MONDAY: Last Dance

BY DARREN O’BRIEN

Copyright is held by the author.

“DUDE, YOU’RE crazy, it’s never going to happen!”

Harry always called it like he saw it. He had been my best friend since grade six. We met the first day of school two years ago, in math class. He was the new kid; I was the invisible kid. A quick friendship was born out of necessity; the need to get out of grade school alive. I had his back, and he had mine. We were like Holmes and Watson, Batman and Robin, or Bonnie and Clyde, if Bonnie were a guy.

“Yes it will, keep your eyes open!” I said. As we walked into the gymnasium, I admired the transformation it had undergone in the last twelve hours; from dodgeball arena of hell to Studio 54. A banner, painted by Ms. Knox’s grade five class, hung over the gym stage, proclaiming “Congratulations Grade 8 Graduates 1983!” Balloons filled the basketball nets, while streamers hung above us like a lazy spider web. The teaching staff were strategically placed like pawns on a chessboard, standing guard over the punch bowls.

“Dude, if she was interested, you’d know by now. What makes you think she’ll dance with you? She doesn’t even know your name! Besides, I heard she likes Kyle. Sorry, bro.”

Harry’s lack of faith didn’t dissuade me. I was going to play it cool, hang out in the bleachers, and practice my speech. Until the DJ played it. The song to end all songs. The song that ended every school dance since the beginning of time. “ Stairway to Heaven”. Eight minutes and three seconds of perfection. Eight minutes and three seconds of holding on to Jessica, gazing into her eyes as I passionately made my case to win her heart.

I’d been going to school with her since kindergarten and not once had we spoken, though I did pass her a note once from her friend Karen in the middle of class. I could sense she admired my deft touch, as I nimbly dropped the urgent message on her desk as I walked by. In true conspiratorial fashion, she didn’t even look at me as she palmed the forbidden communication. Mission accomplished. I often wondered if she reflected on that stolen moment as fondly as I did.

A commotion by the gym door caught my eye. Kyle was making his way in. The excitement amongst the girls was palpable. I didn’t get it. Why was he so popular? He was loud. He was dumb. Last year in science class, we were assigned a project to display the effects of gravity. When it was his turn, he slowly made his way to the front of the room. Standing at attention and staring straight ahead, he undid his jeans and let them fall to the floor. “Gravity!” he said, throwing his hands in the air triumphantly. The classroom shook with laughter. Mr. Davidson sent him to the office, but he was grinning as he did so.

The hours passed slowly as the rituals of school dances played themselves out. Jessica and the rest of the girls danced and chatted while Kyle and the boys, desperately feigning nonchalance, surrounded them like a pack of sharks. Occasionally, Harry would charge into the middle of the floor, flailing his arms and stamping his feet like the floor was on fire.

I sat on the benches, the pulsing music doing its best to interfere with my thoughts. I modified my speech bit by bit, pruning my soliloquy like a bonsai tree, until it was perfect. It started with a little small talk, worked its way to plans for the summer, and ended with an earnest plea of devotion. Interspersed were references ranging from Indiana Jones to Romeo and Juliet. No woman could possibly resist.

Then it started. The angelic flutes and hypnotic acoustic guitar floated down from the ceiling speakers. It was time. I scanned the dance floor. She was standing all by herself, waiting. Waiting for me. It was destiny. I jumped off the bleachers and made my way to her.

There she was, not 10 feet away, when I stopped. I didn’t know why. My brain was working, saying “Go!” but I wasn’t going. My arms were still moving, my chest was heaving, my heart was pounding, but my legs wouldn’t budge. I looked like a robot that was running out of batteries.

Out of nowhere, Harry appeared. He sprang onto the dance floor and made a beeline to Jessica. He tapped her on the shoulder and whispered into her ear. She turned around and looked at me with a quizzical look on her face. She walked over.

“Harry said you want to ask me something?” she said.

Her voice was like a waterfall, washing over me from head to toe. Her eyes sparkled like blue diamonds. This was it. I took a deep breath. And another. And another. She waited patiently.

“Beat it, loser!” Kyle said, pushing me out of the way. “I’ve got this dance. Let’s go, Jess.” He grabbed her hand and led her to the middle of the dance floor.

A cloak of disappointment weighed down on me. Harry came up and put his hand on my shoulder.

“Sorry, dude. Guess it wasn’t meant to be. C’mon let’s get out of here.”

“In a minute,” I said. Even though she was never going to hear it, I started reciting the speech in my head, just as I had planned. Damn, it sounded good. I watched as Kyle and Jessica danced, slowly turning in a lazy circle, her arms draped around his neck. He was talking, and my lip reading skills were put to the test. I couldn’t be sure, but he either said “Kevin’s the name of our first born.” or “Count on my love like a winter storm.” I couldn’t decide which one was worse.

The gym shook as the song sped up to its thundering climax. Jimmy Page’s electric guitar ripped through the gym, bringing mayhem on the dance floor. I saw Jessica standing in the same spot, but there was no evidence of Kyle. A small circle had formed, with lots of screaming and yelling going on. Harry grabbed me. “C’mon, you’ve got to see this!” We scrambled over.

In the middle of the throbbing circle was Kyle, on his knees, playing the hell out of his air guitar. His face was contorted into a devilish grin, sweat pouring down his forehead. As John Bonham’s drums rolled off the walls, he quickly changed gears and started pounding the air with his imaginary drumsticks. Girls were swooning, as his gang of cronies shouted “Go Kyle! Go Kyle!”

He was really into it now, feeding off the adulation. Doing his best Robert Plant imitation, he waved his invisible microphone stand over his head. Playing to the crowd, he sauntered around the ring, slapping hands and doling out high fives. He ran to the middle of the mob for the big finish. Doing the splits and thrusting one hand in the air, he moaned “and she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”

Kyle’s friends rushed over, picking him up and hoisting him on their shoulders, as if he had just hit the game winning home run. Chanting his name, they paraded him around in front of his adoring fans. Even the chaperones were applauding, their faces screaming they secretly wished they were him. Besides me and Harry, no one seemed immune to this disease called Kyle. Except for one person.

Jessica was still in the same spot, a look of bewilderment on her face. She hadn’t moved an inch, but seemed so far away. The gym lights were coming on as I swallowed hard and walked over to her.

I stopped and looked her in the eye. Drawing a deep breath, I squeezed the words out.

“I would never do that to you.”

She stared at me for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, a wrinkle of a smile appeared. I almost flinched as she came closer, but settled in as she wrapped her arms around me in a velvety hug. She whispered in my ear.

“Thank you, Michael. I’ll see you in the fall.”

With that, she smiled and left.

A thousand thoughts circled my brain. She didn’t really know me. She didn’t know my favourite movies, or that I like hamburgers but hate hot dogs. She didn’t know the shirt I had on was my brother’s and she definitely didn’t know how badly I wanted to dance with her. But she knew my name. And that was cool.

13 comments

  1. Morgan Findlay

    Darren, what a wonderful story! You took me back to my horribly awkward childhood and though I couldn’t quite feel nostalgic about that, I truly enjoyed this brief reminder of the passionate inner life I possessed at that time. Well done!

  2. Mary Steer

    “Streamers hung above us like a lazy spider web….” So much to love about this story, from start to finish. I really wondered how it would end — and I was perfectly satisfied!

  3. Chris Davies

    Great story! It completely captures the experiences we all remember a little too well, even decades later. Hope to see more from you here.

  4. Charles Pinch

    The highest compliment I can pay you is that this story could’ve been written by Tobias Wolff. You write well, Darren.

  5. JAZZ

    If there is a prize on this popular site, for best story you should take it…!
    No doubt about it — you, Sir, are a writer.

  6. Bev Bachmann

    Loved the ending. Self absorption is never an attractive quality as Jessica was wise enough to recognize. She picked the right man. Well done, Dude.

  7. Pingback: RERUN FRIDAY: Last Dance |
  8. Gail

    This takes me back to when I taught grade 7 and 8 and organized dances for the kids. The boys are quite inept at that age but the girls have a maturity as the heroine exhibits here. I love the gym — dodge ball hell to Studio 54. Such meticulous details to set the scene and build the tension. I cam imagine the song. We are all routing for this “invisible” kid. His friend even sets him up – showing us she is clearly interested in him.
    Hollywood would go for the fantasy scene and here there is a twist which lets us down but then, let’s hope he can get it together for the fall.

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