Twenty minutes in line felt like eternity, shivering outside the pulsing dance club until the muscled bouncer finally moved aside. Goosebumps stood out while I rubbed my bare arms, but Chris didn’t offer me his sweater. As we stepped through the door, low-pounding music shifted abruptly from muted to mind-blowing. I covered my ears involuntarily, then slowly lowered my arms to my sides, hoping no one noticed. I felt a pang when the big guy waved me through without even checking my ID – it only highlighted that my twenty-fifth birthday loomed large, just one week away. Somehow, finding myself at the mid-point of my twenties gnawed at me.
The club was Chris’s idea for fun. Things felt pretty fresh and raw between us – we’d wanted to be together for months, but had only recently admitted it. I had left my long-term boyfriend, Ethan, for Chris, and that made us squirmy together. Worse, I’d moved to the city just three days before, crashing at his small apartment when we hadn’t even dated yet. We’d gone from fantasy to serious in a quick series of sudden moves, without even nodding to the reality and scariness of joining our lives. So here we were, in this loud and crowded place, not talking about it. Maybe I’d have rathered stay in or gone someplace quiet, or maybe I just felt like a tag-along to Chris’s well-established life. Regardless, I was in the mood to secretly disdain his choice of club. I thought it was just like him to choose the kind of pulsing, noisy joint where artists, ruffians, and musicians hang with rich kids and other wannabes, so everyone feels cool and cultured. That’s how he wanted me to see him.
Three guys waved and hooted at Chris from the other side of the bar. He smiled big and led me by the elbow in that direction, but I wanted to dance. I tugged his hand, shimmying backward towards the floor, trying my best to look enticing. Chris shook his head and pointed to the guys, as if I hadn’t seen them. I puckered my brows and tilted my head to the crowd of dancers with a smile, but it wasn’t enough – he hesitated. I’ve never had much patience for hesitation. I dropped his hand and spun into the crowd.
I had my choice of partners out there, but I couldn’t seem to get into it, turning from one hot, moist body to the next until finally, I danced with the music itself. I closed my eyes, the bass line pounding through me and my arms and torso flowing with the melody. Typical club fare suited me fine, steady and upbeat, no thought or analysis required. I let my body be with time and space and sound in the moment. I breathed in the smells of sweat and perfume, flesh and want, while lights danced over my eyelids. My body let my spirit take over and it felt like sweet release.
One after another I shook off the last month’s flashes. Chris’s shy smile when our hands first met across a sticky campus coffee table – this I zapped with a head-shake. The moment Ethan’s face morphed from disbelief to pain once he realized I was leaving for real – that, I smashed with a stomp! The instant his face switched from pain to anger – shoved off with rolling hips and swinging head. One by one I cleared the distractions until I felt alone in a clean, white space with the music and my body’s movement. I held myself close, slid my hands over my hips and appreciated my own muscled thighs and smooth skin. I shook my hair out and released myself to the joy-spot of being simply a body in motion with music. I just moved.
Out of nowhere, I started back to myself, stumbling as the rhythm flew from me. I opened my eyes to see only hers, piercing into my soul from across the crowded room.
Trix sat taller than anyone around her; regal, contained, like a feline queen. Short-cropped, serrated black hair accentuated her high cheekbones and long face, culminating in a wide, full-lipped mouth. Each feature on its own looked exaggerated – together, they settled into place on an exceptionally striking face. Everyone at the table had situated themselves around her and she took it as her due. People pawed for her attention while she kept her eyes on me. And those eyes – dark, intense, large, and slightly too wide apart –shone with recognition like she already knew me inside out. I felt an electric shock, and found it alarming.
I felt suddenly too self-conscious to be seen. I realized I stood statue-still when people started bumping me around. I needed to get away. Where was Chris? I quelled my almost-panic at not seeing him right away. I finally caught sight of him, laughing large near the bar. My elbows won me no friends but got me through the crowd. I slid up beside Chris, my heart racing, and tucked myself under his arm. He absently pulled me closer, still intent on his conversation.
Then suddenly, she stood there, in front of me, her eyes unwavering from my face as she spoke.
“Well, Chris, you’ve brought us a new mouse to play with?”
Her words sounded put-on-accented, elongated and clipped at the last second. Wait – they knew each other? Chris’s face showed clear distaste. He couldn’t help scrunching up his nose at what smelled to him of pretense.
“How’re tricks, Trix?” he asked, which from someone else might have sounded lame, but I thought he pulled it off. He seemed wary. She didn’t even glance at him. Trix reached over and took my hand in hers. Her fingers felt long, like a man’s, and bony-strong; soft and firm at the same time. Her thumb lightly traced the calluses on my fingertips. I searched for her eyes but all I could see was black.
“Come sit with us,” she called over the music, her words only for me. She pulled my arm to lace our hands over Chris’s head, lifting me onto tiptoes as I found myself spun around, Chris trapped between us. Trix grabbed Chris’s hand firmly with her other, and dragged us both behind her like small children at a fast clip. She ploughed through the dance floor where a path opened before her, like Moses through a red sea of dancers. Chris rolled his eyes back at his friends, but he didn’t resist. Neither did I, for that matter. I was already in her power, and we hadn’t even been properly introduced.
Trix waved two people away from her table and deposited us in their chairs, backs to the dance floor. I shrugged apologetically but the dethroned couple had already disappeared into the dancers. Trix crouched by my side so our faces sat level, and looked me in the eye.
“Perhaps she has a name?” she drawled, without letting go of my hand. She leaned in close to my ear, and her stage whisper sent a thrill down my neck. “Tell me your secret name.”
I couldn’t respond. I felt her words sinking into my chest, speeding my heartbeat then seeping through my stomach and lower, spreading a sweet, achy trail. Trix spoke directly to my body. I felt almost paralyzed. I wondered briefly if I’d been drugged. Then, Chris broke my moment with a nudge, drawing my attention to a stunning blonde across the table, watching me through narrowed eyes. I gathered she’d been speaking to me. I signalled to my ears, as though I just hadn’t heard her over the music.
“I’m Trace,” the woman shouted from across the table, with a hint of expectation that the name should mean something to me.
“Um, hi,” was what I managed in return.
Trace looked like exactly the kind of woman to intimidate me. Beautiful and self-assured, she sat askew in her chair, legs draped over the side so her bare feet rested against the forearm of the man beside her. Dancer or gymnast? I wondered as she flexed her toes and I caught sight of taut calf muscles under her paisley tights. She had pulled back her thick blonde hair in a high cheerleader ponytail, so the full force of her lovely features shone without obstruction. Clear skin, ironic pout, large breasts and a confidence fully justified by her appearance. She was the popular rich girl who never needed to ingratiate herself or even consider how others might feel. At least, I decided all that about her in the ten seconds we’d held eye contact, not knowing how I was right and how I was wrong.
Trix used a single fluid movement to grab a chair from another table and sit backwards, chin propped on her hand, gazing at me as though nothing could interest her more. I felt disconcerted, so I tried not to seem uncomfortable and only got more stiff. On my other side, Chris leaned in conspiratorially, but he spoke at full volume.
“Trace plays with Trix. They have a little act.”
Trace just looked away, bored, but irritation flashed across Trix’s face before she smoothed it into a smile.
“We have a band. Trix n’ Traces, maybe you’ve heard of us? Bash here plays bass.”
Trix indicated the dark, serious man acting as Trace’s footrest. He lifted his hand in a friendly wave, his raised eyebrow substituting for a smile. These people were too cool for school, and I was starting to feel like I’d had enough for one night. I thought we were here to dance? I turned to Chris for help, but his eyes sparkled with interest. I realized he enjoyed seeing me squirm a little. It told him more about me, I guess, to see how I acted in unknown territory. So instead of helping, he decided to stir the pot.
“Christine plays a mean guitar,” Chris offered the table mischievously. I glared at him. Did he really want to force me into this conversation? Couldn’t he read me at all?
“Chris and Christine?” Trix asked me, her features miming incredulity. “Cute.” Her tone said this accidental cuteness undermined our entire relationship and made us somehow pitiable. I couldn’t tell her teasing from scorn, and I felt on guard. I looked away.
“So you play,” Trix asked, but she’d already known.
“Yeah, since I was a kid,” I admitted. “I started out with rock, but I did two years of classical with the Orchestra back home. While I got my degree…?” I trailed off. Did I sound like I was bragging, or just lame? She continued watching me, waiting for something else.
“And, I had a sort-of band?” I offered shyly.
“Originals or covers?”
“Not really. Sort of?”
“No!” I sounded too insulted and laughed to cover it up. She regarded me sceptically, then smiled, deciding to play.
“Don’t get all huffy, music’s music. How about Punk.” She tossed it out expecting an easy no, but she didn’t know me.
“A little.” She tilted her head with interest. “You know, Green Day, Rise Against…”
These she dismissed with her hand – not surprising, I could tell she was a purist.
“So I’m guessing no Minor Threat.” I shook my head. Had I even heard of that band?
“What about what’s playing right now?”
Honestly, I hadn’t even noticed the music until she asked. It seemed like dance fare, maybe a little more intricate but who could tell at this volume? All the music was mostly beat. I tried for humour.
“What, synth pop? I don’t even think there’s a real guitar in there.”
Wrong direction – she pursed her lips, put out.
“There is so real guitar! It’s an art, the mixing and matching – don’t knock it. Okay, so…how about…metal?”
I hesitated. Did she want a yes or a no? I knew I shouldn’t care, but I wanted her approval.
“Maybe a bit?”
She smiled to herself. “Metallica?” she tried. I shook my head. “Then it’s gotta be Guns ‘n Roses.”
“Just once.” I admitted reluctantly.
Trix chuckled, like she’d seen three moves ahead in chess.
“Sweet Child, right?” she stated, knowing she’d score a hit.
“Okay, yeah, but…on the acoustic, quiet, pretty…” I retorted a little defiantly, to cover my embarrassment at being caught in sentiment.
Trix narrowed her eyes, yet she was willing to give a little credit. “Been done, but could work.” She laughed, leaning forward to brush my cheek with the back of her hand. “You’re telling me your whole story in a song, little sister.” I looked down, embarrassed. She tucked her hand under her chin.
“What about current stuff? You a Black Keys kinda girl?” She sounded almost bored now.
“More…White Stripes. Or…closer to Metric?” Her eyes widened just slightly, letting me know she hadn’t pegged me yet. I wondered what she’d expected.
“What kind of audience are you playing for, Mouse, that would put up with the mix you’re spinning me?”
She snorted a laugh out her nostrils. “Clearly. How about this: female musical hero.”
Trix watched me closely. I didn’t hesitate – this one was easy.
“Joan Jett! It’s not even the music, it’s just her absolute dedication to rocking out!” I enthused in spite of myself. “You know?” I finished weakly.
“Hm.” Trix’s thick, curved eyebrows contracted together for a few seconds in thought. She took a deep breath and pushed it out fast, nodding once to herself. “I see. You’ll do, Mouse.”
I felt I’d narrowly passed a test I didn’t quite deserve to pass, but I’d had fun rising to the challenge. I could play almost any style, but Trix did me the honour of trying to guess my musical heart. I thought maybe she’d stopped short, but at least she had decided to take me seriously.
“Zeppelin or Floyd?” Clearly we had reached the last question, and I had an answer.
“It’s Sophie’s Choice.”
Trix laughed out loud and I felt like I’d won a prize. She clapped her hands together.
“Good. Bash, Trace – a guitarist! We were just talking about changing it up, and here she is.”
Bash shrugged. Trace widened her baby-blues and huffed out a puff of frustration. She parted her plush lips, closed them again carefully, and shook her head. Then slowly, gracefully, she unwound her legs to stand, kicked on her sandals, and simply walked away from the table. Trix didn’t look up. Chris shook with silent laughter beside me. He leaned in and loud-whispered too-close, right in my ear so it tickled and I cringed away.
“I could use some popcorn for this show.”
Then, almost like a light switched, Trix lost interest in me. She stood and reached for Bash’s hand as he came around the table to join her. Without another word, they strode to the dance floor. Trix stroked the top of my head on the way by, the gesture as intimate as a lover’s touch.
“Let’s dance,” Chris murmured against my neck, his arm slinking around my waist as he stood. I focused my attention back to him as we melted into the music and each other. Chris liked going with the moment so his creative intensity made up for any lack of technical skill. I’ve heard people fuck like they dance, and with Chris that was certainly true. We could really work each other up on a dance floor, sliding together and apart, appreciating each others’ bodies and physical control. He wore a green-sheened black t-shirt, fitted to his muscled chest and cutting his biceps at a nice angle. I enjoyed the lights dancing on his clean head, and the intensity that gripped his face. I relished looking up at him, always a little taller than I expected. He looked like a contender, after all.