Dance to the Piper
O'Hurleys - book 2
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During the break between lunch and cocktails, the club was empty. The floors were scarred butclean enough, and the paint on the walls was only a little dull from fighting with cigarettesmoke. There was the scent intrinsic to such places—old liquor and stale perfume mixed withcoffee that was no longer fresh. To a certain type of person it was as much home as a cozy fireand plump cushions. The O'Hurleys made their home wherever audiences gathered.
When the after-dinner crowd strolled in, the lights would be dimmed, and it wouldn't look sogrimy. Now, strong sunlight shone through the two small windows and lighted the dust and dentsmercilessly. The mirror in back of a bar lined with bottles spread some of the light around butreflected mostly on the small stage in the center of the room. "That's my girl, Abby, put anice smile on." Frank O'Hurley took his five-year-old triplets through the short dance routinehe wanted to add to the show that night, demonstrating the prissy moves with his wiry body.They were playing a family hotel at a nice, reasonably priced resort in the Poconos. He figuredthe audience would have a soft spot for three little girls.
"I wish you'd time your brainstorms better, Frank." His wife, Molly, sat at a corner table,hurriedly sewing bows on the white dresses her daughters would wear in a few hours. "I'm not abloody seamstress, you know."
"You're a trouper, Molly my love, and the best thing that ever happened to Frank O'Hurley."
"There's nothing truer than that," she muttered, but smiled to herself.
"All right, my darlings, let's try it again." He smiled at the three little angels God hadblessed him with in one fell swoop. If the Lord saw fit to present him with three babies forthe price of one, Frank figured the Lord was entitled to a sense of humor. Chantel was alreadya beauty, with a round cherub's face and dark blue eyes. He winked at her, knowing she was moreinterested in the bows on the dress she'd wear than in the routine. Abby was all amiability.She'd dance because her pop wanted her to and because it would be fun to be onstage with hersisters. Frank urged her to smile again and demonstrated the curtsy he wanted. Maddy, with anelfin face and hair already hinting toward red, mimicked his move perfectly, her eyes neverleaving his. Frank felt his heart swell with love for the three of them. He laid his hand onhis son's shoulder.
"Give us a two-bar intro, Trace, my boy. A snappy one."
Trace obligingly ran his fingers over the keys. It was Frank's regret he couldn't affordlessons for the boy. What Trace knew of playing he'd learned from watching and listening. Musicrang out, jumpy and bright.
"How's that, Pop?"
"You're a pistol." Frank rubbed a hand over Trace's head. "Okay, girls, let's take it from thetop." He worked them another fifteen minutes, patiently, making them giggle at their mistakes.The five-minute routine would be far from perfect, but he was shrewd enough to recognize thecharm of it. They'd expand the act bit by bit as they went on. It was the off-season at theresort now, but if they made a bit of a mark they'd secure a return engagement. Life for Frankwas made up of gigs and return engagements. He saw no reason his family shouldn't be of thesame mind.
Still, the minute he saw Chantel losing interest he broke off, knowing her sisters wouldn't befar behind.
"Wonderful." He bent to give each of them a smacking kiss, as generous with affection as he'dhave liked to be with money. "We're going to knock them dead."
"Is our name going on the poster?" Chantel demanded, and Frank roared with delighted laughter.
"Want billing, do you, my little pigeon? Hear that, Molly?"
"Doesn't surprise me." She set down her sewing to rest her fingers.
"Tell you what, Chantel, you get billing when you can do this." He started a slow, deceptivelysimple tap routine, holding a hand out to his wife. Smiling, Molly rose to join him. A dozenyears of dancing together had them moving in unison from the first step. Abby slid onto thepiano bench beside Trace and watched. He began to improvise a silly little tune that made Abbysmile.
"Chantel's going to practice till she can do it," he murmured.
Abby smiled up at him. "Then we'll all get our names on the poster."
"I can show you how," he whispered, listening to his parents' feet strike the wooden stage.
"Will you show us all how?"
As an old man of ten, Trace was amused by the way his little sisters stuck together. He'd havegotten the same response from any of them. "I just might."
Content, she settled back against his shoulder. Her parents were laughing, enjoying theexertion, the rhythm. It seemed to Abby that her parents were always laughing. Even when hermother got that cross look on her face, Pop would make her laugh. Chantel was watching, hereyes narrowed, experimenting a bit but not quite catching the movements. She'd get mad, Abbyknew. But when she got mad, she made sure she got what she wanted.
"I want to do it," Maddy said from the corner of the stage.
Frank laughed. With his arms around Molly's waist, the two of them circled the stage, feettapping, sliding, shuffling. "Do you now, little turnip?"
"I can do it," she told him, and with a stubborn look on her face she began to tap herfeet—heel, toe, toe, heel—until she was moving center stage.
Caught off balance, Frank stopped on a dime, and Molly bumped heavily into him. "Look at that,will you, Molly." Pushing her hair out of her eyes, Molly watched her youngest daughterstruggling to capture the basics of their tap routine. And she was doing it. She felt a mixtureof pride and regret only a mother would understand. "Looks like we'll be buying another set oftaps, Frank."
"That it does." Frank felt twice the pride and none of the regret. He released his wife toconcentrate on his daughter. "No, try this now." He took the moves slowly. Hop, shuffle, stamp.Brush, step, brush, step, and step to the side. He took Maddy's hand and, careful to keep hissteps small to match hers, moved again. She moved right with him.
"Now this." His excitement growing, he looked at his son. "Give me a downbeat. Listen to thecount, Maddy. One and two and three and four. Tap. No body weight here. Toe stab front, thenback. Now a riff." Again he demonstrated, and again she imitated the steps.
"We'll put it all together now and end with a step slide, arms like this, see?" He brought hisarms out to the side in a sharp, glitzy move, then winked at her. "You're going to sell it."
"Sell it," she repeated, frowning in concentration.
"Give us the count, Trace." Frank took her hand again, feeling the pleasure build as she movedin unison with him. "We've got ourselves a dancer here, Molly!" Frank hefted Maddy into hisarms and let her fly. She squealed, not because she feared he wouldn't catch her but becauseshe knew he would.