Slow Dance in Purgatory
Author:Amy Harmon

 

Maggie swung one long leg up behind her and unfolded her arms like a great bird lifting itself off the water. Rising on relevé she felt the beauty of the movement and smiled to herself. This was the best kind of dancing: no one around, the dance floor all yours, no critics, no fans, just music. Singing to herself, Maggie swung around and faced her reflection in the mirror. Wide blue eyes met wide blue eyes for an instant before a long dark cloud of hair obscured her vision. Swinging her hair back in a practiced movement, Maggie yelped as she caught another reflection standing just beyond her.

 

"Sorry, Miss Margaret." Gus Jasper looked abashed. "I didn't mean to scare you. I just need your help now."

 

Old Gus was the school's long time maintenance man, which made him her boss. Gus was as good natured and gentle as he was patient, which was fortunate for Maggie, because this wasn’t the first time he’d had to come find her after school. Luckily, he never seemed to mind.

 

Maggie looked dejectedly at the clock. Yep. Time was up. For the last three months, Maggie had worked as a janitor almost every day after school. Cleaning the school was a giant pain, but it gave Maggie the money she needed to be on the dance team, and Gus was sweet to give her a key to the dance room so that she could squeeze in some dancing in the evenings when her work was done and early in the morning before school started. She hadn't meant to lose track of time. Usually she knew better than to allow herself to stay after last period, which was when the dance team rehearsed. She had just wanted to dance by herself for a minute, and then she got a little carried away. Before she knew it, a half hour had passed.

 

"I'm sorry you had to come looking for me, Gus." Maggie smiled her apology. She scrambled for her duffle bag, pulled her sweatshirt on over her leotard, and shoved her feet into her worn out Chuck's. Her dance pants were loose and comfortable and would do as well as her jeans. She couldn't exactly change in front of Gus. Leotard notwithstanding, she didn't want to embarrass the sweet, old guy. Plus, she was pretty sure Aunt Irene would not think it was ladylike. Maggie smiled at the thought. Aunt Irene was nothing if not ladylike.

 

Irene Honeycutt had been the lovely daughter of wealthy business owner, Jackson Honeycutt. Honeyville had been founded and named for Irene's own grandpa, and if there was a first family of Honeyville, the Honeycutts were it. Irene had married young to a promising son of Honeyville and lived the rest of her life in the confines of the Texas town. Her husband had turned out to be all promise, no prince. He had squandered Irene's inheritance, run Honeyville industries into the ground, and controlled Irene with an iron fist until the day he died. When he did, Irene had finally been able to bring Maggie to live with her. And she had finally been able to pursue Gus to her heart's content. Apparently, it was never too late for love. Maggie smiled again. Aunt Irene denied it, but Maggie was pretty sure she had a thing for the gentle, black janitor.

 

Gus had come to Texas as a young man to play basketball for an all-black college. He had badly injured his knee and instead of playing basketball, he had ended up in Honeyville with his new bride, working as a janitor at the high school. He had been there ever since. Gus and Irene had become acquainted when Gus’s wife, Mona, had been hired as a housekeeper for the Honeycutt family when Irene was just a senior in high school. When Irene had married and set up her own house, Mona Jasper had gone with her. The two had become more than just employer and employee. Mona had struggled with her pregnancies, eventually giving birth to two healthy babies when she was in her early forties. Irene never gave birth to any babies at all, but had been plagued by one miscarriage after another. The two women had bonded through shared experiences, through heartache and loss. They had learned to laugh together and look out for one another. Irene had grieved almost as deeply as Gus when Mona died several years ago. She had promised Mona that she would look after Gus and Mona’s young grandson, and she had kept that promise.

 

"Are you and Shad coming to dinner tonight, Gus?" Maggie asked as they began their rounds, emptying classroom garbage cans and changing trash bags. Shad was Gus's fourteen-year-old grandson who was currently living with his grandpa. His mother's whereabouts were mostly unknown, and his father's identity was completely unknown, which made Shadrach Jasper Gus's responsibility most of the time. And he was a handful, that one.