Sam expected the dance class to be a disaster, but this particular variety of disaster had caught him off guard. It seemed to him that everything had been going fine – surprisingly well, even – but now they were back in the car and Diane wasn't saying anything. That was always a bad sign where she was concerned, but he could think of no reason for her to be upset. She was the one who insisted on them taking dance classes – it sure as hell hadn't been him – but after she dismissed his succession of increasingly feeble protests, he had gone along with it. And then, the class turned out to be better than he anticipated: almost… fun? He didn't want to dance, he hated the idea of dancing, but once he made her promise a few dozen times that she wouldn't tell anyone about it, he allowed himself to get into the spirit. The last time he danced was in junior high, and he'd liked it all right then because it meant they got to have gym class with the girls, but when he reflected on the experience it occurred to him that dancing wasn't too different from sports, not really. There was coordination involved, maybe some stamina, and in a strange way it reminded him of when he'd first learned to pitch: teaching his arms to move with his legs when they didn't want to. It was an unnatural movement and he wouldn't call it graceful, but there was kind of a musical quality in how it all came together, the parts forced into grudging synchrony with each other. He liked it in baseball and now he admitted to himself that maybe he liked it in dancing too. He'd had a good time – but apparently she hadn't, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out what he'd done wrong.
"You, uh… Is everything okay?" He tilted his head to glance at her, rather cautiously, out of the corner of his eye. Her arms were crossed over her chest and she was staring out the window, pouting – but when he spoke her gaze flickered on him and she scowled.
"Everything's fine," she snapped. "Why shouldn't it be?"
"I… Uh, I dunno. You aren't talking."
"Do I have to talk all the time?"
Without being able to stop himself he gave a snort of amusement; it sounded like something he would say, or better yet something he would say to her: "Do you have to talk all the time?" But her expression remained stony and he quickly regained his composure, turning to her with only the trace of a smirk across his face.
"Well, of course not, sweetheart," he said, reaching over to pat her on the knee. "I just know you like to."
She jolted away from his touch and scowled at him again before turning back to the window. "Well, I don't want to right now."
"Okay," he shrugged, but he did not think for a moment that the issue – whatever it was – had been resolved. He adjusted the mirror just slightly so he could watch her without her knowing it; four times she turned to him, her mouth opening and closing wordlessly like a fish or some kind of mime. From the way her eyes were narrowed he knew she was planning her retort, but her body would not let her expel it as words until she'd gotten it perfect. On the fifth time, she finally succeeded.
"I should have known," she said scathingly, "that this would turn out badly. I shouldn't have brought you."
"What the hell did I do?" They reached a stoplight and he braked abruptly, causing them both to spring forward against their seatbelts. "Sorry," he mumbled, but she ignored him, recrossing her arms and looking away pointedly into the distance.
"Seriously!" he repeated. "What did I do? I thought I did fine."
"Oh sure," she sneered. "You were great. You were the star of the class."
"Well…" He considered this, completely baffled. "Wasn't I? I did good."
"Well," she corrected. "You did well."
"So what's the big problem?"
She paused for a moment before responding, rolling her eyes and letting out a long sigh, as if he was being impossibly stupid. "You don't even like dancing," she said finally.
"I know!" he said. "You know. I told you I didn't want to go."
"For someone who didn't want to go, you sure seemed to enjoy yourself…" He gaped at her. What was she getting at? Had she wanted him to hate it? "Our teacher certainly thought so," she added disdainfully.
"Our teacher?" he said. So that was the problem? She was jealous of their teacher, who was clearly at least ten years older than either of them? Maybe she had paid him a little more attention than the other students, but as far as he could tell it was only because he'd been better than them. Diane's apparent jealousy was completely absurd, but at the same time he felt a surge of pride – and affection too, as he watched her in the mirror, even if she had chosen to handle the situation in the most bizarre and befuddling way possible. He had to fight to keep himself from smiling: she really was crazy about him, as crazy as he was about her. "Hey, don't worry about that," he said. "You know she's married, don't you?"
"Married?" Diane repeated, her scowl disappearing for a moment as a look of confusion crossed her face. Then it returned and she continued with renewed fierceness. "That's not what I meant!" she snapped. "Are you capable of thinking about anything but sex?"
This surprised him, and irritated him too. What was he supposed to think? "What did you mean, then?" he asked snidely.
"I meant…" She hesitated, looking a little stricken, and it made him still more uneasy. "Well, she treated you like you were Fred Astaire or something… And me…" She trailed off, and it seemed that the explanation sapped her of her remaining energy; she slouched against the window, defeated. But he still had no idea what she was trying to say.
"Do you want to hear me say it?" she asked heatedly. "She treated me like I was an idiot, like I couldn't… Like I shouldn't… Uh…"
"Dance?" he supplied. He hadn't meant it cruelly – he was only guessing – but when she glared at him he knew he had guessed right. "Well," he said uncomfortably. "You were just having some trouble…"
"Oh, and you would know."
"Why wouldn't I?" This was the most maddening thing about her, how she could make him go from adoring her to despising her and back and forth a few more times, all in the space of about a minute. She was beginning to irritate him; this was clearly her problem, and yet she was making it about him, his lack of sensitivity, his lack of refinement, whatever it was that always got her so worked up.
"You don't know a thing about dance!"
"Yeah, well, at least I can do it."
"So can I!" she retorted, but she seemed unconvinced of her words, almost melancholy. He told himself to be careful: he could deal with her angry, but he never knew what to do when she was sad. "I studied ballet," she continued haughtily. "For ten years, all through my childhood."
"Did you?" he asked, almost grinning. The image of Diane as a ballerina was a strange dichotomy, because she looked to him like a dancer and seemed to have the right sensibilities for it… But then he'd seen her in the class, and the image became comic. Had she danced like that for ten years without anyone telling her it wasn't going to work?
She seemed to recognize the skepticism in his voice and straightened in her seat, looking still more disdainful. "I did!" she insisted. "I was good at it, too."
"I'm… I'm sure you were."
"I know," he said, trying to make the white lie sound as earnest and sincere as possible. "I believe you. I do." She watched him warily, saying nothing. "I guess ballroom dancing is just different from ballet," he added, shrugging.
"Maybe," she mumbled.
"Anyway," he said, clearing his throat. "You shouldn't feel bad about it. I just, uh, I pick up on that stuff quick. I was a professional athlete, y'know."
"Oh, right," she smirked. "Because throwing a ball is so difficult."
There she went again. Just when his irritation was dying down, she had to say something to make it flare back up. She was the one who couldn't dance, and yet she was making him feel like a failure for it. "It's much more difficult!" he countered. A memory came to him – a collection of memories, really, so many that they fused into one anonymous moment that could only be felt as sensations: the crack of a bat, the ball arcing like a comet over the Green Monster in left… The groans from the crowd, the sound of shuffling feet as the spectators gathered their things and filed out. The embarrassment had never left him and he added darkly, "It was the hardest thing I ever did." Then he looked at her and corrected himself: "Maybe the second hardest."
"I hardly think you can compare your… barbaric jockage to the art of dance."
"Barbaric?" he burst, and then continued with a tone of mock contemplation. "God, a dancing barbarian. I could be in the circus."
"Try the freak show."
"Don't you talk to me about freak shows." He spotted a near-empty parking lot ahead and veered into it sharply, throwing them forward against their seatbelts once again. He parked the car.
"What are you doing?!" she demanded.
She studied their surroundings uneasily, her anger towards him seemingly in conflict with her fear of being left there. It was not, he knew, a particularly nice neighborhood, and it was getting late; the streetlights had been on for at least a few hours. "How do you expect me to get home?" she asked incredulously. "I don't even know where we are. Sam Malone, I don't believe that even you could be so—"
"Oh, shut up," he groaned, reaching into the glove compartment. He fumbled for a moment before extracting a baseball. "I'm not leaving you here, just get out." When he unbuckled his own seatbelt and opened the door she relaxed slightly, but her movements were still rigid and wary as she complied with his instruction. It was late autumn, a little cold, and she shivered in the parking lot, staring at him. He did not meet her eyes, instead walking to a line of white paint across the asphalt and tracing it with his toe. "This will be the rubber," he told her.
"Well, come on," he snapped, gesturing for her to approach. "You think it's so easy…"
She stepped towards him slowly, her expression skeptical and confused. "What are you—"
"I'm gonna show you how to pitch," he said. "Then we'll see which is harder."
"Sam, this is completely—"
"Chicken!" he interrupted, grinning victoriously. "You're scared! You know you won't be able to do it and then I'll be right."
"This doesn't prove any—"
"Then why don't you do it?"
For a long moment they stared at each other, neither blinking. Then she gave a small nod. "Okay," she agreed, smirking. "You're on."
He was still angry at her, but he could not quite ignore the giddiness he felt as he settled himself on the makeshift mound; however many bad memories he had from baseball, something about the act of pitching itself always put him at ease. It was funny too, the idea of Diane pitching – and at the same time he liked her being there, seeing that he was good at something. "I'll show you first," he said, and proceeded to explain the mechanics of his windup as he enacted them in slow motion. He stopped himself just before the time came to release the ball, and instead placed it in her hands. "Okay, your turn."
It was almost impossible for him to keep from laughing as he watched her; she was so resolute and so incompetent at the same time. The first part of the motion she performed successfully, stepping back and raising her arms in unison, but when she reached the top of the kick she lost her balance, the windup devolving into an artless flail. She's so clumsy, he thought, but it occurred to him that he had never seen her as graceless. She had her own way of moving, a kind of fumbling delicateness that controlled her more than she controlled it. The ball sailed in a gentle arc and landed with a thud a few feet away, bouncing against the pavement. At this he finally allowed himself to laugh, realizing at the same time that he was no longer angry at her.
She remained stationary, almost paralyzed, so he trotted off to retrieve the ball and held it out to her, grinning. "Nice try," he smirked, but her head was inclined downwards and she did not look at him.
"You were right," she murmured. "I can't… I can't dance… Or do anything…"
She trailed off, her voice faltering and defeated, and he felt a surge of guilt for having provoked it. He hadn't expected to upset her – or maybe he'd been trying to upset her and decided against it midway, without amending his actions to correspond with his changing sentiments. He grabbed her by the arm, more roughly than he intended. "Hey," he said. "It doesn't matter."
She shook her head feebly and he stepped back, peering across the parking lot at a stop sign in the distance. He went into his windup and launched the ball at it, where it ricocheted loudly against the white letters, leaving a dent. For a moment the entire sign vibrated from the impact.
"Wow," she whispered, more to herself than to him, but he felt his heart swell so forcefully that he thought his chest might explode. He decided not to tell her that he'd been aiming for the pole, where the strike zone would be, rather than the sign itself. Had it been a real game, that pitch would have gone over the batter's head and probably the catcher's too – a wild pitch – but, he realized, unlike the umpires or the fans or his teammates, she wouldn't know the difference anyway. And if someone told her, she still wouldn't particularly care. He knew then that he needed to touch her, and so he did, pulling her against his chest.
"It really doesn't matter," he said.
"But it matters to me," she murmured in protest. "That I can't dance."
"You can dance. Come on." He wrapped his arm around her waist and took her hand into his, raising it to eye level as their teacher had demonstrated when explaining to them the basic waltz. But when he began the box step they learned, she grew stiff and awkward beneath his touch. He pulled her closer, grinning to himself. "Come on," he urged again. "Just do the opposite of what I'm doing." He paused, the grin widening. "You're usually so good at that."
She couldn't do it. She absolutely couldn't do it, and it didn't bother him at all, but he worried that it might upset her further and so he kept on with his attempts at instructing her. "You're thinking too hard," he said, but her face was screwed up in concentration and she did not seem to hear him. Finally he abandoned the box step and they stood in place, swaying…and then he didn't even remember how to dance or pitch or do anything else; all he knew was the feeling of her head against his chest, her form folded into his.
"Am I doing it?" she asked suddenly. "The waltz? Am I doing it right?"
"Yeah," he said. "You're doing it perfectly."