Jaime giggled behind her computer screen.
“He’s doing it again!” she said in a hushed whisper, and tapped her co-worker with the tip of her pen with Amy didn’t respond. “Amy!”
“…what?” Brushing a thick curtain of brown hair away from her face, Amy straightened from her phone screen. “Who’s doing what?”
“Jim!” Jaime hissed. “Dancing his feet under his desk again!” her co-worker tried to smother her grin when her eyes flickered past Jaime’s desk to where the Jim Kennedy, 55-year old CFO of Cressex Industries, Lmd, was tapping his feet in a sprightly rhythm in the open pace beneath his desk. Amy met Jaime’s gaze and they shared a secret giggle.
“Do you think he’s trying to teach himself how?” Amy reached for a tube of strawberry chapstick and popped the cap open. “Watching Youtube videos, or something like that?” Jaime scoffed. “You can’t learn how to dance from a video.”
“Sure you can,” her friend disagreed. “I know a guy from church who taught himself how to break dance from a bunch of Youtube tutorials.”
“That’s not break dancing,” Jaime muttered, sending a swift analytical glance back towards their supervisor. She watched Dancing with the Stars, and figured herself educated enough to figure out if it was a real dance step or just aimless…tapping. Her eyes narrowed in attempts to count the steps of the business-brown loafers.
“It looks like a waltz,” she decided.
“Stop staring!” Amy poked Jaime with her pen in return. “He’s going to notice!”
“He hasn’t already,” Jaime retorted, but abandoned her surveillance, turning her attention back to the Excel spreadsheet spread across the screen in front of her with a weary sigh.
Eventually, others in the office noticed: being a modern, 21st century office in a modern, 21st century sort of town and a modern, 21st century sort of business, Cresssex was a very open space with lots of glass and chrome, and usually taciturn and serious Jim Kennedy’s brown shoes tapping out anything from a waltz to a mazurka (and occasionally accompanied with swaying or silent, mouthed counting was visible to nearly everyone. Melina from marketing found it charming, but lost interest after the first few occurrences, the guys from IT rolled their eyes but threatened to tell Jim they knew she saw it (to Jaime’s mortification), and the receptionist (a high school student named Callie) who was doing a work-study in her senior year now blushed furiously whenever Jim spoke to her. but it didn’t stop – nearly every day, right after lunch (and sometimes mid-morning), Jim’s office door would surreptitiously close, and a moment later, his feet would start moving. Jaime, Amy, and two others in the accounting pool took it upon themselves to figure it out, and finally acquiesced to Amy’s suggestion and assumption that he was teaching himself to dance.
“What for, though?” Martha asked around a french fry. “He doesn’t have any kids, no father-daughter dances to prepare for.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Amy chided her. “Maybe he just wants to learn. for himself, you know.” She stared out the window for a melancholy moment. “I used to want to learn how to play the piano, but I never seemed to have the time.”
“Plus, he’s not even married,” Jaime looked enviously at Martha’s fries and hamburger and gave her microwaved Lean Cuisine a desultory pick with her fork. “So who’s he dancing with?”
“Maybe he’s dating? I don’t think he’s gay,” Martha suggested brightly. “Not that gay guys can’t dance together, of course,” she added quickly, lowering her voice, eyes flickering to a group of men sitting to their left. Jenny, the controller and Jim’s immediate assistant, snorted.
“He’s such a nerd, though,” Jaime said. “With those 80’s glasses and shoes. He even wears white socks with them.”
“So does your father, and somehow he found someone to have sex with,” Amy retorted. Jaime shrieked in false insult and threw one of Martha’s fries at her.
“I don’t think they’re anything wrong with just wanting to learn a new skill,” Jenny said, nodding to Amy. “I wish I knew how to dance.”
“I guess not,” Jaime agreed. “But still, at his desk, in front of everyone in the office is hardly the place to do it!”
This topic of discussion re-instated a renewed interest in Jim’s new hobby in the form of an office pool: on just what Jim was training for. Some ideas were relatively harmless (training because he was dating a new woman), some were woefully ignorant (because the employee in question was so ignorant as to Jim’s life they didn’t realize he wasn’t married or had kids), and a handful that were outright ridiculous (he was teaching himself how to play the pipe organ). Like all attractions however, eventually, Jim’s daily rhythmic routine lost interest, especially as the year-end came around and the accounting apartment was buried in P&Ls, bank statements and last-minute invoices. Callie returned to school for the Spring semester, and a temp started in her place. Martha and her boyfriend finally got engaged and one of the marketing guys broke his leg on a Christmas ski trip, and Jim kept on dancing. Until one day, the owner of Cressex Industries called a meeting.
“This isn’t ominous at all,” Michael hissed over his shoulder. The conference room was slowing filling up, and behind him, Jaime patted his back. “Relax. If he was going to fire anyone, he wouldn’t do it with an audience. I bet it’s just a new big client contract.”
“If that’s the-oh, quiet!” Martha’s mouth snapped shut as the owner of Cressex (Jonathan of the same name, Jr), stepped forward. Jim stood just to the side looking apprehensive, but since Alex Matthews, head of marketing, Stacy Andrews, East Coast Sales Director and Sinjeh Parvel, head of IT also stood next to him, no one thought much of it.
“Good afternoon, all” Jonathan said sprightly. The man had taken over from his father a handful of years ago, and bounced up and down on the balls of feet that hadn’t been worn away by the daily grind of Career. He started with the usual: updates on various departments, a couple new hire announcements (“I hope this one lasts,” Jenny hissed, as the newest receptionist waved awkwardly from the side at John’s introduction), and one happy send-off to a heavily pregnant sales rep.
“And, last but not least, I’m sorry to say that Jim here, is going to be taking a bit of a break for a couple months – going abroad, if I’m not mistaken?” Jonhathan glanced back for affirmation, and Jim nodded wordlessly.
“Anyway, I know we’ve just finished out tax season, but we’ve done our best to catch up, but you fellows in accounting will each need to pick up a little extra from day to day,” his gaze swept across the room, lingering every so briefly on the four women. “Jim’s been a member of Cressex since my father got started 15 years ago, and I think it is high time he took a break. And it isn’t anywhere close to making a dent in your stored PTO, either,” he added to polite laughs. “Jim?” Jonathan pressed the older man. “Any plans? Last requests? Give us a hint on what you’ll be doing?”
A half-smile twisted the man’s lips at the gathered co-workers, most of which Jaime was certain he knew couldn’t care less, but he just turned it into a self-deprecating laugh and shrugged. “eh, I’m sure you’ll find out,” he said enigmatically. This was met with another smattering of polite but confused laughter. Amy lifted her eyebrows at Jaime, sho shrugged. Several people stopped to chat with Jim after the brief meeting, shaking hands, offering well-wishes, but he easily side-stepped all inquiries about his plans.
“Aw, shoot,” Jenny suddenly slumped down at her desk. This means I gotta do payroll.”
Without the daily reminder and Jim’s empty office, the excel spreadsheet with the office betting pool gathered metaphorical dust. 3 payroll periods came and went and Jenny found herself dreaming about a sabbatical of her own after the 4th person had come to complain about their direct deposit. The office continued forward as always, but somehow, less-so without Jim.
“He’s just a fixture,” Alan said, filling up the remainder of his coffee mug with creamer. “It’s odd not to see him there. Like, missing the parody of the Mona Lisa in the hallway outside the bathrooms.” Jenny shuddered. “God, I hate that thing. We’ve tried to move it twice but the sales agents keep putting it back.”
“He didn’t die,” Martha said, twisting her ring around her finger. “He’ll be back in what, a week?
“Tuesday after next, I think-”
“Guys!!!!” Amy slammed through the front door, nearly crushing the doorstop and practically colliding with Michael, who just stepped out of the storage closet with a handful of toilet paper. “You will never believe this!” She was grinning so wildly she looked half-crazed, and Chris, coming in behind her looked almost frightened. “I know why Jim was taking dance lessons!”
“Come on, come on, comeon!” Amy grabbed Matha’s arm and dragged her across to her desk. She was beaming and as they rushed through the maze of cubicles, actually yelled down the hall towards the IT department.
“HEY, ALEX! YOU WON THE POOL!”
Half a moment later, a tousled red-head popped up from around the corner. “You have GOT to be kidding me.”
Most of the office swiftly gathered in the space of 10 seconds (the other half not yet arrived), and Amy was practically vibrating with excitement.
“I recorded it last night and emailed it to myself, you will not believe it!” She didn’t bother to sit down, just leaned over her chair, pulled up her email, skimmed past several new ones and clicked the mouse so fiercely that the receptionist (who didn’t seem to care one way or the other about Jim’s secret hobby) looked up in alarm. Amy clicked open the link and set the tiny video to full-screen. A paused, blurry screenshot of several couples in bright clothing resolved itself into a video of a dance floor lit by shimmering track lights, several disco balls and accompanied by a pounding, moving salsa.
“There!” Amy’s finger skewered one of the male dancers. He wasn’t wearing brown loafers. He wasn’t wearing white socks or aviator-style reading glasses. No tie or blazer or pastel polo shirts. Jim wore a bright, gold button-up with with sleeves that billowed with his movement around the dance floor and matched the slinky dress of the woman half his age in his arms to the letter.
“Holy. shit.” They stared at Jim Kennedy, 52 year old CFO of Cressex Industries Lmt, dancing a swift samba around the rectangular dance floor, weaving in and out of other couples as though perfectly choreographed with a #9 sticker on his back on national broadcast television. It might have been awkward or uncomfortable to see your boss shimmy and shake on national TV, but everyone was at this point, too deeply stunned and spellbound by the idea to consider any other reaction other than dumbfounded awe. Amy turned her computer volume to the max and stepped to the side, letting others gather closer to the screen. An announcer’s voice began to speak over the music in a bottled, tinny voice:
“and here, our judge Analise Martin-” Jaime screeched in excited recognition, “top female salsa champion and 3-time winner of Dancing with the Stars, stepping in to choose those who will move onto the next level – oh that’s well, there’s #2 out, too bad, she had promise, but that slip of the foot… ah yes, #4, excellent form, and oh, look at that lift-!” Gasps of amazement broke the silence, “- and yes! Confirmed #9, very good!”
“This is unbelievable,” Alex murmured, an opinion obviously shared by the rest of the shocked IT department crowded in behind him.
“Why didn’t he say anything?” Jenny asked, not taking her eyes from the screen where Jim was sweeping his partner across the floor in some fancy in-sync footwork.
“Would you have?” Amy asked, beckoning Paula over from where she’d walked in and stopped short at the crowd around the desktop.
“Wait- ” Chris, head web developer, reached over and slapped the space bar, pausing the video, and held up his hands to forestall the disappointed groans and complaints.
“Hey, if we’re gonna watch this, we’re gonna do it right.” He grinned at a couple confused glances, took two steps to the right, and flipped on the projector screen.
Someone had found popcorn, someone else had closed all the blinds and everyone had taken part in moving the incredibly heavy solid mahogany wooden conference table to the back of the room so all of the chairs would fit. Someone else had swiftly explained the situation to Jonathan Cressex, who, after spending a few blank moments staring open-mouthed at the video on Amy’s desk, was speaking non-stop to his father on his cell phone and trying to convince the old man it wasn’t a practical joke. Alex had taken it upon himself to collect his winnings and was probably wise in doing it; so many people were in shock at Jim dancing on national television they were handing out cash without even thinking about it.
“Ladies and gents!” Chris announced from the doorway, his hand on the light switches. “May I present, our esteemed CFO: Jim Kennedy!” he slapped the switches down, the lights went off to a wild cheer and the video began to play.
Being a dancing contest, it didn’t take long for people to get invested. Despite being at the most, amateur dancers whose experience might have been obligations at family weddings, everyone had an opinion on the contestants. Groans and cheers (and arguments against the professional judges’ calls) were mixed with each disqualification and breaths of anxious anticipation when Jim and his partner passed a little too close to the judges. The lights were bright and hot, and Jim was sweating, but his steps were light and he kept pace with the beautiful blonde within the circle of his arms.
“And now, our final number!” The DJ announced after Amy clicked through the broadcast commercials.” And we’ve got four couples left, one dance to go – a tango, ladies and gentleman, the dance of passion, let’s see how our couples do here!”
“Oh gosh, I can’t look,” Martha groaned, hiding her face between her fingers. Jenny’s gaze was riveted and she accidentally nearly dug a finger into Martha’s eye trying to pull her hands down.
“You wimp. It’s incredible. I never knew the old man had it in him.” Martha grimaced. “Oh, please don’t make me think of my boss like that!” Behind her, Alex threw a popcorn kernel at them with a hush. The seconds ticked by impossibly long, yet terrifyingly quick as 3 judges milled between the 8 dancers like sharks in a shoal of fish.
“-and here, and that’s too bad, Alice Jackson out, and, oh, very nice, good sportsmanship there,” several boos from the crowed met the disqualified dancer’s obscene gesture, “and here we have Mark Robertson out too – just two couples left now – what an incredible performance here by Jim Kennedy everyone, easily our eldest contestant, still in the running!” Cressex Industry Lmt exploded in loud cheers and applause to match the television audience and the camera zoomed into Jim’s face. A sheen of sweat covered his receding forehead but Jim Kennedy had never looked more alive and was grinning broadly despite it all, and in the private minds of everyone gathered, the tiny, repressed spirit of childhood dreams lifted it’s head and whispered…”wouldn’t it be cool…”
Caught up in the unfolding drama, no one noticed the door at the back open.
“Our last two contestants, people, and a $50k prize to the winner! Let’s see here, oh, wow..a beautiful sequence, look at that!” Disappointed sights echoed across the office. Jim was an older man, and couldn’t replicate the energy and strength of his younger competitor. And 30 seconds later, a hand dropped down on his shoulder. The video continued for several more minutes as the judges and television audience cheered the winners, but the previously exuberant mood in the conference drooped in defeat.
“Damn,” Chris slumped into his seat as Jim moved off the floor. “I thought he had it.”
“He should have,” Michael agreed. “They should have made allowances for his age.”
“No, then it’d be pandering,” Amy stood up and stretched her arms over her head. “It means more when someone can overcome something like that.” Jaime twisted her lips, watching the frozen image of the winning dancers. “Maybe. Still, he should have one. a $50k grand prize!”
“They did award $25k to second place,” Jim announced from the doorway. A cacophony of screeching chairs filled the room as everyone in the room abruptly came to their feet in combinations of embarrassment, shock and excitement, and Jim grinned cheekily. He lifted a plaque with his name etched on it.
“And I got a new paperweight,” he added. The moment of silence stretched out a second more, then suddenly collapsed as everyone was crashing towards Jim, laughing and hugging and drowning him in a barrage of congratulations and questions and cheering. Someone grabbed the trophy and lifted it over their heads and Jonathan senior pushed through to meet Jim with a huge grin on his face.
Swept up in the middle of it all, Jim glanced past the crowed of heads to the winner of the competition, frozen on the screen. And dismissed him. It hadn’t been about the prize money or notoriety. It’d been about the dance.