It was sixteen minutes to midnight.
The young woman knocked the car into drive, spinning fast out of the parking lot. If she hurried, she could get there in time. The liqour stores had long since closed and in such a podunk town she was lucky to have a destination at all at this time of night. New Year’s Eve would never be an exception; anyone who was Somebody would be far from here tonight. In the city, with the lights. With everything. Fifteen minutes.
An old Honda pulled out in front of her just as she was getting ready to hit 33. Didn’t they know she was in a hurry? Who was out driving at such an hour, anyway? Didn’t these people have places to be? So she’d taken too long making up her mind, too long brushing her hair six times in the mirror. It had to look just right. Even if nobody else was going to see it. No one important, anyway.
Her old clunker never did like to shift gears on time. It had been a steal, five hundred dollars at the junkyard. She’d patched it up herself, found the old parts she’d needed and created a franken-vehicle of a thing; it sure wasn’t pretty, but it had four matching hubcaps and could crack a hundred and eighteen if she got a running start. That did the trick. Besides, all she needed it for was getting around town.
“Town” was a relative term, on that note – they had exactly one stoplight on each end of the old county road. One end had a gas station, the other a grocery. Nothing but miles of corn husks and dust in between. She hated the dust, it consumed and covered every damn thing it touched. The franken-car was no exception; there must have been an inch of it in the floorboard, a few handfuls permanently lodged in the air vents, and a thick film of it obscurring the faded green light that told her she had about ten minutes left to go.
The county road was long, but relatively empty of houses. A speed limit sign near about hidden behind a hand painted billboard for the local farmer’s market told her that she was supposed to be going fifty five. The speedometer was ticking up past seventy eight, and counting.
It wasn’t that she didn’t want to go, she just wasn’t sure. The young woman was never sure about anything, not anymore. She was sure that the sun would set and that the neighbor’s God Damned chicken would wake her up at the crack of dawn every day. She was sure that she looked good in a pair of knee high boots and her hair pulled back in braids. She was even sure that if the engine in her clunker wouldn’t turn over you could knock the starter a few times with a hammer and it’d fire right up. She just wasn’t sure about tonight, about where she was going. She wasn’t sure about the concept of a new year. After all, what were years, anymore? Just marks of time; you start getting older and things start to fade. Days become weeks, months tick by faster and suddenly you’re fourty two with three kids and a morgage and don’t know who you are anymore.
She didn’t want to be like that.
A sharp right, past the old wooden fence, just like she remembered. Past the old barn, past the rusty tractor. The farm was abandoned now, no one there but ghosts. She liked ghosts. Ghosts liked her. Two minutes.
It took her less than thirty seconds to park the car, set the brake, step outside into the chill winter air. She hadn’t brought a coat, she wouldn’t need one. It was almost midnight, anyway. He was already waiting for her, standing on the small dock that stretched like an arm into the even smaller pond. As she got closer, the moonlight reflected onto the edges of the water, giving away it’s secret. The ice was thin, it never got too cold here. They were too far south. She checked her watch – fourty five seconds.
“I didn’t think you’d show.”
“You thought wrong.”
The young woman set to taking off her shoes, a small smile tugging at her lips. The boy looked on in amusement, his bare feet already gripping the edge of the dock. It was a ritual, a tradition. Years apart or years together, it didn’t matter. She wasn’t going to break tradition. That was like the cardinal sin, wasn’t it? Right after leaving your car unlocked in a seedy motel parking lot? Something like that. Things worked differently in her world. Then again, the world looked different to her. It looked different to him too, once upon a time. This wasn’t once upon a time. Either way, she wasn’t going to break tradition.
“So are you going to?”
His question was innocent enough. The last time they spoke hadn’t been on good terms. Maybe new years were good for something after all. Maybe she did have something to be sure of.
“I guess,” she whispered. The girl let her eyes catch his, the stars reflected in them dancing softly, captivating her. There wasn’t time for that. Fifteen seconds. Ten.
They looked away at the same time, both reaching for the other’s hand in a silent agreement. Words were useless.
Two seconds. One.
Her watch beeped just as two sets of feet lifted from the worn wooden planks, going silent only as it was engulfed in water.
12:01. The night was cold, but the day was just beginning.