I take a little sip of my 'Monkey Shoulder' and watch as Jill attempts to swallow about half of the mini bottle in one go. It doesn't go well.
About half of her mouthful gets spewed on the carpet as she begins choking and violently coughing. I take the bottle from her hand as she uses the other to grasp her throat.
Placing both bottles of booze on the side table, I retrieve a towel from the bathroom and offer it to her.
She attempts to nod in appreciation as she presses her coughing and gagging face into it.
A few minutes later, she finally calms and lies back on the bed. I take another little sip of my whiskey.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say you're not much of a drinker," I say with a grin.
She makes a hoarse gurgling sound and curls up in a little ball.
"I can't even drink right!" she says in a raspy voice.
I smile to myself. I've been at places like this in my life too. Relationships end and reckless abandon begins. Poor girl.
"Little sips, Jill, little sips," I say and gently tip the edge of the bottle to my lips again.
"I'm more of a Mojito girl, actually," she says as she slides her legs over the opposite side of the bed and sits facing away from me.
I watch as she wraps her arms around herself.
I stand and walk to the washroom again. This time, I return with a robe which I gently hang around her shoulders.
"Thank you" she whispers without looking up at me.
I decide to give her a little time to herself and step out onto the balcony with my half empty tiny Whiskey. The weather is still above freezing, but it's cooled off quite a bit since my ride from the airport. The streets are full of happy, excited people busily preparing themselves for the night's activities.
Five minutes is all I can manage before I have to retreat back to the warmth of my shared hotel room. Jill lies on the bed facing me, the robe wrapped tightly around her.
"Is it cold?" she asks.
"A little bit."
I return to my chair, and silence invites itself into the room. Jill's jeans show off the lovely taper of her legs. She really is a lovely woman.
"So…" she says softly. "Where are you from, Jack?"
We spend the next twenty minutes or so with the usual small talk that people that are forced to spend time together are apt to engage in. Jill, as it turns out, is from New Hampshire, works as a project manager for a small media company, likes cats, likes to jog, drinks occasionally, has one younger brother that's currently serving in the military overseas, and loves movies like Beaches and Pride & Prejudice.
Not very similar to my New York upbringing, with my no siblings, pets, or jogging background. We do both like to window shop, however. I purposely don't ask about the ex. - whatever it was that went down earlier today, it was enough to drive her to try strong drink.
"What time is it?" she asks and sits up a little.
I check my phone and raise my eyebrows.
"It's getting close to ten."
"If I was a smart woman…" Jill says as she slides off the bed, "I would try and get some sleep since our wakeup call is at five."
She stands and looks at my empty whiskey bottle, then back at me as I sit in my chair.
"But I'm way too wired right now. Do you want to stretch your legs a little?"
"You're not trying to trick me into walking out the door, just so you can lock me out, are you?" I say with a little twinkle in my eye. "I do have my keycard still you know."
She rolls her eyes and shakes her head as she takes her coat from the hall closet.
"I was just kidding," I offer as I get my own coat.
"Hardy-har-har," she says with a little grin.
A large number of people seem to be headed in the direction of Freedom Park, so Jill and I decide to follow. The occasional firecracker goes off as the city prepares to ring in twenty-eighteen. Adults and children alike are bundled up and stand in little groups as they wait for the evening's festivities to begin.
"This looks like it might actually be kind of fun," Jill says and looks up at me with a smile. She spies a hot apple cider vender further up the street and suggests we pay it a visit.
We find ourselves on a park bench sipping our hot drinks soon after. We sit in silence as we watch the families and groups of friends slowly shuffle by.
My blonde companion's phone suddenly rings. Her face clouds over as she looks at the caller display.
"Will you hold this for me?" she asks as she puts her cider in my free hand. "Thanks."
She places the phone to her ear and walks a short distance away. After a minute or two, she starts wildly looking from side to side. A large, burly man emerges from the crowd with a sheepish smile on his face. Jill dashes forward into his massive open arms.
I guess this would be the 'ex'? The fact that they begin passionately kissing right then and there is a strong clue as well.
I continue to sit on the bench holding both of our hot apple ciders. I suddenly feel like a distant third wheel.
I swear an eternity passes as I watch them kiss, laugh, talk, then kiss some more. I'm pretty sure another of those minibar bottles of hooch are calling my name right now.
Jill finally remembers that I'm holding her drink hostage and floats back to our bench.
"Well, Jack… good news! Looks like you get the bed tonight after all."
I try my best to not look jealous of her obvious good fortune. It looks like one of us is going to get some New Year's Eve action after all.
"Thanks for being a good guy," she says and extends her hand to shake.
"Sure," I say while continuing to force a smile, "I guess I won't see you back at the room then?"
Her face lights up like Christmas in reply. Man, I hate the holidays.
"Maybe I'll see you on the plane tomorrow?" she offers. "You'll be alright tonight, right? Maybe you'll meet someone here in the park?"
"Yeah, maybe." This forced smile thing is starting to hurt my face.
Jill suddenly remembers the cider in my hand. "You can just toss that. I'm warm now," she says as she turns and starts to leave. "Bye!" she shouts over her shoulder.
I watch as the pretty blonde and her bulky boyfriend disappear into the crowd.
A deep feeling of loneliness suddenly washes over me and I just sort of… drop… Jill's cup on the ground. Looks like I'm back to being alone on New Year's Eve again.
Yeah, I'm thinking there's got to be a bottle of Jameson or something in that minibar. I'm suddenly super excited to find out.
No one really notices me as I weave through groups of happy people on my way back to the hotel. Even the desk clerk fails to notice me as I slither past.
The cold, dark hotel room greats me as my keycard beeps in sad confirmation.
The light scent of perfume still in the air suddenly reminds me that all of Jill's stuff is still present. I stare at her luggage crammed into the closet and her damp towel still hanging in the washroom. More loneliness washes over me and I quickly make for the mini-fridge.
I watch my frozen breath slowly drift up and out of sight as I sit bundled up on the balcony – a couple empty minibar bottles beside me. I check my phone again. Brad hasn't returned any of the messages I've left over the last hour. So much for the boys having my back I guess. I'm guessing the 'girls' that were part of the enticement to cross the country and be with them on New Years are presently keeping them occupied. Lucky bastards.
Eleven-thirty. Only a few stragglers walk the streets below now – most everyone else has probably gone on to whatever social gathering it is that they've got tonight.
I look back to the tiny, frigid keeper of all things alcohol, but decide against making another visit. I'm already feeling a little buzzed, and I do have to get up for a flight in five hours or so.
Another wave of sadness washes over me as I realize that the boys will probably all still be passed out from tonight when I finally touch down in San Fran. I won't get to see them until tomorrow afternoon and they'll all be hung over – and then I fly back to New York the next day. Suddenly, my impromptu cross country trip seems like a tremendous waste of time and money.
I check my phone again. Eleven-fifty-five.
"This blows," I hiss as I struggle to stand and reenter the warmth of my lonely hotel room.
"This whole trip is pointless. I should just fly home tomorrow," I continue to mumble as I pull off my socks and start to unbutton my shirt.
I'm down to my undershirt and jeans when I hear a soft knock at the door. At least, I think I heard a soft knock… or am I just drunk?
Another slightly louder knock answers the question in my mind and I rise to see who I could be. I'm still two steps away when the door beeps and swings open.
Jill stands backlit in the doorway. Even in the dim of the room, I can see she's been crying.
We stare at each other in silence and time seems to stand still.
"I was… I was hoping that… that, maybe you were out still… with someone that you… maybe met in the… in the park or something…" she stammers.
I study her for a moment. My heart starts to beat a little faster and I feel the blood rush to my face.
"Did he hurt you?" I ask as calmly as I can manage in my slightly buzzed state.
Jill crosses the room and wraps herself around my chest as the door closes behind her. I feel her start to tremble as I hold her and gently stroke her hair.
"You're okay now," I whisper. "I've got you. You're okay."
"Can I still stay here with you?" she whimpers back and starts to sniffle a little.
"Yeah. Yeah, you can," I say quietly with a smile.
I sit us down on the edge of the bed and wipe away one of the tears traveling down her cheek. Her breath tells me I wasn't the only one getting loaded after we parted ways earlier.
"Why are you being so nice to me?" she asks through her blubbering. "No one else wants me, that's for sure… and I don't even know you! We only met a few hours ago!"
"Yeah, funny thing, huh? We only just met, but I missed you when you—"
I don't get to finish my sentence. Jill's lips are suddenly in the way.
A few minutes later the night sky lights up with fireworks and the sound of people shouting for joy.
They have no idea.