Anna watched, disconsolate in her seat against the wall, as the dancing couples passed by. Envious of their youth, their figures, and the handsome men on their arms, she took in the whirl of colorful gowns and the flash of gems. The air was redolent of orchids and aftershave and the delicious scents of chocolate cake and champagne.
The men in their tuxedos offset their partners' brilliance perfectly. Hers was, as usual, AWOL, leaving her partner-less. They glided past her in waltz formation, dipping and swaying with the lilting strains of the orchestra. She found herself utterly envious that their lives still held the promise of love and adventure.
Hers could not offer such. She contemplated her life as if looking at the false front of a drama set. The garishly painted set represented her early years, impressing a stream of less-than-stellar boys. As they got older, fewer men could be captivated by the glitz and paint of the false front.
Until there was only Jack.
They'd seemed to fall together as two felled trees, leaning precariously in mutual need. While her friends spoke of aching love and surpassing passion, Anna knew her marriage to be much quieter--more like a tree standing on a hillside, cutting the spring breezes.
Now? Jack didn't care to socialize. He'd much rather stay at home with a book, his dogs at his knee as twilight fell in the library. And all that was left to Anna was the tawdry back of the false front with its bared, rusty nails and pealing paint.
Now no one looked at her with a glint in his eye. She had run to fat, and wrinkles replaced pimples. Even the cheap black dye couldn't disguise the tufts of silver. She watched her reflection in the back-lit window, mourning the lithe figure of her youth. Look at those arms, she thought sadly. They're as big as my thighs once were.
As the dancers whirled past, a potent longing rose up in her, choking. Cloying. She had let those valuable hours of her youth slip away like quicksilver, unappreciated. For what purpose? She felt alone and valueless. Unneeded. Unremarkable. Fit only for the dim spaces against the wall with the other ferns.
She felt a hand on her shoulder. She glanced upwards.
Bowing, he whispered, "Dance with me, Sweetheart." Somehow he'd been practicing, for with a flourish, Jack expertly drew her through the couples and out onto the dance floor. She clapped her amazed mouth shut as he squired her through a whole series of expertly executed dance steps.
By the time her breath caught up with her, and several dances later, he had retrieved a couple of drinks and some secluded seats for them both. She blinked at him, wondering at the metamorphosis of her once staid husband. His prowess on the dance floor had been negligent and uninspiring. Here he stood in a tuxedo, cutting a dashing figure as if he'd crawled out of a decades-long cocoon to emerge a glittering butterfly.
He launched into a gleeful explanation about how long he'd been planning this most stunning surprise--the lessons, the tux, the planning. "I can't have my Sweet Girl thinking she's lost her shine, can I? After all, you mean everything to me."