"Seriously though, James, you should totally come to Kentucky," slurred Anna. Turns out the best way to not get carded is to walk into a completely high end restaurant. The tall blond across from me had managed to get a hold of two fuzzy navels like that, despite the fact that she was only twenty. She'd been in an on again, off again relationship with Mark, who was the six foot tall, scruffy looking fellow sitting to my right. I was actually sort of surprised that they let us in, with Mark and I. Both of us could use a shave, and neither of us were particularly well dressed. The girls were fine, if perhaps a little more clubish than upscale.
"Really Anna? But you have a car, and I don't, and I live in Chicago, while you live in Kentucky. Why would I want to go to Kentucky?" It was a well documented fact that I loved cities. In particular I loved this one, with it's improve comedy and deep dish pizza. And of course, my beloved university.
"I'll tell you why, James, girls," she continued.
"Girls?" I said blandly back to her.
"Girls. We were rated in the top five universities by Playboy. By hotness." I smiled back at her. I tend to get this a lot. Especially from drunk girls.
"Anna, one, the girls here are fine, and two, it wouldn't do me any good," she started to try to respond, but isn't sober enough to cut me off. "I don't believe in sex without love, and I'm not really looking these days."
"Don't you believe .. don't you believe in love at first sight?" she managed to ask. Man, I don't drink, but that must be some potent stuff she's got there.
"No Anna, I don't."
"Whaaat? You don't? Ok, ok... well I have a friend who just broke up with her boyfriend. She's really smart and pretty and plays oboe and is pretty messed up from the break up and you like girls with issues and..."
"Anna," I cut her off as Cassy walked back from the bathroom. I don't know why she thinks that leopard print dress is a good idea, but I've never seen her look anything but beautiful and dignified, so what's it matter if she wore a stupid dress. "That's why I don't want to date. Relationships with messed up people. Bad."
"I don't really think you always like messed up girls, James."
"I'm going to go to the bathroom though," she said, beginning to climb out of her chair. And it really is a long process. She nearly fell a couple times.
"I think I will too," said Mark, getting down from his chair much easier. He's not drunk, even though he has a beer. Cassy and I watch them head around the corner.
Cassy, being a small Asian girl, had to actually climb into the overly tall chairs this restaruant provided. "Why are you and Mark so sober?"
"I don't drink, and he doesn't like the beer our server recommended. Why are you drunk? You've had like three glasses of wine all night."
"I don't know," she admitted. Maybe it was a sign that the government was right, since Mark and I were still sober and were the over twenty one people in our little party. "Sorry about Sam."
I waved off the reference to my ex. "It's ok. Water under the bridge."
"Sure," she says skeptically. We've been friends for a long time, Cassy and I. In middle school, she started dating my best friend, Chris. Chris was a fun guy. Smart, handsome, funny. Everything she wanted. They made a great pair. Everywhere one of them was weak, the other was a strength there. We'd spent a lot of time hiding the relationship from her parents, who were the typical over protective Asian ones.
Then came high school, when I split off to a different school as all the others, and Cassy's family moved to a different state. She'd fallen apart. When she left, she was cheerful and energetic. She played flute, the best in our band. She was happy. Now the word I would use to describe her is tempered. She's exactly as smart and beautiful as she was when she left, but she's colder now. She would tell you stronger. She would want you to believe crying all those nights on the phone, hurting just to be apart from a person, had given her some type of strength. That she was better from having watched the person that she couldn't live without move on, and have to put herself back together with no one there.
Neither of us really know if it's true though. But she hasn't touched her flute in six years.
"So, you sound like you've got lots of faith in Brian, " I offered, changing the subject since that one is pretty much closed.
"God, I don't even remember what I just said to him." She'd been on the phone with her West Point attending boyfriend about half an hour ago.
"Well, you rubbed in his face the fact that you were drinking a 2005 and that it was great." He had claimed that 2005 was a bad year, even having sent back bottles that were that year before.
"Yeah. It's not going to last," she said. "He's just can't deal with me 'emotionally.'"
None of them will work. I'm sure I'll see the difference in you if you ever meet someone who you love like you did that first time. The kind of love both of us agreed is too dangerous to ever do again. The kind of love that we can't settle for anything less now that we'd tasted it. "Where is he now?"
"Seattle. Well, just outside it." A long way from Chicago. Maybe longer than from me to Sam. But Sam and I weren't dating. Not anymore. Mark and Anna came stumbling back from the bathrooms. I kinda wondered if they were on again, or if they were "just friends" right now.
"Is it midnight yet?" asked Anna, in drunken excitement.
"Not yet," I informed her after lighting up my phone to check. Another reminder, that phone. The phone that Sam had given me, when we ran up thousands of minutes a month on our cells in the fall of our freshmen year. She'd given me a cell on her family's plan when my family had taken mine away. I never told my family about it. I didn't give it back, even after we broke up. I was still her best friend, right? Still the only one she trusted. The only one she wanted. The only one who knew everything about her. "It's three minutes till by mine."
"I wonder if there's some sort of countdown," Cassy muttered. She took another sip from her 2005 as we all began looking around the room for any sort of TV or radio. Something to tell us when this year will start. When the past year, unquestionably the worst in my life, will have faded away.
God, I sound like such a fucking drama queen when I say that sort of stuff. I assure you, I have and have had a great life. I don't think I could trade up if I tried. But it had been sorta a rough year.
"Is there a countdown?" Cassy asked the server.
"I'll go check," he informed us, and took off into the back, reappearing quickly behind the bar.
"Happy New Years," one of the tables closer to the door began saying to each other. I looked down at my phone just in time to see it click over to midnight.
"Happy New Years," I announced to my table. Phones are pulled as everyone checks their own to make sure that I'm right.
"10, 9, 8, 7," the bar has just started a countdown. I was wondering if they were behind, or if they knew it was midnight already and just wanted to have a countdown since we asked about it. "6, 5, 4..."
"3, 2, 1. HAPPY NEW YEARS!" shouted the whole restaurant. Cassy leaned over to hug Anna, who planted a kiss on her forehead. Laughing, Cassy kissed Anna on the forehead also, while Mark went around to their side. He joined in the exchange of hugs, receiving a much bigger, more passionate kiss from Anna. I stayed seated on my side, grinning like I'm a parent watching a little kids party. Always aloof. Never actually part of any of it.
"Take a picture," said Cassy, shoving her digital camera at me. I turned it on as they put on those ridiculous tiara like new years eve hats on. They all smiled as I snapped a quick picture.
"You know," I mused, "we're all here by choice."
"What?" said Cassy.
"We're all here by choice. This is the first New Years that I've ever been where I chose to be rather than just where ever my family asked me to be. And you all chose to drive up and visit me."
"I guess so." And Cassy might have got it, even drunk. The other two wouldn't get it sober. They just don't know me. But Cassy does. We haven't seen each other in over six years, but she still knows me.
"Should we get a cab?" asked Mark. We'd been debating whether or not to take a cab or try to hop the bus back.
"Yeah." Anna could barely walk, and Cassy had been sick all week. When we had been walking out in the elements earlier, she'd started coughing again, the kind of cough you know the person can feel in their lungs. I'd felt like a jerk making her walk through it once, I sure wasn't going to do it again.
The doorman hailed us a cab (yes, there was a doorman. This place was so expensive that 4 drinks and the cheese course ran about sixty bucks. I don't even usually go to places that have a cheese course.). It took us two tries, because the first one said he wanted to stay down town rather than take us to the apartment I was staying in down in Hyde Park. We didn't tell the second one where we were going till all of us were piled into it already. Anna fell asleep on Cassy, who's sitting between the two of us. I had to point out the exit to take, giving directions to the driver as we got closer. We all piled out, heading up to the door to the apartment building. I went through first, but I stopped at the base of the stairs to let those more likely to fall go first.
"Can we finish watching Battlestar Galactica?" asked Cassy as we walk in. We'd had it on as we'd gotten ready to go out, because she was a huge fan. We'd just been watching the miniseries, so it still wasn't over.
"Sure," I said as I turned it back on. Cassy had thrown a shirt on over her strapless dress, and pulled her pajama pants up under them so that she didn't have to leave the room to change. As I went past her to get a drink of water, she pulled the dress down her legs. Unfortunately for her modesty, this dragged her pajamas down with it. I look up quickly, while she pulls her pajamas back up quickly.
When I came back into the room, Cassy had situated herself on the smaller couch where she will be sleeping. Mark and Anna were sitting on the couch where I will be sleeping, according to the plans we had discussed earlier. I sat at one of the other chairs that was at the table that served in place of an actual dining room.
"He's so perfect," I heard Cassy sigh as Lee Apollo makes an appearance on the screen.
"If he were perfect," I shot back, "he would be the best pilot on the ship."
"You would like her."
After a few minutes of watching, Mark convinced Anna that they should go back to the bedroom that they were sleeping in. I took a shower and brushed my teeth, then headed back out. Battlestar Galactica was still on, but Cassy was asleep. I shut off the TV and dvd player before lying down on my own couch and trying to drift off.
A new year. A new start.