Authors: JoAnn Hornak
“I can’t stop thinking about you,” he’d said. “Look out the window. Do you see the full moon?”
“Yes,” I’d said all tremulous, as I had walked to my balcony doors to stare wistfully into the lonely evening.
WARNING! WARNING! The next sentence may induce projectile vomiting: “It makes me feel closer to you to know that we’re looking at it, together,” he’d said.
And so if went. It was enough to turn the stomach of the most loyal Harlequin Romance fan. This wasn’t phone sex. It was something far more dangerous—phone romance. Pet names, soft voices, the hint of deep-running emotions—he’d said he thought about me constantly. Wow! All of it was calculated to make the most chaste woman fling off her clothes and jump into bed at the blink of one of his amazing eyelashes. And I certainly wasn’t starting from chaste.
“Do you miss me?” he’d asked tenderly at the end of each call, giving me the definite impression that his entire emotional well-being was perched on a cliff, waiting for my answer.
“Of course I do, Bobby.”
And when that first “Bobby” had come out of my mouth yesterday, I knew it was all over. Hence, tonight’s date with Robert had all the makings of The Night.
The buzzer rang. My stomach lurched, but in that good nervous sort of way I walked over to the door to press the button to the locked entrance downstairs. If I had my timing right, it would take him two minutes to get up to the eighteenth floor.
I sprinted to the bathroo
m and saw that my All Day Kiss-Proof lipstick had dissolved into thin air.
had published an article last year about the true ingredients of makeup. Lipstick was mostly animal fat. Funny how fat didn’t disappear from your thighs and butt without seventy-five hours in the gym each week, plus, liposuction and/or starvation. But smear some on your lips and it was gone in five minutes. I reapplied more fat to my lips, brushed some powder lightly over my face, and ran a comb through my hair one more time.
Robert stood in the doorway with his hands clasped behind his back, wearing the beguiling grin you’d find on a little boy who wanted to surprise his mother with some dandelions he’d picked for her birthday.
“I brought you a souvenir,” he said, handing me a tacky snow globe with a few pink flamingos, a fat guy lying on a beach, a palm tree, and a little sign reading
“I love it! How did you know I needed one?” I said, shaking it as I watched the gold glitter fall over the beached whale of a sunbather.
Robert always looked good, but tonight he was particularly handsome. He wore a white cotton shirt tucked into a pair of faded blue jeans—my favorite casual look for a guy. The white creases of his crow’s feet gently streamed out from his eyes against his lightly bronzed face.
Over dinner at the Thai Palace restaurant, he made me laugh, a lot—a drug far more
intoxicating than all the sweet nothings whispered over the telephone cables during the past week. But the undercurrent of sex surged through our every shy glance and when the tips of his fingers brushed against mine, I felt a direct current shoot to my loins.
At the end of the night when Robert took me home, I invited him inside. We walked out onto my balcony, looking at the lake, holding hands, and somehow ended up on my lawn chair. A minute later, the metal frame collapsed like a bent twig, and we landed in a tangle on the floor.
While Robert got to his feet, I sat up cross-legged, laughing so hard I didn’t have the strength to get up.
“I didn’t cause any internal bleeding did I?” he asked, pulling me up by the hand.
“Just a little brain damage,” I said, and suddenly our mood shifted back to serious.
“I love you, Sam,” Robert said when we reached the doorway of the bedroom, as he cupped my face with his hands. “I want to make love to you.”
He took me into his arms and gave me a kiss that could win a medal, if they had award ceremonies for that sort of thing.
“I love you, Sam,” he said again.
Then a second that seemed like an hour passed.
“I can’t do this,” I said, pulling away from him and walking over to the couch. He sat on the arm and I sat hugging my knees to my chest facing him. How had I let myself get into the very position I’d vowed not to at the start of this summer? And why did I lead him on all
week? Robert deserved an explanation.
“When I was engaged to David, I thought I’d found the right person,” I told him. “I was so sure he loved me and that we’d be married for the rest of our lives. And then, I found out he didn’t really love me after all. I don’t want to make that mistake again. Sex just seems to mess things up.”
“Are you saying you’re never going to sleep with me?” he asked, sadly.
There was something about the way he’d asked that made me think of a boy who has just realized that he was not going to grow up to have a career as a professional athlete after all.
“No, I’m just saying I’m not sure how I feel yet. I need some more time.”
“I haven’t been with anyone since my wife,” he said. “I was never ready before this, before meeting you. This is a big step for me too.”
I responded with silence that sapped all the good feelings and fun of the night into oblivion, as if the evening had never happened.
Looking hurt, he stood up abruptly and turned to leave.
“Please try to understand, Robert,” I said, grabbing on to his arm. “It’s not you, it’s me.”
The line was out of my mouth before I’d realized it. A line so lame and transparent that everyone knows it means exactly the opposite. It was you. Otherwise we’d be horizontal faster than a pair of rabbits.
“I’ll call you,” he said abruptly, and was out the door before I could say anything else.
Had he really just said the three most fateful words a man can utter?
I’ll call you.
The words reverberated over and over again inside my brain. Okay, so maybe I was scared of falling in love again, of making another mistake like I had with David. Or maybe it was something else? But why couldn’t Robert seem to accept my explanation and be more patient, I thought, as I cried myself to sleep.
* * *
“Nice to see you, Sam,” Javier said, grinning broadly, as I arrived at his duplex for a private lesson the next afternoon. “New dance shoes?”
I’d bought another pair over
the Internet, silver, with two-inch heels and special cushioned soles. He seemed to notice everything.
“How’s my favorite salsa instructor?” I asked him, giving him a kiss on the cheek.
“Favorite? You mean I’m just one of many? You’re cheating on me, Sam?” he said in a teasing voice.
“Yes, but you’re the best.”
“Well, thank you. We’re going to do something a little different today. If you want to become a salsera, you need to understand the music. So the first thing we’re going to do is listen to it.”
“Haven’t we been doing that?” I asked him.
“I mean really listen,” he said, selecting a CD from his case. “Okay, now, what can you hear?”
For a moment I couldn’t isolate the myriad of different sounds I heard. I knew nothing about the technicalities of music and had never tried to analyze or dissect it before. But then one of the sounds grabbed me.
“I can hear the really fast drumbeat,” I said, moving my hand in time with the beat.
“Those are the timbales, played by the drummer. That’s good that you can hear that. Now, see if you can clap to the rhythm
“It’s almost like you can’t hear the first beat, you have to feel it,” I said, clapping.
“That’s it!” said Javier excitedly. “This isn’t easy. There are lots of people who never get it. Some people can teach themselves to hear the beat, but believe me, natural rhythm is a gift. I think salsa is in your blood, Sam.”
I felt a thrill go through me. Samantha Jacobs: world traveler, famous humor columnist, and salsa goddess.
Until this moment, the only analysis I’d given to music was to decide if it moved me or it didn’t. Discovering that salsa didn’t just move, it transported me to cloud nine, had come as a shock. Up until two months ago, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to find a type of music I loved more than the blues.
While we practiced dancing, I concentrated on timing my steps with the first beat of the music. It made a big difference. I felt smoother, more confident. After a few songs, Javier turned up the tempo of the music. The faster we moved the better it felt. After a while, the brassy horns and repetitive, rhythms seduced me into an altered state. It felt as though Javier and I were alone in the world.
Javier bent me backward into a dip that practically went down to China. He swept me across the floor in an arc and pulled me back up to face him at the precise moment the last note of the song played. I felt like my soul had dropped out of the bottom of my salsa shoes.
“Can we do that again, like maybe a million times?” I asked him. I was breathing hard and my heart was pounding, as much from the physical exertion as the intense feelings evoked by being with Javier, the dancing, and the music.
Javier laughed. His brow was covered with sweat and the back of his blue silk shirt clung to him. “Can we take a break first?”
“What’s the problem, can’t keep up with me?” I asked. A breeze from the fan a few feet away cooled the moisture at the back of my neck and I felt a chill at the small of my back.
“I have no doubt I could keep up with you,” Javier said in a low voice as his eyes traveled down my body. “If you’d let me.”
Danger! Danger! What was I doing here? Why don’t I just
slather my body with honey and leap into a hornet’s nest? If he decides to put on a bachata, I’ll have to do something drastic like fake a heart attack or amputate a limb. My new motto after the other night at Cubana was, “Just Say No to Bachata.” From now on it was strictly salsa for me. Salsa was fun, technically challenging, and best of all, perfectly safe because to do it right, one must maintain a pelvises-several-inches-apart platonic distance.
“How’s it going with gett
ing the loan to remodel the studio?” I asked him, as I purposely steered the conversation to a neutral subject. We both looked around the room at the broken and bent blinds hanging limp from two small windows and at the linoleum floor with bald patches that Javier had expertly led me away from while we danced.
“I just got turned down by another bank,” he said. “But I’ve got a meeting with a lender who specializes in loans to small minority-operated businesses.”
I wanted the best for him, but part of me wanted things to stay exactly the same. I didn’t want to picture a sleek modern studio filled with beautiful women who would be getting the one-on-one lessons with Javier.
“With salsa it seems as though women get all the good parts, the twirls, the dips. The man does all the work,” I said.
“You see that painting on the wall behind you?” said Javier, pointing above my head.
I turned around to look at a framed picture of a ship sailing toward a sunset.
“Yeah, but what does that have to do with salsa?” I asked, turning back to face him.
“The man is the frame, the woman is the picture. In other words, it’s the man’s job to make the woman look good.”
It all made perfect sense. Well, not really. But did it matter? It was enough that dancing made me feel alive and wonderful in a way that nothing else ever had.
“How does dancing make you feel, Javier?”
He was quiet for a few moments.
“When I’m dancing with a woman who I can really dance with, it’s like we’re floating, like there’s no one else in the world,” he said, echoing my own thoughts. “It’s like heaven.”
Heaven! I had no idea a man could feel that way about dancing.
“How does it make you feel, Sam?”
“I can’t really describe it,” I said slowly, “but when I dance with you it makes me feel like melted butter.”
Javier broke into a huge one-dimpled grin, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I suppose a line like that would make any red-blooded man happy.
“Let’s practice some more.” He walked over to the boom box and selected a new CD, as I waited for the first beat of the angst-ridden plunk of the bachata guitar.
“Oh, salsa,” I said, trying to keep the disappointment out of my voice.
We began practicing. Suddenly, he twirled me three times and swooped me into a new dip that left me breathless and teetering on my new salsa shoes. As he held me, face bent over mine, he leaned in and kissed me. His mouth tasted sweet.
“Let me put on some different music,” he said hoarsely.
Yeah, sure, salsa is safe, as safe as eating broken glass. I stood frozen in the same spot, my breath heavy, as he changed the music to bachata and came back to me.
We danced and kissed and kissed and danced, our bodies fused together and moving in perfect rhythm. When the last note of the last song played, Javier picked me up and laid me down
on the couch. Our clothes came off so quickly it was as if they’d dissolved; I wasn’t sure who had pulled off what. But then, everything went into slow motion.
Javier kissed my mouth and neck and then slowly moved down my body, igniting every inch of my skin until I was on the verge of exploding. And then he made love to me so tenderly, so gently, I felt a tidal wave of emotions swell inside of me.