Amari Kendrick was having flashbacks to awkward middle school field trips. Bright disco lights flashed throughout the place. Pop trash from the likes of Justin Bieber and DNCE blasted over the stereo, vibrating off the walls. Was “Cake by the Ocean” even an appropriate song to play around 14 year olds?
Skate Happy always managed to have a dirty feel about the place. The atmosphere felt heavy with a distinct must layered beneath the smell of overpriced concession food and metal. The dark light intermingled with the Technicolor spotlights managed to add to the cheapness of the place. Amari could feel the building’s decades of history brimming like a strange electricity in the air. The memories of families, lovers, and friends trapped in a far gone space and time, continually circling the ring. Grooving out to disco, synth pop, and mainstream mistakes of the past. He could see its age from the scuff marks on the skate floor and the peeling on the walls.
Now it was taken over by children, high on cake, chasing each other around the rink to the dancehall beats of Drake’s “One Dance.”
He needed a cigarette. He reached into his pocket and swore under his breath. Right, he left them in the car to show his commitment to quitting. He took a heavy whiff of his jacket sleeve to get a small taste of that sweet cancerous ash and nicotine.
A small part of him died when he could only smell the popcorn from the nearby concession stand.
“Will you stop that,” Tamika said as she pulled on his sleeve. “You look silly.”
“I don’t think inhaling my jacket sleeve is the silliest thing about this scenario,” he said as a group of kids passed right by them screaming about Joe Jonas. “Couldn’t you have chosen an adult session? Anything with a bit less awkwardness and overexcitement.”
He eyed the shadows across the rink. The emotions of the place emanating off of every teen like an impenetrable musk.
Tamika rolled her eyes. “Well, I would have, but you’re always busy on Thursdays. I have to take you whenever I can.”
“We could have had a nice dinner alone at your house—“
“And we can still have that later. After a bit of good exercise.” She stood up and performed an effortless twirl on roller blades.
There was a collective scream on the skate floor as a group of kids fell to the ground. They made the mistake of gripping onto each other for balance. The specter of embarrassment hovered over them, haunting a few as they flailed themselves back onto the carpet section.
“Exercise is not good for my smoker’s lung.” He hacked a little for emphasis.
She balanced her hands on his knees and looked him dead in the eye. “You don’t have a smoker’s lung yet, Amari.”
She straightened herself out and glided backwards, the breeze played with the stray curls at the top of her pineapple hairstyle. She playfully pushed out her lips dressed in dark rouge. “Besides, you promised.”
Her whimsy danced circles around her form and tempted him to his feet. He sometimes hated the power it had over him, bidding him to things that he’d never dream.
He balanced himself on unsteady ground. Every step he tried to take back pushed him forward. He swore aloud. He was too old to be dealing with this.
“You won’t fall if you hold my hand,” Tamika said as she attempted to steady him with a touch on his shoulder.
“No, that’ll only make us twice as likely to fall,” he said as he made a grab for her hand.
“I’m willing to take that risk. Besides, falling is more fun if you do it with someone else.”
“I beg to differ.” Amari stumbled forward. “Is it too late to get my seven dollars back?”
Tamika pursed her lips. And then the mood of the room changed.
The lights dimmed and a parade of color dots spilled onto the dance floor and darted about the room. There was silence and then a funky downbeat. There was a lull in the excitement as the kids started exiting the ring. Amari immediately recognized it. Tamika jumped up with a little squeal.
Do you remember/when we fell in love?
We were young and innocent then
“We need to get out there,” Tamika said as she started tugging him to the skate floor. “This is my jam!”
Tamika glided around the seat with an effortlessness Amari envied. She leaned over him, her eyes furrowed.
He remained stoically still.
“Amari, you promised.”
“I’m sorry, Tamika. My lack of coordination and my developing smoker’s lung prevents me from engaging in any physical activity.” He coughed for emphasis.
She pouted. “But you already paid seven dollars to get in.”
“Fair point,” He said with a slap on the knee. “I should get my money back.”
He made a move forward but it only propelled him back into the seat. That was not how this was supposed to work.
Tamika rolled next to him. Arms folded with a smile on her face. “Give up.”
“You can’t escape the blades once you’ve taken your first step. Besides that, I’ll push you out into the skating floor if you try to leave.”
He narrowed his eyes at her. “You wouldn’t.”
“Oh, but I would. I’d love to see you flail back over here.”
Amari smiled as Tamika’s smile grew more victorious. She took him by the hand and coaxed him towards the skating floor.
“Just a couple of laps, okay?”
A pink light caught the side of her face, making her dark eyes shine in the darkness. Her curls also glistened as if they were sprinkled with dew. Amari’s breath caught as the chorus kicked in.
Do you remember the time /when we fell in love?
Do you remember the time/ when we first met, girl?
A spell was cast as they drew to the center of the skate floor. A gentle breeze followed their movements. Tamika took the lead. She laughed out loud as she spun around bringing them both into a twirl. They spun around and around to the beat. Tamika threw her head back, joy exuding off her like a powerful wave. It was enough to overcome Amari’s recurring terror of falling down.
But there was a fun that hung around them like a lucky haze. It intoxicated him.He drew her close until they could feel each other’s body heat. He was surprised at how deftly he managed this.From her wide eyed expression, she was equally astounded but it melted into a smile that hinted at a bit of playfulness. She put her fingers in between his. His hands wandered down to the small of her back.
“Will you have this dance with me, sir?”
“I would be honored madam.”
But they didn’t dance. They held each other close as the lights continued to swirl around them and Michael Jackson continued to ask “Do you remember…”
And Amari did remember. As they continued to slowly turn in the ring, his mind was brought back to that summer night so long ago. When he went out back to escape the stifling heat and the smell of cooking grease to smoke a little. Tamika just so happened to be turning that corner to get home with a carry out box in her hand. At that point, she was just a regular at the restaurant who always ordered the steak burgers and chili fries.
“I compensate for it by skating three times a week,” she confided in a conspiratorial whisper in one of the two times that they had talked to each other.
She walked through the excess smoke from the grill and she asked for his number.
He was so caught off guard with a cigarette hanging out his mouth that all he could bring himself to say was, “Why?”
She laughed. “Because you’re cute, dummy.”
And somehow, they’ve been together ever since. His memories weren’t as romantic as places like bars or beaches or Spain. But there was always a latent charm in their simplicity. There were late nights talks, arguments over Star Wars, home cooked meals, microwaved meals, window shopping in thrift stores and dancing to music that no one else could hear. Even being ogled at by a bunch of prepubescents in a musty skating warehouse didn’t seem so bad.
Tamika brought out a side of him that he never knew and that kind of terrified him. It really terrified him. He could see his commitment issues standing at ringside.
And then the spell was broken. “Party in the USA” blasted through the loudspeakers and the kids started to flood back into the ring. A line of overexcited teens got a little too close and Amari tried to maneuver himself out of their way, forgetting that he couldn’t skate that well.
He was suddenly looking at the ceiling before he felt his back slammed into the floor. For a moment, the world went dark as pain shot into his shoulders, his forehead. The next moment, he saw Tamika standing over him with both hands cupped over her mouth.
“If okay feels like a truck slamming into you.”
She forced back a smile as she held a hand out to him. “Just walk it off big guy.”
“Assuming I can still walk,” he said grabbing hold.
Amari slowly tripped himself back onto his feet and Tamika guided him off the skating floor.
“That’s perhaps enough excitement for today,” she said as she grabbed their shoes out of their shared locker.
“Uh-huh,” he said while rubbing his aching shoulders in the waiting seats. He knew he was really going to feel that fall in the morning. Just in time for his 6AM shift.
“Was it fun at least,” she asked as she took the seat next to him.
He took a moment to think about it. “Yeah.”
“So much so that you’ll come to the next session with me?”
“I’m not sure about that,” Amari said with a smile.