The scene I've chosen is from my first novel, which has been shelved for a while. It's still really rough and needs a lot of tuning, but it fits the need for today. Sorry for the length, but if your interested, the length shouldn't matter. I call my first book...SLOW DANCER.
Panama City beach during the first week after summer finals could only be equaled by Panama City beach during spring break. For the uninitiated, it was truly a sight to see. The city’s normal population swelled to four times its size and frenzied college students were everywhere, looking for ways to celebrate their temporary freedom from lectures, tests, and round the clock cram sessions. Hotel rooms, motel rooms, cabins, condos and camp sites commonly were filled beyond normal room occupancy limits. The 2.5 mile Front Beach Road that ran parallel to Gulf of Mexico and its glorious white sand beach was jammed with cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles, most of them cruising for no other reason than to be noticed. The beaches were congested with sun bathers, volleyball games, and guys & gals throwing Frisbees or footballs. The human overflow backed up into the nearby hotels where reclining chairs jockeyed for position around the pools and the chlorinated water churned from kids escaping the heat or re-living their childhoods by playing games like chicken fights, belly flop contests, or marco polo. Half-naked bodies, sun tan lotion, beach towels, sunglasses, coolers full of beer, and red smiling faces were at every turn. There was indeed a paradise, and I had found it.
Our group settled on one particular club as our favorite nighttime hangout because it was where most of the girls gravitated to, supposedly because of the clubs humongous dance floor. The fact that the bar tenders didn’t water down the drinks as much as the other clubs, also ranked high on our scorecards.
It was late in the evening on our third night in Ft. Walton and I was sitting at a corner table, leaning my chair back against a wall which had an old volleyball net tacked to it, talking with Ebe and Kent. The three of us were attempting to carry on a conversation over the throbbing disco music booming throughout the large room, discussing such highbrow topics as internal combustion and the proper technique for igniting farts. I never laughed so hard in my life. Meanwhile Billy, Raymond and Mark had managed to endear themselves to a couple of co-eds at a table closer to the bar.
Kent must have noticed me looking over the crowd because he asked, “Is it still the same girl?”
I paused a moment until I completed my scan of the mass of people, then said, “Same girl, orange tank top. No change.”
“Lee, I still think you’re nuts,” Kent replied in an exasperated tone.
A knowing grin was my only response. Over the years of going out to clubs and bars, I had developed a ritual. Every place we found ourselves at I would examine the crowd when we first arrived and choose a girl I deemed the most beautiful in the room. It was something I had first started doing as a game, using it as an icebreaker when I was getting to know my new friends, but even though the five of us were best of friends now I have still kept up the habit. Of course, none of the girls I selected were ever made aware of the dubious honor I bestowed upon them because I could never muster enough courage to talk to any of them. After the formality of selecting the prettiest girl, I would monitor her throughout the night and when she left, a replacement was chosen. On rare occasions, a new arrival would be gorgeous enough to bump the previous selection from her throne.
When we first arrived at the Sunset Club that evening I went through my normal routine and carefully checked the crowd. My gaze kept returning to the same spot. The girl was maybe an inch taller than me, casually dressed in dual tank tops, one bright orange layered on top of plain white, wearing dark blue Capri’s pants belted with a scarf that resembled a white handkerchief, tied in a knot. She rounded out her outfit with a pair of skimmer boat shoes, one orange and the other white. Her athletic build, wedge cut dark brown hair, combined with her cute pixie like nose that made a slight upturn at its end, were mesmerizing to me. Her facial features and a dark golden tan suggested an ethnicity in her heritage, and her eyes sparkled even in the dimly lit room. But what really caught my eye was her smile. Her entire face seemed to light up whenever her perfect alabaster teeth, all 32 of them, peeked through her small mouth. I couldn’t help but smile myself each time I saw one on her face.
“Orange tank top,” I had announced when I had made my decision.
“Oh come on, the girl in the light green dress we saw on our way in is much prettier than that one and her tits are twice as big,” Kent protested.
“My game, my choice,” I replied.
“But what about the blond at that table over there? The one with the fancy necklace,” Kent tried again.
“She is stunning,” I said, giving the blond a second look, “but I’m sticking with orange tank.”
“I agree with Lee,” Ebe interjected. “She’s a good choice.”
“You both don’t know how to appreciate a great pair of breasts,” Kent observed and was off to get the first round of drinks.
Kent was right though, but not about the breasts. Although there were girls at the club that night that were maybe more “classically” beautiful or eloquently outfitted, even more anatomically gifted, but there was something about the girl in the orange tank top. Maybe it was the simplicity in the way she dressed or the way she carried herself that set her apart from the others. She exuded a self-confidence that didn’t come off as conceit. And there was that smile. I couldn’t point out any one thing to Kent that made her stand out, but she was definitely my number one.
When it came to clubbing, I was the proverbial wallflower. I had made peace long ago with my perpetual bashfulness keeping me from carrying on like my friends, going up to and carousing with girls they just met. As the night went on, I was content to sit back and watch everybody else enjoy themselves. I had constant company though. Ebe had a girlfriend back in Baton Rouge and wasn’t interested in chasing girls, instead concentrating on drinking and making fun of everybody else. Kent was there as well, but not for a lack of trying. He was always working up enough courage to go for his next rejection.
I spotted Billy and Raymond dancing just off to the right of our table with the girls they had become chummy with. Both of the guys were really good dancers and the girls were working hard to not be outdone. Watching them display their moves I noticed the girl in the orange tank top on the dance floor next to them with the guy she had arrived with. Her partner was a decent looking fella, a couple inches taller than she was, sharply dressed and an adequate dancer. I was just about to see where Mark had gone off to when I noticed something odd. The girl in the orange tank top was staring at me. When our eyes met I immediately looked away and pretended to be interested in something on the ceiling, my heartbeat suddenly pounding hard in my chest. However tipsy I may have been quickly dissipated and I sat straight up in my chair. I looked discreetly around to the tables near ours, but it was just me, Ebe and Kent. There was nobody else close by. Could she really be staring at me? I waited a couple minutes before I stole a second glance in her direction and her partner was now whispering something in her ear, to which she laughed at. I told myself that the alcohol was playing tricks on me and was ready to declare myself the winner of the most shit-faced award. I peeked in her direction a third time a few minutes later and saw that they were moving to a table directly opposite ours across the dance floor.
I vaguely recall Kent and Ebe having a conversation that I believed involved something about a woman’s bra and silly putty, but much like a gravitational force, my attention being pulled against elsewhere. As hard as I tried to appear interested in what they were saying, it was useless.
Once more I glimpsed at the table across the dance floor AND SHE WAS STARING AT ME AGAIN. This time I rallied all of the will power I possessed, as well as whatever courage the alcohol could provide, to force myself not to turn away. My eyes locked onto hers and almost immediately I could feel the impulse screaming inside me to look away. I was about to lose it and succumb to my fear, when a small, almost imperceptible smile appeared at the corners of her mouth, and then she slowly looked away. Oh shit...Oh SHIT… OH SHIT, I said to myself out loud. I’m not that drunk…. Am I? She is gorgeous, she’s with a guy with obviously lots more money than I have, and yet she is staring at me! And this wasn't just any girl. This was, by my own definition, the most beautiful girl in the club!
Still not trusting my own senses I leaned over to Ebe who was sitting closest to me.
“Ebe, is it me or is that girl in the orange tank top sitting directly opposite from us over there staring at me?”
Now even if Ebe hadn’t been sitting closest to me I still would have gone around the table to ask him because I knew that no matter how much Ebe had to drink he could be discreet with something like this. Kent on the other hand would have immediately sprung to his feet and marched right over to the other table to ask this mysterious girl why she was staring at his friend, and then asked her if she wanted to have sex.
I watched as Ebe looked across the dance floor, struggling to make his eyes focus, and then he turned back.
“It’s not you”, he said matter-of-factly, “She’s definitely looking over here”.
I wasn’t sure where all the blood in my body had disappeared to, but there definitely wasn’t any in my head because I felt extremely dizzy. My ears were even tingling.
“Shit, what do I do?”
“Go ask her to dance, stupid,” Ebe said, almost laughing.
“But I can’t dance!”
And I couldn’t. At least I thought so. I was saddled with the self-diagnosed psychological condition that makes a person believe that he looks like a supreme klutz whenever he tried to dance. I had always felt stiff and robotic when I had attempted it before and since I couldn’t work up the courage to ask anybody to dance anyway, I abandoned my efforts to learn. Whether or not I actually looked stupid when I danced didn’t matter, I believed I looked that way. To compound matters further, I was dressed in faded jeans, a plain gold t-shirt and Nike tennis shoes, nothing like the polo shirt, slacks and loafers the companion of the girl in the orange tank top was wearing. But dancing would be my only chance at meeting this girl and breaking the ice, because there was no way I would be able to just walk up to her and begin a conversation. That simply wasn’t going to happen. I was screwed.
At that very moment the planets must have aligned because the DJ started playing a new song. And it was a SLOW SONG. Shit, even I could slow dance, I thought. I recognized the tune as a new song that the clubs had just started playing that summer and it had struck a popular chord because whenever it was played the dance floor immediately filled up with couples. This was going to be my chance, but there was still one problem. The guy she was with. My briefly lifted spirits started to sink again as I thought surely her companion would be taking her back out to dance to this song. I looked over at their table expecting to see them rising and headed towards the dance floor, but instead it was only the guy that got up and headed quickly off towards the bar. This is it, I thought! This is my chance! GO!
“What’s going on?” Kent asked.
“That girl in the orange tank is making eyes at Lee and he’s going over there to ask her to dance,” Ebe answered.
As I got up and started across the dance floor I heard Kent yell, “Ask her if she wants to have sex with me?”
Later I would say unequivocally that the walk across that dance floor was the longest stroll of my life. More and more couples were spilling out onto the floor, slowing my progress. I wasn’t even sure I’d be able to speak when the time came. The whole thing was all so surreal and dreamlike. Half way there I decided I might be making a serious mistake. I was suddenly convinced that when I arrived at her table she would look up at me like something she found stuck to the bottom of her shoe. Or her even worse the guy she was with would show back up and try and stick me to the bottom of his shoe. The only reason I didn’t turn back was because I knew that Kent and Ebe were watching my every move and returning without even asking meant evisceration by all of my friends. I had put myself in a position where I faced either public ruin or private humiliation. Charlie Brown had nothing on me!
I was just steps away from her table when she looked up, spotted me coming towards her, and smiled. And this time it was a full blown, honest to goodness, smile. In the radiance of that smile my chest puffed out, the curve in my back straightened and I felt like I grew 6 inches. A feeling came over me that I could not describe other than to say that I could never before remember feeling that confident. In that moment I could have ran through a brick wall or gotten up naked in front of hundreds of strangers to give a speech about syphilis. Suddenly my nervousness evaporated.
“Would you like to dance?” I seemed to croak out.
“I thought you’d never ask,” she replied as she rose from her chair.
We joined the others out on the dance floor, maneuvering to find a sliver of open space. I put my hands on her hips and she clasped hers around my neck. Our eyes remained locked and for the first few moments all we did was do as the song commanded, sway to the music. She was even more beautiful up close than I imagined. Her dark eyebrows and full lips stood out despite only the slightest hint of makeup. Her emerald green eyes sparkled and instantly mesmerized me. The only jewelry she wore was a thin gold choke chain. The smile she showed me when I walked up to her table remained on her face and I hoped like hell that I appeared calm on the outside despite the raging snoopy dance that was going on inside my head. Take that Charlie Brown!
“Thought you’d never ask?” I finally said, leaning in close so I wouldn’t need to shout and she could still hear me above the music.
“I’ve been trying to get you to ask me to dance for quite a while,” she answered boisterously.
“Oh yeah? And what about the guy you came here with?”
“Mike? He’s a local. My family and his family know each other and I promised my parents I would let him take me out one night while I was down here this year.” Her smile still hadn’t diminished one iota.
“Not your type then?”
“Not really. He’s just a friend.”
The two of us rocked back and forth, looking into each other’s eyes in for a minute.
“Well, you’re lucky this song came on when it did,” I started again, surprised that I didn’t have to think about what I wanted to say next. “Dancing isn’t something I’m very good at. I’m really just a slow dancer.”
I looked at her skeptically. “I’ve seen you dance. You do just fine.”
“I didn’t say I couldn’t dance, I just meant that I prefer the slow ones,” she corrected me. Her eyes let me know that she wasn’t the type of girl who agreed to something just to be nice.
“If your friend Mike hadn’t gotten up to get a drink I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” I confessed.
“That wasn’t luck.” She said, the intensity of her smile seemed to brighten ever so slightly and I could now see in her expression a measure of pride. “I asked him to get me a drink when I heard this song start playing.”
“Nope. I tried to make it as easy as I could for you.”
It was at that point that I started wondering when I was going to wake up, because this had to be a dream. The incredible feeling I felt when she first smiled at me had intensified two-fold. Boldly my hands reached a little further behind her and I pulled her closer to me. She reciprocated by putting her head on my shoulder and together we became one with the music. It was truly a magical moment.
As the end of the song approached I was unsure of how to handle what might happen next.
“Listen, what are we going to do when this song ends? Am I going to see you again?”
She picked her head up from my shoulder and said, “I’m going to get Mike to take me back to my hotel. Can you meet me there?”
“Sure, where are you staying at?”
“We’re staying at the White Sands cabins only a mile up the beach from there. I’m here with a group of my friends in my van, and I have to herd all of them back to the cabin first.”
“That’s great. It would help if I knew your name so I don’t have to call HEY YOU when we see each other again,” I pointed out.
“Andy?” giving her a curious look.
“Andi with an i.”
I smiled and said, “I like that. I’m Lee”
She smiled back at me then returned her head to my shoulder and we continued to dance to the song that was quickly being etched into a special place in my memory.
The music slowly faded away and was quickly replaced by the up tempo “Best of My Love” by the Emotions, but we remained on the floor a few seconds longer. Neither of us wanted to relinquish the thank you/goodbye hug we had slipped into.
When finally we broke apart I headed back to the group, fighting the urge to look back. As I approached our table I was surprised to see all five of my buddies sitting there watching my return.
“Hey Stud” Mark shouted.
“Man, that grin is going to leave permanent stretch marks” Raymond added.
“Lee comes into the game as a pinch hitter and blasts one out of the park,” Billy chimed in.
“So, does she want to have sex with me” Kent asked in earnest.
I grabbed an empty chair from a nearby table and pulled it over to ours, straddling it. For a moment all I did was grin at the group. Regardless of the circumstances, being the center of attention wasn’t something I was particularly comfortable with.
“I don’t think he can talk, his tongue is hard” Ebe observed, which elicited laughter from everyone.
“You guys ready to go?” I finally asked.
“NO” they all replied in unison.
“Come on guys, I’m supposed to meet her back at her hotel,” I pleaded.
Billy looked across the room to where Andi and Mike were still sitting. “She doesn’t look like she’s going anywhere to me,” he said.
I looked over my shoulder at them and it was true, they didn’t give any indications they were about to leave.
“She’s probably explaining why she was off dancing with somebody else while he was getting her a drink,” Ebe offered in explanation.
“That is a good question, why was she?” Kent pointed out.
“Because I asked her Kent and she said yes,” I countered, a bit perturbed.
“Aren’t you a bit leery of a girl who’s on the prowl for somebody else when she’s already here with date?” Mark asked.
“Guys, listen. She’s only friends with that guy. Their families know each other. Is that so impossible to believe?”
Nobody answered, but their faces weren’t saying yes. I briefly considered giving up the argument and just leaving them behind and making them walk back to the White Sands, but my food, drink and alcohol for the rest of the week depended on them and I felt it better to not bite the hand that literally fed me.
Finally, after a considerable amount of begging and pleading I got them to compromise by promising to stay just thirty more minutes.
Once we had an agreement I looked over in Andi’s direction just in time to see them getting up to leave, with a couple of untouched drinks left on the table. Before she disappeared down the hallway exit she looked back and flashed me another one of her smiles.This was going to be the longest thirty minutes of my life, I thought to myself.