We arrived at the same time, hands bumping as we reached to call the elevator simultaneously. I didn’t know her, didn’t realize we were going to the same party until we were headed to the same floor. I noticed she was carrying a six-pack of my favorite beer. When I told her, she laughed and admitted she’d chosen it for the groovy floral lettering on the label, a last minute purchase to avoid showing up empty handed, like I was. Her eyes stayed locked on me, unanxious, unembarrassed, not bouncing from face to floor to shoes and back like mine did. She said we could pretend the beer was from both of us.
I knew almost no one but the host, who by then was too drunk to be much help, but she seemed to know everyone. It was relieving to have a new acquaintance who could make introductions, someone to smile at across the room in a social situation I’d agreed to begrudgingly. It was this, or ring in the new year alone on my couch.
When I spilled, she was there with paper towels before I could react. She asked if I’d switched to white wine to win back an ex, which made me laugh — a reference to my favorite TV show and an easy opportunity to let her know I was single in one perfect joke. She said that she was single, too.
As it got closer to midnight, I felt more and more certain it would happen. It was unspoken, but we kept locating each other, making sure we weren’t too far apart when the hour struck. Even if I was in another conversation, I always knew vaguely where she was, like a 6th grader at a school dance working up the courage, and whenever I looked at her, she’d already be looking at me.
When the countdown started, she curled her fingers around my pinky and squeezed, and when I turned to her, she looked up at me unblinking. By five, my heart was racing. At three, she tucked her hair behind her ear. As people screamed and threw up their hands, we kissed, her soft bottom lip fitting gently between mine.
When I backed away, her eyes widened. “It’s tomorrow,” she said. She looked afraid to breathe.
“Happy new year,” I said.
She wailed, laughing or crying or both. She was at a loss for words.
“I’m free,” she said, finally. “It’s over. I’m free.”
“It’s been a long year for me, too.”
“You don’t understand,” she said. “That kiss freed me from a Groundhog Day type time loop. I’ve been living yesterday for longer than I can remember, longer than you can imagine.”
“I thought maybe if I, if we … I can’t believe it really worked.”
I couldn’t tell if she was joking. Or, I thought she was joking but that I didn’t get it. I chuckled nervously. “So, would you want to get a coffee sometime this week?”
“Oh, sweetheart. I’m sorry, but I swore if I ever got out, I’d never spend another second with any of you people.” She kissed me on the cheek. “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”
I thought she was fucking with me, but she left, and I never saw her again. I should have known then and there it was going to be another long year.