THE DATE PART III; OR, I’M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN
A date with Isabella Arden! Rhodes Cardell’s mask of insouciant cool cracked, and the face of Will Makepeace could be glimpsed beneath. The same face, but also not. Rhodes’s expression on hearing Isabella affirm that she would, wonder of wonders, like to go out with him was not one that was to be seen in any publicity photos or even his self-portraiture, no, this was a rare sighting of the old Will Makepeace; one in which there was nothing manufactured, nothing occluded or obscure. Will-as-Rhodes had cultivated the knowing, sardonic look; this was especially useful when he did not want anyone seeing beneath the surface, it wasn’t as if he was *acting*, not exactly, but he was choosing to conceal elements of himself, using bonhomie and the guise of the hip artist. But his reaction to Isabella’s great “Yes” was unadorned, as if that unexpected answer (and, oh, how his pulse rate had risen, his heart pumped hopelessly fast, his palms perspired as he had asked that question!) had shocked him out of his Rhodes Cardell persona to an earlier version of himself. The expression on Rhodes’s – on Will’s – face was entirely *exposed*; for a moment, before he composed himself and the confident if empathetic Rhodes attitude returned, an expression of naked vulnerability manifested combining delight, surprise, openness, and uncertainty. As he, almost forcibly, assumed an approximation of Rhodes Cardellness again and arranged the details of the date with Isabella, he couldn’t help but worry that she’d seen that expression.
Despite years of intimate conversations with women he couldn’t help but let his fundamental unconfidence in himself away from his Art take over, he couldn’t help imagining that no woman would be attracted to his unRhodes-like vulnerability, he supposed they might find it endearing but nothing more. His delight had become mixed with disquiet. Isabella Arden was a witty, smart, beautiful, accomplished woman, yet what was he?
Sure, he was an accomplished artist himself – the hotshot young photographer – but he didn’t feel special apart from that. His self-portraits always purposely occluded his face with smoke or light-smear, or else saw him wearing masks or hiding behind his hands; there was a reason for this, and it wasn’t entirely *artistic*. In a way the self-portraiture allowed Will Makepeace to come out, what critics took for humor or mystery or artistry was in reality Will revealing himself in hiding. Even at twenty-nine the mirror was not his friend: just as his Will Makepeace-self was unsatisfactory to him so was his face, why look at a mirror when you could dodge it?!
He supposed it went back to his school years in Manchester when girls he liked had blithely insulted him. Ludicrous as it was his confidence had never recovered from that, he hadn’t been a monk exactly but he’d never felt attractive, appreciated, worthy, *loved*. He found it difficult, verging on the impossible, to believe in himself. Thus he danced away from possible pain and became Rhodes Cardell, embracing his Art and constructing an insouciant asexual persona; he was permanently dancing as fast as he could, as if he was at Area or the Palladium, just so that he wouldn’t be touched, couldn’t be *hurt*. He talked to his women friends and they’d discuss they’re “gorgeous” beaus – some of whom were delightful guys, others assholes – and secretly he couldn’t help but find himself wanting, then descend into Stygian depression which he could only alleviate by dancing further into his Art.
But now he’d asked an incredible woman on a date and she’d said “Yes”, yet he couldn’t see what she could see in him as a person, and was conscious of what he saw as his physical deficiencies (though he hated himself for being solipsistic). He wanted to dance away but he wanted more than anything to be worthy of her. It was only a *date*…but he was *scared*. Should he get out of it…