by: Rebecca Taylor
“A beer please,” said Marvin Winthorp heading into an odd-looking tavern.
“What do you think this is!” demanded Kate Jessup.
“Just get me a beer; it’s been a long day.”
“Fine, root beer, or spruce beer.”
“Don’t play games with me, I want alcoholic beer, and I want it now. What kind of barroom is this?”
“This isn’t a bar, Mister, if you head downstairs, you’ll see that it is a ballroom.”
“Doesn’t look like much of anything, if you ask me.”
“I didn’t. It’s a poor neighbourhood and we have a limited budget.”
“Balls are meant to be played with outside on a court, not in some ramshackle basement.”
“Ballroom dancing, not soccer, or basketball,” answered Kate rolling her eyes.
“You’re wasting your time on a place like this if you’re going to dance.”
“It gets kids off the streets; they learn to dance, instead of getting themselves into trouble. We’re saving lives and building futures.”
“There’s got to be something wrong with these kids if they want to dance.”
Why don’t you just leave, you obviously came here by accident. What we do here is none of your business. “What’s your interest in us anyway?”
“Why the store counter if this place is for dancing?”
“We sell non alcoholic beverages and snacks for income. It does quite well after our shows.”
“Watching people dance must be duller than watching a game of golf.”
“It’s actually quite popular. Have you never heard of the reality show ‘Dancing with the Stars’?”
Who do you think I am some chick flick guy? I watch hockey not some people flitting around in tutus. “No, I haven’t. I live a bachelor pad life. I only get the sports channel.”
“Dancing isn’t just for women. Even macho sports men try it.”
“I won’t be one of them.”
“Suit yourself. If you had children wouldn’t you rather they joined an after school dance program instead of painting graffiti on the sides of buildings.”
You’re beautiful. I wonder what you’re doing in this place. “Why this neighbourhood?”
“There was a need. My parents gave me up for adoption when I was three because they didn’t have enough money to look after me. They were afraid I would grow up and get into trouble because there is nothing to do in this neighbourhood. I got together some friends and we started this place.” Why am I telling you this, I don’t know you, why these personal facts about my life. Maybe I want to convince you that there is a reason for this place.
“It has to cost more to run this place than the drink counter makes.”
“It does. I’m a book editor. When I’m not here, I’m editing manuscripts. We run on some of my income and donations. Some day I want to be able to offer more to these kids; tutors to help with homework, councillors giving workshops and more activities are on the list but we can’t afford it right now.”
Marvin ordered a root beer and pretzels, sat down, ate them, and left. For the next week, he couldn’t sleep. He was plagued by the beauty of the woman he had seen at the ballroom. Her reddish blond curls and green eyes haunted him. I have to see her again. I know what colour her eyes are, forty-five minutes one day on my way home from work, I end up in the wrong place, and I can’t stop thinking about this woman.
Marvin kept his thoughts to himself for the next two weeks but finally he could not ignore the memory of the woman he couldn’t get out of his mind. He returned to the ballroom one day after work, sat down at the counter, ordered root beer and pretzels, and watched Kate at work.
“Couldn’t keep you away?” asked Kate
“Best root beer in town.”
“It’s from a can, and you could buy it at the grocery store if that was the attraction. There’s something else, now what is it?”
“Why don’t I take you to supper Saturday night and we can talk about it.”
“Not interested. You walked in here one day thinking it was a bar and called my place a ramshackle basement. Now you return, insult my intelligence by calling my canned root beer the best in town, and expect me to go out with you. You have some nerve.”
“Kate, come on, would you listen to me for a minute.”
“Don’t Kate me, I wear a nametag for the kids’ sake, but it has my last name on it too. It is Miss Jessup to you. Second time we meet and you think you can win me over, do I look like some impressionable girl to you, you walk in here in your suit and think I’m going to swoon all over you.”
“I didn’t think that, Miss Jessup, there’s something about you that draws a man to you, but for the life of me if I know what it is.”
“This is a poor neighbourhood and you coming in here all dressed up asking me out is a mockery.”
“I’m not rich myself Miss Jessup, I had to attend a meeting with my boss today regarding a business opportunity, and wanted to dress properly for the occasion, but I’m a carpenter and most happy wearing jeans and a work shirt. Don’t out a man for his appearance,” replied Marvin tossing his money on the counter and leaving.
For the next week, Marvin went to the ballroom everyday after work; he wore his jeans and a work shirt. He always ordered the same thing pretzels and root beer. He smiled while he ate sitting at the counter. Kate always busied herself with some task to avoid having to carry on a conversation with him.
“Look, Miss Jessup,” he said, “I’m a carpenter, let me help you spruce this place up a bit for you, make it look more presentable.”
“I can’t afford you.”
“I didn’t tell you how much I charge.”
“Doesn’t matter, I cannot afford another cent, to pay someone, like I said before we’re running on donations and my salary, and neither seem to be going as far as they once did with all the new kids that keep coming here.”
“I want to help, I don’t know why but somehow I like the atmosphere of this place.”
“You don’t know anything about this place, you’ve never seen what we actually do, you just sit there at the same counter ordering the same thing everyday. I don’t understand you.”
“I don’t know, somehow I feel like I belong here. I walked in here by accident and I like it, you can’t throw me out because this is a public place, you might as well put me to work. I’m volunteering.”
“I don’t know, something about you tells me there could be strings attached.”
“No strings, I would however like to take you out for supper, you can tell me more about this place.”
“Oh, no, I won’t be your payment.”
“One thing has nothing to do with the other; I want to volunteer whether or not you go out with me. Since when is it a crime for a guy to ask a girl out?”
“When it is constituted as stalking.”
“I’m not stalking you, Kate, this is a public place. I don’t wait outside the door and follow you home or call you continually at night.”
“Just forget it, okay, if you want to volunteer, find somewhere else to do it. Even if I wanted you around the place, I can’t afford to buy the building materials.”
“What if I said they were on me?”
“I’d say who are you trying to fool. There must be some cause you care more about somewhere; you think my place is a joke.”
“No, Kate, I don’t, I’m sorry for the way I acted that first day. I was tired and frustrated and said things I didn’t mean.”
“First off, stop Kating me, I told you it is Miss Jessup, secondly, how do I know that you won’t make all kinds of promises, start a job and never finish, that would make this place look worse, maybe even like a ramshackle basement, like you first implied.”
“You said that this place is about chances, why can’t you give me a chance. Tell me something you want done here and I will provide whatever materials necessary and do the work for free, surely you aren’t getting offers like that everyday.”
“No, I’m not, if you really mean what you’re saying, be here Saturday morning, you can build the lockers that we need for all the kids stuff. It’s always a nightmare everything thrown in a pile and then some kid can’t find their mittens or a shoe after they’re finished dancing. I’ve wanted lockers for a long time but could never afford them.” If you’re willing to give them to me, I may have to sacrifice some pride.
“I’ll see you Saturday morning, how does seven sound? Now, we’re getting somewhere, thought Marvin, beautiful lady, you will not be sorry, and I think you’ll go out with me yet.
“Seven sounds fine.”
For the next month, after work and on weekends Marvin built lockers and did other repairs around the Montclair Street Ballroom. He did not ask Kate out again, he could see her watching him, smiling as what she wanted for the place she cared about so much started to come alive but he knew that to ask her out again could drive a wedge between them. They no longer spoke to each other in clipped tones but were actually starting to talk to each other like friends. Some days Marvin watched as the children and teenagers danced, he started to notice the ones who were not interested in what the ballroom offered and felt like they were forced to be there. He also saw the ones who were so happy to be learning and experiencing dance.
“Why dance,” asked Marvin one day, “why that and not some other activity?”
“Discipline,” replied Kate, “dance teaches you to work toward the goal.”
“So do other sports.”
“I had friends who knew how to dance and who were willing to help me with this project. I had dance lessons as a girl. It was something we could give these kids. If we had skills as basketball players maybe they would be learning that.”
“There are some who love what you do here, I can see that, but there are some who seem put out to be here.”
“I know, and someday I want to be able to offer more activities to them and also help with homework, but we have a limited volunteer group. Many who would be willing to volunteer are busy working when the kids are here. We have a smaller group that comes on Saturday and Sunday, as some of the parents are home, maybe we could start offering different weekend activities but we would need someone to coordinate them, and the space to do it in. You can’t have tables in the middle of a dance floor.”
“Do you own the lot out back?”
“No, but it is vacant, it belongs to the town. We could use it though until someone buys it, which isn’t likely, industry certainly isn’t booming around here.
“You could install a basketball net. Some of the teens who are not interested inside may like it out there. Less kids inside mean you need less room for dancing, you could set up part of the room with tables, maybe around the outside wall. They could work on homework or play board games.”
“You know that could work. It would give the kids diversity and I think they need it. Some of them love to dance, some of them like it but not everyday and some of them feel like their parents are forcing them to be here.”
“Are they forcing them to be here?”
“Probably, but not to be mean, but because they know that if they let their kids wander, they could end up in the bad part of town, get in with the wrong crowd and then who knows what their futures would be.”
“I’ve noticed that you don’t get too many male volunteers.”
“No, we don’t, it’s unfortunate, a lot of the boys could use someone to talk with about stuff that they may not want to talk about with their parents, and they sure aren’t going to talk about it with me.”
“No, I wouldn’t imagine. You know I could talk to them, if they wanted. You know shoot some hoops, and talk guy stuff.”
“If you wanted, that would be good.” This man is quite something, I still am not sure why he comes here practically every day, and sometimes I wonder how long he’s going to stay. “If you started doing that it would have to be a commitment to these kids, you can’t just be here for them one day, and then decide to take off, that would hurt them more than if they didn’t have you.”
“Who do you think I am, I’m not some cut and run guy, you know. I thought you were willing to give me a chance. I thought that’s what the lockers and stuff was all about.”
“It is, but I’ve seen it happen before, and you hear about it enough, men walking out.”
“Yes, you do, but women do it too, so don’t get all high and mighty with me. If you’d actually consider going out with me, then maybe you would get to know who I really am.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Winthorp, but the last thing we need is a relationship that could jeopardize what you are going to have with those kids, if you do decide to start interacting with them.”
“Miss Jessup, you need to learn that life is about taking chances. You can’t always play it safe.”
“Sometimes safe is the best option and for now, for me and those kids that’s the alternative. If you want to see me, you’ll have to do it on my terms. The concessions counter is always there, if you want to talk to me.”
“If that’s the way you want it, we’ve known each other for a few months now, do you think we could at least be on a first name basis?”
“If you understand that it’s friends only first name basis.”
“I understand, let me start by saying that I’m sorry I gave you flak the first time I came here. I was an idiot.”
“You’ve made up for it and I’m sorry for some of the things I’ve said, some of it was stereotypical stuff and it wasn’t fair.”
Marvin started talking to the kids about sports and life. He spent most of his free time with the kids both inside and out, sometimes just talking, sometimes helping them with their homework or playing basketball or checkers. He even built sets for one of the dance recitals and he watched and congratulated the kids on their hard work. Male role models were hard to find and Kate had to admit to herself that Marvin Winthorp wasn’t just going to be a casual caller at the ballroom, and she couldn’t see him just up and leaving, she knew that the place she loved so much meant a great deal to him too. Eventually after a year, Kate accepted a date with Marvin to go to dinner and a dance afterwards. Marvin even liked dancing much to both his and Kate’s surprise. After they had been dating for eighteen months, Kate and Marvin married and they started a family of their own that would grow up to love the ballroom as much as they did. Between the two of them, they are going to make a difference in numerous kids’ lives. Marvin believes he entered the ballroom by accident but Kate knows it was a fateful encounter.