The eighth grade dance was on June 2 from 7-9 pm. Moritz knew this, just as everyone else in their grade did, but that was where his knowledge on the end-of-year dance ended, because there was never any doubt in his mind that he would not be attending. He was fully content with his dance experience coming from seeing his friends’ Snapchat stories, as well as with never having to pick out an outfit or have to deal with the probably enormous crowd in the gym. Things like that just weren’t his thing.
So when Melchior texted him two nights before asking whether he wanted to carpool, Moritz was extremely confused.
Because he had just assumed it was widespread knowledge that he was clearly not a Public School Dance person.
Apparently, intelligent Melchior hadn’t realized that, though.
moritz: im not going
melchi: What do you mean you’re not going?
melchi: Literally everyone is going
moritz: im not literally everyone melchi
moritz: its not a phase mom its who i am
melchi: But seriously you’re not coming?
melchi: Text if you change your mind
Which. Was not going to happen! For an endless number of reasons, such that Moritz could easily compose into an organized list:
1. 7-9 was a long time to be at a public school dance.
2. The teachers said you couldn’t leave before 9, so if he had an anxiety attack, he would just die, or something.
3. Pretty much the whole grade was going, and Moritz did not want to interact with any more of his grade than he already had to.
4. It was going to be crowded as heck in their small gym and Moritz already hated crowded and small places with a passion.
5. The food, according to Ernst, whose parents partly organized the event, was going to be chips and punch. Which wasn’t even appealing.
6. He would probably eat too much food in an attempt to avoid talking to people and end up getting sick and having to puke in the bathroom and not even be able to leave early because of Reason #2.
7. Moritz was deaf. He couldn’t freaking hear sound, so how was he supposed to enjoy a dance? The whole point of dances was music.
8. Moritz had never danced before in his life and never planned to.
9. Moritz wouldn’t have anyone to dance with. He’d probably just end up standing alone near the punch bowl, leading to Reason #6.
10. No one really wanted him to be there, so what was the point of going?
That was a solid list of ten reasons. Ten very good reasons on why Moritz should’ve stopped thinking about Melchior’s texts and the way he seemed disappointed he wasn’t going. Melchior probably wasn’t even disappointed. No one ever was when he thought they were.
Course Moritz never ended up doing what he should do. While he was busy fretting over the situation, his phone vibrated with another text.
ilse: WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOURE NOT COMING TO THE DANCE
moritz: fjsjfjs ilse why
ilse: you. have. no. choice. You’re Going.
ilse: I’m Serious
moritz: it’s in two days ilse I don’t have an outfit or anything
ilse: I’m coming over rn to help with that
moritz: you rlly don’t have to
moritz: ilse i stg
Course Ilse never ended up doing what anyone else told her she should do, so in a good 5 minutes, the doorbell rang downstairs and Moritz reluctantly resigned to his unfortunate fate.
“Okay, this is a rough situation,” Ilse peered into his closet, tapping her chin gently.
“Why?” Moritz frowned, just watching her, not knowing what to do with himself. Ilse was castronomically different from him, in pretty much every aspect. She was the definition of bold, with short hair that tucked in piles underneath her ears with flat, dyed black bangs and a particularly androgynous vibe. Notoriously outspoken, Ilse felt comfortable telling other people what to do, just showing up at their houses with a definite idea of how the future would be and what they would do to make it such. Moritz couldn’t even imagine being that assertive. It was curious that they got along so well, but that was pretty much what happened when you got in the same art class for years on end.
“You exclusively own flannels and sweaters,” Ilse laughed sternly and Moritz rolled his eyes playfully.
“Excuse you. I’m wearing a T-shirt now, so,” Moritz played up the ‘your argument is invalid’ feel. “Not a flannel or a sweater.”
“No, but seriously,” Ilse squinted. “How am I supposed to work with this?”
“You were the one who showed up at my house without asking so that you could deal with this,” Moritz shrugged.
Ilse sighed visibly. Thinking.
“You know what,” Ilse decided suddenly. “Let’s go check in my wardrobe.”
“Your wardrobe?” Moritz stumbled upon the signs. “Your -”
Ilse raised an eyebrow, like, what about my wardrobe, Moritz, huh?
Well. Nothing really. Ilse actually had a really cool aesthetic constantly. But, similar to Ilse herself, her wardrobe was bold. And very noticeable. Eye-catching. And Moritz’s was anything but, all dark colors, with a lot of black, anything to keep attention from him.
“You know,” Moritz ended up shrugging, and Ilse acknowledged this as what it was - a feeble excuse that gave away just how helpless he was.
“Come on, Moritz,” she grinned, and Moritz once again gave in despite his instincts.
The walk to Ilse’s house went as most of his conversations with people went, with the other person ranting about their life while Moritz sort of uh-huh-uh-huh and nodded his way through it.
“. . . and I’m so ready to just have a good time and dance with every girl in this grade that will let me,” Ilse grinned. She was one of the only out lesbians in their school, and definitely the proudest one. “‘Course, too many of the girls at this school are ridiculously straight.”
Moritz nodded, like, yeah sure, I totally get the struggle.
“Then again, is anyone really straight?” Ilse frowned curiously.
“Moritz, I’m honest to God surprised I was able to drag you out of your room,” Ilse beamed, and Moritz rolled his eyes again, a habit he gathered from Melchior, who rolled his eyes at the drop of a hat. “Seriously though. I don’t think you’d leave your room ever if you didn’t have to eat. Or if Melchior didn’t make you.”
“Is eating mandatory? I hadn’t realized.”
Ilse shoved him. “I can’t believe you rejected Melchior though.”
“You know,” Ilse waved her hands around, looking for the right wording. “You never say no to Melchior. You go wherever he goes, do whatever he does. This was different for you.”
“Well, you know,” Moritz answered non-committedly. He hadn’t really noticed that. “Dances just aren’t my thing.”
“Hm,” Ilse squinted at him. She had a habit of doing that, staring at you and making you feel like your mind was being dissected and analyzed. Moritz dropped his head back down to his feet until they reached her house, the tension bringing discomfort to his system.
Two days later, June 2. 6:30 pm, and Moritz was fretting over his hair. And everything else. Because what. Was. He. Doing.
Going to a dance.
How did Ilse manage to rope him into this?
Imitating Ilse, he squinted at himself in the mirror, awfully torn on what he thought. Ilse had found one of her old summer shirts - a small one, since Moritz was just that - which was bright green since she claimed it matched his eyes, plus some snazzy striped shorts that reached just past his knees. It was objectively fashionable, but it was still bold and very un-Moritz-like.
Plus, his hair would still not stay down.
But it was time to go. So he scattered into the car. Silence filled the vehicle as it always was with his mother, but this felt different, because she was smiling, as if she was...proud of him. Maybe it was because he looked so unlike himself, and was doing things that he never wanted to. Or maybe this was just him being normal, which he never was.
Or maybe she was just proud of him.
Either way, Moritz felt an unexpected surge of energy as they approached the school.
The walk to the small gym was an anxious blur. Moritz remembered feeling a little sick already as he scuttled around the classmates he hardly knew and who hardly knew him, and made the smallest conversation possible at the little ticket desk.
Then he was there in the gym. And already felt a little overwhelmed. Because the music was so loud that he could feel the vibrations. And it was super crowded. So how was he going to find his friends?
But then he sees a girl in a stunning white tux jumping around in the center right of the gym - Ilse - and so, he stumbles his way over.
“Moritz, you made it!” Ilse laughed, signing clumsily as she jumped supposedly along with whatever music was being blasted. “I was so certain you were gonna drop out last minute.”
He shrugged. “Probably should have.”
Ilse grinned. “Nooo, you don’t want to miss me getting my GAY on.”
“You already ‘have your gay on,’ Ilse. You always do.”
“You wait and see,” Ilse grinned knowingly.
Moritz shook his head in light concern, but then someone else tapped his shoulder. It was Martha Bessell, wearing a flattering blue dress.
“You look nice,” she signed, smiling.
“Thanks,” he glanced down at his outfit again. It still felt so different.“You do too.”
Moritz glanced around. At odds of what to say.
Martha signed suddenly, her face self conscious and sincere. “Do you want to dance?”
“Do I - what?” Moritz’s eyebrows automatically furrowed. Why would she want that?
“Do you want to dance?” She repeated, slower this time. Careful. But more deliberate.
Moritz froze for a good moment, disoriented. “Uh. I. Uh. I don’t dance.”
Martha’s face immediately fell. “Oh.”
“Sorry,” Moritz apologized immediately. “It’s nothing about you. Or. Anything. Not like I don’t want to dance with you but I just. Don’t dance. I’m sorry.”
“No, it’s fine,” Martha responded, but her expression was still down. “I’ll see you around.”
Moritz frowned. And . . . he had already ruined it. For a moment he just swayed in place, not sure where to go, or whether to go back to Martha and, like, apologize again because he really didn’t dance. And he sort of spun around, just scanning the gym. Around him Thea and Melitta and Anna were doing a ridiculous congo line that consisted of just the three of them, and Ernst and Wendla were chatting animatedly about something or rather, and Ilse was now talking to Martha, who was looking less down. And there was Melchior talking to Otto, but was now turning toward Moritz with surprise, because, oh yeah, he had never told him he was coming, whoops. Melchior signed a quick see ya later to an irritated Otto and zipped over.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming,” Melchior said immediately. He also had on a green-based shirt and shorts, but it was a darker green and it looked considerably better on him than Moritz’s outfit looked on him. “Moritz, why?”
Melchior’s words were whiny, but he had a huge, contagious smile on his face that immediately warmed Moritz up.
“I like to have the element of surprise,” Moritz grinned helplessly, and Melchior slapped his arm, but ended up just sort of clinging onto Moritz awkwardly and just smiling. It was weird seeing Melchior this unrestrainedly happy; he had been around Melchior when he was happy before, obviously, but it was never like this. This was vulnerable, as if he had broken down the barrier that kept him so collected constantly. “Geez, Melchi, are you drunk?”
Melchior rolled his eyes exaggeratedly in that iconic Melchior fashion. “No. Where would I get drunk from? This is an eighth grade dance.”
“Exactly,” Moritz said, and Melchior rolled his eyes again.
“Don’t worry, the punch hasn’t been spiked,” Melchior grinned. Then, as if giving away a secret: “Not yet, at least.”
“Who’s organizing that? Hanschen?” Moritz teased.
“Nah, Hanschen is too busy trying to seduce Bobby Mahler,” Melchior pointed to the corner of the gym where, indeed, Hanschen was leaned up against the wall next to Bobby.
“Talking about that, do you know what Ilse means when she says she’s going to ‘get her gay on?’”
“How much gayer could Ilse get?”
“She’s the only reason I’m here,” Moritz admitted. “She just showed up at my house and said I had to go. These are even her clothes.”
“Really?” Melchior’s eyes darted down to his body in a way that made a strange, fluttery feeling go to his stomach. “They look good on you.”
Moritz couldn’t stop himself from blushing a little too intensely, and stumbled upon signing an awkward “thanks.” Then: “You look good, too.” Which. Was the truth, actually, but Moritz sort of thought he would die if he was any more specific about this compliment.
But Melchior didn’t seem to notice his awkwardness, and signed a graceful “thanks” that he turned into a literal curtsy.
“Were you the one that told her I wasn’t coming?” Moritz asked, still trying to cover up his embarrassing reaction to being complimented. “Because if so, shame on you.”
“Yeah, that was me,” Melchior admitted unashamedly. “I’m just so glad you’re here, Moritz.”
And there it was again. The embarrassingly obvious blushing that he couldn’t contain. It was just Melchior, they had been friends forever, so why did it make him so flustered to hear him say that? “Thanks. I guess.”
Melchior grinned, then sighed. In a weird content fashion that Moritz had pretty much never seen from him. “Usually I hate these kind of things. Like, I hate everyone in this grade and I hate sentimental end-of-year celebrations. But this is...you know. Fun.”
Moritz smiled, still riding off of Melchior’s unbelievingly happy nature. For a moment he had forgotten they were even at the dance.
“Oh my God,” Melchior said suddenly, his eyes lighting up. “I hate this song.”
Moritz twirled, looking around as if there was going to be some screen displaying the name of the song. Which. There wasn’t, of course.
When he turned back, he saw that Melchior had started doing this little mock-dance thing, as if making fun of the people who were genuinely dancing to this song that he apparently loathed. He was twisting his arms around obnoxiously and nodding his head up and down and mouthing the words, and he looked pretty ridiculous, so Moritz let out a short laugh at him. Melchior sort of twirled around him, but stumbled over his own feet and nearly tripped, but, still pretending to be dancing beautifully, somewhat elegantly walked to the side of him. Then he turned and held out his hand for Moritz. The meaning was clear: Dance with me.
And Moritz froze. Because that was his one thing, he didn’t dance. He could compose another 10-reason list on why not, but he just. He couldn’t dance. He wouldn’t dance.
But Melchior’s arm was extended toward him, so tempting and charming, and, for some reason, he ignored his own objections and took his hand.
He still had no idea what to do, and his stomach was doing that thing again now that his sweaty hand was in Melchior’s. So he just followed Melchior’s lead.
The purple lights that one of the parents had set up shone and made Melchior’s loose curls bounce and glow while he shook his head around wildly, pulling Moritz’s hand up and down without reason. He jumped up and down, a slight smile on his face and his eyes closed, still a bit ridiculous, but also fairly charming.
Moritz forced himself to sort of jump in rhythm with him, focusing on the crazily prominent vibrations of the music and Melchior’s pulsing arm.
I can feel your heartbeat, Melchior.
Melchior opened one eye, and Moritz could so clearly see his enticing eye, hazel with green specks, so close to him.
And Moritz couldn’t take his eyes off him as they bounced ridiculously, Melchior laughing joyously, because this moment was just them, alone in the small gym, letting their spirits run free.
And we are infinite.
It was weird feeling to have such intense affection toward someone, and Moritz didn’t really know what to do with it other than keep smiling and dancing in a way he would have never expected himself to.
And, right now, he was so, so happy.
After what must have been a few songs, Moritz pulled away, still laughing. “I’m going to get a cup of water. Okay?”
“Sure. Do whatever you like,” Melchior smiled warmly, running a hand through his wayward hair and sending shivers through Moritz’s system.
Moritz was still smiling when he poured himself some water. A glass, and then another, because, heck, dancing was tiring and he had just danced a lot. He almost laughed at that alone. Because wow, he had just danced and it was great and he was happy. Which was. So weird. But a good, bubbly weird.
He should probably thank Ilse for forcing him to come, because he would have definitely not come if she hadn’t shown up at his house. Sometimes he just didn’t know what was best for him, and he needed a little shove in the right direction.
Now more refreshed, he turned away from the snack stand, looking for Melchior again. He had sort of disappeared out of sight. Moritz stumbled around the gym, trying to locate quickly where he had gone off to, almost colliding into a few couples and congo lines.
And then he saw him, still dancing and jumping like he was seen last, but with Wendla, who was also laughing and jumping wildly. And the fluttery feeling in his stomach suddenly died, replaced by a more prominent, painful squeezing in his stomach that made him more than a little queasy. Was he that replaceable? Because it wasn’t just them two anymore, dancing alone to some crappy song, feeling his heartbeat together. It wasn’t ever just them. They had been in a crowded small gym at the eighth grade dance, surrounded by people Moritz hardly knew and who hardly knew him. Because Melchior was reliving that moment with Wendla and, really, Moritz was stupid to think that it was special. That Melchior felt any different about him than he felt about any other one of their friends. Moritz wasn’t special. In any way. He wasn’t even Melchior’s closest friend.
Suddenly his breath was speeding up, his heart pounding. He stumbled backward, away from Melchior and Wendla, and spun around, lost, trying to find somewhere to go. To hide. To escape from his accelerating feelings and heartbeat. He looked around, fiercy, intensely, finding an exit.
There was Martha, they could dance, Martha had wanted to earlier, but, oh, she was spinning happily with Anna. Where was Ilse, they were friends, she had picked his outfit and insisted he be here, but ok, she was cheering and waving a huge pride flag in the air with Hanschen and Ernst. How about Melitta, they had art class together and got along, but no, she was still enclosed in a much longer congo line with Thea, closed off by unfamiliar people on both sides. Or Otto, they were friends by association, right, but of course not, he, Georg, and Bobby had their phones out, in the middle of seemingly Snapchatting their peers for blackmail purposes. Everyone was with somebody else, having their own personal moment, letting the music overtake them, and Moritz was alone, alone in a sea of unfamiliar people who didn’t like him, the purple lights giving him a headache and his heart beating faster and faster. He was alone. So alone. Because nobody here liked him, not even Melchior, and the world was crashing down around him, because he was going to die, he was dying now and his heart was beating so fast and he couldn’t stop the tears from gathering in his eyes as the same thoughts that he couldn’t ignore any longer kept spiraling in his mind, that everybody hated him, he was alone, his friends were never such because they all had better friends and he was so forgettable and replaceable and no one even noticed that he was alone now and dying and he had to go, his stomach was lurching and he was going to puke and he rushed out, feeling nauseous, forcing himself to the nearest bathroom.
He didn’t even throw up. He just curled up inside himself into a tight ball and closed his eyes, trying to shut out the dance from his memory, but he couldn’t, because it was still happening, and he was still alone. Moritz’s face was sticky from tears, and he suddenly had the urge to slam his arm against the stall or something because he was so angry with himself. He hadn’t even wanted to come. Why did he come? He couldn’t go back out to the dance. He couldn’t.
So he just opened up his phone, experiencing the dance from his friends’ Snapchat and Instagram stories, just like he had planned to before he had stupidly agreed to come to this god-awful event, until it reached nine pm.
And when it did, Moritz composed himself. Met up with Ilse, who was carpooling with him. Her short hair was tousled and her face was sweaty in such a happy way, and she still had her pride flag around her shoulders. She was breathing heavily and Moritz felt jealous, jealous that she had had such a good time while he had just shut himself up in the bathroom having a panic attack.
“That was so much fun!” Ilse said as the car retreated from the school. She opened up her Snapchat story, showing him the part where they all did the coordinated dance to “Cotton Eye Joe.” “I didn’t see you much, though.”
Moritz felt sick, but he said, with a poison smile, “Oh, I was skipping around. You know.”
Because, as much as he was angry with Ilse for her good time, he was more angry at himself, and he still didn’t want to ruin her great night by telling her about what actually happened.
“See, aren’t you glad you went?” she grinned, her eyes pretty much glowing with happiness.
“Yeah.” He swallowed. Felt the tears well up in his eyes again and looked away.
And she was back to talking about the congo lines, and the part where they blasted Haley Kiyoko, and the part when . . . And it was all Moritz could do to remain composed until they reached his house and he waved goodbye.
Surprisingly, by the time he reached his bedroom, he didn’t even want to cry anymore. Moritz just turned off his phone and crawled straight into his bed.
Dances really weren’t his thing.