It’s the first Friday of the month. You know what that means… it’s time for another installment of short fiction. (You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features, by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.)
This year I’m doing something different. Instead of twelve months of different stories, I’m trying out some serial work this year. So there will be twelve consecutive pieces released starting with this one: “Laci and Del: Second Chance?”
Laci and Del: Second Chance?
Laci glanced around the room, her gaze flitting from the people to the door and back. Panic clawed through her insides as desperately as she wanted to claw at each figure blocking her way. She had no means of escape. She’d waited too long. What fifteen minutes earlier had been a navigatable maze of clusters of party guests, standing like islands in a sea she could have traveled, somehow had morphed into one massive throng she had no hope of wading through. The door might as well be in another country. She’d never make it.
Sighing, she turned around and unlatched the patio door. Cracking it open just enough to squeeze through it, she slipped outside and closed the door behind her. Immediately she was hit in the face with the bracing cold of winter.
“Damn, it’s freezing out here!” She wrapped her arms around herself and watched as her breath dissipated into the night. She briefly entertained the idea of going back inside, but shook the idea off before even turning around. The countdown had begun. Even through the heavy door she could hear them all chanting, “Fifty-seven… Fifty-six… Fifty-five…”
Less than a minute, and she could put another horrid year behind her.
And start another one.
She rubbed her arms harder and tried to blink back the tears that were threatening to fall, tried not to imagine every single person in there sharing a warm kiss at midnight… while she stood on the patio. Alone. In the cold.
The voices had grown louder, and Laci realized the door had opened. Wiping her eyes and clearing her throat, she mustered the last ounces of courage and dignity she possessed and turned toward her unwanted intruder. “I’m sorry. Would you mind terribly? I’d like to be alone.”
“No, you wouldn’t.”
He was backlit by the lights from inside the house, but she didn’t need to see his face to know who he was. She’d know his voice, his body, anywhere.
“Only you and my mother ever call me that.”
She cleared her throat. “Del. What are you doing here?”
“Something I didn’t think I’d ever do again.”
“Three… Two… One…”
As shouts of “Happy New Year” and the beginning notes of “Auld Lang Syne” rang out from inside the house, Del crossed to Laci and kissed her.
There was no forewarning. No preamble. He didn’t stroke her cheek first or brush her hair back from her face.
There was just Del. And the kiss.
And the disappearance of her whole miserable world for a blissful moment.
When he released her, the people inside were about done cheering. The strains of the song were fading away. The tears had dried on her cheeks.
And her heart rate was nowhere near normal.
“And what, might I ask, am I supposed to make of that?” she managed to get out in a steady voice.
“I’ve been watching you all night.”
“You’ve been watching me all night? What are you, now? A stalker or something?” She clutched at where a collar should be, but all she found was a necklace. A beautiful diamond necklace he’d bought her, highlighted by her upswept hair and the low-cut bodice of her cocktail dress. She tried to cover it with her fingers, but she saw the look of recognition on his face. Why did she have to choose that piece—of all pieces—to wear that night? Thankfully, he didn’t comment on it.
“We’re both still friends with the same people. We’re bound to end up in the same place at the same time. But after how things ended…”
She lowered one of her arms and studied his face.
He shrugged his shoulders. “I didn’t know if you were ready to talk. So I stayed on the opposite side of the room all night. I was trying to be polite and give you space.”
“Anyway, I figured you would leave before midnight. I know how you feel about not having anyone to kiss when the ball drops, especially given it’s not just the new year, but your birthday too, so when—”
“You remember my birthday?”
His eyebrows shot up. “What kind of person do you think I am? Of course I remember your birthday.”
She relaxed enough that she dropped her hand away from her throat and started rubbing her arms again. Since Del had walked onto the patio, she hadn’t felt anything but heat. The cold was starting to hit her again, though. As well as some old feelings she hadn’t buried as deep as she had thought.
“Come here,” he said.
Before she could object, she was nestled in his arms, tucked against his firm, warm chest.
“Laci, I know things got all messed up before. I don’t want to revisit the past. This is a new year. For you and for everyone.” He pulled back a little bit and looked down at her. “I’d like to give us another try.”
She couldn’t meet his gaze, so she tucked her head back against his chest and held on tightly to him. “I don’t know, Delany. It took me a long time to move on. I don’t want to go through something like that again.”
“That’s how you know it’s worth fighting for. Because we were so hard to walk away from. Come on, Laci. What have you got to lose?”
Laci thought about the year since they had broken up and the men she hadn’t been able to date. There had been something wrong with absolutely everyone who’d asked her out—too tall, too nerdy, too creepy, too involved with work, too interested in fantasy football—so she’d politely declined all her offers until the offers had stopped coming. Yes, she realized her reasons were ridiculous. Well, maybe not the creepy guy, but all the other ones. But obviously her social calendar was in need of some CPR.
But wasn’t Del the reason it flat-lined to begin with?
She had a lot to lose. He couldn’t possibly understand. Was he worth the risk?