Reviewed by Helyce
Ed Maurer loves football. He’s lived it and breathed it and it defined who and what he was until an injury to his neck ended his semipro career. He knew that in the end it could have been worse. If the injury had been just a few millimeters over, he’d be in a wheelchair now. Even so, Ed has to be careful; the slightest incorrect movement can set off a spasm of pain so severe, it takes him days to recover. He’s very thankful that he can still walk and do everything he used to do…except play football.
Laurence “Laurie” Parker has been dancing his whole life. It’s all he’s ever wanted to do and he’s very good at it. In ballet, he’d been called the next Baryshnikov; but it didn’t stop there. He did it all, tap, modern, jazz; if Laurie danced, he was perfect. So, when he and his boyfriend at the time decide to enter a competitive ballroom dancing event, Laurie expects his performance to be received in the same manner as all his previous performances. Unfortunately, he was very, very wrong.
A year after his injury, Ed is now working at a desk job that he’s good at, but doesn’t really like. He needs this job for the medical insurance, but he’s worried; there have been layoffs and he knows it’s just a matter of time before he’s on the chopping block. Ed volunteers at a center for underprivileged youth, teaching a weight lifting class. He loves these kids and looks forward to spending time with them.
Five years after his ballroom dancing fiasco, Laurie is now teaching dance at a studio he owns. People come from miles away to take dance with the esteemed Laurie Parker. He also volunteers at the center, teaching an aerobics class as a favor to his friend Vicki, who is the director there.
This is where Ed and Laurie meet and not under the best circumstances. The center’s PA system is old and Ed arrives to find that the music from Laurie’s class is blaring through the speakers in the room assigned to him and his weight lifting class. This is not the first time this has happened and apparently, it’s not getting fixed anytime soon. In his frustration, Ed approaches Laurie with the following proposition:
“So I want to know what is it you need? Something here at the center, something outside of the center, something at your job-you name it. Your car washed and waxed while you direct me from a lawn chair, your flower bed dug up, whatever. What do you need?”
What Laurie “needs” is a dance partner for a ballroom class he’s teaching at his studio to a group of older couples who want to be able to dance on a cruise they are going on. Laurie’s shocked when Ed agrees without question, so Laurie feels he must clarify…
“As my assistant,” he said, looking Ed right in the eye, “mostly you’ll be dancing with me.”
Ed’s eyebrows shot up. Then he shrugged. “Okay. Is that all?”
Laurie looked at him with extreme suspicion. “You will dance with me. Just like that?”
“Do I have to do it naked or something?” Ed asked.
When Ed agreed to help Laurie out, he had no idea how much he would enjoy not only the dancing but his time with Laurie. From that first night, when he and Laurie continue to dance long after the class was over and dismissed, trying different steps and styles of dancing, Ed was hooked.
I loved Ed from the beginning. He’s a big, good looking athletic guy, who happens to be gay. He’s out, and everyone in his circle is okay with it. He still gets together with friends from his old football team and while he enjoys his time with them, it is a reminder of what he had and lost. Ed is in complete denial about the severity of his injury. He doesn’t do his PT and he continues in a desk job that can only irritate his injury. He has a huge heart and a great sense of humor. I had to get to know Laurie better before I fell for him. He seemed to have a bit of a chip on his shoulder, but as the story moves forward, you clearly see why he is suspicious and cautious with Ed. Laurie grew up with every advantage and was destined to be a star, but after the ballroom fiasco he gave it all up and never performed again. His fear of performing seems to have transferred to all aspects of his life.
The secondary characters have small parts, but bring so much to this story. Ed’s family is wonderful. They are there for him immediately and without question and they welcome Laurie as if he’s been in Ed’s life forever. Laurie’s parents are quite the opposite and it was so difficult to see Laurie’s cold and somewhat superficial interaction with his mother and father. While painful, you understood that their relationship was reflective of Laurie’s own pain and feelings of disappointment in himself and his career, but rather than bring it all out into the open and deal with it, they kept it bottled up so that it festered and pushed them farther and farther away from each other.
Ed and Laurie are truly tested when Ed’s injury flares up and he is forced to take time off from work and return to his PT. Ed goes through a very difficult time here as he moves from denial to acceptance of his injury and it is here where we see major growth between our H/H. And this is where I truly fell for Laurie. Ed isn’t easy to be around during this time, but Laurie has invested enough by this point that he’s not going to be pushed away. He goes from being a bit vulnerable to standing up and demanding that Ed take notice and decide what exactly is important to him.
Ms. Cullinan uses the back drop of dancing to move Ed and Laurie through this story and it is quite beautifully done. We see them move from disliking each other, to getting to know each other; to falling in love and realizing they are meant to be together. I was really blown away by how clearly I felt the emotions the author was trying to convey as I read. Ms. Cullinan’s descriptive writing, especially in the final dance scenes, really moved me and provided a wonderful ending to this love story. I could literally hear the applause when Laurie danced.