‘Have you been before?’ I say.
Too late I remember the conversation we had about the ball when we met for the first time, three weeks ago.
‘No,’ he says. ‘Have you?’
‘No – first time.’
His partner claims him.
‘See you later,’ we say, in unison.
The dance is over. I make my way upstairs to the balcony. Romeo – what? It might be his name? – is also there. It’s a good vantage point from which to watch the dancing below. I go over to him.
He reddens. ‘Hello.’
‘How’s Oxford?’ I say.
He’s doing a PhD there.
At present, he tells me, it consists mostly of sunbathing in the parks, and reading in cafes.
‘Nice. Which is your favourite café?’
He gives the name; I don’t remember it. I’m also no nearer remembering his name.
‘Where do you live?’ he says.
I tell him.
‘Has it been sunny there?’
‘Err I think so. To be honest I haven’t really noticed – I’ve been a bit distracted with organising things for tonight!’
Too late I recall that we’ve had several days of blazing sun.
‘Do you know the flat dances?’ I say.
‘No. Do you?’
‘Yes, well, I did them quite a lot at Oxford.’
We survey the scene below; it’s like Strictly Come Dancing Week 1.
‘At least with the waltz, you can kind of make it up as you go along!’ I say with a laugh. ‘And it looks like quite a lot of people are doing that!’
‘Would you like to dance one?’ he says, turning a deeper shade of red.
‘Yes – thank you.’
It’s probably a good thing I don’t have my dance card to hand: ‘Foxtrot: Romeo’ might have had him running for the hills.
Now Romeo has just asked me for a dance. Juliet should at Pokies this point keep her trap shut, or turn the conversation towards a neutral subject, though probably not the weather since that doesn’t seem to be her strong point. Instead, after a pause, in which she looks down again at the sea of dancing couples, she says,
‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t know them – as in – by the looks of it – I think lots of people are just freestyling….’
I continue in a similar vein until any scrap of confidence which the poor man might have in his dancing ability will have been well and truly decimated. Throwing myself off the balcony is looking like a good option, when Romeo turns the conversation towards ball etiquette, and a lively debate ensues. Come the end of the waltz, we go off in search of our partners.
It’s the quickstep. I hover near Romeo’s table, chatting to his host. I see him glance over in my direction, but he doesn’t get up. For the rest of the night he appears to be joined at the hip to a very pretty girl. From the balcony I watch them wing the foxtrot. It looks… like fun.
‘Let’s find a taxi.’
The ball is over. Beatrice, Sam and I are discussing the options for getting home. Well, they are; I’m scanning the crowd for Romeo. I’ve already gone out of my way not to say goodbye to him in the foyer, and we’re now in the second phase of Mission: Avoidance Whilst Hoping He Finds Me. I can’t see him. I can see Very Pretty Girl though, and decide to abandon mission.
‘Yeah, I’m in favour of taxi,’ I say with a sigh.
We say our goodbyes to the rest of the party. Sam hails a taxi; it comes to a stop a little way down the street. I feel a tap on my shoulder and turn to see Romeo.
‘Nice to see you again,’ he says, blushing.
I smile. ‘You too.’
I run to catch the others up.