"Great job, everyone."
Willow Yancy clapped her wet hands, smiling with approval at her second class of the day over water droplets that flung in every direction. A group of senior citizens peered back, varying degrees of relief and self-satisfaction spreading over their faces.
Extending praise to several of the less confident, she deftly maneuvered them to the shallow end where her partner, Tim, watched eagle-eyed as they traversed up the built-in ramp or utilized the steps, assisting as needed. Only when every member of her class was safely on dry land--or concrete, in this case--and heading out the door did Willow follow, quickly snatching her oversized beach towel from one of the wall hangers and wrapping her body up like a mummy.
"You worked them a bit harder then usual, Mary." Tim said, his brown eyes sweeping her towel-entombed body. The name startled her, as it did all too often. Something she needed to work on. Three months ago she was given the name Mary Elizabeth Netts. Willow Irene Yancy was listed as missing, presumed dead.
Temporarily, she told herself. One day she would be able to reclaim her name.
She missed her name. And her long hair. A pang of longing swept over her as she ran a hand through the short, strawberry locks. The cut was choppy, with soft bangs whispering over her forehead. The style made her look younger than her twenty-four years. Add in the new temporary name and she came across as innocent as a child.
Or a nun. Which she'd felt like most of her life. Focusing on a career in dance meant strict adherence to diet, exercise, and exhausting rehearsals. Between the grueling schedules and her mother's ever-watchful eye, Willow had little time for fun, much less fun with the opposite sex.
A former dancer herself, Heather Yancy gave it up after finding herself pregnant and alone when the baby's father abandoned her for another dancer not growing round and awkward with a child. Years and countless bottles of scotch later, Heather met Willow's father, Ian, married and had Willow.
When it became apparent that Heather's eldest daughter Maggie didn't have a graceful bone in her body, their mother had turned to Willow, shoving a little girl into a role she hadn't wanted. Willow once loved to dance, enjoying her body's reaction to music, the joy and heat throbbing in her veins as muscles flexed and arched with sensual grace. But the love died--as had her mother, thanks to those bottles of scotch or rum or whatever the woman had on hand--under the near-tortuous requirements necessary for a professional dancer. By then Willow was stuck. She hadn't gone to college, had no skills other than her finely tuned body. What else was a woman to do?
"Uh, Mary? You all right?" Tim asked, his hang-dog face creasing with concern.
With a blink, Willow forced herself to the present. She was a dancer no more, which was both a blessing and a curse: a blessing because she no longer had to please anybody but herself, and a curse because of how it all happened.
Managing a wry smile, Willow responded. "Sorry. Wool gathering. I'm fine, just ready to get dry." And pop a Tylenol or two. Her knee was aching something fierce.
"Hmmm." Tim's eyes dropped in a pointed stare to an area halfway up her covered legs. "Your knee is bothering you." It wasn't a question and his comment made her realize she was leaning to her left, easing some of her weight off her right knee, which put pressure on her left hip, another injured site. Both injuries were severe enough that she would never dance professionally again.
It was during her rehabilitation at a secluded hospital that Willow found another passion. A water aerobics instructor might not seem a lofty profession to some, but to Willow it was a turning point in her life, an opportunity to reclaim her love of dance and marry it in a way that aided others, whether to serve a need for gentle joint exercise, or, like her, physical therapy to restore the use of torn or broken tissue.
Unfortunately the dress requirement caused questions she had no intention of answering, thus the reason she generally only left the pool after her class departed. Few people knew the cause of her injuries and Tim wasn't one of them. Willow could appreciate his concern, but his coaxing insistence at knowing the origins of her wounds was becoming increasingly irritating.
Cautiously, she eased her weight evenly. "A bit. Nothing that an aspirin won't cure."
Tim frowned with disappointment. "You ever going to tell me the whole story? The truth, I mean?"
Uh, no. "How it happened isn't important."
"But it is, Mary." She tried not to jolt at the wrong name, or get irritated by his unwanted persistence. "It all has psychological repercussions. While the shattered knee is bad enough, the few glimpses I've seen of your hip makes me think something sharp took a deep swipe at you."
More like a bullet that took a chunk of bone with it.