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Romance Holiday Fiction

Beginnings, Middles and Ends are always passing each other, never meeting. We think we are the hero of our story, but we are usually clueless about where we are in our story. Still, we try, don’t we? I am living a moment of clarity – experiencing an end, the worst kind of end – an end I thought was a beginning, or at least an early middle.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

I inhale as I open my eyes and cup my hand over my mouth to check my breath. Not a great habit, I know. But in my defense, I am in my own home. I need to brush my teeth. I rub the stubble on my jaw, a couple days old and a couple shades darker than the medium brown mop on my head.

Meredith paces around my downtown, two-bedroom condo, grabbing underwear from drawers and books from shelves and shoving them in her gym bag. I looked out at my lake view, contemplating the things she had talked me into over the last year, including upgrading to this two-bedroom. At the time I thought, she wanted to get married and have kids or at least be able to work from my place on the regular. I know I am the only one that wants that… wanted that.

“Please don’t say 'it’s not you, it’s me'.”

Her whirl of energy, dark hair and dark eyes stops and looks at me.

“Oh, but it is you, Greg. Your weird little OCD habits. I just… once I notice them I can’t unnoticed them, you know?” Meredith says.

I blush and contemplate the grain of the hardwood floors. She was right. I was very methodical and some of my rituals were just nonsense to comfort me.

When I look back up, she is holding a ‘World’s Greatest Disco Dancer’ trophy. I received it in eighth grade. Even though it was a gag gift, my ears ring as blood pushes frantically through my body. That’s the last time I was recognized for anything and she’s holding it and mad.

I lift my hands in a defensive way and approach, like she is a wounded predator, which she is. She trapped my heart, took a bite, and spit it out. She follows my eyes to the trophy and huffs as she replaces it in the square of dust that marks its correct position on the shelf.

“God, you are just so lame. Why would you even still have this?” She bends down to her bag and rummages through it with rough jerks.

“What are you doing now?” I ask.

“I’m double checking that I don’t have anything that you could possibly think of as yours.” She stands and tugs the strap over her shoulder. “I am never coming back here.”

Before I can find a single word to say, the door to my condo clicks shut. I look around the condo and my personal feng shui tilts off balance. Spaces on the shelf highlighting where she took things away.

###

I sit in the coffee shop, down the street. The one that I go to every Wednesday morning at 8:15 for a medium, miel latte. I think through our relationship, our quirky meet cute, on New Year’s Eve last year. We were at a neighborhood bar. I was drunk enough for almost witty banter, and we kissed at midnight. This time I remember the slightly bile, beer smell in the bar and the glazed look in her eyes as we kissed. Why hadn’t I seen it then?

Then I remember the first time she stayed over and realized the depths of my OCD. I had hidden it fairly well until then, but when she saw the perfectly even placement of items on my shelves, books placed shelves by color and size, and that my décor was all shades of blue, she laughed and said, ‘well at least you have a plan.’ I remember, something inside me unclenched and I really started to be myself around her. But was she actually serious or being sarcastic?

I remember the moment I realized she didn’t like some of my quirks and plans. She rolled her eyes when she saw me silently counting to keep my thoughts and emotions in order. And she pushed my plans aside when it suited her. I agreed to everything she wanted. I just couldn’t lose her.

That’s when I decided to upgrade the condo, like she wanted.

###

In the office at 8:55 I open my computer to settle in for a day of financial modeling, speculating on the year to come.

“You got that scenario analysis done?” Nate’s voice floats over my shoulder.

Nate makes me think of a metrosexual Ken doll. A carefully curated set of highlights crown his head, and he may be wearing a touch of eyeliner today. How does he pull that off? I have no illusions that I’m his best friend, but he’s been a good sounding board the last year with Meredith.

After everything he did to get the tickets, I don’t have the heart to tell him what happened, so I shrug and say, “Let’s look the file over and see if you need anything else.”

In truth, I finished the scenarios days ago, but I don’t want Nate to think he got the bad end of the deal. I did his financial projections, and he got my name on the list (plus one) for access to the most sought-after New Year’s Eve in the city hosted by Gianna Segretto, a socialite and social media darling.

I didn’t want to go, because I was into social pop stuff wondering what Gianna wore yesterday. I wanted to go because I knew Meredith would squeal with delight when we arrived and got in. This VIP stuff would have been over the top.

I stare at my screen and wonder if she would have at least stayed through the New Year if she had known about the tickets and if I would have preferred it or not. Would Gianna Segretto’s party have gotten us engaged? Married? Babies?

I push the thought aside and send the final document to Nate. Nate gives me his lopsided smile and hands over a business card. It has the word LOVE written in gold script against a red background and a number on the back.

“Once I told them about the proposal, I managed to swing VIP for you,” he says.

“What?”

Now I really can’t tell him what happened.

“Gianna heard about the proposal and got super into it. Good luck tonight.”

He stops on his way out and leans on the doorframe to my office. “You should just leave, you know. There’s nobody here to care and you are all squared away for the year.”

I nod, like I agree, “I’m right behind you.”

###

At 5:15 I walk into my empty condo, braced for the imbalance of a room without Meredith and it’s not quite as bad as I anticipated. In fact, it might be a little too okay.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

I inhale and open my eyes and decide that tonight I will reorganize for life without Meredith. I had to find the balance that didn’t depend on her. I didn’t have a choice. She was gone.

###

It was 11:15, about seven minutes after I finished rebalancing my living room, that I got a text from Nate.

WHERE ARE YOU?! YOU BET SHOW UP W UR GIRL OR IM GONNA HAVE A SRIUS PROBLEM

Crap, what did Nate do. I skip the shower and put on the bespoke suit I had made for the occasion and decide that my stubble enhances the look. I grab a car and by 11:30 I am stopped in a scrum of people on the street outside of the party, clamoring to get in. I sit in the car and text Nate.

LONG LINE

VIP IN ALLEY

Standing on the curb outside of the car, a leggy blond with shimmering hair and hazel eyes searches up and down the overrun street. I open the car door and she peeks in.

“Alonzo?” she says.

“No Miss,” the driver says. I shut the door and he drives away.

She turns and looks at me like I killed her kitten, and it takes me a beat to realize that she probably had wanted to negotiate a ride. It was a mess out here. That’s when I see it, the red rim to her eyes. Allergies? Smog? Crying?

“Are you okay?” I say, before I have a chance to think better of it.

“NO!” She regroups and pastes on a courteous smile. “Sorry, no. I got scammed out of $500 bucks for tickets that weren’t real.”

She taps her phone against her leg in SOS and stops when she notices me watching.

“Sorry, bad habit.” She taps her heel in SOS and puffs out a long-held breath of air. “I just really wanted to go do something tonight. To show him I was better than okay. I mean the dress alone…”

Her hands gesture to her body and invite me to look. I step back and take in her sparkly blue attire. It was well chosen. A mask of resolve falls across her face.

“At least I tried,” she says.

Fingering the ticket in my pocket, I think, I should try too.

I say, “You can get in with me. My date bailed.”

I give her my ‘sheepish nice guy’ smile. That sounded good. At least I think it sounded good.

Her face bursts into a toothy grin. I contemplated her lips. Wow, rebound much? I push aside the thump of panic in my chest and offer my elbow. Her hand perfectly wraps my forearm, without dragging my elbow down the way Meredith used to.

“I’m Rosie.”

“Greg.”

###

The VIP room turns out to be a special room full of people who have planned to propose at midnight. The casual observer wouldn’t know, but I see it immediately. There are no third wheels in the room. The design is full of red roses and candles and the lounge furniture around the room has lower than average chairs, with pink and red pillows all just right to grab and kneel on and not ruin the pants of your best suit.

Rosie’s head swivels as she takes in the room.

“Wow, this seems surprisingly romantic for New Years,” she says. “Almost like it was Valentine’s or something.”

“I’m thinking we’re in the proposal room.” My mouth set in a firm line.

She quirks her eyebrow at me.

“I really don’t want to talk about it.”

She snorts, “You’re lucky, all I can do is talk about it. Who breaks up with someone on Christmas Eve?”

“Someone who doesn’t care about presents?” I offer.

She grabs two glasses of champagne from a passing tray and hands me one.

“Oh no, we opened our gifts early,” she takes a deep swig of her drink, “Then he broke up with me.”

I can’t let it go. I have to ask.

“Did he at least get you a good gift?”

She barks with laughter, the bright grin returning, “Actually yeah... Really good.”

She drains her glass and grabs another from circulation and clinks my glass as I stand wondering what to say.

“Happy New Year, Greg,” she says.

I half smile and nod back.

“Uh this is where you say, Happy New Year Rosie, and we have a nice little night drinking ourselves blind,” she says.

“It just isn’t ever really happy is it?”

Rosie looks me over and decides something before she says, “Some people, when they hear Happy New Year, they hear a wish, and others hear a decision.”

“You’re quite the sensei,” I smile.

Then squealing from the far side of the room draws our attention. A super fit guy on his knee and a little heavier than plump girl stops bouncing long enough for him to put a ring on her.

“I mean how would those two even work?”

“Intellectual attraction and love of zombie movies,” she says.

An exceptionally tall guy and a woman that barely reaches his chest are the next to go.

“What about them?” I ask.

“She probably reminds him of his mother, and they both love card games.”

“And them?” I point to the next couple and, they look like twins.

“That I don’t get.” She says and I laugh. A dam of love breaks around us as man after man (and a couple of women), drop to one knee. It’s a virulent progression of love and bliss.

“How many do you think are lying?” I say over the din of squeals, laughter, and selfie instructions.

“Why would they lie?” Rosie says.

“The hundred other people in a room getting engaged,” I say.

“That stuff tends to shake out in the wash,” she says waving her hand toward the room. “Starting something on New Year’s Eve is no different than any other night.”

TEN “The problem with New Year’s Eve is NINE that everyone feels pressure to kiss somebody. EIGHT It ends up becoming some sort of romantic roulette. SEVEN I mean you kiss somebody SIX and then you think you have to have some sort of relationship or worse, FIVE you mistakenly think you are part of some kind of fairy tale. FOUR and you try to make it magic, but it never comes. THREE It never happens. Not for you. TWO Well… not for me.”

ONE

“Unless the magic is there from the beginning.”

She doesn’t give me any warning and grabs my face and kisses me. It isn’t the desperate, pawing kiss of the New Year’s Eve lottery, it’s a kiss with purpose, a kiss I like, a kiss with a spark of magic.

Maybe I was wrong, maybe today was a beginning I thought was an end.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

December 31, 2021 21:28

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