It was the last day of sixth grade. My best friend Brian Fleming and I were done for another school year.
We had been best friends since we first met on the bus on the way to school back in second grade. I found out he had a much older sister and I told him about my siblings, who were all older than I.
My name is Charles Xavier Newman!
Technically, I am a ‘Junior’, but I hate that, because I hate my dad. More about him later.
I was born on July 28th, 1999, so I turn thirteen in the middle of the upcoming summer and Brian turns it on July 30th. Two days later than that, we wouldn’t be in the same grade, and maybe not best friends, but we are.
The bus dropped us off, and we each walked three blocks to our houses. We lived on the same street, just five blocks apart.
Brian is five foot six, looks like a very young Ron Weasley, but with medium brown hair that he keeps combed better.
I am five foot ten, and because my mom is a redhead and my father is brown haired, I have what my mom calls chestnut colored hair.
That is where this story begins. In the summer between sixth and seventh grade.
Getting to the house, the door was unlocked and I walked in.
We live in a big home in a very affluent neighborhood in South Columbus, Ohio, although I never hear any talk that we are rich.
When the door is locked, that means the house is empty, otherwise it’s unlocked. I took my stuff up to my room, the last room on the left, of the six bedrooms in the house.
I took off my backpack for the last time until seventh grade starts, putting my schoolbooks in the small bookshelf I had been collecting every book from first thru sixth grade, including the novels I had to buy and read along the way. Most of what was left I threw away, leaving me with a totally empty backpack that I zipped up tight and put on the floor in my closet.
I heard the door open, and I ran out to hear, “Charles, help me bring in the groceries, please?”
“Sure, have you been gone?”
“Yes, I needed to go shopping, why do you ask?” my mother Antoinette asked, with a bag in her arm.
She would freak out if I told her the door had been unlocked, so I just said, “No reason,” as I went to grab some groceries, bringing in two at a time, until the car was empty.
“Thank you, Honey,” she said. “How was the last day of school?”
I got next to her and began to empty the bags and said, “Five hours too long, Mom?”
She chuckled, or was it a giggle?
Once I was done, I asked, “Save the bags or throw them away?”
“Those are very reusable brown paper bags, Charles. They have lots of uses. Fold them and put them with the rest, please?”
“We have over a hundred of them, Mother.”
“Don’t sass me, young man,” she said giving me a smile. “Thank you, now, skedaddle so I can make dinner for the family.”
“You mean I may actually see my dad, face to face, in the evening?”
“He works hard, and needs to stay on top of the financial markets. Go find something to do, your sisters won’t be here tonight.”
“It’s just you, me ... and him?”
Now, that was a giggle.
I was called down to dinner, seeing my father, Charles Senior for the first time in four days.
We had Fried Chicken, Fried Okra and salad. All of my favorites.
“Guess what I did today, Charles?” Mom remarked.
“Don’t have a clue?”
“I signed you up to start Cotillion next week.”
“Cotillion,” my father repeated. “It’s kind of a dance class, but with exactly as many boys and girls. You learn how to communicate with members of the opposite sex, while you are learning the traditional ballroom dancing steps.”
This is why he is here.
“The class is on Tuesday, so either tomorrow or Sunday I need to take you shopping for some new clothes that are appropriate for dancing,” my mother said.
My mother is Antoinette Marie Newman, just shorter than I, with really nice red hair and blue eyes. She has a ... heathy figure, I suppose.
Dad, Charles Excelsior Newman, is shorter than I am at five eight. He is around five years older than Mom, meaning he is near 53 and ‘Annie’ is 48.
By the way, Brian lost his father, Jeffrey, when he was ten, leaving him with an older sister and his mother, Shirley, who is a dark blonde. I believe she and mom are near the same age.
His father’s middle name had been Brian. My buddy’s full name was Brian Watson Fleming. He’s never explained where the Watson came from!
“What will I be wearing to the ‘Dance school?’”
“Nice slacks, a button shirt and a tie,” was the answer I got.
“Yes, a tie,” my father said sneering at me a bit.
Knowing they were working together, I couldn’t voice my honest opinion about this and agreed I needed the new clothes. I couldn’t remember the last time I got anything, so it was probably as good as any time to go shopping.
Between bites of my Okra, I asked, “Where is this happening?”
“Where it has been for over fifty years, the Bradshaw Family Cotillion,” my dad said
“Cotillion starts Tuesday evening,” Mom said. “I have already talked to Shirley, Brian’s mother, and he’s going as well. She’s telling him about it right now.”
“Brian’s going ... Are you sure?” I asked, suspiciously.
“Call him and find out,” she declared.
“Oh, I will ... right after dinner,” I said.
I picked up the house phone and dialed his personal number, and he answered.
“Hey Brian, did your mom? Yeah, so did mine. Uh-uh, we’re going shopping for clothes too and a tie! Yeah, it’s a conspiracy,” I said loud enough for Mom to hear and react to.
Remembering I had him on the phone, I remarked, “Yeah Brian, my mom, the Nazi, said to get off the phone so we can all high-step to the mall together. Talk to you later, Auf Wiedersehen.”
On my way up to my room, I heard Dad say,” Well, that’s done. I’m heading back to work.”
The following day, I got into the car, and Mom turned to me saying, “While we’re out shopping, if you don’t embarrass me then I won’t embarrass you, all right?”
“OK, Mom! Uhm ... Mom, can I ask you a question?”
“Sure honey, anything.”
“Did you learn to dance at a Cotillion like you and ‘Mussolini’ are sending me to?”
“No, Charles I didn’t! But I wish I had. I can’t count how many times I stepped on a boy’s feet at school dances. However, from going to lots of dances and with a few boys’ patience, I not only learned how to dance, but I think I’m pretty good at it. After you have been to a couple of these weekly Cotillions, I would be more than happy to help you learn any of the finer points if you would like?”
“You would? I might step on your feet, Mom,” I chuckled.
“I can wear your father’s hunting boots, if necessary. We’re here. Now, you need to get two pairs of pants, two shirts, and two ties, all right?”
“All right,” I responded, breaking into my best smile for her. Maybe calling her a Nazi was over the top? Mussolini, on the other hand...
Maybe this isn’t going to be nearly as bad as I thought it would be. I didn’t realize that I needed a size larger shirt than I had been wearing.
Slacks are a different kettle of fish. I put on a pair that I thought were my size, and this guy came up to me and shoved a tape measure towards my crotch.
“Hey, dude — Not cool. Warn me before you touch my package.”
Mom heard me. She giggled and blushed. I’ve got a cool Mom even though she and ‘him’ signed me up to learn how to dance.
The guy explained exactly what we were measuring and I ‘stood up straight’ as he had asked. He announced my waist and inseam and asked what color.
I turned to Mom. She had mouthed ‘black’ and ‘navy blue.’ I turned back to the guy and said; “I think I would like one pair to be black and the other to be hmmm — navy blue.”
He turned to me and said, “Very good, Sir.”
Again my mom giggled, but I didn’t mind.
I have always worn slacks. I don’t own any jeans. Don’t like the way they fit or look. I’m not going to end up one of those fat slobs. You know one of those dudes whose stomach spills out over their pants. I like my pants to be comfortable and just cover my belly button. I have Dockers and Cargo pants, but not Jeans.
We went through the same rigmarole for my new button down shirts. We did the same with ties and left with the first new clothes I had gotten in quite a while. Mom said it had been only fifteen months.
Well, it’s Tuesday, at five-thirty in the late afternoon and I’m scared ‘spitless.’ I didn’t say that to my mom, of course, but she could probably see it on my face.
“Honey, it’s not going to be nearly as bad as you think. The first hour is just the new students. At seven-thirty, the returning students come in until it’s over for the night around nine pm.”
We all arrived at Cotillion. Mom had picked up Brian from his place and we all traveled together. That means we will probably go with his mom Shirley next week. Our mothers are pretty good friends too.
“Charles, I can stay or leave and come back?” she asked us.
Brian and I looked at each other saying at the same time, “Leave.”
“OK, boys. You don’t have to hit me with a sledgehammer. See you later,” she said smiling as she was leaving.
I had my cell phone in my pocket. I figured I could always call her if need be. It was intended for emergencies only and I was to keep it turned off.
There were many girls and boys at this thing. Interestingly, the boys were all clustered together on one side of the room, and the girls were doing the same thing on the other side. The boys were dead quiet, and the girls were talking and giggling.
Suddenly there was a loud excitable voice that said, “Attention — Welcome to The Bradshaw Family Cotillion. My name is James Bradshaw, but you can call me Jimmy. All of you are new this year, and I’m sure that some of you don’t want to be here while some of you have been paid off by your parents.”
‘Why hadn’t I thought of that?’ I thought to myself.
He continued, “Now, there are exactly as many boys as there are girls, so boys ... find a young lady, introduce yourselves and go to the center of the room.”
I looked over at Brian and said, “Good luck, Buddy.” I carefully stepped my way over to the bevy of girls looking around trying to find someone as scared as I was. Over near the mirrored wall, I noticed a girl with very pretty brown eyes and red hair just like my mom’s!
I quickly moved along towards the wall and went up to her. I had never purposefully been this close to a girl my age, ever. She smiled at me, and my face just about burst with the smile I had.
“Hi, what’s your name?” she asked.
An even bigger smile, with dimples came to her face.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I spoke. “That was rude of me. My name is Charles Newman, but you can call me X.”
You can call me X? What the hell was that? The number of people who even knew my middle name I can count on one hand. I say ‘You can call me X?’ Geez, Charles.
She is awfully cute in a girly sort of way.
“Well X, that’s nice! My name is Claire. Did your mother spring this on you this past weekend like mine did?”
“Yes, Claire — actually, I think this has been a conspiracy between all the Moms in Columbus, Ohio.”
A girl. I’m honestly talking to a girl. Her name is Claire with nice brown eyes now that I have seen her up close. She’s a redhead and somewhat pretty. Breathe, remember to breathe, Charles.
“OK, Ok, ok. Has everyone found a partner?” asked Jimmy.
I turned to her and asked, “Will you be my partner tonight, Claire?”
Her smile turned into the dimples again. The prettiest I had ever seen in my life.
“Oh yes, X! Charles, I would love to be your partner.” Her grin is adorable, as well.
Maybe this Cotillion thing won’t be so bad after all.
Jimmy clapped his hands, “Everybody! Face the mirrors, in your couples. Boys on the left and girls on the right, everybody got that? OK, now boys turn to your right and girls turn to your left, so you’re facing one another. Anybody need any help yet? Anyone not know their left foot from their right?” A few chuckles sounded throughout the hall, both boys and girls.
“Next,” Jimmy continued, “Girls, move to your right so that your left foot is between your partner’s feet.”
Claire and I had done everything he had said so far.
“Now ladies, put your left hand on the boy’s right shoulder. No, dear, your other left hand. Boys, this is your first moment of truth. Put your right hand on the girls back. Not the hip or the waist. Your partner will tell you if you’re too high or too low, won’t you girls?”
“We will continue when the giggling stops,” Jimmy said.
I now had my right hand on her flank. Her hand was on my shoulder. I caught her looking at me. She smiled and giggled.
I may have as well.
“All right,” Jimmy said breaking our glance with his voice, “Now boys, put your left hand out, palm up, like someone, is going to give you some money. Ladies, put your right hand, palm down, on top of the boy’s hand. This is what’s called the ‘Closed Position.’”
“We will get more detailed as we learn the different dances, steps, and their variations. Let’s learn some steps, shall we? Does anybody know what a Waltz is? Anyone at all?”
I took my hand off her hip and raised it.
“Yes, the young man with his hand up? What’s your name, please?” Jimmy asked.
“Charles. Charles Newman, Sir!” I answered.
“Yes, Charles — What is a Waltz?” He asked.
“The only ballroom dance that has a three-four tempo, Mr. Bradshaw,” I replied.
“Yes, that’s right, Charles! You can — All of you, please, call me Jimmy!”
“Yes sir, Jimmy,” I replied.
“Can you demonstrate the Waltz, Mr. Newman?”
“I’m not sure, Jimmy. I went online to look up the different dance steps last night, and suddenly, the Waltz is the only one I recall reading anything about.” I was so very nervous.
I really put my foot in it this time.
The whole room chuckled and giggled at me. Claire was beaming that her partner knew something about dancing. Oh, her smile could light up an entire city!
“Well then, Charles. Why don’t you and your partner...”
“Claire, sir ... Jimmy,” she responded, looking at me directly.
“Why don’t you and Claire come over here by me?” he suggested. “I will show the class how this dance works using the two of you as guinea pigs. Is that all right with you, Charles?”
I turned to Claire and asked her, “Is that all right with you, Claire?”
All the girls in the room broke out into giggles and ‘awws.’
“Yes, Charles. I would love to learn to dance with you,” she smiled saying.
Jimmy said, “Come here, the two of you? Hurry up, we only have an hour. We can’t spend it all on one dance.”
I grabbed her right hand, and we walked up to Jimmy. I was very nervous. I felt like I was sweating through my new shirt.
“OK, now, assume the Closed Position,” Jimmy said. “Back up people, give them some room, please?”
Everyone pulled back giving us plenty of room.
“I have got a waltz tempo song, I believe. Right here.”
He began the Michael Crawford version of “I Dreamed a Dream” from LES MISÉRABLES.
Jimmy spoke, “Do you hear the beats, or possibly feel them?”
I turned to Jimmy and answered, “Yes, Jimmy. Do you want us to use the traditional box step, Sir?”
Claire looked at me, saying, “Wow!”
“Yes,” said Jimmy, “Proceed, Charles.”
With the music going on I began demonstrating as I spoke, “Claire, I will step forward with my left foot at the same time you step back with your right foot. Then, I will slide my right foot over. You match that move with your left. Then, I will move my left foot, your right, to meet up with our other feet. We repeat it backwards, starting with my right foot. That makes a box get it? Does that sound agreeable to you? Do you feel the beat, Boom-tic-tic ... Boom-tic-tic?”
“Yeah — I think I got it, X,” she smiled looking down at her feet then looked up straight into my eyes and quite possibly straight into my heart.
OK. So I waited for the beat. It was like I found my place in the cosmos. I was dancing for real with a pretty girl. I heard her quietly saying, ‘Boom-tic-tic ... Boom-tic-tic.’
After a few measures, Jimmy cut in and said, “Let’s give Charles & Claire a big hand for starting us off. You have all been watching long enough. Now, feel the beat and, everyone, go on.”
The song repeated twice, so everyone could work on it. Jimmy watched and helped those struggling until the song had ended the final time.
Claire turned taking her skirt with her left hand and curtsied to me, “Thank you very much, Mr. Newman, you are a wonderful dancer.”
“I had honestly never danced before in my life, Claire. It was just that the music — along with such a pretty partner, inspired me to do what I did.”
She blushed and smiled back. Those dimples!