So I thought I’d post something a little different today: a chapter from the novel I’ve written, which I’m currently trying to get published. The novel is semi-autobiographical, about a year in the life of a twelve-year-old kid named Daniel who has undiagnosed Asperger’s.
In this chapter, he’s attending his first school dance just before Halloween and has no idea what to expect. He’s a little apprehensive. The other main characters are Clyde (Daniel’s best friend), Kelly (the girl whom Daniel has a crush on) and Audrey (Kelly’s best friend).
Daniel’s class lined up at the door, and Mr Eklund stood at the front of the line.
“I know you’re excited, but please keep your voices down in the hall,” he said. “You’ll have the whole afternoon to be as loud as you want. Just wait ‘till we get to the gym.”
Clyde talked to Daniel on the way down. Daniel couldn’t concentrate.
What’s it going to be like? What exactly happens at a dance?
As they approached the gymnasium, Daniel saw that Bridget and Clyde were holding hands.
“This should be a lot of fun,” said Bridget. “I hope they play I Want It That Way. It’s my favourite song.”
“Yeah,” said Daniel. “It’s great.”
He had never heard of the song before, and wondered who performed it. Maybe The Spice Girls. Was Hanson still popular?
In the corridor outside the gymnasium, music blasted from behind the doors. A table sat outside, crammed with cans of pop and small bags of chips, everything for a dollar each.
The line of students disappeared through the doors. Daniel realized that the gym was pitch black only moments before being immersed in the inkiness.
Then he was there, at the dance, swallowed by the noise. Some techno song, the bass shaking the floor. Students already dancing. Strobe lights flashed from the ceiling, a miniature disco ball hung from a beam, the stage was lit up with bright red lights. Daniel’s head pounded. The room was packed with people, seemingly everyone from his grade, and also all the grade eights.
What have I gotten myself into? thought Daniel.
“What do you think?” asked Clyde. He had to shout to make himself heard.
“This is my nightmare!” said Daniel.
“Just go with the flow. This is going to be awesome!”
Clyde ran through the crowd with Bridget. He picked a spot next to the stage, and thrashed his arms and legs wildly, while she stood next to him laughing.
Is he having a seizure? thought Daniel.
A lot of people were messing around like Clyde was. It was hard to tell who was who in the shifting light. After the techno song finished, the strobe light was turned off in favour of a red spotlight that swished through the gym, randomly illuminating people.
Daniel bumped into Dustin, who was talking to Blake and Luke.
“I love this song!” said Dustin.
“Yeah, it’s great,” said Daniel.
He had no idea what song it was. Maybe N Sync? Or were they just popular with girls?
Audrey grabbed his arm.
“Ask Kelly to dance,” she said.
“What? No, she’s pissed at me.”
Audrey looked at Daniel over the top of her glasses. “When the first slow song comes on, ask her.”
“I’m really not feeling well,” said Daniel.
“Don’t worry so much, just have a good time.” Audrey let him go, and vanished into the crowd.
Daniel continued roving through the shifting masses of bodies, through light and shadow. He realized he was invisible. In the darkness it was difficult to see people, and to distinguish one person from another. Nobody was watching him. He could roam with impunity, without fear of making a mistake or being laughed at.
With this freedom, Daniel felt himself loosen up. He watched people interact with each other, and dance, and clown around. He began to enjoy himself, not as a participant, but simply as an observer.
People can actually be kind of fun when I don’t have to interact with them, thought Daniel.
Even the music seemed bearable. Daniel decided to find Clyde and tell him that he was right, that this was actually fun.
Then, from the stage, a stranger with a mic: “Slooooow dance!”
The lights overhead switched from red to blue.
Holy shit, thought Daniel.
Clyde appeared beside him, holding hands with Bridget.
“It’s magic time!” said Clyde.
Daniel spotted Kelly, only a few feet away. She was wearing a Three Musketeers costume. A wide-brimmed blue hat, a blue coat with a white shirt underneath, and blue pants with white stripes running down the side. She had a curly French mustache painted on.
What am I going to do? Does she see me? Should I ask her? I can’t, what would I say? She still hates me, doesn’t she? But it would be okay, Audrey said- no, I won’t do anything. I don’t even know what I’d say.
He leaned against a wall, stared at the ground, and crossed his arms. Out of the corner of his eye, Daniel saw Kelly approach him.
“Do you wanna dance?” she said.
They wound through the crowd to an empty spot, and Daniel wondered for a second what to do.
He placed his hands on her waist, and she put her hands on his shoulders. They rocked slowly around in a circle.
Daniel was surprised at how close they were. The material of her costume was slippery, and reminded him of the fabric of a tent.
He could feel the softness of her skin underneath the smoothness of the costume.
She looks good in a mustache, thought Daniel.
Daniel tried to avoid making eye contact. Every time he looked at Kelly’s face, she looked away. When he looked away, he could feel her eyes on him. They rocked slowly back and forth.
We’re really close, thought Daniel.
He watched other people dance, some even closer than them. And then there were students standing on the sidelines, watching or talking amongst themselves.
Audrey, sitting nearby on a bench, flashed Daniel a huge smile and two thumbs up. He laughed.
“What’s so funny?” asked Kelly.
“Nothing,” said Daniel. “I like your costume.”
“Thanks,” she smiled. “My mom made it.”
They lapsed into silence and continued to dance, and Daniel began believing that maybe they could be like this forever. Just dancing, and holding each other.
The music faded away, the red lights switched on, Kelly let go.
“MACARENA!” screamed the man with the mic.
The students fled into motion, everyone crowding onto the dance floor. They moved in sync, rushing through the motions of the dance.
Daniel retreated to the sidelines and watched.
I’m glad it’s dark, he thought. I have a wicked boner.
After the macarena, Clyde found Daniel in the dark.
“You totally did it, man! I saw you!”
“Yeah, you were right. This dance is amazing,” said Daniel.
“I danced with Bridget and got a huge boner!” said Clyde.
“Maybe you shouldn’t yell things like that.”
“It doesn’t matter, no-one can hear me!”
Clyde ran back through the crowd to find Bridget. Daniel wandered around the edge of the gym, peering through pockets of people, watching dancing couples. The music enveloped them all.
Daniel saw Jeremy and Tiffany dancing quickly, smoothly. He saw a boy from the eighth grade he didn’t know, breakdancing in a strobe light. A crowd of people gathered ‘round to watch. Crystal was sitting on a bench talking to a grade eight boy. She saw Daniel and winked. Mr Eklund and Mr Tasker stood talking in the shadows by the back of the gym.
Half of the students were wearing costumes. The others had chosen regular outfits. Some of the girls wore class-photo-day-quality clothes, but most of the boys had put on whatever.
Daniel walked past Margaret, who wore a floor-length dress, white, frilly. Backless. Daniel appreciated this.
Song after song whirled past. Clyde and Bridget coasted past, cheek to cheek, attempting to tango.
Daniel wandered out of the gym to the snack table. He hadn’t brought any money, but the music and crush of people were making him dizzy. Nobody else was around except Kelly. She leaned against a wall, eating a bag of chips.
“Want one?” she asked.
Daniel stood next to Kelly. All he wanted to do was touch her again.
“What do you think of the dance so far?” asked Kelly.
“It’s great. The music’s really loud though.”
“Well, that’s because it’s a dance.”
They lapsed into a comfortable silence.
“What are you doing on Halloween?” asked Kelly.
“Probably just going trick or treating around my neighbourhood, same as every year.”
“Do you want to go with me?” asked Kelly.
“Yes.” Oh, absolutely, one hundred percent yes.
She grinned. “Great. What will you be going out as?”
“Uh, probably nothing. I mean, literally the concept of nothingness. Black face-paint, black shirt, black pants.”
“That’s so weird,” said Kelly. “You’ll probably get hit by a car.”
“You’d warn me if you see one coming.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
From inside the gym, the music changed. Daniel could tell it was another slow song.
Kelly leaned forward and listened.
“I love this one,” she said.
“Do you want to dance?” asked Daniel.
They returned to the darkness of the gym. The blue lights were on again, and the floor was littered with swaying couples.
Kelly clasped Daniel’s shoulders, and he held her hips. They rocked back and forth.
“If you call, I will answer, and if you fall, I’ll pick you up. And if you court this disaster, I’ll point you home. I’ll point you home.”
If I died right now, thought Daniel, I’d be completely happy.
He watched other people, some smiling, some with their eyes closed, heads against chests, arms wrapped completely around each other.
Kelly’s eyes met his.
“What is it?” he asked.
Hours later, the students spilled out into the hallway. Nobody cared about keeping their voices down, or lining up. They laughed and shouted. Daniel swayed wildly back and forth inside himself.
I’m high, he thought.
“That was the best thing ever, in the history of stuff, period,” said Clyde. “I saw you having a pretty good time, too.”
“That was… just…” Daniel couldn’t find words. He laughed.
At his locker, packing up to go home, Kelly tapped Daniel’s shoulder.
“Tomorrow for trick or treating, I was thinking we could walk through the older houses close to McLeod, because they give out the best candy.”
“Could your dad pick me up and drop me off after we’re done?”
“Yeah,” said Daniel, not sure if this was the case.
“My place at seven?”
“Great,” she grinned, “I’ll see you then.”
I want to hug her or kiss her or dance with her forever, thought Daniel.
She walked off.