A Chance Encounter:

My sister Erin glanced over as she eased her car from the arrivals curb at the Dallas-Fort Worth airport.

“So how was your flight?”

Actually, it was pretty shitty, now that you ask. She had just driven over a hundred miles to pick me up so I wouldn’t be tormented by a three hour wait to take the next Greyhound bus home. I knew she was just being friendly and probably didn’t want to hear the details.

“It was fine. No one took the middle seat. That’s always a nice surprise these days. Hey, thanks for coming to get me. You know you don’t have to as long as there’s still a bus leaving when I get in. You want me to drive back?”

“No, I’m good. It’s still light for a few more hours. Anyway, we’ll have a chance to catch up on the way. Ed and I are delighted you came home for your birthday. It’ll help take your mind off things out there. A change of scenery will be good. You know you’re always welcome.”

Erin is six years younger than I am. I must have been so incorrigible as a child that my mother refused to have another baby until I was safely in the first grade and out of the house for most of the day.

My plans to visit Erin and her husband Ed were made at the last minute. I had been dumped by my long-time girlfriend a few months back and was still asking myself why. Maybe I was in need of some serious self-reflection, which might happen a little more easily if I was away from my familiar surroundings.

I had been looking forward to a destination party for my 50th birthday. Away from Los Angeles, up the coast near Santa Barbara. A perfect storm of excuses caused my entire inner circle of friends to decline the invitation: spousal illness, a business crisis, a family funeral, having other plans, and a cratering marriage. Oh, and the parents who decided to go to their daughter’s umpteenth gymnastics meet instead of partying down with me. Since I don’t have kids of my own, I guess I shouldn’t judge.

“So have you figured out how you want to celebrate your birthday? Ed’s out of town on a company retreat, but he’ll be back in time. Check if there’s any live music you want to see. And decide on a restaurant soon so we can get reservations if we need them.

“I waited to go food shopping until you got here. We finally got a Natural Grocers. They should have most of the things you say you never can get in our backwoods town.”

That was good news. I’d definitely grown into a food crank and picky eater as my list of things I should avoid grows longer every year, but I still planned to have birthday cake and ice cream.

* * *

We were pushing the cart around the store when I thought I saw one of Erin’s old friends.

“Isn’t that Laurie Quinn over there? At the deli counter.”

“Oh, god. I don’t want to talk to her now.”

“Why not?”

“She’s … weird.”

“How so?”

“Well, you know.”

“No, I don’t know. I thought you and Laurie and the others were inseparable when you were in college.”

“We were. And still are mostly, except Laurie was the only one who moved out of state after graduation. She lives in Washington, D.C.

“Sometimes the things that bring people together in their childhood or at school change over time. So the friendships change. You don’t hang out with everyone that you buddied around with at school, do you?”

“I guess you’re right. I probably would still be close to the old gang if I hadn’t moved away. So what’s she doing back here?”

“She was engaged to this guy, but that went sideways. She’d been with him for years. Laurie’s never been able to hold onto a man. We thought she’d finally broken that curse. She’s here to settle her late mother’s estate. The house has just been sitting there the whole time, even though the funeral was almost a year ago. I thought about calling her, but I was waiting for her to make the first move.”

Laurie began heading our way. She had on a washed-out burnt orange sweatshirt from the University of Texas, one that looked like she’d been wearing since she was a freshman. A pair of baggy brown pants and flip-flops completed her slovenly outfit. I always thought Laurie didn’t do herself any favors by the way she dressed—unfeminine and unfashionable. Even when she was cleaned up for a party or some grown-up event, she dressed very matronly, in things her mother would wear. I wondered if she walked around like that in D.C. Her reddish-brown hair was pinned up tightly in her trademark schoolmarm bun, severe and nary a hair out of place.

On the other hand, Laurie has a very elegant neck that’s optimally displayed by that hairstyle. And her eyes—she has the deepest blue eyes. What color would you call them: cobalt, indigo, lapis? I could stare at them indefinitely—like other women’s cleavage.

I always thought she was the most attractive of Erin’s friends but didn’t present herself well. Laurie always seemed shy and unsure of herself, sometimes awkwardly overcompensating for this.

“My god, she’s gotten a boob job!”

“Laurie? You’re kidding.” She seemed like the most unlikely person I know to do that.

“No, look. Those two lumps in her sweatshirt were never there before.”

“Tell you what, I’ll go over and ask her: ‘Laurie, Erin was saying you must have gotten a boob job.’ That should clear things up.”

Erin swiftly turned our cart down the next aisle so Laurie wouldn’t see us. More out of loneliness than any physical attraction, I decided to go over and say hello.

Erin and Laurie were part of a quartet of close friends as far back as I could remember, along with Terri Unger and Fran Carver. Terri was the plainest of the bunch, but she got all the boobs that Laurie and Fran didn’t—and then some. I pretty much ignored all of them, but I’ll admit that I had more than a few sexual thoughts about Terri once I started noticing her burgeoning bosom when she was a UT student.

Laurie beamed with surprise when I called her name.

“Oh, hi, Joe. Didn’t expect to see you here. Are you here with Erin? I’ve been meaning to call her since I got back. I’m finally dealing with cleaning out and selling my mother’s house.”

She didn’t mention her failed engagement. Naturally she wondered what brought me there during the hottest part of a Texas summer.

“I decided to celebrate my 50th birthday here. The plans in L.A. didn’t jell, so I thought I’d come back home and do it here. Things haven’t been going well of late out there … socially.”

“So are you and Erin going to the free river concert tomorrow night?”

“I hadn’t heard about it. Who’s playing?”

She mentioned the name of a Western Swing revivalist band I knew was based in L.A.

“Oh, they’re good. I’ve seen them several times. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them if you like that kind of music. I’m not sure about Erin, but it sounds like fun. Maybe I’ll see you there.”

I was surprised when Erin appeared with our cart. The two of them made small talk while I mulled over my birthday party options. Erin took a pass on the river concert—too hot and too many mosquitos. When we got back in the car, Erin teased me about going on a date with Laurie.

“It’s not a date. Maybe you could call it a hook-up—if people our age are allowed to use that term.”

Erin smirked. “If I find out you’ve poked one of my friends, you’ll never hear the end of it.”

“So I’m supposed to be a homebody like you and not go, just to prove I’m not interested in her?”

“No, I’m just worried that you’re both on the rebound and might not exercise good judgment.”

I reminded her that the purpose of my trip wasn’t to get laid, particularly by any of her friends. The conversation got into the antics of the four of them back in college. Erin was regaling me with stories about Laurie’s prim attitude amidst the school’s legendary debauchery.

“She would go to some of the fraternity parties, but never the toga parties. Laurie was a virgin when we started as freshmen. She didn’t give it up until her sophomore year. And the guy she dated then was a complete loser. I’ll bet she wished she had that as a do-over.”

“Did she ever do any of that campus nude streaking? Or those midnight underwear runs?”

“Laurie Quinn? Ha-hah, surely you jest. Those were even a step too far for me. I think Fran participated in one of the underwear runs—or claimed she did.”

“What about Terri Unger?”

Erin shot me a dirty look and shook her head. She knew exactly why I had asked about her busty friend.

“In your dreams.”

Soft Summer Nights:

The following night I decided to go to the concert, mainly to see the band; but there might also be some single women present who needed a dance partner. I hoped the slight breeze off the river would keep the mosquitos at bay, but I brought along a pump bottle of repellent to be sure. I was putting some on out in the parking lot when I heard the band strike up the first notes of “Ida Red.” I finished up and made my way toward the music.

The concert was in a natural amphitheater built into the side of a gentle knoll. The stage extended out into the river with a dance floor directly in front. Masons had used local limestone to create the tiers of rustic seating. Chairs and tables were set up at the top terrace where it was level, and strings of lights festooned the live oak trees. It would have been a perfect evening if it wasn’t so damn humid.

About three songs in, I noticed Laurie sitting by herself, with her hair tightly pinned up, swatting mosquitos. She stood up to greet me, but we both seemed unsure about a hug—so we just shook hands. Laurie had on a fit and flare dress but wasn’t wearing it confidently. Maybe she just bought it or it wasn’t a style she would normally choose—or both. Regardless, I was surprised to see her wearing a dress at all. I had only seen her wear ones at formal parties. It was modestly cut with the hem below the knee, cap sleeves, and a high neckline. I couldn’t decide if the style was hipster retro or merely out of fashion. The pattern was unexpectedly bold, but the colors were wrong for her.

I didn’t really care what she was wearing since her physique was that of a perfect dance partner: several inches shorter, slender as a reed, easy to maneuver. We need to get this woman out on the dance floor at some point tonight. I offered to get her a drink. She looked like she could use one: anxious, tugging and pulling on her dress, fixated on the mosquitos. She wasn’t interested in my drink offer.

“Do you have any insect repellent back in your car?” she asked. “These damn skeeters are eating me alive.”

“I have some right here in my pocket.”

I gave the bottle to her, and she started to squirt it directly on her legs.”

“Laurie, spray it into your palm first, then spread it on. You’ll get more consistent coverage that way.”

“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that.”

She was almost done when I watched a mosquito land on her back and bite her. She flinched and vainly tried to swat it away.

“Here, let me get your back.”

Her dress was cut lower in the back than I expected. The top of her bra band was visible. I wondered if she knew that.

“Laurie, I’ll need to put some under the edges of your dress and bra. They love to target those tiny spots you overlook.”

“Sure, it’s OK. Just hurry, please.”

My hands slipped under the fabric of her dress to make sure I didn’t miss any exposed areas. I lifted the back of her bra so I could protect her skin there, too. It felt odd touching her like that for the first time, with my hands all over her bare skin and clothing. I was probably more uncomfortable than she was.

Even though her dress had a high bodice in front, it didn’t fit that snugly. When she leaned over, I could see some cleavage. Her boobs were definitely bigger than what I remembered. If we did a slow dance I might be able to tell if they were fake or real, assuming we got that close to each other. She had on an alluring scent. It was the first time I’d ever noticed her wearing perfume.

“Laurie, that’s a very sensual fragrance you have on. But if it attracts men, it’s going to attract mosquitos, too.”

She got a worried look on her face. “Did I put too much on?”

I touched her bare arm to reassure her. “No, it’s subtle but detectable.”

Actually, it was a bit strong, but I didn’t think it was my job to be candid about things like that. That’s what friends like Erin are for.

Laurie handed the bottle back to me. “Joe, you’re a lifesaver.”

“Now can I get you a beer?”

Laurie put her hand on my shoulder to stand up. “I’ll buy you one instead. I need to thank you for saving me from the mosquitos. I was getting ready to leave early because of that, right when you walked over. Is Shiner Bock OK?”

“Are you going to remember where we’re sitting?” She seemed a little scatterbrained.

“Oh, you think I’m going to fall in with some roughneck cowboy?”

“Maybe. That dress you have on is very appealing.”

She blushed and almost tripped over her own feet.

“Oh, Laurie, one other thing. When you get home, get in the shower and wash off the insect repellent. Don’t go to bed with it on.”

She nodded her head and thanked me. As she walked away, the image of a naked, wet Laurie Quinn—hair pinned up, soaping off her bigger boobs—caused an unexpected twitch down below.

* * *

When she returned, we engaged in some small talk while we drank our beers. I was getting restless, yearning to get out on the dance floor; but I wasn’t sure about Laurie’s abilities or sense of rhythm. One way to find out.

“Laurie, would you like to dance?” She looked like I had just asked her go nude skydiving.

“Oh, thanks, but I’m no good at it. Look at what some of those couples out on the dance floor are doing. I could never jump and spin like some of those gals.”

“I can show you some simple steps, enough to have fun. Look, I don’t even have a cowboy hat on, so I’ll feel odd, too. We can take it slow, start off easy.”

Laurie was right; many couples were executing some advanced moves: dips and lifts, pulls between the legs, aerials. Most seemed to be part of some dance club since they were all wearing the same orange kerchiefs. I couldn’t remember what that color means in the gay hanky code.

I took Laurie by the hand and led her down to the dance floor. I positioned us off to the side so we wouldn’t get in the way of the show-offs.

“Why don’t we just boogie to loosen up before trying partner dancing?”

She was stiff and self-conscious—no surprise there.

“Laurie, no one’s watching us. They’re looking at the fancy club dancers. C’mon, clap those hands, toss that head. There we go. Shake those hips, move those feet.”

What I also wanted to say was “undo that hair, let it down, set it free.” By the second song, she was starting to loosen up a little; but she was overwhelmed watching the expert dancers.

“Forget about them. We can try a few basic steps. Let’s start side by side to get the timing down. The man starts off on his heel, the woman on her toes.”

Soon we’d progressed to dancing face to face. “Here’s the secret: the woman is actually providing the locomotion, not being pushed backward by the man—he’s just steering.”

Laurie wasn’t a natural, but she was trying. “That’s good … you’re getting better … nice. See, it’s not that hard. Remember, I’m not pushing you, you’re pulling me.”

Once she had the basics down, I introduced her to a couple of simple lady twirls by having her watch how some of the other dancers were doing it. Sure, we had our share of moves that didn’t work out, but that’s when we laughed the most.

As her dancing improved Laurie surprised me. She revealed a playfulness matched with an infectious smile—a combination I’d never noticed before. After another song or two, we were working pretty well together. We were able to stop thinking about the mechanics and start feeding off each other’s energy and charisma. Subtle but inescapable sexual undertones grew as we got in sync. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Laurie’s enthusiasm, however, was getting out ahead of her abilities. She wanted us to try some of the more advanced techniques.

“Laurie, you should never do moves like that with someone you don’t know. Even if you’ve seen him do them well with another partner. For starters, the man’s hands often need to touch some unexpected places to make the move work. Keep in mind this is as much about acrobatics as it is dancing. To get that good you need lots of practice with a partner, ideally on a gym mat with a friend to spot you.

“What about what they just did?”

Laurie had eyed a couple performing a Cinderella lift. Somewhat against my better judgment I agreed to show her how to do it.

“Let’s start with my picking you up on cue without circling around. You need to get used to being touched in different places. Now the key to this is how you place your forearms above mine so they act as a brace when I lift you. Start by putting your hands on my waist. Now when I lift you, I’ll have my forearms under yours to provide support for your body.”

I demonstrated how this would work and gave her the count-off that cues the lift. We did a few repetitions in place without my pivoting. I wanted to make sure I was strong enough to lift her and she was focused enough to get off the ground safely.

“Alright, I think you’re ready for the twirl. As I lift you I’m going to pivot in place and do a 360 degree turn then set you down. Do you remember when Prince Charming was dancing with Cinderella at the ball, and he lifts her up and pivots around? That’s what we’re doing. Relax below your waist and let your legs fly out during the turn. Let’s pivot without the lift to make sure we both understand the count. And we need to be aware of our position next to other dancers when we do a move like this.”

Laurie was a little clumsy at first. She wanted to try again; and after a few more attempts, she started getting it. I felt she was ready for the full version. Up she went, her legs swinging out as I pivoted around. Laurie was as giddy as a child on her first merry-go-round ride. We did it two more times but stopped there since I was getting worn out from all that lifting.

“Good work, Laurie. You’re a quick learner. And you should be after all those dancing classes I drove the four of you to every week.”

That was a chore my parents laid on me. Driving a quartet of giggly girls to and from their dancing class. It was a condition of getting my unrestricted driver’s license, which I desperately needed to stop having my Mom or Dad drive the car when I dated.

“Ah, I remember those dance classes,” she said. “It was the only time I was allowed to get close to boys at that age. Pre-teen is an odd time for girls. Some were growing up sooner than others.”

“Like Terri Unger?”

As soon as those words left my lips, I wanted to take them back. Laurie had the wry grin of a woman who remembered what it was like to spend her early pubescence in the shadow of a bustier friend.

“So you noticed, too?” she said in an accusing tone.

Laurie, the boys at the blind school noticed.

Our awkward conversation was interrupted by the twin fiddle intro of “Faded Love”—the first slow song since we started dancing.

There’s always that moment of uncertainty when the first slow dance starts up. There shouldn’t be any hard feelings if one’s partner wants to take a break, sit down and rest. Or maybe the woman wouldn’t be ready for the closeness a slow dance involves. Surely a guy wouldn’t be offended by that, particularly if it’s the first time she’s danced with him, and especially if they don’t know each other. That’s understandable. And frankly, the woman just may not be that eager to press her body up against some sweaty oaf, whether she knows him or not.

Laurie had a sheen of perspiration and was breathing hard; but she surprised me when she gracefully guided me into position for the slow dance: our hands clasped and raised on one side, a few discreet inches between us, her other hand on my shoulder, mine on her lower back.