~Chapter Three: Today’s Dance Lesson~
I smoothed my yellow skirt when I arrived at Practice Hall the next morning. I hoped I was ready to dance without any breaks again...Tony probably would try to teach me for a longer amount of time today.
When I opened the door and entered the large room, I saw that Tony was nowhere to be found, but someone was in his place. His black coat offset his light mauve hair. Wait a minute...that hair!
The man turned at the sound of my footsteps, and I realized with a little jump of my heart that I was correct, it was Cesar! His hazel eyes locked with mine, and he flashed a smile that lit up his entire face. “Why, hello, Princess Elizabeth! You look more radiant than ever!”
My heart hammered in my chest. What is up with this reaction? I found myself wondering. He looks just like Carlos from home! Carlos was cute, sure–but this guy–this guy was something else entirely. I found myself smiling. “Hello, Cesar.”
Cesar walked towards me, tossing his head slightly to get a stray bang out of his eye. “I was wondering if you would like to join me, Princess Elizabeth.” He held out his hand.
I reached out my own, and grasped his a bit clumsily. My hand tingled as it had the other day when out fingers touched. Why? “J-join you?” I asked, confused and slightly flustered.
Cesar merely smiled his charming smile once more. “In a dance. Tony wasn’t able to make it today, and when we bumped into each other, he asked if I could practice with you. I’m sure it would be amazing!”
I nodded, my cheeks growing warm. “Um, ok...”
He approached me, and I put my left hand on his shoulder and assumed closed position. “What have you been working on, Princess?” He asked.
“Well,” I began, as I struggled to look him straight in the eye. I always had a problem looking people, particularly handsome guys, directly in the eye. And the fact that our faces were so close together due to the dance position was not helping. “Yesterday, Tony taught me how to waltz.”
“All right, then,” Cesar nodded to the corner of the room, and a record lowered itself on the phonograph, which began to crank and play magically. Counting the rhythm out loud softly in beats of three, we began dancing when a new count began. We were only dancing for a minute or so when I began to realize Cesar was a very good lead. He was holding himself steady and had his shoulders open, and held my hand firmly but not too tight. He also had his hand on my rib cage, not on my waist--Tony told me men often made the mistake of placing their hand too low. Every so often, we would change from a turning step to a plain box step, and Cesar was able to lead me into it by giving me proper cues, like gently squeezing my hand and whispering what the next step was.
Cesar looked down into my eyes and smiled. “My, Princess, you are more light on your feet than ever before!”
I smiled nervously. I guess it was true, I really was a better dancer than the Princess. I hoped Cesar didn’t become suspicious–maybe if I just made it look like I’d been practicing a lot? “Why, thank you! You’re an amazing lead, Cesar,” I replied truthfully. “You really have rhythm.”
“So do you,” Cesar said as he tugged my arm gently and lifted it above my head, twirling me.
I giggled as he righted back into the closed position, our faces now barely inches from each other. “Wow! You just pulled me right into that! You really are a great lead!”
Cesar laughed in return. I felt his breath tickle my face and it made me blush. “Not used to being spun against your will, eh?”
I laughed. “Definitely not. But I don’t mind.”
Cesar looked thoughtful. “You really are letting your inhibitions towards dancing go, huh?”
I literally felt myself pale. I’ve always loved dancing, but I keep forgetting the Princess hates it because she’s not very good at it. “It’s just been the past few days–I’ve let the music take over! I just love the feel of the musical beats!”
“You just let the music flow through you?” When I nodded, Cesar burst out, “Me, too! It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?”
My eyes widened in pleased surprise at his words. I’d never heard a guy talk about dancing so openly! But in this world, I mused, Princes are taught dancing from the time they are small. It’s a sign of talent and nobility.
Cesar suddenly furrowed his brow. “My, Elizabeth,” he began, looking puzzled, “I never noticed your eyes are brown before! I was certain they were green, as green as emeralds!”
I took in a sharp breath. Oh my gosh! That’s right! The real princess has green eyes! I narrowed my eyes. Really?! Why on earth do we look exactly the same except for our eye color? “Um...” I stammered, trying to think fast, “I...” Brown–green–isn’t there something in between? Some sort of middle ground? Gazing into Cesar’s vibrant hazel eyes as he waited for my response, it hit me. “Hazel!” I said quickly, swallowing a lump in my throat. “They’re actually, um, hazel. I get that a lot. Depending on the l-light, sometimes people think they’re green, or other times brown, but they’re actually hazel!”
Ok, that wasn’t a total lie. I mean, no one’s ever said my eyes looked green, but sometimes people think they’re hazel.
Cesar tilted his head slightly to the side. The corner of his mouth lifted. “Really?” He said softly, reaching his hand to tuck a strand of hair behind my ear. The touch sent shivers up my spine. “Because to me, they look like the most beautiful chocolate brown eyes I’ve ever seen. It’s wrong to deem them anything so plain and dull as hazel.”
My heart pounded in my chest. How could he say such corny things so sincerely? Instead of causing me to roll my eyes, his compliments made me blush. “But, your eyes are hazel,” I found myself saying barely above a whisper, surprising myself, “And they’re not dull or plain.”
Cesar’s smile widened, and color suddenly flooded his cheeks. The next thing I knew, he was spinning me again. I laughed in spite of myself. When I was back in his arms, we had stopped dancing, and Cesar said finally, “...Thank you, Elizabeth.”
I found myself staring up into his eyes for what felt like an eternity, unable to come up with something to say. Finally, Cesar broke the spell by saying, seeming very thoughtful, “Well, I’m glad you’ve...come around to the idea of dancing at the Ball. I know that you were nervous before, but you’ve really seemed to change your opinion about dancing in general.”
My eyes widened. Had I almost blown my cover again? I just couldn’t seem to remember that just as I knew the prince’s counterparts in my world, Cesar and the others knew the real princess! And the real princess hates dancing! I can’t keep pouring my hear out like this, I scolded myself. No matter how much I’ve always liked to dance, I have to pretend that it’s a new idea to me–that I’m just learning to like it! “Um,” I stammered nervously, “I guess it was just a fear I had to conquer. And now that I have, I realize that I’ve been missing out on so much! Dancing is,” I dropped my gaze from his seemingly perplexed stare, “Wonderful...” I bit my lip, feeling silly.
I felt Cesar gently squeeze my hand and re-assume the closed position, counting out the waltz again. As we danced, Cesar laughed as a small smile lit up his face. “You're right, this is wonderful,” he agreed. Then, in what felt like a split-second, his eyes, for a moment so bright and warm, clouded with what seemed like sadness. “W-well,” he stammered, letting go of me and taking a step backwards, seeming suddenly standoffish, “Thank you for the dance, Elizabeth. I’m afraid I have to leave now.”
This was so sudden it took me aback. “Oh?” I asked, feeling dumb that I couldn’t come up with anything else. “W-well, it was nice seeing you.”
I hated to admit it, but I felt hurt. Cesar suddenly seemed like he couldn’t wait to get out of there. And I thought he actually might be a nice guy...
I bit my lip and watched his face carefully, judging what might be going through his head to make him suddenly seem so depressed and cold. Slowly, his expression began to look slightly less frosty and glum, and he gave a gentle smile. “I hope to see you again,” he murmured in a soft voice.
I nodded, still a bit confused but no longer feeling hurt. Whatever he’d been thinking of probably had nothing to do with me. I was just being paranoid, as usual. “I’d like that,” I said with a tiny smile, trying to sound casual and yet sincere.
Cesar gave a little wave and then left the dance room.
Kip’s voice made me jump. I turned to see him hovering a few feet behind me. “Kip? How long have you been there, anyway?”
“Several minutes.” Kip looked apologetic. “Forgive me, but I couldn’t help but notice how well you seem to be getting along with Prince Cesar.”
I felt myself turn red. Was the fact that I thought he was cute that obvious? Greaaaaat...
“Why don’t you ask him to be your partner?”
The question startled me. Ask him to...? But I just met him! I mean, he’s nice and all, and I know being a prince’s partner doesn’t mean you’re engaged, or anything, but wouldn’t that be too aggressive? I swallowed hard. “Um, Kip? Shouldn’t the Prince do the asking?” Hey, it may be old-fashioned, but we were in a fairytale land, after all.
Kip adjusted his glasses in a nervous fashion. “Well, I don’t know if you remember me telling you this, Princess, but Cesar did already ask. The real Princess, that is. And she turned him down.” Kip added with a cringe. “But, perhaps if you told him you changed your mind, and apologized, he would agree to be your dance partner!”
Was that the reason for Cesar’s look of sadness? Because he thought that I, believing me to be the Princess, didn’t want to be his dance partner, and I was just teasing him today? I felt awful. What could I do? Should I ask him to be my partner?
“Princess?” Kip interrupted my thoughts. “Why don’t you think about it overnight? You can ask Cesar tomorrow if you decide you want him to be your dance partner. We need to get back to the palace now.”
I sighed, then nodded. I was still so confused.
* * *
On our way back to the palace, a voice called out to me. “Princess Elizabeth!” I turned my head, and saw Prince Vince, Victor’s look alike, coming towards me carrying a small wooden box.
The box he was holding made me curious. “Hello, Prince Vince. How are you?”
Vince smiled boyishly at me. “I have a present for you.”
I smiled politely. Victor’s not exactly my favorite person, so I associated Vince with him. Maybe I wasn’t being fair. “Oh, thank you!” I took the box from his hands.
“Open it!” Vince urged.
I complied, flipping up the small metal clasp and prying open the wooden box. “Ah!” I cried out when silly string snakes and some other gooey substance popped out at me. I gritted my teeth as the sticky stuff clung to the waist of my pretty yellow dress. Nope, he’s just like Victor, I fumed. A twenty-one-year-old who acted like he was five, and a prince to boot. How quaint.
“Vince...” I began in a threatening tone.
Vince snickered and stuck out his tongue. Real mature. “Fooled ya! You should’ve seen your face.” With another laugh, he skipped away.
Kip shook his head. “Oh, dear...don’t worry, Princess. Prince Vince has always been like this. I’m sure the stains will come out...”
I let out a frustrated sigh and blew a stray bang from my eye. “I hope so...I don’t want the Princess to blame me for ruining one of her dresses when it wasn’t even my fault.”
* * *
As I lay in bed that night, I turned the situation of finding a partner over and over in my head. I did still have time to find a partner, and the only Prince that I had met who I was aware already had a partner was Klaus. I didn’t have to jump on Cesar just yet.
But still...thinking of his laughing hazel eyes, his charming smile, and deep voice, my heart pounded. Did I really want to find someone else? Cesar was great, and he would make an awesome partner for the ball. And...I sat up straight in my bed, and looked across the room to the vase of flowers on the dressing table, focusing in on the still perfect single rose. Did I really want someone else to be his partner?
Curling back under the covers and closing my eyes, I felt both nervous and confident at the same time.
I made my decision.
To be continued...