Adam and Eve grabbing for fig leaves in the garden, faces burning, having just realized they both were naked, was just like Wes and me realizing that neither of us could dance.
-1 Hour Ago-
“No, this is great, I’m excited to meet your friends,” Wes had said as we took the elevator down from the sixth floor to the basement, not making eye contact with me but rather looking down at my right sneaker, under which I’d just crushed a cockroach that had been scuttling across cheap vinyl floor. I neglected to point out that Steph and I had just moved here a week ago and had literally zero friends in the building, that the objective of this event was to make said friends in case one of us was at work and the other needed help because she was home alone and choking on a bit of Eggo waffle and needed a Heimlich or something.
He usually wanted to hold my hand when I wasn’t even thinking about holding his, or vice versa. As the lit display above the elevator door lit up with a “2,” I laced the fingers of my right hand between those of his left and went in for the squeeze, but I quickly dropped my hand back to my side, sliding out of his fingers, as soon as the doors slid open on level “B.”
We paced down the hall until we reached the door labeled by a sheet of paper reading “Neighborhood Night Out,” the (apparently) national holiday this evening was meant to celebrate—our neighborhood, as young urban semi-professionals, was decidedly vertical, indoors, and rent-controlled. Muffled Sugar Ray was audible through the front door, and, as we waited for the response to our knock, Wes hummed along, short dark hair bobbing slightly with his amicable foot-taps. I flashed back to being fifteen, braces hurting my mouth a bit, and backing the family Corolla directly into the neighbor’s garage door, leaving a deep and humiliating dent. Contrary to the advice of my dad in the passenger’s seat, I’d left the radio on while backing out, and while turning up the volume on “Fly,” I’d stopped looking backwards and smashed right into their garage door. A mediocre song and a beyond-embarrassing experience.
“You’re having a flashback again, aren’t you,” said Wes, banging harder on the front door. “Earth to Whit.” He grinned.
“Huh?” I said.
“You’re doing the”—he squinted and gazed off into the distance, before turning back to me and cracking a warm smile—“Flashback face. This is a thing you do. Steph and I talked about it once while you were in the bathroom.”
“Wow, cool, this makes me uncomfortable on a couple different lev—“ I was cut off by the door being drawn open.
“Come on in, thanks for showing up! So great of you both to come!” The bounce in the step of the girl who opened the door matched the bounce of her halo of black curls. “I’m Mariah, come on in!”
She placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. “You must be… I know this… you’re… Steph?”
“Super close!” I said, her social comfort fostering my own. “I’m Whitney, Steph’s roommate.”
“Whitney. Okay. Great to meet you, Whitney. And who’s your friend?”
“This is Wes,” I said, watching Wes reach out a hand for a kind, hearty shake. I never knew whether or not to correct people who refer to Wes as my “friend”—yes, friendship is there, but is the correct word for us “dating”? “Boyfriend,” even?
Mariah escorted us to the drinks before having to let more guests in—I helped myself to a hard cider, Wes poured some scotch.
And then it happened. We were looking out over the clusters of people in the dimly lit apartment, our curiosity more like we were watching a Discovery Channel special on meerkat behavior than the curiosity of those seeking to socially interact. An old Talking Heads song came on. There was a fair bit of space around us, Wes’s toe-tapping and my gentle head-bounce and knee-bend were intensifying, and then we looked at one another and stiffened up awkwardly, ceasing to move.
“So, um, do you want to, meet other… people?” I asked, finger-combing my ponytail awkwardly and looking down. “Like, together?”
“Sure, whatever you want to do,” replied Wes in a warm, thin voice. “It’s your building.”
Standing close together but not touching, we met several Sarahs and Johns, a blonde Britney living up to her name, a Mohammed, and two Tims, who, comically, were roommates. We repeatedly explained that I’m Whitney and he’s Wes, we’re dating, I’m the one who actually lives here, we met at rec rugby league, and my actual roommate, Mel, is on her way right now from a nursing shift at the retirement home.
“Let’s dance!” Said one of the Sarahs (or was she a Lisa? I was starting to feel all warm and tingly inside as I finished a solo cup of cheap champagne). Our circle of slumped talkers then became a circle of bobbing, tapping half-dancers, alternately glancing around and staring down at their own feet, occasionally venturing to stare longingly outside our circle and out the window, one of those ground-floor windows where you look out and alarmingly find the grassy ground at what is currently your shoulder height.
Fairly comfortable in my bobbing rhythm with some gentle hip shakes, I ventured a glance away from my fellow ladies and over towards Wes. He was smiling a cute warm smile, playfully moving his hips, and—doing that awkward thing so many guys I’ve met do where they point both index fingers up towards the ceiling as they do a mini-shimmy as if it adds any creativity or zest to their dance moves.
Two songs later, Steph rolled in, still in her scrubs, and I caught her at the drink table, ducking away as Wes got caught up in a conversation about Green Bay’s upcoming playoffs game.
“How’s it going?” Asked Steph, sleepy, pouring herself a plastic cup of red wine. “My feet are killi—“
“HE DOES THE THING!” I hissed, unable to contain myself.
“Huh?” Said Steph, taking a huge swig of wine.
“Wes! The dance thing! The pointy-fingered awkward guy dance thing!”
“Is this… a thing we’ve talked about before?” Steph asked a bit groggily, pulling her nametag off her Tweety Bird scrub shirt and tucking it into her purse. I wondered why she hadn’t gone home to change, though I realized my Centennial Hall 2008: ‘08 Is Great! T-shirt and running shorts was not exactly a fashion statement either.
“I think we’ve talked about it? Or maybe I was thinking about it while having dinner next to you on the couch?” I faltered. I always did this: assume the knowledge and kindness of those who knew me best extended with no bounds, leaving me sheepish and ashamed when my own irrationality leaves me asking for extra from others rather than helping fill in the gaps of what they may need.
Steph was already sloppily topping off her wine, mixing white into her red. “So, his dance moves, huh? How were your dance moves?”
“Pretty shitty,” I confessed, “but, like, the fingers are a next level, I guess?”
Steph swilled her wine a little. “And what else did you guys do today?”
“Well, it took me forever to get ahold of him today, and eventually when he texted back I felt like he wasn’t really listening to me and—“
“AHA,” Said Steph, pointing a cheese puff at me like an accusatory finger and sipping her wine with her other hand. “This isn’t REALLY about hand-dancing at all!”
Crunching down the cheese puff in a single bite, Steph pointed across the room at the mirroring snack-and-drink table, where Wes was trying to scoop guac onto the same chip he had already scooped salsa onto, only to watch the salsa slide off into the guac bowl. Twitching and glancing side to side, he clearly panicked for a moment before scooping the unholy mixture out by using two new chips as tongs, quickly folding the chips into his mouth and scuttling away as if he’d just set off the alarm in a fine art museum.
“Look at that,” said Steph, in an understanding tone, almost didactic. “The guy’s doing his best. He’s gonna be off some days, just like we are. But whenever he’s over at our place, he’s super kind to you, and I can hear you guys laughing together all the way from the kitchen,” she paused, “though it’s not really even that far.”
I put my hands on my hips triumphantly. “Stephie, you’re so right. I should go dance with him.”
“Correct answer,” Steph concluded, again topping off her wine. “If you hold his hands, he won’t even do the finger-pointy thing.” My heart fluttered a little in spite of myself.
I paused before venturing forth. “Hey, dude, I know we don’t have to drive anywhere, but how many wines has that been for you?” I asked.
Steph looked down into the cup and shrugged. “Dunno. Scope out any cute girls who are into climbing for me?”
I cracked a wry smile. “Working on it. No luck yet.”
As if the stars were aligning just for me, some warm, doofy Frank Sinatra cover came on as I made my way over to Wes. I tapped him on the shoulder, and as he spun around, (fortunately with both hands free), I slipped both my own hands into his and started swaying us side-to-side with the brassy beat of the song. His hands were warm and comfortable as we swayed for a few more songs, stood together in the elevator up, and as they squeezed my smaller, paler hands goodnight.