A New Year’s Eve Story
AT THE GATE OF THE YEAR
Author’s note: Originally written for the New Year’s Resolutions 2018 challenge set forth by CABB and Tunnel Tales
Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, it will be happier
A yellow legal pad before her, Catherine sat at her dining room table facing the french doors she’d left just unlatched. The sheers were pushed to either side and in the dark glass she could see the reflection of her anticipation – the fireplace aglow and flickering, a bottle of fine champagne in a crystal ice bucket, the low light from the few lamps she’d turned on filtering rose and gold through the silk scarves she’d draped over the shades. She’d first thought candles, dozens and dozens of candles, but the wind had picked up, and now and then a sharp spray of powdery snow blitzed the window panes. When the doors opened – at last! – she would not risk the candles snuffing out, casting them into darkness like some … omen. Oh, no. The coming year was to be light-filled.
She chuckled (almost to herself) and gazed around the apartment. The telephone was unplugged, her incoming calls routed to the answering service she’d signed up with the week before. Anyone, anyone at all, who might even dream of calling her or, worse, dropping by, believed she was out of town. She’d made more than one trip out to her favorite bakery and deli; her refrigerator was laden with cheese from Murray’s on Bleeker Street, fruit from Long’s in Chinatown. And though she never, ever ran out of coffee, still, she’d purchased a very special pound of Kona and then gone back to the store, having waved her hailed cab on, for a second bag of Jamaica Blue Mountain. No need to leave the place for anything or anyone.
What you do on New Year’s Day, you do all year long, her father’s housekeeper used to say. She chuckled again, even less to herself, and settled back in her chair. Pulled the blank pad closer, took up her pen. The clock tick-tocked toward midnight.
She heard only the softest thump, if anything at all, perhaps only a gathering of snow sliding to the balcony floor, but her heart had known. The door eased open and he stepped across the threshold. Vincent.
Within his embrace in seconds, her arms were around him beneath his cloak. Snowflakes dusted his shoulders and sparkled in his hair. “Tighter,” she entreated, and he complied.
She took his cloak and snagged it on the coat stand she’d already positioned nearer the fireplace. The sling bag he carried, its long leather strap over one shoulder and across his chest, he lifted over his head and stood with it until she took that from him too, depositing it on the floor just inside the bedroom, not at all awkwardly, she hoped, finding he traveled quite … light … but then, they weren’t going anywhere.
She turned back to him with a smile she felt broaden when she found him watching her with a smile on his face. “Come here,” he petitioned.
One arm still around her waist, he shifted the pad on the table to his better view.
“New Year’s resolutions?”
“I hadn’t gotten very far.”
“Not much past the title of your list.”
“Well, I had other things on my mind. But here …” She scribbled out a line. “That should do it, really. The rest will fall into place.”
“Work less,” he read aloud. He cinched her closer. By his deeper breathing, she knew she didn’t need to explain the implications of her freer time. “Succinct,” he added, after a long moment.
She took his hand and led him to the living room, stopping for him to unlace and shed his quilted vest, settling with him on the sofa, never so grateful for the furniture’s small footprint, the better to snuggle close with no option of distance. (He wouldn’t dare try to sit opposite her.) “Do you make resolutions, Vincent?”
“Hmmm, yes, in a way. Father’s approach was somewhat different. He taught us early on to choose a single word, a watchword for the coming year, a beacon word, and write it down.”
“Can you remember your first one?”
“Oh, yes. It was cake.”
Catherine laughed. “How old were you?”
“Five, I think. Well, almost six.”
“What did Father say? If you told him, I mean.”
“He wanted to know, of course, so I showed him. He unfolded the square of paper, pursed his lips and took a breath …”
Catherine laughed again.
“He said, ‘Cake is … not what I expected. Perhaps you might go back to your chamber and think on it some more.’ So I did and returned an hour or so later with another square of paper. I told him he was right, I did have a better word in mind.”
“What was it? Tell me!”
“It was pie. Father nearly choked on his tea.”
“I can imagine.” She loved the rumble of his deep-throated chuckle, the way the firelight glinted off the golden hair on the back of his hands. “What about Devin’s words? Do you remember any of his?”
“Devin … Let’s see. One year it was motorcycle – he’d heard a rumor of a stash of them deep beneath the old city hall stables. We went searching …” His voice trailed off, and he seemed lost in a thought that brought a slow smile to his face.
“Did you find anything?” she asked after watching him for a sweet while.
“No …” he answered and took her hand. “And yes. The next time we’re below, I’ll show you.”
She’d bear the mystery of waiting, gladly, knowing he thought – said – words like we and next time.
“Another year,” Vincent went on, “he chose high dive, but Father said our resolution must be one word, so Devin grabbed up Father’s best fountain pen and scratched out high. Theatrically, I might add. Ink splattered everywhere.”
“Father’s sigh … I can just hear it.”
“It was … deep. He nearly hyperventilated the next year though, actually the next two years, because Devin had to remake the resolution, since it didn’t manifest the first year. Kissagirl.”
“But that’s three words.”
“Not the way Devin wrote it.” With his forefinger, he traced the run-together letters on her palm.
His feathered touch took her breath. “I see,” she managed. “And you, after cake and after pie … What were some of your words?”
His voice softened so, she had to lean in, look up, watch him speak …
“For years and years, I chose Believe. At some point, it changed to Hope. Then to … Dream. The year I found you, Catherine, I’d decided Courage, but at the last moment before midnight, I chose Wait.”
“As if something inside you knew.”
“And today? Tonight’s word? Do you have it?”
“I do.” He brushed back the hair at her ear; his thumb traced her cheek, her jaw, her parted lips. “But it’s a word we must share, Catherine. It must be your word as well.” A silence fell … and then, “Love,” he whispered.
“Love,” she echoed, the new year’s word, their new life’s word. “Yes … love.”
Minnie Louise Haskins. The Gate of the Year. 1908 (title)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson. The Foresters. Act 1, Scene iii – The Outlawry. (quotation)
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