A Young Man's Chance
by April Valentine
- "When the young girls start to dance
At the rock and roll shows
Heaven knows they're making love to you
And it's a young man's chance, go on and dance
You've got your reasons too, the girls been looking at you"
-- Pure Prairie League, "Dance in the Morning"
God, I hate these country club dances, Jim Ellison thought for at least the tenth time. He stuck his finger between his neck and shirt collar, trying to loosen it, even though he knew that was useless. The necktie was annoying but he was beginning to think that he'd outgrown the white shirt he was wearing. Wouldn't be the first time. Sally said he grew out of his clothes every month these days.
Maybe that would stop soon, since he was going to turn eighteen in a couple of months. He'd be as grown as he was going to be, he supposed, but maybe as he built up more muscle, his shirt size would continue to go up. Oh well, Sally wouldn't have to worry about that for much longer. As soon as he was eighteen, he was leaving. Joining the army, where if he grew out of his clothes, they'd issue him new ones and nobody would complain about his laundry. Where nobody would make him attend these boring dances any more either.
Jim shifted position, leaning against the wall where he stood, and glanced toward his father's table. The old man was talking politely with a well-dressed older woman, the widow of one of his golfing buddies, Jim thought. Too bad his father didn't date. If he did, he might pay attention to something other than Jim and Stevie. However, he didn't date, apparently not missing female companionship that much since their mother had left. He had Sally to take care of the boys and the house and his business to worry about. And the competition he forced on his sons.
Speaking of Stevie... Jim looked around for his younger brother, still feeling protective of him, even though most of the time they were at odds these days. That was their father's fault, but even though Jim understood that, it didn't seem to stop the erosion of their relationship. Jim missed the way Stevie used to follow him around and look up to him when they were kids. Now, he competed against Jim for grades and sports trophies and often won. Well, often won Dad's support, that is.
And he figured Stevie was winning it again now. The younger Ellison brother was out there on the dance floor, impressing the teenage daughters of the men their father did business with, which, Jim knew, was one way of garnering favor with their old man.
Jim couldn't be bothered with trying to impress the girls who attended these dances with their rich parents. He didn't try to impress many girls in the first place and he didn't like the shallow ones he met at the country club. That was something his father didn't appreciate, the fact that his son didn't have a beautiful girlfriend to go on dates with. Oh well, the old man would have to just live with that, along with his oldest son's other shortcomings.
Again, Jim reminded himself that it wouldn't matter after he turned eighteen. He was going to leave as soon as he could, join the army, forget the house, his father, his brother, the rich girls he was supposed to be attracted to... all of it.
As he looked in his father's direction, Jim noticed the man glaring at him. Probably wondering why I'm not asking any of the girls to dance, Jim thought. He'd have a stroke if he knew the real reason.
The real reason... Jim didn't think about that himself too much. He thought girls were okay, and had even had sex with a couple already, though of course his father didn't know that either. But he had only done it to see if it was everything the guys on the football team had said it was.
Jim didn't think so. It felt all right, he guessed, but there was something missing. The girls had seemed to like what he did, but he hadn't thought about sky rockets or love or anything after it was over.
There had to be more. And deep down, in a place he couldn't acknowledge, Jim had been wondering. He might actually see fireworks, he might actually feel love... or at least a real connection with the other person, if instead of having sex with a girl he tried it... with a guy.
A man doesn't have sex with another man. His father's words rang in his ears, even though they'd been said only once. But then, a lot of what William Ellison said didn't get repeated. He expected his sons to hear and remember.
Jim remembered. He remembered a lot of what "a man" wasn't supposed to do. He wasn't supposed to cheat. He wasn't supposed to cry. And he wasn't supposed to get too close to another male friend. Touching another man wasn't "appropriate" in his father's eyes. Oh, a pat on the ass after a good play on the football field was one thing, but other types of touching? Absolutely not. And a man who had sex with another man? Well, he wasn't "a man," not really, if he did that.
The sound of a woman's high pitched laughter distracted Jim from his musing. He was glad, he'd probably have started blushing any second and his father might have noticed and wondered why. Jim glanced around the room to see who had laughed. There it was again, high and musical and much more vivacious sounding that most of the other women who attended these dances laughed.
There -- she was across the room, wearing a dress that also looked out of place here. Most of the country club wives dressed conservatively. This woman, however, was wearing a long, swirly dress with fluffy sleeves. It went all the way to the floor but it had a plunging neckline and the colors -- pink, purple, blue, green... Jim suppressed a smile. The woman wearing it was slender, with long reddish hair that hung nearly to her waist. She threw back her head and laughed again, sounding like the only one in the room that was actually having a good time.
She let her date lead her out onto the dance floor, still smiling radiantly. Jim recognized Mr. Harrington, an older man who was divorced. His father talked about how Harrington dated "floozies" -- this must be one of them. Or at least, Jim knew that his father would call the woman that, if not worse.
The woman began to fast dance with Mr. Harrington, smiling and swaying to the music. Jim noticed a gold peace-symbol necklace that hung on a long chain around her neck, sparkling as she moved. She looked toward the table where they'd been sitting and waved.
"Go ahead, sweetie!" she directed, "you can ask someone to dance too!"
Jim glanced in the direction she was looking.
A young boy, wearing a jacket about two sizes too big for him waved back at the woman, nodding. He had long hair that was tied back in a ponytail at the back of his neck, big eyes that Jim could tell were blue even from this distance and full, expressive lips. The boy grinned and got up, looking around for someone he could ask to dance.
He apparently noticed Abby Wilson at a table not far away. She was twelve and pretty, with short blonde curls. Jim couldn't help admiring the boy as he got up and without any apparent shyness, walked right over and asked Abby to dance. She nodded eagerly and the two made their way to the dance floor.
Abby was taller than the boy by at least three inches. He didn't seem to care, even though Jim knew a lot of guys who even if they were seventeen or eighteen, wouldn't date or even dance with a girl taller than they were. Instead, the kid went right out there, dancing as though he was as comfortable as any of the older teens or adults on the floor.
The kid didn't dance all that well, but he could move okay. He went with the beat and Abby seemed impressed. He looked confidant, as though he liked himself and Jim figured he probably did. His mother obviously thought he was a great kid, or she wouldn't have brought him along on her date with Mr. Harrington.
As she and Mr. Harrington moved closer, the woman nodded appreciatively and smiled at her son. "You look great, sweetie," she complimented him.
If I was that age, I'd die if I was out there, and if someone said I looked great and called me 'sweetie,' forget it, Jim thought, wincing inside. But the young boy didn't seem fazed by his mother gushing that way. Must be used to it, Jim decided. He wondered briefly if having a mother around who was open about her feelings for you made you less likely to feel embarrassed, then shrugged off the idea. It had been so long since Jim's mother had been around he couldn't really remember whether she was open about whatever feelings she'd had for him and Stevie. And as for his father, feelings weren't really something "a real man" showed for his sons.
But Jim didn't waste time thinking about how his father acted toward him as he watched the kid dance. He quickly forgot everything else that had been on his mind, his eyes following every move the younger boy made. He was light on his feet, athletic looking, though sort of clumsy due to his youth. He gamely kept on dancing, even when Abby seemed to get bored with the music and went back to her seat. He looked around for someone else to ask -- Jim hadn't noticed very many girls his age here -- and to Jim's surprise, he went up to a girl in Jim's class at school.
Sharon Henson smiled down at him as he stood in front of her, his hands motioning as he obviously asked her to dance. She shook her head, saying no, probably feeling he was the age of kids she baby-sat for, but at least she seemed to try to let him down easily. Undeterred, the kid went off for some punch, and stood with his back to the table, sipping from a cup, looking around for another possible partner.
Jim realized he was thirsty himself and without thinking about it further, headed for the refreshment table too. He poured himself a cup of the punch and took a drink, watching the kid from the new vantage point.
God, the guy was beautiful, Jim realized, seeing him up close for the first time. His hair was dark brown with reddish highlights and was just barely under control tied back that way. Jim wasn't crazy about long hair on girls, but for some reason, the boy's hair made his fingers twitch with the need to touch it. He clenched his hand on the fragile punch cup and cleared his throat.
The kid noticed him then and turned toward him. "The punch is kinda crappy, isn't it?" he asked, smiling up at Jim.
"Uh..." Jim hadn't thought about the taste. "Yeah. Too sweet." Carefully, he sat his cup back on the table. "What's your name? I haven't seen you at any of these dances before."
"Oh, my mom's date said it would be cool if I came," the boy said, grinning. "Mom thought it would be good experience for me, seeing as how I'll be taking some high school classes next year."
"High school classes?" Jim didn't understand. "How old are you?"
"Eleven. I'll be twelve in four months though. But I'm taking some senior high classes." He flushed, for the first time looking somewhat embarrassed. "Yeah, I'm a nerd."
"You don't look like a nerd to me," Jim told him. The blue eyes were so deep and dark, he thought the kid was the farthest thing from a nerd he'd ever seen.
"Well, what else could I be with the kind of grades I get?" the kid laughed. "I love science and all that stuff, too."
Jim nodded. "They tell me that good grades and liking science are good things."
The boy shrugged. "Same here, but then they talk about 'fitting in' and 'social awkwardness' when you do things that the older kids are doing, like I do."
"You don't look awkward," Jim said.
"Well, I try pretty hard," the boy acknowledged. "I like people and music is fun to dance to and all.... Don't you like it?"
"What, dancing?" Jim asked. "It's all right, I guess."
"Haven't seen you out there," the kid pointed out. "There are more girls here your age than there are mine."
Jim sighed. "True." He didn't know what else to say to that, especially when he realized that the kid had been observing him.
"I know, you're a jock and you only feel comfortable on the football field, right?" The kid looked at Jim appraisingly.
"Not exactly." Jim felt unaccountably irritated at the kid's assumption. "I mean, yeah, I play football, but it's not like I'm just a jock."
"So, what then? You just don't like girls?" The boy asked the question innocently, Jim was sure, but it still made him feel exposed.
He didn't want to be mean to the kid though. "My dad makes me and my brother come to these dances. I guess he's hoping we'll date the daughters of the men he does business with."
The kid nodded sagely. "And it's more fun to piss him off, right?" He grinned at Jim as though sharing a secret.
"Something like that," Jim agreed. His father would certainly be pissed if he knew that Jim thought the boy was the most gorgeous kid he'd ever seen. There was just something about him... his confidence, his open friendliness, his eyes that were so much older than his age. He was cute and he was going to be handsome and Jim wished... he didn't know what he wished. That maybe the kid was his own age, or that they'd be going to school together or that they'd met somewhere else, some other time....
But Jim was going to be out of school next year, even though the kid was going to be taking high school classes. Jim was going to be far from Cascade before the kid was anywhere near grown up. For some reason, that made Jim hurt inside.
I'm crazy. I've totally lost my mind. He's six years younger than I am. And he's a boy... I'm not supposed to... what? Feel attracted to boys in the first place and certainly not kids his age. But though Jim couldn't explain it, he did feel something toward the boy. A kind of attraction, yes, but Jim hadn't ever acted on his feelings about other guys, so he didn't even think about that with this younger kid. It was more... fascination. The kid was beautiful, happy, eager and Jim was attracted to the aura of specialness that he exuded. What would it be like to be his friend? To have that eager expectation directed at himself, to have this young guy's attention, his open curiosity, his intellect, turned toward him? Even though he was young, Jim was drawn toward him, as though, once they were both adults, maybe they could be friends.
"Hey, I love this song!" The boy announced as "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" began playing. "There's gotta be at least one girl my age who'll dance to it!" He sat his punch cup on the table and glanced up at Jim. "Come on -- pissing off your dad can only go so far. Ask somebody to dance, man." Winking, the kid hurried off in the direction of Abby Wilson.
Jim sighed. A part of him felt compelled to comply -- and he found himself glancing around for someone to dance with. Sharon Henson had come over to the refreshment table, he noticed.
"Want to dance?" he asked her.
"Okay," Sharon responded.
Jim led her onto the dance floor, subconsciously choosing a spot near where his young friend was dancing with Abby. He couldn't help smiling at the kid's technique, moving his young body to the beat, his feet stepping easily, making no noise in the sneakers he wore with his dress pants and too big jacket.
"I saw you talking to that kid," Sharon said, moving close to Jim so she could talk into his ear over the music. "He asked me to dance!" She laughed without malice.
"How'd that make you feel?" Jim asked, curious.
"Kinda nice, actually," Sharon confided. "He's cute."
Jim agreed, but didn't say so out loud. He danced with Sharon, but kept his gaze on the boy, enjoying his moves and the way his hair reflected the lights.
Jim imagined how he would look when he was a teenager, how his body would fill out with muscle, how his face might look with a bit of stubble on it.
He shook his head, trying to push the images out of his mind. He was being ridiculous. Even young as he was, the kid obviously liked girls. He might be friends with Jim if they were the same age, but he'd never...
The song ended and the kid and Abby stood where they were, talking. The boy wiped some sweat off his brow and flipped his ponytail up as though it was hot under there too. Then, as Jim watched, he pulled the elastic from the ponytail and his hair came cascading down around his shoulders.
Jim sucked in a breath, suddenly flushing with warmth. The boy soon pulled his hair back into its elastic again, but Jim's eyes had already memorized the way he looked with it free. Beautiful... just... beautiful....
"Jim?" Sharon's voice penetrated his fog. "I said, do you want to get something to eat?"
"Uh... sure." Jim agreed without really thinking. He was too preoccupied with his thoughts about the kid. Was he sick? Or just crazy? Why did he want to take the boy home and talk about life with him? Why did he want to touch his hair? Why was he thinking about how he'd look grown up?
He forced his attention back to Sharon, following her over to the refreshment table and picking out some sandwiches. For the rest of the evening, he tried to avoid the kid, afraid of the directions his thoughts had taken him.
His father came by the table where Jim was sitting with Sharon and smiled at the two of them, as though pleased with Jim's choice of dance partner and glad to see his son actually participating finally.
"You look very nice tonight, Sharon," Mr. Ellison offered. "I hope Jim's being a gentleman."
The way his father said that, it sounded as though he expected that Jim might not be gentlemanly.
"We're having a great time, Mr. Ellison," Sharon said. Jim was grateful she was so nice. Too bad he didn't like her more.
A warm peal of laughter rang out from across the room. It was the kid's mother, Jim recognized. His father looked in her direction with a sour look on his face. "Harrington would bring that woman tonight. And she apparently brought her kid along." The way his father said it, you'd think the boy was a delinquent.
Jim swallowed hard, unable to say anything or even look in the kid's direction.
Sharon didn't have the same problem, obviously. "I met him," she told Jim's father. "He's a nice kid."
"It's just... " Mr. Ellison seemed to consider his words, apparently reluctant to offend Sharon, "the mother isn't a member of the club and her boy really isn't aware of the social structure here."
"Oh." Sharon glanced at Jim, seeming embarrassed that his father would say such a thing.
"He seems like he's managing okay, Dad," Jim said, a touch of sarcasm in his tone. "I don't think he's stealing or anything."
"There's no need to be rude, Jim," his father complained.
Like you weren't being rude yourself, Jim thought. His father moved on and Jim sighed. The woman and her son would probably not be back to the club, if Harrington's friends made their feelings known about her. And he wouldn't be attending more dances here himself anyway. So he'd probably never see the kid again.
"Can you give me a ride home, Jim?" Sharon asked. "My parents are probably going to stay until the dance is over and I'm ready to leave now."
"Okay. I'm kind of ready to leave myself," Jim agreed. "Go get your purse and I'll take care of our trash. I'll meet you at the front door."
Sharon smiled and got up, heading for her parents' table. Jim collected their used napkins and plates and took them to the trash receptacle near the refreshment table. He was tossing them away when someone approached.
"Hey, my mom and I are leaving now. I guess Mr. Harrington is tired."
It was the kid. Jim looked at him, his eyes roving over the open, friendly face. He couldn't help focusing on the full lips. "I'm leaving too," he answered. "Did you have a good time?"
The boy nodded. "My mom doesn't go in for the country club scene that much, but she figured it would be a good experience for me." He glanced around, then took a step closer to Jim. "It was cool, I guess. I like doing new stuff, meeting people... I pretend I'm with some native tribe and have to fit in, learn their behavior."
The bizarre statement sort of amused Jim. "You are a nerd, you know that?" He was joking, but tried to sound as though he really meant it.
The kid just laughed as though Jim couldn't fool him for a minute. "I told ya. And you're a jock."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Well, I've gotta go."
"Taking her home?" the kid asked, winking.
"What?" Jim was confused.
"That girl." The kid sidled even closer to Jim. "Are you taking her home?" There was a knowing twinkle in his eyes, and again Jim thought of how the boy seemed older than he was.
"Yeah. I'm giving her a ride." Jim didn't say that he'd be leaving as soon as he dropped Sharon off.
"Cool!" the boy enthused. "I asked her to dance, but she turned me down, dude."
"I guess she thought she was a little too old for you," Jim told him. "But she did say she thought you were cute." He wasn't sure why, but it felt good offering Sharon's compliment to the boy. He wished he could tell him he thought so too.
A grin as big as Washington State lit the kid's face. "Really? Awesome!"
Jim grinned back. "You like girls, I take it."
"Oh, yeah. One of these days, man... I mean, I know I'm just a kid now, but when I'm old enough, I'm gonna date 'em all!" the boy predicted.
Jim was willing to bet that the kid's boast would come true. For some reason, however, the idea only depressed him. Stupid, he told himself, it's not like I'll ever see him again anyway.
"Well, see you around," the kid was saying as he moved to head toward the table where his mom was waiting with Mr. Harrington.
"Wait a minute," Jim called, realizing something. "You never answered my question."
The warm blue eyes met Jim's, and he felt them pulling him in, calling to his soul. "I asked you what your name is before and you never answered."
"Oh! Right. Sorry about that." He offered Jim his hand. "I'm Blair Sandburg."
"Jim Ellison," he responded, taking the younger boy's hand and shaking it. Blair's grip was firm and unhesitant on Jim's hand. Jim found himself not wanting to let go. The sensation of Blair's hand in his own touched something deep inside him. There could be a connection between them, he felt it, he knew it. A deep, aching hunger opened up inside Jim, nearly overwhelming him.
"Blair, sweetie! Come on, time to go!"
Blair turned at the sound of his mother's lilting voice. "Be right there!" he called to her.
He turned back to meet Jim's eyes.
"You okay, man?"
Reluctantly, Jim let go of his hand. "Ye -- " He could barely talk. Clearing his throat, he tried again. "Yeah. Nice meeting you, Blair. I hope you like the high school classes next year."
"Thanks! And, uh... good luck to you, too, Jim. Whatever you do from now on... " Thick lashes swept down over the deep blue eyes momentarily. "We... we didn't get a chance for you to tell me your plans or anything. Sorry about that." He looked apologetic and Jim decided that maybe Blair had actually wanted to know more about him. It felt good to think that.
"Guess we were both paying too much attention to the girls, huh?" Blair said, laughing. He shrugged then, tossing a glance back to where his mother was waiting. "Well, I gotta go. See you around, Jim."
"See you," Jim whispered as the kid hurried off. He didn't think it would happen though. He would be leaving Cascade for whatever the army and life away from his father would mean. Blair would be on his way to growing up fast, and Jim had a feeling he would be enjoying everything about that journey. Their paths would never cross again. He felt empty inside, the tempting hunger that had opened up inside him at the touch of Blair's hand like a raw wound, the connection he had sensed between them abruptly severed.
It was probably for the best, he told himself. He didn't understand the thoughts and feelings he'd had about Blair himself; it would be wrong for him to expect the kid to be able to comprehend them.
Jim pushed his feelings down, burying them in that hidden place inside him where he kept all of his life's hurts and disappointments. Sharon was waiting to be driven home.