Wednesday, 18 December 2013 09:53

Once in a Year by Harry Huang

Countdown clockThey say you have only one chance a year to start things off right, and I believe it.

This is going to be my year.

 

“Geez man,” Adam said, watching me fiddle with my tie. “It’s just a party. We’ll dance, we’ll drink, we’ll do the countdown, and then we’ll pass out.”

“It’s not just a party,” I said. “It’s a New Year’s Eve party. The most important party of the year.”

“Well, there’s no reason to look so tense about it. At least put on a smile. Just like… See? It’s easy.” It was for Adam at least. I suspected that he had been swapped at birth from his real parents–spitfire dragons that lived and breathed enthusiasm, because that’s exactly how he was. Unchained, living fire. “Anyway,” Adam continued. “All you have to do is stop trying so hard, and go with the flow.”

 

“Yeah I know,” I responded. But how does one go with the flow? Despite his frequent attempts to teach me, I could never quite grasp the way of being Zen. The flow was like a puzzle. Not a two-by-two jigsaw puzzle, but a series of complicated twists and turns that led to a Minotaur at the center. Maybe I was just a lost a cause.

“What if I’m not trying too hard? What if I’m not trying hard enough? I mean, I really want this year to be different than last year. I really want her to–”

“Dude.” Adam pronounced dude like a surfer–more u, less e. “Tell me you didn’t just mention last year. I thought we specifically agreed never to talk about last year. Don’t talk about last year.”

“But last year–”

“The Cabinet. Right now.” He was referring to shelf 4A in our apartment, the place where we stashed the pain medicine. I took eight steps down to the kitchen, reached into the shelf, and pulled out the first handle I touched. “Two shots,” Adam said. And I took two shots. It stung a little, but I was used to it.

“There. Is that better?”

I nodded, but didn’t mean it. Liquor’s great for dulling the pain when I’m angry or sad, but when I’m panicky it helps me about as much as a wheelchair helps a blind man.

“All right. Two more, then we’ll get going.”

I took two more, and then I waited for Adam to do the same. He didn’t.

“What about you?”

“I don’t need it. I’m already awesome. If I’m being out-awesomed, then I’ll resort to drinking. But then and only then.”

“If you say so.” I finished tying my bowtie.

“Are you ready to go?” He patted me on the back, stamping a five-finger nacho handprint on my white shirt. For some reason, this didn’t bother me.

“Not yet. I need to use the bathroom.” In other words, I needed to check my hair. I ran to the bathroom, found the mirror, and did my best to avoid looking at my face. I saw the hair. Brown and wavy, but not greasy. I didn’t want to look like I was trying too hard.

“Dude. Come on. We’re going to miss the countdown.”

“Just a minute.” I took two, and then came back outside. “What do you think?”

“What the hell’s the difference?” he said. That answered my question.

We left at 11:39. The New Year’s celebration was at Joanie’s apartment, ten minutes away, on South Street. Most people showed up around nine or ten, but we preferred our parties warm, not cold.

“Do you think she’ll be there?”

“I have no idea who you’re talking about.” Adam, of course, was lying. He knew exactly who I was talking about because she was all I ever talked about. “Oh wait. No, no. I think I have an idea. You’re talking about that girl. Who was she again? Oh right. Bobby’s girlfriend. Yeah. She’ll be there. With Bobby.”

I gave him my sad face.

“Dude, relax. I’m only teasing you. Bobby’s a trend. Once midnight hits, he’ll be last year’s fashion.” I hoped Adam was right because even if she wasn’t with me, I hated that she was with Bobby Walker, who, to put it mildly, was the biggest douchebag in the world. When I was in fourth grade, he told me that if I didn’t pick my boogers and eat them, that he’d tell the entire class that I picked my boogers and ate them. It was one of those catch-22 situations. Let’s just say, it tasted salty.

Adam and I continued towards South Street, cutting through Times Square. Most people wouldn’t believe it was a shortcut, but we knew the secret artistry of pushing and shoving. We saved three minutes, and arrived in front of Joanie’s doorsteps at 11:47. At the lobby, we waited for the elevator, but the elevator wasn’t waiting for us, so we took the stairs. We reached the eighth floor. 11:52.

“So… Remember what I told you earlier? “Adam said, standing in front of the door with his arms crossed like Kazaam. “If it’s going to happen, then it’ll happen, but if it doesn’t then don’t worry about it. Just go with the flow.”

“Right. Got it. Got it. Go with the flow.” I spit the words back like a parrot, not really meaning what I was saying.

“Are you sure?”

“Yep. Just let me in. I’m totally in the flow right now.”

“If she turns you down, then screw her. It’s not the end of the world. There are plenty of girls tonight: Stacey, Andie, Jackie, Winnie, Joanie, and uh… um Joanie, Andie, Stacey, and Joanie. Anyway, none of them have dates, and all of them want the same thing you want.”

Not exactly. I wanted to kiss Skylar Van Shuttlesworth at midnight. And New Year’s Eve was the one chance I had to do it without it coming across as hopelessly weird. Well, I really was already hopelessly weird, but the point was that New Year’s Eve was the only time that she might forget (even if for a sliver of a second) that this was true. It was my chance. My one chance. My only chance. And I had been waiting all year for it.

“Yeah totally. Screw her,” I said, and nodded again and again, until Adam either believed me or was tired of trying to convince me.

When we entered the apartment, my vision immediately tuned into radar mode, like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. Everyone who wasn’t Skylar Van Shuttlesworth was outlined in red, and everyone who was Skylar Van Shuttlesworth was outlined in green. I scanned the living room. Red. Red. Red. Red. Red. Red. Red. Red. Where was she? I wondered. What if she wasn’t here? But that was impossible. This was Joanie’s apartment, and Joanie was Skylar’s best friend. Not just her best friend, her soul mate. They shared smoothies together. Different straws, but still, that had to count for something. This was bad. Real bad. I swung my head back and forth around the room when–

Joanie tapped my shoulder. “You made it!” she said.

“Ahuh.” I glanced at her for about three-quarters of a second, and then continued scanning the room. Red. Red. Red. Red–

“I like your bow tie.” Joanie pulled at it, choking me in the process.

“Thanks. $19.95 from Express,” I said, since she really seemed to want one.

“Ohhhh. It looks nice on you. It matches your eyes.”

The tie was blue. My eyes were brown. She wasn’t making any sense at all.

She tugged her hair. “So I was wondering–”

“Do you know where Skylar is?”

“I. Oh. Well…” Joanie pointed at the kitchen.

I left for the kitchen. Red. Red. Red. Red. Green. And there she was: Skylar Van Shuttlesworth, queen of my dreams–both night and day. Starlit smile. Dimpled cheeks. Everything I wanted in a woman, and then some. She was surrounded by eleven guys. They were laughing. She wasn’t. Typical party.

My watch read 11:55. In five minutes, she’d be picking the luckiest guy in the world, and I had exactly four minutes to be that guy. But first I had to clear the selection pool. I walked up to James Robertson, a reasonably nice guy who I was best friends with in first grade, but hadn’t spoken to since fifth. I tapped him on the shoulder, and whispered, “Hey man, do you own a red Honda Accord? License plate: ND2XLR8?”

“Yeah,” he said. “What about it?”

“It’s getting towed.”

“WHAT?” He dashed out of the kitchen, and was gone. Ten left.

11:57. The same trick worked on suitors ten, nine, and eight. They were gone, and now seven remained. I approached number seven. I hadn’t met him before and I didn’t know what his license plate was, but I did know that he was like me: desperate. I could handle desperate.

“Hey bud,” I said.

The guy leered at me. I might have been the first person to talk to him all night.

“I love the hair.” I gave it a tug, displacing it just slightly.

At first, he thanked me and smiled. He didn’t look like he minded, but he did. I knew he did. He kept smiling his fake smile, until it became a frown. Then he began tapping his toes. Tap. Tap. Tap. He tapped and tapped and then he pulled at one strand of hair. And then he pulled at another. And then he tried to re-part the hair. And then it was ruined. He went to the bathroom to fix it. Six left.

11:58. Two left. Four of the other suitors wandered off to their real girlfriends. They actually had them. Go figure. It was now down to me, Chucky Stephens, and Bobby Walker to contend for Skylar Van Shuttleworth’s New Year’s kiss. This was the closest to glory I had ever been in my entire life. Sad, but also true. I couldn’t let the chance slip by.

“Hey,” I said, leaning near Chucky Stephens. 11:59. “I just wanted to let you know that…” I looked him square in the eyes. “… I’ve been noticing you notice me.” I put my hand on his. “And I like it.” Two seconds later he was gone.

This was it. Me versus Bobby Walker. This was always how it was supposed to be. Destiny, or fate, or whatever had led us here. One girl. Two guys. Showdown. Behind us, the New Year’s ball was falling on the television set. People began counting down. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven.

I began to walk.

Bobby saw me coming, and waited. He was ready for all my tricks. He knew that his car wasn’t really being towed. He knew that I hadn't really been noticing him notice me. He knew it all. So my only chance was to spring on him the one thing he didn’t see coming.

Six.

I looked at Bobby. My hand was holstered above my belt like I was Chuck Norris from Texas Ranger.

Five.

He looked back at me. His eyes darted with a brew of anger, rage, and ferocity. You’re not getting past me. Not in a million billion years, ya scum pickle. She’s mine. Mine. My precious.

Four.

Bobby’s stare was unbreakable.

Three.

Bobby’s stare was broken. It all happened in slow motion. Terror entered his face, as he realized that a pair of arms had wrapped around his waist. Adam’s arms. Adam lifted Bobby off the ground like a crane machine–top prize. Bobby kicked and flailed and fought, but was still dragged away.

Two.

Now Bobby was gone. It was just me and Skylar Van Shuttlesworth. I looked at her and those beautiful blue eyes. Staring into them, I took three steps towards her. We were face to face.

One.

I was right. This was going to be my year.

Additional Info

AUTHOR BIO: Harry Huang likes to believe that the source of his creativity comes from inside his own noggin. He, of course, is delusional. His ideas are born from the eclectically colorful, rich, and bizarre characters that supply endless comedy and tragedy to his life. They also come from the works of horror, magical realism, and young adult fiction, which Harry reads by the truckload.

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