The dance lessons were not working. He’d let Jeremy and Terri talk him into taking jazz dance and it worked out exactly like the yoga lessons, the tennis lessons, and the single, miserable trip to the ice skating rink. Conrad remembered sitting on the ice, nursing his bruises, when a little girl no more than five effortlessly zipped up to him and said, “It’s okay. I fell a lot when I was first learning, too.”
He never went back, and he would never go back into that dance studio again.
“Face it, Conrad. If it’s athletic or physical, you suck at it.”
“Hey, give it a chance.” Jeremy was trying to be encouraging. He had met Jer and his girlfriend Terri in English Lit and the three became fast friends, but they were so much different from Conrad.
“Sorry. I’m going home. See you tomorrow.” Before they could object, he opened the door of his VW Bug, slid in the driver’s seat, and started the engine.
It was a beige ’72 Beetle, and he was so much like it. Simple, easy to maintain, and non-descript.
Being terrible at dancing or sports wouldn’t have been so bad if he were a brain, but he was only an average student. Well, that wasn’t fair. He got As and Bs in his humanities based courses, but as much as he loved astronomy, he barely managed Cs, and only because he hated the math.
He could feel tears of humiliation well up in his eyes as he drove back to his little basement apartment. It was small and dark, like his spirit, and he could hide there.
Of course, there’d always be tomorrow. He’d have to go back to school, work his part-time job to pay the bills, plod his way through his education, and then assuming he ever graduated, face an uncertain future in an undetermined career.
Was it really worth it?
Conrad managed to attract friends or at least friendly people, but a girlfriend was definitely off the table. Oh, he had dated, but the girls he liked either said they wanted to be “just friends,” or they left him the minute a better looking, more accomplished guy came along.
So much for the American dream of getting a job, marrying, having a family, and making your way in the world.
Conrad retreated into a realm of comic books and science fiction. The X-Men had been re-launched with a new team. Only the Professor and Cyclops from the original stories remained, and a bunch of new mutants, including Wolverine, who’d fought the Hulk before, along with a bunch of unknowns, made up the new X-Men.
“Star Trek” was a lot more popular in syndication than it ever was during its initial run, and someone named George Lucas was making a movie called “Star Wars” that was supposed to hit the theaters next year.
He especially liked the X-Men because they were misfits who were rejected by society, people with amazing abilities who had to hide who they were because of prejudice and hate. Of course, they were all athletic and accomplished, which was the opposite of Conrad, but somehow, they were his only real friends.
And even he knew that was pathetic.
He’d just finished the Asimov anthology published a few years ago, and was looking for another book to read when there was a knock on his door. It was after eleven and he should have been in bed since his first class was at nine in the morning.
“Hello?” He spoke through the door since who knows what was waiting for him on the other side at this hour.
“It’s me.” He recognized Terri’s voice and turned the deadlock.
“Terri, what’s wrong?” When he opened the door, he saw she had been crying.
She walked in and sat heavily on his sagging, old sofa. Conrad looked out but didn’t see Jeremy, which was odd because he and his girlfriend were usually inseparable. Closing the door, he turned to see Terri reaching for the box of tissues he kept on the end table in preparation of an allergy attack. She wiped her eyes and then put the spent Kleenex next to her.
“What’s wrong?” He stood in the middle of the room feeling confused and stupid.
“It’s Jeremy. We had another fight.”
“Another?” He’d always thought they were the perfect couple. Conrad sat beside her on the couch.
“He’s always so demanding. Keeps wanting me to do all the things he likes, but he won’t try any of mine.”
“That sounds familiar.”
She laughed bitterly. “Sorry. I know we do that to you, too.”
“I didn’t think it happened to anyone else.”
“You’re not the only one who isn’t good at everything.”
He thought to himself that he wasn’t good at anything, but kept his mouth shut. She needed to talk, which meant he needed to listen.
“What did he want you to do?” Conrad regretted the question the second he asked it. What if they were arguing about sex?
“He wanted me to come rock climbing with him and his friends this weekend. He knows just the idea scares the hell out of me, but he wouldn’t listen. I know that must seem stupid to you, but I wish he’d try to understand how I feel for once.”
Conrad didn’t know what to say. He didn’t have any great advice. In fact, he was totally clueless about how relationships were supposed to go if they got past two or three dates.
“Jeremy said I wasn’t adventurous and I didn’t care about his friends. Look, I do try new things. I took tennis because of him and I really like it. He’s right that I don’t like his friends. They’re rude, beer swilling pigs. I don’t have the nerve to tell Jeremy that Roger cornered me at a party last week and, well…you know…felt my boobs.” She lowered her voice on the last three words.
Conrad felt bad, awkward, embarrassed, and also a little aroused. He would never tell her, but he would sneak peeks at her’s boobs when she wasn’t looking. She almost always wore something tight on top and she was pretty big. He sometimes fantasized about touching her boobs, too, but he’d never do anything like that. Paradoxically, he felt mad at Roger for doing what he only dreamed of.
“You can’t tell Jeremy?”
“No. He’d say I made it up to get attention, and that Roger is a great guy who’d never cheat on his girlfriend. That’s bullshit. I know three girls Roger’s hit on in the past month, and one that he’s slept with.”
He turned away because he was blushing. He had never gone all the way with a girl, and felt shamed that at 20 years old, he was still a virgin.
“Anyway, we had this big fight and he left me standing in front of my place while he drove off. We were supposed to…you know…spend the night together. Look, I’m sorry.” She put her hand on his forearm and looked into his eyes. He froze like the proverbial deer in the headlights. “I shouldn’t have bothered you like this, but I needed someone to talk to, and you’re such a good listener.”
She removed her hand and stood up. “I need to leave. We both have class early and I’ll probably never get to sleep as it is. Thanks for letting me bend your ear.”
He stood up. “No problem. What are friends for, right?” He ran a hand through his hair trying to sound nonchalant.
“Thank you, Conrad. You really are a good friend.” She kissed his cheek briefly, but long enough for him to feel the softness of her lips, to smell her faint and alluring scent, and when she leaned in to kiss him, he enjoyed it when her body pressed up against his. In shame, he felt his erection rising and hoped she wouldn’t notice.
He walked to the door and opened it for her.
“Thanks again. See you tomorrow.”
He watched her walk outside. Her car was parked next to his. She got inside and started the motor. He kept watching as she pulled away and gazed into the distance and darkness until her tail lights disappeared.
That’s what his life was like. Looking into the night at distant lights, visions of what might have been, but could never be for someone like him.
He got ready for bed but he didn’t know how to feel. He was sorry Terri was sad, but somehow it was comforting to know that even perfect people weren’t really perfect. Maybe it was better to be Conrad and have Terri for a friend, rather than be Jeremy and have Terri for a lover, if that also meant making Terri cry.
I wrote this for First Line Friday hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. As you can probably tell, today the idea is to use the line “The dance lessons were not working” as the first line in a poem, short story, or other creative work.
I wanted to write something more dramatic and fantastic, but this is all I could come up with. No great changes in Conrad’s life except maybe he’s not as bad off as he thinks, or rather, the rest of the world isn’t as well off. Even a “perfect couple” has problems, especially when you’re in your late teens or early-20s and still trying to figure everything out.