Dance with your heart, and love will follow.
Kindergarten teacher Spenser Harris has carved a quiet, stable future out of his tumultuous past, but his world turns upside down the night a homeless teen appears on his doorstep—a boy whose story mirrors the one Spenser has worked so hard to overcome. The decision to shelter Duon is easy. What’s tricky is juggling the network of caregivers in Duon’s life, especially Tomás Jimenez.
Tomás wouldn’t have hesitated to take Duon in, but his plate is already full working three jobs to support his family. Though Spenser’s carefully constructed walls are clearly designed to keep the world at bay, Tomás pushes past Spenser’s defenses, determined to ensure the man is worthy of his charge. As the two of them grow closer, Tomás dares to dream of a life beyond his responsibilities, and Spenser begins to believe he might finally find a home of his own after all.
But Spenser and Tomás’s world is forever poised to crash down around their ears. Duon’s grandmother isn’t sure she wants him to be raised by a gay man and challenges Spenser’s custody. Tomás’s undocumented parents could be deported at any time, and all the while the state of Minnesota votes on a constitutional amendment against marriage equality and the US Supreme Court debates whether or not Spenser and Tomás get a happily ever after. All they can do is hold tight to their love, hope for a better future…and remind each other to enjoy the dance.
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Enjoy The Dance
By Heidi Cullinan, Sasha Knight
Heidi CullinanCopyright © 2016 Heidi Cullinan
All rights reserved.
October 11, 2012 Minneapolis, Minnesota
One cool October day, after a dispiriting seven hours of teaching privileged kindergarten children, Spenser Harris returned to his apartment to discover a teenage boy — battered, bruised, and coiled into a ball — in front of his door.
Spenser had learned to expect any number of unexpected happenings in his neighborhood, but nothing like this. His apartment building was old, but not run-down. It wasn't quaint enough to attract hipsters but not so low-rent it drew a bad element. People of all cultures lived there, and in the evenings a walk to the laundry room was a world tour of food smells. The family across from Spenser was Mexican by heritage, and the older couple who lived at the end of the hall was Ukrainian. A large percentage of the second and third floors were occupied by Somali immigrants, some who had been in Minnesota for a decade or longer, some who had arrived recently. The family who lived above him was in the latter category, and they argued loudly in a language Spenser didn't understand. The neighborhood had its off-color aspects, yes, but nothing to worry about. A drunk had taken up the habit of sleeping in the vestibule last winter when he couldn't make it all the way home, but he'd simply snored and sometimes vomited. Loud music from cars on the street was a common complaint. But it had never been unsafe, not for the residents or the people living around it.
It hadn't brought him a young man clutching a half-full black garbage bag, bleeding and trembling in the dim, flickering light of the hall.
A boy. He's only a boy.
He was Black, and so at first Spenser assumed he was from a family upstairs, but a closer inspection revealed Spenser hadn't seen anyone like him in the building before. He was dressed like a thrift-store music video, whereas Spenser's new-to-Minnesota Somali neighbors and their friends favored conservative clothes. Spenser couldn't begin to guess who the boy was or why he was here. But when his eyes accustomed to the dim light and saw the extent of the bruises on the young man's face and hands, the blood from his cuts dripping onto the floor, all thoughts of where he'd come from ceased.
Crouching, Spenser stayed several feet away, not wanting to frighten him. "Hey there. Can I help you?"
The boy startled despite Spenser's gentle approach, and when he lifted his head, Spenser's gut twisted as he got a full view of the damage to his face. One eye was completely swollen shut, and the other was a slit. His upper lip was split, rendering the boy's words barely legible as he spoke. "Waiting for Tomás."
Spenser was fairly sure Tomás was the younger man in the Jimenez family across the hall, the one Spenser's age, not the older man with streaks of silver in his hair who always smiled and wished Spenser good morning with a heavy Spanish accent. "He usually doesn't get home until after eight. Are his parents not in?"
The boy's gaze flickered warily in the direction of the apartment. "Parents? He don't live alone?"
Speaking the p made the boy's lip bleed, and Spenser put down his satchel, fishing for a package of tissues. He pulled one out and passed it and the packet to the young man. "Yes. Tomás lives with his parents. I think his sister and her children live there too, at least some of the time." He frowned as the boy bled faster than the tissues could sop it up. "I think you need to be seen by a doctor."
The young man shrank into the door. "No hospital."
Spenser didn't push the issue. Yet. "Will you wait for Tomás inside my apartment with me, at least?"
The boy still seemed unsure, but he also looked exhausted. He surveyed Spenser critically with his good eye, clearly trying to get a read.
Still crouched, Spenser moved a step closer and held out his hand. "Spenser Harris. Pleased to meet you."
"Duon Graves." He accepted Spenser's handshake with a weak, battered grip. "You let me in, I'll bleed on your floor."
"I don't care about that." Spenser rose, tugging gently on Duon. "Come on. Up you go."
"Why you so chill about somebody bleeding out, blocking your door? Might be a gangbanger. Might steal all your stuff."
Spenser's lock was a bitch to open on a good day, and it was significantly more of a struggle with an armful of bleeding teen. "Honey, I'm a teacher. I don't have any stuff to steal."
Duon tried to laugh, but the effort made him cough and wince in pain.
The lock cried uncle, and Spenser pushed open the door, leaving the keys in place as he ushered Duon inside and settled him at a chair at the table. His injuries were more alarming in the light, and Spenser debated calling 911 then and there. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and washed his hands briskly at the sink. "Can I get you something to drink?"
"I'm good." Duon coughed again, glancing around the apartment. "You keep a nice place. Neat and tidy. Homey."
The homey comment stroked something inside Spenser. He smiled as he pulled the first-aid kit from the top of the freezer, setting it aside as he filled a bowl with warm water and removed the paper towels from their holder beneath the cabinet, then carried the whole business to the table. "I do what I can."
"You live by yourself? No roommate, no live-in girlfriend?" Duon narrowed his good eye at Spenser, then ventured, "Boyfriend?"
Spenser faltered as he removed a pair of gloves from the small box inside the kit. "I live alone. Do you have a latex allergy?"
Duon's mouth thinned as he watched Spenser struggle with the gloves. "No. I don't have AIDS either."
"Gloves are standard first-aid universal precautions, and you have open wounds." Spenser surveyed the battle-ridden landscape of the boy before him. He decided to begin with his hands, though they were less injured. He wanted to let Duon warm up to the idea of being touched by a stranger, in case it made him nervous.
Spenser kept up get-to-know-you chatter as he coached Duon patiently through cleaning up first one arm, then the other. "I teach at St. Anthony's Catholic School. Kindergarten. My third year teaching full-time."
"You just out of college? Look older."
Spenser snorted as he dabbed antiseptic over a particularly ugly bruise Duon couldn't reach, gently holding his patient's arm in place as he winced. "I'm twenty-eight." He eyed Duon's left cheek as he dipped a towel into the water. "I'm going to clean your face. Is that all right?"
Duon nodded, a tight jerk of his head. He winced and focused on a point across the room as Spenser carefully cleaned his face. "You gay, right?"
Spenser paused. His gut instinct was to refuse to answer, but something about the dogged way Duon went after it made his panic falter. "Would it be a problem if I were?"
Duon stared back, unflinching. "Would it be if I were?"
Ah. Spenser resumed his ministrations. "Of course it wouldn't matter."
"Well, I am."
Spenser only hesitated long enough to draw a steadying breath. "Me too."
Duon flinched as Spenser began to clean his more swollen eye. "You should date Tomás. He's gay too. Never has a boyfriend, but I know he wants one."
Spenser fought a blush. He had noticed Tomás was handsome, and yes, he'd entertained fantasies about asking him out. But that was all the further he'd allowed himself to consider the matter. "He works a lot. I don't think he has time to date."
"Some good man should force him to make time."
Spenser opened his mouth to answer, then bit his lip as his gentle pats inspired a cut below Duon's eye to begin bleeding again. "You need stitches, Duon."
"I'll get those butterfly things the boxers wear. I'll be fine."
Spenser decided it was time he pressed for some real answers. He wanted to ask about how Duon got his injuries, but on instinct he adopted a more casual approach. "So. You know Tomás well?"
"Yeah. He teaches dance at the studio where I go."
"Tomás teaches dance?"
Duon smiled enough to nearly reopen his lip. "Thinking about him in tights? A dance belt?"
Spenser was now. He made a production of peeling off a new towel, dampening it, and wringing it out. "I don't know him well. I've only met him in the hall a few times."
"He teaches modern dance. He's pretty good, but everyone who works there is. The guy who owns the studio used to be a big-time dancer. Laurence Parker."
Spenser had heard of him, which was saying something. "Sounds like a great place to take dance."
"Laurie gave me a scholarship. If I help around the studio, I get lessons. I can't go all the time, though. Grandma says it's too girly, and if I go too much, she gets mad."
The mention of his grandmother made Duon's face cloud. Spenser pressed on carefully. "Do you live with your grandparents?"
"Just my grandma. Grandpa died a few years ago. Mom's in prison until I'm thirty." He smiled, a thin, grim gesture made more menacing by his bleeding lip. "Mandatory minimums."
Spenser dropped his paper towel in the water, hiding the shaking of his hands in a production of wringing it out as he schooled his reaction. He cleared his throat. "Is your grandmother good to you?"
He shrugged, looked away. "She tries, but she busy. She don't like that I'm gay. Says it's gonna get me beat up. And that it's against God."
Duon stopped talking, shuttering as if he realized he'd said too much. It told Spenser everything he needed to know, and it broke his heart, even as it stirred old ghosts. Leave it to Spenser to have a younger version of himself stop by unannounced.
Of course, Spenser had never shown up on anyone's doorstep bloody. "Who beat you up, Duon? Did they follow you here?"
Duon's laugh was short and sad, full of heaviness. "No. Nobody following me anywhere."
"So it was someone at home who did this."
Duon stiffened, his less-swollen eye welling with tears.
Spenser gentled him with a touch on his biceps. "It's all right. They can't hurt you now."
It wasn't his words, Spenser knew, but his tone that broke through. It wasn't simply six-year-olds who responded to it. Spenser's adoptive mother had said he could lure the devil himself to confession by asking him if he wanted to sit and talk. Everyone wanted to tell Spenser their stories.
"My cousins. Caught me with a guy. Beat on us both. They done it before, but never this bad. I think they would have killed Bobby, except he's older and big. He whaled on them as good as he got, then ran as soon as he could. Took me a little longer to get away."
So nice of Bobby to leave you with the people beating you down. Spenser didn't respond, though, only waited patiently as Duon gathered himself enough to continue.
"I tried to clean up, but nobody would let me into a store all beat up. Wanted to sneak into the bathroom at home, change clothes, and make it not look so bad. But Gran caught me. Asked what happened. She was all upset, and I thought maybe she was on my side, so I told her the truth." He huffed, a defeated, flat sound. "Big mistake. She called my cousins out, and they told her a bunch of lies. Made it all my fault somehow, like I was some big whore. Said I did this all the time, that I was having sex with older men for drugs. She didn't listen when I told her they was lying. Didn't matter to her."
He pointed to the cut on his cheek. "She knocked me into the coffee table, she slapped me so hard. Told me to get my ass out if I was gonna do drugs and be a disgusting pervert." His countenance hardened, though Spenser could still see the wounded boy beneath. "I ain't doing none of that, but I ain't gonna sit there and let them say shit about me, either. I'm done. I grabbed my social security card and the stuff I needed and got out. Gonna get a job and forget them, forever."
Spenser glanced at the garbage bag Duon had brought in and placed beside him on the chair. "Are you sure your grandmother isn't searching for you? Maybe she was upset in the moment, but she'd calm if someone helped explain?"
"Not if some white dude like you was doing the talking." Duon rubbed his leg self-consciously, staring off into space. "She tired. She got all of us dumped on her. There's nobody else around to take care of us, with my aunt working and everybody else a hot mess or gone. I'm better on my own. Was hoping I could crash with Tomás for the night, until I could figure something out. Didn't know about his parents. Thought he lived alone or something. Wasn't thinking." He coughed and winced, the glaze of tears thickening. "Almost went to Ed and Laurie's, but it's their anniversary. They don't need this shit. But it's no big deal. I'll find something."
Tucking his fury into the corner where he would deal with it later, Spenser focused his mental energy on the boy before him. "Did you get anything to eat today, Duon?"
Duon nodded gingerly. He'd begun to appear dull, the fight leaching out of him. "Lunch at school."
"I haven't eaten dinner yet. I'll make extra for you, and we can eat while we wait for Tomás. Why don't you lie down on the couch and rest until it's ready? But maybe you'd like a shower first. Do you have clean clothes in your bag? Or do you need to borrow some?"
Duon tucked his garbage bag self-consciously under his chair and made no further comment.
Spenser pressed the issue gently. "I can lend you a T-shirt and some sweatpants and a pair of thick, warm socks."
Duon's gaze cut to Spenser, the swollen eye cracking open, weighing the man before him as fully as possible.
Spenser held still under the assessment. "We can call someone else, if you want, or wait for Tomás. I can set us up some chairs in the hallway."
Duon smiled around his split lip. "Dude, I know you ain't gonna hurt me." Duon touched his wounded cheek with his fingers. "I can hold it shut with clear tape, if you got some. Done it before."
"Sure. I'll put it on the table so you can use it after your shower."
Spenser helped Duon to his feet and led him to the small bath off the living room. Laid out a towel, a washcloth, a change of clothes. Noted how Duon's gaze lingered on the socks, which were indeed thick and cozy-looking. Spenser put a large glass of water on the tank of the toilet too, after he showed Duon how to work the old-fashioned taps.
"Take your time, okay?" He gestured to the old-fashioned lock. "The door locks. Just turn this knob here."
Duon kept his gaze on Spenser as he clutched the towel. "Thanks."
"No trouble at all." Spenser waved goodbye, shut the door, and went to the kitchen.
He stood at the sink, rigid, barely breathing until he heard the shower running. Then he let out a breath and went to the table, crouching beside Duon's garbage bag.
It was the smell that got him. Not a stench, not an odor, only a smell. The kind Spenser had caught on a few of the children when he was a student teacher in a public school in Minneapolis. The smell and the memories it brought had made him take a lower-paying job at a private school in hopes it meant he wouldn't encounter the scent again. Now here it was, blooming out of a plastic bag, taking Spenser to places he'd never wanted to return. The smell of unwashed things marinating on a dirty floor. Of a body sweating a little more than it should, of nervousness and fear. Of clothes aired in the out-of-doors on the body of a boy who didn't want to go home.
Or maybe his discomfort had nothing to do with any of those things. Maybe it came from something else, and Spenser's murky memories filled in the rest. Memories involving hastily packing a black garbage bag of his own.
Holding the edges of Duon's garbage bag tight in his fists, Spenser wept quietly for about three minutes. He made silent vows, hatched plans, and outlined stratagems for what he would do if, in fact, Duon was right and his grandmother didn't want him, if there was nowhere else for him to go. If Tomás didn't turn out to be the savior Duon was hoping he would be.
If Duon turned out to be exactly like Spenser after all.
After shutting the bag and tucking it under the chair where Duon had left it, Spenser blew his nose, dried his eyes, and busied himself with making dinner. But the smell of the bag lingered, as did the memory of Duon's too-sharp, weary gaze as the bathroom door closed between them.
While his boss got ready to go on his first-anniversary dinner date with his husband, Tomás Jimenez argued with his mother on the phone as he dry-mopped the dance floor, sprayed down the mirrored walls, and disinfected the barre of the Dayton's Bluff Parker Dance Studio. "No, I don't need a new sweater, Mama."
"But they're on sale. Only two dollars. In a nice blue. It would bring out your eyes."
"I don't need a sweater. Save the money, okay?" "You would look handsome in this, and I want you to have it." She sighed. "I'm going to buy it. You'll wear it to church. If you ever go again, God save your soul."
Excerpted from Enjoy The Dance by Heidi Cullinan, Sasha Knight. Copyright © 2016 Heidi Cullinan. Excerpted by permission of Heidi Cullinan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The characters are appealling and the storyline interesting but both are overwhelmed by extended lectures on the author's political points. Absolutely marriage equality, homeless LGBT youth, immigration, etc are imporrant issues and can be addressed in romance novels, but the story should be more than just a convenient prop. Also... I now know more about the artist Mika than I ever thought I would, which was a weird and oddly noteworthy little interlude. Ive read a lot of Heidi Cullinan's work and enjoyed them, and have noticed a few moments of preachyness. But in more recent books, lecture mode really seems to be more and more dominant. It distracts from good storylines which is very disappointing.
Nothing short of Freakin' Amazing! Heidi has topped herself with this one. Tomás, Spencer and Duon create a beautiful life; full of family and love. I enjoyed seeing Ed and Laurie, Oliver and Charles and Vicki all from Dance with Me and Marcus from Let is Snow. All the supporting characters added so much to the story, they became parts of the family that Tomás and Spencer create. My favorite moment in the midst of so many wonderful moments was when Oliver thanks Tomás for allowing him to create a light against the darkness. It left me speechless. Standing ovation Ms. Cullinan! Highly recommended author Adult read
Everything I love about Heidi Cullinen's books. Great characters, lots of heart and an intelligent storyline that keeps you thinking while you enjoy every minute of it. Loved it!
Enjoy the Dance is the second story in the contemporary romance series Dancing by Heidi Cullinan. I’ve not yet had the pleasure of reading the first book in the series, but the presence of Ed and Laurie as secondary characters in this one has definitely convinced me to move it up my TBR. This story strikes a timely balance between the politics of today and a romance between two very different people who find their way to a happy ending. Since we are in the middle of an election year, where topics such as immigration and LGBTQ marriage equality rights are still at the forefront, I found this snapshot of the time before the 2012 election an interesting look back at policies in the United States then and now. Though much of the story takes place right around that election period, the second half also brings to light some timely legislation that has since passed. While politics might not be everyone’s favourite topic, I really enjoyed how it was an integral part of the story here. Tomas and his sister have legal status in the United States, but his parents are undocumented immigrants, and always aware of the threat of deportation. With the child welfare system aware of the problems Tomas’s sister has raising her children, it’s an extra headache for Tomas, worrying about who will show up on his doorstep. Though he never thought it would be Duon, that situation turns out to be the catalyst to push Spenser and Tomas to deal with the attraction between them, never fully acknowledged in their brief neighbourly meetings until now. Amid the political turmoil, there is also a sweet slow burn romance that develops between Spenser and Tomas. Tomas worries that Spenser won’t be patient with all the time he must spend working to support his family. For Spenser though, that’s not so much an issue as is his own reluctance to get emotionally involved. He’s been through enough situations in his life where trusting others led to naught, and he’s reluctant to open himself up to Tomas, at least at first. But gradually they come to share their thoughts and feelings with each other. As well, there are some sexy love scenes between the couple once things have progressed, an intimacy that neither takes lightly. We get some great scenes with secondary characters along the way, in particular Ed and Laurie and other friends. The dancing scenes are wonderful, describing a variety of dance styles and resulting in a nice musical soundtrack running through my head while reading the book. All in all, it’s a wonderfully entertaining and heartwarming romance with a well earned happy ending.
If you have Spotify you need to check out Heidi's playlist for Enjoy the Dance. It was so much fun to listen to playlist on the way back and forth from work and then getting to come and read the story. I enjoyed deciding where different songs would fit in the story. While Spenser is a white, gay male and I'm a straight white female we have some things in common that made it easy to relate to him. I work for a religious based daycare where I would not freely share my reading list. Also, where I would not be able to share my thoughts on marriage equality or even tell them my son is gay. Also, I'm very much a home body as well. I loved that despite all that he was facing and going through he was still a caring person willing to stick his next out to help others. Tomas is a very strong individual who has been handling so many things on his plate. His family is so important to him and he has put so much on hold in his life. His family is also loving and caring and embrace these new people who are being made a part of their family. Together they bring out the best in each other. And while their romance is very special but they are not the only important people in this story. Duon is also a very important person to the story. It helps to bring out more of Spenser's own story and to help us see his big heart and his willing to pay it forward to honor those who reached out to him. Duon is strong in his own way and with just a bit of understanding and security he is able to fly. Also, that all of this helps to lead to restoration in healing in all kinds of family situations. This story is strong and powerful. It brings out a full range of emotions and was a wonderful reading experience.
Doesn't at all read like other Heidi Cullinan books, especially those in this series Two if my favorite all time books are by Heidi Cullinan, but Iwas pretty disappointed in this book Also, I am an RN at a public hospital working in discharge planning, and it is not legal or ethical to deport someone or report them to immigration when they come in for medical care No exceptions at all; we fix them then send them out the door--NOT into the hands of ICE Had a hard time dealing with that storyline because it is so blatantly wrong