Cheyenne winks at me as we roll out the dance floor and snap it into the stretchers. It takes six of us, evenly spaced, to roll the floor, and I strain with the exertion.
“Breathe!” Janine challenges from the sidelines. “It takes oxygen to move muscles!”
Ah, she’s right. I was pushing so hard I forgot to breathe.
It’s ingenious, this floor. The carpenters and sewers designed it together, which is not so far-fetched, when you think about it.
Whether joining wood or fabric, you need to measure and cut carefully, then seam the pieces together. Nails, screws, and bolts stitch beams and walls. Pins, needles and thread, hooks and eyes do the same for quilts and shirts.
The dance floor is thirty feet by thirty, large enough for squares, rounds, jigs, and line dances. Made of tiny slats of bamboo, the floor lies perfectly flat when pinned in the stretchers, and rolls up neatly for storage.
To keep it stable on uneven ground, the sewers made a sub-floor of canvas stuffed with firm cotton batting, softer on the bottom to dip and swell with the earth, firmer on top to provide a stable surface for the bamboo. The edges of both sub-floor and floor slip into vise-like stretchers on all four sides. Well-spaced pegs anchor the stretchers to the ground. The result is a firm, smooth surface for happy feet.
“Save a dance for me,” Cheyenne whispers, pecking me on the cheek.
She is playing bass fiddle in the band tonight. I love to watch her hands stroking the long neck, plucking the strings. Too in love with making music to be self-conscious, she is oblivious to the thrill I feel watching her dance with the instrument, a secret I have kept for twenty years.
Cheyenne and the other players tune their instruments while the rest of us finish stringing the lights and setting the refreshment tables.
Dusk is settling to dark on this cool September eve, and the first star hangs low and bright in the sky, twinkling with the cheery strands we’ve stretched high above the perimeter of the dance floor. More lights along the yard’s edge reflect off the smooth surface of the pond.
Crickets sing, along with the tree frogs. The mockingbird adds its evening call.
As the first strains of music spill into the air, someone touches my elbow. “May I have this dance?”
“Jacob! I would be delighted! My goodness, you are as tall as I am! Have you grown another six inches in the last six weeks?”
He flushes from his neck to his ears, and I regret my comment immediately, but his grin is wide when he answers.
“Yup. Pa says I’m keeping the weavers and sewers busy at least two days a week all by myself, just to keep me in britches and shirts. C’mon!”
He bows a gentlemanly bow, takes my hand, and leads me onto the floor in a fast-paced two-step to You Never Can Tell.
Jacob is unexpectedly smooth, gliding us clockwise round the floor. He holds my hand gently at just the right angle and guides me neatly with the slightest pressure on my back.
“Jacob, when did you learn to dance like this?”
“Pa’s been teaching me. I wanted to try it out on you first, Rose, ‘cause I knew you’d be honest with me. Am I doing okay?”
His face is earnest, his eyes dark under reddish-brown brows.
“Jacob, only your pa could teach a young man to do the two-step like a seasoned dancer. In fact, I’d say he’s the only one in the village who can guide a partner more gently or confidently.”
Jacob lets out a long breath. I hadn’t realized he was holding it.
He flushes again, all the way to his forehead.
“You planning to ask someone else to dance tonight?” I am deliberately coy, only because I feel like a favorite aunty who can get away with anything.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he says, flushing deeper.
He misses a beat, recovers immediately, and I catch Cheyenne’s eye as we round the floor nearest the stage. She winks, and runs her right hand down the strings of the bass in the final riff of the song.
I hide a smile as Jacob bows again and walks me to an empty table. Unexpectedly, he sits too. We catch our breath together in silence. He fidgets, rolling the hem of his shirt back and forth against his leg.
“What it is, Jacob?”
“I’ve never asked a girl to dance, Rose. Not, well, not a grown-up girl, I mean, a girl that I liked. You know.” His eyes are lowered. The chair squeaks as he shifts in his seat.
“Hmmm. Someone you like a lot . . .”
He glances toward the refreshment table, where Elizabeth is pouring punch. At just that moment, she lifts her head and their eyes meet. She flashes the smile of a girl infatuated with a boy and he lowers his head, ears flaming red. Mournful eyes look deeply into mine. I stifle an inappropriate, unwelcome giggle.
“I never felt like this before, Rose,” he says. “My insides hurt when I look at her. I feel all quivery. When she smiles like that, I want to smile back, and I want to run as far as I can, all at the same time.”
“What does your Pa say about it?”
“He says that’s exactly how he felt when he was courtin’ Ma. He says it’s natural and I should get used to it because I’m fast becoming a man. But I don’t feel like a man, I feel like, like, I don’t know what!”
Tenderness wells in me for this boy I once found sleeping with a family of mule deer, far from the village, and who can call blue birds to his hand.
“What should I do, Rose?”
“Jacob, remember how you felt the first time you found an injured animal and nursed it back to health?”
“The goshawk we found with a broken leg when I was four. You showed me how to splint it. We fed her and exercised her until she was ready to go on her own again.”
“Do you remember how you felt when we found her?”
“I, I couldn’t catch my breath.”
“You shook like the leaves on an aspen.”
“I thought she would die!”
“Do you remember how you felt when we released her and you watched her soar?”
“I felt big! I felt like we could do anything! I felt as if I were flying with her. It was like I could see through her eyes–see us back on the ground, waving to her.”
“Love can be like that, Jacob, a little terrifying at first, because you don’t know what is going to happen, but when you nurture it and let it go, it can blossom into something that leaves you breathless and exhilarated, and completely at peace all at the same time.
“Sometimes you become good friends, down the road. Sometimes, like your ma and pa, you become life partners. Who’s to say? This is your first love? Treat it with care, nurture it lovingly, see where it grows.”
We both turn to Elizabeth, balancing two cups of punch on a small tray of goodies.
“I thought you and Rose might be thirsty.”
Elizabeth includes me by name, but her eyes are for Jacob.
“Thank you, Elizabeth, but I promised a dance to Cheyenne, who is about to take a break from playing. Would you mind keeping Jacob company?”
Neither is listening. If Jacob’s face were any redder, it would catch fire. Elizabeth sets the punch coolly in front of him, and the other cup in front of herself as she takes a seat.
“Would you come by tomorrow and look at our kitten?” Her voice is strong, with just a hint of quaver. “She’s avoiding her food the past few days.”
Jacob sits up, all shyness gone at the thought of an animal in distress, and begins asking questions.
Neither notice when I step away to Cheyenne, who is waiting discreetly, just out of earshot.
“What was that about?” Cheyenne asks.
“First love,” I smile, squeezing her hand.
“They’re playing our song, my own dear first love.”
She grabs my hand and leads me to the dance floor where we sway and bend to the strains of one of our favorites. Cheyenne sings softly, into my hair.
Do you still get a thrill
When you see me comin’
Down the hill,
Honey now do ya?
Do you whisper my name
Just to bring a little comfort to ya?
Honey now do ya’?
Honey I sure do,
Still love you
. . .*
*© K.T. Oslin