Dancing Away by Karenna Colcroft
erotic M/M contemporary romance novella
Length: long novella (approx 30K)
Release Date: 08/16/2012
Cover Art by Winterheart Design
What happens when a bully apologizes? Ballet dancer Merit Hartwick is about to find out. Cole Dellany, the man who broke Merit’s heart with a cruel “joke” the night of their senior prom, has come to town to tell Merit how sorry he is. And to tell him that the dance they shared on prom night wasn’t really a joke. Cole is gay, in the closet, and in love with Merit since high school. Now he’s ready to be honest with Merit about his feelings. Several years have passed, but Merit isn’t sure he can forgive Cole, let alone trust him with his heart.
Merit turned around. “Okay. Go ahead and say what you wanted to say.”
“Thank you.” Cole sank onto the edge of the bed. Part of him was acutely aware that he was alone with Merit and a bed, and he tried to push that awareness away. “High school wasn’t easy. I know you had it a hell of a lot worse than I did. I didn’t have it great, though. The guys in the locker room would be calling each other fag and other names, making wiseass remarks about each other and sex, and I had to stand there and pretend it was funny.”
“No you didn’t,” Merit said. “You could have told them to knock it off. Most of them respected you. They might even have listened.”
“Or they might have started in on me,” Cole said. “I didn’t dare to take the chance. When I realized I was interested in you, I tried my hardest to ignore it and pretend it wasn’t true. That didn’t mean I wasn’t interested.
“It just meant you were scared.”
“Yeah.” Cole frowned. “Do you think you can let me get through the rest of this without interrupting?”
“I’ll try, but it’s what I do.” Merit leaned against the heating unit, folded his arms, and put on a half-smile. “Go on.”
“Senior prom, I wanted to dance with you. Hell, I wanted to be your date, except I knew the school wouldn’t allow it even if I dared to ask. So I figured it was the last dance of our high school careers, and if I danced with you people might write it off as a prank or something. Not a prank against you. One you were in on. But I wanted you to know the truth, that I really wanted to dance with you.”
“What fucked it up?” Merit’s mild tone made the curse word even more effective.
For a moment, Cole couldn’t continue. The anger Merit wasn’t showing had come through clearly in the question.“My buddies,” Cole said bitterly. “I told you, they’d caught on that you had a crush on me. They didn’t know I had one on you. So they dared me to ask you to dance. I only agreed because I really wanted to dance with you. I was stupid. I didn’t think it would hurt anything. I made them promise they wouldn’t say anything at prom about the ‘joke’ and they were so amused they agreed. At least I tried to keep them from making fun of you there.”
“Yeah, they never said anything about us dancing together,” Merit admitted. “I always wondered why. That would have been the most logical thing for them to make fun of, given that they made fun of pretty much everything I did.”
“I told them if they did, I’d go to the principal and report everything I’d ever heard them say to you. Even back then, the school would have acted if anything had been reported.”
“I never reported it because I didn’t want to get the shit beaten out of me. What was your excuse?” Merit demanded.
“I told you. Gutless.” Cole took a deep breath. “When you overheard us at graduation, they were joking about the ‘prank’ we’d played on you. I couldn’t tell you in front of them that it wasn’t a prank. But I haven’t stopped thinking about that dance. Moving to the music with my arms around you? That was the first time in my life that something had felt right.”
He let out his breath and sagged, relieved. It had taken him a while, but he’d gotten the whole story out. He’d finally admitted to Merit how he felt. Even if Merit told him to get lost, the trip had been worth it.
“You should have told me that at graduation and saved yourself a bunch of years of feeling guilty,” Merit said. “You didn’t have to say it in front of your buddies. There was time after the ceremony.”
“I went looking for you afterward, but Erin said you’d taken off. I wasn’t fast enough.”
“Yeah. I didn’t see any reason to stand around celebrating being humiliated.” Merit paused and turned to look out the window again. “That dance with you was one of the best moments of high school. When I thought it had just been a big joke to you, it hurt like hell.”
“I’m sorry,” Cole said softly.
“I don’t know if I completely believe your little tale.” Merit turned back to face him. His blue eyes glimmered in the light from the desk lamp. “I want to, because that would mean I wasn’t wrong about you those years. But when you get kicked around enough, you get used to it. For part of me, it’s easier to believe that one moment of kicking me, over the four years that you didn’t.”
“I understand.” He didn’t like it, but it made sense after everything Merit had been through.
“Good.” Merit walked over and stood in front of him, looking down at him with an unreadable expression. Cole’s heart skipped a beat as he wondered what the other man was going to do. “You’ve fulfilled your mission. You came all the way here to apologize, and you’ve done it. Thanks.”
“Can’t we…” Cole had no idea what he wanted to ask for. Friendship? Not really. Earlier that evening he’d thought that might be enough. Now he knew he could never settle for that. He wanted what he hadn’t dared to ask for in high school, but he still didn’t dare ask for it now.
“I don’t know if we can. Have a good night.” Merit walked out.
Cole stared at the door, hoping it would open again and Merit would return. But it didn’t happen.