In the weeks leading up to the chilly December eve, the mark of another year gone too quickly, I weighed my options: curl up under cozy blankets with my own bottle of wine and my four-legged companions, or venture out of the apartment for a few hours of eating, drinking, and being merry in a pair of tight jeans and tall heels. I mulled over each tempting choice carefully. In the end, I opted for the latter, as I knew there would still be plenty of other nights to keep to myself in the new year.
Though I accepted my invitation to Mila and Isaac’s annual New Year’s party, I anticipated that I would make a quick appearance and be home and in bed long before the ball dropped. I rapped my fist once on the door, was immediately whisked inside, and knew I was wrong.
Mila pulled my coat from my shoulders while Isaac placed a flute of champagne in my hand. He led me out of the foyer, introduced me to a circle of people on the edge of the living room, and deposited a friendly kiss on my cheek before he returned to his post with Mila. They clinked their own glasses, kissed, and laughed quietly at something. I’d known Mila since our second semester of college, when we both completed internships at an entertainment magazine, and had been marveling at her parties ever since. The music was a mix of classic and current songs that blended effortlessly through the speakers, always just loud enough. Each party’s subtle “theme” was accompanied by season-appropriate food and simple metallic decorations. Soon, she and Isaac would leave the foyer and mingle with their guests.
I turned toward my circle, adding an occasional comment to the conversation between sips of my champagne. In my head, I was still counting down the seconds until I could sneak home. Once I finished my drink, I excused myself and wandered off in search of more alcohol and more familiar faces. There were more than a dozen small hors d’oeuvre plates scattered throughout the house and I picked at them as I made my way from room to room, stopping along the way to chat with old classmates and friends from college. They were all doing well—working hard and having fun and enjoying life post-graduation.
* * *
By the time I reached the kitchen, all I wanted to do was go home. There was nothing wrong with the party–it was beautiful–or the people–they were entertaining. The holiday season had been exhausting me for weeks and I wanted some time alone to recharge. I decided to fix myself one more drink before I made my inevitable escape.
“A Tom Collins for Thom Collins?”
I rolled my eyes and put down the bottle of gin. Parker leaned on the counter behind me and smirked. I gasped, surprised to see him, and we both leaned in for a hug.
I finished mixing my drink and then gave all of my attention to Parker, who I hadn’t seen in nearly a year. He smiled and sipped his beer. I sipped my drink, but was far too excited to stand still, so I gave him another hug.
“Good to see you, Thoma,” he said, his arms still wrapped around me. His hugs were always warm and familiar–like the world was safe for just a moment.
“It’s been too long,” I replied when we finally let go of each other. “How is Copenhagen?”
He told me how much he loved it there—the food, the drinks, the people. Parker loved his job. Loved biking to work each day and going to the markets each weekend. He was only home for a quick holiday, and then he would go back to Denmark to finish the last few months of his contract. There was another job in Munich shortly after, so he would be in Europe for at least another year. I interrupted him at least twice more to hug him again and beg him to come back to New York. He countered that I should visit.
* * *
We ate an entire plate of mini quiches and stuffed mushrooms between the two of us and finished our drinks four times over. Our old college friends, Ben and Miguel, joined us eventually–once they realized we had commandeered the fried mozzarella balls–and promptly began to debate, with great enthusiasm, the best pizza and beer in the city.
While the boys deliberated over toppings, the front door opened. A bit of the cold air caught me as people shuffled in. The draft sent a chill down my spine. Miguel laid out his arguments for and against each type of crust, but I could no longer focus on the conversation in front of me. Curious to a fault, I turned to see who had arrived. The new guests, still squeezed into the tiny foyer, were loud and bubbly. Mila and Isaac had left their post, so the coats and scarves piled up by the door. One by one, the group spread into the rest of the house.
And then he was there.
A single open doorway was the only thing between us. We locked eyes. My first instinct was to run, but as soon as I thought it, I froze.
I could hear Ben complaining about microbrews while his girlfriend, who had joined us five minutes earlier, praised them. One of the new guests, a young woman I’d never seen before, walked over to us and said hi to Miguel and Ben’s girlfriend. She introduced herself to Parker, Ben, and me, but I didn’t hear a word. My gaze was still locked on the guy who stood two steps behind her.
He introduced himself to everyone and then they went back to their pizza/beer conversation. He took a step toward me and leaned in to shake hands and give me a kiss on the cheek, but I didn’t realize he was shaking my hand until it was already happening and I was instantly transported to the first time we held hands all those years ago. Out of habit, I ran my thumb over his and waited to be nineteen again.
“If you try to tell me that thin crust pizza is real pizza one more time, I swear…”
“Brooklyn is, hands down, the best place to go for a beer and a slice.”
“No! You cannot put sriracha on a pizza!”
I couldn’t utter a word or a sound, so I just stood there–my hand in his hand–until someone bumped into me as they passed by. And just as quickly, I unfroze. And I ran.
Everything was suddenly loud and warm–the music, the people, the alcohol. I weaved in and out of the now-crowded house and escaped to the backyard.
I had no idea where Mila had put my coat or keys, so I couldn’t go any further. It was much colder outside than earlier. The ground was frosty, but still soft, and my heels would sink into the dirt after only a couple steps. At the edge of the stone patio, I sat down. When I felt the snowflakes land on my bare skin, I pulled my knees to my chest and tucked my arms in between.
I wanted the ringing in my ears to stop.
“Ten, nine, eight…”
I wanted to be at home, safe and warm in my bed.
“Seven, six, five…”
I wanted to not be so heartbroken anymore.
The backdoor opened and the voices grew louder for a moment, though I didn’t pick up my head. Then Parker was at my side, wrapping an arm around my shoulders and pulling me close to him. He didn’t prod or tease. He just let me sit there alone. With him.