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New York, Present Day
Gabrielle Brooks Lacroix reached the half–open doorway in her mother's second–floor apartment just in time to catch the final clinch of the "Dance of Love" scene in White Tie and Tails. As she watched her mother's youthful monochrome image lovingly embrace that of Price Garfield, Anita herself looked on raptly from the peach–colored couch in front of the television.
"Life was meant to be a dance of love "
Gabby instantly recognized the theme song from the famous nostalgia musical set in the thirties. After teaching three classes in a row, she'd left her first–floor Broadway Bound Dance School to relax in her own apartment upstairs. Even though she was pooped, Gabby couldn't ignore the fact that her mother was viewing her old movies again.
Opening the door wide, she asked loudly, "Feeling nostalgic today?"
Anita started and glanced over her shoulder. "Oh hello, sweetheart." She immediately clicked the remote control, shutting off both the television and the DVD player. Then she smoothed back her white hair, as if she were trying to wipe away her guilty expression. "I didn't notice you standing there."
"I wasn't. I just heard the music and decided to see what you were up to."
Gabby wouldn't really care about her mother watching the old movies if Anita could do so unemotionally. Maybe, by now, that was possible. It had been quite a while since Anita had dug one of them out.
Her mother looked over Gabby's new lavender leotard and matching wrap skirt. "You look good in that color. You ought to wear it more often." She motioned to the overstuffed chair across from her. "Sit down and tell me how your classes are going."
Not particularly in the mood to discuss her work, Gabby skirted the couch to plop down in the chair. "The classes are fine. What have you been doing this afternoon?" she asked pointedly. Since Anita only coached a few special students herself, the older woman had plenty of time to indulge in past triumphs and troubles.
"Oh, a little of this and that," Anita hedged before changing the subject. "Did Heather get that part she tried out for?"
Gabby sighed. "None of our students has gotten a job lately."
"Kirk's still dancing in that off–off–Broadway horror musical."
"If you can call doing the limbo as a zombie dancing."
"Ah, well, that's not the worst job in the world," Anita insisted. "Broadway candidates have to pay their dues."
In hopes of getting somewhere, Gabby thought, though many never did, including herself. She'd been fed up with the constant rat race by the time she'd retired last year. At thirty–three she'd been a little long in the tooth for Broadway chorus lines, anyway. She stretched out her legs, glancing down at her tights and kidskin dance slippers, eternal reminders of what might have been.
"If you want to go somewhere, I can get Jane to take my tap class this evening," Gabby offered, thinking she could use some extra time away from the school.
"I don't want to go anywhere. Can't we just sit here and share some small talk?" Anita asked sweetly. "I'm always interested in the business."
Certainly not because of the income, Gabby knew. When her father died of a heart attack two years before, he'd left his wife with enough investments to retire on and still continue to live comfortably in the Greenwich Village building they'd bought years ago.
"The school's in the black and everyone's doing a fine job," Gabby said. Her mother had given over the management of the business to her youngest child when Gabby had agreed to work with her. "I'm satisfied." She glanced at the television, thinking about the topic the older woman had cleverly avoided discussing. "How come you're watching your old movies, anyway? You know how they get to you."
Anita smiled reassuringly at the child she'd always been closest to. "You don't have to worry. I wasn't sitting here mooning over the past."
"Are you sure?"
Gabby remained suspicious. At seventy–five her mother was in excellent physical and mental health but still capable of becoming distressed over Brooks/Garfield movies. The first time Gabby had caught her mother viewing her personal copy of White Tie and Tailswith a VCR in pre–DVD daysAnita had been weeping openly. Ten–year–old, em–pathetic Gabby had been very upset and had needed to be comforted and urged to keep the secret from her absent father.
"I just wish you'd quit carrying a torch for that jerk Price Garfield, Mom."
Gabby was still resentful of the man who'd ruined her mother's life in more ways than one. Undoubtedly aware that he'd been second best, that his wife would never love him as much as he loved her, Robert Lacroix had immersed himself in his surgery practice ever since Gabby could remember. He'd been an uninvolved, distant father.
"I know Price for what he is," Anita said, sounding exceptionally calm.
Gabby was surprised. Her mother's faded blue eyes seemed brighter, as if, for once, she was more excited than sad after viewing the old film.
"Besides, Price wasn't dancing alone in those movies. I also enjoy watching myself," Anita went on. "After all, I don't have any film clips from my Broadway musicals." She laughed shortly. "Not that the critics would think that was footage worth saving."
"The Broadway critics were blind." Gabby was certain her mother's career had floundered merely because of bad luck precipitated by the split with Price Garfield. Anita had been the victim of lackluster scripts, forgettable songs and poor timing. "You were always a wonderful performer. You just didn't click with the right material." Something that had also happened to her the few times she'd won small roles, she reflected.
Anita rose to give Gabby a hug. "Have I told you lately you're a beautiful, wonderful daughter?"
"Not for a while."
"Well, you are. And you're a fabulous dancer to boot. Never forget that." Anita patted her daughter on the back before moving away. "A professional needs a healthy ego."
"Thanks, Mom. My ego can always use some strokes."
Gabby almost said she only wished she were still in the professional category, but thought better of it. Having feigned to be happy in retirement, to consider the school a new, invigorating challenge, she would only upset her mother if she admitted otherwise.
"Actually, I had a more practical reason for looking at White Tie and Tails this afternoon," Anita admitted as she headed for the bedroom. "Come on, I want to check on something."
Curious, Gabby followed, her footsteps muffled by the apartment's cream–colored, wall–to–wall carpeting. The peach shades dominating the living room carried through to the bedroom, as well, though the bedspread and the drapes were a pale Pacific aqua. A portrait of her mothercommissioned by her father just after they were marriedhung over the bedroom fireplace, reminding Gabby of how much she looked like Anita.
"Here we are." Her mother threw open the lid of a small trunk that had been dragged outside the closet. Leaning over, she riffled through wads of tissue paper to withdraw a slippery satin gown. The smell of mothballs permeated the air. "Remember my costume from the 'Dance of Love' scene?"
"Of course I do."
The dress was her mother's favorite piece of memorabilia, one Gabby hadn't seen in years. Anita had kept her stash of old costumes, props and scripts hidden from her family, but Gabby had managed to find them. Another secret she'd had to keep from her father, she thought sadly as her mother stroked the material. Now yellowed with age, the once–white garment was a beautiful recreation of the thirties bias–cut.
"It's still gorgeous," Gabby murmured, fingering one of the skirt's wide godets. "The Metropolitan Museum's costume department would love to get their hands on this, especially since the Brooks/Garfield movies are considered classics of nostalgia."
"Well, I'm not giving it to them." Anita held the gown at arm's length, lining it up against Gabby as she narrowed her eyes. "Hmm, you're a little taller than I, and you have wider shoulders, but this dress might fit, anyway."
"You want me to try it on?"
"Don't you think that would be fun? We've got the same coloring, same eyes, a similar shade of hair." Anita paused. "At least I used to be a strawberry blonde." She sighed. "Time flies. Come onlet's see what you look like in this."
Unable to figure out why her mother was insisting, Gabby took the dress from her. "I suppose I can try the dress on, if that would make you happy."
"Making you happy is what I'm most concerned about." When Gabby raised her brows, Anita went on, "I don't want to do this just to get even, you understand. I'm hoping you can make a name for yourself."
Gabby didn't understand at all. She frowned. "What on earth are you talking about?"
"How would you like to go to L.A. to perform?"
"Perform in what?" Despite the crazy circumstances, Gabby's heart gave an excited lurch at the very thought of dancing professionally again.
"You've been offered a job appearing at the grand opening of a plush new Hollywood nostalgia club that will showcase re–creations of famous numbers from musicals of the '30s, '40s and '50s."
"By whom? And why would someone have contacted you instead of me?"
"Because Lucille Talbot was the person making the offer. She called me today and told me all about her idea."
"Lucille?" Gabby hardly knew the woman, though Anita and the former comic actress had corresponded from time to time.
"She owns a percentage of the place. It's going to be called Cheek to Cheek." Obviously excited, her mother beamed. "Cheek to Cheek." A thirties classic and an apt name for a nostalgia club.
"Is this offer for real?" Pulse thrumming, Gabby clutched the dress tighter, wondering if she were dreaming. "Why didn't you tell me right away?"
"I wanted to surprise you." Anita made an expansive gesture. "They're paying for our plane fares as well as for the performance itself. Not that the opportunity isn't far more important than the money."
"You're going, too?"
Her mother nodded. "As a consultant. I told Lucille we'd need a week or two to make arrangements for the dance school."
"Oh!" Unable to contain her excitement, Gabby dropped the dress on the bed and hugged her mother. "This is wonderful news."
"Isn't it? And you're going to be great. I can just see you whirling across the floor in front of the crowd. They'll have an orchestra, you know, and be playing tunes like 'Dance of Love.' I told you I had a practical reason for watching that movie." Anita glanced at the satin gown. "I was hoping we could use this costumefor nostalgia's sakebut I guess it's too discolored and fragile. Oh, well, a good seamstress can whip up a copy."
"So I'll be doing ballroom dancing?"
"That and a little tap. You know, the sort of numbers you'd find in a classic musical." Appearing a little uneasy, Anita suddenly sobered. "Umm you won't mind appearing as Gabrielle Brooks, will you? Please don't feel threatened," she continued quickly. "For once, my name can be of help to you."
"I'm not threatened."
Gabby smiled at her mother warmly. Sure of herself as a performer even though she had never made it big, she also had a solid sense of personal identity. Though she'd never used it professionally before, Gabby had always liked having Brooks as part of her legal name, something Anita hadn't given to her three older children. The name had been part of the special bond she and her mother shared.
"And once the media sees the extent of your talent, you'll stand on your own," Anita was saying. "All the papers will have reporters there, you know, not to mention several television news crews. The club's supposed to be a beautifully renovated place, all Art Deco."
And full of possibility. Gabby's spirit hadn't risen so high in years. Her mind, however, dealt with the practicalities. She felt the length of her ponytail, thinking she should get her long hair cut. She also wondered how many dances she they'd be performing. But first things first. "I'm going to need a dance partner," she told her mother.
"That's been taken care of," Anita said, quickly stooping to rummage in the trunk again as if she were hiding.
"I have a couple of more dresses in here," Anita said without looking up. "They're not in much better condition, but we should show them to the seamstress. They flow beautifully when you dance."
Gabby frowned as her mother chattered on. "Wait a minute. Who's taken care of finding me this dance partner?" A mismatched partner could mean a disaster.
Anita straightened. "Lucille said everything's been arranged."
Something about the older woman's expression made Gabby suspicious. Anita might be an actress, but she couldn't fool the child closest to her. Gabby had always been able to sense her mother's moods at a gut level. "What are you hiding? Come on, Mom, out with it."
Anita took a deep breath and sat down on the chair in front of her dressing table. "I knew it would be impossible to string you along." She looked even more guilty than when Gabby had caught her watching the videotape earlier. "All right, your partner is going to be Kit Garfield."
"Garfield? " The infamous name seemed to bounce off the walls.
"Kit is Price's son, his only child."
So the attraction of the performance was to be a reuniting of Brooks and Garfield. Gabby's high hopes plummeted. "I don't want to dance with a Garfield."
Anita nodded. "I understand how you feel."
"I won't dance with a Garfield." Price had ruined her mother's life, and Gabby had resented him since she was ten.
Her dreams turned to ashes, Gabby asked, "How could you even suggest it? Call Lucille Talbot right now and tell her she's going to have to get someone else. Tell her."
Anita held up a silencing hand. "That was my first reaction when she broached the subject today. But my second reaction was a bit less emotional. I made myself listen to what she had to say. She mentioned the opportunitiesall the media coverage, West Coast theater, films. And the opening night proceeds will go to charity, funding a group home for indigent show business seniors. Not all of my old friends were lucky enough to find security in their golden years, you know."
Gabby knew how strongly her mother felt about the way Hollywood treated aging film stars. And considering her own experiences with that problem on Broadway, she could understand. Still, a retirement home wasn't the issue here.
"I thought you despised Price Garfield." But even as she spoke, Gabby realized her mother's feelings for the man were far more complex than that.
"I have no use for the man. But listen." Anita rose to face her daughter. "You have to be clever to survive sometimes. Why not take advantage of this situation? Price is a legend. His name will draw all the most important people to this opening."
"He used you."
"So let's use him back."
Gabby was amazed her mother was being so cool. In the past Anita wouldn't have been able to remain unemotional where Price was concerned. "You don't think this will make you look like you're eating crow?"
"I can stand a little crow after all these years. Think about dancing in front of that audience."
Gabby had to admit her mother was making sensein a perverse sort of way. "I guess I've danced with partners I didn't like from time to time."
"And you can do it again."
"Maybe we should both sleep on this tonight," Gabby said, still unsure. Trying to find a personal reason to back out and thereby save her mother grief, she asked, "Is Kit Garfield a professional dancer? I don't want to get on the dance floor with some amateur who happens to have a famous name."
"Lucille claims he used to be professional, though he never became an actor in the movies like his father. He used to dance with a partner in clubs." When Gabby didn't immediately agree to work with the man, Anita said, "We can call Lucille back with our final answer tomorrow."