I started dancing when I was two years old. One summer, when I was about five, I refused to take off my tap shoes. I tap danced everywhere I went. I even wore them to bed.
After about a month, my mother invited my dance teacher over for coffee. They went to school together and it was not the first time my teacher had come to my home. Miss Donna had brought over a pair of her own tap shoes. They were the ones she often wore to class, with the leather worn and cracked.
Miss Donna told me how she loved my enthusiasm for dancing. I remember her telling me how she hoped I never lost that passion. Then, she wanted to compare our shoes.
She pointed to hers. The metal taps were dull, not shiny, with some scuff marks. She pointed to mine. They had deep scratches. There were deep pits. They were ruined.
Although I had to stop wearing tap shoes outside of the studio, I have never lost my passion to dance. It has a way of helping me clear my head.
After her conversation with Mr. Evans, Melinda felt only marginally better. It was still entirely too early for dinner, but Melinda did not want to return to her dorm. She evaded Walter and started wandering the campus aimlessly, trying to digest what Mr. Evans had told her.
As Melinda stood at the corner where the two major roads that cut through campus intersected, Melinda heard loud music erupting from one of the cars idling at the stop sign. Although it was not anything she liked, the music gave Melinda the urge to dance. She crossed the street and walked quickly back to her dorm.
Melinda changed into a leotard and tights before putting her street clothes back on. She threw her tap shoes, her water bottle, and vocabulary book into her backpack with her phone and Sarah's little Bluetooth speaker. Not wanting to get into a long text conversation, she scribbled a quick note to her roommate explaining she borrowed the speaker so she could go dance for a little while.
Walking to the Arts Center, Melinda realized that she might not be allowed in the Black Box, the practice room where her dance classes were held during the term, without a faculty member. She had never been there outside of class, except for orientation, when it was being used to make student IDs, and at the end of the term, when her tap class was using it as a dressing room.
The Arts Center was comprised of two buildings, one of which housed the theater and the other an art gallery, rehearsal rooms, and classrooms. Melinda entered the art gallery side, with its two-story glass front, and proceeded straight to the security desk. She greeted the bored-looking guard playing games on his phone.
"Hi. I wanted to dance a little while. I was wondering if I could use the Black Box? Or is that only for classes?"
"You can use the room, but not the equipment."
"Oh, that's fine. I brought my own music, and I don't need the barre."
Melinda was not sure the guard understood her, but he simply typed a few keys on his computer keyboard and scanned her ID before giving her permission to proceed. Melinda went through the door behind him and filled her water bottle at the fountain before continuing down a flight of steps, passing her orchestra teacher's office before entering the room with black floor, walls, and ceiling.
After removing her outer clothing, Melinda programmed some music on her phone and turned the volume up on the speaker. Her phone had horrible reception in this room, which was located beneath a concrete staircase outside, but there was a wifi connection, so Melinda was able to stream some warm up music.
Melinda stretched, allowing the music to clear her head and take over her actions. Her stretches were so routine, they required little conscious thought on her part. After a few stretches on the floor, Melinda strapped on her tap shoes and did some warm up exercises.
Melinda found a music station entitled Music You Can Dance To and decided to try it, but it was mostly the thumping club music she did not enjoy. After a few random stations, she discovered some songs that she recognized and thought they may be good enough for her to tap dance.
Melinda closed her eyes and let the music guide her. She started slowly, but soon she was dancing at a furious pace, racing across the floor, leaping and turning without abandon. She recognized most of the songs, so she was able to speed up and slow down with the music.
Melinda lost all track of time, but as she danced, she considered what had been bothering her. Walter's father had made her remember what she was constantly telling everyone else. Her boyfriend wasn't Patrick McGregor the movie star. He was Pat Evans, her best friend's brother and a really great guy who was crazy about her. Ex-girlfriends and stage kisses shouldn't get in the way of all that.
She thought about kissing Pat, that warm feeling that always filled her body until she thought she would burst. They had been together about three weeks now, and that feeling only grew stronger each time they kissed.
Melinda flew to a stop as the song ended and she opened her eyes. She was looking at herself in the mirror, sweaty and out of breath from the intense workout, when she saw Pat's reflection behind her. He was standing in the doorway, just watching her, his face expressionless.
Panting, she crossed the room to turn off the blaring music.
"That was…I saw you dance at your show, but what I just saw? You're incredible. How long have you been practicing that?"
"That routine you just did."
"I was just dancing. I have no idea what I just did. I wasn't paying attention. I was just thinking."
"That was just…" Pat entered the room slowly. "I knew you could dance, but I had no idea you were that good."
"Thanks." Melinda downed her water in a few large gulps. She sat on the floor near her bag and gestured for Pat to join her as she packed away her belongings. He sat slightly away from her.
"I was looking for you. I've been texting you."
"How'd you find me?"
Pat shrugged, twisting his hands nervously in his lap and not meeting her eyes as he replied.
"I texted Walter who texted Sarah who said you left a note about taking a speaker so you could dance. I figured that meant you were here. I told the guard I was looking for a friend and asked if you had signed into any of the practice rooms. He scanned me in, said there was someone down here. I figured it was you. Are you breaking up with me?"
Melinda could feel her jaw drop. "What? Why would you think that?"
"You've been avoiding me."
"I'm in this hole. No cell service." She waved her phone around.
"I tried to talk to you yesterday. You kept denying my chat requests."
Melinda sighed. "It's stupid. I came down here to work it all out and I realize it's stupid."
"Tell me about it." Pat lifted a hand as if he wanted to brush back her hair, but quickly dropping it again. Melinda found she missed him being close. She shrugged as she told him what had been going on.
"The other night, we were watching a movie at Sarah's house and she asked me if I was okay watching a movie where you were kissing another girl. Honestly, if she didn't say anything, I probably would have been fine, but she said it and it got stuck in my head."
"You were jealous."
Melinda chose to ignore the amusement in Pat's face. "Yes, I was. But more than that, I was angry with myself for being jealous. And, it wasn't like the thing with Poppy. Because, that was me thinking you were cheating on me. This was me thinking about you kissing other girls when you make movies. Not the ones you've already kissed, but the next one. On the next movie. Or the one after that."
Pat moved a little closer as Melinda continued. "And, I didn't know who to talk to about this. I wanted to talk to you, because I knew you'd understand, but I didn't know how to. I couldn't tell Sarah because she can't understand. I didn't want to burden Walter with this, because I thought it would weird him out, but he made me tell him. Then, he passed me off to Meghan."
"But, you weren't avoiding me."
"Oh, no. I was totally avoiding you. Anyway, talking to Meghan helped a little, but then she told your dad."
"Oh, great. This isn't embarrassing. My entire family knows I'm having girlfriend trouble. No wonder everyone was so quiet at breakfast."
"I talked to your dad a little while ago. Because, he knows exactly how I'm feeling."
Pat considered a moment. "I hadn't thought of that. Did it help?"
"Some. I needed to work things out in my head a little, which is why I came here."
"And what did you decide?"
"I'm working on worrying less about Poppy. As for your movies? I don't think I can promise I won't get jealous if I see you kissing other actresses. But, I know what we have together is strong enough to survive that."
"So, you're not breaking up with me?"
Melinda shook her head. "Is that why you won't come near me?"
Pat smiled mischievously. "No, Daphne. I won't come near you because of your leotard."
Melinda looked down. "What's wrong with my leotard? I'm wearing the one that doesn't show all the sweaty spots."
"But it shows everything else. And I am very attracted to you at the moment. I'm not sure I have enough self-control to kiss you right now."
Melinda laughed. "Should I be flattered or concerned?"
"That's entirely up to you." Pat stood and extended a hand to help Melinda to her feet. "Would you like to grab dinner before the dining hall closes?"
"Yeah, I'd like that." She took his hand and he pulled her close to him. When they kissed, Melinda understood what he meant about not having enough self-control. He held her in a close embrace while their heartbeats returned to normal before she threw her jeans and shirt over her leotard and they headed to the dining hall.
Melinda had spent enough time in the Black Box that she did not have enough time to shower before dinner. As they walked to the dining hall, Melinda remembered a conversation they had when they were studying for finals. She squeezed Pat's hand as they crossed the intersection.
"I thought we weren't going to eat dinner together. So, we could spend time with our friends."
"And, that's a great rule for most nights. But, tonight, I want to spend time with you. I don't mind sitting with your friends, as long as Frank can join us. I think he has a thing for Dre."
It took Melinda a moment to remember that her friend Dre had taken lifeguard training classes as her fall sport and that Pat's roommate Frank had also been in the class.
"I thought he liked Meghan."
"Oh, he does, and I think he'd go out with her in a heartbeat. But, can't he have more than one crush?"
"I don't see why not. What about your other friends?"
"So, you know how Zach is one of my best friends and Chloe is one of Meghan's best friends? Well, Zach and Chloe have become friends, too. Except, I think they're more than friends and just not telling anybody. So, I kinda invited them both out for pizza, then ditched them at the last minute."
"Nah. Should have, though. I suggested Chloe invite Zach to join her for dinner in the Senior Section, and he agreed. He's regaling her –"
"Regaling. Um…he's entertaining her telling her his endless stories about his term abroad in Spain. They'll probably miss first study hours."
Melinda giggled as they entered the dining hall. "Where's Frank?" She looked around as she entered the servery to examine her food choices. "You said he wanted to join us."
"He's holed up in the robotics lab again. I texted him. He'll be here soon."
Melinda grimaced when she saw the main entrée that evening was turkey with gravy and mashed potatoes. She thought it was just a little too close to Thanksgiving to serve turkey again. She decided to try the spaghetti and meatballs, a dish available every evening that she had yet to try. She met up with Pat at the beverage island before they headed to Melinda's usual table.
"Hi, Melinda!" Xandra greeted her as Melinda and Pat squeezed themselves between her and Walter. "Where've you been? Are you just getting back now?"
Melinda shook her head. "No. I was in the mood for a workout, so I went down to the Black Box to do some dancing. How was your break?"
"Too much food, too much family. How 'bout you?"
"You know what? I had a lot of fun."
"That's because you spent half of it with this guy," Frank said from behind her.
The tables were designed to seat about eight students. Melinda and her friends had a habit of stealing chairs from adjacent tables until there were nearly twice that many at the table. There were many students who did this, Melinda had observed, and the faculty members who frequently ate in the dining hall had never said anything to them about it.
So, Melinda was not surprised when Frank placed his tray between Dre and Jade and grabbed a chair from a nearby table.
Some of Melinda's friends had met Frank before, but not all. Jade looked at him funny for a moment before she decided to just ask, "Um, who are you?"
Everyone else at the table, even those who did not know Frank, laughed and Frank smiled as he pointed towards Pat.
"I'm his roommate. Pete Wu. Nice to meet you." He extended a hand.
"Jade." She smiled, shaking his hand.
Dre turned to him. "How was your Thanksgiving?"
"It made me appreciate being here. My parents weren't thrilled with my grades. They told my grandmother I got a B-plus in Chinese, and she started yelling at me that I should have been studying harder. At least, I think that's what she was saying. I can't understand her when she speaks fast."
Jade giggled and said something in her native Mandarin. She and Frank spoke for a few moments before he shook his head. "Nope," he said in English. "She wasn't that nice about it."
"So, did anyone else's schedules change this term?" Caroline asked the table.
"My art class is only one term," Melinda explained. "I have a music history class in its place."
Sarah wiggled a fork in her direction. "Ooh. We're in the same class."
"I have math first period now," Pat said, "but that means I get fourth and fifth free every day, except for my physics lab Friday.
"My schedule's completely screwed up now," Caroline said. "I'm in a different English class, although I still have Mrs. Krantz. And I have religion class where my English class used to be."
"That's better than mine," Andy said. "My parents weren't happy with my math or physics grades, so they decided to put me in regular, not honors. They called Mr. Birkenhead over break. I don't have any of the same teachers this term."
"Anyone else on academic probation?" Noah asked.
"What's that?" chorused most of the table.
"I'll take that as a no. Let's just say if my grades don't improve this term, I may not be here next year."
"So, we have study hours tonight," spoke up Larry. "Any idea what we're supposed to be studying?"
"I'm gonna review the stuff from my finals," said Andy.
"I'm gonna clean my closet," announced Xandra. When everyone stared at her, she shrugged. "What? I made Dean's List. I have nothing to study and I can't fit all my clothes into the closet anymore. It's time to take some out."
"I'm going back to the lab," Frank announced.
Pat sighed. "Frank. You need to stop obsessing."
"I'm not obsessing. I've almost figured it out."
"Wait," interrupted Pete Driscoll, Noah's roommate. "I thought your name was Pete."
"It's a nickname," Pat explained. "Just go with it."
Pete Driscoll shrugged as Pat continued to convince his roommate to spend some time outside of the robotics laboratory.
"Hey, Melinda," a voice greeted her. "Hi, Walter."
Melinda looked around to see a slender girl who looked like a girl in her Latin class, except with purple hair.
Melinda raised her eyebrows. "Zayne?"
"Yeah, it's me," she toyed with her hair. "I lost a bet. My brother promised it would wash out, but I think he lied. Anyway, I was wondering if I could study with you guys tonight. I didn't do so great on my Latin final and I kinda wanted to review it all during study hours tonight. Do you think you could help me?"
Melinda looked at Zayne, then Walter. "Um, I came straight here from the Arts Center. I don't have my books. I guess I can go to the library, but I'll be a little late."
Walter waved her off. "Don't worry about it. I can work with you Zayne, if that's okay."
Zayne smiled. "Oh, that'll be great. Studying with you really helped me pass that last quiz."
"I'll meet you upstairs."
"Okay. Great. See you later!" Zayne headed towards the servery.
"She's still cute." Pat whispered it so quietly, only Melinda and Walter could hear.
"Shut up," Walter muttered under his breath, turning red as he took a long drink of his milk.
Melinda half listened as her friends broke into various conversations. Some discussed their concerns for the upcoming semester, some discussed their antics during the term break. Some couples, such as Sarah and Larry and Jade and Leif held whispered conversations that Melinda could not hear.
Pat had put an arm around Melinda and was playing with her hair absently as he told Noah about a friend who had been on academic probation and was now on Dean's List. Walter was trying to discuss sports with Dre's twin Andy, who kept sending dirty looks towards Frank, who was telling Dre about his current creation in the robotics laboratory.
It had been nearly two weeks since she had seen her friends, but she felt that no time had passed at all. They had slipped right back into their regular routine. It was good to be home, she realized as edged closer to Pat. Good to be home.