Book: Finding Your Feet
Series: Toronto Connections #2 (Standalone)
Publisher: Riptide Publishing
Publication date: January 16, 2017
Length: 300 pages
While on holiday in Toronto, Evie Whitmore planned to sightsee and meet other asexuals, not audition for a dance competition. Now she’s representing Toronto’s newest queer dance studio, despite never having danced before. Not only does she have to spend hours learning her routine, she has to do it with one of the grumpiest men she’s ever met. Tyler turns out to be more than a dedicated dancer, though—he might be the kind of man who can sweep her off her feet, literally and figuratively.
Tyler Davis has spent the last year recovering from an emotionally abusive relationship. So he doesn’t need to be pushed into a rushed routine for a dumb competition. Ticking major representation boxes for being trans and biracial isn’t why he went into dance. But Evie turns out to be a dream student. In fact, she helps him remember just how good partnering can be, in all senses of the word. Teaching her the routine, however, raises ghosts for him, ones he’s not sure he can handle.
Plans change, and people change with them. Learning a few steps is one thing; learning to trust again is another entirely.
How to Draw a Chibi Godzilla, Evie-style
Evie doodles in her spare time, and at one point she takes Tyler through a chibi Godzilla drawing. ‘Chibi’ is a Japanese slang word that refers to a short/small (in height) person, but with connotations of cute. In terms of manga and anime (Japanese comic art and animation) chibi style takes a character and makes it cute for humorous effect – typical elements include an oversized head, big eyes, small or rounded body, and enough distinctive features to make the character recognizable. This is usually utilised for comic shorts or asides at the beginning or end of a manga or anime episode. If you’re interested in learning more, there are plenty of resources online.
Without further ado, a step-by-step guide to drawing a chibi Godzilla from Evie.
Evie had heard all the stories of Canadian weather: the perpetual cold and snow and apparently inadequate summer. Thus far she’d found that the summer part at least was completely wrong. She and Bailey were having late-morning coffee in the greenery near the University of Toronto, basking in the sun and enjoying a small, warm breeze. She was wearing fewer layers than she ever had in the UK, while Bailey had made a deference to the warmth by wearing tailored, cuffed shorts and rolling up their sleeves. Hardly inadequate at all.
In fact, nothing she’d seen so far could be described like that. Here in the greenery was downright pleasant. There was a small market at one edge of the park, with pastry stands, farm groups offering vegetable deliveries, and one stall offering a free go on a dance machine. She could see the banner asking passersby, So You Think You Can Dance?
Bailey tipped their coffee at the stall. “Not sure how legal that is.”
“It’s not the official dancing show?”
Wait, hadn’t Sarah mentioned something about this? Evie’s jet lag was minimal, but the last two days had been an absolute whirl of activity. Sarah and Bailey couldn’t be better hosts, and Evie wanted to smack her paranoid airport self for doubting them.
The first day had been a feat in keeping Evie awake long enough to offset the jet lag. After dumping Evie’s luggage at Sarah’s flat, Sarah and Bailey had delivered her to the promised Tim Hortons—which turned out to be a coffee shop chain selling okay coffee and amazing doughnuts—then walked her around the centre of Toronto.
Yesterday they’d toured more of the city, and Evie was all walked out now. They’d visited Casa Loma, various art galleries, strolled down Church Street and eyed all the rainbows, passed through Yonge-Dundas Square into the largest, most decadent shopping centre Evie had ever seen outside of London, through the financial district, dipped by the waterfront, walked along Queen Street (which apparently had the longest streetcar—not tram, she had to remember that—route in the world, a fact Evie intended to google), up through Chinatown and Kensington Market.
She liked Toronto very much.
The city horizon ranged beyond the boundaries of the university park. Evie pulled her camera and Godzilla from her backpack to take a picture of him with the Toronto skyline. The toy had become something of a mascot for her trip pictures. Bailey snuffled in amusement as she took the photo and reviewed it. The buildings were huge, shiny things that reminded her of the City in London. Like London, the architecture varied dramatically from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, getting smaller and more residential the farther one travelled from the city centre. Unlike London (and pretty much anywhere in the UK) the roads were huge and so were the pavements. Evie was used to tiny roads modernized from carriage paths; here there was just so much space. Everything about this new, big city demanded similarly brave, shiny things from her. Things like moving away to a new country to try a different, maybe better life in a place she could barely take in, and being independent and positive about it despite being an ocean away from nearly everyone she knew. She could do it. Maybe. She had to, because this was a promise to herself to try for brighter things.
The dance stall still nagged at her. Why? What was it?
Yesterday, while staring at the art car in Kensington Market, Sarah’s phone had rung: “Hungry Eyes” again. She’d turned away to answer. “Hey, Tyler.”
Evie had briefly wondered who Tyler was, because he—or she, because wasn’t Tyler a girl’s name too now?—seemed close to Sarah and kept calling her. Perhaps he or she was another Tumblr ace.
“Jeez, honey, that’s rough,” Sarah said sympathetically. “I know, I know, days off are like super rare for you. Wait, what? A documentary crew?”
Evie’s attention had been caught by the window display of a nearby souvenir shop. For some reason, it had a few shelves dedicated to British goods, stocking things like Twinings and Doctor Who placemats and, to her delight and Bailey’s wry amusement, Jelly Babies. They’d gone in. Sarah had followed them in, still on the phone, and found them crouching before a Downton Abbey board game.
“What the hell are you doing?” Sarah had asked, before turning back to the phone. “No, not you, Ty, my crazy British friend and Bay.”
Evie hadn’t really had an answer for her. She’d just left England. Perhaps it had been the novelty of seeing standard brands from home available here as strange imported goods; it had thrown her a little. It’d emphasized how not home she was.
“Audition? Well, okay, sure,” Sarah had said. “I’ll see you then. Bye, honey.”
And that was it. An audition. Evie frowned at the stall. Was this why Sarah had asked to meet them here? She’d left for work early this morning without saying much more than to meet her at the campus green. Bailey had made Evie pancakes and maple syrup and they’d walked here, enjoying the sunshine.
“When’s Sarah meeting us?” Evie asked them.
Bailey checked their watch. “Soon.”
She lay back, tucking Godzilla into her arms, and stared up at the sky. The late-morning sunlight fell warm on her skin, and the sky was clear and deep blue. When had she last seen a sky that blue? This was what life should be about. Coffee and warm weather and good people and new experiences. Why had it taken losing her job and flying across the Atlantic to remember that?
Evie sat up to see Sarah, red-faced and breathless, plunk herself next to Bailey. She pecked them on the cheek.
“Sorry I’m late, honey. Work is killing me right now.” She turned to Evie. “The sushi place is just around the corner, but do you mind if I say hi to a friend of mine first?”
“Not at all.”
“‘Not at all.’ Jesus, you crack me up.”
They stood and ambled over to the dance machine stall. Two people were currently on the machine, stomping in time to the instructions on the screen, while four people with weary expressions sat watching. Two students—judging by the U of T cap one of them was wearing—with a camera filmed the guys on the machine from the edge of the crowd. Sarah went up to three lithe-looking people waiting at a table at the front of the stall. Other lithe-looking people chatted at the back of the stall, but Sarah ignored them.
Evie and Bailey hung back to watch the guys on the machine. One of them was doing well, but the second one lagged woefully behind, messing up further in his haste to catch up.
“You ever do this?” Evie asked Bailey.
“No way.” They even wrinkled their nose; clearly the idea didn’t impress.
“My friends and I used to. Back at uni, I mean.” Evie smiled at the memories. “There’s nothing like dancing on that thing after four Jägerbombs. I can’t believe they still make these.”
They watched until the end of the song. The lagging dancer sagged at the end, relieved it was over.
“Man,” he said to the one who’d passed with a reasonable score. “You owe me big time.”
A girl in the crowd next to Evie clapped loudly. “Mark! That was amazing! You were awesome!”
The winner, waved happily at her. “Thanks, baby.”
Two of the judges whispered intently while the other two scribbled notes. Or what looked like notes; Evie saw one of them pull out a folded piece of newspaper from behind a sheaf of papers and place it on the table in front of her, a half-finished sudoku puzzle prominent on the top. The two whispering judges stopped talking and the one wearing a blazer shrugged as though she couldn’t care less.
“Mark,” called the other judge, a lean man with a receding hairline. “You’re in.”
Mark’s girlfriend shrieked wildly while Mark victory-punched the air, then high-fived his exhausted friend.
Sudoku Judge sighed and began assembling papers from under the puzzle. The one next to her smirked at something on his phone.
As Mark and his friend left the dance machine, Sarah came up to Evie and Bailey, hands wringing guiltily. “Um, guys, sooo, Tyler is my friend, and he’s one of the dancers doing this competition thing, and he was saying that they’re short on people and well . . .”
Bailey held up their hand. “Hell no.”
Sarah’s eyes went big and puppyish. “Please. I said we’d go on the machine once, just to draw some people in. I want to help him out, please?”
“Your friend is a dancer?” Evie looked around Sarah at the dancers she’d been talking to. They were all gorgeous: a woman with a sweet face talking on the phone, a vest-clad, sparkly guy staring in shocked disbelief at Mark, who approached him with forms in one hand and the other held high, and a grumpy-looking lean black guy next to the sparkly guy. Grumpy caught her staring, and Evie felt something like an electric shock go through her. Oh. What was that? He scowled, then turned to his friend.
Hmm. Pleasant. She couldn’t imagine Sarah being friends with someone negative, so clearly Tyler had to be the sparkly guy.
“—do you mind?” Sarah asked her.
Evie pulled herself back to reality. “What?”
“Going on the machine with me?”
Evie looked at the dance machine. Dance on that thing with Sarah? Well, if Bailey wasn’t willing, it was a no-brainer. “Of course not. I can do those things in my sleep.”
“You can, eh? Go easy on me.”
Minutes later, when they were standing there eyeing the countdown on the screen, Evie remembered that university was five years ago and that she hadn’t danced on one of these since her second year of uni, which really meant six years of not doing this. Also, she’d never done this sober.
New experiences, Evie. Dancing on a machine in front of a crowd of strangers. No sweat.
The beat started, and she focused on the arrows in front of her. A tinny Britney Spears track trilled from the machine, but she barely noticed as she caught the first few arrows without a problem. Step. Step. Too lightly and the machine wouldn’t register, too hard and it would slow her down. Stomp, stomp, step.
The song kicked into the bridge, and a flurry of arrows started scrolling. Evie stomped, her arms flying in time to the rhythm while her feet struggled to coordinate with the arrows and the beat. She missed a few and joined back in on an easy step, carelessly swiping at the sweat on her face. Christ, when had this ever been fun?
Oh, right. After four Jägerbombs.
Four frantic minutes later, the song finished and she sighed in relief. Her score ran across the screen, pleasingly high considering she hadn’t done this in years. She looked over at Sarah to see her panting and wide-eyed.
“Holy shit-snacks.” Sarah pointed at the screen. “Look at that score!”
“Eh, it’s all right.” Evie became aware of a low roar behind her, and she turned to see a sizeable crowd cheering and clapping. She grinned and bowed, receiving more cheers. She turned to Sarah. “That was fun.” Surprisingly, she meant it.
“I need to sit down. I’m too old for this.” Sarah hobbled off the machine. “Tyler owes me a drink.”
Evie went to join her but found her way blocked by two of the judges, the ones with the receding hairline and the expensive blazer. Blazer looked annoyed while Receding was excited.
“Ma’am,” he said, “that was the highest score today.”
“Really?” Evie said. If she was the highest score on that machine, they had to be scraping the bottom of the barrel for this . . . What was this for again?
She turned to read the signs scattered around the tent, but the judge kept her attention.
“My name is Derek Hastings, and this is Justine Cherry.” He held out his hand and Evie shook it, unsure why he was so excited. “We are the directors of QS Dance and Cherry Studios, respectively, and I would just like to congratulate—”
“You on partnering one of my dancers for the competition,” Justine butted in, shaking Evie’s hand firmly in turn. Very firmly.
“Competition?” Evie struggled to remove her hand from Justine’s grip.
“You definitely don’t want to embarrass yourself with one of them,” Justine added, pointing at the nearby dancers.
“Justine, you’ve allocated your dancers’ partners already,” Derek hissed at her.
“We’ll swap. She’s a smart girl.” Justine’s green eyes flickered to Evie. “You’re gay, right?”
“Excuse me?” Evie asked coldly.
“Please excuse us a moment, Miss—er,” Derek faltered, having not gotten her name. “Er, ma’am.” He spun Justine around and leaned in close to her, whispering fiercely.
Oookay. Time to walk away from the strange, rude people. Evie side-stepped around them, only to see the sudoku woman approach her. She held forms in her hands but, unlike Derek and Justine, didn’t intrude into Evie’s personal space.
“I’m Jean Hastings, assistant director for QS Dance. You’re good.” She smiled at Evie. “What’s your name?”
What in the world was going on? Who were these people? “Evie Whitmore.”
“Evie, please consider taking part in our competition. Do you have three hours free every day for the next week?”
Evie blinked, then finally turned to look at the signs littered around the stall. Perform at Pride! Be partnered with a dancer from two of the best dance schools in Toronto! Learn to dance in seven days! LGBTQA2S and allies welcome. Must be comfortable appearing on film.
Things clicked together.
“I’m very sorry,” she started, “I didn’t really know about—”
“She’ll do it.”
Startled, she looked over to see the lean, grumpy dancer at her side. When did he get there? He was her height, with dark curly hair and light-brown skin, and he glared at her as though she were some kind of idiot. But he had to be one of the most gorgeous men Evie had ever found abruptly standing next to her—not that she was an expert on the matter.
And like all vaguely good-looking men, he came with entitlement and an apparent inability to mind his own business. Or perhaps he was just as rude as his boss.
Time to end this nonsense.
“She can speak for herself,” she said, crisply enunciating every syllable.
His eyebrows raised. “Sorry.”
That strange feeling shot through her again. She ignored it and turned back to Jean. “I’m terribly sorry, but my friend didn’t tell me that this was an actual audition, and I’m afraid I can’t—”
“Evazilla, do it!” Sarah joined them, practically flinging herself into their little circle. Next to her, the stocky cameraman aimed a camera at Evie, occasionally panning to something over her shoulder. Evie glanced behind her—the judges were hissing in each other’s face. Hmm. Professional.
Sarah’s voice drew her back to the conversation. “You should totally do this. You’re on vacation! You have the time.”
Jean and the dancer’s faces turned crafty. Evie was going to kill Sarah for revealing that.
“You will be compensated for your time,” Jean said.
“No, I won’t,” Evie told her. “Tourist visa.”
“It doesn’t have to be monetary.” Jean seemed pleased. She nudged the dancer.
“It’s a really good opportunity,” the dancer said, as though that should be obvious to her. “Please do it.”
Evie stared at them all: Jean looked hopeful, Sarah was excited, the cameraman looked bored but gave her a thumbs-up when she caught his eye, and the grumpy dancer waited with his arms crossed. Behind her, the two judges—directors?—still argued.
“Justine, this kind of behaviour is beneath both of us,” Derek said.
“I didn’t organize this in order to lose,” Justine responded coolly.
Christ on a stick. What the hell was wrong with these people?
“Please,” the dancer repeated. Meddling and scowl aside, he seemed sincere about her doing it.
Dancing. Her? Really? A week of learning something new, then showcasing it at Pride; that would definitely be a challenge. Evie didn’t know the first thing about dancing, but all these people seemed to think she could do it. Plus, hadn’t Sarah said something about them struggling to find people?
Evie sighed. While it was a pleasant novelty to have a gorgeous guy begging her for something, she couldn’t stretch this out any longer.
She turned to Jean. “Three hours a day?”
Jean smiled triumphantly. “Yes. More if your schedules can support it. I’ll ensure you’re compensated somehow for your time. You will be matched with Tyler, who’ll be responsible for your performance and who will perform with you at Pride.”
Tyler. Right. Sarah’s friend. This would probably be fun with someone like him. Evie had visions of jazz hands and flamboyant spinning. “. . . Fine.”
“Yes!” Sarah crowed, hugging her. The cameraman managed a double thumbs-up while balancing his camera on his shoulder.
Jean thrust the forms and a pen under Evie’s nose. “Please fill these in. We require a deposit, to be refunded when you complete the performance next Saturday.” She glanced over Evie’s shoulder and pulled one form from the bottom of the pile. “I would appreciate it if you signed this one now.”
Evie skimmed the form as Sarah bounced next to her. On her other side, she was strangely aware of the dancer staring at her. What was his problem? She raised an eyebrow at him.
He was smirking. “Did Sarah just call you Evazilla?”
Jesus Christ. Evie felt herself blush. Wasn’t it time for him to disappear? Why did he care anyway?
Cass Lennox is a permanent expat who has lived in more countries than she cares to admit to and suffers from a chronic case of wanderlust as a result. She started writing stories at the tender age of eleven, but would be the first to say that the early years are best left forgotten and unread. A great believer in happy endings, she arrived at queer romance via fantasy, science fiction, literary fiction, and manga, and she can’t believe it took her that long. Her specialties are diverse characters, gooey happy ever afters, and brownies. She’s currently sequestered in a valley in southeast England.
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To celebrate the release of Finding Your Feet, one lucky winner will receive $15 in Riptide Publishing credit! Leave a comment with your contact info to enter the contest. Entries close at midnight, Eastern time, on January 21, 2017. Contest is NOT restricted to U.S. entries. Thanks for following the tour, and don’t forget to leave your contact info!