91 Playing the Game

Nervously, I stood outside of Blair Gymnasium, listening to the music. My determination had carried me to the door, now I just needed to take the next step. I hesitated as some couples I didn’t know pushed open the door and entered, and waited a bit longer as four couples left. Everybody was with somebody, which just made me stand out more.

Holding my breath, I forced myself to follow the next couple inside and to the tables; I had never been here for a dance before, and had a hard time associating the room in its current form with its usual use as a ticketing and refreshments area. I took a peek into the basketball court, now converted to a dance floor. It was almost like being in high school again, with streamers covering the walls and the scoreboard pivoted out of the way.

Now I had to find my roommates. As I searched among the tables, it occurred to me that I hadn’t given a lot of thought to exactly what I was going to be doing. Dancing, certainly – but based on what Lee Ann had been saying, it sounded as though Geoff was going to be hanging out with them, and didn’t have a date. That meant that he and I were likely going to be a couple for the night, a prospect that made me very uncomfortable. I had noticed a difference in my reaction to the boys like Geoff, whom I had known as Marshall, and those like Phil, whom I’d only met as Marsha; for the former, I couldn’t help but see our relationships as pretty much what they had been – which mean that I felt male when talking to them, which would be really creepy tonight. But, I had decided that I needed this evening, so I wasn’t going to say anything. I was just going to take dancing with Geoff like a man.

When I finally found Lee Ann, I didn’t actually see Geoff, which gave me a moment of relief. Of course, Terry and Greg weren’t there, either. Fred and Lisa were… and so were Susie and Phil. I made it a point not to look at Phil as I tapped Lee Ann on the shoulder.

“Marsh!” she gasped. “You came!” My other friends added their greetings.

I gave them an embarrassed smile. “Yeah, I decided to just come and hang out with you guys.”

“And dance?”

“I… guess so…”

“Great!” she said, enthusiastically. “Geoff went to grab some drinks, but he’ll be back soon.” Oh well. “But while you’re waiting…” she looked at her boyfriend. “Hey, Babe, you want to dance a bit with Marsh while I rest?”

“Sure,” he said, getting to his feet, “come on, Marsh.” Surprised, I almost forgot to hand Lee Ann my purse before following him.

This was my first test. I’d slow-danced with Bill, so this shouldn’t be too bad. Instead of putting his arms around me, Stephen took my hand in one of his, and placed his other on my waist, which somehow seemed uncomfortably intimate. I didn’t have much time to think about it, though, before he swept me into a foxtrot.

I might have stumbled, only he seemed to be really good at leading. Not only did he use sure pressure on our clasped hands and my waist to let me know where he wanted me to go, anytime I started to feel a bit off-balance, he was there to support me. It was a very different experience from when I had danced with girls. It made me feel… protected, which was at once secure and discomforting.

“So you didn’t have a date again this time,” he observed as I started getting a bit more comfortable following his lead. “I guess it must be tough with so many girls on campus.”

It was a reminder that he also had known Marsha, presumably from last spring’s House Parties. “I hadn’t actually been looking all that hard this time,” I told him.

“Well, I wish you would. Lee Ann’s really been worried about you.” Enough to talk to her boyfriend about me, apparently. I wouldn’t have thought my social life would be all that interesting to her. I’m sure Geoff and Rajiv hadn’t paid any real attention when I’d broken up with Jackie or Vicky.

After two dances, he evidently decided that he had fulfilled his obligation, so he walked me back to the table. Susie and Phil were gone, but Geoff was back, and greeted me a bit more enthusiastically than I would have liked.

“Hey Marsh!” Geoff said, leaping from his seat on the other side of Lee Ann from Stephen. He held the chair next him for me, and I really had no choice but to accept it. I made myself smile, as I sat down.

“Lee Ann said you were here, so I got you a soda, too. Diet Coke OK?”

“Thanks,” I nodded, smiling despite my wish that he would just ignore me. His puppy-dog eagerness could be wearing, but I’d never really been able to get angry with him.

“So why are you here alone?” he asked. “I’d think a cute girl like you would have lots of guys chasing after her.”

Ugh. Was he hitting on me or just making friendly conversation?

“She set her heart on the wrong guy,” Lee Ann commented.

“And I’m alone because I set my heart on the wrong girl,” Geoff grinned. “We can commiserate!”

I bit my lip. I couldn’t believe he was mentioning his infatuation with Lee Ann right in front of her boyfriend.

“So, you want to dance?”

Actually, I didn’t, but I didn’t have a good excuse. This was a dance, after all, and I was supposedly trying to get used to doing “date” things with guys, so… “Sure,” I agreed.

We reached the dance floor in time to try a waltz, which shouldn’t have been all that difficult, except that Geoff wasn’t nearly as good a dancer as Stephen, and between the mistakes he kept making, and my lack of familiarity with dancing as a girl, we kept getting confused and having to start again. Plus, while I had been able – just barely – to see over Stephen’s shoulder, Geoff’s greater height meant that his shoulder was pretty much all I could see, unless I tilted my head way up to look at his face. We stumbled through a couple of foxtrots, and at some point, fell into something that approximated the correct steps. It all worked, though, because every time one of us messed up, he laughed, and after a while he had me laughing, too.

Then the music switched again and he got this really funny look on his face. “I… don’t think this one’s going to work.”

I couldn’t help but grin at him. “Never learned the jitterbug?”

“Not really. But you should have seen me last night, Marsh! I can move with the music just fine. It’s the steps I have trouble with!”

“Let’s just go sit down, then,” I laughed.

As we made our way back to our friends, he commented, “At least you seem to know what you’re doing, Marsh. Is this one of those stage things?”

I shrugged. “Not really, and I’m mostly faking it anyway. I think I could do the jitterbug with practice.” And probably a lot of it – the girl’s steps can be a lot different from the guys, what with spins and dips, and I didn’t even think to practice them.

The only ones at the table when we got there were Phil and Susie. I nodded my thanks to Geoff as he held out my chair for me again, and tried to ignore the fact that I was now sitting next to Phil.

“So what finally brought you out tonight, Marsh?” Susie asked.

“Oh, I was just feeling sorry for myself and lonely, and I decided that just being with the gang even without a date was better than staying at home.”

“And you get to dance with multiple boys this way,” she added.

I nodded, again deliberately not looking at Phil, which was a bit difficult, given that I had to look past him to see her.

“Well, I’m glad you decided to join us,” Phil said, jumping into the conversation.

It would have been rude not to look now, so I did, and swallowed hard. There was definitely something appealing about him. I wondered if I had realized it all along, and just deliberately ignored it.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re an important part of this group, Marsh, and it just wasn’t the same without you last night,” he went on, and favored me with an enchanting smile. It wasn’t as terrific as Jeremy’s smile, but boy did it make my chest tighten.

I smiled back. “I missed you guys, too. Maybe I was just worrying a bit too much about some of my own insecurities.”

“Insecurities? I refuse to believe that a girl who could get up on stage like you did could be insecure about anything.”

Talking to him like this, I suddenly felt shy. Shy! A lock of my hair had fallen in front of my face, so I brushed it aside. “Thanks. But when I’m on stage, I feel like I’m in control. Off-stage, not always so much.”

“I think you underestimate yourself,” he grinned. He was making me feel really nervous, and I tossed my head to clear it.

“You know,” Susie said suddenly, “I think I need to fix my makeup. Join me, Marsh?”

Startled, I pulled my gaze away from Phil. “Oh, sure,” I said, grabbing my purse. Maybe I can get her to help me with my own makeup.

“Having fun dancing with Geoff?” she asked as we walked.

“Sure,” I answered. “I mean, he’s not the best dancer, but…”

As soon as we got into the ladies’ room, though, she grabbed my arm and turned on me. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“What?” I was taken aback. I hadn’t been aware of doing anything in particular that she might object to.

“I mean, flirting with Phil. You had your chance with him, Marsh. You told me you weren’t interested. Now, hands off!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I protested. “All we were doing was talking politely.”

“Talking?” she sneered. “You were practically drooling! It’s not fair, Marsh! Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked to get us to this point? You can’t toss a guy over and then decided to come back and pick him up again, just like that. It’s not fair!”

“Susie,” I said, as sincerely as I could. “I promise you, I wasn’t trying…”

“I saw the way you were looking at him. In another minute, he would have asked you to dance, and then I would have been the one all alone.”

“I wasn’t…”

“Just… stay away from him tonight, OK?”

Taken aback, I could only agree. “OK…”

She stomped out of the bathroom without a backwards glance, and I looked at myself in the mirror. Had I really been flirting with him? It felt really awkward and embarrassing. I didn’t even know how girls were supposed to flirt. Jackie had once told me that she had practiced looks and gestures, although she wouldn’t tell me what was practiced and what was natural. Maybe I needed to learn how, if for no other reason than to avoid flirting when I didn’t want to.

Or did I? I was really new to this whole being attracted to boys thing. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have minded if Phil had danced with me. I was trying to learn about relationships with boys, after all. I mean, I just trying to be practical.

Sighing, I opened my purse and tried to see what I could do about my makeup. The other girls were clearly wearing something different. Was it the mascara? Eye-liner? I took out a highlighter and dithered with it in front of the mirror.

The door opened and another girl came in and went right to the mirror, expertly making adjustments to her own makeup. I envied her skill; after all, as long as I was a girl, I should at least get good at it, right? Suddenly, she said, “darn,” and fished futilely in her purse. Then she turned to me. “Do you have a dark brown pencil?”

Surprised, I fumbled in my purse again and pulled out a couple of pencils and offered them to her. She selected one, quickly drew it along her lashes, and returned it to me with her thanks, and then left. I sighed. I hated feeling inept.

I figured that it was probably safe to go back to the table. Surely, Susie would have pulled Phil back on to the dance floor, if only to get him away from me. And in fact, they were gone; Geoff was still there, along with Fred and Lisa.

“Hey,” he greeted me. “Feel like dancing some more?”

“Why not?” I agreed, dropped my purse on the table, and walked with him back to the floor, where we moved into a simple two-step. As we danced, I noticed the girl from the bathroom, who nodded at me in recognition over her partner’s shoulder. Then the two of them turned, and my heart skipped a beat as I recognized her partner. It was Jeremy.


  1. von says:

    I like this chapter. Felt the beginning a bit weak, but otherwise liked it. The very end fell a bit flat, for me, dunno why.

  2. Trax says:

    Great chapter, and major kudos for adding this in. I imagine it somewhat modifies things down the line a bit.
    I actually didn’t see the connection between the girl in the bathroom and Jeremy coming, I figured she was just there to make Marsh feel a bit crap, not adding stomping on her chest. :p

    Few typos and notes:
    ..it occurred to me that I _had_ hadn’t given..

    He was making me feel really nervous, and I tossed my head to clear it.” <– Extra quotation mark

    I was trying to learn about relationships with boys, after all_?_ I mean, _I_ just trying to be practical.
    –Not sure it the question mark makes sense here. I can see how it may be a question, but I think it is more of a statement. As in "It would be ok to dance with Phil, because I should learn about relationships with boys."

    ..and fished futilely in her _person_. <- Most likely 'purse', though 'person' would fit with a slightly different lead in.

    This one isn't actually a typo, but I wanted to comment on it in particular:
    Then the two of them turned, and I could see him from the side. It was Jeremy.

    I kind of expected that we'd get at least one minor reaction from marsh before the next chapter, though I expect we'll see more detail in the next one. Regardless of if Marsh is upset, surprised, or excited by catching a sight of him, I think she would have an instant reaction. For example, "My heart skipped… it was Jeremy." Just that split second wave of emotion, good or bad, could clue us in to how Marsh feels.

  3. Michael says:

    Disagree von – I thought it got better as it went along, and the ending was the perfect cliffhanger.

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