With the approach of the new year, I am reposting this fun little short-short I wrote not long ago because it’s centered around the celebration of First Night, which has been a growing movement toward a “safe” alternative for New Year’s Eve celebrations. I like to think of this little story as a reminder that sometimes the romance we desire is right in front of us all along. And very often, we don’t have to seek love, because it will find us.
THE WAITING GAME
by Kay Springsteen
Oh, how these times did try the patience. Waiting was never easy because it was just impossible to tell what, er that is who, was going to show up.
Emily leaned against the lamppost and checked out her surroundings. The brick street was clogged to almost dead stop with people. A teenaged boy was rolling himself along the street on a giant red ball while he juggled three pins, tossing them high in the air. She was pretty sure that wasn’t him.
A middle-aged man strolled by, a little paunchy, thinning hair. Though he tried to hide it, his gaze kept wandering her way. Please don’t let that be him!
She tossed the long red scarf over one shoulder. Maybe she should take it off and stuff it in her pocket until she saw who exactly showed up. Just in case that person was a complete loser. How pathetic was it that she’d placed a personal ad for a New Year’s Eve date?
Not that she’d had much choice when Jeremy had backed out at the last minute. He was such a jerk about it, too. He liked her too much to date casually? He wanted it to be a “real” date.
They’d grown up together, their families having been neighbors since they were born. They had played Battleship together, and done homework together. Geeze, according to at least one embarrassing picture in her baby book, they’d taken baths together! It was just crazy to like someone in that way when a history of being naked together from birth was involved. There had to be rules . . . limits.
But she hadn’t had a date for the New Year’s First Night Celebration, and Jeremy had always, always been her fallback date. Except this time, he’d changed his mind.
So, having placed a personal ad, and found that one golden response amid the junk, she stood now. Waiting. With a bright red scarf around her neck to identify her to a total stranger. All in the name of not being date-less on New Year’s.
More revelers walked by in a shower of rainbow confetti, but none paid her any attention. With a heavy sigh, she began to wonder if she’d been stood up.b
An earsplitting honk sounded from behind her and Emily jumped. She hated those plastic horns but in the hands of obnoxious kids who should be home in bed by now, they were driving her nuts. The horn blew again, this time much closer.
She whirled. “Look, unless you want to be permanently wearing that horn up your nose–”
There he was. With his kick-ass lopsided grin, his twinkling hazel eyes. He blew the horn again, though not as loudly this time.
Emily stomped her foot with impatience. “Jeremy, what are you doing?”
He gestured at the boisterous crowd and shrugged. “Reveling.” He blew the horn again.
She glared. “Well go revel somewhere else. You didn’t want to be my date tonight.”
Jeremy honked the horn. “I said I didn’t want to be your backup plan. So who are you here with?”
She stared at him.
He hooted. “You couldn’t get another date!”
“Don’t be stupid, Of course I got a date.”
Jeremy looked up and down the street. He made a show of peering behind Emily. “An invisible date?”
Emily folded her arms across her chest. “No, jerk. He’s been delayed.”
A young man in a gorilla suit walked by, carrying his mask under his arm. With a wary eye, Emily watched him pass, thinking it would be just her luck this guy would stop and introduce himself as her date.
“Who was that?” Jeremy leaned into her, following the direction of her gaze.
“Then why were you looking at him like you thought he was going to stop?”
“Maybe because I don’t want to be standing here with you.” She put both hands on his chest and pushed him away.
Emily looked hopefully at an attractive guy who stopped in the light of the lamppost. Blond hair, blue eyes, body that said full speed ahead. But no blue scarf. He nodded pleasantly as he dug in his pocket and produced a cell phone, then dialed a number and moved on.
Jeremy was watching her intently. “You…don’t know who you’re waiting for.” He laughed. “You’re on a blind date! That’s why the weird red scarf.”
Emily unwound the scarf from around her neck. “The scarf is because it’s winter, fool!” She crammed it in her pocket.
“Who set you up ? How come you don’t know who you’re meeting?”
She began walking. “Figure it out for yourself,” she tossed over her shoulder.
Jeremy followed. “Hah! No one fixed you up, did they, Em? No one wants to because all your dates end so badly.” He tooted the horn again. “Oh, my God!” His laughter reached howling proportions. “You took out a personal ad!”
Feeling the heat entering her face, Emily stopped in her tracks. Slowly, she turned to look at her neighbor. “I did not!”
But he was laughing so hard he had to hold his stomach. “You did! I can see it in your face. Em, that’s classic! You’d rather take a chance on a perfect stranger than go on just one real date with me.”
“Oh, you have the biggest ego! Maybe I’m just tired of hanging out with you.” Except she really wasn’t. In fact when he’d suggested a “real” date, her heart had beat just a little more quickly. And that had terrified her.
Jeremy blew the horn again.
“Stop blowing that damn thing before I ram it up your–”
“Why?” He stopped walking, grabbing her hand and tugging her to a stop. “Why don’t you want to see what one night on a real date with me would be like?”
“I…I…I don’t know.”
“Would it really be so bad?” Emily couldn’t stop looking at his full lips as he spoke, so softly she almost couldn’t hear him over the crowd. “I like you, you like me. We can have a little fun.” He pulled her closer, leaned toward her until his face was close to hers. “Maybe end it with a nice kiss.”
His lips settled against hers and Emily felt the spark running directly from where their mouths were fused to all of her sensitive zones. She couldn’t breathe, no longer knew if she needed to. She must be dead. Jeremy, her neighbor since birth, the kid who’d been her buddy all her life. The boy who, in the last year she’d realized she liked as more than a buddy. Was. Kissing. Her.
He pulled back. His eyes regarded her with heat that she still felt even though he’d broken the contact. “It’s not too late for a real date with me, Em. Besides, I don’t think your personal ad guy’s going to show.”
Emily no longer had any interest in her personal guy. She was pretty sure she had the same hungry expression in her eyes that she saw in Jeremy’s. She touched her lips with the tips of her fingers. Maybe it was a mistake but damn, she was going to make it the best mistake of her life.
She nodded, still dazed. “Okay. But you gotta lose the horn.”
When he held out his hand, she took it.
“I can do that. I won’t be needing it anymore.” Jeremy smiled and dropped the plastic horn into the nearest trash can. Then he unzipped his jacket. “There’s something else I won’t be needing.”
Emily was astonished to see him unwind an electric blue scarf from around his neck and dump it on top of the horn in the trash can.
Jeremy hooked an arm around Emily’s shoulders and they began to stroll through the festive crowd. He whistled as they walked, a jaunty, hauntingly familiar tune that Emily finally recognized as The Pina Colada Song.