"Right," Max exhaled deeply and stepped on stage after Payton.
Country dancing was not his strong point, and he desperately didn't want to make a fool of himself in front of Payton. The music striked up, the lively beats of the country calling him invitingly. Payton was already absorbed in the music, swinging and swaying her body with all her might. He followed suit, placing his feet carefully as to follow their prepared choreography. After about half a minute, his confidence picked up and he began to relax. Clasping Payton's hands, he took her on a jig around the artificial haystack. Then the dreaded part came: the full minute of lifting and spinning.
"I'm sorry, Pay," he whispered to her as his hands closed around her waist for the first lift.
She grinned at him reassuringly, and held herself perfectly still as he hoisted her into the air. The first lift came and went with roaring success, and Max smiled as Payton leapt into his arms, clasped his now outstretched hand and spun round like a spinning top. The routine was coming to a close. With only a few more bars of music, Max steadied his stance. With the jingling guitar a signal for The Climax, Payton leapt and landed just a yard short of Max's arms. They both came tumbling down, Max flat against the floor due to his effort to move and catch her, and Payton crumpled in a strange position.
"You okay?" Max asked, standing up slowly.
"Yeah, just a few more bruises," Payton answered, unfolding herself and struggling to her feet, "Hit my shin on that stupid wooden block though. I think I'll go grab an ice-pack now."
"I'll get it if you want," Max offered, unsure as to whether he should come over and support Payton's slight limp.
It was strange. He had held her in his arms and touched most of her body in the countless dances that they've performed, yet something still held him back from swinging his arms around her. Without dance, Max was nothing but a shy remain of the exuberant personality that he was when dancing. While he was still contemplating whether or not to offer her help, Payton was already halfway back into the prep room with its fridge full of ice-packs.
"Hey, wait up!" he called as he jogged to catch up to her.
"Thanks for getting my stuff," she smiled at him and his arms full of both of their dancing equipments.
"No problem," he replied, then working up his courage to say, "Want to lean on my shoulder? The limp looks bad."
"Nah, I'll be alright," she laughed, "Besides, looks as though your arms are full."
Mary greeted them at the prep room with an ice-pack already wrapped in cloth, having seen their clumsy finale and rushed back to get help. Handing Payton the frozen package, she spoke to both of them.
"That was good, until the end of course," she said, "But you need to relax more, Max. I know country's your least favourite style, but you need to be versatile to really be a great dancer. And you, Payton, give some of your energy to Max. You were pretty much exploding everywhere on stage!"
"Was not! It's just that you chose my favourite song," Payton protested.
"Well, I think that will be enough for today," Mary said, as though she didn't hear Payton's protest at all, "Better not get the both of you too battered and bruised, or else the class this afternoon will be scared to death seeing their black and blue dance assisstants."