Karen sat down on the folding chair, pulling a pair of beige dance shoes out of a black bag. “I love these shoes. The heels are wide and they’re easy to slip on.”
Guin bent over to adjust her black shoe, the straps coming up from around her toes and crossing over the top of her foot, forming diamond patterns filled with black mesh. “I like being able to adjust the straps on mine but this strap comes off too easily.”
“I’m going to stretch why you two finish the choreography.” Karen stood up and walked over to the computer stand where Guin’s mobile phone was plugged into the dance studio’s sound system.
Lee shook his head from side-to-side while he stretched out his arms, lowering them behind his back to pop vertebrae into place.
He watched Guin work on the shoe strap, noticing for the first time the colour of her hair, a deep, dark brown that he mentally avoided associating with colours of wood, trying to get a sense of what colour meant to him without the use of labels such as adjectives. He compared the colour of her hair to her toenails, which appeared to be painted white on the tips like the tips of an aeroplane propeller.
He thought about the backstory their choreographed routine was supposed to show, a steampunk tale, an alternate universe that appeared in this universe for a minute and thirty seconds or so.
He remembered Guin telling him about her divorce, that the California surf dude she had married in their partying years of late teens and early twenties could not handle the new Guin who emerged from a horrible car smashup.
He remembered the car smashup scenes and urban landscapes of J.G. Ballard. How many people had inadvertentedly aligned their lives around the transportation fiction of a man who found a way to make a living by writing while raising children without a mother?
Guin took off the black shoes and put on a pair of Lindy Hop sneakers.
Karen yelled across the studio. “Do you all want to try the routine from the top…with music?”
Lee looked at Guin and she nodded. “Sure!”
Lee put the palm of his right hand in the small of Guin’s lower back, holding her right hand in his left hand, tapping his left foot on the floor in anticipation of the first beat of the music.
He needed to look at himself in the mirror to see his posture but didn’t want to, expecting Guin to describe how he looked.
“We need to work on your technique” told him everything he needed to know.
They danced through two-thirds of the routine before Lee lost track of the steps, unable to hear the beat of the music because a financial spreadsheet was filling his thoughts.
“I’m sorry. I can’t get my thoughts straight.”
Guin shrugged. “That’s all right. Let’s try it again and see how far we can go before you have to stop.”
Karen pressed a few buttons to clear the screen on Guin’s iPhone and started the music again after Guin and Lee had run over to the side of the studio, back to their starting position.
Lee could feel a bead of sweat rolling down his back, running into his shirt which was pressed to his skin by Guin’s hand which, although they had danced dozens of times together, he had never noticed before, the heat of his back seeming to warm her cooler hand.
As they danced their steps, going into and out of Lindy circles, forming sugar pushes, tuck turns, man passes and swingouts, their eyes met, sometimes triggering automatic head nods and smiles.
Lee found himself still fascinated by Guin’s hair. He wondered how the thickness of the strands of her hair compared to that of other similarly-coloured heads. What about the number of hair follicles her square inch?
After they reached a point in the routine where Lee forget what a pecking maneuver was, they broke into light laughter and stopped dancing.
Karen fumbled with the iPhone screen again because Guin had set the screen to lock into password mode quicker than the length of the song. She finally stopped the music.
Meanwhile, Guin walked Lee through the pecking. “We start the first half of a Lindy circle. Remember?”
“Five, six, seven, eight. Step, step, triple-step. Step, step, triple-step. Now step, step, stop. Wait a beat. Step forward. Good! You remember.” She smiled encouragingly.
They walked through the rest of the routine without music.
Karen sat down in a chair and leaned her head back against the wall. She was tired and enjoyed the precious seconds of rest before Guin would get far enough with the routine to call Karen onto the floor to dance the steps with her husband.
After nailing down another 20 seconds of the routine, Guin did get Karen’s attention and had them dance the routine with music.
They repeated this several times over the next hour.
Finally, Lee felt he was getting no farther, his thoughts filled with numbers and dance steps for the day. “That’s it! I think I’m done.”
Guin looked at the dance routine spreadsheet on the computer screen. “Well, that’s good because we’re at the place where I want to work on the choreography a little better. The camel move doesn’t fit here, I don’t think. I’m thinking maybe a corkscrew.”
She lowered herself to the floor, had Lee hold her hands and then showed him how to spin her up off the floor.
He smiled. “I like that.”
Karen nodded her head. “Yeah, it fits with your steampunk theme.”
“Thanks. Well, if you guys are finished, Eoj should be getting here soon. We’ve got ten days to put together our routine.” She walked back toward the row of chairs at the entrance to the changing room, Lee walking beside her.
“No kidding?” Lee jokingly put his hand in his mouth, pretending to chew his nails.
Karen pointed toward the bathroom. “I’ll be right back.”
Guin sat down to change her shoes. “Yeah. And you know what, Kirby said to me last night that he never gets to see his wife anymore. He works third shift and he knows I work first shift. It’s not like anything has changed with what I do.”
“You’ve always been busy at night teaching dance lessons.”
“It gets worse. He’s home during the day so our neighbours see him but not me. They asked him yesterday if I had moved out or something so he told me, ‘Look, our neighbours don’t believe I have a wife anymore. I never see you!’ I think it’s because he’s getting over his brother’s death. He’s starting to blame me for every little thing.”
“Uh-huh. Karen was the same way with me. She accused me of stuff I hadn’t done, let alone thought of.”
Karen returned from the bathroom and Lee spoke to her. “Do you remember being on my case all the time after your brother died?”
“Yeah.” Karen spoke to Guin. “It takes a while to realise the effect you have on other people while you’re grieving. I’m sure Kirby’s going through the same thing.”
Guin laughed. “Kirby? Yeah, he’s going through a lot and so am I. I’m going out of town on business, on top of everything else.”
Lee looked at Guin, unable to read her face. She bent over to change shoes and Lee looked at Guin’s hair again, noticing it was pulled back into a small ponytail.
He noticed her grimace slightly as she stood up. “Your foot alright?”
She scrunched her face in a smile of pain. “Yeah. It locks up, though.”
They looked at the steampunk outfit that Lee had brought, including a vest Karen had made for him when he dressed as Not-So-Serious Black for the local midnight premiere of the last Harry Potter film.
They talked about matching their outfits when Guin laughed unexpectedly.
“You know John, the big guy that comes to the dance club every now and then?”
“Well, the other day he joked that he thought his man boobs were bigger than mine so I went to the restroom, took off my bra and had him try it on. Sure enough, his were larger!”
Lee and Karen laughed. Lee turned from Guin to Karen, a knowing look shared between them before Lee spoke. “Should I tell her about Donald?” Karen nodded as Guin, seeing she was left out of the loop on an inside joke, stood up and walked to the computer stand, hearing her phone ring, the ring tone a theme song from the original Super Mario Brothers videogame.
“That’s Eoj. He better not ditch our dance practice again tonight!”
Lee and Karen followed.
Karen shut down the computer while Lee listened to Guin’s half of the phone conversation, entertaining Lee as she described back to Eoj how she understood that he cut himself accidentally at work and was unable to dance until tomorrow.
Lee mentally counted off on his fingers the multiple perceptions that he shared with, about and of Guin, his joy of writing helping him organise his thoughts for later recording, his love of self and his ability to fall in love with everyone he meets his joy and his curse.
It wasn’t his best dance practice night, distracted as he was by an undertone of sexual objectification that had put a layer between him and Guin but didn’t let him stop from learning more about his relation to the universe, wondering why there was part of him on any other night that could synch up with Guin without thinking, sharing their differences as if they were similarities, how people around Lee wanted to tell him their views of Guin without his asking so that he got more insights into people than he wanted, placing himself at odds with himself as the objective reporter in order for him to become a more descriptive author caught in the middle of the story in progress.
What about Guin’s hair, her makeup-free face and his wife’s willingness to strain their financial budget to the breaking point?
He had a robot construction kit to work on, didn’t he, a Kickstarter campaign that wasn’t going to create itself.
Lee wanted to stay and talk with Guin and Karen about life but knew his nervousness from earlier in the day was blocking him from seeing Guin as a friend rather than a sex object.
As he led Karen out of the dance studio, calling out a goodbye to Guin, the memory of the first words he had shared with Guin when he walked in floated into view.
Guin had looked at him knowingly, a twinkle in her eye, “So, how was YOUR day, after what happened yesterday and last night?”
A dozen thoughts had jumped to the foreground, fighting against the sexual objectification he had brought with him into the room before he had looked at Guin, the tiniest moment of friendship between them clouded over by his turning her into an object of lust.
He wanted to ask Guin exactly what she meant but was afraid to ask. What if what he thought she meant was what she meant? Would it have mattered if Karen was in the room?
Did Guin think he was drunk last night at the dance club? Did the quick private conversation between Lee and Bai’s French boyfriend about their separate relationship with Bai get back to Guin? Had Guin talked with Bai about the blog entry he had written where he briefly spoke about holding Bai’s hand for so long yesterday as if they were longtime lovers no longer bothered by sexual tension? Had Bai told Guin that Lee had texted her while she was driving to Little Rock, Arkansas, on the way to a weekend dance competition in Dallas, Texas? Had Guin seen the Frenchman dance with Lee, showing Lee how to be a better leader? Was Guin referring to the dance lesson she gave Lee and Karen at the dance club?
Lee thrived on the uncertainty between his fictional characters but it drove him crazy in real life.
Did the bartender at the dance club really tell him that her real name was not Jody but she called herself Jody anyway, until friends called her Jody in the backyard so she changed her real fake name to Jodi with an “i”?