At first, Thérèse barely noticed Anthony. The night they met, she was at a party, tearing up the dance floor in a slinky green dress. She had no shortage of partners and danced for hours. Finally she needed a break, and went to the drinks table to drain several glasses of water.
Anthony was standing nearby at the edge of the floor, watching her with a comically awed expression. She vaguely recognised him from dance club – a thin, lanky guy with glasses and floppy pale hair. He would look all right, Thérèse decided, if he would stand up straight, get a haircut, and wear decent clothes instead of that awful brown suit.
Ordinarily, she wouldn’t have given him a second thought. But at that moment, one of her favourite songs started playing. She looked around eagerly; none of her partners were nearby. Anthony looking decidedly nervous and she wasn’t sure how good he was, but she wanted to dance. There was nothing to do but say “Hey, do you know this one?” and pull him into the middle of the floor.
It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t dazzling either. He kept time pretty well, but he didn’t hold her firmly enough, and he was never quite sure what move he wanted to do next. Thérèse found herself leading more often than not, nudging him through the turns.
He was so sheepish about it that she danced the next one with him to make him feel better. This one was more successful, and gave him the confidence he needed to offer her a drink.
They chatted for a few minutes at the bar, and Thérèse learned a little more about him. He was from the Toronto area, and spoke warmly of the suburb of Milborough where he grew up. UWO was the furthest he’d been from home. “It’s kind of an adventure for me,” he said, which made her laugh.
One of her usual partners claimed her after that, but she hadn’t seen the last of Anthony. He was at the next practice session, and this time he approached her, smiling his shy goofy smile. “Thérèse, right?” he said. “Would you mind if I paired up with you for a while? I think I need to practice with someone who knows what they’re doing. I mean, if that’s okay....”
“Of course,” she said with a smile. “Don’t worry, everyone learns that way.”
At first they were a bit clumsy together, but Anthony was determined to learn. Thérèse decided to take him under her wing. She started to dance with him regularly at practice. As his rhythm improved, she began pulling him aside and giving him tips on how to lead properly. She even met up with him for extra practice sessions for a few evenings. To her surprise, he caught on quickly.
Pretty soon, Anthony could keep up with most of the dancers in the club. Thérèse was so impressed that she encouraged him to enter a few competitions with her. She had to ask him several times, but eventually he agreed. Though they never made it to final rounds, they gave a solid effort. And in the meantime, Anthony’s self-assurance improved wonderfully.
As Thérèse and Anthony danced, they told each other about their studies and career plans. Anthony was majoring in business, just like her. He planned to become an accountant. For now, over summers and holidays, he dutifully returned to Milborough to work for a guy named Gordon Mayes.
It turned out that Anthony had been working in Gordon’s garage since high school. He’d started by pumping gas, then earned a promotion – but only a small pay increase – by upgrading the garage’s accounting program. Now, there was talk of signing him on full-time after graduation to balance the books and manage the new convenience store.
Secretly, Thérèse thought this was a terrible idea. Surely this Gordon was taking advantage of Anthony because he was overly reliable and eager to please, and would never complain about getting all the shit work.
It made her feel protective toward him. She made a point of talking to him, trying to draw him out.
“What did you want to be when you were a kid?” she would ask. “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?”
True, Anthony would only blush and stammer a lot of the time, but he listened eagerly as she talked about her own ambitions. He seemed so astonished by her travel plans, she might have been talking about going to the moon. Thérèse teased him about it, said that she’d never met anyone so sheltered and declared him hopeless – and yet there was something so funny and endearing about the dreamy expression on his face.
One night Thérèse stayed out later than usual with Anthony, practicing some salsa moves and grabbing a bite to eat before he walked her back to the dorm. Alicia was sprawled across her bed reading a fantasy novel – they were roommates by now – and she gave Thérèse a puzzled glance as she walked in the door.
“Isn’t he a bit old for a babysitter?” she said.
“Oh, shut up,” said Thérèse.
“Well, what are you doing with him, then? Skinny and dorky isn’t exactly your type.”
“I thought that was your type.”
“No, I’m into cute-dorky. Anthony’s just sad-dorky.”
“No he isn’t. He’s shy, that’s all. I’m trying to give him a chance.”
Alicia put down her book. “That sounds dangerous to me, Thérèse. What if he goes all clingy?”
“If he does, I’ll deal with it. But I don’t think he will. I know he’s a bit awkward, Alicia, but he’s a nice guy. We’re friends.”
“Okay, okay,” Alicia shrugged. “I’m sure he’s a fine upstanding individual. He just seems a bit dull for you.”
But Thérèse was sure there was more to Anthony than that. Beneath his primness he was a sensitive person, and he had a surprisingly vivid imagination. Maybe if he experienced more of life, he would open up.
She lent him her favourite books and took him to plays and concerts. They went to little cinemas and watched foreign films. They even tried a poetry reading, until they realised they were giggling at all the wrong moments and had to hurry out the door.
Afterwards, they would go to a coffeeshop and talk. They discussed their families, and their frustration with school, and how strange it was to grow up. Both of them had been shy and awkward as teenagers, they discovered – she because of her foreign mannerisms, he because of his gawkiness. It gave them common ground. Slowly, almost without noticing it, Thérèse became very fond of him.
One night they were sitting in a restaurant, absolutely soused on Pinot Noir, talking about life after university. Thérèse was on a roll. She’d already sketched the enterprise analysis of her first privately-owned business in Montreal and planned the grand opening down to the colour of the napkins, and now she was deciding if it would be a good idea to take a working holiday in Australia (pro – summer in January; con – those stupid kangaroos). For a while Anthony only laughed until his sides hurt, but then he tried to be serious.
“Why do you have to go so far away?” he said. “Why can’t you stay here? I’ll miss you.”
“Oh, you can come with me,” said Thérèse. “I’ll need someone to fight the kangaroos.”
“No, I mean – do they bite or something? – I mean, why do you need to move around so much?”
“Why not? What’s stopping us?”
“What about starting a family? Don’t you want to have kids?”
“Other people can have kids. I plan to do other things. Like eat the rest of your cake.”
“But why don’t you want kids?” said Anthony, surrendering his cake. “Don’t you like them? Everybody likes kids.”
Thérèse waved her fork at him. “So? What if we all went around having babies all the time? You know what would happen? Babies everywhere! That’s what would happen. Besides, they’re smelly.”
“They are not,” he laughed. “I can’t wait to have kids. I want to have a family, and a house. And a dog. But not a cat, ‘cause I’m allergic.”
Thérèse was astonished. “What, right now?”
He went a bit red. “Well, I’ll probably graduate first.”
“But we’re twenty-one!” she exclaimed. “Having a family is ages away! There’s so much to do first!” He looked so baffled that she grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “God, Anthony! When are you going to wake up?”
Then she kissed him.