Author’s Note: This is a sequel to “The Christmas Dance,” a story I wrote and posted back in December. Like that story, this one was inspired by a writing prompt from one of my writers’ group, which was to write a sequel story. I enjoyed it so much, I think I might do a series of 1,000-1,500 word stories about this young couple celebrating different holidays over the course of a year. Perhaps it’ll end with them getting engaged the next Christmas. ;P Anyway, enjoy this entry!
By Nathan Marchand
“Welcome to the New Year’s Eve Bash in Central Park!” booms the emcee over the microphone. The crowd surrounding the stage cheers. I’m always amazed at how the local parks and recreation department finds ways to emulate New York City’s holiday celebrations just because our little city also has a “Central Park.” This year they have a stage with a giant screen showing Dick Clark’s famous giant disco ball.
They’ve outdone themselves, I think. Almost as much as I did last week with Kara.
I hadn’t seen her since she gave me her number at the Christmas dance. The holidays are busy for both of us. But we’d talked on the phone and texted almost every day since. It was her suggestion we come to this event. We were to meet at the park office to rent some ice skates at 8 p.m.
I’d just arrived—at 8:05 p.m.
It’s cold enough for snow, but none falls. I pull my sock cap an inch lower over my frozen ears. The crowd is thick, but I push my way through it wishing I could part this sea of humanity like Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. I say, “Excuse me,” more times in the next two minutes than I have in half of my life.
I cut through the last of the throng, emerging triumphant.
“Well, well, if it isn’t Goodwill!”
My heart jumps into my throat when I hear that.
“I swear you’re stalking me, Jimmy,” I retort as I look to my left.
There stands my old rival clad in a three-hundred-dollar coat and with a giggling blonde on his arm. He looks as smug as ever.
“No, I’m just Sir Fate’s little way of putting you in your place.” The blonde giggles more.
“Whatever. I have better things to do,” I say, smirking before I let him have it. “Like a date with Kara.”
Jimmy scowls. The blonde glares at him.
I look away and start walking toward the park office, but Jimmy shouts his parting shot: “She’ll be disappointed at midnight when she learns you resolve every year to kiss a girl because you never have!”
I stop dead, feeling like I’ve been hit in the back with an arrow. He laughs at me. I huff and walk on.
It’s not long before I see Kara, the prettiest girl in town, standing at the back of the line for skate rental. She’s wearing a bright blue wool coat with matching leather boots. Her red-gold hair braid hangs out of her hood across her collar bone. Before I can call her name, she waves at me with a gloved hand.
My heart jumps back into my throat.
“I’m so glad you made it, Ethan,” she says when I join her in line. “Even if you are a little late.” Her smile is as radiant as the sun.
“Yeah…sorry. I…ran into someone I used to know.”
Her smile flips. “You mean Jimmy?”
Hesitantly, I nod.
“Ignore him. He’s just jealous.”
Within ten minutes, we get our skates and head to the frozen pond. Dozens of couples, some of whom we saw dancing last week, look graceful circling hand-in-hand around the ice. Kara and I sit on a park bench to put on our skates. She laughs when I pull off one of my shoes and reveal the Superman socks underneath. I blush.
“No, no! I think they’re cute,” she says, seeing my embarrassment. “Besides, I used to watch Lois and Clark as a kid. It made me want to read comics, but I always got geek-shamed when I walked into a comic shop, so I never read any.”
“I’m sorry,” was all I could say.
Her smile brightened. “Don’t be. One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to start reading comics.” She finishes lacing up her skates. “What about you? Any resolutions?”
I bite my lower lip. “Not…really.” I grab her hand to distract her. “Let’s go!” I say, motioning toward the ice. She beams, and we hurry out. Her jacket’s hood flies off, unveiling her beautiful hair.
Now I wish I could kiss her.
The next few hours are a blissful blur. I hadn’t skated since I played junior hockey in middle school, but it was like riding a bike. A few times I had trouble stopping, but I didn’t fall. Kara, on the other hand, despite being a great ballroom dancer, wasn’t as surefooted on the ice. She held my hand for dear life. Well, for balance, anyway. One time, though, she started to fall, but I caught her. “My hero,” she called me. I’ve never felt such awkward excitement.
“I need a quick break,” I tell her.
“Okay. I can take a few solo laps. But don’t be long!” she says, winking.
My heart thunders in my ears.
I skate to the edge of the pond and sit on a bench. My calves are burning, but I don’t care. I haven’t been this happy in a long time. Kara waves at me as she skates by, nearly losing her balance. I snicker, admiring her bravery.
“Only fifteen minutes until midnight!” booms the emcee over the microphone on the stage. “Have your sweethearts ready to kiss when the ball drops!”
Suddenly Jimmy and the blonde appear in front of me, pretending they’re oblivious to my presence.
“Why wait until midnight for a kiss?” the jerk says to the poor girl.
Before she can reply, he grabs her, dips her like a professional dancer, and plants a long-lasting lip-lock on her. I look away like a grossed out schoolboy. They finally come up for air and walk away, Jimmy laughing the entire time. I feel like throwing up.
“Ethan!” calls Kara.
I look up and see her sliding by, so I spring to my feet and jump onto the ice. It doesn’t take me long to catch up and grab her hand.
Minutes later, everyone stops. 11:59 has come too soon. We all turn our attention to screen above the stage. Dick Clark is rattling off numbers.
“It’s the final countdown!” someone belts out, adding a terrible impersonation of the song’s guitar riff.
I glance at Kara. Her eyes practically sparkle. She smiles knowingly, expectantly, at me. My stomach is turning in knots like it did last week. Does she want me to kiss her?
“Thirty!” the crowd cries in unison with Dick Clark.
I should—no, I can’t. I’ll just disappoint her. I can’t start her New Year like that.
“Twenty!” cries the crowd.
But I want to impress her, to make her happy. But should I be that forward? It’s only a first date!
“Ten, nine, eight,” begins the crowd.
Kara wraps her arms around my neck and her jade eyes look deep into mine. I’m breathless.
“…five, four, three…”
I blink. My head hangs.
The crowd screams, “Happy New Year!” Noise and confetti fill the air.
Shame stabs me with a knife. I unclasp Kara’s arms and skate away as fast as my tired legs can carry me, not stopping until I reach an isolated bench. I flop onto it and bury my face in my hands. My tears are barely kept dammed.
You’re a coward, Ethan, just like Jimmy thought you were, I think. Your first date with her will be your last.
But just as I’m about to drown in a sea of self-pity, a soft hand squeezes my shoulder. “What’s wrong?” says that wonderfully lyrical voice.
I glance up and see Kara sitting next to me.
May as well come clean. You owe her that, I think.
“I thought you wanted me to kiss you at midnight. I wanted to, but…I just…couldn’t. I’m sorry, Kara. I ruined everything.”
“Why couldn’t you?”
I look away. “Because…I…I’ve never kissed anyone before.”
I brace myself for her to leave.
After ten seconds of silence, she’s still here.
Her warm fingers touch my chin. She lifts and turns my head toward her, unhanding it when our eyes meet. “You didn’t have to kiss me if you weren’t ready. I wouldn’t have been disappointed.” She snickers. “Honestly, I might’ve been weirded out. It’s jerks like Jimmy who pull numbers like that, and I know you’re better than that.”
“So, you’re not upset?”
Kara sighs, rolling her eyes. “No, silly!”
My hand touches hers on my shoulder. “Thank you.”
She just smiles.
“Tell you what,” she says. “I’m exhausted from all that ice skating, so how about you escort me home and we talk about this tomorrow over lunch?”
“Oh, and one more thing.”
Kara presses two fingers against her puckered lips and then places those fingers on my cheek. I feel it burn.
“A preview of things to come,” she says.
I sigh to fight back tears. Then I reciprocate.