Stephanie's feet are bare, and she is on a sidewalk, and she is dancing. And everything in the world is exactly as it is supposed to be.
We've already been hanging out with each other all evening, our group of a dozen or so. I'm visiting Atlanta for the weekend and have immersed myself in their company. They are familiar companions who know me like my oldest friends. Many of them have seen me in great pain, and in predicaments so seedy I shiver at the details.
My struggle with addiction, the disease I don't write about as often, has a harder time being fabulous. I suppose my sense of humor about being an addict in recovery is more limited. But the recovery process itself is filled with friendships and giggles and sparkling life, and of unexpected moments of grace. Like this one.
Stephanie has put down her yogurt to show us her routine for a dancing fundraiser coming up. It will raise money for those in recovery, like some of us gathered here. The fundraiser is probably a test of courage rather than talent, with amateur participants spending weeks learning routines and then earning votes at the event, through donations tossed in their bucket. It takes guts and heart and it helps a very good cause.
She is without shame or self-consciousness, kicking off her shoes in front of the yogurt shop as we all step back and take a seat on benches and planters. Other customers stand about with their cups, chatting with chocolate sprinkles atop frothy spoonfuls of almond mocha and french vanilla.
I've been delighting in their company, this happy group, in various combinations the entire weekend, and my departure the next day is looming. I want to take them in, hugging and reconnecting.
David is happier than before, and has a boyfriend. Christi's skin still defies time, age, or stress, as does her steady manner. My best friend and host Charles is among them, gamely hanging out with this motley group whenever I visit. Gary looks handsome and sports his usual ease. I can't stop hugging Robb.
You may know these people, this constellation, whether or not you've ever visited the Big Peach, because they are the friends borne of an ego falling away, when we finally stop posturing and strutting, when we lay bare our doubts and fears and are rewarded with knowing glances and strong hands squeezing ours.
You may know them, or something close. I hope so.
Stephanie is humming her musical accompaniment as she shows us her steps, and we all take happy bites and watch her. Cars roll by. A trio of teenage girls nearby giggle and clap. "She's a dancer, too!" one says about another, and the young woman steps forward and shadows Stephanie, becoming her partner. A Dance to an Atlanta Night.
It's a scene from The Music Man, I think to myself, or from a turn-of-the-century ice cream social. We need parasols and handlebar mustaches. And as soon as they finish their dance, I know it's time to leave. I don't want this sight to become buried too deep, for it to compete in my minds eye with newer, lesser ones.
Even now, the memory aches.
I say my goodbyes as David and Christi step forward to demonstrate their partner routine for the fundraising contest. The yogurt is gone but people are in no hurry to move on. During my walk away I can hear them snapping their fingers, keeping time.
In the car with Charles, I ask him to slow down as we pass the scene in front of the store. David and Christi, dancing together and laughing at their mistakes. A small crowd of friends and strangers, clapping.
I wonder what the prize for winning the contest might be, and how it could possibly be any more precious than this.