Five months earlier
“New Year, new you, eh, Joshman?” Drew Merritt flips his overgrown sandy hair out of his face, raises a glass of pink champagne to nose level, and hiccups, which makes his dark green eyes bug out, even in this low light. I have no idea why he’s drinking that shit, except they passed it around so he took one.
He’s double-fisted, with a twenty-ounce beer in the other hand. The dainty stemware of the bubbly
clashes with the extremely ugly beard he’s grown for the holidays and the red plaid lumberjack shirt he’s sporting. He looks like a Portland hipster crossed with a psychopath. Cary Grant he’s not.
“Shut it, Demerit,” I respond, using the nickname he’s had since we used to get sent to the Principal’s office years ago for playing our Gameboys in class.
He’s dragged me out of my apartment to the new McMenamin’s so we can watch the ball drop in Times Square. We’re west coast, and it’s on a time delay. I check my phone. It’s twelve minutes to midnight.
This building used to be a Masonic temple—two stories, with a central foyer. It’s got great bones, and as an architect, I appreciate the classical proportions. Now it’s a dance club that serves microbrews and sushi. It smells sweet but also kind of sour, like sugary cocktails. New Year’s Rockin’ Eve plays on about ten televisions, but the sound is drowned by the deejay keeping the house music constant and loud.
Below us, Portland’s most nubile women pack a central dancefloor wearing spangly dresses. He and I are sprawled in a VIP booth overhead, watching.
I’ve nursed this tumbler of bourbon for most of the last hour while I listened to him yell over the thumping music, mostly telling me a long play-by- play story about a Christmas party he went to last weekend that ended up with him, a stripper, the lead singer of a well-known rock band, and a tub full of eggnog.
I’m not sorry I missed it. I’d spent that evening tangled in my sheets . . . with no one. When he’d come by earlier that evening to get me, I’d refused, saying that my whiskey needed me.
But tonight, he decided that since my existence had narrowed to my bed and my desk at work, I needed to expand my range of motion. So now, instead of moping in my apartment, I’m moping in public. It’s an improvement. Maybe.
I squint at the dance floor, seeing double. I think I need to get glasses. The women are gyrating and hard to make out. Frankly, they seem kind of young. I realize they’re likely in college, but now that I’ve had a few years out of school to build up my business, they seem like babies.
I’m just not interested. My enthusiasm level for anything on a scale of one to ten is, meh.
“You could use one of them for the night,” he says, gesturing at the girls and spilling both his beer and his champagne on the table. “To stop being Mr. Drearypants.” He sets down the beer.
With a jerk, I raise my head and stare at him. “No. I’m perfectly happy as I am.”
He snorts. “Uh, not. This,” he gestures at me, sloshing his champagne my way this time, “is not happy.
This is depressing.”
“I’m not depressed.” I sip my bourbon, finishing it. It burns down my throat, the good kind of burn.
“Denial is more than a river in Egypt, loser. With the amount of alcohol you consumed after she left?
Last month I was concerned about your liver.”
“Tonight I’m concerned about your liver.” Warmed by the drink, my third, I set it down, unbutton my dress shirt sleeves, and roll them up.
He tips the rest of the champagne into his mouth, swallows, and burps. “It’s fine. If it goes, I’ll just have a new liver installed. It’s under warranty. But you, big guy. You are . . . pathetic.”
While I’m pleased we’re no longer talking about eggnog blow jobs, I’m not happy that we’re talking about me.
Six weeks ago I’d bought a ring for my long-time girlfriend, Tiffany. Yes, I bought it from Tiffany’s. I was planning on proposing on Thanksgiving.
Five and a half weeks ago, the day before Thanksgiving, she told me that “we should just be friends.”
And four weeks ago, I learned that she’d cheated on me.
By reading it online.
I hate those goddamn gossip bloggers. They’re like parasites. My family had managed to get a bunch of the stories removed, and thankfully a celebrity had another kid, which bumped the off the news cycle so no one found it, but it was still mortifying.
And painful. I’d spent my entire life thinking I was going to marry her. I’d mapped it out the way I designed a building. I’d have my firm, she’d do charity work. We’d have a great house, travel, maybe have kids.
And now? Nothing.
I come out of my zone-out to see Drew staring at me, drooling slightly. Then he snaps to and shakes his head. “I dunno where you just went, but you need to not go there. It makes me ill seeing your face,” he slurs.
“Aww, thanks pal.”
But he looks serious. For once. “You need to forget her, you know.”
I pick up my phone, again. Eight minutes to midnight. “I can’t fucking forget her. She’s like the paper on the walls. Part of the scenery. She’s always around.”
He grimaces. “I dunno. I think you need a plan of action.”
I laugh out loud and gesture to the waitress for another drink. “What the fuck do you know about plans of action? Your only plans consist of getting wasted and laid most nights.”
“True, my boy, this is true. You already get wasted. D’ya just need to get laid? Would that do it?”
I shake my head. “I can have any woman I want. Random hookups don't do it for me. I don’t want a woman.”
“But it could be medicinal.”
“No. It couldn’t.”
“Out with the old, in with the new, I say.”
“At least get a blow job?”
I stare at him.
“I’m not offering,” he says, hands up. The waitress hands me my bourbon and looks at us with a strange expression. “We’re not together,” he tells her confidently, which makes me roll my eyes.
With a sip, I analyze him. “You fucker.”
“That’s the problem. You’re not a fucker.”
The waitress smiles at us like we’re crazy and scoots.
“Josh. It’s a new year. I think you need to turn this around.”
“No, goddamn it, right now, this is the best I can do. I’ve got a ton of work at the office—”
“Fuck your office.”
“Easy for you to say.”
Giggles erupt behind me. I turn around to a toned pair of tan thighs in a silver minidress. It sparkles. I look up to the blonde wearing it. She’s got ringlets and a ton of eye makeup. Her glossy lipstick was applied with a trowel. I think she’s been put up to this by her friends, who I can see crowded in off to the side behind her. She giggles again and waves awkwardly. Like Bambi. “Hi.”
“Hi,” I say, and turn back, catching Drew’s eye.
“YES!” his eyes urge.
“NO!” mine yell back.
“Want to dance?” She bites her finger. On someone else it might be attractive, but I’ve permanently sworn off women.
“I’d love to,” I say, and she perks up, “but I’m not feeling it right now. Maybe later.” I don’t want to be an ass, but there’s no way in hell I’m dancing tonight. I feel terrible, once I see the disappointment in her eyes, but she’ll get over it.
“Okay, thanks,” she mutters, and slumps off to her friends.
Drew shakes his head. “I don’t know what to do with you. You had a chance there. Tons of chances tonight.”
“I’m not feeling well.”
“You’re feeling fine. I’m not letting you off that easy.”
“Not letting me off what?”
Five minutes to midnight. “I’m not letting you off the hook.”
“Off the hook for what?”
“Off the hook for being a stupid, moping, son of a bitch.”
“Fuck off, asshole. I’m allowed to be whatever I want.”
“No you aren’t. Not around me. I’m going to keep this up, I’m gonna find you a woman, I’m gonna keep this up until you’re so sick of me—”
“Too late. I’ve been sick of you for years. And now this beard.”
He lets out a burst of breath, and a surge of excitement coursing through him. It’s like I can feel it, but maybe it’s just the multiple shots of whiskey. “I know!” he exclaims.
“You know what.”
“I know how to make you feel better.”
“No. No, no, no,” I protest. “I know what you’re thinking and absolutely not.”
“Relax. No blow jobs from me.”
“Thank God,” I mutter.
He plunks his beer glass down and looks at me intently. “Okay. Here’s the plan. I’ll let you off the hook.
That means I’ll let you go do whatever the hell you want. Mope as much as you want. Do whatever the hell you want. As long as some woman sees your dick. By the end of this week.”
Maybe I’m drunk, too, because Drew is starting to make sense. “I can get that done tonight.”
“Then do it.”
I stare at him and I look down at the dancing women. “Actually, I can’t. I don’t want to.”
“Nope. That’s the bet.”
“What do I get if I do it?”
“I’ll leave you alone.”
“Not good enough.”
He pauses. “I’ll shave this glorious evidence of manhood.”
My gaze passes over the faint bristles on his chin and uneven patches on his jawbone. “Deal.”
“I want you to say it.”
“C’mon, Josh. It’s two minutes to midnight. This is the start of your new life. Swear on your phone that some woman will see your dick by the end of the week.”
I pull out my phone. Ninety seconds until midnight. I place my hand on it and raise my other like I’m a witness in a courtroom. “I, Joshua Aden Cartwright, do solemnly swear, that if I get a woman to see my dick by the end of the week, Andrew Merritt will shave off that ugly ass beard.”
He shakes my hand. “Deal.”
I look at him. “What exactly did we just agree?”
“I have no idea.” He clinks his glass to mine and we stand. The entire room is chanting ten, nine, eight.
He throws his arm around my shoulder and says, “Happy New Year, asshole.” And the room explodes into a snow globe of confetti and balloons.
I have no one to kiss.
I’m drunker than I wanted to be.
And my best friend is a jerk. Sort of.
But maybe he’s right. Maybe I do need to move on and stop moping. And I do want him to let me off the hook.
I vow to myself, on this last day of the year, that one way or another, a woman will see my dick by the end of the week.
Right after I get over the hangover I’m sure to have tomorrow.
New Year, new me.
© 2017 Lex Martin and Leslie McAdam