This story is by Ceilidh Newbury and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Nine minutes to midnight.
Standing on the bridge, being whipped by the wind, Stacy is calm for the first time in so long. Every moment before this is a dream: hard to recall and constantly slipping from her grasp.
Her hands are numb from gripping the railing so tight. She shivers, colder than she has ever been; yet there is something comforting about this detachment. She pulls her scarf over her face, the warmth of her breath cascading up her cheeks.
It is quiet except for the wind rushing around her ears. Far away, she imagines the sounds of the city. Her breath fogs up her glasses, so she closes her eyes and listens intently.
This place is a stark contrast to the rush of the city: everyone busy, noisy, important, having places to be. It’s exhausting. Crowds of people desperately swarming to celebrate the end of one year, as though it will have any effect on the next. Stacy didn’t normally celebrate New Year; it didn’t mean anything to her.
Five hours to midnight.
Rachel drags her out of the house. “It’ll be fun,” she says. “We’ll bring in the new year together. And I’ve got a surprise for you.”
Stacy says yes. She can’t say no, not to Rachel.
Stacy has always loved Rachel. She loved Rachel when she was five years old and throwing paper in class, when she was twelve and refused to wear skirts, when she was seventeen and pierced her belly button, when she was nineteen and drank so much she threw up on Stacy’s floor, when she was twenty-two and couldn’t afford rent.
Not wanting to lose her best friend, Stacy is forever biting her tongue. But something about New Year’s Eve gives people hope, and she decides for the third time this year, tonight is her night. She will tell Rachel how she feels before midnight or move on.
She throws on her jeans and lucky t-shirt, drapes her long scarf around her neck and follows Rachel out into the bitter night. They wander the streets between celebrations. Premature fireworks are popping on the street, over cars, over their heads. Squeals, excitement, danger.
Rachel takes the lead as they wind their way through the suburbs, glowing, leading Stacy through the darkness. She is biting her lip, holding it in, waiting for the perfect moment. They hold hands and it feels as if nothing could ever come between them.
Until they arrive at a tall apartment building, menacing and dark, pocked with a few lit widows. It stands taller than the rest of the houses on the block, casting a shadow over the neighbourhood.
Three hours to midnight and Rachel announces they have arrived at their destination: her boyfriend’s apartment building.
Time stops. Everything is out of focus. Everything is wrong. Stacy stares up at the building feeling small, getting vertigo.
“You didn’t tell me you had a new boyfriend.”
“I didn’t want to jinx it, but I’m really serious about this one.” She is so excited. “And he has this amazing apartment. I bet from up there we will have a great view of the fireworks.”
Stacy tries to smile and hopes that in the darkness Rachel buys it.
“I really think you two will get on.” Her smile is so innocent; it reaches all the way to her eyes, and melts you from the inside out.
Stacy can’t argue with that smile.
Still holding her hand, Rachel buzzes apartment 504. The door clicks and she pushes it open with her shoulder, leading Stacy past the elevator with the “out of order” sign and into the stairwell. They are up five flights too quickly. Stacy clinging to Rachel, wishing it could stay like this, wishing they weren’t about to let go. Losing her nerve, her resolve is slipping, but maybe she can still tell her, maybe it isn’t too late.
At the door a man is waiting, a silver party hat sitting lopsidedly on his head, a huge smile revealing perfect teeth.
“Stacy, this is Kevin,” she says replacing Stacy’s hand with his shoulder.
Stacy shakes his hand. His grip is tight, she forces a smile.
“Rachel has told me so much about you,” he says in a gentle voice.
Rachel kisses him on the cheek. Stacy looks down at her feet, and hardly looks up again all night. She is in a fog of finger food, champagne and that voice.
Two hours to midnight and Stacy is sitting at the table, watching as Rachel weaves her way around Kevin in the kitchen; teasing him, squeezing him.
Stacy feels nauseous. She looks out the window to the city and the lights saturating the sky. The celebratory sounds of the neighbourhood drift in on this perfect domesticity, reminding her that there isn’t much time.
Rachel sits down across from her and sighs in mock exasperation.
“I’ve been banished from the kitchen,” she says looking across at Kevin with a wry smile. “You need another drink?”
“No, I’m still working on this one.” Stacy watches Rachel watching Kevin and sees the future she wants slipping away.
Rachel turns and notices Stacy’s watery eyes. “Are you ok?”
“Yeah,” Stacy says, looking out the window again. “Sorry, I’m just feeling a little sick.” Not necessarily a lie.
“Oh, you poor thing. Shall I get you some paracetamol?” Rachel is already out of her seat and half way to the bathroom. “He should have some in here.”
Stacy half-heartedly protests, but decides that it’s better to just let her go.
One hour to midnight and Rachel is laughing. She is laughing a laugh Stacy has never heard before. Kevin is laughing with her and places a hand on her shoulder. Apparently he is funny, and if she had been in a better mood perhaps she could have seen it.
The painkillers did nothing, although she didn’t expect they would. Her head is pounding, her heart is beating too fast, and there is a knot in her stomach. The air has been sucked out of the small apartment and she is suffocating. Running out of time, she stands up and heads for the door, making apologies.
Rachel follows her, asking if there is some way she can help. Stacy declines and submits to a long hug. It takes every bit of strength in Stacy to let go, but she does. She steps away, wrapping her scarf around her face.
Rachel calls out her love, her well wishes, goodbyes. Stacy is yelling: she’ll see her later. Whispers that she loves her as she pushes her way out into the lobby, into the street, onto the road.
She runs. Runs until she is out of breath. She doesn’t know where she is going, but she has to get there faster. She pauses at a bus stop with big yellow signs about the changes in the timetable.
There is a bike rack next to the stop and Stacy works her way along it pulling until she finds a free bike. She jumps on; the seat is too high and digs into her crotch. It has no lights and the chain rattles as she starts to pedal.
The cold takes away her breath, her ears sting. She takes sharp, jagged lungsful of night air, pushing as hard and fast as she can against the rickety bike.
Her scarf flies wildly behind her in the wind and gripping so tight to the handlebars she can’t pull it back over her face. Following the road, heading out into the darkness, ignoring her protesting legs, soon she cannot see anything.
Carefully sliding out her phone she turns on the torch. Three new messages from Rachel. She ignores them. She can’t stop now or she’ll never start again.
Eventually, her legs give out, her foot catches on the ground and she falls, head first off the bike, skidding along the road.
Thirteen minutes to midnight and she is on a bridge.
There is a single streetlight, a small pool of amber light. Stacy gets up, leaving the bike and phone where they have fallen. She walks into the light, running her hand along the rail, feeling the frost, the condensation.
Stacy looks over the edge and sees a river flowing rapidly beneath her. Hears it rushing in harmony with the wind. Standing up on the rails she watches a cloud of steam lingering by her mouth. She swings a leg over the cold metal, a manoeuvre that takes several attempts. She stands, facing the city, looking out, holding the rails with frozen fingers, suspended in mid air.
Ten seconds to midnight. Stacy takes off her glasses and lays them on the road. She wants to see the fireworks.
A deep breath. She is ready for something new.
The first explosions roll over the hills. Happy New Year. They bloom like flowers in fast forward. Stacy releases her grip on the rails and lets herself fall.