This excerpt is from the ebook JUKEBOX Volume One:
Convinced he’d conquered fast dancing, Johnny pestered Simone to teach him how to slow dance. She teased him about not having enough rhythm to do it, and he countered with how he had just as much as Eli, maybe more. That’s when she realized he knew she’d taught Eli to slow drag.
“I don’t think you’d like it. The couple has to touch,” she warned him. “And we don’t call it slow dancing. It’s a slow drag.” He still insisted he wanted to learn so she told him they needed to listen to a colored station. Then she tried to get him to work his hips. “Here, put your leg inside of mine. And uh -” she stopped, not sure about explaining what he needed to do as the lead. “It’s more than about the hips with this dance. You have to feel the music too.”
“Show me. You be the man and I’ll follow you.”
It took a bit to get him to lean his body the way she wanted him to. And she had to guide his hips in the same direction. When their chests touched he figured this was one dance he better not practice with this mother. Between the two dance styles he already liked slow dragging better.
“It’s like the shovel step, you know the dance move the Temptations do?” She raised her voice to emphasize the question. “You go from side to side but you’re sort of doing it real slow.”
He didn’t quite get it. “But you didn’t completely lift your feet. I saw you go up on your heel a little bit.”
“I didn’t say I was an expert. I’ve only been to a few basement parties.”
That perpetual scowl of his got deeper. “What’s a ‘basement’ party?”
“That’s when most of us go over somebody’s house and play records in their basement. It’s usually dark down there when we dance.” She didn’t think he needed to know the other stuff they did, like making out.
He drew back from her. “Your mom and dad are okay with it?”
“They don’t know. We don’t tell them any boys will be there.”
He wondered what other things she did for fun. And pleasure. They had to wait until another slow song came on, but when one did he decided to take the lead.
“I don’t think your knee is supposed to be up so high,” she said, but he was busy concentrating on changing from his right foot to his left. Slow dragging with Eli had been a chaste experience. He made sure they weren’t touching close. Johnny was holding and pressing against her like they were a couple. His left knee hit her smack in the middle, and she flinched.
“Sorry about that. I’m bending my knee as much as I can, but you’re a lot shorter than me,” he told her.
No, she didn’t think that was it. And they really weren’t supposed to directly face each other. Cordero had warned her to never let the guy have her squarely in front. Now she was the one feeling uncomfortable, so she just pretended like she was dancing with Eli. She placed her hands on the nape of his neck, getting him to sway instead of woodenly marching in place. His hair was growing longer and it was curling between her fingers.
“Am I doing this right?” His voice sounded husky, almost like a man’s. He leaned in closer so that they were almost cheek to cheek. “You didn’t answer me. Is this okay now?”
They were dancing to Barbara Lewis’ hit Make Me Your Baby. Most times that’s all they did when she visited him. She’d tune all the car radios to a station playing soul music and they’d practice dancing. With so much music bombarding their ears, it felt like they were surrounded by sound. Eli wasn’t invading her thoughts as much when she was with Johnny. Even in school she’d daydream about Johnny, filling her composition notebook with swirls and hearts as she merged his name with hers, marveling how his fingers glided over the strings when he played guitar, and how his face was so serious that time he fixed her bike. She liked how his mouth quirked to one side when he sang. There was also the way he’d close his eyes and his voice would rumble out of his chest deep and warm and smooth in some parts, but raspy in others. While Eli caused her breath to catch, Johnny made her heart beat faster, especially the way he was holding her, not like she was some delicate thing but it was like Daddy held Mama when they danced slow. “You can’t do this until you’re eighteen,” Daddy would kid, looking directly at her. Underneath his smile he was serious. A slow drag was as intimate as a couple could get without taking off their clothes and making love. Just before the record ended Daddy would grab Mama by her hand and they’d go upstairs to their bedroom. Daddy’s words had more bass in ‘em as he’d tell her and Cordero, “Y’all can have the record player now. Me and your Mama are retiring for the evening.”
Cordero usually rolled his eyes and she’d giggle, already knowing what they’d be up to. It was just like how Johnny’s fingers were traveling over her back and circling her spine, touching and pressing on the small of her back as if he’d settled on which song to play. Between the way he had her arching into him and his thigh was hard against her middle, when he broke the spell by saying there was a fast song on now she couldn’t form any words. This would have been a good time to use her gum to blow a bubble right in his face and pop it, because his lips shouldn’t have been where they were. It made her mad, because it felt like she was being unfaithful to Eli.
When they parted his cheeks were rosy and he couldn’t meet her eyes. Her face felt warmer than a hot plate as she told him she had to go.
Maybe her leaving was best for the both of them.