ST. PETERSBURG — Barbara Sines told John Galiger that she was too busy to be in a serious relationship. John Galiger told Barbara Sines that if she wasn't in love, she wasn't alive.
She wanted to tell him the real reason. After her husband of 40 years died, every beginning reminded her that there would be an inevitable end. She had no idea how to feel love without feeling fear.
He wanted to tell her he wasn't as brave as he might sound. He and his wife of 56 years had always been together. When she died, he had no idea how to be alone.
After Sines' husband died, she dated a guy named Larry. They had two wonderful months of theater, dancing, fishing and movies before Larry was found dead in his apartment.
After Galiger's wife died, he dated Texas Betty. She drank. He didn't. She stayed out all night long. He went to bed early. It lasted three months.
Then Sines caught his eye at the Sunshine Senior Center. He has never been much of a dancer, but he followed her to her ballroom dance class.
"For some people our age, this class is the only safe place to be held in the arms of someone of the opposite sex for a little while," Sines, 70, said. "You have a fear of getting close to people. You are afraid of having to deal with loss again."
He fumbled through a few dances and worked up the courage to ask for her number. She gave it to him, figuring: "He's old. He'll never remember." But he did.
A rough and tumble career at IBM had taught Galiger, 84, to seize opportunity. So he learned to dance a little. A very little.
She liked the theater, so he took a one-line part in her drama club skit about love over a game of bridge.
"You trumped my aces," he said, pointing to his heart.
He even dusted off his high school choral skills and sang to her in a smooth baritone — If I Loved You from the Broadway musical Carousel:
"Longing to tell you, but afraid and shy, I'd let my golden chances, pass me by."
He placed roses on her patio table on Valentine's Day.
"My joy is complete," he wrote on the card.
He made sure Moonlight Serenade was played before dance class ended and made sure he was the one she danced with when it was played. He asked her to loosen the hair bun that made her look like a librarian. She was surprised at how much the brush of her hair on her shoulders made her feel like a teenager.
She said she could be a little less busy. He said he could be a little less clingy. They agreed to disagree on politics.
Before they knew it, they were unofficially official.
On a recent Tuesday morning he didn't answer his cellphone. She rushed to his house with a sick feeling in her stomach. Fearing the worst, she peeked in the window before knocking on the door, only to find him too engrossed in a Sudoku puzzle to pick up his cell. He was practicing the art of being alone.
She felt anger, then relief.
Later that day, as they have every Tuesday for the past three years, they returned to the dance floor, drawn closer together, step by step.
John Pendygraft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8247.