I collapsed to the floor and massaged my legs, I nearly had my right split flush against the ground. Another week or so of stretching and I would have it, no problem. I stretched out my right leg, trying to ease the ache that always came from holding my splits. I sighed and pushed an errant strand of my mouse brown hair behind my ear and tried to reattach it to my bun.
Achingly, I rose and walked to the single folding chair in the studio to turn off "Brown Eyed Girl." Carefully, I turned off my ipod and packed away the clam speakers I carried in my gym bag. I sat down, and took of my well-worn ballet slippers and pulled my shoes from my red tote bag, sporting the emblem of the Red Cross. In the silence that pervaded the room I heard the creaking noise common when someone was walking on the floor just inside the doorway of the studio. I looked up quickly.
"You know, you should join one of the dance groups on campus." The man leaning against the doorframe regarded me with cool eyes.
"No street shoes in the dance studio," I told him automatically, wanting to get rid of him. I did not like the idea that he had been watching me. It was creepy, though not really the act of a stalker. Calm down, I instructed my racing pulse, he probably just saw the open doorway and was curious. I hated that I had to keep the door open, but it was the price I paid for using the studio by myself.
The man smiled, "I thought you were putting on your sneakers."
"You're right," I blushed. I really liked using the chair to put my shoes on, but it meant that I had to walk across the studio floor to leave. Street shoes scuffed the pristine studio floor and made it harder for dancers already pushing their bodies to the limit. I carried my shoes, my jacket and my tote bag out of the studio.
Or tried to. The man did not move from the doorframe. I looked past him, into the empty hallway. "Excuse me, I need to get by."
"You can't walk out into the street without shoes." His flat statement confused me. When I realized what he meant, I nearly burst out laughing.
"I am just going to put them on right outside of the door."
"I didn't mean for you to give up your seat," he sounded truly apologetic, but he made no move to let me pass him.
"No, no," now I really wanted him gone, and fast. He was getting annoying, and I had plenty of work to get done tonight. "You were right, I just get lazy."
He sighed and stepped out of the doorway. I walked past him and sat down with my back to the wall, forcing tired legs to conform to the task of putting on a pair of sneakers. It was no easy feat.
The man just stood on the other side of the door, leaning against the wall and watching me. His presence was making me edgy and after putting on my first shoe I reached for my cell phone. It didn't work in the building, but it was my safety blanket, especially knowing that campus police was on my speed dial, number nine. I tied my shoe.
"Are you in one of the dance groups?"
I glanced up at the man, "No." I reached for my second shoe. The sooner it was on, the sooner I was out of here.
"No, I didn't think so. Although, I have seen you around here often enough . . ."
I stood and reached for my jacket. He did not budge an inch. As I zipped up, I looked at him. He was a good deal taller than I was, with dark features, almost black hair and dark brown eyes. I did not remember seeing him around the gym, "Do I know you?"
He laughed, "I guess not." He held his hand out, "I'm Noah."
Seeing no way around it, without being unreasonably rude, I took his hand, "Ruth." His hand felt warm in mine. And, calloused, used to work. I dropped his hand like a hot coal. I was alone in the building with this stranger. I reached for my tote bag.
"You should come by a Point practice sometime, see if you like it." His face was completely serious, although, I suspected he was having a private laugh at my expense.
"Thank you for the offer," trying not to give him anything more to laugh about I kept my voice even. "Now if you will excuse me," he had once again placed himself between the exit and my person. I squeezed my cell phone for comfort.
He stepped aside but followed me out of the building and into the cold night. I walked carefully, the side walk was icy even though the last snow fall had been a few days ago. "Jeez it's cold," his voice sounded half amused by the fact. "If you want, I can give you a ride, it's too cold to walk."
"No thank you, I could use the exercise." I did not know this man. Freezing my ass off was a small price to pay for actually arriving at my destination.
"Suit yourself." I turned away from him and started walking. In a few seconds, I was cursing myself for not taking the ride. My mother's voice was hard to listen to when my eyes were tearing from the wind and the cold. I hated the cold.
Ten minutes later, I was finally approaching the nineteenth century building that was my dorm. My hands were blocks of ice as I searched my tote bag for my keys. I cursed myself for not getting them out while I was in the warm gym. Finally, I fished the green and purple carabineer that held my keys out and activated the electric entry into the building.
The warmth of the building flooded me as I wiped my runny nose. I made my way to my dorm room as I thawed out. At least I did not have to climb stairs after my trying trek, my room was on the first floor. I found an interesting message written neatly on my door. "Point practice, Sunday 3pm, I'll give you a ride downhill if you want. Noah (118)."
My breath caught in my lungs. He knew where I lived. I was three seconds from calling the police when I realized what 118 meant. He lived down the hall. Forgetting my room altogether, I walked down the hall. His door was open.
"Hey there," he said brightly, "Did you see my message? I know you like your exercise, but I thought you might not want to go down to dance practice tired and cold."
"I don't dance on point," I said simply. I was not ready to have toe shoes. Given the name of the group, this seemed like a good enough way to get out of attending the practice. I would not become the laughingstock of some dance group.
"No worries," Noah replied easily, "We do little enough point work to begin with, if we learn any, I'm sure you could keep up." He was sitting on a black computer chair. His room was in a state of pristine neatness. I wanted to check to be sure that he was really a boy. Actually, I wanted to be sure that he was real. People did not just talk to strangers like that. Or, invite random people to join what I knew to be an audition only dance group.
"Thank you for the offer, but I think it would be inappropriate for me." I tried to be as polite as humanly possible, but he was really making it hard for me to refuse nicely. Besides, I was tired and had a ton of work to do.
"But you could just look in and see what you think, nobody will force you to stay," he pointed out pleasantly.
"If I wanted to join Point, I would have auditioned like everyone else, at the beginning of the school year." My comments were a little harsh, and my tone had taken on an edge to it. I did not like to be pushed.
"I'll be by your room at twenty to three on Sunday, if you change your mind." I cursed under my breath at his cordial tone and shuffled back to my room. It took me three tries to get the key in the lock.
I could not believe that I was actually rushing to get my self together to go to the gym. They don't really want me anyway, I don't exactly fit in with their aesthetic sense. I had learned early on, that heavier girls with large chests did not do well in ballet. My size ten ass just did not look good in a leotard and that was very important in an arena where beauty was everything.
I stuffed the offending garment into the bag. I did not usually wear a leotard, but I thought it would be good to have. Maybe they would find it offensive that I wore loose sweats as opposed to their prescribed outfit.
I was about as ready as I would be and I started out the door, only to nearly run into a tall man. "Woah, where are you running to, I wasn't even here yet," Noah joked, stepping back from me.
"I'm sorry," I gasped automatically. "I was just going . . . going . . ." I had meant to get out of the dorm before he came to give me a ride downhill. Even though, it had been four days and he had not shown any stalker tendencies, I was weary of him. I nearly had a heart attack when I saw that note on my message board.
"You're a little frazzled. Here, I'll take your gym bag. Your coat isn't even zipped. You'll freeze on the walk to the car." He moved in and removed my bag from my possession so swiftly that I did the only thing I could think of doing; I zipped my jacket. "Now, let's go."
Almost meekly, I followed him out of the dorm. The cold hit me hard and, though it was maybe twenty five steps to Noah's car, my eyes were tearing as I settled into the passenger seat. Noah took a moment to join me, because he was putting our bags in the trunk. It was a nice car, a new corvette. It made me nervous.
He started the engine and automatically an old Reel Big Fish song blared through the speakers. I was so shocked, I giggled. Noah shut off the music, defensively, "Are you judging my music choices already?"
I shook my head, "No, I would – I like Reel Big Fish – I was just shocked."
He smiled, but left the music off. "So, you really didn't know I lived down the hall?"
"No," I was a little jolted. I felt the need to explain myself. "I don't spend much time in my dorm room."
"And you read as you walk through the hallways," he added with a sigh.
I looked at him sharply. Maybe he really was stalking me.
He glanced over with a smile, "Hey, that's common knowledge."
We pulled into a spot just outside the gym, with an unconscious sigh of relief, I got out of the car and waited by the trunk so I could grab my bag. When Noah opened the trunk he nudged me, "You don't want to be seen with me carrying your books?"
His reference to dating high school students was not lost on me, but I made no comment on it. "Thank you for the ride," I started to walk into the building.
Noah quickly caught up with me, "Do you still think I am creepy, or do you honestly not like me?"
Even in the cold, I stopped dead. He had read me far too close for my comfort. "I'm sorry. I am just a little anxious."
He took my arm and started towing me inside, "Don't worry, it will be fine."
When we reached the dance studio, I dropped my bags outside and slipped into my ballet slippers. Even if I did not dance, they would keep me warm. Then I found a seat, in the corner away from the mirrors and the door. I ducked my head behind the low bar to lean against the wall and peered out into the room.
The dancers were mostly wearing sweats, like me, although, there were a few dancers in tighter clothes. That made me sigh in relief, at least I did not stick out.
To my surprise, the numbers of dancers was nearly even. Of course, in an audition based group one could artificially control the numbers, taking the same number of boys as girls, but it still surprised me. I had never seen an evenly split dance group. In fact, when Noah came in and everyone quieted down, I realized that there was one extra boy.
Eyes darted to me curiously, but nobody made any comment. In fact, as everyone started to stretch the only comment that was made was by a tall blonde girl, "Jenny's sprain still has not gotten better, if it doesn't get better soon, we might need a replacement for the midwinter performance."
Everyone nodded and went on with their stretching. Sitting there, watching them, I realized that I had unconsciously ducked away from the low bar and started stretching myself. No dancing for them, remember. It would have been rude not to accept the invitation, but no dancing is required. They'll just laugh. It's always funny to watch hippos do ballet.
They started with their routine. To my surprise, it was not very hard. It was a good routine, and it was not easy, but I could do all the elements individually. After watching the first song twice, I had a good feel for it. The practice had gone on for a half hour when someone asked for a water brake.
During the brake, a classic ballet dancer walked over to me. When I say classic, I mean, he could have graced the front of the American Ballet's program. Tall, with a muscular, but not bulky build, and dark brown skin and features, he was the only man wearing the skintight outfit of a performer. He squatted down in front of me.
"My partner is Jenny, and I was wondering if you would like to work the routines in her place? It will be good for me to have a partner; it is hard to do most of this by myself." He held out his hand, "I'm Cole."
"Ruth," It came out as little more than a whisper. "I'm no good for the lifts, though." And I doubt you could lift me, even if I was.
He lifted me up to a standing position. "Then we'll leave those out, it will still be good to have a partner for everything else."
There seemed little I could do but join him. Most of the others ignored us, although, Noah shot me an encouraging smile. Noah, was the dance captain, and performed most of the solo dances with his partner, the blonde waif who had told everyone about Jenny.
As the practice resumed, I realized how good Cole was. There is a feel that you get from a good dancer, which has absolutely nothing to do with technique. He was an amazing dancer.
The first few dances went well. I would sit out the first time to watch the dance and then I would join Cole and work through the dance with him. I would step away from him at the lifts and he would perform the motions. To my surprise, I was actually enjoying this.
We were dancing to a ballet made popular by the New York City Ballet, one of the mini gem ballets. Point had decided to do Emerald, although, they modified it to avoid point work. I had seen the ballet so many times, because it was one of the ballets I could get five dollar tickets to go see, I could practically dance it in my sleep.
It was because of this familiarity that I forgot to step away from Cole on one of the lifts. And, he lifted me. It took all my energy not to lose the tension in my body and cause him to drop me. When he did set me down, I stepped back from him, trying to let him finish the dance by himself. Instead, he followed me. So, I left the studio.
"Ruth, wait. That was great. You knew exactly what to do. I thought you said that you couldn't do lifts –"
"You could have hurt yourself," I replied harshly. "Your troupe mates will not appreciate it, if you strain a muscle trying to lift me. I told you not to."
"But if you can do them –"
"Tell Noah I thank him for the invitation." I scooped up my tote bag and headed out, headless of the fact that I was still wearing my ballet slippers. Cole grabbed me in a bear hug. Suddenly, my nerves were buzzing, I did not like feeling trapped. I went still against his body.
"Jeez, Noah was right," he said softly. "Listen, Ruth, you heard Lisa, Jenny is not going to be ready for the midwinter performance and we are in desperate need of a replacement. I don't know what qualms you have with dancing in groups but we have all seen you dance after our practices," he spun me to face him. "If you can do the lifts, then let's do them."
"You'll hurt yourself." And I will look foolish. Hippo's doing ballet were funny, not beautiful. Besides, I was not kidding about him hurting himself. Fifty extra pounds to lift was no joke.
"I'm a big boy, let me worry about it." He took my tote bag and dropped it with the others and firmly gripped my hand until we were back in the studio. Practice had gone on as though nothing happened. Perhaps they could not afford to waste time, not everyone had seen the ballet so many times at Lincoln Center.
I finished out the practice, doing the lifts with Cole and wishing with all my might that I was fifty pounds lighter. When it was over, Cole thanked me and I darted out to the bathroom. This way, I figured, they can talk about me with it being terribly obvious.
I retched into the toilet, until all I was left with were dry heaves. I couldn't help it, I knew what they were going to tell me and it killed me. I hated that I did this to myself, that I put myself through this pain. Something about me must be self-destructive. No sane person would do this to herself.
I washed up, trying to get rid of the vile aftertaste in my mouth. I went to pick up my tote bag and change into my shoes. When I saw that nobody was there, I was thankful that they would just not invite me to return. That Lisa did not feel the need to tell me that no dancer would be a better replacement than my fat ass. I changed into my sneakers.
"You knew, didn't you?" I looked up to find the source of the voice. Noah leaned on the opposite wall. I had been so focused on my shoes, I had not noticed him.
"Don't tell me that you didn't," I replied bitterly. I fished a stick of gum out of my bag and popped it in my mouth. I stood up and started out the door.
"I'm sorry." He blocked my exit. "Please, let me give you a ride. Do you have anything you are doing?"
I shook my head, unconsciously. I had finished my homework already, but I did not want him to know that. "I have, um, work to do . . ."
He wrapped an arm around my shoulder and started steering me towards his car. "Yeah, I don't really have anything to do either, let's go grab some coffee."
He steered me outside to his car and packed closed the door behind me, putting my bag in the trunk. "I'll need my bag if we are getting coffee," I told him when he got in the car. "It's where I left my wallet."
He shook his head and started the car, "Can't risk you taking off on me, I'll pay for your drink."
His comments made me agitated, "Running off on you? You just made me the laughingstock of a dance troupe –"
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to." He sighed. "Cole and I both thought you would be a good replacement for Jenny, and the whole troupe has said at one point or another how good you are. I didn't realize . . ."
"How long have you been doing ballet?"
He turned right before he answered, "Six years."
I wrinkled my nose. He had started late. "And in that time, you never noticed what your partners looked like?"
He shook his head, "When I danced in high school, anyone could dance. In Point, we let the girls choose the girls and the boys choose the boys. We know what works best for us, so we know what to look for in new dancers."
"You know what, it doesn't matter." I turned my head away from him, looking out the window just as we passed Starbucks. "Aren't you stopping?"
"Nope," he said merrily.
Shit. I started reaching for my cell phone. "Fuck." It was in my bag. In the trunk.
"What?" Noah looked really confused.
"You're secreting me away to rape and kill me somewhere and I can't call the police because you smartly locked my phone in the trunk." He tapped the cup holders between us. I looked down. His cell phone was there.
"I should be offended, but I am still feeling too guilty." I picked up his cell phone, checking to ensure that it worked. If he was going to hold my bag hostage, I could do the same for his phone. "I thought you might like more than coffee. It didn't sound like you held on to much of your lunch."
The tips of my ears were red. I wanted to sink into the floor of the car. "Did everyone hear?"
"No, you just looked terrible when you came out of the bathroom. I've seen the look on enough ballerinas' to know what it means." He was referring to the rampant eating disorders that most ballet dancers suffered from. "I thought I would take you out to dinner to make up for it. Unless, I need to first take you to the counseling center?"
"No," I realized he thought I might have an eating disorder, "No." I shook my head, "I eat just fine."
He smiled, looking over at me as he pulled into a parking lot, "Well, you'll have to prove that."
The restaurant was a pizza joint, although it was really a low scale Italian restaurant. It was not so nice that it made our practice clothes look shabby, but it was a good sight better than fast food. Noah ordered a mushroom pizza for us to share.
"I'll pay you back for everything, when we get back to the dorm." And, you let me have my bag back. I had placed his cell phone on the table, close enough to reach in an emergency, but I was not going to stop him from answering it. Besides, we were in a public place.
"Don't be silly," Noah replied. He waved his hand in dismissal, "I just can't believe that they would not want you to dance. They did say that you could be in the spring show if you wanted."
"How many pounds would I have to lose first?" My question was just as rhetorical as it was sardonic. "I'm betting twenty five."
Noah smiled in response, "You really have been through the mill on this, haven't you? No wonder you practice alone."
I shrugged, "I like it. It is my time for me," when I was his incredulous look I added, "No, really. I just like the forms and the songs. I have no desire to perform."
"Are you sure you are not a reincarnated flower child?"
"No, Sir. Just a little odd."
He nodded his head just as our pizza was served. I gladly dug in, as much to get away from his questions as anything else. They were silly in their own way, but too personal for my taste.
He seemed to be uncomfortable sitting in silence, however, "So, what are you studying?"
"History and Math," I referred to my double major. I smiled at the puzzled look on his face, it was always priceless to tell people my majors. "What about you?"
"Political science," he said happily. I cringed; politics gave me the creeps. "Eh, it's not that bad. It's sort of a family tradition."
"To study politics?" That was the weirdest thing I had ever heard. Who forced their children into politics?
"To be politicians." A shadow passed over his face for a moment, creasing his perfect features. His hair was wavy, I realized, I hadn't noticed before. "Call it my family business."
"Do I know any of your relatives?" I tried to remember his last name, but I drew a blank.
He chuckled, "One or two. My father has a seat in the senate. My Uncle is Joseph Linnburg." He cocked his head, waiting for my reaction.
I was stock still, thinking, Joseph Linnburg was our Governor. I tried to think back to my paltry political knowledge. The Linnburgs were an old family, the current ones could trace their roots in this country to the first Jews who landed in Stuyvesant Town in 1654. I do not know how they had kept their fortune in tact, but I did know that a member of this family was finishing off his fourth slice of pizza.
"You can have the rest," I motioned to the remaining two slices.
He looked at me sternly, "I thought you said you didn't have problems eating."
"I had two slices of pizza!" That was certainly enough for any meal. I was already feeling like a pig for eating so much.
"We'll split the rest," he put one slice on my plate and took one for himself. Ah, well, the pizza certainly smelled good.
I was stuffing my face when I realized that Noah was looking at me strangely, do I have sauce on my forehead, or something equally embarrassing? "What?"
He shook his head, "That's it?" I was confused.
"Did I get food on my shirt?"
He laughed shortly, "No, no, everything is fine."
"Then what is it?" He was still looking at me oddly and I could not for the life of me figure out why.
"You aren't going to tell me who you voted for in the last election? Or tell me what your family thinks of how the Linnburgs represent Jews the country over?"
It was true that his family was held up as a model of Jews in America in my household. I shrugged, "I thank you for the food and all – and I am going to pay you back for it – but I don't see how that is any of your business."
"Really?" He sounded completely incredulous.
"Egotistic much?" My reply was sugar coated to a tee and I was afraid I had overdone it.
But he just looked like I had dumped a bucket of water over his head. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound –"
"No worries, I was joking." I forced a smile and he ran a hand through that wavy hair of his. I liked his hair, I decided. "Do people really force that on you?"
He cracked a half smile, his eyes crinkling, "Yeah. You wouldn't believe." Now that he was started, he seemed to want to keep going. "Even some of my best friends, when they find out . . . well, I am sure you don't want to be bored with that. As you said, its not really my business, let alone yours."
"Can't blame you, you've probably been to more campaign speeches and such than I have to piano lessons. It must get under your skin after a while." My hair was falling out of its traditional bun so I took it out to fix it again. When I put my hair tie on the table for a moment, Noah snatched it up.
"Piano lessons?" He played with my blue hair tie idly.
I cringed, "I know, ballet and piano lessons. Classic little girl." I held out my hand to retrieve the rubber band but he ignored me.
"I think it's cute" he said, slipping the tie around his wrist.
"Much like a boy wearing a scrunchy around his wrist, but I would like the hair tie back, and I'd prefer if you kept that I play piano to yourself." I kept my hand out expectantly.
He grinned back, wickedly, "I like your hair down. And you play piano now too?" He caught my quick denial before I could voice it, "And I heard you, you said that you 'play' present tense. How do you keep it up?"
"Firstly, we are in public, and I will not have my hair look like crap in front of an audience –"
"Well, we can fix the public part if you'd like. Are you offering a private exchange?"
It took me a moment to regain my footing. Noah had been so much of a gentleman to me, I had forgotten that he was a college student. I forced myself to continue, "Secondly, I play in the practice rooms for a few hours on days when I am not dancing."
"So, what's that Mondays and Wednesdays?" At my surprised expression he explained, "I had to look up when you had the studio so I could track you down. I was not leaving this up to chance. We really needed a replacement – sorry."
"It's alright, I'm used to it." I shrugged draining my diet soda, "I'm just surprised that it wasn't a joke to begin with."
"You know there is nothing wrong with the way you look, right?" He seemed nervous about this.
I laughed bitterly, "Don't worry. I am not going to lapse into anorexia because I was too fat to be in a ballet company. Some of it is genes."
Noah put down the money for the check and got up to leave, shaking his head. "Don't anyone ever tell you that you aren't blunt, Ruthie."
"That's why I hate politicians," I ignored his nickname for me. With any luck, I would not be seeing him much after this, except, to pay him back for the meal of course.
He just shrugged as he put his jacket on. We walked out to the car in silence and got in to drive back to school. I watched the scenery as it passed.
"You are invited to practice with us regardless of this mid-winter show business. The girls were serious about wanting you in the group." His voice was listless. I realized that I was a little harsh back in the restaurant.
"I'm sorry I said that about politicians. You were being unnecessarily nice and I was inexcusably rude. It was immature of me." One thing about me was, I had no problem apologizing, once I admitted that I was wrong about something, anyway.
"Nah, I'm just feeling guilty for getting you involved in this whole Point fiasco." That was what he said, but I could see him visibly relax. He turned on some music, James Taylor. I smiled. He had good taste.
"It wasn't your fault." I wanted to change the subject. Thinking of his music choice, I took a gamble, "Have you seen Moving Out on Broadway?" It was Twyla Tharp's work. She was a ballet choreographer who favored more contemporary music, in this case Billy Joel.
He tapped on the steering wheel in time to the music on the radio, "Yes. I liked the movie of Hair too. Tharp is a good choreographer. Do you like her?"
"Yes. I wish there were more things done to more modern music." It was a secret desire of mine. One only a fellow dancer could understand.
"I know how you feel. I dance jazz and soft-shoe sometimes just to hear music with life." He seemed relieved by that. Because it is good to say things out loud, or because he thought I had sympathetic ears?
"You dance soft-shoe? That is amazingly cool." I had always wanted to learn it.
"Not many girls think so." I was confused as to why that would be. As we pulled in behind our dorm, he elaborated. "They are so busy worrying about the sexuality of a dancer that they hardly even get a chance to know me."
"Really, because in my experience girls practically throw themselves at male dancers – gay or straight." That was half said to myself and I quickly got out of the car so I wouldn't have to hear his response to it. Unfortunately, I could not run off, because my bag was still in the trunk. Noah came around back and grabbed both of our bags. I scowled at him.
"Oh, stop it. You would have run off half a dozen times, if I had not taken your bag hostage in the first place." He cocked his head, considering me as we walked into the building. "You've had bad luck with dancers in the past?"
I smiled, half heartedly, "I know better to date a guy who has five foot ten blonde women throwing themselves as him." I stopped in front of my door. Reluctantly, he handed over my bag. I fished through it for the money to pay him back for the dinner, but when I looked up he was gone. "Weird," I said to myself. I'd just have to give him the money later.
I did not see Noah again until Thursday. I was back in the studio packing up from another practice when I saw Noah leaning in the doorway. "You do live down the hall, you know. If you want to see me you could just knock." Okay, so I was a little tired from practice.
"I know that, this is more for Lisa's benefit." He stepped aside to reveal the tall blonde ballerina. She was looking supremely uncomfortable in her skinny jeans stuffed inside Uggs and long wool shirt, with a low cut neckline. I doubted it was the clothes.
"Ruth? I, um, just wanted to say that if you came to practice on Sunday – Cole really wants you for his dance partner next week and um . . . You really knew what you were doing last weekend, um, it would be doing us a big favor . . ." I thought if she twisted the bottom of her shirt any more it would rip. She looked helplessly up at Noah who just shrugged. Clearly, he was not going to help her.
"Well, I really liked Cole as a partner," I said definitively. "So, I would not mind dancing with him again on Sunday and at any other opportunity I had to do so." Lisa looked like she could have kissed me.
"If you perform with us, um on next Friday, um, we will work out all the costume details. All, um, you would, um have to do, is show up to practice with us." She shot a quick glance up at Noah before hastily adding, "Every night next week in the main auditorium." She fled.
"Shouldn't you go after her," I said breezily to Noah, grabbing my shoes. This time, I pushed past him into the hallway, to put my own shoes on. When I put down my bag, Noah picked it up.
"She'll be fine. It takes a lot for her to swallow her pride." I looked up from tying my shoe laces to find Noah looking down on me, kindly. "That was more than decent of you, Ruthie."
I made a face, "Don't call me 'Ruthie' it makes me think of the girl from 'Seventh Heaven.' Call me Ro, if you need a nick name." I liked it when he smiled as he was doing now.
"What's that from?"
"My sister used to call me Ro-Ro, when we were little. It sort of stuck." I liked remembering that. It reminded me of her calling to me across the beach. I stood and started putting on my jacket.
"I still think that was decent of you to do for her. You could have made her beg."
"'Decent' is an odd word from the man who stole my hair tie." I shrugged, reaching for my bag. He just started walking away.
"I'm just making sure that you come by some time to get it. Besides, you aren't listening to me." It was a good thing I followed him, because he kept talking at a normal decibel level. "She would have begged to have you."
"You guys really could not find one other person?" I was a little surprised. While it was clear that Lisa wanted me to dance, and I was not entirely sure why, I had not realized that she needed me.
"Not that Cole would dance with. He has some pretty high standards." I frowned at that, hardly even noticing that I was getting into Noah's car again.
"He seemed pretty laid back on Sunday," I added when Noah got into the car. I realized a moment too late that he had my bag in the trunk again. He really needed to stop doing that.
"You were a good dancer. He can be downright nasty – bit of a snob, you see." He started up the engine to take off.
"Thank you for the ride," I said carefully, not sure if I wanted to believe that Cole was a snob. Well, whatever it was it had gotten me to dance with other people. That was something. "And thank you for getting Lisa to change her mind."
"The only thing I got Lisa to do was come here and ask you. She was getting pretty desperate. She wasn't even sure if you would say yes." He kept his eyes on the road. At least I have my cell phone in my jacket pocket this time, I mused. I had been talking to a friend on the way downhill.
"What would she have done then? Found someone else. Dancers are always replicable, or didn't they teach you that in your dance classes?" It was not a bitter statement.
"No. You really are bad at listening. I told her that if you didn't want to join us she had better get down on her knees and beg. Cole was threatening to quit. Male dancers are not replaceable." He seemed upset by my refusal to accept this.
"Alright. Whatever you say. Just don't get upset while driving." I meant that. Driving made me nervous enough as it is.
We passed the rest of the ride in silence. When we parked, Noah jumped out of the car and I realized a moment too late it was so that he could grab my bag. I stormed after him into the dorm.
"I'd invite you in, but you have my keys," I said sullenly, stopping out side my door. He did not hand over my bag like last time.
"That's okay, we're going to my room." He poked my nose. He started walking down the hall, and I had little choice but to follow him.
"I hope you know you are infuriating." I tried to grab for my bag, but he was a dancer. I had no hope of really getting it back from him. He twisted out of my reach. "You just assume that I will follow you everywhere."
"You're welcome to stay out here. But you'll be sleeping out in the hall tonight." He opened his door and let me go in first. "I just have something to show you."
"As long as I get my hair tie back, it's all good with me," I tried to sound nonchalant. I had a feeling I was failing at that.
He motioned to a chair and I took it, shaking my head. He put my bag behind him on his bed and handed me a box. "Open it," he commanded me when I just looked at it curiously.
"Demanding twerp," I muttered as I lifted the lid to the plain box. Inside were two ballet slippers – no, not ballet slippers – toe shoes. They were my size. "They're beautiful. Are they for your sister?"
He looked momentarily confused. "No, they are for you." His face seemed to clear as recognition flashed across my features. "You are too good a dancer not to be learning point."
I was already shoving the box back to him, "I can't accept this." Ballet shoes were not exactly expensive, for dance shoes, but they were not cheep either. "I appreciate the sentiment, but I can't accept this."
The color was rapidly draining from Noah's face for some strange reason. He had to know that this was an inappropriate gift. I hardly knew him.
"It's not a gift," he said quickly. "I just thought I would save you the trouble of going to a store. I expect full repayment. I just didn't want any excuses from you."
"Okay," I said hesitantly, already relaxing. "If you'll give me back my bag, I should have enough money. If not you'll have to wait until I go to the ATM."
He was already shaking his head and I pursed my lips in annoyance, "What now?"
"You are going to pay me back by being my dance partner. I need to keep up my own point. Since the ballet company isn't doing any I'll need the studio once a week, on Tuesdays, while you are in there. The toe shoes are my bribe for sharing the space with me."
This was getting a little creepy for me. "But I won't be able to keep up with you. I'll just be learning."
"I think you'll be a quick study." He seemed to have a way out of anything. I scowled. Damn good manners.
"I will be your partner. But I am also paying you back and for the dinner. And I would like my hair tie now." I can be very demanding when I so choose. Not intimidating, just demanding.
"Fine," he said, half laughing, half stubborn. He handed me my bag, "You owe me thirty dollars." I looked at him in disbelief, toe shoes cost more than that.
"Does that include dinner?"
He nodded, firmly. "I have a discount at the store I went to. I buy so much stuff there." I was skeptical, but again, there was little I could say without being rude.
"You are a crafty person," I told him. "Are you always this good at getting what you want?"
"Family trait," he said with a shrug. He stuffed his hands in his pockets for a moment. It sounded like something they said around his house a lot. His face suddenly went blank, as though he had just realized something, "I'm sorry. I don't want to force my family on you."
I raised my eyebrows, "They're your family, you have them, not me." I hardly thought that he would disown them to talk to me, I just didn't like them. "I have family traits too." I mentally searched for one to use. "My hippy-dippy qualities definitely fall into that category."
"I knew you were a reincarnated flower child." He laughed, "Thanks."
I nodded. "No problem. But really, you need to lay off with the being nice to me. I might start getting a good opinion of politicians."
"And you need to stop treating me so normal. I might start to think people aren't all sycophants." He said it jokingly, but there was a bitter edge to his voice.
"People? I guess you are a dancer." I had no idea why I felt so comfortable saying these things to him. After all, he was practically a stranger.
"Hey, I like girls, okay?"
"Masculinity issues, much?" I gave him the money. "I'll see you Sunday." I was halfway out of the door when he called after me.
"I'll pick you up at twenty to three."
"You've got a cute dancer, with a powerful family, buying you presents and you aren't jumping for joy?" Asha practically shrieked her demand at me. We were in the dinning hall, discussing our latest exploits over our half eaten dinners. The dinning hall was closing soon and we would have to move our discussion somewhere else.
I shrugged, picking up my tray. "It's a little creepy. I mean, why is he so nice? I've never met him before."
"So you think he's a stalker?" We were weaving in and out of people in the crowded dinning hall. I half waved at a girl I knew from Linear Algebra as we crossed the crowded room. And breathed a sigh of relief when we finally got our trays on the carousel to be cleaned.
"No. I mean, if he was he could have been bothering me the whole year. It's already February." I zipped up to sprint the twenty feet to my dorm. It was cold out.
"Just in time for Valentine's day. How cute."
"He just wants to be friends, Asha."
I rolled my eyes as I let us into my dorm. "So, what has been going on with you?"
"Well, I saw Urs yesterday." She smiled sweetly as I let her into my room.
"You really have to be nicer to him. The movies are over there." I pointed to the lowest drawer of my dresser. Asha immediately started to go through them. I was hunting for a bag of microwave popcorn.
"I know, I know." I found the popcorn. "I just really wish he was more social, or more attractive, either one."
"Liar," I said absently, we had had this conversation before. Asha put Aladdin in the VCR and I started the microwave. "One bag is enough for us to split, right?" She nodded, climbing up on my bed. "You are just worried that he will marry you."
"Well, it's scary." She sounded sullen, "Besides, I like Vallasquez."
"He has a first name," I pointed out.
"Eh, I know." She shrugged, "But Christopher is so . . ."
"Christian?" I supplied grinning evilly as I took the popcorn out of the microwave. I joined her up on the bed and started the movie.
"Very funny. I was going to say boring." But she made a face at me. Her mother would kill her if she knew that she dated men who weren't Islamic. "At any rate, he isn't here, so what does it matter?"
"Just because Chris is studying abroad doesn't mean anything and you know it. You are pinning for him, when there is a perfectly good boy that you like and likes you right here." I was interrupted by the first song in Aladdin, but when "Street Rat" was over I resumed right where I left off, "And you know Urs won't wait forever."
"If only he wasn't so religious." I wanted to find a frying pan and hit her over the head with it. She was being thick headed and I did not appreciate it. I loved her like a sister, but she was impossible about boys.
"He isn't perfect, okay. But he is a good person. Jeez, when we all go out to dinner he offers to pay for my dinner." I crinkled my nose at that, "He really has to stop that, you know."
"I know." She grabbed some more popcorn. "So, this dancer guy, do you want to see if he is in?"
"No." That was the last thing in the world I wanted right now. "But if you want to go out tonight, we can pregame."
"Wow. You really must not want me to meet him if you are using alcohol as a weapon. You hardly even drink." She suddenly was off my bed and out the door. Before I could stop her, she was racing down the hall.
"Asha!" I grabbed my keys and ran after her. I was not a violent person, but if she was going where I thought she was she would be lucky to be alive in the morning. I sprinted down the hall, but she was nowhere to be found. "Asha!"
I heard her giggling behind a half closed door. I looked at which door it was and paled. 118. Someone shoot me now. "Noah? Is Asha in your room?"
He opened the door, "Ro-ro, how good to see you." His muscular body completely blocked my view of his room. I went bright red at the nickname. It went redder when I heard Asha in the background laughing.
"Did you just call her Ro-ro?"
Noah looked over his shoulder with a stern face, "Shh, I don't want her to violently hurt you."
"Eh, Ro's a pushover. She won't even hit people." She should just see about that when I got my hands on her. Then I caught Noah's strange look. I glared back fiercely.
"She really doesn't?" He called back to my friend, "Because she looks like she really wants to right now."
"Just try me," I muttered.
"She does talk up a storm though," I was going to murder Asha. "If you get her really mad she will start talking about how she is going to find a frying pan to hit you over the head with."
I closed my mouth. That had been precisely what I was going to say. Noah looked at me appraisingly, "You could certainly be good to hang around. I never had a pacifist friend before."
I scowled at him. He was so infuriating. Instead, I called behind him, "Asha, you are a dead woman. I don't even think your mother would blame me for this one."
Asha finally popped out from behind Noah, "Heh, that's not saying much. My mother likes you so much all you would have to do is smile and she would forgive you anything. Even the killing of her firstborn daughter."
I smiled, "Yeah, pretty much."
"Especially, if they knew you were chasing me down the hall to get me to go out with a nice Muslim boy." She beamed, and I suspected that it was self satisfaction for coming up with a plausible excuse for running here. I was not going to let her get off that easily.
"Yeah, about that –"
"Don't you think you should introduce me to your friend here. I didn't know you knew anyone on your hall." Oh, she was good, alright. I blushed red despite myself.
"Sorry," I muttered. "Noah, this is Asha, my soon to be dead ChemE friend. Asha, this is Noah, he dances with Point."
"Chemie?" Noah asked, clearly confused.
I shook my head, "Chemical Engineer."
"Yeah, she's hard to deal with," Asha said to Noah, immediately charming him. She was one of the biggest flirts I had ever met. "Point is the ballet group on campus, right?"
I shook my head in disbelief. She knew about point. She knew I was going to be performing with them. Why was she so difficult? Noah shot me a look, he suspected something was up too.
"Yes, Ro, is going to be performing with us next Friday, you should come. Your friend is really quite a dancer." He sounded perfectly smooth and unassuming. As though it was perfectly normal for Asha to be playing dumb.
"She is, is she?" Okay, now Asha was taking this too far. What was she getting at anyway? "Because, I wasn't sure if you guys knew how good she is. She doesn't usually waste her time with narrow minded ballet groups," Asha's brown skin was showing a flush from the heat of her anger. "But for some reason she seems to think this is the right thing to do. I have no idea why."
A ghost had to look darker than I did right then. I just wished I could go invisible. Slowly, I felt heat returning, in the form of a bright red blush. "Asha."
The girl just waved me off. Noah's face had gone carefully blank, but he said nothing to stop my friend. "But since she did decide to dance with Point, well – personally – I have no problem with violence."
I sank to the floor. I wanted to sink through the floor. "I'm sorry, Noah. She doesn't –"
"I understand Asha." Noah was acting as though I was not there. "I am sorry for any – ah – unpleasant impressions you might have of Point." He sounded the perfect politician, even dissembling with grace. I knew there was no way he could understand what Asha meant. I hated it.
Asha wrinkled her nose as though smelling something distasteful, "Noah Linnburg?" When he nodded she added, "I could smell the stench of politicians –" she looked down at me and stopped. The reason Asha didn't like the Linnburgs was not something we talked about. There were some things that, even in a friendship as good as ours, you just knew not to bring up. She changed tactics, "If she misses just one meal because of this, I will hunt you down."
Finally, this was something I could defend, even from the weird alternate universe my life had moved into, "I do not have an eating disorder." I stood up.
Asha looked kindly at me, "Nobody blames you, honey, those ballerina's actually think it's pretty to be all skin and bones." She dusted me off, and took my hand, "I think we were in the middle of a movie, no?"
"Do you want to join us?" It was the polite thing to ask, even if I suspected that Noah would never ever come near me again. Not even, with a ten foot pole separating us.
"What are you watching?"
He shuddered, "I think I'll pass. Thank you for the invitation."
Asha had started back to the room already, "I am so sorry," I whispered to him. "I never –"
"No worries, okay? She was just looking out for you." He cast a nervous glance in her direction, "But make sure she knows you are eating, okay?"
"Got it," I turned to leave.
"I'll pick you up at twenty to three."
I smiled and shook my head, heading back to my annoying friend. She smiled at me. "You make things right with him?"
I looked at her in shock as I opened the door to my room and nodded dumbly, "What happened to you back there?"
She closed the door behind her before answering. "I just needed to be sure he would be good for you. I think he will be okay, even if he is a Linnburg . . ."
"I have a mother, Asha." I even liked my mother.
"Whom you never tell about your boy exploits," she held up a hand to silence me, at the same time rewinding the movie. "Not that I blame you, I mean telling my mother about boys – I shudder to think it."
"That's not fair, I took the last boy home."
"And he turned out to be?"
"A jerk," I hung my head. I hated when she was right.
"And your parents thought he was?"
"Okay, okay, I get it," I motioned to the movie, "I like this song, Robin Williams rocks my socks."
"And your parents thought he was?" She could be stubborn when she wanted.
"A Saint," I smiled at my choice of words, but Asha was not amused.
"Why, Oh why, pray tell was that?"
"BecausehewasJewish," I mumbled.
"Because he was Jewish," I ground out.
"So, if you want me to stop bothering your friends either get your sister to start dating Jewish boys or you should look for a boy who isn't Semitic." She crossed her arms. I took another piece of popcorn.
"You never saw the need before," I grumbled. "Besides, I am not going out with him. I don't like him that way."
"Just look what happened when I didn't check your friends out. Simon was a friend before you went out with him. By then it was too late for me." She looked a little exasperated with me. I understood, in a way. It was the way I always felt when talking about her boyfriends.
"Well, there was certainly no need to make it seem like I had an eating disorder. He was already thinking along those lines."
She shrugged, "What are you complaining about? I just gave you cart blanche to eat as much in front of him as you could ever want." I smiled at that and she added, "And you have to admit, you've been skipping a meal or two since last Sunday, haven't you?"
I looked away, taking more popcorn. "I eat just fine, Asha."
"You don't and you know it."
"If you were up until two doing work, your meal times might be off also."
I swear, putting shoes on after practice had to be the hardest part of practicing in the first place. At home, in the summer, it was not such a big deal I just wore flip-flops. But, tying sneakers, yuck.
"That was a really good practice," I looked up to find Cole standing over me. "One of the best I have ever had."
I smiled sheepishly as I dusted my hands and rose, "I practiced, once I learned the dances last week."
"It was still really good." He was standing amiably close, and I relaxed, being friendly. "You are a great partner." I smiled.
Quick as lightning, he darted down and came up with my bag. Suddenly Noah appeared, "You got it?"
"Sure did." Cole smiled down at me, "You are so easy."
"I am not," hands on hips I glared up at him. Small women could be scary, too. Besides, I wasn't that small, he was just huge.
"I didn't mean it that way," Cole couldn't back track fast enough. "I meant that – that you were easy to – to fool. I didn't –"
"Eh, give it up." Noah slung an arm around Cole's shoulder, "And welcome to the dog house, it's really quite a pleasant place to be."
"Yeah, just wait until you meet her friend. Jeez. You'll be glad that Ruth isn't violent, because she sure keeps dangerous friends around." They just started walking away.
I grumbled and trotted after them. When I caught up, I called out to them, "Excuse me, your joke was funny and all, but I need my bag back now."
Cole looked over at me, "Why?"
"It's that time of the month," I smiled. No guy was going to take a chance with that one.
"I'll grab you a tampon out of here." Cole seemed uncommonly at easy with a woman's menstrual cycle.
"You will not go through my bag," I replied indignantly.
Noah held the door open for me, smiling sweetly, "If you really need a tampon than Cole can get it for you, but you are not getting your bag back."
I scowled, they knew I was lying, "What makes you think I would run off on you if you did not have my bag?"
"Are you forgetting the first night I tried to talk to you? You couldn't get away from me fast enough." Apparently, my bag was going in Noah's car. I tried to get past Noah as Cole put my tote bag in the trunk and closed it.
"I thought you were a creepy stalker, happy now?" I told him sullenly.
"You fucking walked up the hill in the freezing cold so that you wouldn't have to be near me."
"So that you wouldn't rape me, kill me, and leave me in some ditch somewhere. The cold was a small price to pay," I tried to sound stoic.
"Get in the car," he said half heartedly. He turned to Cole, "We'll get there, okay? We just have to change."
Cole nodded, "See you later, man." He turned to me, "He isn't going to hurt you Ruth. If he does, he'll have to answer to me. I am not losing another partner."
That made me a smile. But it quickly turned into a scowl as I turned my attention back to Noah. "We are going to change? The minute I get back to my room what makes you think you'll be able to get me to leave again."
"It's that kind of talk that keeps getting your bag stolen from you." He smirked, "Besides, we are not going to your room. I have a change of clothes for you."
"I feel like that is incredibly gross. What will you do when they don't fit?"
To my ultimate dismay, they did fit, mostly because they were mine. I could not even complain about shower supplies because he had enough to make any girl happy, again, they were mine. He even had a blow dryer, which I forwent. The one thing he did do was steal all of my hair ties, so I had to tame my slightly curly hair into some semblance of order. In my opinion, long hair was meant to be worn up, not down.
The clothes were some of my favorite, a brown skirt with a jaggedly cut bottom, a bright blue shirt that matched the beads of the skirt's belt. He had also filched my lace up brown boots that matched. Seeing my confusion over all the stolen goods, he smiled, "I sweet talked the janitor. It's not hard to convince an old man that I had to kidnap you for my mission and that you would need shoes. It was fortunate these were not hard to find."
"I will never sleep well again," I said solemnly. Then I cocked my head, "And why in hell did you need to kidnap me on a Sunday night?"
"I was hoping you had all your work done by then?" His response was feeble, but I let it slide. After all, he was trying.
"Okay, then. Where are we going?"
"Ah, see that is a surprise. You ready?"
I nodded, still trying to decide if it was creepy or cute that he had bought me an outfit to wear on a date. I did like that he had not gotten me anything revealing.
Are we going on a date?
I voiced the question out loud, "Is this a date?"
"Do you not want it to be?" He seemed just a little too nervous as he opened the door to his car. I fingered the cell phone in my coat pocket.
"Haven't you ever heard of asking a girl?"
"You would have said 'no,'" he responded automatically.
He was absolutely right. I got into the car, "Yeah, sure, this can be a date." I waited until he walked around the car and got in before adding, "But if there is a second date I get to have a warning and an invitation."
"Engraved, if I can manage it," he smiled as he said it.
"That would be nice." I ignored his sarcasm quite well, actually.
"Anyway, I just thought you would like to meet some of my friends."
I cocked my head, "And that's your idea of a date?"
"No. We are getting something to eat first."
"I should have realized that you had a different idea of what 'something to eat' means than I do." I looked around the restaurant, and felt just a little underdressed. "You could have warned me, I would have at least worn makeup. I feel foolish –"
"With no reason. You look fine." Noah smiled sweetly. To be fair, he was on the more casual end of people here. He wore a navy button down shirt and dark brown pants with an ironed crease down the front. Most of the men here wore at least a sports jacket, but he pulled off his casual attire beautifully.
"Infuriating politician," I muttered. Here in this restaurant, he looked the part of a politician too. It made me a little nervous. I wasn't entirely sure how to act around this polished, clean cut son of America.
"Don't look at me like that. I will not infect you with the politician virus by being near me." He gave a half smile at that, "And you haven't finished your dinner."
I looked down at my plate. The square dish still held a third of my salmon and some of the wild rice. I poked my fork at my pink food and wrinkled my nose. "They serve too much food here. That's not my fault. I'll take it home so that I am not wasting food."
"As much as I worry about starving children in Africa, that food is not getting to them, so I am not so much worried about that." He leaned in, his sweet smell making me fight to hold in a sigh. "I am more worried about Asha."
I threw my head back and laughed. I had the good sense to bite my hands to stifle the laughter before people started looking at me.
"I wasn't kidding," Noah protested. "She's fucking scary."
"Shouldn't you watch your language?"
He laughed, "LBJ?" His question referred to the notoriously bad-mouthed president.
"Not my favorite person, but okay." I supposed politicians in general could get away with having bad mouths.
"Knew you wouldn't like him. He is a politician after all." His eyes crinkled with his smile, looking almost like smoldering coals. The softer brown served as a highlight to the darker tones. It took me a minute to find myself in those eyes. They were very powerful.
"I don't hate him because of that. As a rule, I also judge politicians on their policy, as there is nothing else to hold them to." Noah seemed a little too pleased at that, so I added, "I do tend to hold them in their own class separate from decent people, though."
"Ach. You're a pest." Finally, he had insulted me. I wrung out the white napkin in delight at the thought. Noah acting like a human was a treat. He seemed not to notice, "So, you ready to meet my friends?"
"The check?" I did not remembered paying any money for dinner.
"I took care of it." When I scowled at him he added, "I thought I was allowed to treat this as a date?" That made my scowl deepen, but I was not so rich I could really protest, so I just gathered myself to leave.
The lights in the room were warm, but not very bright. I liked them that way. The room was clearly arranged for comfort and chatter. Two black leather couches were positioned around an oversized television. The wooden coffee table was covered in empty pizza boxes and half-finished beers. A mismatched, green, armchair was opened up so that its occupant could barely see the screen. It did not seem like there was much television watching at any rate. The five men in the room were talking animatedly to each other.
All talk stopped when I walked into the room. Someone even turned off the television. The physical force of the silence was enough to make me take a step back, and I nearly knocked myself over when I came into contact with Noah's unyielding body. "Hey guys," Noah greeted his friends amiably, ignoring the silence. He pushed past me into the room.
"This is Ruth," he began, and held his hand out to me. I eyed it as if it was poison and stayed where I was. "Ruth, these are my friends, Keith, Jason, Isaac, you know Cole, and Peter."
Seeing Cole there helped me to relax, visibly. He smiled back at me, "He get you here in one piece or what, Ro?"
"He broke into my room and filched my clothes," I countered. I tried to sound annoyed. I'm not sure how successful that was.
"Yeah, well, knowing you, you would have holed up in your room at the first opportunity." Cole's laughter rang through the quiet room.
I refused to dignify that with a response. Keith, however, who was sitting on the arm chair, spoke up, "What's this, a lady who isn't falling over herself to go out with our boy?"
"Nope," Cole said proudly. "More likely to throw the dead bolt on her door if she sees him coming down the hall. Thinks he's a bit of a stalker."
This might have set off a round of laughter from the boys. "Sounds like she has more than a bit of sense, if you ask me," Jason had light brown hair that fell in a mop around his face, which had not yet lost all of its baby fat.
Noah took center stage now, pandering to his audience at every chance he got. "Ro was so scared of me the first night we met that she walked nearly a mile in the freezing cold, just to get away from me. It was twenty minutes, uphill."
Isaac whistled. "Impressive." He was eying me like a lamb before the slaughter. His dark features growing darker in the half-light, which no longer seemed as jovial as it had a moment before. I took a step back.
"Isaac," Cole growled. "That's my dance partner you are leering at. You can't have her." He smiled to me, "You can't bolt anywhere, Noah's got your bag, remember? Just sit down." He patted the seat next to him on the couch. I took it hesitantly. On my other side was one of the boys who hadn't spoken yet, Peter.
"We really don't bite, I promise," Peter smiled down at me. His eyes twinkled through his thick plastic rims.
Peter was a British name. Or, a white bread American name. He was neither.
"My name is Man Suen, Peter is just easier here in the States." He must have noticed my confusion, because he answered my question to a tee.
Over by the arm chair, Noah was talking in hushed voices with Keith and Jason. Cole was talking to me, but all of my attention was on Noah's conversation.
" . . . your parents will approve?" Jason had baby blue eyes which were watching Noah keenly.
"Yes. She's perfect." Noah's voice was so soft, and I had to strain to hear it.
"And she's not too mousey?" That was Keith.
"Not when pushed."
"She has good instincts. She could have taken a pot shot back at us . . ." Jason's eyes met mine. He did not even have the decency to get red, "Guilty as charged." He held out his hands to me so that I could cuff them like a police officer. Not even cracking a smile. The whole room was staring at me.
My first instinct was to take off running. I would have, except, that Cole was right. I would have to deal with him and Noah again, no matter what. My second instinct was to make him feel as small as possible. I couldn't figure out how to accomplish that one, so I went with my third instinct.
"You should have seen the grilling Asha put him through. And that was just because his dance company was not nice to me." Laughter filled the room. It was hard to judge how much was nervous laughter and how much was actual laughter, but it at least broke the tension. Cole nudged me approvingly.
Looking up at Cole to smile, I caught Isaac's gaze. He was watching me and pouting like a petulant child who was denied a toy. The whites of his eyes stood out against his dark skin, all the more so because he had narrowed his eyes. His gaze trapped mine for a second, before I could turn to meet Cole's stare.
"You'll have to teach me how to joke like that," Peter said quietly. "I can never get away from insulting them when they put me on the spot."
I turned to the quiet boy. For a moment, I was confused, but Peter's smile convinced me that this was just his way of complimenting me on a job well done. He needed lessons like a hole in the head. "Thanks."
"If we are done making the lady feel uncomfortable . . ."
"Oh, can it, Isaac. You are just annoyed because Noah found her first." Keith threw a pillow at his friend.
"What were you watching?" Noah was trying to steer the conversation onto safe ground. For once, I didn't even mind that he was acting a politician.
"Nice try, Noah, but we've known you for too long," To my surprise, that was Peter. I shot him a look and he shrugged.
"Okay, shoot." Noah leaned against the television, ready.
"Wait. What is going on here?" The guys looked at each other, unsure how they should respond to me. Finally, Jason spoke up.
"Noah doesn't want to make you feel uncomfortable but we want to ask some questions about you."
"It's nothing personal," Keith cut in. "It's just that we want to make sure you are good enough for our boy."
"What he means," Cole whispered into my ear so that nobody else could hear, "is that he wants to be sure that you won't damage the budding politician's reputation." I could feel my body stiffen up from that insinuation.
"I guess, it is no more than my friends would do," I said, with a half smile. I did not feel that way, though.
"This is not what I had in mind when I brought her here, guys," Noah's voice sounded a little dangerous. I shot him a look, it was better to get this over with now.
"Where are you from, Ruth?" Cole began, giving me an encouraging look.
"Brooklyn – New York City."
"Do you have any siblings?"
"Cole, we don't care if she has any siblings. Unless they have been incarcerated for dealing drugs? Have they?" Keith looked too serious for my comfort level.
"My sister is working in Africa, trying to stop the spread of malaria through water sources." I looked at him dourly, mentally asking, good enough for you?
"Really?" Noah looked genuinely interested. "How is she doing that?"
"Well, I don't have to like it. She already thinks I'm creepy." Noah could have made a poster for the nervous boy, especially if he kept running his fingers though his hair that way. So cute.
"I am studying math and History," I started, counting the points off on my fingers as I went. "I volunteer with the English as a second language learning center in the community. I have a small group of friends, and while none of us are adverse to a drink or two, we don't go clubbing or dance on tables for reporters.
"I live a quiet life. I dance and I play piano. I do my homework and I see my friends." I looked each of the boys sternly in the eye. "I have not saved any foreign community and I have not blown up any buildings. I do not have any children being raised in a country farm somewhere. I am not marrying Noah. That should be enough."
"Thank you, Ruth." Peter turned to the other boys, "Now, are we done interrogating her? Or do you really not trust Cole's judgment that much?"
"He gets prickly every time he thinks someone insulted me," Cole whispered in my ears. It took me a minute to run through all the possibilities of what that could mean.
"You and Peter?" Cole nodded.
"We've been together a year now." I smiled, but the conversation was going on around us.
"I have sound judgment too!" Noah looked quite indignant.
"Not when it comes to girls. You chase the most beautiful skirt that smiles your way, with no concern for anything." Jason, I was learning, spoke exactly what he thought.
"Well, as that is clearly not an issue," I said, standing. "I want to head out."
"No, please stay Ruth," Isaac flashed me a smile that could melt ice, "we'll be good, I promise."
I looked over at Noah, trying to get him to see how much I wanted out of here, but he and Keith were in a whispered heated discussion. Isaac patted the couch next to him, "Let Cole and Peter be. I don't think they've let someone sit between them since before they started dating."
Indeed, Cole and Peter had already stretched out on the couch so my seat was taken. I sighed and sat down between him and Jason. Jason looked none too pleased with this seating arrangement, but Isaac got as close to me as humanly possible.
"Isaac," I ground out, "you are in my personal space."
Isaac made no move to fix this. He was so comfortable, that he put an arm around my shoulder. When I tried to get up, Isaac held me there, with more force than I thought he was capable of. Then again, I knew very little about him, except that he was Noah's friend.
"Let go," I insisted. Isaac, again, ignored me.
"I'm pretty sure it's getting to the point where Ruth could file a sexual harassment suit," Jason drawled. "I would let up on her."
Isaac removed his arm from around my shoulder, but made no move away from my person. I pressed the heals of my palms to my eyes. Then I straightened up. Maybe I could play Jason's game.
"How many other women do you suppose would come out of hiding if I did?" I said to Jason, ignoring Isaac. "I mean, he hasn't known me a half hour, and I came in with his friend." I gave the words a moment to sink into Isaac's head, still looking at Jason.
"I suppose a good number, considering." Jason smiled back at me. The first genuine smile I had seen on his face. "Nothing serious, mind. Just what a chauvinistic man who doesn't think girls ever mean the word 'no' would expect to get from these liberal judges they have these days."
I could have kissed Jason when Isaac sidled away from me. I breathed a sigh of relief and leaned back into the cushions of the couch. Jason looked at me, appraising.
"You are not bad at this," he commented, "but you show way too many of your emotions. It puts you at a disadvantage."
"I would care if I was going to be a politician," I smiled sweetly at Jason, "but since I am not, I think my emotions are keeping me honest."
"But didn't you know?" Isaac said sweetly, "That is what we are grooming you for. Only the politically savvy are allowed near our boy."
"Isaac," Jason hissed. I looked between the two of them. They meant what they said.
I stood. "You can have him then." I tore into the entryway for my coat and shrugged into it. The front door was already open when Cole's dark arms wrapped around me.
"Sorry, Ro. Isaac is just an ass. We keep him around because he really isn't a bad person, but he is an ass."
"Let go of me, Cole. I have classes tomorrow and I need to get to sleep." I did not struggle against him, as I would have anyone else. There was an inherent trust between my dance partner and me. I knew he would not hurt me. So, when he pushed the door shut and walked me back into the living room, I let him.
"Noah, I think it is time for you to go home." Cole informed the room, with me still wrapped in his arms. "It appears something was said that shouldn't have been."
I was so focused on my restrictions that it took me a moment to realize that Noah and Keith were on the floor, wrestling.
"Very nice," I commented dryly to Noah.
"No more so than you literally running out of the room when someone mentions the 'p' word," he responded, just as dry, which I did have to commend him for, as he was still wrestling with Keith.
"Get up," I told him, much more confidently than I felt. "We are going back to the dorm."
To my surprise, he complied. Looking back at the room as he did, "Don't disappear, I'll be back in a bit." It did not sound like a friendly parting.
A/N I know this is a long first chapter, but I am a lazy bum when it comes to finding a place to break chapters. Let me know what you think of it, I will return the favor.