New Year’s Un-Resolution

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Photo by Sam Burriss on Unsplash

Audrey trailed after her friends, veering around puddles that threatened her new suede boots. She took a deep breath, regretting wearing a raincoat on this ridiculously warm, misty night.

Why couldn’t it have been snow? Snow would have been beautiful, would have felt magical and made bouncing from bar to party to bar feel more like an adventure than a miserable slog.

She was done with this kind of girl’s night out — or any version that didn’t feature pajamas, wine, and a romantic comedy.

Her friends were different. They were divorced, widowed, or between relationships. For them, New Year’s Eve was wide open for surprise, for wild, for unthinking. Anything was possible — especially if it made for a great story over Bloody Mary cocktails at Erin’s tomorrow.

Once, she’d been like them, filled with dreams and schemes, vague yet powerful ideas about love. As one friend after another got married, Audrey caught bouquets, smiled, and despaired. When her love finally walked in, he walked out the night before their wedding. He’d met his soulmate — and it wasn’t her. By the time she was ready to love again, it was too late. She’d endured countless matchmaking disasters before deciding to focus on her career and enjoying the lives of others, complete with godchildren.

So, this night was for the girls, for being out and pretending they were having a good time traipsing in the damp and laughing too hard at things that weren’t funny. She was in it for them.

Erin slowed to walk beside her.

“So,” Erin leaned toward her. “What news?”

“I was invited onto the executive committee at Hartwick, Faber, and Chaunce.”

“Congratulations!” Erin acted enthused, but Audrey knew she didn’t mean it.

Erin felt sorry for her. All of them felt sorry for her. She felt sorry for herself sometimes, like tonight when she was tired and her feet hurt and it was time for bed. But on a work day, in her corner office, she felt great.

“Hey,” said Erin, tucking her arm around Audrey’s elbow. “It’s almost midnight. Anything can happen, right? I am so happy to have all my best friends with me for the countdown.”

Audrey looked at her. Erin meant it. Two marriages down and she still believed in romance and fairy tales like losing ten pounds or taking some epic challenge would turn her life around.

They followed the others down a dubious alley. This bar felt good, lively but not frantic. They settled into a booth near the back, close to a minuscule dance floor. A few couples bobbed and swayed next to them.

Two rounds later and the others were ready to dance. Somehow, they found partners, waving merrily to Audrey as they lumbered out of the booth and onto the dance floor. She’d watch their purses and sip her club soda.

He slid into the booth without asking.

Ginger hair, pudgy face like he drank too much, solid middle-aged paunch, and a leather jacket. This guy was trying way too hard.

“Happy new year,” he said to her, waving to the waiter and ordering tomato juice.

“Our friends are having a good time,” he said, nodding toward the dance floor. “I’m Marcus. And you’re Audrey.”

Audrey blinked. “Maybe,” she said, wondering who’d told him.

“I’m going to lose 50 pounds by March 1.” He smiled.

“And I’m going to resolve all my personal issues and quit smoking and fly to the moon,” Audrey smiled back. Maybe this guy wasn’t so bad.

“After I drop the pounds, I’m doing an Ironman and curing cancer. That’s after I fly to Mars and before I bring peace to the world.”

Audrey laughed. He’d be great in court, articulate and quick, but relatable in a rumpled friendly guy way. The jury would believe anything he said.

“Who are your five? Are those women your five?” He leaned his arms on the table, a high-risk move in a sticky place.

“My five what?”

“Your core five. The people you spend the most time with, the ones who determine how successful and happy you are?”

She supposed they were. They’d known each other for years, knew one another inside and out and loved one another anyway. Work friends didn’t count even though she was there most of the time.

He snapped his fingers in her face. Audrey drew back, looking toward the bar in case she needed help getting rid of this creep. The bartender glanced at their table and she gave him the head tilt for let’s-see-how-this goes.

“Christmas is overrated,” Marcus declared, bleary blue eyes staring into hers. “Everyone gets their Dickens on with that Christmas Carol bullshit. Me, I like New Year’s Eve. It’s a genuine threshold if you do it right. Before, when we made fun of resolutions? I’ve heard them all, watched them die. People seem to think losing weight or quitting smoking or calling their mother is what it takes to change their life, to be happy? Love is not that hard.”

Audrey blinked. Love? Who said anything about love?

“Please. Don’t do it,” Marcus reached for her hand and Audrey reared back. Touch me and die, she decided.

“Please,” he said, his blue eyes now perfectly clear and focused on her. “I’m new at this. I know you are an incredible lawyer. I know you have a black belt in karate. You’ve put the bartender on high alert. Please hear me out. If I don’t ace tonight, I’m out of the program.”

She looked at his tomato juice and sipped her club soda. He looked at the dance floor and she took a good, long look at him.

How had she ever seen him as pudgy and middle-aged?

Marcus was gorgeous and thirty or thirty-five years old. High cheekbones, close shave, expensive haircut. Brown eyes, not bleary blue. Under that buttery leather jacket, he was lean and fit. Why was he sitting here with her when there were beautiful twenty-somethings draped across the bar? Not one of those intense girlfriend conversations could withstand a Marcus.

“I am…I mean….How do you know so much about me?” she stammered.

“It’s written all over you,” he said, watching her reaction.

She shifted her face into neutral, took a deep breath, and stared into his dark-brown eyes. Let’s see where this goes, she thought, wondering when the DJ would move out of the eighties.

“He’s about to shift into the nineties,” said Marcus. “Excuse me a minute.”

Marcus wound his way through the dancing, slipped a bill to the DJ. They nodded at one another like they were old friends.

“Now we’re good.” Marcus slid into the bench. “So, like I was saying before: I see stories. I look at a person and I know their story, how it’s taken them from their past into their present. Come on, you do this, too. How do you think you’ve been so successful?”

“Hard work. Long hours. Doing the grunt work no one else was willing to do.” Audrey shook her head. Twenty years and she was exactly where she expected to be.

“See? You’re exactly where you expected to be?” His eyes glittered.

“What are you, some kind of mind reader?” Audrey began to raise her hand for the bartender. This conversation wasn’t going anywhere good, but she paused to hear his answer. Everyone would love hearing about Audrey’s mysterious stranger.

“No,” said Marcus. He looked disappointed.

Shaking his head, he started talking.“It’s like I told you. I look at a person and I see their story. It’s as plain as your tired eyes — you should wear your reading glasses — and your defeated stance….Well, now that I’ve blown every opportunity to change a life tonight, I’ll be going and see where they send me next.” He laid a few bills on the table and started to slide out of the booth.

“Who?” said Audrey, reaching out to him. “Who is sending you where and why?” Was this guy in trouble? And who said she looked defeated? She had perfect posture.

“Management. And I’m not in trouble. You are,” said Marcus, leaning back to pull gloves out of his pocket.

“Me? I’m fine. I’m more than fine. I’m great,” Audrey said. She wasn’t fine and everyone pretended not to see it.

“You are,” said Marcus. “You are great. Why don’t you take a chance and believe it? Let yourself believe you’re fine the way you are? You don’t have to do anything different, be anyone different. You can work your way up to great later, when you’re used to thinking for yourself. Then you’ll feel love, all around, where it’s been all along.”

For one moment, Audrey let herself feel the full warmth of those big brown eyes, imagined what it might be like to….Well, now. No need to go there.

Marcus smiled. “You’re listening to me, aren’t you?”

“I want to believe you. I want to, but I’ve tried and it doesn’t work, never.” Audrey felt her throat closing up like she was going to cry.

Marcus pressed an old-fashioned handkerchief into her hand. “Just because something doesn’t work out the way that you think it should doesn’t mean that it didn’t work. Take me for instance. Up until a minute ago, I thought I’d flunked basic training. Then we kept talking and now I’ve aced it.” He grinned at her like she understood.

“Basic training?”

“Yeah, Guardian Angel training.” He drained the last of his tomato juice and stood. “Your friends are coming back. Nice talking with you — and thanks for the wings.” He saluted her.

Erin stopped at the end of the table and stared after Marcus.

“So, who was tall, dark, and hunky?” She grabbed a napkin to wipe her forehead and dab at her chest.

“An angel in disguise,” said Audrey.

“Yeah, okay, don’t tell me. Hey, it’s five minutes until midnight. What are your resolutions for the new year?” Erin tossed back her gin and tonic, signaled for another.

“Believe in myself,” said Audrey.

“Hunh,” said Erin. “I mean, what are you going to do to make the new year better than ever? I’m going to do a 5K. And Julie is going to volunteer at the animal shelter. Simone is going to propose to Jack.”

“Believe in myself — starting with saying good night and heading home.” Audrey laid a twenty on the table. “I love you all and it’s time for bed. I’ll see you tomorrow at Erin’s with bagels.”

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New Year’s Un-Resolution