DONG! DONG! DONG! DONG! DONG! DONG!
As the last toll faded, I shifted in my oversized lounge chair, rested my head back, and raised my eyes from my book to look outside. The snow-covered street sat dark and silent compared to the havoc inside the town hall across the street. Since the town’s founding, New Year's Eve was a massive event where everyone gathered together to welcome the new year. Even now, I could see the shadows of the volunteers hurrying back and forth past the windows as they prepared for the celebration.
I laid the book on the windowsill and pulled my blanket to my chin as I snuggled back into the chair with a sigh and listened to the fire crackle in the fireplace. This is the life.
My eyes wandered to the large illuminated clock on the town hall. “Crap! Six?” I threw my blanket off and clambered to my feet as I cast a glare toward my cat, who curled in front of the fire. “Pepper, why did you let me sit here and read all day?!” He blinked his sleepy eyes at me with a soft mew.
I rolled my eyes at him and tried to ignore the anxiety that filled me. I used to love this event until eight years ago when my best friend and I had a falling out. I avoided it as often as I could now, but mom made me promise I would be there this year. The problem was, he would be there, too.
I bit my lip. “Six. Um.” I ran a hand through my hair and scanned the living room. My least favorite part of the event had always been when we shared if we completed our resolutions from the year before. I was the only one in town who consistently failed. I had every intention of completing them, but I always ended up reading or at my desk, writing. I’d sworn to myself last year that I would finally do it. That THIS would be the year.
“Where did I put that list? Only six hours. Shoot.” I hurried to my desk and yanked open the drawers. My eyes darted back and forth as I shuffled through the contents. I slammed each drawer shut after my inspection, then searched on top of the desk. My hand bumped something and knocked it to the floor.
“Oh. That’s where my phone went.” I grabbed the phone, unlocked it, and found my mom’s number. I turned in a circle as I waited for her to answer. Where did I put that?
“Amy? Is everything okay?”
“Mom. Yeah, everything is fine. Did I give you my paper from last year?”
“Your paper from last year? That’s not very descriptive. What paper?”
“You know, the one I wrote things down on that I wanted to accomplish this year?”
My mother’s laugh tinkled through the phone.
I dropped my head back and stared at the ceiling. “Mom, it’s not funny.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, laughter still in her voice. “I don’t know why you bother.”
“Mom.” I drew the word out, but grinned. I really wanted to shock everyone by completing my list this year. My accidental procrastination and forgetfulness was a constant amusement for everyone.
“I told you to hang it up somewhere, so you’d see it every day to remind you.”
“You did…” I ran to the kitchen, stumbling over the upturned carpet on the way, and eyed the papers on the fridge. “It’s not on the fridge.”
“Is it under the fridge?”
“Under? Why would it be… Hm. Let me check.”
“Good luck. Love you, hon. I’ll see you tonight. Try not to be late. You promised.”
“Ha. Thanks. I’ll try. Love you, Mom.”
“And don’t forget. You promised to talk to Freddie.”
“Mom, you know we didn’t part on good terms.”
“Amy, it’s been how many years now? You’ve both changed. And you promised.”
“I know, but-”
“See you soon, hon.” My mom disconnected the call.
“Ugh!” I tossed my phone onto the kitchen table as I got on my knees to check under the fridge. No paper.
I let out a sigh as I pictured the gangly but adventurous teen Freddie had been the last time I saw him. His family had moved away because of his dad’s military job, but when his father retired, his parents had moved back. Freddie had had his own life by then. He served a four-year enlistment in the military and had even traveled to serve in orphanages with a missionary group.
Everyone who knew him and still communicated with him praised his character to no end; but I didn’t need them to tell me. I followed his social media and knew he stood by his values and took after his parents with his integrity. I’d never admit it to anyone; I barely acknowledged it myself, but I envied his courage and drive to impact the world.
The last thing he’d said to me was, “You’re too involved in your fiction worlds. You gotta get out and actually live some!”
“Get out and live some,” I grumbled. “Humph. I’m quite content with my fictional worlds, thank you.” I did hope to make an impact, and I prayed that my writing would do that for me because it was something I felt called to do, and I loved it.
My first book, When the Clock Strikes Twelve, was selling better than I expected, and the publisher had offered me a contract for the sequel. But there was still a part of me that I tried to ignore that wanted more from life. The only thing was, I was comfortable with what I had and didn’t want to rock the boat.
I shook off thoughts of Freddie and my avoidance and crawled to the side of the fridge to check the space between it and the wall. A handful of bent papers sat leaning against the wall. “Ah!” I grabbed them, then sat back on my heels to flip through them.
Old card. Grocery list. “Doodles? Why did I keep these?” I tossed each aside as I read it. Finally, at the bottom of the pile. “Ah-HA! Get ‘er done list.”
- Hang up photos
- Paint the bathroom
- Change the porch lightbulb
- Glue the coffee mug back together
- Straighten the picture above the fireplace
- Tack down the carpet so you don’t keep tripping
- Make it to the ball drop on time
“Okay, that’s easy enough. Just no getting distracted.” Pepper sidled up next to me and rubbed against my hip. I scratched his back. “What should I start with?” Pepper mewed, and I pursed my lips. “Gluing the handle back on the mug? Alright.”
I pushed myself up and rummaged through my junk drawer until I found the tube of superglue, then headed to the small room I’d converted to a library. My broken mug sat on the bookshelf, covered in dust. I’d placed it there to remind myself to fix it over a year ago. I scanned the books on the shelf. So many books, so little time. I fingered them, then pulled one off the shelf. I flipped the book open to chapter one and read it. As I turned the page, I shook my head and slapped it shut. “No. Focus.”
I shoved the book back into its place and took the mug and broken handle to the kitchen. After I reattached the handle, I got a pen from the drawer and crossed that off the list. “One down, six to go. With…” I glanced at the clock and winced. “Five and a half hours.”
After another look at the list, I decided to do the thing that would take the longest. Paint the bathroom. I skipped steps as I hurried to the basement to get the paint and supplies I’d purchased a few months ago. Once I had everything balanced in my arms, I clambered up the stairs and into the bathroom, trying not to let the tarp slip from where I’d wedged it between my side and elbow.
I dumped everything in the bathroom and carefully avoided the upturned carpet as I ran to the living room to turn music on. I found the T.V. remote wedged between the couch cushions and selected the mix of my favorite songs, then turned the volume all the way up. Pepper ran from the room as the music blared through the house. I set a timer on my phone for eleven and propped it on the shelf before I changed into basketball shorts and an old t-shirt and laid the tarp out. Then I frowned at my supplies. I forgot to buy tape. Oh well. I’ll have to do without. And… I left the ladder in the basement.
After I retrieved the ladder, I set it up, grabbed the cutting brush and set to work, meticulously cutting in against the ceiling. I lost myself in the process of edging and alternately singing along with the music and letting my mind wander back to my current writing project. As I started on the last side of the bathroom, a light caught my attention in my peripheral vision. I glanced at my phone to see my mom’s face on the screen. “Oh.” I tilted the paint cup a little too far as I climbed down from the ladder and paint dripped over the back of my hand. “Aw, man.” I grimaced as I answered with the speakerphone.
“Amy? What’s that noise? I can barely hear you.”
“Oh, my music. Hang on.” I turned the speakerphone off and shoved the phone between my shoulder and ear, bumping the paintbrush against my forehead in the process. “Dang it.” I balanced the paint cup on the sink and the paintbrush over the top of it, then ran to the living room. “Oof!” I dropped my phone as I stumbled over the carpet and reached for the remote. I jabbed the mute button, then recovered my phone.
“What are you doing?” my mom asked.
“Painting the bathroom.”
“You’re… you found your list, I take it?”
“We started eating already.” Her roundabout way of telling me I was late. Again.
“Um, I’ll be on time for the countdown.”
“Amy.” The disappointment in her voice cut.
“I’ll be there.”
“Fine. Do you want some help?”
“I can go,” a man offered.
I couldn’t place the voice, but shook my head. “No. No, that’s fine. I’ll be okay.”
“Okay.” She drew the word out with doubt.
“Alright, I’ll let you get back to it.”
“Okay, bye.” I hung up and dropped my phone on the coffee table, unmuted the music, then started back to the bathroom, but paused and scowled at the rug. “I’ll take care of you first.”
I headed back to my junk drawer, found a few nails and a hammer, and bopped my head to the music as I hammered the carpet down. When I returned the hammer to the drawer, I checked on the mug handle, which stuck very nicely, and headed back to the bathroom.
It took about a half hour to finish edging the bathroom, then I used the roller on the walls. When I finished, I looked it over critically. It’ll need a second coat. I’ll give it an hour or so to dry, then I’ll come back. I jogged back down the steps to check my list again. It took no time at all to straighten the picture above the fireplace. Why did it take me till tonight to get this done?
“Three and a half jobs done. Two and a half to go.” I glanced at the microwave clock that read seven fifteen. That doesn’t seem right, but I guess I got the first coat on faster than I thought. Now, for the photos.
I retrieved the hammer again and more nails, then went in search of the picture frames. I found them on my closet floor with the photos already inserted. I wandered through most of the house before I decided on the stairway wall and hung them up.
After that, I got a new light bulb and carried the ladder onto the porch. “Gah! It’s cold out here.” Pepper stepped onto the porch like he was going to follow me, but when his paw touched the dusting of snow, he scrambled back inside. I chuckled through a shiver as I quickly changed the lightbulb. I flicked the light on as I shoved the ladder back through the door, then nodded in satisfaction when a bright glow lit my porch and front steps.
I carried the ladder back upstairs and my stomach rumbled as I checked the paint. A quick snack first, then I’ll finish up here. As I grabbed Oreos and peanut butter, I glanced at the clock again. Nine thirty. Plenty of time. I sank onto a stool with a sigh and enjoyed my snack. When the clock read nine forty-five, I went back upstairs to finish the second coat of paint.
When I finished the last section of the wall, I opened the window. Across the street, everyone in the town hall was gathered around the T.V. with drinks in their hands. “Oh, no.” I searched the bathroom and patted my hips. Phone. Where’s my phone? “Living room.”
I practically flew down the stairs. When I unlocked my phone, I had five missed calls and realized my loud music had drowned out my alarm. The time on my phone read eleven fifty-eight. It was only then that I remembered I had never changed the time on my microwave when we turned the clocks back in the fall. I slapped my hand to my forehead. “No! No. No. No.”
I tossed my phone onto the couch, jammed my feet into my boots, and bolted from the house, slamming the door behind me. I was only crossing the street, but I grit my teeth against the cold and crossed my arms over my chest as I ran. When I barged into the town hall, everyone turned to stare at me. I bit my cheek and gently pushed the door shut.
My long-time friend came over and shoved a glass at me. “You made it, but what in the world are you wearing?”
I looked down to see I was covered in my paint-splattered basketball shorts and oversized t-shirt. “Oh. Busy night.” I laughed. “I thought I had more time than I did.” I scanned the room again and met the amused looks of my friends and neighbors who were mostly dressed for church, if not an elegant party.
My friend shook her head as my mother approached.
“Well, you made it,” Mom said with a smirk. “I didn’t think you would.”
I shrugged. “I promised.”
“Ten! Nine!” The people at the front of the crowd started.
We all joined in the countdown. “Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! Happy New Year!” We all raised our glasses and drank together. I hugged my mom and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“Happy New Year, Amy.”
A man’s voice. I turned to see Freddie, a hesitant smile on his bearded and very handsome face. My eyes widened as I looked him up and down. I’d seen him on video and knew he had grown up, but seeing him here before me was quite a different matter. My stomach twisted in knots and heat crept up my cheeks.
“You’ve got a little something…” He pointed to my cheek, then chuckled and gestured at me. “Well, everywhere.”
“What?” I looked down again and noticed the paint splatters on my legs and arms. I wished I could sink into the ground. As I looked back up, my eyes caught on a book he held under his arm. My book. My fiction book. I raised my eyes and met his gaze.
He took the book out and held it up. “I’ve followed your writing. You’re really good. You do a great job sharing meaning and purpose through the characters’ journeys.”
I blinked at him. Words. What are they? Do I know any?
“Look, I wanted to apologize to you. I know what I said before we moved hurt you. I didn’t mean it that way, but it… I just meant,” he hesitated and shifted his feet. “Honestly, I was jealous of how much time you spent with your books.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “It sounds ridiculous, but you were my best friend, and it seemed like all you ever wanted to talk about was books. I’ve wanted to contact you for years, but I didn’t think you’d want to hear from me. With the way you stormed off, I thought it would be better to apologize in person. I’m only sorry it took me so long. Do you think you could forgive me?”
Forgive him? I nodded slowly. If he keeps this up, I just might kiss him. Sweat broke out on my forehead and I pressed a hand to my cheek. I can’t believe I just thought that! And about Freddie!
He released a deep breath. “Thank you.” He smiled and my heart melted. He tilted his head toward the crowd, who had separated into groups of dancers and talkers. “Dance with me?”
He had to remember that I couldn’t dance. Words finally returned to me. “But, I don’t-”
“I don’t care.” He set my book on a table and held out his hand.
I raised an eyebrow at him and he raised one right back at me, a playful challenge in his eyes. I squinted at him and he bowed.
“Okay, then.” I grinned and, with exaggerated grace and dignity, placed my hand in his. A dance with Freddie hadn’t been on my list, but I wasn’t about to argue. He didn’t know it, but he’d just rocked my boat… and I didn’t mind one bit.