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A SHORT STORY: The Last Dance by Lorilyn Roberts

Christmas lights adorned the streets of Buckhead near downtown Atlanta. Colorful trimmings lit up Lenox Square, and a beautiful Christmas tree sent Good Tidings to all who passed by the iconic shopping center. Earl Ludwick enjoyed the crispness of the winter air—not too cold, but enough to make the trees barren until spring.

He turned into the Solar Roofing, Inc., parking lot for the annual Christmas party. Divorced, he didn’t have anyone to accompany him, but his preeminent position in the solar world made him a sought-after “companion” for the evening. At least, that was his view of things.

Earl exited the car and took the elevator up to the top floor as soft Christmas music streamed on the intercom radio. When the door opened, the security guard waved him through. “Good evening, Mr. Ludwick.”

The music must have put the executive in a festive mood. He smiled at the lowly guard. “Merry Christmas.”

When Earl entered the decorated room, the party was in full swing. A warm reception greeted him, and after the perfunctory greetings, he strolled over to the food cart.

“Would you like some Christmas punch?” the server asked.

Earl nodded. “With rum.”

Holding his drink, the man grabbed a table on the dance floor. He’d need two brews to unwind enough to dance, but he had lots of time. The party would become more lively in the wee hours.

His secretary joined him, giving him the eye. He smiled. Since he had already spent an evening with her, he was looking for the company’s new hire. She was a knock-out blonde, and Earl knew with her wit and charisma, she would soon become a top saleswoman.

The executive had an uncanny ability to see talent before anyone else, and his knack for recognizing aptitudes in people had helped to propel the company to the top of the solar industry.

His secretary, Janet, prodded him. “You’re looking for Rhonda, aren’t you?”

Caught off-guard, he asked, “What are you, a mind reader?”

Janet laughed. “Why are you so surprised? I read your text messages on the computer app and pretend I’m you. You know that.”

Earl took a swig from his drink. She saved him time by responding to all the messages from company peons. He forgot that made her privy to his personal life. “Well, let her know I’d love a dance if you see her.”

Janet nodded, again giving him the eye. “I will if she comes,” and she strolled away. Earl noticed how good she looked in high heels.

Another talent Earl had was his ability to pick up on nonverbal cues. He knew who was gay, who was straight, who the troublemakers were, and who would betray him to take his position. He also knew that people would let down their guard after a few drinks. The gossip tantalized Earl. He liked knowing the forbidden knowledge.

People’s secrets gave him power, and he had met with much success. Earl had spent the night with every woman in the company that interested him—except for one, Jenny Sables. She was not the best-looking girl he had ever laid eyes on, but everyone knew she was a Christian. Her life was, well, different. He had propositioned her once, and she turned him down. As if that wasn’t enough to humble him, later, she gave him a tract about salvation.

He saw Jenny in the back of the room talking to another woman. He thought about walking over to say hi but didn’t want to get into a long conversation in case Rhonda showed up. He needed to keep his options open. With over thirty people in the room, if he missed Rhonda, somebody else would catch her.

The night went on, and when Earl was on his third drink—he usually stopped at three so he could be sober enough to drive—and Rhonda hadn’t appeared, he figured she wasn’t coming. So he walked over to Jenny. The girl Jenny was talking to had left.

Earl sat in a chair beside her. He didn’t know any gossip about Jenny because she never gossiped. All he knew was that she was a Christian. “Merry Christmas.”

Jenny smiled.

“Do you want to dance?” Earl asked.

“Sure,” she said.

Surprised—he didn’t think Christians danced—he took her hand, and they strolled to the dance floor. After dimming the lights, the band switched to some slow romantic music, and everyone on the floor cleared out of the way. Earl held Jenny in his arms, and they danced to two Christmas songs.

Was it the music that moved him? Or was there something about Jenny that was different? She was an excellent dancer and moved with such grace he imagined her floating in the air. Some girls were all over the place, but Jenny knew where to put her feet, arms, and body.

When the second dance ended, she released her hand from Earl’s shoulder. “That’s my last dance,” she said, and returned to the table.

“What did she mean by that?” Earl mumbled. He followed her. “You’re an amazing dancer.”

Jenny smiled. “Thank you. I took ballet lessons as a child.”

“Oh.” Earl bit his lip. “I didn’t think Christians danced.”

Jenny laughed. “Maybe Baptists don’t dance, but I dance. I dance for the glory of God.”

“You dance…”  Earl had no idea what she meant. He noticed she had a drink. No doubt she didn’t add the rum, which was optional. Earl suddenly realized how little he knew about Christians. And all he knew about Jenny was that she wouldn’t sleep with him.

“Excuse me,” she said. “I’m going to get some more desserts.”

Earl nodded. His eyes followed Jenny as she disappeared into the crowd. Then he noticed her drink sitting beside her empty plate. What if he spiked her drink? She would never know it. He thought about what it would be like to have her. He had never been denied—except by her. He remembered their dance, her breath on his cheeks, and the perfume she wore. He longed to make his desire come true. He may not have another perfect opportunity. No one would know.

Earl peered into the crowd to see if he could see her. Then he reached into his pocket to pull out the mischief. How much? His hands shook. He remembered her strange words, “This is my last dance.”

Suppose he put too much in her drink. Were her words an omen that he would kill her? Rape was one thing, but murder was another. Of course, he had never raped anyone—or had he? He didn’t want to remember. If he hadn’t raped anyone, then why did he have this mischief in his pocket?

Earl felt himself getting dizzy. He didn’t want to remember.

“You are a rapist,” he heard a voice say in his head. “How many women have you raped?”

Earl’s head spun. He wasn’t a rapist. He had never hurt anyone. He had just made love to many women. Too many to count. Earl shook his head to clear his mind. He admitted, yes, he had date raped many women, but that was different. He made them feel good. He had no remorse about what he had done. He had never hurt anyone—or had he?

He shook his head. “No, I never hurt anyone.” If he was going to spike Jenny’s drink, he needed to do it quickly before she returned. His desire for her seeped into his lustful thoughts. He opened the mischief, but as he started to pour it into her drink, Rhonda plopped beside him. Rhonda, the one he had been waiting to see.

She smiled, and her eyes peered into his. “What’s that in your hand?”

Startled, he dropped it on the floor. “Oh, it’s just stuff for heartburn,” he said, pretending it was his drink.

She picked it up and handed it to him.

“I don’t want it now that it’s been on the floor.” He tossed it on the table.

“So, who’s sitting here? I see a purse. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Oh, no, you aren’t intruding. Jenny went to get some more desserts.” He peered in that direction. “She’s been gone awhile.”

Suddenly the lights flickered on and off. The music stopped. Earl heard his phone ringing, and he put it up to his ear. “What?” he said. “You’re talking so fast, I can’t understand you.”

Gasps and screams filled the room. People began to disperse in a panic.

Earl watched Rhonda grab her stuff and leave.

No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t understand his son’s words. “Let me go outside. I can’t understand anything you’re saying,” but the phone clicked as his son hung up.

Flustered, he stuck the phone in his back pocket. He needed to get out of the building. Where was Jenny? What about her purse? Should he leave it here? Maybe he should take her bag with him. If he didn’t take it, somebody might steal it. Perhaps he might learn some things about her.

He grabbed it and headed to the exit. As he passed by the dessert cart, his eyes beheld the most startling thing he had ever seen. Jenny’s clothes were on the carpet in a heap, as if she had disrobed. He looked around the room amid the chaos. Where did she go?*

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  • 2023 International Book Awards Finalist.
  • 2023 Book Gold Book Awards Winner
  • 2024 Christian Indie Awards Finalist
  • 2023 President’s Book Award Winner
  • 2023 Pinnacle Book Achievement Award
  • 2024 The Wishing Shelf Book Awards finalist

Published inShort StoriesThe Night Cometh: 20 Fantastical Short Stories

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