Bekah’s body was soft. I could feel the warmth of the room and the dancing all radiating off her in a way that made me feel safe and loved. As I held her, and we swayed to the music of the anniversary party, I realized I had never loved anyone or anything as much as I did this one girl at this one moment. She looked up at me as if my eyes had silently beckoned hers.
The eyes, the face, the lips, and the way she smiled consumed me and I bent low to kiss her soft. I had never kissed a girl this way. Never in a soft, sort of shy, lingering way. The kiss was all lips, no tongue, just the soft press of lips interlocking and holding. I closed my eyes and held tight to Bekah. As the music played and I swayed, I knew this was my soulmate. This was the one girl. This was the answer to all the questions. This, right here, was my way home.
I pulled away and my body spoke for me. My chest, my heart said I love you to Bekah and I felt her body say the same to me. Words had become inconsequential. They had, for that one moment, become cumbersome and obsolete.
Then the music stopped.
The couples shuffled off the floor and Bekah turned for the tables.
Come out, Virginia, don’t let me wait,
You Catholic girls start much too late.
It’s Billy Joel, and I have never wanted to dance with a girl before. Not like this. I have always danced the slow dance. At home, a few times, when I was a bold teenager dancing with his mommy, I had danced to fast songs, but never in public. Never at school dances or wedding dances or any other kind of dances you can think of. Usually slow song ends, and I rush off the floor. But seeing her walk away from me is unbearable.
I want to dance. I want to sing to her; I want to sweat and laugh and move my body and watch her move hers. I want all the trappings of good dancing. I want her on this floor for a little longer. As she walks away, I loop my hand around her elbow, and I spin her around.
She looks at me, confused. We stare at each other for a long moment and I am unsure. I am scared. There are more than a hundred people here. More than I ever wanted to even look at me, let alone watch me dance. She stares at me and slowly a smile rises.
I extend my hand and she giggles. She rolls her eyes and says, “Really?”
I grab her and spin her. I throw her wide to spin across the floor. She looks at me, and me at her, and I come in. I’m not thinking now. I am not trying. I don’t care in that moment if I am the worst dancer these people have ever seen.
Bramble danced with Rose. She said that a man needs to be able to dance with his woman to slow songs and fast. And Bekah was my woman. This woman, more than any other ever has been, was mine. I can feel it. I can see it. It is in everything that I do and everything that I think. This is the one they built for me. No other lover will be half as sweet. No other person can understand or begin to feel the world the way I do.
Will I look like a fool with her? Absolutely. Will I make an idiot out of myself in front of over a hundred people? Every day. Because none of it matters. All that matters is her in this moment, at this time. And I have always loved Billy Joel. Billy was with me before Metal. Me and Billy have been jamming together for years. It is perfect that Billy sings me into this new, wild thing I am doing.
So, we danced. I moved with her, she moved with me. I sang to her; she sang to me. We danced, and we sweat, and we gasped for breath, and we spun. We played on that floor all night long, coming off long enough to drink real quick before rushing back out to do it again.
It is November in Wisconsin. It is cold outside. They have yet to get their first real snow, but it is in the air. At one point we are so hot and so sweaty that we rush outside into the night.
“You dance, too?” she said.
“I do tonight.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have never done this before,” I said. “I have only slow danced with a girl. I have never done whatever that was.”
“Really? Only with me?”
“Yes. How did I do?”
“You’re a great dancer! Better than I have ever seen. You’re great!”
“Well, this shirt is a mess.”
“I don’t care. Let’s go back. Do you want to? We don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said.
I walk up to her and I take her face in my hands. She is still gasping just a little for breath. I know at that moment that I will dance with her until they kick us out or I die of a heart attack, because it makes her happy.
“How can you be so perfect?” she said.
“It’s just my design. I was designed for one person. No one else thinks I’m perfect because I am not for anyone else.”
She kissed me then. Bekah grabbed me and kissed me like Michael Corleone in Godfather 2. She grabs my face, completely overcome with passion and desire and she kisses me hard and long and well. She stands me up. Like a receiver with a football I have been bent over running all my life. But she hits me so hard in that one moment that she stands me up straight and tall and stops my momentum. She brings me to a halt, locks me in this one moment. I am dizzy. Not from the exertion, but from the kiss. From the purity of it and the lust. The love and the need. I am unmanned, and made manly, by this one kiss in this parking lot I will never see again.
She pulls back and stares at me. I stare at her.
In the distance I can hear Madonna.
Get into the groove, boy, you got to prove
your love to me.
“I like this song,” I said.
“Let’s go!” she said.
I grabbed her hand and ran. I run like the world is trying to take her away, because it is. Everything in our life is trying to break what we have in this moment. We are being forced into things and being attacked. We are being fought with and pressured, and every bit of everything in this world is trying like the devil to pull us apart. But we can run, and we do. I grabbed her hand and I ran from all of it. I ran out into the hallway, down the hall, past the bathrooms and we broke into the dining hall again. We shoved our way as politely as we could out onto the floor, and I grabbed her hand. I spun her out and away as far as she’d twirl. She spun to a stop, her dress fluttered around her and she looked at me.
In that moment we are truly happy. They have not won yet. They have not broken us yet.
All of it will. But in that moment, we are playing. And all the pissed off, controlling mothers, all the quiet fathers who could have stepped in at any time but didn’t, all the sisters and brothers, the coming college and the Droogs, none of them have won yet. We are still on top. And as we dance our way back together we reach the pinnacle of our happiness. We crest. From this point, it is down. From this point, it will be battle. But for now…
We get into the groove.
On that trip, I took her to my old neighborhoods. We walked the streets that me and Cage had walked. We found the places where Guardian had ridden his seatless bike with Gift. We found Billy Badass’s corner, and we saw the viaduct but didn’t go under, to the basketball hoops.
When we got to Cage’s old house we knocked. I had to introduce myself to his mother when she answered the door. I looked so different from the kid she knew that it was impossible for her to see me. She took me into her house and snapped the door closed behind me.
She cried when she talked about Cage. They had moved him to a correctional facility in Illinois and she could not go visit him very often. She pulled out sad pictures of him in prison with Hawaiian backdrops so that he didn’t have to pose in front of a brick wall.
She swore she had made a difference. At his sentencing, she stood up and talked on his behalf. She had spoken about how good a boy he was, and how he would never hurt anyone. That it was not his fault and that he was tricked into helping with that murder. She talked at length about how good he was in school and again how good a boy he was.
When the guy he was linked to, got up to talk he said that he chose Cage because he knew he could bully him and force him to obey. He needed someone to help him commit the murder, and Cage was just damaged enough to be easily forced into it.
His mother called the other guy evil, said he was the spawn of Satan, and asked if I wanted to watch the sentencing tape she had and hear her speech.
I asked her if it would make her cry to hear it again. She said she always cried every time she heard it but she couldn’t stop watching it. I hugged her, told her I loved her, and told her we should not watch it.
See, I knew then what I had known years ago. Cage’s dad had beaten him down so much, he was used to be kicked. On the street, Cage was a machine. He was a powerhouse, but he was used to being beaten down and broken by his father.
His mother had left his father years ago. She hated him for what he had done, for his drinking and for the things he had done to Meek. She didn’t get into any details. I didn’t ask.
She asked questions about our life for a while but could barely pay attention. I told her I was going to college, but the news seemed to hurt her, so I changed the subject. I soon realized I was causing her pain just by being there. Seeing me out and free and not standing beside her son was bending her.
We left, but before we did Meek came in with her new man. I can’t remember if he was her boyfriend, or her fiancé. She was happy. She was bright. And she talked about how much she hated her father.
Again, I asked no questions. We talked for a while, then Bekah and I left. I needed to put that place behind me.
We were in Milwaukee, so we had to get Cousins Subs. It’s a sub shop chain that only exists in Wisconsin. If you are ever there, go find that shop. There are a few of them in town. I set a sub in front of her in the little red plastic basket they come in and she looked at it. Ham and cheese, tomatoes, string onions, mine had mayo, hers didn’t, a bit of oregano. That is it. She looked at it trying to be impressed. She wanted this to be as special to her as it was to me. She nodded and smiled.
“Don’t nod and smile,” I said to her. “You have no idea. It looks nothing like it tastes. Pick it up and eat it. Then you’re allowed to nod and smile.”
She giggled and ate. Of course, she freaked out. It’s Cousins. She had no choice. If you ever go to Milwaukee, get Cousins while you are there. Tell them Jesse sent you. They will look at you like your crazy because they have no idea who I am, but it will make me happy, so do it anyway.
I bought a full sized fifteen-inch sub for Mumble and put it in the cooler. We drove it home and gave it to him and he almost cried.
Rose started in on us asking us all sorts of questions, all the while showing that she was still mad we had gone at all.
When I told her that everyone loved Bekah and they could not wait for the wedding, she scowled. When I told her everyone had promised to come to see us get married, she stormed out of the room. She still had no idea how she was going to tear us apart, but she was working on it.
When it was all done, and I was walking into Best Western, it seemed surreal. I had taken the woman I loved back home. Had shown her my life. Had taken her through the streets I grew up on. She had learned it all and experienced it all without fear or shame.
No matter the neighborhood, she was never nervous because she had the Street Rat with her. That would stick. She would never be scared, not of me or around me. Even when Teth grabbed her by the throat. Even when Assassin pulled a blade on her. Nothing scared her, because she knew that within me was the guy she loved. And deep inside him, buried under pain and abuse and a broken mind, cowered a power that would never let anything hurt her.