Auld Lang Syne by Nicole Anell

Rating: R
Disclaimer: Yes Virginia, there is a "Rudolph's Shiny New Year", with an actual plot, and it does not belong to me. Nor does "Roswell", but that's another tragedy altogether.
Spoilers: up to "A Tale of Two Parties"
Email me! Faith84@aol.com

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Two years ago, you tried to find Enigma with a bunch of your friends. You ended up getting trashed and going to third base with Vicky Delaney in her car. That was nice.

A year ago, Tess proclaimed the whole scavenger hunt idea lame and you believed her. You ended up eating little frozen hors d'oevres and watching Dick Clark, the two of you and your dad. That was nice too.

And now you're here with a college girl's phone number, and you're watching a reindeer outsmart a bunch of mustache-twirling fiends.

You used to think about your life from year to year, and it was something like disturbing.

Now Rudolph sort of gave you an epiphany.

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By the time he came flying in with his big neon schnozz for the dramatic climax, Isabel was already asleep, curled up in a little blanket next to you. She doesn't know how it ended. When you tell her tomorrow morning, she'll laugh and it'll make your day.

You're pretty sure that's what's going to happen, because the immediate future can be normal and predictable, even if everything after is the opposite. Watching time pass is like walking in a straight path, until you turn around and realize you don't even know how you got where you are.

It's 11:57 when you have that very profound thought, and you can't tell if it'll make sense in the morning.

At midnight, you kiss Isabel gently on the head. You push yourself to, because you want it so much, and you'll probably never be this close to her again. You will be in the same room again, and lean on each other, and hug and joke and kill time - whatever. But she'll probably never fall asleep next to you.

The profound path thing - it does make sense. It's like the relationship path that seems to be moving really slowly and naturally, and then it suddenly hits you that someone's gone from stranger to girlfriend, or lust object to family, or acquaintance to friend to unrequited love.

It's like the you and Isabel path that seemed to be going fine and dandy. And yet it's 12:03, the Rudolph credits are ending, and you have no idea how you ended up on this couch.

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You don't remember when you first noticed her. She was always a floating extra in the movie of your life, probably since elementary school. She went out with some of your friends, but she seemed to have a thing for just one or two dates before moving on to the next guy with a learner's permit and nice hair. It was all normal, innocent early-date stuff, nothing slutty or anything.

In sophomore year, she sort of flowed out of the mainstream and wasn't so much for the dating and socializing anymore. She started "casually" looking away whenever you saw her, because back then your last name used to get her paranoid.

Junior year she was elevated to the scary alien chick who messed up your life and drove you pretty close to insane. See, now someone else has filled that position.

But the point is that all that time, she was still basically Isabel, all innocent and perfect and a little stuck-up. No fireworks or bells ringing. There's Isabel Evans. She's kinda hot, but she can be a bitch.

You didn't lose any sleep over her. It wasn't like it is now, at 12:24, when you listen to her breathe and all your muscles stiffen at the thought of touching her.

So again, you have to wonder how you ended up here.

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At 1:18, she snores softly, and you tell yourself that if you were married to her, you wouldn't ever leave her alone on a holiday for some stupid lawyer appointment. Not New Year's, not Valentine's, not Martin Luther King, not Arbor Day, not anything. In fact, you might go to work as little as possible.

At 1:29, you know she washed her hair with green apple shampoo again. You feel the scent around you, making everything cleaner and sweeter, and you're amazed it took you this long to notice. At 1:30, it almost makes you cry.

Honestly, sometimes you don't know how you turned into such a pussy.

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Broken-home kids are supposed to be tortured, antisocial losers, but you were really fine.

You were pro-social.

You were king of the jungle gym and you didn't need your stuffed animals anymore.

You couldn't even hit puberty like most kids do, with the squeaky voice and pimples and uncontrollable boners. Well, you didn't have the first two, anyway. You were tough and popular and confident, and you picked on those other miserable kids. You might've picked on Max or Alex, you don't even remember.

And now it's catching up to you, just when you're supposed to start being an adult. Now you tingle with anxiety in everything you do. Palm-sweating, dry-mouth, mental-blocked uncertainty. You hate yourself for every ridiculous thing you say and every witty comeback she returns without missing a beat.

Isabel makes you insecure. It's like twisted karma.

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It's not like she means to hurt you. She would never hurt anyone... okay, unless they got mud on her new floors or wrecked some event she was hyper-planning or anything like that. But that's just hysterical pretend-anger no one's supposed to take seriously. You know she doesn't talk at all when she's really mad. And she isn't the type to have real hard-core malice in her.

Her innocence startles you sometimes. You remember Rudolph and his shiny new year and you think she's the only one in the world with room in her heart for the little guy. She's the only one in the world who was asleep at midnight.

Sometimes - insanely, ironically - she reminds you of Liz. Old-school Liz who only you used to see, who your friends didn't get, who was all pretty and sweet and smarter than you. Liz who never really liked you the way you liked her, but sometimes made you want to be a nice guy.

Now you talk to Liz and it's like everything you once knew about her was whittled away into something different. You accept that. Time changed, it changes constantly, it changes everything.

It's just that Isabel's the only one you know who hasn't had her youth sucked down a giant drain in the last couple of years.

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Back in the summer, there was a birthday party for Alex, for when he would've been eighteen. Like literally out in the cemetery, because at some point your alien pals decided they needed to get more fucking morbid than usual.

You didn't go, because your personal grieving period didn't include flowers and memory-sharing and ice cream cake. Your personal grieving period was that special kind where you lock yourself in your bedroom for nine hours straight while thinking real hard about breaking things, only you're too much of a coward to actually do it. And by then, it was over. And it was never entirely over Alex.

But that night in the summer went on, and the hours ticked away, and you ended up going down there, much later, when you figured no one would be left. Turned out Isabel was still there. Her eyes widened when she saw you, and she asked if you heard something. You said, "Like what?"

"Like me, talking." She smiled and winced all at once. "Sometimes I talk out loud."

You told her you didn't know, and if she could just pretend you weren't there, that would be great.

She said your piece of cake melted. Then she looked down and confessed that, well, Michael ate it. Then she said she missed you.

Maybe that's not point-for-point how it happened, but it's close enough. You're usually not good with details.

You told her you were doing fine. Told her you had a real live job now, because bills have a tendency of not going away unless someone pays them.

That night, you two somehow got back in the habit of telling each other stuff.

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It's 2:16, and you still feel the exact spot where she kissed you. Even if the sensation is long gone, there's a little circle on your cheek that goes numb whenever you think about the moment.

You're usually terrible with details. It's why you couldn't pass chemistry, you don't have the head for it. You can't even get a clear picture of her face when she's not around, not right away. You couldn't close your eyes and immediately describe it.

Other things start popping up in your head, crazy things. When she's not around, you think about the way her leg stretches out on the table when you visit her before she goes running. You think about the way little bits of her hair fall out of place when she's having a high-strung day. You think about the way she cries with those little hiccup-breaths.

And finally when all the little touches come together, you can see her smile like she's right in front of you. You remember this one time at work, a month or two ago, when you thought about her like that. And maybe your hands were all black and greasy, and you had a cramp in your arm, and you were hot and tired and generally pissed off at humanity. You remembered her face then, and in that instant all you could think about was how you needed to talk to her the very next chance you had. You were practically overjoyed by it.

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You were the first to know about Jesse.

You were the first to see them kiss.

You were the one who got the late-night phone call about their engagement.

Sometimes when she touches you, all you can feel is a cold hard band around her finger, and it kills you that she'd never mean to hurt you.

Time just changes. It changes constantly. It changes everything.

It never seemed to change Isabel.

But she's not even blond anymore.

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At 2:41, a part of you wishes you hadn't gone out tonight, or you'd just taken off with that Bitsy girl. You tell yourself that maybe you'll call her soon, take her out on a date, and screw her if you're lucky (if you haven't become such a social retard that you can't manage that anymore).

Maybe you could close your eyes and think about the beach.

The beach is where you go in the shower most mornings. It's some random far-off island coast where you're massaging Isabel's shoulders with lotion and kissing her neck. A few wave crashes later, she's facing you, holding you, wanting only you.

Also her bikini is totally off, if she was wearing one to begin with.

You think about being with her on the beach, and maybe watching all that innocence melt away into passion. You imagine the scent of green apples enveloping you, her voice moaning your name, warm skin pressed against yours.

It's like finding nirvana.

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At 2:55, you get up to go to the bathroom. You use too much soap when you're washing your hands, like you need an excuse to keep lingering in there. You stare at her toothbrush - hers has to be the thinner one, slightly frayed at the edges of the bristles, color-coordinated with the rest of the room.

You find yourself quietly opening her cabinet to study its contents. Something makes you long to reach for her shampoo bottle, pop the lid open and inhale some of those apples. But you can't justify it to yourself enough to go through with it.

Instead, you just dry your hands on the guest towels and shut the light and door behind you. You go back to the couch, even though there's no reason you can't just go home.

Sometimes you wonder if Alex hates you.

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At 3:18, she's still sleeping and you remember the kiss again, that tiny gesture that meant nothing to her. You can still feel the spot. Your eyes grow heavy, and they fall on some kind of suit hidden under a dry-cleaning bag, hanging from her bedroom door.

You want to hate Jesse. You really want to hate him.

You want to have evil, cold-blooded feelings for him.

You want to imagine doing little things to mess with his life. You want to borrow his things and not return them, or take his car into Toby's garage and fiddle with the battery. You want to tell him all about his walking X File of a wife, so he can hit the road like any sane person would and leave her behind for you to comfort.

You want to be Jealous Guy again. It's what you used to be fantastic at.

The funny thing is that you can't anymore. That changed too.

The astonishing thing is that you're happy for her most of the time. You've almost reached that point where you'd rather see her grinning ear-to-ear from across the room than pouting in your arms.

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It wasn't always like this.

A year ago, you weren't a pussy.

A year ago, you weren't insecure.

A year ago, you might've taken your religion seriously, just for a fleeting moment. Just for that rush of having something to believe in.

You believe in almost nothing now.

Money and bills.

Green apples and innocence.

The fact you may never have sex again.

That's about it.

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At 3:34, you close your eyes.

At 3:42, you whimper unconsciously, and she nudges you out of a nightmare.

She mumbles that you woke her up and slides over to use your lap for a pillow. You drowsily apologize and find the courage to stroke her hair, because you want it so much and you'll probably never be this close to her again.

She murmurs, "Mmm, poor Kyle. 'Sjust a movie."

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This year, an animated flying reindeer sort of gave you an epiphany.

The bad guys tried to kidnap Baby New Year, because their dastardly plan was to make the world hold still just for them.

They wanted it so time wouldn't change, the clock wouldn't tick, the ball wouldn't drop.

In real life, time changes the world. You just deal with it.

It wasn't always like this. You have no idea where it's going.

But at 4:00 on the dot, you sleep.

And for now, you love her.

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