Fiction Friendship

“Happy New Year!” 

The people around us are cheering and clapping. Yet another rotten year is over, I think bitterly. I look around and see how people are hugging each other. People are smiling. People are happy. I’m not. And neither is he. 

He looks at me and sighs deeply. I just raise my shoulders. I didn't even want to be here. His friends invited us. 'This year will be different!' they said. 'We need to celebrate!' they also said. My perfect idea of celebrating New Year's Eve is sitting at home, listening to music, and wait for this charade to be over. But I met Kevin this what is now the previous year. We're just friends, mind you. We discuss politics and world problems, usually the same thing, into the early hours. But we also laugh a lot together. About the silliest things. I'm an introvert and have a few friends. He's an extrovert and has half the world in his contacts. An unlikely friendship, but it works. He asked me to celebrate New Year's Eve with him, because his friends asked. I accepted. Right now I wonder why. And so does he. 

He takes my hand in his and pulls me out of the crowd. “Sorry, coming through.” He shouts at people and they let us pass. But not without patting him on his shoulder or his back. “Happy New Year!”, over and over again. He pulls me to the front door, where we see two people in the hallway, engaged in a very intimate pose. I don’t know his friends that well, but I know that they weren’t a couple in the previous year. He ignores them and opens the door. We’re leaving the apartment. We’re leaving the party.

It’s noisy in the building. It seems that people ignore the pandemic and just want to have a good time. As if the virus thinks ‘Ah well, I’ve been busy last year, I’ll take a break for now. You just go ahead and have fun.’ Of course it doesn’t. I think the virus will have a very good time tonight. 

Silently we walk through the corridor. I have no idea where he’s going, but I blindly follow him. He’s still holding my hand, and it feels kind of nice. We get on the staircase and we climb up. Then he lets go of my hand and pushes against a door. I suspect it’s meant to be closed for most of the time. The door opens, and a refreshing wind is blowing inside. He takes my hand again and guides me over the roof. It’s not cold outside. It feels like a spring night. Celebrations throughout the city are giving the night a certain buzz. A buzz that is generic to New Year's Eve. Only that is giving away it’s not spring. 

We sit down on a structure. Kevin stares into the night. I place my hand on top of his and my other hand he is still holding. 

“Do you remember how we shouted Happy New Year in 2020?” I have never shouted Happy New Year in my life, but I know he means it in general. Though I suspect he has been shouting Happy New Year a good few times in his life. With his friends, partying hard into the new year. He told me about these parties. It sounded like hell to me, and I told him. He laughed. He also said he understands. Still, he asked me to this one. I guess he was just as surprised as I was when I accepted the invite. 

“Well, so much for a happy 2020 right? It made me think. We shout Happy New Year every year, and we have no idea. We don’t know if it’s going to be a happy year. Empty promises. But here came 2021 and we shouted it again. Because 2021 would be different, remember? Oh, how it would be different.” 

“Even I had hope for a better year.” I answer. I’m not the most optimistic person you’ll ever meet. But even I thought that 2021 would be better, that we’d get out of this pandemic. Nor did I take in account other things that could go wrong in life. We both were hit by these things as well. 2021 was pretty shit to both of us, in different ways. But we all believed that we would be on our way out of the pandemic, instead of swirling right back into it. 

“Yeah, even you were optimistic.” He smiles. “I guess no one saw this coming.”

“Hmmm.” I reply. He squeezes my hand. He understands what I mean with ‘hmmm’. We talked about this so many times. Awesome how the Rich North West is fighting its way out of the pandemic. Have a third shot. Here, have a fourth. We turned a convenient blind eye to the polarization that was infecting the world at the same time. Well, our part of the world. We turned an even bigger blind eye to the rest of the world, who weren’t getting the shots they needed. Why isn’t the virus dying out? Well, it’s a global pandemic. We need to handle this on a global scale. But no, it’s me me me. That 2021 wouldn’t mean the end of the global pandemic, we knew that. I’m sure we were not the only ones. But we didn’t think, foolishly or not, that it would affect us, again, the way it does. But here we are. 

“I’m not going to shout Happy New Year until the year has proved that it indeed is a happy one. No empty promises this year. I’m done with that.” I nod. I want to put my head on his shoulder, but I don’t. I feel melancholic. I know the party we were invited to is still in full swing. I feel that he’s glad that he’s not there. We’re on the rooftop of one of the highest buildings in this town. It feels like we’re alone in a world that is oblivious to its global and private problems. But who is doing it right? Shouldn’t we just forget everything for just a few hours as well, wouldn’t that be bliss? I’m asking him. Asking him whether ignorance is bliss. I feel how he’s taking a deep breath. Then I feel his head rest on mine. It feels nice.

He doesn’t say anything. But I feel his answer. Yes, ignorance is bliss. But he can’t. Just as little as I can. Our midnight conversations are also our therapy. A way of dealing with every day life. A life in which we both are aware of the rest of the world. Trying to make ends meet in our own lives. Trying to find a piece of happiness. Always on the lookout for finding a meaning in all this. Surviving. We both survive in different ways. He survives by mingling with people and making them happy. I survive by being invisible to most people. I admire his method. He admires mine. We both know that what we’re doing isn’t the right way. But at least we survive. 

“I’m going to ask you something and I want you to think about. Don’t say no right away, like you usually would.” I nod with his head still resting on mine. He sounds pensive and serious, more than he ever sounded. “If we’re still friends by the end of this year, if we’re still having our conversations. If you still have my back and I still have yours. If you still want to hang out with me on parties, so we can escape them together.” 

“That’s why you asked me.” I interrupt him. I can feel him smile. 

“Isn’t that why you accepted?” Guilty as charged. 

“Yeah…” I close my eyes and take a deep breath, inhaling the fresh air. 

“If we can still stand each other. If the world hasn’t been burned down to the ground. If aliens haven’t shown mercy and destroyed this world like we deserve. If we’re on this rooftop again in exactly one year. If all of the above apply, Kim, do you want to marry me?” 

I open my eyes. I repeat the words he just said in my head. We’re friends. We never kissed or even been close to it. I never saw him as someone to be romantic with. And yet, this is the most romantic and sane thing anyone has ever said to me. I shift a little closer to him. He lets go of my hand. He wraps his arm around my shoulders. 

“Sounds like a good idea.” I answer him. 

“I thought so too.”  

We both stare into the night, entwined in our thoughts. I have no idea what this year will give us. But at least I have a little bit of hope for this year. We both have. It’s not that we have faith in humanity. But at least we have faith in each other. It’s a promise. That we will help each other survive. 

“Happy New Year.” He says. 

“Happy New Year.” 

December 28, 2021 10:15

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RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

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