He stepped from side to side and slid in a spin every few beats. He knew he didn't move well. No one but her seemed to mind. The music was loud. It drowned out his heavy breathing. His deodorant was doing its job. He raised his arms boldly and swung them to the right, to the left, and then held them front and center, like a boxer ready to spar. Now and then his eyes would drift to where she sat, far from the dance floor, and, as was expected, she was watching him, her lips in a strained smile (she couldn't let these people see how unhappy with him she was).
He swung his hips. He didn't recognize the song, but the younger dancers did. They formed a wide circle, shouting the chorus. Nods and synchronized mouthing of words. Jumps and fist pumps. Enjoying the uninhibited camaraderie a song versed with memories stirred, he joined their perimeter. Here he was a part of something.
Then it ended. A slow ballad squashed the tempo, and the circle of dancers coupled off. He thought to ask one of the young ladies if he could have this dance, but they were all scooped up before he could find the words. The swaying couples bumped him to the edge of the dance floor where banquet tables, draped in snow-white cloths, wore the remains of a meal devoured -- wadded, chocolate-streaked linen napkins; dessert plates still being nibbled at; lip-stained water and wine glasses; coffee and tea cups receiving refills from dutiful staff who wove through the tables like dancers in their own right.
Wiping the sweat from his forehead, he headed to the open bar. "I'd like an old-fashioned," he said to the bartender.
The young guy, his blond hair pulled back in the now ubiquitous "man bun," nodded.
He wished he had enough hair left to don a man bun too.
Another slow song overtook the last. The bartender dropped a strip of orange peel in his requested drink and slid the glass to him. He thought about asking the bartender how long hair needed to be to pull off a bun so thick, but he didn't know the proper etiquette for discussing hair fashion with other men, so he gave a quick thank-you and found a quiet space near a tall potted plant and stood, watching the couples dance, sipping his drink, the oversized ice cube clinking in his glass.
He turned, his drink dribbling down his chin. He hadn't seen her make her way around the room to him. Once again he found himself facing an ambush. No matter how he answered, she wouldn't be satisfied.
He dabbed his chin dry with his tie. This was her friend's daughter's wedding. He didn't want to go. He hardly knew the friend, let alone the daughter. Getting dressed up, making small talk, being social -- none of it appealed to him. Sitting on the couch and flipping through channels would have been a better way to spend his Saturday. That was what he'd thought anyway, but when the music had picked up after the meal, his feet began to move under the table. He downed his glass of wine and stood. He asked her if she wanted to dance even though he knew she'd refuse. When she sighed and whispered to him to sit, he hesitated. He wanted to dance. It wasn't too often he had the chance. She whispered to him again, her smile rigid. He smiled too, told her he'd be back, and surprising himself as much as he'd probably surprised her, he left her and joined the crowd on the dance floor. He could feel her watching him, but it wasn't hard to shrug off her displeasure because there were a good five to six songs straight of fast, foot-moving fun.
"It looks like you're having a good time," she said.
"Is there a problem with that?" The wine and cocktail were making him bold.
"I thought you didn't even want to come to this thing."
"I'm making the most of it."
"That's what you do, isn't it?"
Not taking her eyes off of the dancing couples, she took the glass from him. She sniffed its contents and took a sip, then another.
"Would you like me to get you one?"
She shook her head and gave him back his drink.
"What is it that I do?" he asked.
"Make the most of things. I suppose that's what we all do."
The slow song faded. Faster beats thumped through the speakers. The couples drifted apart. She stood, her arms folded across her chest, watching the dancers. Tapping his toes to the music, he sipped his drink. He wanted to dance again. Back in the day, she would have wanted to dance too.
They used to have fun together. They used to be inseparable, but now when they were near each other, it was in one of two states he found himself (and he was pretty sure she felt the same): (1) he didn't really notice her, or (2) he noticed her too much; that is, she got under his skin. When did we stop having fun?
He looked at his drink. There was a spot of brown on the orange peel. Not caring if he swallowed some of the rot, he finished the drink and set the glass down on the table near them. "I want to dance," he said.
She shrugged. "Go ahead. You seem to be dancing just fine without me."
"Come on. Let's dance. Together."
"I'm not in the mood."
"Therein lies the problem."
"So I'm the problem?"
He wanted to get out on the dance floor and feel free again like he did earlier dancing with the kids. He wanted her to feel it too, that freedom, that excitement. Old her would have liked it, but they were on the verge of a fight. They always seemed to be these days. One way to prevent an argument, he knew, was to remind her of their audience. She was always aware of the audience. He bent down so his lips were near her ear. Her hair smelled different. More earthy and herbal. He liked it. It wasn't like the overly sweet, flower-smelling stuff she used to use.
"I know you're not in the mood for a scene either," he whispered. "If you don't dance with me, I'll make a scene."
She glared at him.
"I will. I swear it."
"What's wrong with you?"
"You changed your shampoo."
Her forehead crinkled. "So?"
"I like the way it smells. Maybe I should use it too."
"It's expensive. I get it at the salon."
"Buy double next time."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"What? I can't smell good too?" He grabbed her hand. "Come on. Let's dance."
"I think you've had too much to drink," she whispered, glancing around them, as she worked her hand out of his. Her hand her own, she smiled at an elderly woman, likely a grandparent or great-aunt of the bride or groom, who shuffled by them with her walker.
"Maybe I've had a drink or two too many," he whispered.
"Or maybe you haven't had enough."
"Out of step like usual." She sighed.
He tapped his feet. "Let's get back in step."
"What does that mean?"
"We just got to get back in the groove."
"You think it's worth it?" she asked.
"Are you serious?"
"Why wouldn't I be?"
"We've committed way too much time together to even be talking like this."
"So we should stay together because of time served?"
"Time served?" He shook his head. "This isn't a prison sentence."
She shrugged again.
He looked at the laughing people on the dance floor. He wanted the two of them to be like them, like they used to be. He tugged on his collar. "People are looking at us."
She glanced around them. "No one is looking at us."
Another fast song stormed the room. "We know this one." He grabbed her hand again. "Remember?"
She pulled her hand back. "Of course I remember. It was on continuous loop at Polly's." She sighed again. "We were so young then."
"We were in step then."
"What are we now?" she asked.
"Not so old. You make it sound like we're ancient."
"I feel old."
"I think maybe -- " He looped his arm around her waist and dipped her.
She gasped. "You really have had too much to drink."
"We've been playing it too safe," he said, pulling her to his chest.
She pushed away from him. "You're being crazy."
"Not crazy enough."
"You aren't making any sense."
"It's about us needing to cut loose. Everybody cut. Everybody -- "
"Don't you dare -- "
"Everybody -- "
"If you start with your Kevin Bacon Footloose impressions, I swear -- I will leave."
"They probably couldn't handle the awesomeness of my Footloose moves anyway." He grabbed her by the waist again and took another deep breath of her hair. "Your hair really smells good."
"I've been using this shampoo for a while now."
"I don't know why I didn't notice."
Her shoulders tensed. She pulled away. "It would have been nice if you had."
Frustrated, he picked up his glass from the nearby table and brought it to his lips and sipped melted ice water. Her arms resumed their folded position across her chest. She chewed on her bottom lip as she watched the dancers. She did that when she was upset, gnaw on that lip until it bled. She wasn't happy. There was a time when her happiness was all that mattered to him.
He studied the spot of brown on the orange peel in his glass. He watched her watch the dancers, and seeing her upset in this room full of young and happy people, remembering her when they were that way too, noticing now the faint wrinkles around her eyes, her lips, the wisps of gray in her hair -- her natural highlights, she called them -- he didn't want to do what he usually did when they reached this point -- jab back or walk away. Instead, he stood where he was, sipping more of the ice melt, thinking about the rotting orange peel. Sometimes rot was just rot. But sometimes it produced richer things, like wine or cheese.
He set the glass back down. "Let's be cheese," he whispered. "A good one."
He stepped closer to her. "I should have noticed." He breathed in her hair again. "I'm sorry," he whispered in her ear. The skin on her arm puckered into goose bumps. "It's been a while since I've been able to do that to you. "He touched her forearm.
Even though she turned away, he could see that her cheeks were pinking.
"You really do smell good. "He waited. "It's really nice."
"Fine," she whispered, "you can use my shampoo."
"Finally," he said, his throat burning.
She kept watching the dancers.
"Question is will you be able to handle me smelling so good?"
"I think I'll manage."
"I don't know. It's going to be tough."
"I'll do my best," she said, still not looking at him.
He found her hand and squeezed it. He waited for her to pull away again, but she didn't.
"Do they sell leave-in conditioners at the salon that smell that good?" he asked, searching for a way to keep the conversation, the moment going.
"Doing a leave-in conditioner like once a week is supposed to really help the scalp."
"If you say so."
"I've heard about hair masks too. Have you heard about them?"
"They sound like leave-in conditioners to me, but they're marketed differently. Maybe we should try both."
Shaking her head, she looked at him, her eyes glistening. "Are you going to keep yapping about hair products, or are we going to show these people how it's done?"
"You want to dance?"
"We just need to get back in step, you say?"
She tugged him onto the floor.
"Can I go Footloose on them?"
She grinned. His heart winced. He couldn't remember the last time he'd seen her smile like that.
"It's been a long time," she said. "You remember how?"
He pulled her close. "Do I remember? Seriously?"
"Of course I remember," he said.
"Let's show them how it's done then."
Laughing, holding onto each other, they found their space on the dance floor.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Deborah S. Prespare. All rights reserved.