As soon as I was off the plane in Fort Myers, I headed to the bathroom. Meg and Lauren followed me in but dashed out as soon as they were done. In a few minutes, we’d see Bree, our long time friend who moved to Florida two years ago. In the mirror, I saw my wrinkles and faded skin. I felt nervous as if I were about to meet a blind date. I applied lip gloss, finger-combed my hair, wondered what two years had done to my face.
Bree greeted us wearing yellow and sunglasses. All four of us hugged and my jitters dissipated. We rented a beach house and did Florida things like search for shells and sit on the beach.
We were free of kids and laundry and making meals. We left our diaper bags at home. We carried sassy purses and clicked on the concrete in sassy heels.
On our last night, we ate a late supper on a deck overlooking the sea. From our table, we could see an adjacent building connected to the restaurant by an open breezeway, the same way a garage might be if it had been added on to a house. Inside, a live band played acoustic versions of familiar tunes, and through the patio doors, we could see people dancing under colored strings of lights.
We paid our bill. We intended to return to our beach house to pack for our early morning departure. Meg heard a song she liked. She sang the lyrics as we walked away from our table. She said, “Let’s go dance to this one.” And since there was no reason not to dance, we followed her up the stairs and inside the patio doors to the dance floor. Meg stood near the band with Lauren and Bree. I stood farther back, trying to get interested. It’s been a long time since I’ve danced in public. I saw Meg through shoulders and heads, laughing. And this made me happy, even if I felt as out of place as a Florida manatee. Then I saw why she was laughing.
Hazel, a woman in her sixties in shiny gym shorts and a white t-shirt, an outfit for a teenage athlete, stood at the front of the crowd, flirting with the band. Maybe the people who love Hazel would say she is still, after all these years, as spunky as her young clothes. She appeared to be alone. She danced the drunken shuffle of her bourbon and water. The lead singer strummed his acoustic guitar. Hazel made eyes at him as she pulled a couple dollars out of her bra and put it in his tip jar. He laughed when she pulled out a grill lighter that looked like a miniature fishing pole, lit it up, and mocked reeling him in. In the middle of the dance floor, another woman with Hazel’s blond hair watched, letting her mother carry on like a twenty-one year old.
We stayed for a few more songs. And after it was apparent that we weren’t going to be responsible adults who pack and get eight hours of sleep, that the band and dancing equal a good time, my friends got a round of drinks, I got a water, and we set it all on a picnic table near the dance floor. The band played the same songs we heard at sorority banquets twenty years ago. I looked around at the crowd, thinking I would see college students dancing. But I didn’t see them. I saw people my age, people in their forties who had stepped away from mortgages and careers and kids to play. This band knew its demographic and played the music that coincided with choosing our major, meeting our spouse, and partying on the weekend. These songs were likeable enough. But in those days, I preferred Motley Crue’s “Dr. Feelgood” over REM’s “Stand.” I turned up AC/DC and tolerated Tom Petty. This band played songs like REM and Tom Petty.
The crowd parted. I saw another much older woman, Beatrice, who filled a sequins tube top and swayed to the music. She kept her back spooned to the chest of her date, a man with a trimmed mustache and thick silver watch. In their faces, I saw two people with grown kids and a house they sold to retire in Florida. They could’ve been my parents.
Beatrice wore tight jeans with the white stitching that’s fashionable these days. She bent at the waist, pushing her bottom to her date’s groin. Her date played along. He put his hands on her hips, pulling her closer into a Kama Sutra-like position called The Plough, a move not taught in Ballroom Dancing. Beatrice put her hands on her knees to brace herself. She closed her eyes. She moved backward into her date’s groin, his hips smacking her buns, his motion jiggling her breasts.
I forced myself to look away. More people had filed in from the restaurant and the space on the deck had filled so I couldn’t see the picnic table where we had sat our drinks. I feared someone might tamper with them. We could end up drugged—worse yet, drugged and raped. I retrieved our drinks and gave them to Meg, Lauren, and Bree to hold. It was too loud to explain, but Bree must have understood. I watched her approach the couple sitting at the other end of the picnic table. She pointed to the other side. She must have asked them to watch our drinks.
Later, on the phone, I would tell this story to my husband. I would tell him how I moved our drinks. I would tell him how Bree went to speak with other Floridians about watching our drinks and how I hung on to my cup of water, even if it encumbered dancing.
“You must think pretty highly of yourself,” he said.
I paused to process what he just said. “Oh, really?” Our connection was clear enough I could hear him waiting to laugh.
“I’m just saying … you’re not … young.”
“I’m not young enough for some psychopath?”
“I’m just saying … you weren’t … alone.” Now he laughed. To backtrack. To keep peace. “I mean, you had your friends to watch over you.”
I thought, You wait just a gosh darn minute. I may be past the weekend parties at the frat house but … but … but? I felt horrified–and amused. Have twenty years really passed since I started my watch-over-the-drink rule? I’m old enough to be a parent to a college freshman. I could, in fact, be the mother of a college boy who drugs and rapes a college girl. I am … middle-aged. I could be just like Hazel and Beatrice who hang on to their youth with a fishing pole grill lighter and a dance move reserved for a porno.
Under the colored lights, Meg, Lauren, and Bree looked at ease, dancing to the music. Bree shuffled her feet and bobbed her head to the beat. Her short hair was cut in a wedge at the base of her neck, a short style I’ve never been brave enough to try. She shuffled, bounced, bobbed then stopped to pull her capris back over her hips. Then she did it again. Shuffled, bounced, bobbed, and pulled up her pants. I thought that quite cute. Me? I didn’t feel drunk enough to publicly display any moves beyond bouncy knees. I sipped the last of my water and tossed the cup in the trash.