28 April 2014 ~ Hyacinth Noir’s Beltaine Literary Issue
Post I ~ The Leaves are Fading, by Lucy McKee
Beltaine to me is a time of new beginnings. With the Earth returning to green and flowers beginning to bloom, I naturally associate the season with that of budding romances. In this short story, it is shown that love can withstand long and sometimes hopeless winters, only to rebound with hope when spring comes around.
The Leaves are Fading
Scott is alone on the stage, his heart pounding. The spotlights emit an intense heat that sends a droplet of sweat down his back where it absorbs in the fabric of his black leotard. The floor is dusty with talc; the only sound that of his slippers brushing across the hardwood. As he executes three perfect pirouettes, he is the star of the show. He is Giselle’s duke, Clara’s nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty’s prince.
He stops suddenly, in the centre of the spotlight. As it casts a warm glow onto his face and he raises his arms to the false theatre sun. He arches his back, face to the ceiling, and admires the pale silver of his skin in the bright lighting.
Despite the protest of the half-torn ligament in his foot, he leaps across the stage, his landing a soft whisper in the empty theatre. He lowers his arms and bows deeply. When he looks up, there is no applause. The red upholstered seats are empty, the stage lights stationary, the costume merely a warm-up.
A door clicks stage right, and through it comes a cluster of other dancers, his cast mates, the real stars of this production. He is simply an attendant of the party, relegated to the back rows of the corps. They greet him warmly, and disappear into the anteroom behind the velvet curtain. Scott watches the parade of lithe young bodies tense with anticipation. The last to push through the door is none other than the star himself – Joseph Yuchenko – taller than Scott by at least six inches, younger by thirteen years, with limbs as long and lean as a fledgling oak. Dark waves of hair fall across his forehead and as he passes Scott, he somehow manages to nod while looking right past him.
Scott sighs and walks to the anteroom where the other dancers are warming up. Joseph and his princess hurry out to the main stage to practice their show-stopping routine before the auditorium fills with patrons. He studies their moves for a moment before retreating. Beside him, Joseph’s understudy mimics the star’s jetes as a puppet would, done in half movements, halting, hesitating.
If even the half movements could be Scott’s… but not this show, not this tour. As he walks to the barre to stretch, he knows his days of dukes and princes are over. The bones in his feet are worn, muscles pulled, tendons stretched beyond their limit. He’s thirty-four, and almost too old to be considered for a part in a touring company. He’s scraped by this year, and everyone knows it.
He swings his leg, props his slipper-clad foot on the barre and feels the sinewy muscles in his thigh tighten as he leans forward. But even the Mylar mirror seems to betray him today and he has to look away from his receding hairline, the subtle lines around his eyes.
Surrounding him, the other dancers lift their legs in expanse, practice the same small movements of the understudy. Electricity flows through the room, buzzes in anticipation of the coming performance. In a few short hours, the hall will fill – though not as it has in past years, and not so in a town as sport-obsessed as Charleston is on this Sunday afternoon.
After a few minutes of warm-up, the producer arrives. He’s too early for his rallying pre-performance speech, but Scott knows why he’s there. Everyone does. The crowd parts for him as he makes a straight path to Scott, who smiles through the tension in his jaw.
“Good to see you joining the troops, Gary.” Scott overextends his stretch but fights the urge to wince.
“Can we talk? Alone, please?” Gary’s eyebrows raise and he nods toward the dressing room off to the right.
“I’m fine,” Scott says and overextends his stretch again. He winces aloud.
“Come on.” Gary takes Scott’s arm and leads him to the dressing room where the door clicks shut behind them. In the small over-lit room, Scott’s heart pounds, his fingers and toes tingle.
“Gary-” Scott begins, but stops when he realizes he has nothing to offer. Gary has made up his mind. Just like he made up his mind about Joseph Yuchenko.
“Scott, you know why I have to do this.”
“You’ve done enough, don’t you think?”
“This has nothing to do with Joseph and you know it. This is about your body. You don’t want to hurt yourself.”
“If I hurt myself dancing it won’t be anything compared to what you’ve managed to do.” Scott crosses his arms, stands with his chest extended.
“Don’t call me that. Save it for your Prince.”
“Come on, that’s not fair.”
“Fair? You slept with Joseph our first night on the road! You couldn’t even wait until we got out of Texas.” Scott had gotten the news over dinner at a crowded restaurant in Houston. Gary hadn’t even picked up the tab.
“I was honest with you, wasn’t I?” Gary shakes his head, his eyes squinted with frustration. “I’m serious. Do you think you can dance tonight? How’s your foot?”
“It’s fine.” Scott thrusts his foot in Gary’s direction. In silent agony, he offers a perfect point.
Gary is quiet. He looks Scott over, his eyes soften. “If you’re sure. I don’t want to take you out of this show, you understand that, don’t you?”
“I would hope not.” Scott’s arms fall to his sides. “I’d like to think I bring something to the production still.”
“Of course you do. But you’d tell me if your foot was bothering you, right?”
“Yes,” he lies.
Gary nods, his hand on the door knob. He whispers, “You know, this thing with Joseph, it’s not what you think.”
“You slept with him, what am I supposed to think?”
“Shhh!” Gary’s jaw tenses. “Would you have rather me kept it a secret?”
“I don’t understand you, Gary. Things were good between us, weren’t they?”
Gary shakes his head slowly, reaches out and holds Scott’s face in his hand. Scott’s heart throbs. “It wasn’t you, honey, I told you that. The thing with Joseph, it was a mistake. I’ll tell you I’m sorry as many times as I have to.”
Scott swallows the lump in his throat and pulls away. “Are you still sleeping with him?”
“No, of course not.”
Whether he’s lying or not, Scott can’t tell. He turns. “Please go.”
He feels Gary linger for a moment before exiting the dressing room. Scott exhales the breath he’s been holding. He’d been a fool to think Gary would remain faithful with the constant parade of hot young dancers vying for his attention. He was one of them, once. But as the years disappeared, so did the admirable glances at his body. When Gary approached him after a casting party, Scott was elated. It made him feel young, desirable. And foolish to think it could be forever. Because if the ballet has taught him anything, it’s that nothing lasts.
It’s not their best performance, but Gary assures them, as they encircle him in the warm-up room while the theater empties, reviews will be outstanding and the next show is sure to be free of opening night jitters. Scott has danced as best as his body will allow.
After a hot shower that does little to soothe the ache in his tight muscles, Scott avoids the subdued after-party (complete with Joseph Yuchenko and his ego the size of Siberia) and retreats to the familiar cobbled streets of Charleston where the spring air is crisp and leaves of angel oaks are just beginning to return. He grew up here, learned to dance here. He’s left this town and vowed never to come back. He’s returned and vowed never to leave. He’s been pulled away by work, pushed away by love.
The giant columns of the Dock Street Theatre loom behind him, and as he passes the ruined headstones of an antebellum cemetery, a voice calls his name.
“Scotty!” He turns sharply to find the Princess – Lauren – waving from the oversized red doors of the theatre. “Don’t go, you’ve a visitor!”
“Me?” His heart flutters.
“Yes, you. Come on, he’s got an armful of roses,” she whispers as he passes her in the doorway. “They’re nicer than the ones the producers gave me.” And with a conspiratorial wink, she points to the alcove where a figure sits in shadows.
Scott hesitates, his throat tight. He’d not told anyone that the ballet company would be stopping in Charleston. His name wasn’t important enough to be billed as a draw for fans of the ballet. His family had long ago moved to Florida, and what boyfriends he’d left behind he’d done so gladly.
It takes a moment for Scott to recognize the man when the alcove doors open and a beam of light crosses his face.
The face has disappeared in darkness again. Scott makes out a smile and returns it with hesitation.
“You remembered me.” The roses flutter in his arms but he makes no move to rise. “I didn’t think you would, honestly. It’s been, well, forever, hasn’t it?”
Scott nods, shifts on his feet, unsure of his next move. When Lucas remains firmly planted, his arms still clutching the roses, Scott takes a seat opposite him.
“At least, what, ten years? But you came for the performance? I mean, of course you did-”
“Well, yes. I’d seen your name on the company website. I didn’t know until I saw the playbill that you were actually dancing.” Lucas pauses then thrusts the roses in Scott’s direction. “It was lovely.”
Scott takes them awkwardly, places them in his lap. Their sweet, heady smell fills his nose and he inhales deeply. It does nothing to ease his burning stomach.
Of all the old boyfriends he’d had in Charleston, Lucas would have been the last Scott expected to show up with an armful of roses. Lucas was a cellist, one of the best at the Dock Street orchestra, but what he had in talent he lacked in passion. Their relationship hadn’t been particularly rocky, it had simply… fizzled. In truth, it’d been one of the least memorable romances Scott ever had.
“Thank you, they’re beautiful.” Scott reaches for Lucas’ hand. It’s cold, damp, the bones prominent. “But you probably couldn’t even see me. I think I have a total of six minutes stage time.”
“Oh no, I watched every move. You’re an amazing dancer. So beautiful.” Lucas laughs, his face red.
“That’s kind of you to say.” Scott’s heart pounds as Lucas bows his head. “How about you? Do you still play?”
Lucas shrugs, shakes his head. His hair, once dark but now thick with gray, falls across his forehead. “No, not anymore.”
“No? Why not? You were amazing.”
Something changes in Lucas’ face, the darkness from lack of light becomes a darkness from inside. His eyes crinkle with a sheepish smile.
“I can’t. Haven’t, in years.” He looks down at his hands, which are balled into fists. “Arthritis. My hands don’t move like they used to.”
They fall into quiet. In the dim light of the alcove, Scott sees now that the fists are not clenched in anger, but rather gnarled and swollen. And resting on Lucas’ lap is a cane, carved of a dark wood with a brass handle.
“I’m so sorry. That must’ve been difficult to give up.”
Lucas shrugs. “It’s fine. There’s other things…” He trails off, watches a parade of cast members descend on the double doors, on their way to their designated housing off Church Street.
“So what are you doing?”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“No. Didn’t have much luck in that area, as I’m sure you remember.” Lucas jerks forward as if he’s going to jump out of his seat, but instead rocks back and forth. “Listen, I know you have to go. I just wanted to see you dance and, you know, say hi.”
Scott stands slowly, his arms full with the weight of two dozen red roses. His face flushes, whether from excitement or embarrassment he doesn’t know.
“Well, thank you so much for the roses. It really was great to see you again.” Scott leans over and gives Lucas an awkward embrace. His body is warm, his smell rich with spice and musk. Scott lingers for a moment too long, breathing in his scent. When he pulls back, he waits for Lucas to stand, but he remains still, looking up at Scott with a deep crease in his brow, pleading.
“Would you like to have coffee or something? I’d love to catch up, if you have time.”
“Of course. What’s your cell?”
Lucas reaches his fist into the pocket of his coat and pulls out his wallet. With his palm, he pushes out a business card and hands it to Scott. “You can reach me here.”
“Okay. I’ll give you a call then.”
Scott turns awkwardly with a final wave and follows his cast mates through the double doors and out into the evening. Looking back through the bevelled glass, he watches as Lucas slumps in the chair.
Scott wakes the next morning having dreamed of Lucas’ hands. As he stands in the bathroom, staring at his haggard reflection, he remembers once when Lucas gave him a private performance, having dragged his cello up three flights of stairs in the middle of the night on Scott’s request. He’d sat drinking Moscato cross-legged on the floor while Lucas’ large slender hands slid the bow easily across the strings, creating such somber and sorrowful notes it reminded Scott of the ruined cemeteries of Charleston, the sound a headstone might make when it broke. Lucas had told him the tune was Springtime in Vienna, and even months after they’d ended things, Scott searched music stores looking for a recording, but came up empty-handed.
So it’s Lucas that Scott is thinking of when Gary knocks softly on the door, calls his name.
“May I come in?”
Scott sighs, tugs at the thinning skin around his eyes. “It’s open.”
Gary slinks in. He’s dressed for occasion, though Scott doesn’t know what: brown hair slicked back, dark suit neatly pressed. Scott is momentarily horrified by his own sweatpants and t-shirt.
“How are you feeling this morning?” Gary locks the door and sits on the edge of the twin bed.
“Aren’t you afraid you’re going to wrinkle that suit if you sit?” Scott walks stiffly to his suitcase and throws on a sweatshirt.
Scott scoffs. “Liar. You’d never buy a polyester suit.”
Gary laughs. “See, you know me too well.”
“Why are you here?”
He clears his throat. “I’ve, uh, got reservations for Robert’s. Brunch for two, on the Harbour.”
Scott sits on the bed next to Gary and slips on his shoes and socks. “Hmm, I’ll have to ask Joseph how he likes it.”
“Scotty, please. Let’s just talk. Have a nice meal together. What do you say?”
“Who’s paying? Because last time you stiffed me, remember? Oh, and you also told me you were screwing a man thirteen years younger with a body more sculpted than Adonis.”
Gary rolls his eyes. “Don’t you believe in second chances?”
Gary rests his hand on Scott’s thigh, runs it slowly up and down, kneading the tense muscles beneath his taut skin. Scott inhales sharply, but tries to hide his excitement.
Gary whispers to him. “Come on, I know you don’t want to see the last six months we’ve spent together go to waste. And you know, if you’d have brunch with me, we could talk about your injury.”
Scott straightens, pushes Gary’s hand off his leg. “What?”
“The other producers are talking. The choreographer says you’re getting sluggish. I can only do so much, you know.”
“So if I keep fucking you, you’ll let me stay in the show?”
“That’s not what I meant-”
“Get out.” Scott leaps to his feet and walks to the door. “Please.”
Gary stands slowly, retreating like a scolded dog. “That didn’t come out the way I intended.”
“That’s been happening a lot to you lately.”
“Call me, okay? Maybe we can have dinner?”
Scott sighs. “Maybe.”
He closes the door behind Gary’s slumped form. Scott returns to the bathroom, to the mirror that continues to betray him. He thinks again of Lucas, of his hands so many years ago when they touched him, so uncertain, but so eager. Perhaps it was Scott who had lacked the passion when they were together.
He walks to the bureau, picks up Lucas’ card and with his own hesitant hands, he dials his number.
Lucas lives in a bottom floor apartment in Charleston’s River District. It’s not an area Scott is familiar with, but he finds the building just in time to be half an hour later than promised.
His heart pounds, half from anxiety, half from annoyance at his perpetual lateness. He rings the bell and Lucas buzzes him in. He greets him at the door with a hesitant smile. In the bright afternoon light, Lucas looks more worn than Scott imagined in the dark alcove. His hair is still thick with the same beach-blown wave it had ten years ago. The subtle creases and crevices that line his face might have made another man more rugged, but on Lucas’ slight frame it just made him appear older than his forty-seven years. His shoulders are slumped, back slightly arched. Scott finds himself straightening his own back in response.
“I wasn’t sure you’d take me up on the offer, truthfully,” Lucas says, motioning Scott toward the leather couch. The apartment is small, but tastefully decorated. In the corner of the dining area, a cello sits mounted with its bow poised to play. On the cherry wood table, sheet music is scattered in seemingly random piles.
“Of course. It’s great to see you again.”
Lucas, cane in hand, makes his way the open kitchen and fills a black kettle with water. “Coffee or tea?” he calls.
“Tea is fine.”
While Lucas busies himself at the stove, Scott studies the apartment. It could very well be a model rather than a home, he thinks. There are no family photos on the wall, no pictures of lovers, old or new. The walls are instead lined with visually appealing art, meant to offend none. The couch is brown, the walls and rug beige. Not a spot of colour anywhere.
He watches Lucas prop his cane on the counter and pour hot water into two tea cups with his shaky hands.
“Here, let me help. I’m a busybody.” Scott takes the cups into the living room. Lucas follows, sits next to him with a grunt on the couch. Scott sips the herbal tea, but it sears his tongue. He winces, sets the cup in the saucer and smiles at Lucas, whose hands rest on his knees. He stares at Scott.
There’s a clock ticking somewhere. Stacks of records line the entertainment center, but none are playing in the old fashioned phonograph.
Scott clears his throat. “So you’re teaching?”
“Yes. Just private lessons every now and then.”
“It’s good that you’re still involved. I can’t imagine not ever having dance in my life, you know?” He flexes his injured foot. “Can you play at all? I mean, if you don’t mind me asking.”
“I can, but not like I used to, and only a few bars. It’s not the pain really, it’s the movement. My hands are so limited now.”
“When did this happen?” He remembered a subdued, yet healthy man, no sign of ailment in his bones.
Lucas shrugs. “About six years ago. It was fast.”
“I guess so.” Scott’s heart pounds now, his foot throbbing in time. How long until his future was teaching distracted youths the ins and outs of first position?
“Can I show you something?” Lucas asks. His face reddens and he forces a laugh. “No, never mind.”
“What? Wait, you can’t do that to me. What is it?”
“Okay, but promise you won’t think I’m crazy.” Lucas reaches down to the end table and, with some struggle, picks up a thick photo album. Scott laughs.
“Oh no, what is that?”
Lucas spreads the book on his lap and flips through the plastic lined pages. Scott halts him at the first page, where there’s a photo of Lucas as a boy, oversized cello in his arms.
“That’s you? Adorable.”
Lucas’ face blotches. “Just wait,” he says. He skims the pages until he reaches the middle, and stops at a photo of a dancer. The picture has been taken from behind, but Scott knows it’s him. His body is lean and long, despite his short stature. His ass is tight, thigh muscles bulging. And his face, turned toward sepia-toned stage lighting, is youthful with promise, with a head full of dirty blond hair.
“What is this from?”
“Distraction of Angels.” Lucas looks away. “You probably don’t even remember it.”
“Of course I do. It was my first major role.”
“Do you…do you remember? That was when we met.” Lucas’ brown eyes are bright, hopeful.
“Yes. I do.” He did remember. Lucas had approached him at a cast party, shy with a perpetual blush. Scott had found it endearing. “That was so long ago.”
The clock’s tick seems louder. Scott sits back on the couch.
Lucas closes the book, runs his hand over the gilded cover. “I didn’t expect you to remember me. I keep imagining you have this glamorous life on the road.”
“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be, trust me.” Scott sighs then says softly, “This will probably be my last show anyway.”
“My body’s catching up with me too. Torn ligaments, bone spurs, you name it.”
Lucas shakes his head, brow creased. “But your dancing, it’s so exquisite still. I… I could watch you forever.”
Scott smiles, feels a rush of heat to his face. “You should have been watching the Prince. He’s an incredible dancer.”
“No. It’s not the same. You have passion. You dance because it’s in you.” Lucas’ eyes lower and he puts his hand on Scott’s. “That’s what these people will never understand. Just because something is taken away doesn’t mean it doesn’t still live in you. Do you understand?”
Scott’s throat constricts. “Yes,” he rasps.
Lucas’ chest expands, then he exhales softly. “You were the first man I was ever in love with, did you know that?”
“What?” Scott’s chest tightens.
“Yeah. I’d, uh, never been with another man before you. I… I was a late bloomer.” And he laughs, but Scott frowns. “But how perfect, right? What a romance. A beautiful ballet star, a spectacular production. And the music.” Lucas closes his eyes, inhales, then opens them, glazed.
“Oh, Lucas…” Scott brings his hand to his own cheek and feels its heat. “I had no idea.”
“I never told you because I was embarrassed. I hope… I hope it wasn’t too obvious or anything.” He swallows audibly, his eyes staring into the flame of a candle on the kitchen counter.
“Not at all.” Scott takes Lucas’ hand, runs his fingers across the swollen joints. He holds it his, feels Lucas’ warmth.
“Do you remember that night? When you wanted me to play for you?” He sits eagerly on the edge of the couch. “I played you Springtime in Vienna. It’s one of my favourites.”
“Me too,” Scott says quietly.
“You remember then?”
“Yes. That was romantic, wasn’t it?” Scott smiles. “I looked for that recording for years. Never was able to find it.”
“Wait.” Lucas pulls his hand away. “Can you bring me my cello?”
“Oh, no, Lucas. You don’t have to-”
“Please.” He motions toward the dining room. Scott retrieves the instrument. Lucas positions it so the neck rests on his right shoulder. With great care, he places his bent fingers on the strings, and readies the bow with a shaking hand.
With movement akin to a bird taking off for flight, Lucas plays. The hollow sound echoes against the apartment walls, rich and dark. Scott sits on the couch arm, mesmerized. The melody is as haunting today as it was ten years ago.
Lucas falters, repositions the bow. His fingers shake but he steadies them. His face tight with determination, he continues to play. Scott’s breath is caught in his lungs; he’s unable to move. His eyes sting with unexpected tears.
Lucas winces, and Scott takes the bow from him. He leans in, presses his lips against the older man’s. His lips are soft, warm. He inhales Lucas’ smell, the same masculine spice as before, only stronger. Scott runs his hands through Lucas’ hair, gets it caught in a tangle, but smooths it out easily.
Their lips press together harder. Scott’s tongue snakes into Lucas’ mouth. Lucas takes his face in his hands and pulls away. Their lips part with a gentle kiss.
“You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to do that,” Lucas says.
“Why didn’t you tell me you felt this way? You could’ve written-”
“I knew you didn’t feel the same way. You were younger then, just at the start of your career.” Lucas shrugs. “Besides, I guess I was afraid.”
“I just wanted so badly to be special to you. I guess I was afraid I’d scare you off. And then you took the job in Chicago, and I didn’t want to hold you back.”
“Lucas, loving someone should never hold you back.” He shakes his head and stammers, “If I’d have known, I mean… We could have tried to make it work.”
“You leaving has been the biggest regret of my life.”
Scott frowns. Perhaps it was the biggest regret of his life as well.
He replaces the cello, places the bow on top of the mess of sheet music, and returns to the couch. He sits on the coffee table, straddling Lucas’ legs, and begins to unbutton his shirt. Lucas’ chest is thin, bones prominent. Scott runs his hands up and down the washboard chest, patched with greyed hair. He kisses just below the collarbone and Lucas moans.
Scott takes his face in his hands, feels the rough of his stubble, and kisses away the saline tears that streak down his cheeks. Working slowly from his jaw to the side of his nose and back to his lips, Scott peppers Lucas with soft gentle kisses.
He helps him out of his shirt and removes his own. Lucas runs his hands along Scott’s slender chest, down his hips to the waistband of his jeans. Scott’s muscles tremor at his touch.
Lucas pulls Scott forward and embraces him. His hair feels rough against Scott’s bare chest, but his skin is soft and dry. He rests his head in the hollow of Lucas’ neck and breathes softly against him. Lucas pulls him tighter, and heat rushes to Scott’s groin. He’s throbbing against Lucas, his stomach muscles taught and burning, when he pulls away.
Lucas’ tears have stopped. Slowly, gently, Scott guides Lucas down to the couch.
Scott hits a near run on his way back to the theatre. He’s late, he’s not called Gary, and his foot is throbbing with every step. But he’s elated. His hairline is still slick with sweat from the sex – that he didn’t remember being nearly as desirable ten years ago – he’s not showered and his clothes are a rumpled mess. And he could care less.
He thumps along Market Street and wonders to himself, where was this man all those years ago?
But that isn’t it. He’s been there all along, Scott has just been too foolish not to see it. Lucas has more passion in a single note than Gary does in his entire body. Lucas just expresses his passion differently. Better.
Scott limps through the back entrance of Dock Street, slides in sideways to the dressing room. He’s hopping on his good foot, struggling with his tights, half naked, when Gary storms in.
“Where have you been? Why didn’t you call?”
Scott doesn’t look up. “I don’t have to check in with you.”
Gary grabs Scott by the arm. His face is red. “Scott, I told you we needed to discuss your injury. People are talking-”
Scott pulls away sharply. “I know. That’s why after this performance, I quit.”
“That’s right. You can take your corps de ballet and your twenty-one year old boyfriend and go fuck yourself.”
“And where will you be going?”
Scott pulls up the sequinned leotard and straightens his back. “Nowhere. I’m staying right here. Where I should have stayed all along.”
is a writer and nurse living in Kansas City. Her distractions include two dogs, a cat, and a room full of half-finished knitting projects. Her work has previously appeared in Hyacinth Noir, Literary Orphans and Word Riot.