My first thought as I enter the ballroom is that Gram really outdone herself. It was as grand as one of the parties I saw on television. Only this one was in real life and it was my party.
“Wow,” I hear Julie whisper. Her mouth is as agape as mine and Gram is watching us with a very proud grin.
Everyone stops dancing and makes way for us. My eyes roam around. I don’t know almost half of the people here yet they’re smiling as if I do. I smile back politely and try to scan the crowd for Riley. He isn’t here.
“And now, the birthday celebrant will have her first dance for the evening.” A man from in the front announces.
I make my way to the center of the room and turn in a circle nervously. Everyone’s eyes are all on me. They’re expectant, waiting. I am too.
Someone breaks through the crowd.
I don’t know him. His hair is gelled firmly into place but I have an idea that it’s unruly and unkempt. His mouth turns up in a soft smile as he approaches me. His walk is so confident that I feel like my knees are buckling.
“Would you like to dance?” He offers his hand to me.
I consider saying no but I meet the eyes of Gram. She is smiling encouragingly. Hesitantly, I put my hand in his. Music starts to play.
Then we dance.
I’ve had dance lessons for this. I attended them with Riley for two straight weeks. I try not to focus on my dance partner but on the steps. Move to the right, turn, move to the left.
“Happy birthday by the way.”
“Since you haven’t asked, my name is Isaac.” He’s leading me gently. It feels like my dress is sweeping the ballroom floor with all the turns he’s making me do.
“I know who you are.”
I look up to him then. His eyes are gleaming and as the music ends, he lets go of me. “Can I have another dance?”
Gram appears beside us. “No, Isaac, you cannot. It’s my turn.” Gram whisks me away and I think about my dress again. I’m pretty sure that when I take it off, the underside would be very dirty.
“Riley isn’t here yet?” I ask her.
“I didn’t see him.”
Other people have joined us too. I get handed off to one person after another. They all introduce themselves. It seems like they all know who I am yet I don’t know them. I stop keeping track of who’s who and just let them lead me.
“Another dance. This must be my lucky day.” My new dance partner says.
It’s Isaac again. He’s looking down at me and smiling very smugly. “Hey.”
“Hey.” He says twirling me around.
I finally get the guts to ask him what I wanted to ask all those other people. “How do you know me?”
We sway from side to side as he thinks of his answer. “Your mom knew mine before. They were neighbors.”
“Yeah? Where is she? I’d love to meet her.” I’m getting excited. Another person I can ask about my mom.
Isaac frowns at my expression. “She’s not here. I just came with some of my cousin. One of them, Eric, danced with you a while ago. ”
Nope. Not ringing any bells. The song ends but I don’t get handed off. Isaac and I keep dancing and no one interrupts us. “What time is it?”
“Am I that boring?” He teases.
I smile a little. “No, it’s not that. I just…want to know the time.” It’s the truth.
“It’s a quarter to ten.”
We sway again. I’m starting to think that dancing isn’t cut out for me. “Can we take a breather? My feet are killing me.”
Isaac leads me to one of the empty tables. Almost everyone is dancing with each other. When I sit down on the chair, I kick my shoes off and start rubbing my feet. Dancing isn’t really for me.
“Who are you looking for?” Isaac watches me from across the table. I must’ve been looking around and he must’ve been talking.
“Maybe not, if he’s not going to come when he promised he would.” I focus again on soothing my aching feet. Isaac stands up.
“I’ll go get you a drink. Is that okay?”
“I would be really grateful for that.”
He bends down so that we meet each other at eye level. His gaze is warm yet somehow cold too. “You’re really beautiful.”
I blush. “Thanks.”
He moves closer to me and I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. “So I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but I didn’t bring you a present.”
I wave him away. “I don’t really need presents.”
“But I have one.” He grins and kisses me on the lips. “Happy birthday, Paige.”
I’m too shocked to even formulate a reply and he can see that. He goes to get the punch and all I really want to do now is to punch him.
“Wow.” I know who it is without even having to turn around. “Are you too ashamed to face me?” The voice asks angry now.
I slowly turn and behind me is Riley. My breath gets taken away. He cleans up nicely, I think. I stand up to hug him but he steps back.
“Are you having a good time?”
I wince at the venom in his voice. “Riley, I can explain.” I start to but he cuts me off.
He doesn’t even look back when he stalks out of the ballroom. I follow after him, barefoot. I steel myself for what is going to come.