Jaime giggled behind her computer screen.
“He’s doing it again!” she said is 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!” A pinched grin twisted across Amy’s mouth, and 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 swift swaying or soundless counts 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 doens’t have any kids, no father-daughter dances to prepare for.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Amy admonished. “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!” MArtha’s mouth snapped shut as the owner of Cresex (Jonathan of the same name), 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, Jaime didn’t think 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 annoucements (“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 additionally confused laughter. Amy lifted her eyebrows at Jaime, sho shrugged. Several people stopped to chat with Jim after the breif 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 someone, less-so, without Jim.
On the Thursday night the week before Jim was due to return Jaime was barely settled into her recliner with a mug of hot chocolate, a bowl of Reeses pieces and a blanket when the soundtrack music of the competition began. She took a small sip of her drink and grinned at the titles. Since Dancing with the Stars was off syndication for the season, she got her fix for professional dancing in elsewhere: in this case, a dancing contest filmed in France that her niece had told her about. Although she’d missed the first 4 episodes, watching it made her think about Jim, and occasionally she entertained the idea of learning herself, but when it came down to it, she couldn’t convince herself she had the talent or the time. So she lived vicariously through the dancers on television instead.
Lit by shimmering track lights, several disco balls the camera roved over the dance floor, panning across the 10 couples who had survived through the initial qualifications. She popped Reeses into her mouth as it moved through introductions, zooming in on each contestant at a time – and her hand froze, mouth dropping open in shock when she recognized one.
“Holy. shit.” She stared at Jim Kennedy, 52 year old CFO of Cressex Industries Lmt. He wasn’t wearing brown loafers. He wasn’t wearing white socks or wearing aviator-style reading glasses. No tie or blazer or pastel polo shirts. Jim wore a bright, gold button-up with with sleeves that matched the slinky dress of the woman half his age in his arms to the letter. The camera moved ahead to the next person, but Jaime didn’t even notice. Jim! She shoved the blanket off her lap, barely avoiding sending the bowl of candy across the floor and dove down to the DVR. She smahed the rewind button – but, no it was him…she sat back on her heels as the show moved on, stunned. This was his sabbatical?! A dance competition in Paris? Jaime snatched the blanket and her drink and settled there on the floor.
The first dance was a swift samba around the rectangular dance floor. The camera zoomed out to give a bird eye view of the entire floor, and Jaime kept her eyes fixed on Jim and his partner weaving in and out if other couples as though perfectly choreographed with #9 sticker on his back. It might have been awkward or uncomfortable to see your boss shimmy and shake on national TV, but she was, at this point, too spellbound by the idea to consider any other reaction that dumbfounded awe. An announcer’s voice began to speak over the music in French, but after a second an English translation spoke over him.
“and here, our judge Analise Martin-” Jaime gasped in excited recognition, “top female salsa champion and 3-time winner of Dancing with the Stars, stepping in now 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,” She muttered to the empty living room, not taking her eyes from the screen where Jim was sweeping his partner across the floor in some fancy in-sync footwork. Teaching oneself to dance for fun was one thing…
Being a dancing contest, it didn’t take long for her to get invested. Despite being at the most, an amateur dancer whose experience was at her cousin’s wedding last spring, Jaime felt she was learned enough from the other dance shows to make objective calls on Jim’s performance and the judges’ calls. But even so, she caught her breath whenever when Jim and his partner passed a little too close to the judges.
“And now, our final number!” The DJ announced after Amy clicked through the broadcast commercials.” And we’ve got five couples left, once dance to go – a tango, ladies and gentleman, the dance of passion, let’s see how our couples do here!”
Jaime curled around the bowl of forgotten Reeses in her lap as the 3 judges milled between the 10 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 – just four couples – oOH, no!” Gasps and cries of alarm and horror swallowed the pounding music and Jaime unconsciously leapt her her feet, scattering chocolate everywhere as,right in the middle of a turn, Jim’s foot lost purchase, his ankle twisted and he collapsed to the ground with a shout of pain. The music played along for a second more before screeching to an abrupt halt and the judges and several people on the edges of the dance floor rushed in to attend to him. The smooth, edited feel of the live show vanished as the camera view switched with a shudder, flashing from the overhead view to center on the shocked and white faces of the announcers, who hastily tried to cover the accident, “…several paramedics on the floor just for such occasions, looks to be nothing too serious – yes, we can see he’s getting help, but definitely not putting any weight on that foot-”
“Show the damned dance floor, idiot,” Jaime snarled at the television – and as though they heard her, the viewpoint switched to the floor, where the crowed had already lessened and two men were gathered under Jim’s arm, leading him off the floor. His forehead was covered with a sheen of sweat, but he looked alright otherwise: but the announcer was right – he kept his left foot completely off the floor. She held a thankful palm to her chest and leaned back with a relieved breath. The man was in his 50s, it wouldn’t have been out of the realm of possibility for him to have a heart attack! Several of the couples milled about nervously, as if unwilling to illustrate their perfect health in the aftermath of Jim’s accident, and someone in the production department apparently came to their senses and the screen flashed away to a Ford commercial. Jaime rolled her eyes and reached for her drink, and only then noticed that, in her alarm, the bowl of Reeses pieces ad been thrown across the room, and chocolate candies were scattered across the floor. “Aw, crap.”
The next morning, as she mulled her her coffee and several people chatted easily over the box of donuts someone had brought in, Jaime wondered about Jim. He’d not come back on for the remainder of the show, although he’d been awarded 4th place (and a small plaque) in absentia. He was probably fine, she thought, taking a sip. But she wondered if she should tell the others. They’d get a thrill from it – they’d want to throw a party when he got back, put the plaque up on the wall. She glanced at Amy, who was already buried in her email. After the show, she’d been buzzing with the thought of sharing such news with the office. Now…she wasn’t sure. He hadn’t said anything to anyone. And if you ignored the fact that everyone in Cressex was a nosy busybody, hadn’t given any indication of his plans. In the face of his secrecy and the effort he took to maintain it, she felt wrong for wanting to share., especially since she was the one who started the entire rumor mill in the first place…If it were her, she’d be mortified. And it hadn’t even been American television – what was the chance anyone in the office would honestly have been watching French syndication? If it wasn’t for her niece doing her French abroad studies, even she wouldn’t have known about it! Jaime wrapped her hands around the warm mug. Part of her longed to share. To laugh about who won the pool (though she didn’t want to pay up her portion), and warn everyone about his injury. But there was another, stronger part that said it wouldn’t be fair, and it wouldn’t be respectful. So she set her mug aside, pulled her keyboard in front of her, and focused on her work without, forcing the gossip mill from her mind.
Jim returned to the office the next Tuesday. He walked in behind Jenny, who was holding the door open with a very worried look as he sidled in on his crutches. Cries of alarm and concern rose from those gathered in the reception area.
Jim waved them off. “Just a small accident at golf, my own fault,” he said with a embarrassed grin. “Had to cut the vacation short, but I’m fine.”
“How long do you have to be in that?” Alex said, pointing to the thick white cast wrapped around Jim’s left ankle. Jim grimaced. “Three more weeks,” he said. “Old brittle bones, I guess.” Jenny groaned in sympathy and held open the inner door for Jim to walk through; she was carrying his briefcase, too. He didn’t look any different than before, at least on the outside, Jaime decided. But having seem him dance: having seen the broad, exhilarated grin as he glided across the floor lent a new, rare…more intimate dimension to how she saw him now. He left the glass door of his office open as he balanced his crutches in the corner with a thanks to Jenny. Jaime wanted until he settled himself in his chair before standing. With a forced leisure she was certain was painfully obvious, she meandered across the walkway and leaned against the doorjamb. Jim glanced her distractedly.
“Something I can do for you, Jaime?” He said, reaching around the computer to switch it on.
“Just…curious,” she said, trying to find the right thing to say. How did she tell him she knew…that she saw, that she was amazed, inspired, proud…
“How was the weather in France?” she finally said. Jim froze, his eyes skewing her to the spot, his face dashing through a number of emotions: shock, horror, embarrassment, alarm, even fear, before settling on an combination of wary suspicion.
“…fine, fine weather,” he managed to say. Jaime smiled and bit at her lip, lowering her gaze to his desk in an effort to be as casual as possible. “It looked great,” she said. “Wish I could have been there to see it – at least until the storm,” she added, flicking a eye at his leg. Jim’s eyes narrowed, but after a tense second, his frown finally eased into a knowing smile. He nodded with a grateful twist of his head, and turned back to his computer, effectively dismissing her. It was enough – and Jaime felt a sudden kinship with him for their shared secret. As she settled back into her desk, her eyes were drawn to his feet: one in casual brown loafers, the other in a white bulbous cast. But his eyes were shining and a pleased grin was playing around his mouth. Jaime looked at her hands, lifted and poised above the keyboard, and began a google search for dance lessons.