“Okay students!” said Mrs. Peters, stepping towards us. “The first group will come out and get ready to do a practice run.”
Then half of the kids still standing behind where the curtain had been walked forward and took their positions while the curtain closed behind them. All of my friends were in this group and I saw Sue’s happy smile as she walked passed.
“Now, this first song is a Waltz. You may begin.” Mrs. Peters said and then pushed the play button on the little stereo beside her.
A sweet, slow melody played out and Connelly led me across the floor along with the rest of the crowd. He held my gaze as we moved and I felt an overwhelming relief that I hadn’t tripped or stepped on his toes. We were actually pretty good.
After the song ended, Mrs. Peters played a swing song, then salsa, and then the tango. We did good on all of them and by the time the tango song ended, I was feeling pretty good about myself. I felt like this competition would be a cake walk.
“Now, if you will all please go back behind the curtain. We’ll begin the competition with Joey Sparks and Leona Taylor.” said Mrs. Peters, and I looked back at the couple from my Home Ec. class who stayed where they were.
Leona looked so nervous and I felt bad for her. She was holding onto Joey’s hand for dear life, but he didn’t look the slightest bit nervous. He just looked up at the people on the bleachers like this was a challenge, his eyes determined but not hard.
The curtain pulled shut again behind us, but I peeked back out again. Mrs. Peters started the song and sat down, smiling at them caringly. They were doing a waltz. Joey turned to Leona, his determined eyes changing to that of softness and assurance. They took their stances and started gliding across the floor almost effortlessly.
“Kota,” I heard my name being called and left the curtain. Connelly was waiting behind me and smiled. “Come on. We can sit until they call us.” he said, taking my hand. I let him lead me to the rolled out bleachers and over to where Ivan, Sue, Vincent and Aubrey were sitting.
“Hey Kota, you looked great out there.” Aubrey said, beaming at me.
“Thanks,” I said, feeling better, “I didn’t see you out there.”
“Oh, I wasn’t. We’re in the second group.” she said, grabbing Vincent’s hand. He looked up at me pleasantly, but didn’t say anything. Connelly and I sat down and there was silence for a minute.
“So, now what do we do?” I asked, looking at Connelly.
“We wait.” he said.
“Do you know when we’ll be called?” I asked.
“After Dale and Cindy.” he said.
“When are they?” I asked, but then stopped because I heard Mrs. Peters say their names. I looked over just in time to see Dale wave nervously before disappearing through the curtain.
“I’m going to go see.” I said and jumped down, rushing over to where Louis and Chase were peeking through the curtain.
“Hey, how’s he doing?” I asked, sliding in beside Louis. Dale and Cindy had just started swing dancing, but I could already tell that they were really good.
“Well, he looks great to me.” said Louis.
“Yeah.” Chase agreed. We watched in silence as Dale danced and commented on certain things, like when Dale flipped Cindy. When they finished, they bowed as the crowd cheered loudly. Mrs. Peters wrote on her clipboard and then smiled at them and indicated for them to go. Dale and Cindy separated there, Dale coming to us while Cindy ran off in the opposite direction.
“Dale, that was great!” I said, jumping up to hug him, my arms going around his neck, while Louis and Chase did the guy thing and patted him manly on the back.
“Really? What did you think about the flip? I just thought of it out there.” he said.
“Are you kidding? That was awesome!” I said, letting go of him.
“I was sure I would get in trouble for doing it, but I’m glad I didn’t.” he said, smiling.
“Yeah, you were great.” said Louis.
“Dakota Riley and Connelly Peters!” Mrs. Peter’s voice echoed and my heart skipped a beat.
“Kota.” Connelly said, right behind me. “It’s time.”
“Good luck.” said Dale.
“Knock ‘em dead.” Louis added, smiling at me, then his expression hardened as he looked at Connelly.
I turned to Connelly and he led me through the curtains. The bleachers were full of people whose eyes were all focused on me and Connelly. I started hyperventilating, but with one finger, Connelly made me look at him. His face was calm, soft, and sweet. His eyes were caressing mine and I was thankful of the gift he had because I suddenly relaxed almost into butter.
“Thank you.” I sighed.
“Always happy to help.” he said softly.
“You may begin.” Mrs. Peters said sweetly, but different than she had with the others. I looked at her and she seemed to know what was going on.
“Look at me.” Connelly said softly and I returned my gaze to his caressing red eyes. He brought me to him and we started dancing.
We finished with Connelly coming dangerously close to kissing me, stopping just inches from me, but he backed up slightly, just to be safe I guess. But I was going crazy, my heart beating almost out of my chest. The music stopped and everyone cheered loudly. Behind me I heard the guys whistling.
Then Connelly took my hand and smiled at me, both of us straightening. Mrs. Peters nodded for us to go and we went back behind the curtains.
“Kota! Oh my gosh!” said Sue, hugging me.
“You were awesome!” said Dale, swooping me up in his arms as he swung me around.
“Thanks.” I managed to say into his chest. He chuckled and then let me go just in time to be caught up in Louis’s arms.
“You were amazing.” he said in my ear.
“Thanks.” I said in his. He smiled and let me go. I was amazed that I had done so good, especially given how nervous I was. But I owed it all to Connelly. He was the one who helped me through everything.
After Chase and his partner were called out, I went to go look for Connelly and found him on the bleachers with his siblings.
“Connelly,” I said and he turned to me. He glanced back at Mira and Alister, and then came to me.
“Yes?” he said.
“You were great! I couldn’t believe how good we were.” I said.
“We were pretty awesome.” Connelly admitted, a smile on his face.
“Well, I owe it all to you.” I said, looking into his eyes. “You’re the one who made me calm enough to think and the one who helped me through everything.”
“It was nothing.” he said, looking down embarrassedly.
“No, it was everything.” I said. He looked at me and then smiled. He took my hand and sighed.
“Then it was my pleasure.” he said softly, brushing my cheek.
After everyone danced one song from every style, the curtains were pulled back again and we all stood patiently as Mrs. Peters grabbed a microphone and started calling out names and the dance style that would best suit them.
There were a lot, but it was only the first test. Each person that was called stepped forward and I wasn’t at all surprised when all of Connelly’s siblings were called. Mira and Alister had done an amazing Salsa and Aubrey and Vincent such a tender Waltz, it almost brought tears.
“Ivan Peters and Sue Baxter, Swing.” Mrs. Peters said, smiling as she turned to them. Sue’s face was red as Ivan led her forward with the others. They stood there, the picture of two shy and too sweet soft people, destined to be in love, if they weren’t already.
“Louis Myles and Diane Lynch, Swing.” Mrs. Peters said and I, along with all my friends, cheered loudly. Louis smiled and waved as he and Diane made their way through the crowd and beside Ivan and Sue.
“Connelly and Kota,” she called and the cheers grew louder. I gasped, completely surprised. Connelly smiled and took my hand, leading me forward. I heard Dale and Chase yelling themselves hoarse as they whooped and whistled. I wondered why she didn’t say what dance would suit us best, but I figured she’d tell us later so I didn’t worry about it.
At the end of it all, there were about fifteen to twenty couples going to California for the next competition. Chase wasn’t called because he had been too nervous and had stepped all over his partner’s feet, but he was still full of support for all of us. Now that was a good friend.
After that, we all went out and celebrated, including Ivan and Connelly, but the guy’s partners didn’t come. We went to the local bowling alley that was also an arcade and skating rink and played until the store closed. We even got the owner to turn on the disco lights for us and play with all their skating games. We went from bowling, to the arcade, to the skating rink and back again.
By the end of the night, we were all exhausted, but at the same time, drunk with happiness. We all went out into the parking light as the owner closed the building up. Connelly and I were heading to my car when an arm went around both of our shoulders. Connelly tensed slightly, but didn’t jump like I had expected. He looked up at Dale and said, “Hey, what’s up?”
“I gotta tell you.” Dale said, smiling at both of us. “You were amazing out there. I mean, I’ve never seen anyone dance like that.”
“Thanks. You weren’t so bad yourself.” Connelly smiled back.
“Thanks. I just wanted to say that besides Louis, Chase and I think you’re an alright guy.” Dale stopped and held out his hand to Connelly.
Connelly smiled and took it, shaking roughly like all guys do. “Thanks. I appreciate that.” he said sincerely.
Dale nodded and said, “Cool. Well, I’ve got to go.” He waved as he walked away towards his Escort.
“Hey, why didn’t Jack and Jason come to see us?” I asked.
“They had to work!” he called from his window as he pulled away.
“That was great!” I said as I climbed in the passenger side of my Xterra.
“Yeah, it was.” Connelly agreed, sliding into the driver’s seat.
“I am so happy! Well, except for Louis not liking you, but he’ll get over himself.” I said, turning the music on as we started off.
“Maybe.” Connelly said softly, but I barely heard him over the music, and I ignored it. He didn’t know if Louis would or wouldn’t get over it. He couldn’t. A few minutes later, Connelly pulled into my driveway the same time as Ivan and Sue arrived in hers. Then Connelly kissed my hand and bowed before leaving with Ivan.