In this short story prequel to Pretending to Dance, psychologist Graham Arnette longs to dance the way he used to, before illness stole his ability to walk. Graham lives on one hundred acres of family land with his daughter Molly and his wife Nora-and with Amalia, a green-eyed beauty with whom Graham shares his hopes and fears. Six-year-old Molly is the light of Graham's life. As he and his extended family turn an old springhouse into a playhouse for her, long buried hostilities emerge that lead to anger and resentment. . . and, ultimately, to the healing power of family love.
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Press|
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About the Author
DIANE CHAMBERLAIN is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels published in over eleven languages. Her books include The First Lie, Her Mother's Shadow, The Good Father, and Kiss River. She lives in North Carolina with her partner, photographer John Pagliuca, and her shelties, Keeper and Cole.
Read an Excerpt
The Dance Begins
By Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Diane Chamberlain
All rights reserved.
Morrison Ridge, North Carolina
In the dream, he danced with his six-year-old daughter. Her small bare feet were on his shoes, the toes curled as she gripped him like a little monkey, and he held her hands. Her dark hair was loose, free of its braids, and she looked up at him with clear blue eyes. No glasses. She giggled as he swept her around the living room to Stevie Nicks singing "Stop Draggin' my Heart Around." Even with her feet on his, he moved fluidly, easily. He was very nearly flying around the room. It astonished him how easily he moved. It was a relief. But then he woke up.
Nora sat on her side of the bed, running her fingers through her sleep-tousled pale blond hair. The weather report was on the radio. Summer had finally arrived in the North Carolina mountains, the broadcaster said. Nora switched off the radio, then turned to look at Graham. She smiled at him, brushing her hand over his thick dark hair, which was probably jutting up in a hundred different directions. Her hand came to rest on his arm through his pajama top.
"Going to be a beautiful day," she said.
"I had a dream." He knew she'd tired long ago of listening to his dreams, but she never tuned him out. As a psychologist, he put more weight in his dreams than the average person. He loved to hear about Nora's dreams, too, and he always wanted every little detail. Nora was not an open book. Her dreams gave him more of a sense of who she really was. "I was dancing with Molly," he said. "She had her feet on mine. ... You know what I mean? You know how you see dads dancing with their little girls, with their feet on —"
"Uh-huh." She nodded patiently. He felt her hand tighten on his arm, almost imperceptibly. He felt both comfort and concern in the touch. She knew how much he wished he could still dance.
"We were dancing to 'Stop Draggin' My Heart Around.' "
Nora smiled. "Perfect," she said.
"And I danced the way I used to, you know? It was so easy. Even with Molly on my feet, my legs felt like nothing. Like they were filled with air."
He couldn't read her expression. It wasn't pity. Never pity from Nora. It wasn't worry, either. He read into it, I wish I could make things better for you, Graham. She did, though. Every day she made his life as good, as easy, as she possibly could. He couldn't imagine his world without her in it.
"Better get up," she said, leaning over to kiss him on the lips. The kiss erased the dream and brought him into the moment and he slipped one hand into her hair to keep her with him. He wanted to make the kiss go on and on, but she drew away a few inches.
"I'm the only pharmacist today," she said. "Can't be late."
He lowered his hand to her rib cage, his fingers resting on the side of her breast through her nightgown. He had no patients today and wished she didn't need to work. He glanced at the clock radio on the night table. "You have time." He moved his hand until his thumb grazed her nipple through the fabric and she shut her eyes and sucked in her breath.
"Let me just lock the door," she said, lifting his hand to her lips, and he knew they would make love and it would be good. Almost as good as dancing with his daughter.
* * *
"I am going to be so late," Nora said afterward, but she was smiling as she wriggled her way into her panty hose. She looked down at him. He was still in bed and feeling quite content with the way the morning had gone so far. He stretched his arms over his head and she leaned over to give his hip a playful swat. "Come on, Graham," she said. "Get up or you'll be making your own breakfast."
"Wouldn't want that," he said, pushing himself into a sitting position. He rested his elbows on his knees and ran his fingers through his hair.
"What are your plans for the day?" she asked as she helped him lower his legs over the side of the bed.
"I want to lend a hand in the springhouse," he said. "Not sure what I can do, but hopefully there's something." The family was turning the springhouse into a playhouse. Molly was going to love it. "I'll take Molly with me, of course," he added.
Nora lifted a blouse from the hanger on the closet door. "I know Amalia is chomping at the bit to take the training wheels off Molly's bike," she said as she slipped into the blouse. "I just don't think she's ready."
He smiled at her. "Your overprotective side is showing," he said. He stood up carefully, then lowered himself to the seat of his mobility scooter, lifting his legs onto the platform. "She's six," he said. "She's ready. I never even had training wheels on my bike."
She stopped buttoning her blouse. "You're kidding," she said. "On these hilly roads?"
"Not kidding. How old were you when yours were taken off?"
"I don't remember." She finished buttoning her blouse. "I might have been Molly's age, but I grew up in a nice flat neighborhood. Nothing like Morrison Ridge. I just don't think she's —
"If you had your way," he interrupted her, "she'd still have training wheels when she's a teenager."
She nodded. "I like that idea," she said.
"I think they can come off today," he said, turning the key on the tiller. "She'll be fine."
* * *
A year ago, he could have made it to the bathroom with just his cane. He probably still could, but it wasn't worth the risk. Last year they'd had the master bathroom remodeled with a roll-in shower and a lower sink and higher toilet. Everything he needed to keep him as independent as possible for as long as possible. They'd had the closet expanded, too, so that he had room to transfer from the scooter to an armchair, where he could dress. They'd first put an armless chair in the closet, but three months ago, he'd fallen from it. He'd felt himself slipping sideways as he pulled on his jeans and there had been nothing to grab onto to break the fall. Nora had been at work and he lay there until Molly got home from school. He was so stiff by then that he could do little to help Molly get him up, and she had to call the sheriff, a guy he'd known since elementary school. He came out and got Graham to his feet with one burly arm, easy as lifting a pillow from the floor. Sometimes the humiliation was worse than the disease.
By the time he made it to the breakfast table on his scooter, Molly was halfway through a waffle and Nora stood next to the waffle iron at the kitchen counter, steam filling the air next to her.
"Hi, Daddy!" Molly said, hopping up from her chair. She climbed onto the floor of his scooter and leaned over to peck him on the cheek. When had she gotten so tall? Had she been that tall in his dream?
"Morning, sunshine," he said as she began buttoning his shirt. "You're almost too big to share the scooter with me."
"Then you need to get a bigger scooter," she said matter-of-factly as she buttoned the last button. He could see the gaps in her mouth where she was losing her teeth, one on the top, one on the bottom. They only made her cuter. She stepped off the scooter and returned to her chair at the table.
"One or two waffles?" Nora asked him. She already had her white pharmacist coat on. Her hair was pulled back in its usual low ponytail and her cheeks still looked flushed from their lovemaking. Yes, he'd made her late this morning, but he was quite sure she had no regrets.
"One will be fine," he said, stepping from the scooter to his seat at the head of the table. He smiled at his daughter. "You know what's happening today, darling?" he asked.
"The springhouse!" she said. She was adorable. He honestly didn't think he felt that way simply because she was his daughter. He saw plenty of kids in his therapy practice and none of them was as beautiful as his own child. She wore her brown hair in two long braids Nora plaited for her every morning. Her bangs were a bit too long right now and they brushed the top of her diminutive blue glasses. She'd picked blue frames because they matched her eyes, and he'd thought that was pretty sophisticated thinking for a five-year-old, the age she'd been when she first needed them. She had freckles across the bridge of her nose that disappeared in the wintertime and reappeared every spring. They were just beginning to show up now that the weather was warm.
"Yup, the springhouse," he said as Nora set a plate in front of him, the waffle already cut into bite-size pieces. "Thanks, hon," he said to her, then returned his attention to Molly. "It won't be ready for you to play in today, but maybe by this weekend, all right?" He picked up his fork and ate a bite of the waffle. He was more excited about the springhouse than he'd expected. Probably more excited than Molly right now. For him, the little building was a source of nostalgia. He'd had so much fun there when he was her age and on into his teenage years.
"And we'll sleep over in it?" Molly lifted her glass of orange juice to her lips with both hands.
"We sure can," he said.
"You'll stay with me?" Molly asked.
"You bet," he said.
Nora sat down opposite him with her bowl of oatmeal. "I should probably be the one to stay there with you," she said to Molly. He saw Molly's face fall and hoped Nora didn't notice. Molly was Daddy's girl. Always had been.
"We can trade off," he said. He knew Nora was worried that something might happen in the middle of the night — another fall, perhaps — and he and Molly would be trapped out there in the dark until morning. She was a worrier. He supposed one of them had to be.
"Can Amalia spend the night, too?" Molly asked.
He glanced at Nora, who gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.
"We can talk about that later," he said. Like his daughter, he lifted his orange juice glass to his lips with both hands as he tried to think of a change of topic. "You know what you need to take with us, Molly?" he asked, setting the glass down again. "Your treasure box."
"Why?" she asked. She looked worried. Last year, Amalia had helped her cover a shoe box with craft paper and sequins and ribbon and Molly kept her cache of seashells and other valuables inside it. She was very protective of her treasure box.
"Because there's a special hiding place in the springhouse that's perfect for your treasures."
"But I keep them under my bed." She liked order in her world. Nora fostered that in her.
"Bring them," Graham said. "The smaller things, anyhow. The hiding place is very cool. When you see it, you can decide if you want to leave them there or not."
"Okay." She still sounded uncertain.
"And you'd better bring some books to read today." He ate the last bite of his waffle. "It might get a little boring for you while everyone's working." She was a good reader. The best reader in her class. He was worried she'd be bored next year in the first grade.
"The springhouse is going to be my playhouse, right? All mine."
He was amused. "It will belong to everyone on Morrison Ridge, darling," he said.
She wrinkled her nose. "Dani, too?" Dani was her nine-year-old cousin. They were oil and water when they got together.
"Dani, too," he said, though he doubted Molly would have much competition from her cousins when it came to the springhouse. Dani thought it was too spooky, tucked so deeply into the woods. And the only other kids on Morrison Ridge were now teenagers and probably could care less.
"I can share," Molly said, but she didn't look happy about it. Sharing was a bit of an issue with her. He wished he and Nora could have given her a sibling, but that hadn't been in the cards.
Nora looked at her watch. "I'm going to get fired," she said as she got to her feet, but he knew she wasn't serious. He watched her carry her bowl to the sink.
"Molly and I will do the dishes," he said.
She picked up her purse from the counter and bent down to give Molly a kiss on the top of her head. "Have fun, honey," she said. Then she walked to where Graham was sitting and leaned over to kiss him on the lips. She licked her own lips. "Maple syrup," she said. "Delicious." She smiled, then added, "Everything about this morning has been delicious."
"What are you talking about?" Molly hated it when conversations flew over her head.
"She loved her oatmeal," Graham said, and he gave Nora a wave as she blew out the door.
* * *
He and Molly rode along the narrow road that looped through Morrison Ridge. He was on his scooter and Molly on her bike with its training wheels. Molly had several books in her white wicker bicycle basket along with a paper bag containing the very few treasures she'd decided she might be willing to leave in the springhouse.
The Ridge had been in his family for more than a hundred and fifty years and the unpaved loop road connected the family's five houses. Besides Graham and Nora's house, there was the house he grew up in where his mother still lived, his brother Trevor's house, his sister Claudia's, and the renovated slave quarters where Amalia lived. And, of course, the tiny springhouse, tucked deep in the woods, where his ancestors had once kept their food chilled during North Carolina's hot summers.
Molly had to walk her bike up the Hill from Hell — or, as he'd taught her to call it, the Hill from H-E-double matchsticks, which she found very funny and which went completely over her head. The hill was too steep to ride a bike up without rupturing a lung. Even the scooter struggled. His first scooter, which he'd owned for only a couple of months, couldn't manage the hill at all. This one could, though he had to admit he found it mildly terrifying to ride down the hill on it. It was as close as he could get to a thrill these days. He used to love the zip line that stretched from one end of Morrison Ridge to the other, but there were 132 steps to the zip line's platform and it had been more than five years since he could climb those steps. Even then, it had been an ordeal. Now, he could manage the six steps to his front porch — on a good day and with his cane. It was a bit like climbing through mud on legs he could no longer trust. I will never again fly through the air. I will never again dance. I will never again hike a mountain trail. When he caught himself filling up with those negative thoughts, he changed them the way he helped the kids he worked with change their own destructive thinking. He thought about all the things he could do, instead: work with his patients. Play games with Molly. Make love to Nora. He didn't give in to self-pity often. Sometimes, though, he'd share his fears with Amalia. He could say anything to her and she would listen. She didn't look tough, with that ephemeral green-eyed beauty, but he'd learned over the years that she could take his pain. With Nora, he tried hard to be strong. Nora needed that. He didn't want to make her life any harder than it already was.
When they reached the crest of the hill, Molly climbed back on her bike and began pedaling next to him on the dirt road. Thick green forest surrounded them on both sides.
"There's Uncle Trevor's truck." Molly pointed ahead of them and he saw Trevor's shiny, beautifully maintained red F-150 parked on the side of the road near the path that led to the springhouse.
"Right," he said. "And Uncle Jim's van is in front of it." Graham felt a rush of joy. He loved that his brother and brother-in-law were helping with this project. It was rare these days that the family worked together. Everyone was so caught up in their own career — Trevor with his construction company, Jim with his junk-hauling business. But maybe they — especially Trevor — liked the idea of giving the springhouse a second life after all the fun he and Graham and Claudia had enjoyed in the house as kids.
Jim had recently cleared the path to the springhouse of brush and vines, and Graham's workhorse scooter handled it easily, but Molly parked her bike against a tree close to the road. She raced ahead of him on the path carrying her books and small bag of treasures. He watched her braids bounce up and down on her back and her pink sneakers flashed against the dead leaves and green vines that littered the path.
"I hear the spring!" she turned to shout to him.
He heard it, too, the musical rippling sound that would always remind him of his childhood. He could smell the spring, too — water and earth and the deep green scent of the woods. He rode the scooter another few yards and the small fieldstone building came into view. The door was open and he heard the pounding of a hammer.
Graham parked his scooter at the side of the building and reached for his cane. The ground here was uneven, covered in roots and vines, and he made his way slowly and cautiously to the door.
"We're here!" Molly announced as she ran inside.
"Wow!" Graham said, stepping into the small, square space with its gray stone walls. A couple of days ago the building had been a blank slate. Now there were two low wooden platforms that would become twin beds, a small table and two chairs tucked into one corner, and a little red dresser hugging one of the walls. And there was a sink! He couldn't believe it. Trevor was on his knees beneath the sink, doing something with the pipes while Jim pounded nails into one of the bed frames, wings of sweat on the back of his gray T-shirt.
Excerpted from The Dance Begins by Diane Chamberlain. Copyright © 2015 Diane Chamberlain. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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.
Table of Contents
Excerpt from Pretending to Dance,
About the Author,
Books by Diane Chamberlain,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Dance Begins is a novella to Pretending To Dance. Graham is suffering from MS but he feels a need to still be active with his six year old daughter, Molly. When Graham and his family decided to turn a spring house into a playhouse for Molly, issues with his family and Molly's mother, Amalia make it difficult for everyone working on the project. But when Molly gets into an accident and a secret that his brother has been hiding from him, will make him realize that family is everything and no matter how mad they can make you, you will always come together in a time of need! I read Pretending To Dance last October and when I finally was able to read this story, I finally understand what had happened when Molly was young especially when she got into an accident. If you haven't read Pretending To Dance yet, I would recommended reading this story right after or before so you get the full story of the family dynamic that it is. I do believe that Diane has a great idea of releasing these little short stories before the full novel comes out just to get a sense of what is to come!! Thank You to Diane Chamberlain for having these little novellas to your books so we can get more into the story!! This book came from my own personal Library.
To the complainer who laments that this is "too short" ... The Dance Begins is clearly described as a short story prequel to Ms. Chamberlain's full-length novel, Pretending to Dance. If you are disappointed for this reason, well, shame on you for not paying attention. I love it that this author has written prequels to many of her novels. I have read them all because I appreciate the way they introduce the characters and help set the stage for the events to come. This prequel, The Dance Begins, was exceptional! Highly recommend.
To short going start the other one but way to xshort