“You’re good at this,” Mel said.
Their arms were wrapped around each other. Mel was self-conscious. She felt stiff. Everyone else seemed so fluid and relaxed, the grace of their movements made it all look so simple. Mel had difficulty doing anything remotely similar, but so far Rich had helped her enough that she didn’t feel completely out of place.
“As the lead, if I’m doing it right, no one is paying attention to me. All I am doing is providing a background, a canvas. You are the beauty.”
“I feel too awkward to be beautiful like that.”
Rich smiled at her.
“That’s because you’re thinking about it too much. Thinking about where to put your feet, where to move. You’re being too technical. Think about your paintings. It’s about what you feel, not the exact choreography.”
They danced some more, and Mel tried not to overthink. Then she stumbled.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“The first rule in dance – no apologies,” he said. “Here, lean towards me and follow my arm. Listen to the music, follow what it makes you feel too. And relax – you’re going to dance your own way. Everyone does.”
Mel leaned forward and suddenly found her hand lifted slightly above her head and herself turning around it, just following the motion. The music seemed to match up with how she moved.
It was exhilarating.
“There, see? Elegant.”
“That’s a real smile,” Rich said. “Now get ready. We’re going to try a dip in a little bit.”
Half an hour and three dips later, Mel and Rich were sitting at a table in the back of the venue. Each had a fresh drink. Mel looked across the restaurant and could see Shannon talking to a guy at the bar. They were both laughing. She seemed happy.
“What do you think? Will you dance again someday?” Rich asked.
“Someday, I will.”
“You’re not just saying that?” Rich asked.
“No – I liked it. Really. There were a few times I really felt it – didn’t have to think. That was … freeing,” she said. “I’d like to feel more of that.”
The band was taking a break. Looking around at all the people, Mel realized everyone still seemed to be moving to music. The air still felt full. People were laughing, talking, and having so much fun.
“Your friend – Mike – he’s really good. He’s kept the energy in this place all night. You can tell this is his heart, he wears it right on his sleeve.”
“You’re right,” she said.
She took a drink, then turned to Rich.
“You know, a lot of people from my town are jealous of him. Jealous of the fame, How much money he must have. The people he gets to meet. And I don’t care about any of that. But what you just said – that. That’s what makes me jealous. I wish I could have that kind of heart,”
“You do have it,” Rich said.
“Not like him,” Mel said. “I feel like most of the time I’m guarding myself, even from people I trust.”
Rich studied her as he tipped back his glass.
“Why?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m scared. Maybe I’m just private. None of those things really feel quite true. God, I see him on stage, though. He makes life more alive. Look at all these people, how they were dancing. How they were laughing. It’s like he’s just this beacon of light.”
They sat quietly. Rich took another drink.
“I like all the flowers they have here,” he said.
“I do too,” Mel said.
Rich set his drink down.
“I was in San Juan a couple years back. It had just weathered a hurricane months earlier. So much of their city had been torn to shit. But the people I met …” he paused, searching for the words, “… they were more than their circumstances.”
He looked up at the empty stage, then back at Mel.
“They couldn’t fix all the scars from that storm. So much was still damaged. But they put flowers everywhere. In all the windows – broken or not. They put them in the cracks in the buildings. And they painted. Everything had these bright colors. It was beautiful. And poetry – I’ve never been somewhere where poetry was such a thing. They wrote it on canvases and hung them up, or wrote it directly on the walls themselves,” he motioned toward the stage, “Musicians would play in the street. The way their voices and instruments would echo off the buildings, the air would vibrate with it. You didn’t just hear it, you felt it – like it was alive.”
“It sounds beautiful, in spite of all the hardship,” Mel said.
Rich nodded, turning toward Mel.
“I had this thought – they treated life like a lover. You know? The flowers, the poetry, the music. They poured their hearts into everything, taking care of even the small details. Tonight feels like that too.”
Rich reached for his glass.
“It does feel like something special,” Mel said.
Rich raised his drink and rolled the liquid around.
“Do you travel a lot?”
“Where do you like to go?”
Rich thought about it for a few moments.
“Where is less important than who. Everywhere I go, I always meet interesting people. Sharing a drink with someone is sometimes as much an adventure as traveling to the other side of the world.
He raised his drink toward her. She raised her glass toward him, then they each took a drink.
“You treat life like a lover,” Mel said. “So does Mike.”
“Do you?” Rich asked.
Mel thought a few moments.
“I’m glad I’m alive.”
“You know that’s not the same thing,” Rich said.
Mel took another drink, then set her glass down.
“I guess that’s how I feel when I paint,” she looked at him, “and it was fun dancing.”
“I noticed you hadn’t checked your phone for a while.”
Mel smiled, then sighed.
“I will again eventually … but I’m getting better about it.”
She looked up at Rich and met his gaze.
“It’s scary to lose someone because it feels like you’re losing a piece of yourself,” Mel said.
“You’re still the you they helped you discover. And you’re going to always be discovering more. You’re never just one thing.”
Rich leaned back in his chair, relaxed. “There will come a day when you see Mike – and you will not be jealous. You’ll be the person you want to be,” he said. “The same goes if you ever see your ex again.”
“How do you know?” Mel asked.
“A heart wants to be what it is, not what it isn’t,” he motioned toward the stage, “Like you said, you don’t care about the fame or the money. The cheap stuff.”
The band was getting back on stage. People clapped and cheered. Mel saw Mike walk to the microphone, grinning ear to ear. He looked Mel’s direction, and she waved. His already wide smile somehow seemed to get wider, and he waved back.
The music began again. They sat with their drinks, enjoying it.
“Shannon seems to be doing well,” Rich said.
Mel looked and saw Shannon still talking with the same guy.
“She needed this tonight. She’s been alone,” Mel said.
“It’s hard to be alone,” he said.
Rich looked back over toward Mel.
“She seemed really worried about you.”
Mel took a sip of her drink, thinking.
“She was worried I was becoming her. She went through so much shit in her life – she feels like pieces of her are still broken. She didn’t want to see that be me. But look at her laughing. That’s her real laugh. I hope that I’m like her.”
Rich leaned forward. Mel moved forward to meet him.
“You know, your face lights up when …”
The room suddenly sounded like a firecracker was going off right next to Mel’s ear. She looked around, taking everything in within a split second. The shock and confusion paralyzed everyone in the room, some with smiles still glued to their faces as the blasts continued. Then people began screaming, running and pushing each other to get out. Mel didn’t understand at first why some people were lying on the ground, and thought it was strange they weren’t trying to get away too. She tried to move out of her chair.