“Sonofa…” Lauren growled for the third time in two minutes yanking her delicately heeled foot out from under her assigned partner’s massive loafers.
“Sorry…sorry…” Brian mumbled as his Irish skin blushed another deep shade of “I’m-so-embarrassed” fuschia. He glared at his size 12 feet and scolded them again. “Come on, guys, get it together,” and offered Lauren an impish grin as an act of contrition. But she wasn’t having it.
Mark Anthony’s “Dimelo” pulsed through the studio’s sound system and guided all the other ballroom dancing students who were busy perfecting the cha-cha. Lauren gave up hiding her seething jealousy and stared at these in-sync couples. They were all singles who became dance partners twenty minutes ago just as she had with Brian. How did she get stuck with the dud dancer?
Her best friend, Trish, had talked her into this awkward singles event. She, happily partnered for eight months, had grown tired of listening to Lauren complain about the lackluster dating scene and the creepy dating apps. And Trish had grown especially exhausted from listening to Lauren’s many, many stories about Scott and how he would have been perfect for her if he just could have kept steady employment and not lived with four slovenly roommates in a three-bedroom apartment. Trish had seen the event advertised on Instagram and tagged Lauren in the post. This would be great for you! The company, Singles Who Shimmy, bombarded Lauren’s DM with invitations and discounts for its upcoming “Cha-Cha Meet-Up.”
During one of their weekly Saturday afternoon coffee, Lauren showed Trish the Shimmying Singles spam campaign. “I mean these people are desperate, right?” Lauren chuckled as she sipped her dark roast brew. “What kind of crazies go to a dance class to meet someone?”
“I’m guessing people who like to dance…like you?” Trish replied.
“So do you think I’m desperate or crazy?” Lauren retorted.
Trish sighed and smiled. “Neither, but I think you need to mix it up and try something new! Step out of your dating comfort zone. Live a little! What’s the worst that could happen? You learn the cha-cha, have a few laughs, and never see these people again.”
And now here she was watching the worst that could happen - her foot turning all the colors of the rainbow. “I think I’m going to sit down for a minute,” Lauren shouted into Brian’s ear.
“Oh, okay. I think I’ll sit too.”
Lauren wanted to protest, but she shrugged her shoulders and shuffled off the dance floor.
“Here, let’s sit out in the waiting area so you have more space to put your foot up.” Brian gently touched her elbow, a feeble attempt to support her limping frame. She slumped into a folding metal chair, and Brian guided her foot onto the adjacent chair. “Let me get you some ice.”
“Oh, I don’t think that’s….”
“No, no…you need ice to reduce the swelling. I can already see your toes swelling.” Brian disappeared to the receptionist’s desk and Lauren caught herself thinking, “Wow, that’s really nice of him,” before reminding herself that his big feet were why she was in this situation. He should do something!
He returned with a huge ice bag that looked like one a cartoon character would place on its head after yet another fall off a cliff. Lauren hissed as the sharp cold rested on her screaming foot. “Sorry…again…but the ice is really important right now.” He sat down next to her.
“What are you a doctor or something?” Lauren asked, letting the edge return to her voice.
“No. Medical school wasn’t a possibility for me. I’m an EMT. I volunteer over in Woodside.”
“Oh,” was all the humbled Lauren could think to say.
They sat silently for a few minutes listening to the bass continue to pound throughout the studio.
Lauren’s phone sprung to life with a text from Trish. How’s it going?
Lauren took a quick picture of her foot on ice. It’s great.
“Listen,” Brian’s deep voice jolted her back to reality. “I’m sorry about all of this,” he said while gesturing toward her elevated foot. “I don’t know what I was thinking coming here. My friend Patty thought it was a great idea, but most happily coupled people think stupid dating events like this are.”
“My friend forced me to do this too,” Lauren grumbled. “I swear she and her boyfriend enjoy watching me make a fool of myself. It’s like I’m their personal reality TV show.”
“Patty is the same way. I’m supposed to call her as soon as I leave here tonight and give her every detail. She’s probably popping her popcorn right now. Can’t wait to tell her the story of how I broke my partner’s toes!” He threw his head into his hands and shook it side to side.
“I’m sure they aren’t broken,” Lauren said. “Just a little smushed!”
They both nervously chuckled.
“Well, let me take a closer look at it now that you’ve had it on ice for a little while.” Brian sat by her feet and lifted the ice bag off her frigid foot. “Is it okay if I touch it? I promise I’ll go easy on you.” He smiled.
“You swear you’re an EMT?” she asked.
He raised two fingers to give the scout’s honor and then made an X in front of his heart. “I swear.”
She nodded her head in agreement, and Brian began his inspection. On the dance floor, he seemed to be a lumbering oaf, but as she watched him delicately unbuckle her shoe strap she forgot all about his clumsy feet. She noticed his rich mahogany-colored hair and his broad shoulders. She saw his deep brown eyes survey her foot for imperfections while his fingers gently applied pressure. “Does this hurt?” he asked.
“Does what hurt?” she responded.
“Ummm…your foot?” He tilted his head to the left to emphasize the stupidity of her question.
“Oh, right, right…”. She gave a quick shake of her head. “Sorry. I got distracted there for a minute.”
“Well, I’ll take that as a good sign. If your toes were broken, you’d probably have kicked me in the jaw by now!”
“Yeah. You’re right!” And with a velocity that she would never be able to explain no matter how many times they told this story in the years to come, she flicked her other foot at his face and stabbed the undercarriage of his cheekbone with her four-inch heel. She meant it to be a playful gesture…a joke…a pantomimed kick to the face. But she overplayed the move. Now, he was bleeding.
They spent all night in a busy emergency room awaiting care. It should have been an awful experience. Instead, they shared a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and a sprite while she kept her foot elevated and he applied continuous pressure to his swollen cheek. They talked about favorite junk foods, terrible first dates, current jobs, dream jobs, previous trips to the hospital, her sick mom, the death of his dad. When Brian was finally called in to be seen by the doctor, Lauren found she missed him.
After her X-rays were completed (all negative…he was right), she gingerly walked toward the exit door straining to look through the tiny glass window and hoping to catch a glimpse of Brian sitting on the other side. Distracted, she didn’t notice the sound of size 12 loafers behind her. “Can I have this dance?” Brian whispered as he cupped his palm around her elbow.
“Maybe just some breakfast?” Lauren smiled.
Later, they sat side by side in a diner booth eager to devour sweet pancakes, steaming eggs, and strong coffee the waitress slid in front of them. Lauren picked up her fork.
“Hold on…” Brian said grabbing her wrist in mid-air. “This night deserves a toast.” Brian raised his coffee cup and cleared his throat. “To the strangest dating event I have ever attended! May it be my last.”
Lauren raised her mug as well. “To bad timing! May it lead to good times.”
They clinked their mugs and sipped the warm brew. Their matching hospital bracelets dangled loosely from their wrists.