Dakota 13

Good morning

I’d been up for only ten minutes when I got Dakota’s text. We’d talked well into the night, playing twenty questions– and I’d written down his answers in a notebook, since my memory was honest to god shit— but I’d signed up to usher today, which meant I had to be up at eight and at work by ten. I was already showered and picking out clothes.

Good morning 🙂

I didn’t have to wear all black today, which was exciting. I could dress up, more business casual. I’d get an Usher pin when I got there anyway. I was staring into the void of my closet when I got a response.

Oh my god you’re up

I laughed outright at his text.

Yeah, I’m ushering today. I get to watch you perform all day.

Fun

I pulled a black skirt and a pink camisole on, humming along with music I had blasting from my phone. Kimmy was already at class, it was just me and my thoughts and my phone. I had makeup on in record time, my hair up in a stubby, bouncy ponytail, and a pair of sensible heels– which only I found sensible, but I was used to wearing heels and having to perform in them.

I showed up at the parking lot with Starbucks in hand, the only coffee I liked, a chili mocha frap– discovered by complete accident with Val one morning when I’d given her a ride to work. Like the day before, the lot was slammed, so packed I had to, once again, park in the back. It didn’t really bother me. If I asked, I bet Dakota would give me another ride to my car.

Wincing, I realized how weird that would be. I could have circled, I realized, and tried to find something closer. It would probably be downright weird to ask him for another ride. I was halfway to the bus stop, though, and short on time. I had to get to the theatre.

So, in that case, I wouldn’t tell him, I’d just bounce after the bus ride. We’d get out at the same time tonight anyway, I could just smile and wave and waltz away, with dignity and poise. Or something akin to that.

The theatre was already packed with visiting schools when I got there. The first show ushers were already in place, but the swarm of children was so overwhelming, I couldn’t let the three girls struggle to seat three schools worth of kids by themselves. Steph, as usual, was at the helm of the ship so to speak, calmly talking with three adults who I assumed had organized these schools’ field trips.

Initially, I had thought Steph’s idea of having two charity shows in the morning, a matinee, an early evening dance show, and then a night show was expensive and ridiculous. It was a flop waiting to happen. Since my start working here, though, I had learned how she did it by watching. Daycares, children’s hospitals, schools, and homeschools would attend the first two shows, sometimes weekly. Steph had afternoon and evening classes in the lower level of the theatre, in the same area we kept costumes, which provided funding and some of the performers for certain shows– her idea of free classes for performers was genius, in my opinion. I wondered idly if Dakota was in any of those classes.

She smiled and handed me my Usher pin without a fuss, pointing me to the half of the swarm being “managed” by one lone girl. I helped escort kids into their seats, chatted with chaperones, and like the other ushers, kept my group as entertained as possible for the hour before curtain. The first show, as far as I knew, was tailored specifically for kids, featuring a little Disney, some show tunes, and sing-and-dance alongs. These kids were a decent age for both this and Cabaret, maybe fourth or fifth graders, and the chaperones would probably get a kick of being asked to dance.

Announcements were made, the kids went quiet, and the music started. This was, I believed, Steph’s longest running show. I’d seen kids running out of the theatre singing, dancing, excitedly chattering about their dreams to perform one day. These kids were already charmed, it seemed, as performers strolled down the aisles arm in arm. I recognized the song, from somewhere in the recesses of my memory, but was having trouble placing where I knew it from. I was sure it wasn’t a parade, at least, although Steph was overly fond of restaging those for a theatre. This song had something to do with Main Street, probably also a Disney thing. I was always low key stupefied by Steph’s relationship with Disney– somehow, some way, she had landed in a nearly exclusive relationship with them– she used their songs in her charity shows, and a portion of the donations went to Disney for the rights to the songs she used.

Things you heard along the grapevine while working with costumes, honestly.

I stood in the back with the other ushers, watching the show unfold. Performers greeted kids like old friends, just as they had when I’d seen the Halloween show. As luck would have it, I felt a playful tug on my ponytail, and looked over to see Dakota entering with Liza on his arm. She smiled at me, he stuck out his tongue. I laughed and waved.

This show was unique in the way it shifted and changed. Between each number, Steph MC’d, hyping up the kids (to the dismay of the chaperones) and getting several out to dance with performers for the next number. Each number was interactive, the performers pulling everyone out to dance. I recognized all of the songs, though I was sure the kids didn’t recognize most of them, and sang along whenever the audience was invited to. At one point, Dakota ended up back near where I was, and dragged me out to dance. I wasn’t much for freestyling, instead trying to copy his choreography as it happened– probably not my best idea, but fun nonetheless.

In between the dance-along numbers were regular dance numbers set to songs obviously geared toward the kids. Somehow, seeing professional level dances set to those songs gave me a strange form of hope. I could see the enthrallment in the kids’ faces, too. They were having a blast.

And yes, Steph did manage to throw a parade number in. The kids were even involved in that.

I was definitely enjoying this as much as the kids… that was probably, low key, extremely sad.

They exited as the parade music ended, the same way they came in, through the aisles. I winked at Dakota as he passed, but I wasn’t sure if he had seen me.

The ushers didn’t really get a break between shows, escorting a good hundred kids to and from the restrooms. They had an hour before Cabaret, and even the most well behaved elementary school kids couldn’t keep themselves entertained for that long. So, naturally, we played a bunch of kid-friendly music videos to keep them entertained. I had never seen so many Phineas and Ferb songs in rapid succession.

I like the way you bounce.

When I looked at my phone, it took me a solid five minutes to stop laughing. I actually had to go into the lobby and hold my hand over my chest from laughing so hard, my face practically glowing red.

Thanks. Back at you. I didn’t really have time to think of a witty response before I was swept back into kid herding.

The midday cabaret started and ended in no time, the ending nearly as familiar to me as it was to the performers, from seeing it so many times during show prep. I grabbed a snack at Taco Bell with Dakota and the costuming girls, then ushered for Brigadoon. Watching it from the audience again was like the first time, surrounded by high schoolers on field trips, college theatre majors, and rich weirdos who literally had nothing better to do. Once the show had finished, I had a good two hours before the evening dance show, so I followed Dakota out to Pizza Hut and sat with him in a corner in the back.

It was, by far, the weirdest experience I’d ever had. We barely talked except to share memes with each other.

“What sign are you?” He scrolled through Google, looking for Pokemon types based on astrology. I laughed.

“I’m a Scorpio. November tenth.”

“Neat,” he said, showing me my Pokemon type. “I’m an Aquarius.”

I nodded, my eyes skimming over his sign as well. “There’s a Zodiac one too. I’m a dog.”

“I’m a rat.”

I did a double take, staring at him with blatant shock. “You’re younger than me?” He nodded. I burst out laughing. “You’re a baby!

He gave me a weird look, like I’d mildly insulted him. “This is why I don’t tell people my age.”

I coughed and attempted to reign in my laughter. “I’m sorry, that was mean.”

He rolled his eyes at me, and moved on, pulling up different astrology memes. I thought that would be all we did, until he suddenly brought up our conversation from the night before.

“So. You’ve been hiding a raging crush on me.”

I turned red so fast, cartoon characters would have had to double take. “Oh no.” I covered my face with my hands, but Dakota just laughed.

“You’re cute.”

There was a glimmer of hope in which I could have grabbed the upper hand. I missed that glimmer of hope, and somehow knew I would never have another for the rest of my life. I watched it fade into the void before my eyes, at the same time as opening my mouth to speak.

“You missed a golden opportunity to make a move last night in your car.”

“Did I?” He was goading me, I knew it, but I wasn’t taking the bait.

“Wishful thinking on my part, I guess,” I muttered.

Dakota chuckled and patted my shoulder. “You’re cute.”

We headed back to the theatre and parted ways, him to go get ready for the dance show, me to go hold doors and show patrons to their seats.

I’d only seen the dance show once before, in the back with a couple of the other Brigadoon girls, and only part of it at the time. The dancers were damn good. Watching them made my entire body ache. I wanted to be on stage again, performing with them. I knew I was mediocre at best where dancing and emoting were concerned, but I could sing, and I prided myself on my voice. Maybe after my internship there’d be an opportunity for me to sing for Steph.

I caught Steph outside after the theatre emptied out, returning my pin to her with a smile.

“Have a good night, Piper!” She waved me off with a brilliant smile. I felt weirdly like I was saying goodbye to a friend.

“You too!” I waved back and went toward the backstage exit, catching Dakota as I went. “Great show.”

He nodded. “The audience was really into it today.”

“I saw. Did you have fun?”

Again, he nodded. We reached our usual spots at the back of the bus, still chatting about the show, until someone else got his attention. I scrolled through my tumblr, planning my escape to my car. Dakota didn’t know where I was parked, and as much as I was enjoying the perpetual feeling of electricity I got when sitting by him, I wasn’t about to look like a simpering slut by asking for another ride, the day after I asked for– was given? Whatever– the first one.

We left the bus with cheerful goodbyes to his friend, then set out into the parking lot, down the middle aisle. I’d have to turn off soon, or I was gonna end up in the exact same place I had yesterday.

Opening my mouth, I started to say my goodbye, but Dakota cut me off. “You parked in the back again?”

Welp. No use lying. “Naturally,” I scoffed. “Where else would I be parked? Close to the front like a sensible, early person?”

“Come on.” He pretty much herded me toward his car, parked almost exactly where it had been parked the day before. I felt like my voice had straight up walked away, so I just tried to keep a pleasant smile on my face.

I got into his car as I had the day before, reaching for the seatbelt before remembering that we were in a parking lot and we’d be going a thrilling ten miles an hour. I dropped the seatbelt and turned to tell Dakota where I was parked– only to have my words cut off.

He grabbed me. Just grabbed my face in his hands and pulled me closer, leaning across the seat. I didn’t have time to react, didn’t have time to think, didn’t even register what was happening until it was too late. And then, I didn’t care.

His lips were soft as he pressed them hard against mine. Rational thought clicked off, replaced by shocked silence. Even the little voice in my head went mute. The electricity that I felt whenever I was near him spiked, racing across my skin where his hands rested. I felt like I’d been electrocuted, but in the nicest way possible.

It barely lasted a second, but that second seemed like eternity. Blissful eternity. When he leaned back, I gaped at him, still trying to jump start my brain. He smirked and started the car as I just sat back and processed what had just happened.

“You okay?”

Weird question, I thought. I was better than okay, other than the fact that I wanted to jump the guy in his car. My brain, useless as it was, hooked itself up to my mouth and started asking the rational questions: “What just happened?”

“I made a move.”

Obviously, I thought, watching my car get closer. He’d apparently assumed that I had parked in the same spot as the day before– and he was right. The only response I actually managed was “Okay,” followed by a quieter “What the fuck?”

I repeated that silently to myself as he neared my car. “You alright?” He glanced at me, and I melted a little. He wasn’t outwardly laughing at me, but I could see his amusement.

“Yeah. Yeah I am. Trying to decide if I’m gonna kiss you again or just get out and go.” He parked the car and actually looked at me, and it was my undoing. “I’m gonna kiss you again.”

He had every chance to push me away, to tell me no. He did neither. I took his face in my hands and raised myself a little to lean over, pressing my lips to his again, feeling that electric heat streak down my body and pool in my belly. It was exciting, it was rash, it was stupid, it was wonderful.

I pulled away first, even though I wanted to keep kissing him forever. “Now I’m leaving. Thank you for the ride!”

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