For your reading pleasure today, I offer you another scene from my novel SLOW DANCER as a lead-in to this weekend’s Drunk at First Sight Blogfest. If you missed the first scene, you can find it here. This scene has never been critiqued, so I apologize for the gaffs. I’m also sorry for the length, but if I did my job, that shouldn’t matter.
Thirty minutes stretched into forty-five, and then an hour, but to me it felt like an eternity. Every effort I made to get the guys rounded up to leave was met by another excuse. Kent was in the bathroom. Billy just bought a fresh drink. Mark was dancing again. With every passing minute, I could feel opportunity slipping away and my patience was wearing paper-thin.
Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer and tossed my van keys to Ebe, telling him to make sure everybody got back to the cabin okay; I was going to walk to the Regency. Ebe offered to drive me there then come back to the club, but at that time of night finding a parking space when he returned would be impossible and he’d be forced to leave the van on the street illegally parked. As we witnessed on previous nights, the Panama City police force took their parking violations seriously. I told him thanks, but no thanks; I’d rather not have my van towed.
It wasn’t too long after I left the Sunset Club that I began to suspect I had made a mistake. I had misjudged how long it was going to take me to walk to the Regency, but turning back would waste even more time. I could break into a jog to speed things up, but I knew it result in me being sweaty and out of breath when I eventually got there. I broke into a slow run anyway.
The late night air was sticky, but the constant breeze that found its way from the gulf felt cool on my slightly sunburned face as I ran. Passing by the other clubs, closed businesses, late night delicatessens, 24-hour liquor stores and assorted street vendors, I wondered if I appeared as desperate as I felt. Avoiding eye contact with people I ran past shielded me from the disapproving looks I imagined directed my way.
Almost a full two hours after I told Andi I would meet her, I arrived at the Regency. Coming to a standstill in the parking lot to catch my breath, I stood there bent over with my hands on my thighs huffing and puffing. I checked my wristwatch and it showed 2:45 in the morning.
The Regency was one of the newest and most luxurious hotels along the Panama City strip. Its seven floors towered over the much smaller hotels that surrounded it. Raymond and I had done most of the scouting for our trip, searching for options of places to stay while we were here. We learned the Regency had its own private pier out over the Gulf of Mexico and not one but three large pools for the guests to lounge around. However, the hotel was booked solid through the majority of the summer season and even if it wasn’t, it was one of the more expensive hotels along the strip and we quickly eliminated it as a possible choice.
As I entered through the swinging doors of the main entrance, a rush of cool de-humidified air greeted me, chilling the perspiration covering my body on its way out into the warm humid night. The lobby was immense and decorated by large leafy tropical plants scattered throughout. Three of the four walls were solid glass with the lone exception the head of the room where the check in/out counter resided. Just to the right of the counter was a hallway leading into the depths of the hotel. Several pieces of fake antique furniture sat in different corners of the room and seat benches up against the glass walls. Tucked into one corner was a TV stand with 27-inch television on top. It sat opposite a couch and a pair of cushioned chairs. The TV was on and tuned to a re-run of All in the Family.
Andi was nowhere to be seen.
I sat on the couch and pretended to watch TV, not sure what else to do. I didn’t know Andi’s last name, so trying to find out her room number to call would be fruitless, if the room was even registered in her name. There was no way to get word to her so she wouldn’t think I blew her off and stayed at the club. Short of pulling a scene out of “A Streetcar Named Desire” and standing in the parking lot screaming her name, I didn’t know what else to do.
After fifteen minutes of fruitless brainstorming, I decided to walk around the hotel in the thin hope she was waiting at one of the pools. I replayed our last conversation in my head repeatedly, trying to remember if she specifically said meet in the lobby, but I couldn’t remember. I found a layout of the hotel posted on a wall just around the corner from the reception desk and started my quest. I searched all of the pools, hot tubs, and common areas around the Regency, to no avail. Andi was not there. I reconciled myself to the fact that I was too late. I had blown it.
Dejected, I began my trek back to the cabin.
It was too good to be true, I told myself as I walked along the roadside. Something always messes things up; it was the story of my life. I could have easily been angry with my buddies for delaying me, but I couldn’t blame them for not wanting to sacrifice their fun for my wild goose chase. I debated turning around and camping out in the Regency’s lobby until Andi came down the next morning, but I quickly discarded that idea. How pitiful would that look?
There wasn’t a single stone, rock, bottle or can on the way back to the cabin that wasn’t spared my frustration via a swift boot from my foot. This was Charlie Brown’s revenge.
Arriving back at the White Sands I spotted my van parked in front of our cabin, in one piece. All of the gang were inside, passed out in their respective beds, in various stages of undress. I felt around in the dark until I located my designated bed, the couch. Even though I felt wide-awake, I lay down on the cool imitation-leather and hoped that sleep would find me to numb the disappointment. My only consolation was the possibility of seeing Andi at the Sunset club the following night, if she was still around. I held onto to that thought as I eventually drifted off into a restless slumber.
At first light, I decided to stop pretending I was getting any sleep. I always enjoyed solitary walks along the beach, so I fumbled for my shorts, a wrinkled t-shirt and my flops, then stumbled to the front door. Along the way, I stepped on the same open suitcases, old pizza boxes, crushed beer cans and various other booby traps I encountered when I came in the previous night. When I cracked open the front door the morning sun seemed to burst past me and light up every corner of the room, seeking out any dark recess. The penetrating light elicited more than a few moans and grumbles from previously sleeping bodies, so I quickly ducked out the door and closed it behind me.
Even though the sun was still low in the sky, I immediately regretted forgetting my sunglasses and my eyes went into a semi-permanent squint. As I stood there allowing my vision to slowly adjust, I became aware of someone was sitting on the foot of the steps leading up to the cabin. The tank top was a different color, but the smile was unmistakable. It was Andi.
“Hi,” was all I could manage to say, in a state of shock. My heart was racing and my eyesight instantly returned to 20/20.
“I brought you some orange juice,” she replied, rising from the stoop to hand me one of the two paper cups she was holding.
As I took the cup from her hand, I wondered how I had ever doubted myself. During the night, in between my brief moments of sleep, I let my mind run rampant with self-doubt and exaggerations. I relived every moment after meeting her in the club, wondering if her beauty was just my mind embellishing the ordinary, playing tricks with me because she actually showed an interest in me. After all, the memories I had of her were in a dimly lit room with strobes and colored lights. However, standing before me now in the unforgiving morning sun, she still astounded me. As early in the morning it was, there were no bags or telltale sleepiness in her deep green eyes. The sun was obviously her friend.
“Thank you,” I said, taking the cup from her. “How long have you been out here?”
“Not that long.”
“How did you find me?”
“You said you were staying at the White Sands cabins and that you had a van. There are only two vans’ here, and this one looked more like your style,” she answered, gesturing to my green van parked beside the cabin.
“I have a style?” I said sarcastically.
“Don’t we all,” she answered seriously, taking a sip from her own cup.
“I did come by last night, I swear, but it was really late. I couldn’t get my friends to leave right away and I ended up walking there from the club”
Her demeanor turned serious. “I wasn’t there. I ended up spending the night with Mike.”
My heart sunk. I tried as hard as I could to maintain the same expression, suppressing the crestfallen features that wanted to take over my face. I turned my head away from her and stared off into the distance. I absently took notice of a small wiry dog rummaging through a trash pile a couple of cabins away.
“I just wanted to come by and apologize, especially now that I know you that had to walk all that way,” she continued.
I could feel my resolve starting to falter, but I was determined not to let her see my disappointment. I had obviously misjudged everything, and all I wanted to do now was get away as quickly as I could. The dog, some kind of terrier mix, had scored what looked like an old steak bone and was carrying it away towards the beach. I turned back towards her and used my best poker face.
“Oh…okay…sure…I understand,” I stammered.
Suddenly, she burst out laughing. “I’m joking, you goober.”
I looked at her incredulously. She was kidding? I felt as if I’d been ganged tackled by emotional bullies, joy and jubilation hitting me high, while anger and embarrassment took my legs out from under me from the opposite direction. However unsure of myself I was before, had just been magnified by a factor of ten. I finally said, “Geez, that’s cruel! I think I just got whiplash.”
“I’m Sorry,” she reached out her hand and touched my arm. “I couldn’t resist. You didn’t really think I would do something like that, do you?”
“How would I know any differently? I barely even know your name much less anything else about you. And besides, you don’t know my kind of luck.”
The playful look on her face made it impossible for me to be upset with her, but her little joke did set off alarms in me that I knew I needed to give attention. I should be careful that I don’t lose myself in her so quickly, setting myself up for something like what had just happened. Just take it slow and maintain a certain amount of distance, just in case, I counseled myself.
“I really fell asleep on the couch waiting for you in our lobby,” she said. “We had been up the entire night before and I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. My roommate finally came down and took me back to our room. I’m really, really sorry.” She seemed genuinely apologetic.
I climbed down the couple steps to the landing and sat on the stoop next to her, careful not to spill my orange juice and she followed suit sitting next to me, touching her hips to mine even though there was plenty of room on the step for both of us.
“So, why me?” I asked as I sampled the orange juice. It was luke-warm.
“Last night. You said you had been trying to get me to dance with you. Why me?”
“Is there something wrong with you?”
“I don’t think so, but I’m kind of biased. I must admit though that I usually don’t have girls like you asking me to dance.”
“First off, you asked me, I didn’t ask you, and secondly, what do you mean girls like me?” The seriousness had returned to her face, but I interpreted it as a playful tone.
I hesitated a moment before I answered. Remember, maintain distance. I looked at her sitting there next to me. “Girls as pretty as you are,” I blurted honestly. Screw the distance!
Her smile returned and she looked into her drink as if she was attempting to see through the orange pulp to the bottom of the cup. “You think I’m pretty?”
I looked off in the direction that the dog had disappeared. Shrugging my shoulders I said, “You’re alright, but I really prefer older women. You know, late twenties to mid-thirties. I hear they really know how to have a good time.”
THUD! The punch she laid on my upper arm surprised me with its power, but I did well to act as if nothing had happened. I quickly looked back to her and the same playful seriousness had returned.
“You must have brothers,” I observed.
“Nope, I’m an only child. Why?”
“Then where’d you learn to punch like that?”
“Did I hurt your wittle arm,” she mocked me in child like voice.
“That was impressive how you avoided answering my question,” I said, ignoring her taunting.
“What question was that?”
Her gaze returned to the mystery underneath her orange juice. “I just did.”
“Is that something you do often?”
She shot me a glance that told me the answer before she spoke. “No, never!”
“So then why me, why last night?”
“Your laugh…happy now?”
“Uh-huh. I was watching you with your friends. All of you were having so much fun. I don’t know how to explain it, but for some reason every time I saw you laugh, it made me smile.” Her eyes were transfixed to the inside of her cup.
I took a moment to process that. “That’s it? Just my laugh?” I prodded further.
“No, of course not.” She gave me a sideways-annoyed look. “Why are you so curious?”
“It’s very simple, there were over two hundred people in the club last night, half of them guys, and the prettiest girl in the club, who already has a date I might add, decides to pick me out. In the world according to Lee, that’s fairy tale type of stuff. So that’s why I’m just a bit curious about what drew you to me?” I answered slowly and deliberately.
She looked at me with an expression that I interpreted to mean she was struggling to make her mind. Finally, she said, “Okay. I already told you about your laugh. Another thing was the way you were dressed. You weren’t dressed to try and impress anybody and you probably could care less about what they thought about what you wore. But you weren’t sloppily dressed, just extremely casual. I can tell you’re not a slob and you take care of yourself.”
“How can you tell that?”
“Your toenails are neat and trimmed,” she answered, looking down at my feet.
My eyes followed hers down to my toes, which I unconsciously wiggled. “But you didn’t see my toes last night.”
“No, it just confirmed my opinion.”
I glanced over at Andi’s feet. She was wearing a .99 cent pair of blue flip-flops and her toenails were unpainted and perfectly trimmed. “Go on.”
“That all tells me you’re at ease with yourself.” She paused to see if I had any comment, and when I remained silent, she continued. “Next was the way you acted with your friends. I could tell you really listened to them when they were talking. You didn’t appear to be one of those people who just waited for their turn to talk.”
She paused again and looked at me, probably expecting me to say something. I responded by saying, “This is me waiting for my turn to talk.”
“Another thing,” she continued while suppressing a smile, “was that you didn’t ask a single girl to dance, nor did you try to strike up a conversation with one. That told me that you were either very very shy, or gay. But I saw you checking out girls, including me, often enough. So you weren’t gay.”
“I did ask you to dance,” I countered.
“Only after I basically threw myself at you,” she responded back.
I grinned at her and she grinned back.
“So, is that it?” I asked.
She returned her gaze back to her cup. “There was one other thing,” pausing for a moment, “It didn’t hurt that you were cute.”
My grin turned into a full-fledged smile. “You think I’m cute?”
“Not as cute as your friend with the curly hair, but your alright.”
I balled up my fist and made like I was going to punch her on the arm and she recoiled away.
“You wouldn’t hit a girl would you?”
“I’d hit one that could punch like you can.”
I lowered my fist and she righted herself, bumping softly against my side.
“Have any other questions, Mr. Fairy Tale?” she asked.
“Did you talk to Mike at all last night? I mean, golly, you sure saw a lot.”
“Mike’s a nice enough guy, and yes we did talk. Anything else?” she continued.
“I want to know this, where did you get a smile like that. I mean you should get a job with NATO or something and put that smile to good use developing trade agreements with hostile governments. One look at that smile and they’ll roll over and show you their belly.”
She looked back at me, trying desperately to suppress her smile. “I haven’t seen your belly yet?”
Now it was my turn to suppress a smile. “The days still young,” I countered.
She couldn’t contain it any longer and her smile took control of her face, its brilliance gave the morning sun a run for its money.
“You know there could be one other explanation why I didn’t ask anybody to dance or hit on any of the girls there last night,” I offered.
“And what would that be?” she took the bait.
“I could have a girlfriend back home.”
The twinkle in her eyes dimmed a bit and the contents of her cup captured her attention again.
“So I’ve been doing all the talking and answering all the questions, I think it’s your turn now,” she said.
“Do you have a girlfriend back home?” was her first question, looking straight at me for my response.
“Not even close,” I answered. Now it was my turn to check out the contents of my cup.
“Well, as you so astutely pointed out I have a severe case of shyness and I just don’t do well around girls.” I could feel my face flush a bit.
“You’re not that way at all with me.” Her voice was softer now.
I looked into her eyes. “And I’m as surprised about that as anyone. All I can say is that it’s more about you than it is me. Ever since you smiled at me when I came up to ask you to dance, I’ve been totally at ease, relaxed and confident around you. It’s a feeling that honestly I have never felt before. Usually I’m all tongue tied and clumsy around girls.”
“I feel the same way about you,” she said, leaning harder against my side.
The two of us were silent for a minute.
“So, how long are you in Panama City for?” I asked, already dreading the answer.
“We leave to go back Sunday. What about you?”
“Same day. I guess that gives us five days.” It was Tuesday morning.
“I guess it does” she said, looking into my eyes again. “What do you want to do first?”
“When I came out here I was about to take a walk along the beach, care to join me?” I asked as I rose from the step and reached out my hand to her.
“I thought you’d never ask” she replied smiling, taking hold of my hand and pulling herself up.
We headed off together towards the beach. Before we reached the sand, I reached my right hand out and took hold of Andi’s hand, which she willingly surrendered.