Last Chance

No one in the car wanted to address Jess’ real issue: that she hadn’t had any fun since she and her longtime girlfriend Max had broken up three months ago.

Jess hadn’t even wanted to go roller skating that night, she really didn’t. She tried to think of any excuse – too much homework, wobbly knees, stomachache, who would look after the dog? Once her roommates reassured her that their dog would be fine, that she wasn’t feeling sick, that her homework could wait a night, and that she’d have fun, the four of them set off to the roller rink in Tyler’s old green station wagon. 

“Plus, it’s disco night! You love disco!” Anne Marie was still trying to convince Jess that she’d have fun, even though they were already on their way. No one in the car wanted to address Jess’ real issue: that she hadn’t had any fun since she and her longtime girlfriend Max had broken up three months ago. They had been dating for four years, which was “practically a lifetime” according to Tyler. But, it was time. Time for Jess to have some fun, to get out and be social and live her life. Max had apparently moved on, as Anne Marie had seen her in the quad at school canoodling with another girl.

And so, summer breeze in the air, roller skates laced up, the four of them rolled through the open doors of the local skate center – aptly named ROLLER BOOGIE – and said hello to Jamie, who managed the counter. “Hey, Jess can skate free tonight, but y’all have to pay…” Jamie shot Jess a look of sympathy as everyone else pulled out their crinkled bills and placed them on the counter. Jess said thanks and headed for the rink, leaving her roommates behind. Lights were flashing left and right, bouncing off the disco ball that hung in the middle of the ceiling. The evening skate session had just begun, and Jess suddenly found herself wishing they had all left the apartment a little later, so they could at least be fashionably late.

Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” began as Jess rolled onto the rink and she shot Jamie a look, who guiltily looked away as fast as he could. Jess smirked. “Alright then, here we go,” she muttered to herself as she took off into her first lap. Her roommates joined her, and they danced in circles around each other as they finished lap after lap. After a few songs, Jess decided to take a break.She broke away from her roommates and headed for the benches right outside the rink. 

That’s when she spotted Max, who had just walked in. Jess couldn’t help it, and they exchanged furtive glances. She couldn’t believe it but knew that she had to soldier on. After all, Max was the one who got her into roller skating, and as the only skate center in a fifty-mile radius, Jess knew she couldn’t claim this as her own turf. But that’s when she saw Max’s new girlfriend, or partner, or whatever. Jess’ heart dropped into her stomach, and she raced for the bathroom.

Once inside, she steadied herself at a sink and splashed cold water on her face. She let out a loud groan of anguish. Much to her chagrin, someone emerged from a stall in the corner. “You okay? Or…” asked a husky voice. Jess looked up from the sink, and in the mirror, she caught the eye of perhaps the most beautiful person she had ever seen. They were tall, with chin-length green hair tucked behind their ears and a deep tan. Jess thought she noted green eyes, too. “Oh, I’m f-fine, t-thanks,” Jess stuttered, embarrassed. The person smiled at her, an actual smile and not just the polite kind you give to strangers in distress (even though, Jess knew, she was a stranger in distress). The person glided to the sink a few feet away from Jess, washed their hands, and smiled again before they left the bathroom. Jess stayed behind, sighing heavily. She hadn’t done anything embarrassing, but she could feel her cheeks were flushed. After a few more minutes, she rolled out of the bathroom and back into Roller Boogie’s lobby.

“Ring My Bell” blared over the speakers as Anne Marie skated over and shouted, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WE’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR YOU!” Jess just smiled and skated to the water fountain, taking a long sip and hoping she was no longer beet red. Anne Marie had followed close behind, and now Tyler and Rose had skated over to join them. “Let’s get back on the rink!” Rose winked at Jess and grabbed her hand, dragging her along as they rolled off the carpet and onto the hardwood. Since Jess had been in the bathroom, all three of her roommates had spotted Max with her new beau, and they encircled Jess as they began their lap to let her know. “It’s totally fine if you want to leave, we super understand,” Tyler said as he continued backwards, facing the other three. “No, it’s really fine. I’m fine!” Jess assured them. She did feel fine, which felt weird. It was a complicated mix of feelings, she decided. After all, Max was here, and she seemed fine, so why couldn’t she feel fine, too? Plus, the four of them were about to lap the cute person Jess had seen in the bathroom! Her heart began to race, this felt so silly, she thought. As they passed them, Jess looked back over her shoulder – the cutie was staring back at her!

The night went on, as disco nights do, and Jess and Max did their best to maintain a safe distance. Jess felt a pang in her chest every time they passed that she wished would go away. This pang was replaced by butterflies every time she passed her Mystery Cutie, and Anne Marie took notice. The two rolled off the rink onto the carpet and towards the benches to take a quick break. They had both broken a sweat, dancing as they skated. “Who’s that?” Anne Marie began her line of questioning. “I don’t know, I just ran into them in the bathroom earlier,” Jess replied quickly. “They’re cute…” Anne Marie trailed off. Max was nearby with her new girlfriend. Surprisingly, the new girl shot Jess a dirty look, something Jess had not expected. She wondered what Max had told her about her – they hadn’t ended on the best of terms, but it wasn’t an ugly breakup. Jess shook it off, turned to Anne Marie, and let her know that she was ready to get back on the rink.

The rest of the night went as follows: every time Jess and Mystery Cutie passed each other, they’d shoot each other a flirty look. Jess no longer felt embarrassed about meeting them in the bathroom. She knew the night was winding down, but she felt too shy to approach them. She felt sad, at the same time, that Max’s new girlfriend apparently hated her. Jess knew she was running out of time to find out Mystery Cutie’s name, but she felt so conflicted about having fun right in front of Max. “Really, don’t worry about it. Just do you, who cares what she thinks?” Rose reassured her. Rose was right, Jess knew this, but her anxiety was starting to spiral.         

            Suddenly, Jamie’s drawl came over the speakers, “Alright y’all, last song before we close out the night. Everyone get on the floor!” Jess knew what she had to do. The opening notes of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” began to play, and she chuckled at Jamie’s ingenuity. “Yes, it’s my last chance, for romance, toniiiiiight,” echoed in Jess’ head as she searched the rink for Mystery Cutie. Her heart was racing. She spotted them – they were all the way across the rink, skating with their friends. Anne Marie gave Jess a knowing wink as Jess took off. She rolled towards Mystery Cutie and tried to act casual, smoothing her hair on the way over. When she was close enough, she tapped them on the shoulder. They turned toward her and grinned (they had such a nice smile!), and as they lined up next to each other, Jess blurted out, “Hi-I’m-Jess!” They reached out their hand and replied, “Hey, I’m Mars.” Mars! Jess felt herself blushing again and stared down at her skates as she shook their hand. The music began to wind down. Jess noticed her roommates grouping up near the exit, ready to return home. As Jess and Mars exited the rink in tandem, neither said a word. They were both full of nervous excitement. Jess glanced over her shoulder at her roommates and motioned that she had to go. What a waste, she thought. She had finally gotten up the courage to introduce herself, and now the night was over. Suddenly, Mars handed her a folded slip of paper, winked, and said, “I’ll see you around, yeah?” Jess was dumbfounded. Mars excused themself as Jess skated towards her roommates, who were all grinning.

            Once in the car, Jess opened the slip of paper. It was Mars’ phone number! Maybe the night wasn’t a waste after all, she thought! She smiled and slipped the paper into her pocket, leaned back against the seat, and let Tyler drive them all home.

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