The first thing I do when I get in, after making myself a cup of coffee, defrosting a pain au chocolat, and making some toast – the first thing I do is Google ‘egg box Proust’.
It’s a girl I know from reeling. She’s Oxford-based, so I’m a little surprised to see her here. We kiss on the cheeks, exchange pleasantries. I look over at her partner, and my stomach flips.
Nick smiles back. ‘Hello.’
I look away and back. Our eyes meet. He’s wearing a white shirt, slightly open at the neck, sleeves rolled up to the elbows. He’s taller than I remember, and looks older, more confident. The dance begins, which is lucky: you can’t ogle whilst moving at speed.
I’m accosted by one of the organisers. Will I dance the next with a beginner? Of course, I say, immediately regretting my words. What if Nick asks me? I’m not letting a repeat of last time happen. Too late, I’m being introduced to my partner. The next moment, Nick appears.
‘Are you dancing this one?’
‘Yes,’ I say, ‘but – I’m afraid I have a partner – but – another one….’
‘Oh! So do I – sorry, I meant, shall we form a set? But – yes, another one….’
‘Oh, right, sorry! Yes!’
The dance begins, and quickly falls apart. I switch to teaching mode, guiding people around the floor. Nick learns fast; it’s impressive.
My partner thanks me. We’re chatting about salsa, his dance of choice, when the next reel is announced. It’s one of my favorites.
‘Do you mind,’ he says, ‘again?’
What do you say to that? Well actually there’s a guy here I’ve immortalised in print who I’d quite like to dance with. He hasn’t asked me yet but, well, he might.
‘No!’ I say. ‘That would be–.’
Nick appears, as if out of nowhere. ‘Would you like to dance this one?’
An awkward few seconds later, I’ve conveyed the fact that I’m taken, and Nick goes on his way.
I want to scream and shout, energy which I channel into the dance. Come the end of it, Beatrice and I hold a summit meeting in the corner. She tells me I mustn’t let a repeat of the ball happen; I must ask Nick to dance.
The last reel is about to begin. I hover on the sidelines with a few other girls, avoiding making eye contact with anyone. Nick comes back in, and I drift in his general direction. Not particularly subtle, but I’ve decided the time for subtlety is long gone. I feel a hand on my arm, and turn to see a sweet-looking girl.
‘Would you like a partner?’
The next moment, Nick appears – he’s good at that.
‘Would you like to dance?’ he says, blushing.
We take our places in the set.
‘You might have to remind me how this one goes,’ he says.
‘I can do that.’
He gets it in a flash.
‘How’s Oxford?’ I say.
‘Good!’ He smiles. ‘Is the short answer!’
Silence ensues. I’m starting to think that the time for subtlety is never gone; that I put Nick in a position where he felt obliged to ask me to dance; that he might not have wanted this. I decide to back off, easier said than done when you’re dancing with the guy.
I’m about to speak again – the whole backing off thing, not going so well – when he says,
‘Good! Too! Actually, it’s OK. I’ve just started a new role – the people are nice but the work’s not the most interesting.’
A bit like what I’m saying. I button it; the dance goes on. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried dancing in a flirty yet detached way. It’s not easy, and in the end I give up on the detached element.
The numbering goes wrong part way through, and I correct it.
‘Perfect!’ he says.
I grin, as much at the compliment as the fact that he knew to give it, knew that what I’d done wasn’t easy – that I’d done it at all! The guy’s only reeled once before. I’m slightly awestruck.
‘Thank you, I really enjoyed that!’ he says, with the final chord. ‘I think that’s one of the best!”
‘Yes, it’s a good one!’ I say. ‘And, thank you! You’re obviously… a dancer. The numbering and stuff…’
‘Well – I don’t know.’ He shrugs. ‘But – I do love dancing!’
I think of a line I read in a blog post the other day.
He must dance, not necessarily very well, but with joy, and with me, often.
I thought at the time that I didn’t entirely agree with the sentiment, but now I’m not so sure.
The night ends with a polka, which we dance, and a poem, which we mock with almost equal enthusiasm. Then he leaves my side, and I go through to the bar. Part of me thinks he’ll come and find me, but whether out of politeness or something more, I can’t be sure.
Salsa accosts me, drink in hand. Dance chat ensues. The minutes pass. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Nick approach, jacket and scarf on over his white shirt. We’ve been here before, except that this time Salsa leaves us to it.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
Too Little, Too Late?