(continued from Chapter 1)
I was watching the clock like a hawk in the moments before I left work for lunch. At 10 to 12 I bolted from work and walked swiftly through the not-so-thick pre-lunch crowd to the restaurant, only to arrive a bit early. Nobody else was there. I sat down at a table for 2 and told the waiter that came up to me that I was still expecting someone else and would order then.
I took out my phone to see if Daniel had sent me an 'I'll be late' message. No messages, as usual. Nobody really sends me messages anyway, which makes me wonder why I have such a high-tech smart phone compared to my low-octane social life. It was a present from my dad last Christmas, which I was happy to accept, but sometimes it feels like this technology was wasted on me. I mean, I'm pretty sure my phone would have killed itself if it knew it was going to spend its life getting texts from my parents and the public transportation system.
Daniel walked into the restaurant then, and I waved at him unnecessarily. I looked down at my phone-slash-glorified-timepiece and sure enough, 12 o'clock, right on time. Daniel does have that part going for him, in that he's quite punctual. I guess when your spelling and grammar is as bad as his, you've got to have some good traits to balance out the bad.
"Howdy Liz." said Daniel as he approached the table.
Daniel's always been pretty well-groomed, but today he looked a bit more well-dressed than usual: his short brown hair was being held in place by an unknown number of hair products to make it look something akin to bed hair (I never understood why you'd intentionally undo bed hair only to force it back into that position), he wore an ironed white shirt with some random screen print on it, standard blue jeans, and some comfy-looking brown shoes. As I took stock of what he was wearing, I noticed that I'd seen this combination on him before and think maybe these dance classes have been the reason he's been so well-dressed.
As Daniel sat down, the waiter came up to our table and gave us the lunch menu on 2 pieces of laminated paper. Daniel and I looked down at the menus on the table, then glanced back up at each other and shared a smile. We'd eaten Indian food with each other so many times before that we now have usuals, making the menu somewhat obsolete.
"It's your turn." I said to him, grinning.
"Alright then." he sighed. "Hi," he said loudly, waving to the retreating waiter, "we already know what we're getting."
We mentioned our usuals to the waiter, and when the waiter retreated to the kitchen to kick-off our order, Daniel got straight to the point.
"So you going?" he asked.
"Going to what?" I replied, even though I already knew what he was talking about.
"Tonight's dance class! You've been avoiding the question ever since I asked this morning. Does that mean you don't want to go, or that you're undecided?"
"I don't know!" I said defensively. "I... I don't know if I'll be good at it or..."
"You'll be fine." said Daniel, swooping in with the reassuring tone. "I already said you've got the timing stuff down, what with you being musical and everything. That's all you need to start with. And you remember ballroom dancing back at high school? You were pretty good at that."
"Oh come on, that was like 5 steps we had to memorise."
"And look at how few people actually managed to memorise those 5 steps."
Our teachers made us practice ballroom dancing for weeks in the lead-up to the school dance in our final year, and I recalled how some of the guys, even after all that time drilling those steps into our heads, were still a bit useless. The worst thing about it all though was the music: tunes from an era that I swear were written before the invention of electricity, and no matter how much they sucked, repetition etched the songs into my brain.
"Dammit Daniel, just when I thought I had those stupid ballroom dancing songs out of my head."
"Bah, now I'm thinking about them too. Witch! Get your soundtrack out of my brain!"
Daniel clutched at his ears and pretended his head was about to explode, although he probably didn't have to pretend that hard - that music was pretty awful. I laughed and thought of my next excuse, and realized it was just as weak as my last one. I really didn't have anything holding me back from going to the dance class, and I guess it was at that point in the day that I resigned myself to my fate.
"Will these clothes be OK then?" I asked, looking down at myself.
Daniel did a quick scan of my upper body, then stuck his head under the table to see what I was wearing below waist height.
"Oi!" I shouted, moving into position to kick him.
"Your clothes look good." he said, quickly retreating to a proper sitting position. "Heck you're probably better-dressed than some of the ladies there. There's this one girl at the class who I swear forgets to wear some deodorant. One time I had to hold my breath when I danced with her."
"What?" I said, slightly shocked yet feeling a bit better about myself. "That's got nothing to do with clothes though."
"You really don't have anything to be worried about Liz: you dress nice, you smell nice, and you look nice too. You'll be starting at a beginner-level so everybody else in the room - they split people off into different experience levels - will be just as clueless as you."
I didn't know what to say then. I'd run out of excuses, and when Daniel goes on his little charm offensives I don't really know how to respond. I've never been that good at taking compliments, and they usually leave me spaced-out - staring at the person a bit blankly, mouth a bit open in wonder, and not knowing what to say because I'm thinking too hard about it all: do I say 'thank you', was the other person being truthful, or just nice?
"Liz, you're spacing-out again."
"Oh," I said, breaking my gaze and staring at everything else except Daniel, "umm, sorry."
The food came soon after, and while we ate Daniel explained how things would work tonight. I paid attention to what he was saying, although he was being pretty vague, always ending things with 'you'll see how it is when you get there'. It was like an exam and he was giving me all the preparation notes so I wouldn't screw things up half-way through, only to tell me that the preparation notes were attached to our exam desks.
"So I'll see you there at 7?" Daniel asked through a mouthful of rice.
"Still here?" Janet asked as she packed-up her things to go home.
"Yeah, still here." I sighed. "Daniel invited me to his dance classes, which don't start for another..." I looked to my computer clock, "...45 minutes. I'm just killing time until then."
"Dancing?" said Janet, unable to keep the surprise off her face. "Well, this should make for some interesting stories tomorrow morning then."
"Oh shush. I've already spent most of the day convincing myself that I'm not going to be terrible at it, don't try to destroy all my confidence in one go."
"I wouldn't dream of doing that to you Beth. I'm just surprised because I didn't think you did any extra-curricular activities."
"I don't." Well, not after tonight anyway. "I'll see you tomorrow." That last part was a cue to Janet to let her know I didn't really want to say any more.
"Yeah, tell me how it goes in the morning. See you tomorrow." said Janet, taking the hint.
Janet left for the lifts, and the moment I heard the ding and the sound of the lift doors closing on Janet, I was the only person left on the floor. Over 500 square metres of office space, and only myself and my thoughts were there to occupy it.
It's harder to stare out into the city during night time. The lights in the building and the lack of sunlight outside just make the windows all reflective, so when I looked out the window towards where the harbour would normally be, all I saw was my worried face looking right back at me.
The terrible ballroom dancing music wasn't the only thing I managed to remember from our high school days. I also remembered how, on the night of the school dance, when the final song came on, most of the people there ended-up going in circles on the dance floor. I also remembered how astonished I was that nobody really bumped into each other to cause a massive pile-up. And I remembered seeing all of this because I had a pretty good vantage point from my seat at one of the tables where I sat and watched the last dance take place.
I was a wallflower then. Maybe that's the only reason I was looking for excuses to avoid tonight: because that part of me hasn't really changed.
(to be continued...)