by Jeffrey Rosenthal

(Based on a true story. Written September, 2016.)

Left and right and up and down. Back and forth and spinning. Jumping and bobbing and flailing his arms. This was what counted as dancing to Jay, and he was having fun. Tall and thin, he was more athletic than he appeared, and he enjoyed expending his teenage energy moving to loud music, surrounded by friends. Or at least by acquaintances -- the other students that he knew at the University College weekly dance party.

Tonight was a bit special, in one way at least. Earlier that week, he had mentioned the weekly dance to Elle, from physics class. Elle was a few years older than Jay, experienced and worldly, and pretty in her own way. To Jay's surprise, Elle had agreed to come along to the dance, and she was sitting at a table somewhere in the darkened room. Jay didn't think they were on an actual "date" -- he had limited experience and didn't understand those things too well, and tended to err on the side of assuming less significance rather than more. So he wasn't too concerned that Elle wasn't dancing as much as he was, so he continued to flail about -- wild, sweaty, exuberant -- without worrying too much about his surroundings.

A few songs later, he saw Elle walking towards him. Jay assumed she was coming to take her leave, to say goodbye to Jay to his dancing friends and go on her way. But no, Elle actually started dancing, energetically, right beside him. And on they went, dancing as part of a chaotic group of students, for song after song.

Some time later, Elle was ready to leave, and Jay offered to walk her to her subway stop. When they arrived, she opened the outer station door, and Jay wondered how to proceed. At this stage of his life he was a classic "nerd" -- energetic, smart, successful at school, with many interests and hobbies and friends, but at the same time poorly dressed with unattractive glasses and unkempt hair and jittery conversational style, and awkward and uncertain regarding deeper human interactions like empathy and romance. Eighteen years old, he had only had one significant girlfriend, an intense affair that had ended suddenly in unworkable circumstances. Now he was looking for more "experience", but wasn't really sure how to go about it.

At the subway door, Jay puzzled about whether or not to try to hug Elle, leaning in ever so slightly to test the waters of this strange mystery. Then suddenly, unexpectedly, she was kissing him! Intensely. Her tongue explored the inside of his mouth, so quickly that it shocked him. He felt a certain pleasure, yes, but more a surprised confusion coupled with a kind of abstract victory. He had kissed another woman. Someone had found him worthy of kissing. His Friday night was ending in some sort of triumph.

To Jay's surprise, the kiss seemed to be continuing, for more than just the few seconds he might have expected. Her tongue kept on exploring. Several other commuters passed through the subway door that Elle's right arm still held open, while her attentions were fixed elsewhere. Jay expected her to pull away at any moment, but she didn't, and the kiss started to seem even more exciting. What would happen next?

Even in the midst of this passionate kiss, Jay was instinctively embarrassed by the passing commuters and the open door. After some more seconds, he tried to gently pull Elle away from the door, back to the sidewalk, so the kiss could continue as a separate entity away from the prying eyes of the public transit system. But this proved to be a mistake -- his tug somehow snapped Elle out of the moment, and the next thing Jay knew, the kiss was at last coming to an end, her tongue replaced in his mouth by cold air.

At this point, Elle slowly moved back towards the subway, through the same door that her right arm had managed to keep open this entire time. "We'll talk", she said as left. "Yeah", Jay replied with a smile.

Jay then walked back to the dance, his sweat gently cooling in the chilly evening breeze, a new spring in his step. Elle had kissed him! And not just a little kiss -- a really big, really long one! At the same time, something felt a little unsettled. What did she mean by "we'll talk"? On the one hand, of course they would -- they would see each other in physics class, and anyway at some point they would surely have to have some discussion of what their big kiss had meant. But that's what worried him. If the kiss had been a simple happy moment, with promises of more excitement to come, then "talk" wouldn't have been the first thing on Elle's mind. Oh well, time would tell.

When Jay returned to the dance, a female friend asked him if he and Elle were dating. "It's a possibility", he replied vaguely, not wanting to betray any secrets and also not quite sure where things stood. "That's what I need", the friend lamented, "some possibilities."

A few days later, Elle approached Jay in the physics building hallway for their "talk". "When you kissed me the other day", she began, "it took me by surprise." Now, Jay knew this couldn't be quite right. She was making it sound like Jay had initiated the kiss, which he surely hadn't. Not because he wouldn't have wanted to, but rather because he was far, far too incompetent to make a kiss like that happen by himself.

And then came Elle's inevitable, unsurprising continuation, "I think you and I should just be friends."

And so it was. Jay was disappointed, but not overly so. He still didn't know Elle that well. He was certainly attracted to her, but beyond that he didn't feel any huge special connection. The whole dating world was still a mystery to him -- it would be a couple more years before he would gain some semblance of an understanding of how the whole thing worked -- and Elle was just the latest in a string of minor interests that hadn't worked out for reasons that still seemed out of reach. Indeed, if not for that big long kiss, he would hardly have given it a second thought. In any case, neither he nor Elle ever mentioned the kiss again.

*     *     *     *     *
Jay and Elle got back in touch many years later. Some of the other physics students had maintained contact, and eventually Jay and Elle were pulled into this new circle. By now they were both happily married to other people, and had long moved on. In this new environment, Elle was a gracious host at parties, and friendly to everyone, but Jay neither felt nor detected any special connection between them beyond the basic comfort of seeing an old friend.

Some of these parties involved music. Jay had been a decent musician in his youth, though too awkward and shy to do much performing even for friends. Later he had become bolder, performing with a few bands and at various shows and events as a side hobby. So, when the old friends wanted to jam, Jay inevitably found himself as one of the main music organisers. Elle didn't play any musical instrument, but she liked to sing, so Jay would try to arrange for Elle to perform vocals -- into a loud microphone, since she always sang too quietly -- on a few songs here and there.

At one such party, late in the evening, after the loud rock songs had ended and most of the guests had left, Elle expressed an interest in folk songs. Jay dutifully picked up an acoustic guitar, and accompanied her and a few others on a couple of quiet tunes.

Then, as the evening wrapped up, Elle told Jay that she felt very comfortable with him because they had known each other for such a long time. She also said she had a strong memory, from back in their student days, of Jay performing folk songs for her in his house. Jay was astonished. He didn't remember Elle having ever been to his house, much less having heard his music back then. And he certainly didn't think he had made a strong impression on her. If their long kiss was something to be dismissed a few days later, and never spoken of again, then how could his folk music have stayed with her for nearly thirty years?

Elle said that Jay had sung two specific songs for her back in the day, but they weren't sure which ones. So, later at home, Jay made some effort to guess which tunes they had been. He briefly corresponded with Elle about this mystery, but it remained unresolved. At one point Jay suggested that perhaps the two of them should meet up some time for a one-on-one chat, about music and more. But Elle said she didn't come downtown much, so no meeting was ever arranged. And life went on.

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