Monday, December 30, 2013

Happy New Year’s Eve, or, you know, whatever

Other than Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve has to be the most nerve-inducing holiday on the calendar. Because if you don’t have something awesome planned with the coolest people on the planet, you’re the world’s biggest loser.

Is there anyone who’s had a better New Year’s Eve than Sally Albright? Right before the clock strikes midnight, the love of her life runs up and gives her the most romantic speech ever. And I know that it is, because I have spent many, many New Year’s Eves watching it. That’s usually because my husband Tom can rarely make it past ten o’clock, so I end up watching movies and the ball drop on the couch.

But I’m happy to give the protagonist in my work-in-progress THE SEESAW EFFECT, Erin Murphy, an even worse night…. Erin’s been having a tough few months. She lost her job as a Democratic advisor after the election, only to have her husband Jack become a TV star on a famous Republican network. Here are the highlights on her last day of the year:

Ordinarily, Jack and I have a low-key New Year’s Eve, just hanging out with the kids, watching TV until the ball drops. That isn’t because we don’t believe in parties, or that we love our kids so damn much. It’s because we rarely get invited anywhere. And I’ve always been too nervous to throw a party on my own. What if no one came? What a nightmare that would be.

“Guess what? We finally got invited somewhere New Year’s Eve,” I told Jack. “Wendy Kaplan’s having people over, and she wants us to come.”

“You can’t go,” Jessica said. “Nina’s having a party, and you have to take me and pick me up. Plus someone has to watch Michael. He can’t stay home by himself.”

“We could probably take Michael,” I mused. “He can hang out with Stephen. And you can spend the night at Nina’s house.”

“It’s not that kind of party,” Jessica started to explain, but Jack cut her off.

“Actually, I already have plans for New Year’s Eve.”

Three heads whirled around and glared at Jack.

“Hey, I’ve been here all week, haven’t I? And haven’t I given you the greatest Christmas ever? Fox is having a thing, and I know your mother would rather cut off her own head than go, so I thought I’d go stag. We never do anything New Year’s Eve anyway, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal.”

“I did not get married,” I hissed, “so I could spend major holidays alone.”

“You won’t be alone, Mommy,” Michael said. “You’ll be with me.”

For a second, I thought about attending Wendy’s little dinner party by myself. But honestly, it would just be too awkward. People would ask about Jack, and then they’d probably say mean things about him behind his back, and I’m the only one who can do that.

“Do you really want to get all dressed up and pretend to be someone you’re not for five hours?” Jack asked.

“Mom can wear that big coat you got her,” Michael said.

“She’s not wearing it,” Jessica said. “She returned it. Didn’t you, Mom?”

“Well, I haven’t exactly gotten around to it,” I admitted.

“But you’re going to, right?”

“Absolutely,” I assured her. “As soon as the mall isn’t so crowded.”

New Year’s Eve found me doing the grocery shopping, cleaning up more dog mess, driving Michael to and from practice, and dropping off Jessica at Nina’s house. When I got home, Jack was dressed in his fancy, expensive tux.

“Wow,” I said. “Looks like you’ve got a hell of a night planned.”

“It’s just work. You know they expect us to look good.”

Glancing out the window, I saw Scott’s car puttering down the road, dropping off Michael from soccer practice. I ran downstairs and met them in the driveway.

“Thanks for the ride,” I said as Michael climbed out of the back seat, all sweaty and grubby from soccer practice. “I hope it doesn’t make you late for your New Year’s plans.”

“We’re just going to Wendy’s. She said she invited you, but you already had other plans?”

“Jack has other plans,” I clarified. “The Fox party. I’m persona non grata.”

“I can’t believe he’s leaving you alone on New Year’s Eve for work. That’s crazy. You should come to Wendy’s by yourself. Everyone would love to see you.”

“I’m okay. Michael and I have the whole evening planned.”

“You all ready for the tournament?”

“I’m all ready not to go,” I said. Was it my imagination, or did Scott look disappointed? “Jack’s taking Michael. Jessica has a riding show.”

“That’s too bad. Laura can’t go either. Now I’ll have no one to hang out with.”

“You can always hang out with Jack.”

Scott made a face. “I think my politics are to the left of yours. So probably not a good idea.” He reached over and squeezed my hand briefly. “Happy New Year, Erin.”

Jack was walking down the stairs when I returned. Michael made a beeline for him, arms outstretched, but Jack held his hands up.

“Whoa, buddy. This suit cost thousands of dollars. I don’t need any sweaty paw prints on it.”

“But you’re leaving. I just wanted to give you a hug goodbye.”

“How about a handshake. Then we’ll call it even.”

Jack stuck out his hand. Michael grabbed it and shook. Jack grimaced.

“Resolution for the new year: teaching you how to shake hands. Weak and clammy isn’t going to cut it, son.”

Michael turned red. “Whatever.” He headed into the kitchen.

“Do you have to criticize everything he does?” I asked.

Jack shrugged. “Sorry. Guess I picked up the habit from you.”

A horn honked outside. Jack glanced out the window. “That’s my ride.”

I looked out. A stretch limousine idled out front.

“You’ve got to be kidding.”

“The network takes care of me.”

As he headed toward the front door, I saw that Tucker had left a liquid present on the landing. I guess it was a good sign that he was having his accidents closer to a door. The training must be starting to infiltrate his tiny puppy brain.

And did I say anything as Jack stepped right in it? Of course not. Happy New Year.

I tried to convince myself that having my third-grade son all to myself was all the New Year’s Eve a woman could ask for. Michael had showered and changed into his pajamas, and we ordered pizza and watched Batman movies. When he fell asleep on the couch at ten, I channel-surfed till I came across “When Harry Met Sally.”

Watching that movie only made me feel worse. There would be no declarations of undying love at midnight for me. I couldn’t remember the last time I had spent New Year’s Eve without a date, even if that date was just Jack trying to comfort a colicky Michael while Jessica threw Barbie dolls all over the living room floor. It must have been high school. I had always had good luck finding someone to spend the evening with, even before Jack came along.

I tried not to picture Jack kissing someone as the ball dropped. But everyone would be drunk and pretty and Jack was the hot new Fox star. The women would probably be lining up to kiss him. I hoped they were ugly.

I wondered if Kylie were there. Of course she was. She worked for Fox, too. I could only hope she had brought a date.

What if Jack were her date?

It suddenly hit me that it was extremely suspicious that Fox would have two holiday parties in a row where spouses were not invited. Not just any spouse – me.

It didn’t look like the new year was lining up to be a very good one. My husband and I were going in two different directions, and if that continued, next year could find me even more alone on New Year’s Eve. Jack was turning into a completely different person, but I had to admit our issues weren’t completely his fault. I had become a wife he couldn’t take to his office party because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. What was more important, having a good marriage or speaking up every time someone said something offensive?

When the movie ended, I changed the channel to watch the coverage at Times Square. I thought about waking up Michael to watch the ball drop with me, but he was snoring so loudly, that seemed mean. But as the ball hit the platform and the numbers of the new year lit up, my phone vibrated with a text message: Kiss! Kiss! Big Kiss!!

The message made me feel a little better. But not much. I knew what a good multi-tasker Jack was with that phone. He could be sending me virtual kisses while giving his assistant the real ones.

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