Kevin, Joe, Nick, and Frankie had all been stumped for ideas on what to get Mom for Mother's Day. There had been several problems from the get-go: 1.) Kevin was the only one out of all four of them who made actual money from an after-school job at Hot Dog on a Stick, and it wasn't much money once they subtracted all the Cheese Dogs that Kevin ate on his breaks, and 2.) they had already used the 'FREE HUGS ALL YEAR ROUND!' schtick last year. Joe had made a macaroni card spelling it out, except some of the macaronis had fallen off and it had looked more like 'lPFE FUCS ALl YEAR POUND!'.
Mom had looked a little too overjoyed at receiving a janky macaroni card. Kevin had felt terrible for a week, even though he doled out about 300 free hugs. In any case, this year, Kevin abruptly gets a brilliant idea during their yearly pow-wow in Joe and Nick's room.
"We can always pick some flowers from the Prisks' yard," Nick is offering.
"No, no, wait." Kevin waves him off. "I have an idea. I saw this flier at school for a discounted ballroom dancing class as like, a Mother's Day special."
"Ballroom dancing?" Joe echoes.
"Yeah! Mom would love it. And she'd drag Dad along too, so they'd been gone every night for a week."
Kevin maintains that no one in their family really looks alike, but at this moment, Joe, Nick, and Frankie are smiling in the exact same way.
"I'm on board," Joe announces, and Nick and Frankie second and third it.
"Okay, then. I'll buy the vouchers from the office at school tomorrow," Kevin confirms. He feels proud of himself, satisfied in the job he's done as the eldest sibling. Mom's totally going to flip, and it's going to be great.
Kevin is pretty teed off.
Between accidentally overdrawing his bank account (from buying a Cheese Dog), getting a bout of food poisoning (from eating a Cheese Dog), studying for a huge Calculus test, and driving Nick and Joe to the doctor and the dentist, respectively, Kevin had totally forgotten about the fact that Dad was leaving to lead a 4-day retreat in the third week of May.
Which is the week Mom's ballroom dance class is scheduled.
Which is how Kevin ends up stuck inside the community center on a Monday night, in a room with stationary cycles and yoga mats shoved into the corners, while facing a wall of mirrors and standing awkwardly next to his mom.
There are about eight other couples in the class. Weirdly enough, he actually recognizes a few kids from school. Whoever had put that flier up had really hit the jackpot with sons desperate for Mother's Day gifts, that much is obvious. There's Shia Labeouf, and David Henrie, and even Sebastian Stan, whose mom is actually the principal. People call him 'The Prince', as a play on words; mean people call him 'The Gay Bit-h Prince', since he's rumored to be in a relationship with Mr. Flowers, the history teacher, and consequently cries a lot behind the gym at school.
Mrs. Stan gives Kevin a warm smile and a nod. "Kevin," she says as a greeting. Then she shoots dirty looks at Shia Labeouf and David Henrie, both of whom have been suspended at least three times each. Maybe once you're a principal, you just can't turn the switch to 'off'.
Mom squeezes his arm. "This is so exciting, honey. Thank you so much for coming with me," she whispers.
"Aw, Mom, of course!" Kevin replies while dying inside. Joe and Nick were probably destroying the house right about now, while Frankie refereed. Kevin is jealous.
When someone comes bounding to the front of the class, Kevin practically keels over in surprise. It's Zac Efron, that cool kid with the swooshy hair, who always just swooshes all over the place at school as his entourage follows along. Kevin had been in the same Home Ec group with him during freshman year, but that's pretty much all the interaction they've had together.
Actually, no, they make awkward eye contact every once in a while at school, like when Kevin is on his way back to his desk after turning in a test, or this one time where they both reached for the last apple while moving down the lunch line. Zac had let him have it.
Zac claps his hands together and grins. All the couples turn their attention to him; Kevin's pretty sure he hears Shia groan, "God, I fucking hate this guy."
"Hello, beautiful moms!" Zac says loudly. "Thank you all so much for coming out today. I'm Zac Efron, and I'll be your instructor."
All the moms already have this total moon-face going on, while all the sons look super disgruntled. Zac doesn't show that he notices any of this, though, and continues speaking.
"For this next week, you'll be learning the rhythm of the ballroom." Zac raises his eyebrows for effect, and the moms start clapping. Moms clap at everything. Kevin doesn't understand it at all. David Henrie makes a farting noise with his mouth.
Still no reaction from Zac, which is admirable. "Today, we'll learn the waltz, tomorrow is the tango, Wednesday is foxtrot, and Thursday, Thursday we'll be teaching you ladies how to cha-cha-cha." Zac grins at the high-pitched hoots and hollers. "And on Friday, we'll do all four. Remember, we're just here to have a good time for two hours every day this week. Okay?"
"Okay!" everyone choruses.
Kevin doesn't even realize he's been sneaking glances at the double-doors until he sees Zac watching him with that stupid smile and those stupid blue eyes. Zac shakes his head in a tiny movement and manages to convey a silent apology with a tilt of his head.
"Let's get started. Everyone line up into two rows of four, please, and I'll need a volunteer. How about you, Mrs. Stan?" Zac asks before anyone can actually volunteer. He keeps steady eye contact with Mrs. Stan and smiles as she comes to the front. He is disgustingly charming.
Kevin looks at Zac's reflection and silently asks, How are you so disgustingly charming? But he doesn't have time to come up with an answer, because Zac is then asking everyone to follow along. Kevin catches a glimpse of a partner-less Sebastian Stan looking like he's on the verge of tears before Kevin's mom nudges him into waltz position.
Zac spends the first ten minutes of class gushing over everyone and their performances the day before. He calls them the best class that he's ever taught, and says that he might as well stop teaching now so that he won't taint the memory of having the "most perfect class ever."
"You're the most perfect teacher ever!" Mrs. Henrie calls out, and Zac blushes just the right amount. Seriously, Kevin should be taking notes. Every time he tries to be charming, he has a suspicion that it comes off as creepy or like he's just plain trying too hard.
"Hey, tell your mom to lay off the Cosmos before class," Sebastian murmurs to David, who hisses back, "Shut the fuck up."
"Okay, no more wasting time! Today's the day you learn to tango," Zac announces.
The couples are standing in the same order as yesterday, and he slowly weaves his way between them with his hands behind his back. For some reason, Kevin feels his face suddenly get hot when Zac stops right in front of him. Zac is really good looking, even up close. It's kind of disconcerting.
"Hhhh," says Kevin.
Instead of replying, Zac holds out his hand and smiles with brilliant white teeth as he bows slightly. "If you please, Miss..."
"Jonas! Jonas!" Kevin's mom trills. She takes Zac's hand and allows him to lead her to the front of the room and around in a semi-circle before they come together, arranging themselves in the starting pose.
"Hey Jonas, your mom sounds like a cuckoo clock," Labeouf snickers.
"Your mom looks like she spends all her time in a bird house. Eating - peanut butter," Kevin stumbles, "and nuts. And stuff. Lots of them."
Without waiting for a response, he walks off to the side, content to stand there by himself and watch. It's pretty much guaranteed to be a good time seeing Shia, David, and Sebastian stumbling around, and it's probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, too.
He's really looking forward to it, but then he just ends up watching Zac the entire time.
A cerulean blue lunch tray comes sliding into Kevin's vision. He looks up instinctively, mouth open wide, lips bared, and teeth buried in an apple.
"Hey," Zac says, swinging his backpack down and making the whole lunch table rattle when he sits.
Kevin withdraws his teeth and quickly licks his lips. He feels like Donkey from Shrek. "Hi," he replies. "Why are you here?"
"Do you eat alone because you're that weird kid who used to be home-schooled?" Zac responds.
"That's kind of rude," Kevin says after a pause.
Zac shrugs. "I'm just asking. Sorry. Anyway, I was just going to say that you don't seem all that weird."
"Thanks?" Kevin says kind of sarcastically, even though his heart is pounding really loudly. He licks his lips again and watches Zac peel back the foil from his burrito.
"Sorry for stealing your mom yesterday," Zac says thickly. "It's pretty shitty to just stand around doing nothing, but I need a partner."
It's like a split-screen in Kevin's head. Dance-class-Zac, with his constant smile and banter with the moms, and how he actually dances really fluidly and well. Then there's School-Zac, chewing on a burrito as he talks with his mouth open and curses and says whatever he thinks.
"I don't get you," Kevin finally says.
"I don't get you either," Zac agrees. "But hey, I like that about a person." He scrunches his mouth shut, still chewing, and quickly flicks his eyebrows up as a sign of acknowledgment. Three bites later, the whole burrito is gone, and Zac is slurping on a Coke that sounds like it's mostly ice by now.
Kevin is still in the middle of picking all the toppings off his pizza when Zac stands up again. "Gotta go. See you later, Jonas."
"Bye," Kevin says automatically. He's surprised that Zac knows his last name. Maybe he just said that because he doesn't know his first.
It's the class's responsibility to tidy up the room after their session, so people mostly just mosey around or walk up and down the length of the old ballet barre attached to the wall opposite all the mirrors, trying to pretend they're cleaning up. Mom had mentioned getting a ride from Mrs. Stan, since they're in the same book club and are supposed to be meeting at someone else's house later, so they leave together. Kevin feels bad just standing around, so he picks up a few pieces of garbage and throws them into the trash. Then he gets caught up in trying to arrange the yoga mats into neat piles.
When he straightens up, he suddenly realizes that it's completely silent and that Zac, who's carefully shrugging on a hoodie, is the only other person in the room.
"How's it coming along?" Zac calls when he notices Kevin looking around with a bewildered expression.
"Oh, I think I got them piled up pretty good. I even arranged them in order of color," Kevin calls back.
"No, I meant with the dancing," Zac chuckles. He walks toward Kevin, slinging his backpack up on one shoulder and twirling a set of keys around his finger.
"Oh. Yeah. Well, I think I've finally found a dance that's more embarrassing than the Macarena."
Zac laughs. "It's pretty hilarious, though, you gotta admit. Plus they have so much fun, it doesn't even matter. You know?"
"You're cheesy," Kevin tells him.
"I'm sweet," Zac corrects. He puts his backpack down and shoves his keys into his pocket. "By the way, you're pretty good at the waltz, man. I saw you."
"It's super slow and only three steps, so." Kevin shrugs.
"No, hey. Here. Do it with me." Zac holds out his arms expectantly. Kevin just looks at him. "I'm serious!" Zac insists. "Come on." He flaps his arms a little. "Come on."
Kevin hesitantly puts his hand over Zac's shoulder-blade.
"You waltz with only one hand?" Zac teases. His eyes crinkle up.
Kevin hesitates again, then clasps his other hand with Zac's.
"Good." Then Zac starts leading them around the room with big steps. They have a lot more room now that there's no one else hanging around, and Kevin is able to match Zac's strides with ease. Zac is mumbling, 'Da da da, da da da," under his breath to keep time, and it's nice, just swaying around the room without worrying about going too fast or stepping on his mom's foot.
Then he staggers a little and stops, because Zac steps on his toes.
"Ow, that was my foot." Kevin hefts his knee up in a pre-retaliatory gesture, intending to gain momentum to smash his own foot down onto Zac's, but he ends up kneeing Zac in the balls instead.
"Owww, that was my balls," Zac groans. He crumples up onto the floor.
Kevin is left standing with his arms still in the air where Zac used to be. Finally, his reflexes kick in and he kneels down, unsure of whether to touch Zac or not. "Oh, crap! Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry. Are you okay?"
Zac is still curled up, grimacing, but he slowly straightens his body out, finally releasing all tension and lying lax on the floor.
"Christ," Zac exhales. "Did you learn that in self-defense class? Just in case someone steals your purse?"
Kevin stares at him. "Yeah, I did," he finally says. "It's actually the class right before the ballroom dancing class. You know, the one that you're the instructor of?"
He calmly stands up, gathering up his stuff and heading out of the room. His new boots have this intense, solid heel, and they make great clomping noises as he walks.
When Kevin and his mom get to the community center the next day, the parking lot is full, so Kevin drops her off at the front entrance and drives around back to park the car. As he's walking alongside the building and toward the entrance, he turns the corner and comes across Zac smoking a cigarette with Shia Labeouf, of all people.
Kevin doesn't want to stop, so he ducks his head and veers off to the side a little, but Zac says, "Hey," in a kind of sheepish voice, and he glances up and sees Zac with his free hand shoved into the pocket of his jeans, shoulders up somewhere near his ears.
"Hi," Kevin says. He shifts his attention to Shia and asks, "Where's your mom?"
Shia shrugs. "Somewhere. I don't know. Anyway, I can hear her coming, so we won't get caught."
"Thank god for your mom's spiritual hippie bells," says Zac.
As if on cue, a faint jingling sound starts coming within earshot, like the beginning of a Christmas song about Santa's sled or something, except the jingling just gets louder and culminates in Mrs. Labeouf coming around the corner with her long grey hair and peasant skirt.
"Hey, ma," Shia greets. His hands are empty, and the air somehow doesn't even smell like smoke. Kevin looks around in confusion until Zac furtively nudges the back of Kevin's knee with his foot, causing Kevin's leg to buckle a little.
"Boys. Mr. Efron, is class going to start soon?"
"Yes ma'am. We should head inside, actually." Zac motions for her to lead the way, and she and Shia walk up front. Kevin tries to fall back behind all of them, but Zac won't let him, matching each of Kevin's increasingly slow steps with his own.
"Are you going to start walking backwards?" Zac asks him.
Kevin snorts, because he can't think of a comeback. He starts walking at a normal pace. "I thought you hated that guy," he says, once Shia and his mom are far enough ahead.
"People are stupid and fickle." Zac smiles and punches Kevin's shoulder. He looks surprised when Kevin barely even flinches.
"Please. I have three younger brothers. I got hit in the head with a rice paddle last week and I'm pretty sure one of my kidneys is non-functioning from getting kicked so many times," Kevin tells Zac.
"I'd drive you to dialysis," Zac says.
"How romantic," Kevin counters. He feels his face turn red again. Dang it. "I think Shia hates me," he says quickly.
"He doesn't hate you, he's just an asshole." Zac has his hands stuffed into the kangaroo pocket of his hoodie and is walking super close to Kevin. Their elbows knock together a few times. "Doesn't mean he's a bad guy." After a pause, he coughs, "And by 'he', I mean 'I'."
More silence. Zac says, "That's me apologizing to you like a doof. I'm sorry. And I'm sorry about yesterday, too."
Kevin shoots him a few glances out of the corner of his eyes. "I still don't get you."
"Yeah, me neither."
They keep walking. There's no elbow-knocking this time.
"And I'm not as sensitive as you think I am," Kevin adds after a few beats. "I say ballroom dance instructor trumps man-purse any day."
"Oh, really?" Zac asks curiously. They've reached the entrance to the building. He slowly stops and turns, squinting into the sun and giving Kevin a sort of appraising look, like he's seeing something new. "Why don't you bring that man-purse to a movie tonight, then. Let's judge it on unbiased turf."
Kevin presses his lips together. He has to use all the muscles in his neck to keep from smiling. "Fine. You, me, and the murse."
"Quit joking around, I've got a dance class to teach," Zac complains. He backs up until the doors slide open. "You coming or what?"