“Tina! Stop biting your nails!”
Tina was nervous and always bit her nails when she was nervous. She slid her hands under her backside feeling the smooth material of her new floral dress as she did. Her nails would be safe there.
She watched the trees rush by the car in a green and brown blur. In a few weeks, the green would be replaced by oranges, reds, and yellows as fall settled in the valley. School started a few weeks prior, and tonight was the end of summer barn dance. Usually, the dance was held at the actual end of summer, before the school year started, but a fire at the Tanner’s farm had forced the organizers to reschedule while they found a suitable replacement.
Tina was excited because this was her first barn dance and Bradley Thompson would be there. He was the cutest boy in the 7th grade, and Tina was going to ask him for a dance. She was terrified but determined.
Her mother had taken her dress shopping in the city the weekend before. She found a cute dress that was not too young looking, Tina’s requirement, and not too grown up looking, her mom’s requirement. Her mom had curled her hair and pinned the sides up to accentuate her face nicely. She had even done Tina’s makeup, which shocked Tina because she wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until high school.
Finally, the trees cleared, and the barn and farmhouse were visible down a dirt driveway on the edge of a large field. The barn was large and old. The boards making up the walls and door were in desperate need of paint, but it all seemed sturdy enough. Lights were strung all over the barn and the yard, giving the space a romantic feel. Other students were already milling around the yard and walking in and out of the barn. When Tina opened her door, she could hear dance music emanating from inside the barn.
“Good evening, Tina,” greeted Ms. Walker, her English teacher.
Tina smiled widely at her favorite teacher and greeted her back. After saying goodbye to her mother, she skipped into the barn and looked around. Her face fell when she saw the dance floor.
NO ONE WAS DANCING!!
The one thing she wanted to do tonight was dance. The boys were lined up on one wall eyeing the girls and the girls were giggling along the opposite wall eyeing the boys. A couple of the boys were in the corner playing what looked like Pokémon.
Disgusted, Tina, stomped over to her friends who were right in the middle of the giggling horde of 7th grade girls.
“What are you all doing?” she asked incredulously. “Why isn’t anyone dancing? Don’t you want to dance?”
Maggie spoke up first, “Yeah, but I’m not going out there first. It’s like a spotlight on whoever does.”
The other girls nodded in agreement.
Tina huffed and threw her hands in the air. Looking around she spied Ms. Apple, the art teacher. She walked over to her.
“No one is dancing because they’re all scared to be the first one out there. I’m scared too, but I want to dance. Can you make everyone dance?”
“No, hon. Either one of you has to bite the bullet or maybe a group of you can. Get all your friends to go out on the dance floor. The songs are fast, so just go out and dance.”
Tina looked around hesitantly. “Maybe if you went out and danced a little.”
Ms. Apple laughed kindly. “That would drive everyone out of the barn. No one will be caught dead dancing with the teachers. Look, all middle school dances start like this until someone makes a move. If you really want to dance, then you have to make it happen. Be brave.”
Tina nodded, unsure of herself. She walked over to her friends again.
“So, what did Ms. Apple say?” Maggie asked. Tina noticed that they were all listening intently. Maybe they really did want to dance.
“She said we should walk out as a group and just start dancing. She also said this is how all middle school dances happen. If you guys come with me, then we can all start dancing together. The spotlight will be on all of us.”
She saw nods all around. “Ok then, let’s go.”
The girls all huddled together like they were in the deep dark woods trying to avoid a monster and crept out to the hay covered wooden dance floor. Once they were there they started swaying slowly to the fast tempo of the music, looking around to see if anyone was laughing at them. No one was, but everyone else was watching them intently.
Tina was still focused on dancing and now that the ice had a crack in it, she busted through. Grabbing Maggie’s wrists, she began dancing with fervor. On cue, Maggie and the other girls joined in. The other kids began to trickle onto the floor. Before they knew it, most of the kids were dancing, laughing, and having a great time. Tina spied Ms. Apple giving her a thumbs up and she smiled at her.
After a few songs, Tina went to get a drink at the refreshments table. As she was grabbing a soda, she spied Bradley Thompson standing against a wall watching the dancers. She took a deep breath and walked over to him.
“Hi Bradley,” she said happily and a little nervously.
“Hey,” he replied in a somewhat bored voice.
“Um. I wanted to ask, I mean, if you would, dancethefirstslowdancewithme?”
He looked at her surprised that she asked. Before he could say anything, she heard a voice behind her.
“Hahaha, you just asked Bradley to slow dance. You must want to kiss him too! Tina and Bradley sittin’ in a tree. Or is it the barn? I’m not sure” Bradley’s best friend Aaron Bates was standing behind Tina grinning devilishly.
Tina blushed a deep red and looked at Bradley. He was laughing too. “Really Tina? Why would I want to slow dance with you? You look like a little kid in that ridiculous dress. I wouldn’t dance with you if my life depended on it.”
Aaron gave him a high five as Tina ran out of the barn crying hysterically.
Avoiding the stares of the other students and a few of the teachers, Tina walked around the outside of the barn into the darkness. On the backside of the barn, completely out of sight, she settled down on a bale of hay against the barn wall and sobbed into her hands. Boys were so mean. He could have just said no. She’d still be hurt, but at least she wouldn’t be humiliated. And Aaron. He should have minded his own business. They ruined everything.
Tina was still crying softly and looking at the ground when she heard soft footsteps approaching. Thinking it was Maggie or a teacher, she looked up to tell them she was fine, but gasped instead.
A tall boy stood in the moonlight looking at her. He was wearing an old-looking suit and held a single wildflower in his hand. He cocked his head to the side and asked.
“What’s troubling you, miss?”
Tina was taken aback by the way he spoke. She almost thought he was teasing her too, but the look on his face was sincere.
“Someone made fun of me because I wanted to dance with them.”
“Well, that is an unkind thing to do to a pretty young lady like yourself.”
“What? I mean, you think I’m pretty?”
“Of course, I do. Here would you like this? I grabbed it thinking I would give it to someone I wanted to dance with too. You can have it. I’ll even dance with you if you want.”
As if on cue, a slow song came on from inside the barn. The boy was holding out the flower, looking at Tina expectantly. She sniffed, took the flower, and gave him a small smile.
“I’d like to dance. Should we go inside?”
The boy looked worried. “If you won’t mind, I would like to stay here.”
“Ok,” Tina responded and stood up. She brushed off the hay sticking to her dress and turned to the boy. He stepped up to her and gave a little bow.
Who is this guy? She thought to herself.
They stood in front of each other hesitantly for a moment before Tina put her hand on his shoulder. He then put his hand on her waist and took her other hand in his. His hand was very cold, she noticed. They began swaying slowly to the music. They looked into each other’s eyes as they danced under the stars. The boy had ice blue eyes and dimples in his cheeks when he smiled even a small amount. His grip was firm, but gentle and he seemed completely comfortable dancing with Tina. There was no teenage embarrassment. Tina felt like this was exactly what she wanted for her first dance.
As the song started to wrap up, Tina began to worry about what would come next. She didn’t know this boy from school.
“What is your name?” she asked.
“Jeffrey Jackson,” he replied. “And what is yours’?”
“You have a lovely name.”
She blushed, “Thank you. Where are you from? I’ve never seen you around.”
“I live at the farm,” he replied. “I don’t go to school though. They need me to work.”
Surprised, Tina replied, “Oh. I thought all kids had to go to school.”
The boy laughed then, “All of us farm kids work on the farm when we turn 13. That’s just the way it is.”
Tina was still confused, but let it go. They continued to dance until the song faded away into another fast song. They stepped away from each other.
“Thank you for the dance, Miss Tina. Maybe another time we’ll dance again.”
“Thank you, Jeffrey. I really enjoyed it.”
She was about to ask if he wanted to walk with her back into the barn, when she heard footsteps approaching. She turned to face the newcomer.
“Tina! Here you are. Your mother is here to pick you up. What are you doing back here?” Ms. Walker seemed impatient.
“I needed to be alone, but I just met Jeffrey here.” She turned to look at Jeffrey, but he was gone.
“Who?” Ms. Walker asked.
“Jeffrey. He was right here. Where did he go?” She looked around but didn’t see him anywhere. She didn’t think he could have gotten away from Ms. Walker without being seen.
“I don’t know any Jeffrey’s at our school. Are you sure that was his name?”
“Yes, Jeffrey Jackson, and he said he doesn’t go to the school because he lives here on the farm and works. He said all the 13-year-olds who live on farms don’t go to school because they have to work.”
“Tina, this is the Jackson farm, but they don’t have any children who live here. Old Tom Jackson had a brother named Jeffrey who died when he was young. Tom felt bad because his brother was feeding Tom’s horse when it kicked him in the head. Probably was in this barn too. No other Jeffrey's in the family that I know of.”
As she walked to her mother’s car, Tina mulled over the perfect first dance. Had Jeffrey Jackson come back for one last dance? If he had, she was happy. He’d made her night memorable, and she’d never forget him or her first dance.