HAPPY NEW YEAR! In memory of my grandma Albion who I dedicated this book to, who passed away on 1/1/2009, I am posting the 1st chapter of Step 2, 3, 4 online. Here it is… :)
They were both nineteen years old, about one month after their wedding, when they went to competition for the first time. It was mid-November at the Ohio Star Ball, their first time ever performing in public. It was in rumba, their favorite dance; and although they didn’t place, they both had so much fun that they decided to enter competition regularly. And they loved it – the natural high, the blazing lights, the pulse of the music, the incredible camaraderie they shared with other young performers.
Their private lessons at Meijer’s Dance Studio had helped them establish their form, tone and correct execution of the steps they’d worked on together for months before the competition. In those days they only felt comfortable dancing at the beginner level, but they decided that was the best for them. Sheila was dazzled, and the competition wasn’t as intimidating as Vaughn thought it would be. Sheila loved not so much the competitive nature of the sport, but the artistic – the strength and the grace which flowed from ballroom dancing. Their trip went smoothly, and they loved every second of it. They even became friends with their competition at the hotel’s breakfast bar before the afternoon began.
After their round, they were in the audience, and Sheila was infatuated when she watched the twenty-two-year-old veterans of Meijer’s tackle the advanced level. All the way home, she let Vaughn know she wanted to become that good.
The following summer, they saw a professional ballroom tour which stopped in Cleveland, Ohio, an hour and a half away from their small northwestern Pennsylvania hometown. It incited them to want to dance even more, and to become the best they could be.
She was his Sheila, who was so aware of everything and took it all in like a sponge. She loved being criticized during ballroom dancing, as long as it was in a constructive manner and would benefit her. If it wasn’t, she would certainly let them know. She was in love with ballroom, and he was glad he joined the first year they’d met, even though it had taken some prodding.
It was a little after ten o’clock when Vaughn woke up from dreaming about these days. In his dream, he and Sheila were in a competition, somewhere different than any dance floor he recognized. He stood alone on the edge of the darkened dance floor, a single white spotlight shining on him. His left arm was outstretched, and she appeared out of nowhere. She was wearing a nylon and lycra garment, fringed, beaded, sequined, a deep crimson red; a gorgeous Latin dress perfect for their rumba.
Sheila. I haven’t seen you in so long! Vaughn wanted to shout in his excitement as she spun toward him, her fringed skirt in a flurry. But he said nothing as Sheila slipped her hand into his, and they danced, furthering their rumba steps across the floor. Her skirt sparkled and billowed every time she spun in it. He realized that he, too, was dressed to the nines. Their dress imitated their costumes during that first competition to a T. There were no judges on the floor.
He wanted to say a million things to her as they danced. How much he loved her, how much he missed her… but no words would come. They only danced. He dipped her at the end.
Now he was awake.
No. I didn’t want to be separated from you again.
He sat up in bed, rubbing the sleep from his hazel eyes. His hand brushed the picture on the nightstand next to him as he reached for his glasses. The picture was of him and Sheila in the dance studio, recently married and very happy together. She wore a huge smile on her face, her sparkling brown eyes looking directly into the camera. Vaughn was smiling down at her.
It was Father’s Day. He didn’t want to analyze why he dreamed of Sheila so vividly, but he thought the date might have had something to do with it. On the years when Father’s Day fell on his birthday, his daughter liked to kill two birds with one stone by just giving him one present. She had lucked out this year.
He showered, dressed, and went downstairs. The sun beamed into the living room through the window’s sheer curtains and shades. He walked into the kitchen – their small, perfectly sized kitchen that hadn’t changed a bit over the years. Their wooden table could fit six people but only needed room for four – him, his daughter, and his parents. An old-fashioned light hung from the ceiling, with a little string they had to pull to turn it on.
The rest of the kitchen provided just enough room for Vaughn to turn from the stovetop to place the food on the table. When his parents owned the house, they had less – no fireplace, no dishwasher. They renovated after many years, but it still remained the house he’d grown up in. From the first year he’d moved into his house, he had become increasingly grateful to his parents for having given their home to him only a few years after he and Sheila were married.
There was a note waiting for him on the counter. Maggie had left it, saying that she had gone to early Mass. He liked the fact that she wasn’t lazy and liked to get up early. She respected that Sunday was his only day off and therefore his only day to sleep in. He usually met his parents at the 6:30 p.m. service. Maggie also left an envelope on the kitchen table for him, with a small red Christmas bow stuck to it. It read ‘Happy Father’s Day and Birthday Dad!’ She was so good to him.
He wanted to open it, but he knew she would be crushed if he didn’t wait for her. He was glad it wasn’t a shirt or a tie, like in previous years. He knew his daughter loved him very much, but their styles were quite opposite.
She was his only child, and he’d been protective of her, yet he gave her the freedom to take care of herself. He would miss her when it was her time to move out.
Indeed, Maggie was his best friend. They had the same olive complexion, the same dark hair and dark eyes. She was like him in many ways, except that she was big-boned. He figured that trait must have come from Sheila’s side of the family, the one-hundred percent Italians who didn’t care about their weight. Maggie had been slightly overweight her whole life, but she didn’t let it bother her. She was his source of joy in life, a few months into twenty years old. It slightly frightened him that Sheila and he had been married and pregnant at her age.
He worked on the garden for a half hour before he went inside to make lunch for himself and Maggie. He had grilled cheese and tomatoes set out on the table when he heard the door to the mudroom swing open.
She smiled at him upon entering the kitchen, her medium-length, wavy brown hair swinging over her blue jacket as she dropped her car keys on the countertop.
“Hey dad,” she said.
“How are you, Maggie?”
“Good. Happy Father’s Day slash birthday.” She hugged him. “You didn’t open your card yet, did you?”
He shook his head no.
“Good. Because your present is in with the card.” She sat down at the table and began to pick at her plate. “Thanks for making lunch,” she said with her mouth full of tomato.
He picked up the envelope and shook it. “Oh, what could it be this year? A gift certificate?” he guessed. “To the mall? To a restaurant?”
“Just open it!” she exclaimed. She got up from her chair and reached into the cupboard. She filled up a glass of water for herself and sat back down. “You always forget to get drinks.”
She looked up at him. He wore somewhat of a sad, perplexed look on his face now.
“What?” she asked. He held the open card in one hand, and an unfolded sheet of paper in the other. “Please tell me you like it. I know you miss it.”
He shook his head and gave her a slight smile. “That’s so nice of you, Maggie. Really. But I’m not going to go.”
She knew he was going to respond this way. “Da-ad! Why not? You loved it for, like, your whole life! You always said you’d do it again if you had the time or opportunity.”
He wasn’t so sure. “I don’t think so, Mags.”
“Please, dad! Come on. Just try it. You can’t go through your whole life always having your mind made up already.”
“When are these for?” he asked.
“Tuesday nights are the only times they have intermediate.”
“Intermediate!” He shook his head and laughed a little. What was she thinking? “Maggie, I haven’t danced for years.”
“Well, we thought you should challenge yourself.”
“We thought… who’s we?” he asked her, his eyes narrowing at his daughter.
She smiled. “Well, since you’d never buy them for yourself, Grandma and I thought we should do it for you.”
He sat down across from her at the table. He paused to take a bite of his sandwich, thinking about it as he chewed. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. Maybe his daughter would go to the lessons with him, as she would usually be his date for weddings. He asked her this now.
“I have class then,” she reminded him. “Now and next semester. Plus I can dance at the school gym anytime I want to. For free.”
He looked unsure of himself now.
“You do so much for other people. You need to do this for yourself. I came up with the idea months ago, and was gonna back down until Grandma talked me into it.”
How could he tell her he’d try it without letting her get her hopes up? “Well, maybe it is worth a shot,” he shrugged. “Those classes always have more women than men. They might be fighting over me,” he said with a coy smile. “I’ll go once, probably, Mags,” he said, trying to be real with her. He didn’t want to make her any promises he wouldn’t keep.
“You have to go to all of them. Please, dad?” she asked anxiously.
He stood up, walking over to the fridge. She’d gotten a drink for herself, but not for him. “I’m too old. I might fall and break a hip,” he said, filling a glass with water out of the filtered faucet.
“Oh, shut up,” she said with a smile. If he joked around about it, Maggie knew it was a good sign.
“I’m not going to go dancing with some other woman. Mom was my only partner.”
He sat down again and stretched back in the chair. He’d forgotten to stretch, as he routinely did when he got out of bed in the morning. He rubbed his eyes and he leaned forward again. “I don’t know, Mags. Half of the people who take dance lessons are obese or sixty and above. I don’t want to go there and have to dance with some fat old lady. Mom was my only partner, and she was better than I was. I don’t want to go there and have some old woman fall for me.”
She laughed. “That only happens in the movies. Just because you have to dance with some other woman doesn’t mean you’re gonna fall in love with her. Seriously, dad! You need this. Plus I spent a hundred dollars on this deal for you, and I only got it that cheap because some lady named Gina remembered who you were. Vaguely. So you can’t waste it. Promise me you’ll go.”
“Gina?” he asked. He didn’t know who she was.
“Don’t change the subject. Promise me you’ll go. No refunds,” she said in a sing-song voice.
“I can’t promise you…”
Maggie glared at him. “This is my hard-earned money!” she exclaimed. “I did dishes at the caf!” She made a face. “Disgusting dishes – student’s dishes with their trash all over them so I could have the money to buy you lessons.”
“Oh, I’ll try it,” he said, though quite uneasy about this promise.
She smiled now. “There are twelve free lessons in there. They’re whenever you want to go. Just present it to the instructor lady… Loretta or whatever her name is.” She pumped her shoulders and clapped her hands excitedly. “I’m so glad you’re going. It’s on 17th Street, do you know where that is?”
He smiled at her sincerity. She knew that he wasn’t used to the city like she was, although he grew up there. They left to do what Sheila wanted to – live in the small town thirty miles next door – where she’d grown up.
“I’m sure I can handle it, Mags,” he told her. He got up and hugged her now to show her that he was grateful for the present. At least it wasn’t a shirt or tie.
Later that evening, Maggie studied in her room while Vaughn went to youth Mass with his parents. They met together in the city and had dinner at Vaughn’s afterwards, around 7:30, nearly every Sunday. It was tradition, and he loved his dear parents, Hector and Alanna. They’d been doing this ever since before Maggie could remember; eating dinner together as a family. Tonight pasta, gnocci, asparagus and garlic bread was on the menu; delicious, as always. And they made biscotti for dessert.
It was just another day at the Peters’.