Ever since learning the events of Phoenix’s humiliating night, Mary’s worry increased to 11. It seemed so unnatural for her sarcastic, pink haired hot head to not be upset about it. Phoenix had a terrible temper and was prone to brooding, but none of that happened. Weeks ago, she made plans for New Year’s Eve, but those plans went up in smoke the moment her so-called friends got out of control. What would she do now? Mary tried not to fret about her as she dressed for her own evening of mirth. Phoenix wasn’t a child anymore and could make her own choices, but the part of Mary that would always see The Pink Pixie as her little girl wanted nothing more than to see her happy on New Year’s Eve. It was such a magical time of renewal and thankfulness. Mary considered cancelling her own plans so Phoenix wouldn’t be alone, but at the last minute, she decided to go to Tim and Susie’s house.
Reed arrived at the appointed time so they could attend a party together. He must have seen the faraway look on her face and inquired about what plagued her as he helped put on her coat.
She peered up the stairs to see if the child was within earshot. “I’m still worried about Phoenix,” she whispered.
“Oh. You want to invite her? There will be plenty of people there. She could make new friends.”
What a novel idea! Phoenix would always be her baby, but she was grown now. Partying with her could be fun. The sound of chunky heels coming down the stairs startled her, and she threw on The Mary™ for good measure.
“Thanks for the offer, but I don’t want to party you old fogeys…no offense,” Phoenix said.
Mary gave her the address in case she changed her mind. Upon arrival at the venue, She spotted a photography station. “Oh, Reed! We must take pictures.”
His eyes twinkled in the shadow of the atrium. A tiny grin turned up the corners of his beautiful mouth. “We must, then.”
She had never been happier. Reed made her feel like a princess, and it had little to do with all the fancy places he took her and the gowns she wore to go to them. It was the way he treated her like precious, valuable jewels. She felt safe in his hands. He didn’t have to tell her he cared; he showed her. Many times before, she had given up hope she would ever feel this way. Now that she had real love, it was unlike anything she ever expected.
“Ok, on my mark,” the photographer said. “One, two, three.”
Mary and Reed attempted to enter the party, but the photographer detained them. “Whoa, whoa, whoa! We have to take one more! You two are hot! Like a…like a power couple!”
Reed held Mary closely at the waist and spoke low. “We don’t want any power. We just want to be us.”
She grinned and draped her arms around his neck. “Yes. Just us. Like this.”
“HOLD,” the photographer yelled. “Hold that pose and look at me! This is magic!”
Finally, they were able to get into the party after refusing to take a third picture. It was different from all the other parties they attended. The crowd was mixed. The Newcrest elite, upper crust from Brindleton Bay, and everyone in between were there. Reed went around introducing Mary to his acquaintances she hadn’t met yet and entered into conversation with his closer friends.
When Reed was all talked out, it was time to dance. Mary was nervous. The vibe was more like a club, and the only dancing she was good at was ballroom dancing. The loud, electronic music and heavy bass was a far cry from a waltz. It had been such a long time since she danced like that. High school, maybe. Reed was such a good dancer and excelled in every kind. She forgot how good he was. He looked like he had so much fun, and that was what she came to do: have fun with her man on the last night of the year. Swallowing the nerves, she stepped onto the dance floor and made the best of it.
She had never been so proud to call someone her man before. Being in love was such a thrill, and she wanted to share it with him immediately. She slid into his dancing space, interrupting his step, and gazed lovingly into his eyes. “I missed you on Winterfest.”
He grinned through squinted eyes. “I missed you too. You could have come, you know.”
“You don’t think it would have been weird?”
His head jerked back a little. “Why would it be?”
“Because we have history, Reed.”
He chuckled. “That’s way in the past. They’re over it.”
“Perhaps. I still missed you. I brought you a little something to show how much.”
Reed’s laughter had become one of her favorite sounds. She would do almost anything to hear it again and again.
“Mistletoe, huh? I see.” He took it from her and casually tossed it aside. Then, he stepped toward her with a look that almost made her knees buckle. “You don’t need those little leaves to show how much you miss me.”
Her heartbeat and breaths went from zero to sixty in three seconds. The room was suddenly too hot.
“Put your lips on me.”
Her face was like a magnet flying toward his. Perhaps someone should have began the midnight countdown because they already had the fireworks going.
“Mary Jones! I should leave you alone more often.”
“I promise I won’t.”
“Ooh! It’s almost midnight! We need to toast quickly!” She scurried off to the bar to grab a couple of whatever the special of the night was. “Here you are.” She handed a drink to him.
They sipped the beverages, but Reed never took his eyes off her. It felt like he was peering deep into her soul. His gazes used to make her nervous. Now she ate them up. Batting her eyes, she said, “See something you like?”
He snorted. “Always… I was just remembering when you used to wear your hair down. I liked it.”
That was unexpected. “My hair?”
She chuckled nervously. “I look like a child with my hair down.”
He grinned. “I don’t see a problem with that. You always looked so soft…” He caressed her cheek. “And, tender. It suits you.”
She took a big gulp of her drink and finished it. If he kept slathering her with that silver tongue, she wasn’t quite sure what she’d do. Unlike John, Reed wasn’t just a flatterer. He only said things he meant. He had been good to her just like he said he’d be, and her life was forever changed by it. Surely she could indulge him on this odd request. “Ok. If that’s what you want.”
He raised his glass. “A toast to us.” He lightly stroked her arm, sending tingles up and down her back. “May we always stay true to ourselves and cherish each other.”
Mary raised her glass, fighting back tears and swallowing lumps in her throat. “May we always express our love in word and deed even when times are hard.”
“Mmm, especially when time are hard. I’ll drink to that.”