SOMETHING ABOUT THE booming band made Louise Lloyd feel alive. Really, truly alive in a way she had thought impossible. Sweat rolled down her back, down her face, sticking her hair to her cheeks and red lips. She didn't bother to brush away the strands as she concentrated on dancing. The strap of her dress fell, revealing her shoulder, and she put it back into place. She was panting for breath, her heart beating wildly. She let her muddy hazel eyes flicker shut for just one moment, taking one beat to reset.
The Zodiac was the hottest club in the West Fifties. Everything about it was the best. It had high, sweeping ceilings, gleaming dance floors, and the best band in the city. The bandstand was big enough for an orchestra. The band itself, however, was seven pieces, and there was a different singer each night, all poised to become the Next Big Thing.
Tonight's singer was a woman with a soulful voice and skin darker than Louise's. She was barely dressed, wearing a tiny showgirl costume. The lights shone on her, gleaming off her long arms and legs. She managed to make eye contact with everyone in the club, presiding over them as they danced. A small smile settled on her face as she clutched the microphone stand.
The bar had been shoved into the corner, almost an afterthought. There were no tables and chairs in the Zodiac; the rare nondancer stood by the wall and watched.
No one came to the Zodiac to sit.
The music bounced off the ceiling like some unbridled animal in heat. It was impossible to speak over it. The band was playing a song Louise particularly loved.
The best part was that, for the right price, the owner didn't care what color a person was. Secrets were made and kept at the Zodiac. It was a place where men could dance with men, and women could dance with women.
Louise needed a place that was discreet and had a good band.
The Zodiac was that place.
She was lost in a sea of sparkles and skirts and bangles, some of the many shiny bright things on the dance floor. She was wearing a new dress—one she had splurged on, one that felt special. It was navy blue with sequins that shimmered in the light. She had meticulously paired it with navy blue heels and red lipstick, and she could feel girls in the club staring at her. She was caught in the sway of her skirt as she let herself be carried away by the music, twirling and stepping. She had paid a little too much for this dress, and it was a bit too long, but it was her first time wearing it out and she had been right. It was special. There was nothing better than dancing in a new dress. She danced with her closest confidante, Rosa Maria Moreno, who was wearing a complementary dress of blood red and was easily leading Louise through the Charleston steps.
They only really needed each other.
She and Rosa Maria never tried to attract attention. That was something that happened as they danced, feeling the music between them as they moved. It was an easy, effortless connection that she never needed to think about.
It was the perfect way to end a Thursday night or begin a Friday. They had been in the Zodiac since it opened at midnight, on the floor for two straight hours, completing every Baltimore, Charleston, and foxtrot that the band played, running to the bar for drinks if there was a lull. Her muscles screamed for a break, but she wasn't about to let up.