. Kelcie then grunts, whirling away and stomping off in fury, her heels loudly clicking against the tiles that a few people snap their heads in her direction.

Yolanda shakes her head at me, glowering with anger. “This is why we don’t have you over anymore, I thought you changed.”

I shrug. “She hasn’t, so why should I?“.

“You are troubled, child, you need counseling. Not because your parents are divorced, does not mean you should be this…” She pauses as if searching for the correct term to use.

“This what?” I raise a brow, urging her to continue her statement.

“This fucked up,” she finishes, shaking her head before she chases behind her almost vanishing daughter.

I shake my head. “Good riddance.”

Ansel glances at me with concern. I keep my eyes off him because I am almost sure they hold pity, and I hate pity.

“Don’t believe that,” he says.

She’s right, I am fucked up, but she didn’t have to rub that in.

“I’m fine, I’ve heard worse.”

The instrumental music has now shifted to the song by RINI ‘Aphrodite.’ Ansel studies my distant expression then extends his hand toward me. I look at him with a quizzical gaze.

He points his head in the direction of the dancefloor. “Would you like to dance with me?”

“I thought you said you couldn’t dance?” I remind him.

He smiles. “Well, yeah. But we could try.” He shrugs.

“I may embarrass myself,” I tell him, a smile on my lips.

“You won’t, not with me around.” He chuckles. “So, what do you say?”

I contemplate it for a few seconds, before nodding my head. “Okay.”

I take his soft hand in mine, and he guides me onto the dancefloor. I can feel the eyes of people on us as we find a vacant spot amidst the dancing bodies. I weirdly stand in front of him, uncertain of what to do. I have never danced to such slow music before; it has never been my style.

He titters at my awkwardness as he takes a closer step toward me. “I am not an expert…but I think you should put your hands on my shoulders,” he whispers.

I smile a little, the simple instruction is enough to make me nervous. I try to ignore the stare of the people around me as I oblige, pressing my palms on his shoulders.

“I am going to put my hands on your waists if that’s okay with you.”

I nod, and my body stiffens as he does. He moves closer to me, so our bodies are almost touching, then smirks as he brings his lips to my ear. “Why are you always this tense?”

I look up at him.

Because I think I have strong feelings for you, and it’s hard not to feel anxious when we are this close.

“I don’t know, there are just too many people looking.” I crinkle my nose, my eyes scanning the room of scrutinizing faces.

“Just keep your eyes on me,” Ansel mutters. “Me only. It’ll make you feel less nervous.”

I return my gaze to his and smile. His orbs hold such soft compassion. We begin waltzing to the song, with my hands on his shoulders, and his on my waists. I follow his lead, ensuring I don’t end up stepping on his toes or going off-beat. That’d be too embarrassing.

Ansel is perfectly in tune with the music, and the warmth between us increases as we move together in a synchronized motion. Gradually, I get the hang of it and we are mirroring each other effortlessly.

My eyes travel over his shoulders, and I see Lea, a heartbroken expression on her face while she watches us from her table. I clear my throat as I return my gaze to him.

“I…I don’t think your ex likes that we are this close.”

Again, Ansel’s expression is unreadable. “She won’t…but we aren’t together anymore so it shouldn’t matter.”

My curiosity piques and before I can withhold the question, it leaves my lips. “Uhm, why did you guys break up?”

He half-shrugs. “I guess you could say she betrayed me.”

I tilt my head to the side, my lips parting to pose another question when the music ends, and a masculine voice comes over the mike at the front of the room. Ansel releases me, swinging me a smile as we move over to my mother’s table.

“I must say you dance exceptionally well, Ansel. I am impressed.” My mother compliments him as we find our seat.

Ansel half-smiles, fixing his jacket onto his built. “I’d say Rain’s a much better dancer than I am. You did awesome out there, Rainey.” He throws a smile in my direction and I return one, my cheeks flushing. However, the beam slowly fades when I catch sight of the hard glare Jeff is throwing my way. I reach for the glass of water on my table and take a sip, hoping to not exchange eye contact with him for the rest of the night.

“Oh my, the air conditions in the room are so high.” My mom complains. “Jeff, baby? Could you please get my jacket from the car? I’m freezing.”

She dips inside her bag and hands him her car key. Jeff gets up quite reluctantly, subtly hissing as he walks away from the table. I doubt my mom notices his unwillingness. The man obviously doesn’t love her, but she’s too blind to see.

Ansel follows Jeff with his eyes, then he turns his focus to me, who’s listening to the boring speech on the stage by a man in the fashion industry.

“I’ll be right back, okay?”

I nod at him. “Okay.”

He smiles as he gets up from the table and walks away.

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