Chapter 8:

Weak in the Knees

Telling the Bees

“I’m not sure I can do this,” Mitsu said regretfully as he looked down at his feet. “Just thinking about trying to dance with these skates on is…concerning.”

Mercy watched him in amusement as his legs wobbled; he was one misstep away from doing the splits. “That’s nothing to worry your pretty little face over. That’s what my magic is for. After the performance though, you’ll be back to…this,” she said, waving at him as he clung to an old set of training canes for support.

“Thanks for the heads up,” Mitsu said through gritted teeth.

After agreeing to dance in the final act to thunderous applause, Amber and Mitsu were pulled backstage to prepare behind the velvet curtains as another, arguably more experienced performer took their place with a mere flick of Mercy’s wrist, providing some popcorn-worthy entertainment for the crowd in the interlude.

Once backstage, they were tragically pulled apart as Amber was whisked away for a costume change, leaving Mitsu alone with Mercy, who merely tossed a pair of roller skates at him and ordered him to put them on. If Mitsu had known that “dancing” with Amber would involve wiggling his feet into a pair of hot pink roller skates, maybe he would have just said no.

Still, he tried to remain optimistic. If he completely ignored the possibility of this performance ending with his nose getting intimately crushed against the floor, it was perfectly fine. Roller skating was something new, a curiosity outside his normal interests. Just the thought of dancing with skates on was enthralling enough to hush his doubts.

It was striking just how much his time with Amber had impacted his enthusiasm for new experiences. Whether it was traveling, watching a live performance, taking part in a live performance, or participating in a faux romance, Amber was pushing him in all kinds of ways he hadn’t anticipated. And yet, in such a short amount of time, all the things he thought he’d never do, he’d done with her.

Mitsu and Sakura were happy. Mitsu knew that—if he knew anything else about his marriage, he knew that. But he wondered if he could have lived a little bit bolder.

Mitsu had been driving kei cars; maybe he should have been driving race cars instead.

A part of him knew it was useless to speculate. Nevertheless, it was a shy realization that just became more and more outspoken within his heart.

Mercy placed a hand on his face, her palm flush against his cheek, and Mitsu was arrested from his thoughts. “Don’t make such a sad face when you’re on stage,” she advised in a low voice. “It won’t just be the audience who notices.”

Mitsu’s eyes fluttered closed, accepting her words without denying them. “No rest for the weary, huh?”

Mercy pulled her hand away. “No,” she said firmly. Then, more softly, she added, “It’s a luxury few people can afford.”

Her words were telling. Miserable man that he was deep down, he resonated with the unspoken sadness that came with rebuilding happiness. There were constant reminders of what was, some thoughts of what could be. The same tools, the same people, the same job—there was no guarantee happiness could be built the same way twice. And yet, Mitsu sensed that every night Mercy stood on stage, she was taking up the battle.

He could see how Amber considered her unreasonable in some respects. Mitsu usually wasn’t asked to perform something he knew nothing about — but he thought that even if he was just a thread in the tapestry to her, he’d like to contribute just the smallest amount she’d allow him to her happiness.

Unfortunately, since Mitsu could barely stand on his own two feet, he decided maybe it was too early to offer himself up to such lofty goals. He doubted Mercy cared much either way.

Mercy checked the slim watch on her wrist and glanced at the curtains Amber had disappeared behind earlier. "She should be out any minute now."

As if in response to her expectation, Amber's floating blonde head popped out from behind the ocean of red fabric. “You’re evil, Mercy,” she practically whined, her hands twisting in the curtains.

Mercy grinned. “Yes, I’m absolutely diabolical,” she said. “How dare I use the costume designs you gave me, am I right?”

Amber groaned. “I’m so charging you next time.”

Mercy raised her hands in mock surrender. “Hey, if you want to turn your hobby into a side hustle, I won’t stop you.” She lowered her arms and smiled. “But of course, we can talk more about that later. I’m sure your boyfriend is dying to see how you look in that outfit.”

Amber’s head retreated a bit further back into the curtains. She glanced over at him nervously. If he were on better footing, he might have reached for her and taken her hand, but as things stood—or didn’t, in his case—all he could really do was try to assuage her fears.

“I’m sure you look beautiful,” Mitsu said encouragingly, his voice touched by sweetness. “Won’t you let me see you?”

He would be lying if he said he wasn’t playing it up for the act; he would also be lying if he said his heart didn’t trip over itself uncertainly as Amber stepped out from behind the curtain.

She wore a beautiful, ritzy white dress that was clearly designed for show business, with lines of sequence trailing down her skirt and lining the edges of the heart-shaped neckline down her chest. It was also sleeveless, and for the first time, Mitsu noticed the hard muscles of her arms rippling underneath her pearlescent skin.

He was in awe.

Mercy laughed. “Oh my, that face,” she said with open glee. “Are you seeing this, Amber? I don’t think you have anything to worry about on the home front.”

“I guess not,” she said breathlessly. There was a difference in the way she was looking at him now—a twinge to her expression knowing that he wasn’t indifferent. He wondered how her last boyfriend looked at her, for her to make that face.

He wouldn’t ask.

Mercy clapped her hands together, and Mitsu decided to let the complicated thoughts simmer in the back of his mind for a bit. “As much as I love witnessing young love like this, we still have a finale for you to perform.”

She pulled out a wooden wand from inside one of her boots, and Mitsu watched curiously as she waved it in the air in a pattern that seemed almost random, like the flight path of a bee. Then, the tip of the wand began to glow, and all kinds of knowledge was being pushed into his mind all at once, filling in spaces that were patiently waiting to become occupied.

The glow subsided, and Mitsu felt confident enough to finally let go of the training canes.

Mercy grinned when he didn’t falter. “Alright,” she said, patting Amber on the back. “Now go out there and steal the show.”


The lights were dim but not dull as Mitsu and Amber re-entered the stage from opposite sides. “Just for the flare,” Mercy had said.

The audience was almost suspiciously silent. It was as if they were all collectively holding their breath, waiting to see what kind of performance they would offer them. As Mitsu stared into Amber’s eyes across the stage, he wasn’t sure he knew the answer to that himself.

Music trickled in from the periphery, and Mitsu was nerve ridden. Amber, for some reason, didn’t seem to feel the same. With just a few short strides, she had one hand on his shoulder and the other on his upper back. Her palm felt warm against his skin, and as he wrapped an arm around her slim waist and pressed their bodies chest to chest, his nerves just…disappeared like smoke.

They breathed against each other, back and forth, in and out, their stomaches concave and then not. It was just them, and the audience merely existed in the shadows. Amber’s eyes shimmered as she looked at him. All the bluster and bashfulness was gone, only to be replaced with something better—hard-won trust.

She had been the first to ask Mitsu to trust her, and while he thought she trusted him a little, it had never been the same. It had never been like this. It was yet another thing that had changed tonight.

“Are you ready?” he whispered, his nose nearly tickling the soft dip where her neck met her collarbone.

She squeezed his shoulder firmly and grinned, her hair flowing beneath her like a waterfall. “For you? Anytime.”

Bees above. Mitsu thought his legs would give out again.

Mitsu held his chin high and smirked, hoping she wouldn’t notice the steady flush crawling up his neck. “Don’t blame me if you can’t keep up.”

The skates were nearly silent against the floor as he guided Amber into a glide around the perimeter of the stage. It was merely a warm-up, just a way to build the needed momentum to perform their tricks. At least, that was its purpose on paper. In reality, Mitsu wanted to show off just how spectacular Amber was, the sequence of her dress turning her into a glimmering diamond beneath the lights. 

Amber let go of him for the briefest moments to wave, acknowledging the audience for the first and last time for the remainder of the performance. Mitsu gently pulled her back into his orbit, and she let him.

It was only the start of the routine, but it was effortless the way they seemed one touch away from each other. The press of her shoulder against his as they twisted their hips for a turn. A hand threaded in his as he spun her until her feet lifted off the floor. An outstretched ankle intertwined with his as their legs collided against each other, pushing each other back with the momentum and swirling in opposite directions.

It felt intimate, it felt infinitesimal, it felt never enough.

Mitsu did a mid-air spin before landing low, sliding his foot across the floor before Amber pulled him to his feet again, her thigh already wrapping around his waist. Mitsu brought a hand underneath her thigh and lifted her above his head before tossing her into the air with a strength he didn’t know he possessed. The crowd went wild.

It was exhilarating to see her leave his arms—return—and trust that he would catch her every time.

After putting her down, Amber took his hand and spun him this time, sending him across the stage like a spinning top. As Mitsu tried to reorient himself, she skated toward him, took his hands, and dipped herself between his spread legs, her arms almost pressing against his thighs. 

Pulling her back to eye level, Mitsu picked her up again, this time balancing Amber's twitching stomach on his palms as he glided across the stage. 

By the time he'd made a full lap, Mitsu’s arms were beginning to quiver due to the constant physical effort. One look at Amber's face once she fell back into his arms, and he knew the lack of stamina was mutual. Luckily, the song was finally about to reach its end.

And so, they end the dance the same way they started—their chests pressed against each other, breathing back and forth, in and out, their stomachs concave and then not. When the music finally dropped, the audience rattled the very foundations of the tent as they stomped their feet and cheered.

Mitsu laughed, his voice drowned out by the audience as he leaned down and pressed their foreheads together. Their bangs were both damp with sweat, and so were their bodies. “We-we did it,” Mitsu said, trying to catch his breath.

Amber’s eyes fluttered closed, and she smiled. “Yeah,” she said, just as out of breath as he was. “We did.”

Pope Evaristus
Steward McOy