From the moment I could walk, I'd danced. Shaking around to trance music or nodding my head to rock music, I did it all. My mom had enrolled me in all sorts of dance lessons, ballet, tap, street, salsa, the list goes on. Ballet I never took to; though it's a beautiful piece of art, it just wasn't me. Tap, I quit on the first lesson. All that noise just got on my nerves more than anything else could. Aside from that, I loved it all.
Many times, I resented the time that those lessons had taken away from my other pastimes. It was only after that I cherished them. The dreaded 'C' word. My mom had gotten really sick really fast, but still came to every lesson. Near the end, her and my dad had argued relentlessly that it wasn't good for her health, but she was a bulwark and wouldn't be moved.
Then, she died. All of a sudden, those lessons were the main thing that tied me to her memory, a mixture of pain and joy rolled in to the bundle that became my routine. My dad kept taking me at first, then when I was in high school I went alone. Don't think of him too harshly, a single dad trying to run a house alone when his kid has dance lessons four times a week? He had to do overtime. I love him more than anything for sacrificing his time so that I could enjoy mine. So that I could remember her.
It was when high school began that I started to hide my passion, when I realised things like football and baseball were the things that made you part of the popular crowd, not spinning and moving to a rhythm. Apparently, I was a natural at football, slotting in perfectly with the typical jock crowd, height of popularity. So it was in secret that I kept the memory of my mother alive, her legacy too pure to let fade away, but my status too comforting to let die too, now that I had it. The one problem I had was my best friend who was also became my dance partner: Aria.
She was the bottom of the food chain. Jocks made a scene with Goths, with nerds, with pretty much anyone who wasn’t ‘cool’ enough to be like them. But their worst victims were the loners. Loners like Aria. They were outside of any sort of protective group, not much known about them in the hierarchy that was high school, and my high school had a serious hierarchy. Typical stereotypes labelled in all of the TV shows were a real thing where I went to school, and although I took full advantage of my particular label, I loathed everything it stood for. I was a hypocrite, I don’t deny it. Countless times me and Aria crossed each other in the hallways. I smiled tentatively at her each time, and she averted her eyes from mine shyly. Loners simply didn’t speak to anyone, let alone captain of the football team. She understood that, and kept her distance. Like I said before, I hated it.
Moving on to other things I hate: Parties. I’m expected to attend every single one, drink beer, do shots, make out in the garden etcetera. Everything a good little popular boy should do, according to the high school guide 101. But every invite I got, I’d of liked nothing more than to throw it out. I even threw a few of my own, themed of course, just to see whether it was other people’s parties that I hated... it wasn’t. It was still expected for me to host them, though. Especially since my dad was at work a lot, and let me get away with almost anything.
The only thing I liked about my own parties, was that I could invite Aria and that she would come. She would boycott every other event in the school year, but whenever I hosted a party she would turn up, usually holed up in the corner with a good book, attempting to hide from the festivities whilst still being a part of them. Mostly she was left alone, a kind of unspoken rumour that everybody knew she and I were connected somehow protecting her from the petty cruelty. Only this time, she wasn’t.
Zoe was a full blown diva. A direct opposite to my school image. She was captain of the cheerleading squad, probably the most popular girl in school, prom queen... you know the type. Honestly behind the scenes, she was really nice. We bonded during a school project, ended up together, soon became the power couple of the school. It was good for a while, despite my secret. But so many unaccountable nights from my lessons soon aroused her suspicion, the final straw being a stray text from Aria saying such an innocent “I enjoyed tonight.”
She kept it to herself rather than confronting me, it wouldn’t do for the prom queen to be seen as a jealous girlfriend. Instead, she waited until one of my parties before exacting her revenge. There Aria was, sat on the living room windowsill, legs tucked to her chin with the spine of a book rested on her knees. Not a care in the world. That was until the book was knocked cleanly from her hands, and the diva unleashed her fury. I got there seconds later, seeing Zoe spitting insults and accusations, surrounded by her clan of gorgons, egging her on to the slaughter of the innocent. Aria in comparison was like a cat in a tree, eyes darting frantically for a route to normality.
“Enjoyed a night with my boyfriend, did you?” I watched Zoe shriek. “He wouldn’t go near you with a ten foot pole you freak!”
Aria’s pleading eyes finally found mine, sending the unspoken signal for help. I knew she would never reveal the real reason behind that text, that we’d finally finished the monumental routine from Dirty Dancing, minus the spectacular lift. She’d known it was mine and my mom’s favourite film, and coerced our dance teacher into letting us perform it that night. It was the first night I realised that she was more than just my best friend, which believe me came as a shock. So seeing those eyes begging for an escape, I felt an unreasonable rage building in me, which was suddenly extinguished by the sound of a few familiar lyrics beginning.
“Now I’ve had, the time of my life... No I never felt like this before.”
All at once, I saw my mother’s face, swimming in front of my eyes as she laughed and clapped to the image of Patrick Swayze spinning Jennifer Grey around the stage, despite the world being against them. Just like the world seemed against Aria in that moment. Lyrics sounding in my ears, I firmed my resolve, and stepped forward.
Shock rippled through me as one of the cheer-bitches swiped my copy of Wuthering Heights from my hands, sending it sprawling to the floor without ceremony. I threw my legs off my windowsill perch to confront them in outrage, when I realised it was his girlfriend. Instantly, I knew what this was about. He’d told me she’d seen his phone, that he was sure she’d got the wrong idea. Well... technically the right idea on my part, but he’d never been interested in anything but dancing. Something had changed recently though, in how he looked at me. He’d confided everything in me, from the reason he still danced to the fact that he hated all of the falseness tied to high school. A full heart to heart, leaving all his vulnerability on show.
So seeing the she-wolf doing her best to tear me a new one, I searched quickly for an escape. There’s only so much I could take from her before reacting or revealing his secret, and I don’t think smacking her in the teeth would earn me any points from him. That’s when I saw him in the background, conflicting emotions contorting across his face as his head warred with his heart. My own heart broke for him in that moment, though the insults bounced off me and my iron hard skin, I could tell that he wanted to intervene. I sent a pleading look his way which said ‘Don’t do it, I’m fine’. But then I heard the song.
It was his mother’s song, and only recently we’d began to dance to it, taking the routine from Dirty Dancing that I’d finally persuaded our teacher to show us. He’d loved it of course, taken to it like a dog with a bone, and seeing the happiness on his face as we danced the steps was more than enough reward for me. So as I shot my pleading look to him, I sighed inwardly. I should’ve known he wouldn’t be able to leave me there, hearing that song in the background. Though I fully didn’t expect what came next. He barged his way through the spitting crowd of cheerleaders, holding out his hand in a clear invitation to expose his secret and let the chips fall where they may.
“Are you sure?” I ask him breathlessly, already knowing the answer.
“Nobody puts Aria in a corner” he responded with a wink, gaining a collective gasp from the she-wolf and her pack. Then we began to dance.
We stepped and we span, oblivious to the crowd building around us, murmuring in surprise at the football captain and the weird reading girl hand in hand. Zoe stood open mouthed, not even bothering to hide her shock at the fact we’d clearly done this before. Not to mention she had probably never been stood up before in her life. I actually had liked the girl, but seeing her doing her best to bully Aria had turned all my feelings on their head in a single moment. It seems my emotions towards Aria were always much stronger than the superficial ones towards Zoe.
So I danced, finally free from the shackles that had kept me bound to the status quo. Seeing those previously pleading eyes lighting up with love and knowing my own eyes reflected the feeling, made it all worth it, and knowing up above, my mom’s eyes were gleaming as well.