by Chris Eng, illustration by Cristy C. Road
It was a good New Year’s party by anyone’s estimation. The house was full of people, nothing major had been trashed, a limited amount of beers had been stolen and the living room was pulsing to a live DJ doing mashups (currently DeBarge v. Daft Punk). Admittedly, it was only 10:00 and what happened over the next two hours was still up in the air, but for now it was good.
Fen was thankful that it was going well, even if she was sitting on the couch swing at the far end of the backyard. She appreciated it on several levels, the most prominent one being that it was essentially a self-organizing and self-policing affair. She didn’t have to keep things under control (which, if it got out of hand, would be her job, since she lived there); things were just simmering happily and pretty much nobody ventured further than the back porch because it was too damn cold (and even if they did come outside, it was just to smoke).
So Fen got the swing to herself, and she sat in her parka and insulated gumboots rocking back and forth slightly and watching her breath when she exhaled. It was better this way. If she was out back, she didn’t have to talk to people, and if she didn’t have to talk to people no one got awkward around her when the subject of Gill came up. Because everyone felt she deserved condolences since the two of them had broken up on Christmas. Everyone felt she needed support but no one knew what to say, so there was a lot of stammering and “I’m sorry”s and things that made no one feel better, so Fen sat on the swing instead and swigged red wine from the bottle.
She was initially excited for the New Year’s party, but that was when she was still together part of a couple. Even in the couple of days following Christmas, though, she wanted the excuse to get drunk and not care. But no one was letting her not care, which sucked because the DJ was really good.
One of the smokers on the back porch made their way down into the yard. Probably to puke. Fen was not dealing with that; she’d force Gobbler to clean it up tomorrow. Or maybe no one would clean it up at all. Westport was in the middle of the rainy season (which would last until May)—the easiest solution was probably to pretend it wasn’t there and let nature deal with it on its own. But the person wasn’t puking or wobbling. It was walking toward her.
Oh, for fuck’s sake. Just a couple hours of peace—was that too much to ask? Fen realized that if she’d really wanted to be alone, she should have gone somewhere, anywhere else, but she couldn’t imagine where she could have gone on that particular night that wouldn’t have been full of drunken yahoos.
She peered at the backlit figure as it walked toward her: small, slim, bottle of beer, wearing a dress. Fen had seen her around at shows but never talked to her; she thought her name might be Miko.
Miko (if that was her name) was a Japanese girl with a Louise Brooks pageboy haircut and a style-sense that steered toward the middle ground between Joan Holloway assertiveness and gothloli innocence. She was currently dressed in a relatively understated red dress with a pair of thick candy cane stockings and was fending off the weather with a wool coat that didn’t look thick enough to keep out the damp.
“Hey. How’s it going?” the girl asked.
“Oh, you know…” Fen answered noncommittally.
“Not enjoying the party?”
“No, it’s fine. I can hear most of it from here.”
“It’s better inside.”
“I’m fine where I am.”
“You’re Fen, right?”
“Yeah. And you’re Miko?”
“Oh, okay. Hi, Miki.”
“Hi.” She took a sip of beer. “Mind if I sit?”
Fen glanced at the empty spot beside her. She did, but didn’t feel like being confrontational about it. She’d had enough confrontation in the past week. And anyway, Miki was cute. Fen scooted over and shrugged her shoulders.
As Miki sat down, the swing rocked slightly. “I heard about you and Gill. Sorry.”
Fen studied Miki for a second. “Are you friends with Gill? I don’t think I’ve ever seen her talk to you.”
“Friend of a friend. I don’t know her that well, either.”
“So what are you sorry about, then?”
“I dunno. That it didn’t work out? That you’re out here by yourself on New Year’s Eve?”
“Yeah, but that’s my problem, not yours.”
“Well, I don’t know that many people inside anyway, so if you want some company I’m happy to offer.”
“I’m all right. Besides, it’s cold and you’re probably freezing.”
“I’ll live. Do you want me to go?”
“Can I ask you something before I do?”
“Can I kiss you?”
“Um, no. I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Miki visibly shrank back. “I’m sorry. I’ll leave.”
Fen steeled herself be conciliatory, which was something she’d already made an early resolution not to do when dealing with the Gill fallout. “Look, Miki, I broke up with Gill a week ago and if you’ve heard any of the rumours, you know it was a pretty ugly situation. I’m flattered, I really am, but I don’t want to be with anyone right now.”
Miki relaxed a little and gave the tiniest nod. “How about if I just sit here?”
“You can stay or go; it’s up to you.”
“How about if I sit here ‘til midnight?”
“How do you know I’m going to sit here until midnight?”
“Do you have other plans?”
Fen smiled. “Not at the moment. But you’ll get way too cold before then.”
“I’ll figure something out. I could hold your hand.” Fen raised an eyebrow and Miki’s hand reached over to take hers. It was warm in spite of the weather and small. Fen thought it should have been delicate like a doll’s hand, but it took hers purposefully and squeezed it reassuringly. Fen didn’t resist.
“You’re not cold at all,” Fen said. “I think this was all a ruse. A clever ruse to hold my hand.”
“No, my core temperature will drop in a few minutes. Then I’ll be at the mercy of the elements and you’ll have to save me.”
“You’re gambling on my sense of compassion?”
“I think that got stunted in the past week. What if I’m a heartless bitch now? Willing to bet your life on it?”
“I’m willing to bet a head-cold.”
Fen grinned. “All right. But it’s your funeral. Or congestion. Or whatever.”
The swing roked silently for a few seconds before Miki spoke again. “So… what are we gonna do for the next two hours?”
“I thought you were going to hold my hand.”
“You could put your arm around me to keep me warm.”
“Maybe I will later.”
“And then at midnight, I was thinking about kissing you.”
“I already told you I didn’t want to kiss.”
“You’ll change your mind by then.”
“You’re awfully sure of yourself.”
“Aren’t you worried you’d be catching me on the rebound? Rebound relationships never work.”
“I’d rather catch you on the rebound than miss catching you at all. Half of the dykes in town have been keeping their eyes on you to see when you might go back on the market. I’m sorry, but it’s true. You’re kind of a hot commodity, Fen. Emphasis on the word ‘hot’.”
“That’s kind of creepy but also cute. You can stay.”
“If I kiss you at midnight, will you kiss me back?”
“Can we make out?”
“Don’t press your luck, Miki.”
“How about we don’t spoil the moment with too much talking.”
The sounds of the mashups in the living room made their way to them in the night and they each took a swig from the wine bottle and Miki squeezed Fen’s hand and Fen squeezed it back and they both enjoyed the moment without spoiling it.