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September 2015

Val was running late for dinner with his father, who was in LA this week for business. It was a rare break for him, as he and his new Dancing with the Stars partner had been practicing all day, every day for weeks. The Season 21 premiere was coming up the next week and he was nervous because he wasn't sure if his new partner was going to be ready. His new partner is nothing like Rumer. God he misses the ease that he had with her. It was easy right from the start. Not necessarily the steps because she did struggle at times, but it was just easy to work with her. She took his critique and used it to make herself better and it usually didn't take her long to pick it up.

He still remembers so vividly walking into meet his new partner that day in February and finding out it was Rumer. They had interacted a few times when he was partnered with Janel, and had seen each other out and about a handful of times. They had never really had the chance to sit down and really talk though. Most of what he knew about Rumer Willis prior to that day was based on social media and a few comments from Janel and a few others. Now that he had really gotten to know her and had become her partner and friend, he was ashamed to admit that he had judged her so negatively without even knowing her. She is a true example of not being able to judge a book by its cover. He knows that she has 19 tattoos, but he also knows that when he looks at her, he doesn't even see most of them, what he sees is her personality shining in her eyes. Rumer was so open and honest and yet she was a mystery that he never could quite figure out. She was the first contestant that he had ever worked with that really went into the competition with an overwhelming desire to not just learn how to dance, but to win. She was so sure right from the beginning that they were going to win. Her faith in him as a teacher and in them as partners never wavered. She wasn't conceited though; it wasn't like she thought she was better than everyone else. For her it was about improving. As long as they did as good as or better than the week before then she was satisfied. Her enthusiasm was contagious and he couldn't help but smile when he thought about her.

As he rounded the corner heading to meet his father at Spago, he decided to message Rumer when he got home just to see how she was. He hadn't seen her since her birthday party right after they returned from the DWTS Live Tour and that had been weeks ago. That had been a great night. Her sisters Scout and Tallulah had thrown a pool party for her at their mom's house. Besides Rumer, Scout, Tallulah, Demi, and himself, Bruce and his wife Emma, and several of the DWTS Cast had been there including Emma, Witney, Sasha, Artem, and Peta. Maks had even shown up. Riker, Allison and Allison's husband, Noah and his fiancée Jamie, and Rumer's roommate Tye, as well as a few friends that he didn't really know had been in attendance. There had been amazing food and drinks and lots of laughter that night. It wasn't until he started reminiscing that he realized that he hadn't spoken to Rumer since that night and that in fact he couldn't remember even seeing any post from her on social media. Usually she was pretty steady about posting something on Twitter or Instagram daily or at least every other day, but it had been right at three weeks without a word. Either she had blocked him or something else was going on. He made a mental note to check when he and his father parted ways for the evening.

As he walked into Spago he spotted his father already seated at a table. As he approached the table his father stood up to greet him and they exchanged hellos and hugs. They enjoyed a wonderful meal and had great conversation catching up what had been going on with Val as well as what was going on back in New York with the family, the Dance with Me Studios, and SWAY. It wasn't going to be long before they really had to get focused on the Miami Shows of SWAY. He had been working on the choreography for his portion in the production. He had mentioned in passing to Rumer after SWAY in New York that he would like for her to join them again in Miami and she had said she would love to, but they hadn't really discussed it. He had realized as he was working on the choreography that there were quite a few of the dances that he had put together that he would love to see her be a part of. He also wanted to see if she would be interested in doing some more singing as well. He added that to the list of things that he wanted to talk to her about.

His father started talking about his and his wife Larisa's upcoming anniversary and told Val that he wanted to plan a special trip for them as a gift for her. He told Val that he wanted to take Larisa back to the Ukraine. They hadn't been in years and it was after all where they had fallen in love, gotten married, and had their children. As he talked about them falling in love his eyes teared up a little, but he never cried. He told Val about the butterflies that he had in his stomach the day that he met Larisa. He talked about they had always been able to laugh with each other. He talked about how loving and supportive Larisa had always been of him. She never doubted him in any way. He talked about how they connected almost immediately and how they always seem to be in sync with each other. He talked about how Larisa had made him a better person, a better man, a better teacher. He talked about how he felt like he could be himself. Whether he was in a good mood or a bad mood, he never felt like he had to pretend with her. He talked about how it almost felt like she could see right through him. He talked about how protective he was of her and how proud he was of her and how he had always shown her the upmost respect.

Val loved seeing this side of his father and it was always heartwarming hearing about how much his father loved and respected his mother. As his father continued talking about his mother, the picture in his mind changed from that of memories of his mother and father to memories of himself and Rumer. He pictured the little kisses that he would drop on her nose when he was proud of her. He pictured the way that they laughed together. He pictured dancing with her, particularly their final three dances. He pictured Dubsmash videos and practicing in the pool. The visions came fast and were as powerful as anything he had ever known. He blinked and shook his head as his dad asked him what was wrong. He responded that nothing was wrong but his father looked at him disbelievingly and cocked his eyebrow and asked again. This time Val responded by telling his father what had happened. His father just looked at him and smiled and said, "About time you realized what the rest of us have known all along". Val asked what his father meant and his father responded, "You love her". Val said, well of course I love her she's an amazing person and a great friend. "That's not what I meant son, and you know it". Val just sat there shocked, thinking of what his father said. Could it be true, was he in love with Rumer? He was so confused, but then as he sat there he thought back on the fact that he had been thinking about Rumer all the way over to meet his father. He thought about the fact that almost all of the dances that he had choreographed for SWAY weren't just dances that he thought Rumer would be good in, but rather that he had subconsciously designed them with her in mind. He loved dancing with Rumer, he always had. He loved dancing with Witney, Jenna, and Peta too. He had loved dancing with many different partners in his years of dancing. He loved dancing with anyone that he could click with. But Rumer was different. There was something about the way that he felt when they danced. It was magical. It always had been since premiere night. By the time they danced their final dance, the fusion foxtrot/paso, dancing with her had becoming almost transcendent. By definition the term meant "beyond or above the normal or merely physical human experience. He hadn't really realized it in the moment, but after the season ended he had gone back and watched their foxtrot redo, freestyle, and fusion dances along with the behind the scenes clips featured before each dance. It was seeing himself through the eyes of others that he truly realized how much fun and joy that he had actually been having. He also saw what it was that everyone had been talking about it terms of their chemistry. They were definitely hot together, but he would never have acted on the attraction alone. He and Rumer had worked really hard to get to the finals and she had deserved to win. He would never jeopardize their friendship, partnership, and connection for a fling. He had tossed the thought to the side. He knew that he and Rumer had danced some rather provocative moves, especially during their Jazz routine to Bootylicious and their Waltz to Earned It, but nothing could have prepared him for the unrehearsed, spur of the moment, dance moves that Rumer put on him at the SWAY after party in New York. God Bless that girl had moves he had never seen and he had been dancing with her for three straight months at that point. He had always known that he was attracted to her. They had flirted a bit, but it always seemed like it was friendly and not based on an actual desire to act on it. But yet again, he had pushed it aside and assumed that it was just chemistry. He never considered that there might be more to it.

He knew his dad was right. His family was very close and his mother and father had always been able to read him like a book. But what he didn't know was what he was going to do about it now.

Val and his dad finished their meal and after paying the bill they exited the restaurant. Before parting ways Val's father turned to him and said, "Son, your mother and I love you more than you can even comprehend right now. One day when you have a child of your own you will understand, but for now, just know this, all we want for you is for you to be happy. We wish all the best things for you. The love of a good woman who will love you, support you, honor you, and challenge you to always do what is right. I have seen you with Rumer, on the dance floor, in the kitchen, and just sitting around having fun. I have never seen you as happy, as settled, and as at peace as you have been since the day she walked into your life. I know you are probably worried that she won't feel the same, but please know this the worst that can happen is that she doesn't feel the same. But the best that can happen is that she does and what you two share becomes the greatest gift you will ever get. Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and just jump. Life doesn't come with guarantees and I can't promise you anything, but I have known all along that you loved her and if I was a betting man I would be willing to bet that she feels the same way about you, even if she hasn't admitted it to herself either.

Wordlessly Val smiled at his father and reached out to hug him and as he did, he thanked him. They said their goodbyes and turned to walk in opposite directions down the street.

As Val turned the car to head to where his car was parked he pulled his phone out of his pocket and pulled up the Instagram app. He searched Rumer's name and clicked on her account. Well that means she doesn't have me blocked he thought, but he was right that she hadn't posted anything in almost three weeks. I hope she's okay he thought. As he got in his car he pulled her name up in his contacts and after starting the car and linking it to his Bluetooth he pressed send. She didn't answer so he decided to leave her a message. He listened to her voicemail message, God he had missed the sound of her voice, and then said, "Hey Rue, its Val, haven't talked to you in a while, just wanted to check in and see how you're doing. Give me a call when you get a chance. Talk to you soon."

Rumer didn't call back that night or the next day. After two days of waiting to hear from her he called her again, but still didn't get an answer. He decided to make sure everything was okay so he sent a text to her sister Scout. "Hey Scout, it's Val. I've been trying to reach Rumer, but I haven't gotten a response. Just wanted to make sure she's okay. She's been missing in action on social media too and I am really starting to worry."

Val got a response within just a few minutes. "Hey Val, that's sweet of you to worry. Rumer is just taking a much needed time out. She's been in New York with me for the past couple of weeks, laying low. Dad is treating Emma, Rumer, and I to a girl's day and has arranged a "spa day". Rumer is getting a massage right now but I will let her know that you are trying to reach her when she gets out." Val responded, "Thanks Scout! I am relieved to hear that she is okay. Hope you all enjoy your spa day. Just ask her to call me when she gets a chance." "Will do" responded Scout.

Val still didn't hear from Rumer and then suddenly it was Friday afternoon and the cast and crew were in the studio for rehearsal and blocking. He and his partner practiced into the night and most of the day Saturday and Sunday. By the time they left the studio on Sunday night he really felt like maybe his partner might have gotten it and he hoped that they could manage to at least get decent scores and not go home at the first elimination. He decided to let her have Monday morning off and come in for a brief rehearsal before they headed to hair and makeup. There were several surprise guest, both previous dancers as well as musician that were supposed to be taking part in the premiere, he had hoped that Rumer would be one of them, if for no other reason than he just wanted to see her again, but so far he hadn't heard anything. He hadn't really focused on who was going to be there or what they were going to be doing because he was so focused on the situation with Rumer and on teaching and rehearsing with his partner.

He and his partner had completed their first dance, a waltz, and they had actually gotten some halfway decent scores, two 7's and two 6's. Not bad for the first night. His partner had gone upstairs to relax and watch the rest of the performances. She wouldn't have any other parts until the end when the whole cast lined up on stage. Val on the other hand had a pro number coming up towards the end and had gone to change into his next costume.

As he came out of the dressing room he heard Tom announcing the next performances. "Next up we have a special guest performance. Please welcome back to the dance floor, your current mirror ball champion Rumer Willis along with Sasha Farber. They will be dancing a freestyle that they choreographed together to the song "Hunger" by Ross Copperman."

Val nearly fell over himself trying to get to the balcony so that he could see Rumer and when he finally saw her he swears he stopped breathing for at least a half a second. She quite literally looked breathtakingly beautiful in a light grey, sheer dress that was very reminiscent of the pink dress that she wore for their foxtrot. She had her hair in soft waves pulled back in the same type of style that she wore for their fusion dance. He asked himself yet again the same thing he had asked probably a thousand times since the night he had dinner with his dad, "How did I not notice?"

He was mesmerized by Rumer and the dance that she had apparently helped to create, both on paper and on the dance floor. As he listened to the song it struck him how perfectly the lyrics matched exactly how he felt.

Hunger: By Ross Copperman

One look and I can't catch my breath

Two souls into one flesh

When you're not next to me

I'm incomplete

Cause I'm on fire

Like a thousand suns

I couldn't burn it out

Even if I wanted to

These flames tonight

Look into my eyes and say you want me, too

Like I want you

Oh love let me see inside your heart

All the cracks and broken parts

There's shadows in the light

There's no need to hide

Cause I'm on fire

Like a thousand suns

I couldn't burn it out

Even if I wanted to

These flames tonight

Look into my eyes and say you want me, too

Like I want you

It's like a heartbeat ending and it's never ending

And I'll burn for you (burn for you)

It's like a heartbeat and it's never ending

And I'll burn for you (burn for you)

Cause I'm on fire

Like a thousand suns

I couldn't burn it out

Even if I wanted to

These flames tonight

Look into my eyes and say you want me, too

Like I want you

I got a hunger in me

I got a hunger in me

He continued to watch as Sasha spun Rumer around the dance floor, turns and lifts, and dips. God he wanted so badly to trade places with Sasha right now. The dance had a very romantic, earthy quality to it and paired with song, it almost screamed of heartache and longing. Before he even had a chance to prevent it, he realized that tears had welled in his eyes. Just as he realized what was happening Peta approached him and asked if he was okay. He could only respond that he hoped he would be.

He had hoped that Rumer and Sasha would come upstairs after their dance but they didn't. Instead he saw Rumer heading towards the back. He rushed to get down the back stairway without alarming anyone and almost fell down the stairs twice trying to reach her. By the time he got down the steps he spotted her out of the corner of his eye heading into one of the training rooms. He allowed her time to get in the door and shut it, while he attempted to catch his breath. He knew she would have to come back out the same door as there was no other exit. After calming himself down, he knocked softly on the door. He heard her soft, angelic voice say come in and he slowly opened the door. As he approached her he could see sadness in her eyes, but didn't understand what was causing it.

"Hi." Val said

"Hi." Rumer responded

"I've been trying to call you, I was worried about you." Val said

"I know, I got your messages and Scout told me that you called." Rumer said

"Have I done something to upset you, make you mad, or hurt you?" Val asked

"I have just been trying to lay low for a while. I just needed space from life you know?" Rumer said

"Tonight doesn't look like you're taking space from life. Clearly you have been spending a lot of time with Sasha or at least talking to him. And he's a pro, with a dance partner, when did you two have time to practice? And a surprise appearance that no one else seemed to know about, or was it just me that didn't know?

Rumer looked down at her feet for a few seconds, Val could tell that she was becoming emotional and when she looked back up, she had tears welled up in her eyes. Her voice cracked as she spoke. "The producers called the day after my birthday and wanted to know if I would dance at the premiere and I told them I would as long as it stayed a secret until the night of the premiere. They asked who I wanted to dance with and I said Sasha. Sasha was really great about it. I basically knew most of what I wanted the dance to be and Sasha and I were able to choreograph it very quickly. He was really great about the whole thing. He would come over in the middle of the night and we would practice. I asked Peta to stand in for me at blocking on Friday so all I had to do was show up here tonight. I knew exactly what I wanted in terms of the dress and they already had my measurements so once we got them verified it was easy for them to make the costume. They sent it to me by messenger and I put it on right before I left the house."

"Why are you avoiding me? That is what you are doing isn't it? Val said

"I want you to know that it isn't anything that you have done. I am not angry or upset. But I also don't want to talk about it, especially here." Rumer said

"Well I think that we need to talk about it, whatever it is, because I care about you way too much to allow whatever is going on to ruin what we have." Val said

"I'm going home as soon as I finish changing clothes. Tye's out of town. If you want to come by the house when you get finished here we can talk. There are just too many eyes and ears here." Rumer said

"I understand. I will come by as soon as I can get through here and run home and take a shower. Would you like for me to pick up something for us to eat for dinner? Val said

"No, don't worry about it. I haven't really had an appetite today. You can grab some for yourself if you like." Rumer said

Val decided right then that he was going to get her something to eat anyway. He could tell that she had lost more than a few pounds. It's not that she looked bad or anything, it's just he knew her body and he knew that what she said about not having an appetite today, really meant that she hadn't had an appetite for longer than just a day. But he let her have her way, at least for the moment and responded back with, "Okay, but if you change your mind let me know and I will be happy to pick you up something."

"Okay, thanks, I will." Rumer said.

"I have to get back out there, we have a pro number coming up, but I will see you soon okay." Val said

"See you soon."

Two hours later......

The buzzer to the gate went off and Rumer went to the intercom to answer it. As she suspected it was Val and she let him in. She went to meet him at the door and was half surprised to see him standing there with multiple bags of Chinese food. She should have known that he wouldn't let her get by with not eating. He had always been extremely conscious of how she was feeling and whether she was treating her body right. She welcomed him in and followed him into the kitchen to put the food down and to grab plates. Even though it was her house Val seemed to move effortlessly from the bar to the cabinet where the dishes were to the drawer where the silver ware was. It felt so natural and it made her heart skip a beat. Tears welled up in her eyes for the third or maybe the hundredth time that night, she had lost count. It literally made her heart hurt to know that he didn't feel the same way for her that does for him. She didn't want to let him come tonight but she knew that he wasn't going to let it go and the sooner she faced the situation the sooner it would be over and she could move on and heal from the heartache. She tried to hide the tears but he turned to her at the exact moment that she was wiping them away. He was at her side before she could even blink. And suddenly the tears were just falling. There was nothing that she could do to stop them. She couldn't think or breathe. Suddenly the room felt like it was spinning. She tried to stand up to get past him into the bathroom where she could at least try to collect herself, but before she knew it she had collapsed in his arms. Although not completely conscious or unconscious of everything around her she could tell that he had picked her up bridal style and had carried her back to her bedroom and laid her down. He was sitting beside her on the bed, begging her to wake up. She couldn't be sure in that moment but it sounded like his voice was cracking.

"Please baby. I need you to wake up. I need you Rue, please come back to me. I'm so sorry for whatever it is that has you so upset. I don't know what happened or what I did, but whatever it is, I am so sorry. I wouldn't hurt you for anything in the world. I love you too much to ever hurt you. Please baby, please wake up." Val said

It took a few minutes for Rumer to really become lucid again. She wasn't sure if she had heard Val correctly or what he meant by what he said. She wanted to ask but was afraid to hope. As she opened her eyes she came face to face with Val. The look of relief in his eyes was matched only by something else, something she couldn't quite place.

"Oh My God, Rumer! God you scared the crap out of me." Val said

"Sorry, I didn't mean to." Rumer said

"What in the world happened? One minute you were sitting there watching me unpack the food and the next minute you were crying, hyperventilating and passing out in my arms. You scared me to death baby."

The look on his face when he called me baby probably matched the one on mine. I think he was just as shocked that he had said it as I was to hear it.

"Rue?"

"You left messages on my voicemail, texted my sister, and followed me at the studio tonight. What did you want to talk to me about?" Rumer asked

What was it his dad said about taking a leap of faith and just jumping, well here goes nothing or everything, depending on how you look at it Val thought.

"I don't know where to begin so I guess I will just open my mouth and let whatever happens next just happen. I don't really know how you feel, but I know that I can't keep living like this. It took me a really long time, too long in fact, to realize, or more to the point to accept that what I felt was real, but now that I have, I can't keep holding it in. I don't know when it happened, but at some point in the last six months I feel completely and totally in love with you and I am scared shitless than you don't feel the same and that me telling you is going to ruin everything." Val said

Rumer sat herself up in the bed, half crying and half smiling. "I don't know when it happened either, but I can tell you the exact moment that I realized that I was in love with you too. It was after we finished dancing the freestyle and we had gone back to the training room and were working on the fusion dance. I don't remember the whole conversation, but I remember that we were standing in front of each other and you said something incredibly sweet to me and then kissed the top of my nose. I literally felt my breath catch. I tried to ignore it for the longest time. I don't know what I was thinking agreeing to do SWAY or signing on to do the tour. I guess I thought I could live in denial forever."

"I lived in denial for quite a while myself so I know what you mean. I know that what snapped me out of it was a conversation with my dad last week when he was in town. It was suddenly so crystal clear.

"What happened in the conversation with your dad?" Rumer asked

"He was talking about when he fell in love with mom and all the things that he loved about her. While he was talking I was thinking about memories from my childhood. He said something about the way that he and my mom just clicked and suddenly I wasn't having visions of him and my mom but rather of you and me. It took my breath away. My dad called me out on how was acting so I told him and he said that he already knew that I loved you and that he suspected that you loved me too. He told me have faith and just jump. So I called you when I left the restaurant but you never called me back." Val said

So what happened for you?" Val asked

"It was at my birthday actually. Those of us that were left at the end were all pretty trashed. Not sure how much you remember but I am guessing not very much if anything. “Rumer said

"I remember that there were maybe six of us left, you, me, Scout, Tallulah, Peta, and Maks. Everyone else had gone home, gone to bed, or passed out." Val said.

"That's right. Scout suggested playing spend the bottle and at some point you spun the bottle and it landed on me. Scout was sitting between you and me and you leaned over her and kissed me. It lasted no more than a few seconds, but it literally left me breathless. I managed to stay long enough for two more spins, thankfully neither one of them landed on either of us, before excusing myself to go to the bathroom. By the time I came back, Maks and Peta had both passed out on one of the lounge chairs by the pool, Tallulah and Scout had both gone upstairs to bed, and you were sitting on the edge of the pool with your legs in the water. I went and sat down beside you. Neither of us spoke and after a few minutes I shivered. You put your arm around my shoulders and pulled me to you. You kissed the side of my head the way you had done countless times. We sat quietly for a while, still not talking. After a while I started yawning and I told you that I was going to bed. You helped me stand up and you walked me inside. I went to my bedroom and you went to the guest room. When I got up the next morning you were gone. I started avoiding you, and for that matter almost everyone else I know. The feelings that the kiss evoked in me were so powerful and I was no longer able to deny my feelings. When it all started I thought or rather I told myself that it was merely a physical attraction, but the longer it went on the more real it became until I couldn't take it anymore. I thought that hiding out and giving it time would help me to move on, but it didn't and then you started texting and calling and I knew the appearance at Dancing with the Stars was coming up and I knew I couldn't run anymore, but I was damn sure going to try, but then you caught me. The dance, the song choice, it was all about my feelings for you. It was supposed to be my way of putting it out there and seeing what would happen. If you got the message and by some miracle felt the same then that would be amazing and if not then it was just an amazing dance and no one would ever be the wiser. "

"I'm sorry I don't remember any of that. I can't believe that I don't remember kissing you." Val said

"We spent so much time denying everyone's suspicions that I think we both started to believe what we were trying to sell. What I realized later was that we never really did deny our feelings. They asked if we would ever date and we said that it would ruin the dance. They asked if you would ask me out if we got eliminated and you said you didn't know that you probably wouldn't see me for a few days. And I said that I would need time away from you. After I realized how we were responding, I still didn't know how you really felt though and I was honestly afraid to hope."

"I know, me too." Val said

Val who was still sitting beside Rumer on her bed reached out and took a hold of her left hand with his left hand. With the pad of his thumb he gently swept across the top of her hand, while looking into her eyes. "I knew from the first day that we started working together that you were going to be different than any other partner that I had ever had. I knew that you were going to change my life, I just didn't realize how much. You didn't just change my life, you changed me. You made me a better teacher, a better partner, and a better man. I love you so much it should scare me, except that it doesn't." Val didn't let go of her hand, but he did stop moving his thumb. He reached out with his right hand and gently ran his fingers through the side of her hair before gently grasping her head and urging her forward. He looked into her eyes silently seeking permission and when he wordlessly knew that he had it he gently touched his lips to hers. It was soft and gentle at first and then he ran his tongue against her lips, seeking entrance. She granted it and though the kissing stayed soft and gentle it also became a little more heated. As the pulled apart slightly a few minutes later their noses and foreheads still leaning against each other, it was as if all was right in the world again.

"I love you so much Rue." Val said

"I love you too Val." Rumer said

Rumer moved over and Val laid down beside her and pulled her into his arms. They laid that way for a long time just listening to each other breathe.

The peace that each of them felt knowing that they had found the other half of their heart was so powerful that it made them both tear up again, but this time it was out of pure joy and overwhelming love. They had met that day in February as acquaintances and gradually transitioned to partners, to friends, and finally into everything good all wrapped up into one. They knew that there would be obstacles, but they had already been through so much and had come out the other side. Together they could accomplish anything they set their minds to.

The End