I pushed the door open wide enough so he could follow me in. The table lamp inside filled the front hallway with a soft, glowing light.
"It's okay," I muttered, half-apologetically, as he glanced around the tiny room. "It's fine. My roommate's not home tonight." The spicy smell of the Burmese restaurant that still clung to both of us began to fill the apartment
"Do you...want something to drink?" I ducked into the kitchen and grabbed a dark green bottle. "We only have wine."
"Okay." I opened the bottle on the counter and poured a glass. Handed it to him, then poured myself a glass of water. I raised it in a mock toast and smiled. "I think you'll like this one. Beringer cabs used to be one of my favorites."
"You're not drinking?"
"Maybe later." I waved my hand, brushed it off. "My throat's a little dry. I'll just have water for now."
"Okay." He relaxed a little. He swirled the wine around in the glass and drank. "You're right about the wine. It's not bad." He took another sip as he gazed out the window. I flicked on the coffee table lamp. The room was still dim, but the moonlight streamed in the window, playing across the couch and the tiny coffee table.
"Nice place you got here," he said.
"Yeah. It's okay. Rent's cheap, and there's a bus stop right outside so I can get into work."
"How's the roommate?"
I shrugged. "She's okay. She's taking night classes so I don't see much of her."
The moonlight played across the heavy silence between us. He leaned against the wall, staring idly out into the room. I clicked my nails against the wine glass. Cleared my throat.
"Do you want some music?"
I went over to the CD player and pushed "Play." A piano concerto trickled out of the speakers. I returned to the window. I tipped my head to the side and closed my eyes, listening. The music slowly flooded over the rumble of cars on the nearby highway.
"Yeah," I turned, startled. "You know this one? I used to practice to this. Long time ago." I shook my head, trying to remember. "It was...it was good for barre work, and sometimes floor combinations."
"Ah. Ballet. I remember you mentioned something about it at dinner." He took another sip and looked at me over the rim of the glass. Blue-gray eyes hovered in the faint light. The tiny spikes of his crew cut poked up into the moonbeams. "Did you do it for a long time?"
"Yeah. Several years, in fact." I shook my head again, trying to clear my thoughts. "I was in a really good school in Taipei when I was little. And then my parents decided I should come here. 'Little exchange student,' they call it in Chinese. It's..." I waved my hand as the clouds rose in my mind. It was a side effect to the pill I had taken hours earlier. The words faltered again. I pursed my lips with frustration. Reminded myself that it was better than nothing, that at least the meds kept the tremors and the strange golden light at bay.
"It's when Taiwanese kids come over here to live with relatives," I went on, "so they can go to good schools here and learn to speak English, and then maybe get into good colleges later."
"I see. Your English is really good, by the way." He cleared his throat. "I mean, you don't have an accent or anything."
"I came over when I was ten. I still speak Chinese with my family, but not much outside of that."
"Ah." He raised an eyebrow. "Hey, do you have a Chinese name?"
"Yeah." I told him. He repeated it, garbled. I laughed.
"It's like this." I told him again. He mangled it again. I giggled softly into my glass.
"Sorry." He pulled a face. "It's a little hard to say."
"Don't worry about it. Not many people here can say it. The sounds don't make sense in English."
The silence began to settle in, filling the pockets of the room. He stood there, watching me, eyes half-closed as he listened to the music. I shivered nervously, slipped across the room and stood near the window, enjoying the cityscape at night.
"How about you?" I finally asked. "What do you do when you're not working?"
"I hang out with my brother and sister. They're both younger than me, still live at home and all. I'm helping my parents put them through school."
"That's really sweet."
"Yeah. I just hope they'll get to do something with it. Someday." He grinned and scratched the tip of his nose. "Better than what I do, anyway."
"Hey! I like what you do," I said. "You get to be outside seeing the city. Better than being in an office all day."
"Yeah, delivery guy's not really a career plan though."
I said nothing, shrugged, conceded. Took another sip of water. He stepped away from the wall, ran his fingers over the end table and eased himself into the couch. "So," he intoned. "Anywhere you like to go? When you do get out of the office, I mean. I see you in there, every day, behind that desk and that computer, and you always have this look on your face like you want to be somewhere else."
I laughed. "Yeah, I do think about leaving sometimes."
"And yet, as much as you want to get out, it took me how many tries to get a date with you? Six or seven?"
"More like four. Hey, I'm just...I'm busy on weekends. Have to see my aunt and uncle then. I don't get much free time." I took a quick swallow of water. Hoped he wouldn't hear the quiver in my voice.
I cleared my throat. "When I get off work, I like to go down to the wharf. As long as there aren't too many tourists. I like the pier, I just...." The clouds floated up in my mind again. "I don't like crowds," I said finally. "They're loud, and messy, and I have trouble thinking around them."
He nodded. I went on. "I like going down to the pier-"
"Thirty-nine?" he jumped in.
"Hmm." He frowned. "What's at Pier Forty-five?"
"The mechanical museum. It's called Musée Mécanique. Not many tourists go there. It's got all these penny arcade machines from the nineteen hundreds. I like to go there in the evenings sometimes and drop a few quarters in. It's amazing, really, what they were able to do at the time." I was babbling now. "You just drop a quarter in and the whole machine comes to life. The wheels turn and the little metal characters start moving, and for a few seconds everything comes to life in perfect time. It's...it's almost meditative, you know? Watching something like that. I can't explain. It's just – I really like it there."
"Hmmm." He murmured again, took another sip. "I know what you mean. I like the wharf, too. But I prefer Pier Thirty-nine."
I wrinkled my nose. "Really?"
He nodded. "Yeah, I know. Sometimes the crowds get tiring after a while, too. But I like going on the weekends. Feels more alive. I like the street performers, mostly. Some of them are really talented. I like taking pictures of them. Here." He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a digital camera. Flicked it on and beckoned me over.
I moved over to the couch and leaned over. The images flashed in the dim room. Broken glass on the sidewalk. A few stray hairs twisting in the wind. Sunlight filtering through coffee-colored ice in an empty glass.
I cocked my head to get a better angle. "They're so....different. Unusual."
"Yeah. I like taking pictures. It's cool, finding these little moments, these odd little things that most people don't see, and capturing that on film."
"Mm." I leaned closer. Our knees brushed. I pulled my leg back.
The camera flicked off. "That's it," he said. "I haven't taken that many pics recently. I have more on my website, though. If you want I can send you the link later."
"Thanks." I stood up. The music had stopped. I hovered for a moment, clicking my fingernails on the glass. "Want some more wine?"
"Be right back." I picked up his glass and stepped around the couch and headed into the kitchen. I raised the bottle and tipped it. The swish of wine in the glass pushed the silence back.
"So." He said suddenly. "You said you moved here to dance. How did you end up working in reception?"
I shrugged and returned to the window. "The dance thing didn't work out," I said. "It was great, at first, but I just....I couldn't do it anymore."
I rocked back on my heels, searching for something to say. The silence thickened. The clouds floated up in my mind again. I shook my head.
"Sorry." I gestured toward the CD player. "The CD is scratched. Sometimes it does this."
I set the glass down quickly and walked over to the CD player. Hit "Play" again. Waited until the first notes trickled out. Walked back over to the window and picked up the glass of water.
The couch creaked as he shifted his weight. "Look," he said finally. "Can I ask what the problem is? With your dance, I mean. You don't have to tell me, it's just....you really seemed to love dance and I'd like to know what's keeping you from it."
I sighed. "I think it's just bad luck, mostly." I smiled bitterly as I turned my head. He leaned forward on the couch, his elbows balanced on his knees. I could see the outline of the front door just behind the couch. It wouldn't take him more than three or four steps to get there. I wanted to watch him and count them as he left. This was when they always left. Exit stage right.
"When I was a teenager, I started having these moments where the room would fill with this beautiful golden light, and then I wouldn't remember anything for a few minutes afterward. They told me I was having seizures. Well, you can't really do Swan Lake with seizures, you know?" I shrugged. "It's fine now. I have meds for it, and I have a job, and I can get around on busses and taxis, so everything worked out in the end."
I took a sip of water. Gave him a moment to stand, to collect himself, to start moving toward the door.
He didn't move. Just laced his fingers together and cocked his head. "Do you miss it?" he asked.
"Sometimes." I paused for a moment, gave him another chance to move. The piano music started again. I stood by the window and rocked quietly in place, absently pulled my leg up and nestled my right foot into the side of my left knee. In coupée.
"A lot," I admitted finally. "I miss it a lot. When I danced, I could lose myself in the moment because I always knew what was coming next. The steps don't really change. You can breathe your own personality into them, I mean the way you lift your leg or the way you hold your arm is different for everyone, but the steps themselves don't change. It's almost....it's like the world stops all around you and for a moment, the only one who sees it is you."
I stopped. The music began to pool in the silence.
"Hmm," he said finally. "That sucks. About the seizures, I mean. At least you have a job, though, right? And you're living on your own. That's something."
"Yeah. It's something." I dropped my leg and looked out the window again. "And I can still make plans. My parents want me to go to law school at some point. Maybe I could still be a lawyer and have seizures, you know. Maybe not a trial lawyer, but I could still do it."
"Do you want to?"
I shrugged. "Not sure. Maybe I'll decide sometime in the next few years. I'm good now, though." I heard my voice waver and swallowed a quick sip of water. "I'm good."
The music faded, dropped into a silent pause before the next song. I rocked myself back on my heels. Tapped my glass.
Finally he spoke. "You know, maybe it's not like that."
I turned and cocked my head. "Hm?"
He stood up, set the glass on the coffee table. Strolled over to the window. Leaned his forearm against the glass as he looked out. "You're right about Swan Lake. I don't know anything about ballet – I saw The Nutcracker once when I was eight and I don't really remember much of that – but I imagine Swan Lake with seizures wouldn't be Swan Lake."
I felt his warmth from standing so close to me, shivered under the intensity of his gaze. The music began to swell around us. I could almost touch him. I wrapped my arm around my waist and tapped my nails against the water glass. I lowered my eyes from the city scene outside and shrugged. "No. It wouldn't."
"But it would be new."
I stopped tapping. Turned my head. He was watching me again, his blue-gray eyes hovering in the dim light.
"Yeah," I said finally. "It would be new. But it wouldn't make any sense. I mean, when the seizures start, I can't control the movements. They're just random. They don't make sense."
"Maybe." He nodded. "Or maybe they just don't make sense in a ballet. Maybe they're their own kind of dance."
"Yeah." I smiled and cocked my head. "Maybe."
The music stopped again. I set the water glass down and stood there. Didn't bother to restart the music. I didn't know what came next.
He drained his glass, stood up. "I have to get up early tomorrow," he muttered apologetically. "You free next weekend?"
"Great. Maybe we can check out Pier Forty-one."
"Yeah." I smiled. "That'd be nice."
He set his glass down and moved toward the door. I moved around the couch and pulled the front door open. A chill wind rushed in, flinging my hair back and making my eyes water. I lifted my hand and brushed the tears off.
"Goodnight." He stepped forward suddenly and threw his arms around me. I gasped, too startled to pull away. In the moment that we held each other, I leaned into the warmth of his muscles. Carefully, I leaned my full weight against him. I breathed the pungent scent of his leather jacket. The scent stayed close to me, even after he unfolded his arms. I settled back on my heels, my hand resting on his shoulder.
"See you next weekend, Angela," he murmured.
"See you, Mike."