The night was perfect for romance -- a bayside ballroom, the outside air cool and breezy. Clouds obscured the moon, but the city skyline provided all the atmosphere anyone could want.
Sophie's Bat Mitzvah was different. It was the first one held outside the city. Instead of gathering at one of the usual spots -- a number of venues in the Presidio, various hotels around town -- she had her party at The Spinnaker, a waterfront restaurant in Sausalito. Through the ballroom's floor-to-ceiling windows, partygoers were treated to a view of Angel Island and San Francisco.
There was a deck, where revelers could go to take a break from the party inside. But most of the action was inside. That's where the DJ set a mood by turns rowdy and intimate.
As of tonight, the boy had attended Bar and Bat Mitzvahs numbering in two digits. For this one, his parents had driven him over the Golden Gate Bridge, dropped him at the party and then disappeared. That's how it works. Where they went was of no concern to him. He knew they'd appear, summoned by the internal clock he'd come to depend on, as the party wound down.
While this Bat Mitzvah was already different, for most of the evening it proceeded much as all the others had. After an hour, they boy shed his suit jacket and untucked his shirt. It was easier to dance that way.
Because the boy loved dancing. Though he looked forward to each week with varying levels of enthusiasm, once he heard the music and saw the dance floor, he was smitten. With or without a partner -- usually without -- he stayed on the parquet for hours, the endless parade of music filling his ears then traveling through his bloodstream until it reached all of his extremities at once. He have to move.
Over the past year, the boy had watched his classmates change, while he stayed the same, he thought. Some of the changes were maddening -- friends who'd once shared his interests had spun off in different directions. Some even scoffed at the way they "used to be," leaving the boy confused and angry.
Nowhere were these changes more obvious than at the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. "Make good choices," his parents would tell him each week. He saw some classmates, usually boys whose sense of mischief had developed before anything else, being disruptive, snickering during services, disappearing from the sanctuary then re-apprearing in the farthest corners of the room, a knowing smirk on their faces.
At the parties, it seemed, the groups were divided along several lines. Here was a group that wanted to dance; another wanted to congregate in small groups on the edges of the dance floor, pointing and speaking with their mouths covered.
Some boys couldn't stay in one place. They spent the evenings in constant exploration, finding hidden alcoves and secret passageways, then returning to the party exhilarated, chests thrust out in pride after eluding parents and security guards in their adventures.
The girls, the boy noted, usually did one of two things: they danced with each other, or they stood in circles, excitedly talking to one another. Sometimes, almost every week, they chose one or two boys to follow -- usually the same boys week after week. Why they did this was a complete mystery to the boy. He just wanted to dance.
It wasn't that he didn't like girls. Back in third and fourth grade, he'd had a girlfriend. Her name was Rachel. For some reason -- he couldn't remember why --they'd stopped being boyfriend and girlfriend. She'd since faded into the group, another girl he'd known for a very long time.
But these guys, some of whom had been among his best friends, all they wanted to do was chase around the girls. It didn't seem very productive, nor much fun. He was curious, sure, but that's it. Girls didn't like the things he liked. They didn't care about robots or Star Wars. Their idea of a perfect afternoon certainly didn't include taking BART across the bay and spending a few hours in the basement at Berkeley Games, competing in Yu-Gi-Oh battles with unkempt teenagers.
The food had been good. The view out the windows was nice. The DJ was okay. He hadn't been at all prepared when Rachel asked him to slow dance, but she did.
And it wasn't bad. He couldn't figure out why he was nervous. It was Rachel, after all, and it had been years since they were going together. Slow dancing wasn't as much fun as dancing to the Black Eyed Peas, but he could see where it had its merits. He liked the way Rachel's hair smelled, like flowers. It felt cool to have his hands on her shoulders. It made him feel strong.
So they danced to the next slow song, too. And then the one after that. This DJ played more slow music than the others.
As they danced, the boy began to wonder how this looked to everyone else. Thinking of this made him embarassed. He'd have to play this off afterwards. For right now, though, it was nice. It made him feel older, though he wished he didn't have to look up to see Rachel's face. This pre-adolescence thing could be a drag, everyone growing at different rates.
He wished he'd watched the clock more closely, and not been slow-dancing when his parents came to drive him home. He tried, casually, to move Rachel across the room so they'd be hidden. Too late. His parents, who looked like they might have run across a few alcoholic beverages wherever they'd gone during the party, had seen him. He could see them animatedly talking to each other, then looking in his direction. Ugh.
He hadn't even had time to comtemplate the meaning of it. Did this mean Rachel liked him again? Did it mean he liked Rachel? What would happen Monday at school? Is this what had been going on with eveyrone else? Could these be the first stirrings of feelings that might one day render Yu-Gi-Oh cards and Legos unimportant and trivial? And now, without any preparation, he'd have to face his parents.
The song ended. To buy time, he disappeared into the crowd to get his suit jacket. He put it on, his shirt still untucked and hurried back across the room. When he reached his parents, he brusquely said, "We'll talk about it later," then continued out to the foyer of the restaurant. "Come on," he said tersely, "lets go already." If only he'd been able to get that smile off his face, he thought. Why am I smiling?
Fortunately, the fallout turned out to be minor. He'd carpooled with the Russians, and managed to keep up a constant stream of conversation during the ride home, diverting his parents attention and giving them no chance to pry. Whenever his mother made a comment about "slow-dancing with Rachel," he ignored her. She didn't press the issue.
He went to sleep that night feeling a little bit different. He was confused, but it was a good kind of confusion, like when you get the Lego magazine and the Nintendo magazine on the same day and can't decide which one to read first.
As he slept, he dreampt of the same things he always dreamed of. He woke up early the next morning and snuck into his parents room. He climbed into bed with them, something he'd done on and off since he was a toddler but hadn't done lately, curling up next to his mother and sleeping another two hours.
Today was like any other day. He built things with Legos, played games on his iTouch, watched old "Star Trek" episodes on his computer. He indulged his father for awhile by watching football games with him. Everything had returned to normal.
But as he took a shower that night, his mind wandered to the previous evening and he found himself humming one of the songs they'd played. Thinking about last night made him feel like he had a great secret, one whose exclusivity made keeping it a thousand times better than sharing it with anyone else would.
Nobody but but the boy knows how he feels, what's going on in his head as he takes his first tentative steps out of childhood, but if he were able to ask someone, they might tell him that what he's walking toward is the next big thing.