"My ride is here," Kannika called out to the house when a car honked outside.
She rushed to the front door when my dad said, "Are you sure you don't want to go with Chet and his friends. It will be safer that way."
"Don't worry, dad," Kannika said. "I'm going with my friends. Nothing is going to happen to us."
"But," my dad started, but Kannika didn't let him finish.
"Bye," she said and the front door closed behind her.
My dad came and stood in the doorframe of the bathroom where I sat on the edge of the tub watching Vincent finish his hair even though his hair was already perfect and he just kept messing with the same perfect spot over and over as if it could get anymore perfect.
"You're going to the downtown party tonight right?" my dad asked.
"Yes, dad, for the 100th time we will be downtown."
"Okay, watch out for Kanni and her friends."
I almost told him we probably wouldn't be seeing Kannika because downtown was going to be packed full of people for the town's New Year's Eve party. Instead I said, "If you're that worried about her, why don't you go and watch out for her."
"And miss the opportunity to have the house to ourselves for hours without any children? I don't think so."
"And don't come home too early," my mom said. She came up behind my dad and wrapped her arms around his waist. Her chin was on his shoulder. "And don't call us unless there is an emergency."
There was a knock on the front door. I grabbed Vincent's hand and walked passed my parents. Gareth was at the front door. Alex and Mateo waited in Alex's car. It was going to be busy downtown so we had decided to take one car and not two which meant three of us were going to have to squish in the backseat. I sat in the middle between Gareth and Vincent.
"We're finally going to meet Arthur," Gareth said as if he had been part of Vincent's, Alex's and Trevon's friend group forever. Between traveling between their two families after Christmas, Trevon and Arthur had been busy and there hadn't been any time to meet them before now.
"Did Trevon send you a text where to meet them?" Vincent asked Alex.
"Yes, at the dance area. He said Arthur wants to go dancing before anything else."
Most of the downtown area had been blocked off for the party so we had to park far away. We got out of the car and made our way through the streets and the crowds. Police officers in uniform were on almost every street to make sure there wasn't any trouble. There were lots of people of all ages - families with young children since there was a children's area setup with a bounce house and a few small rides, old couples, couples in general, friends, college students, teenagers. My sister was here with Mateo's sister and their other friends somewhere. Food stands were set up as well as stands with an assortment of goods like jewelry, clothes, toys. Restaurants and stores were open late. There was a delicious aroma coming from the food stands. I was hungry, but I could wait until everyone else was hungry too.
Vincent and I walked close together hand in hand. Mateo and Alex did the same. Gareth trailed behind us to stop and look at the stands, but rushed to catch up with us as we moved on. Alex led the way confidently to the area where a portable dance floor had been set up.
"There they are," a familiar voice cried out brightly and then Arthur was rushing to us through the crowds pulling Trevon along behind him. Vincent let go of my hand and a moment later he, Trevon and Alex were in a threeway hug. Arthur didn't seem bothered by this in the least as he immediately hugged Mateo who had a hand stretched out to shake hands. Arthur squeezed Mateo tightly before he released him as suddenly as he hugged him and then he was hugging me. And it didn't even take me a moment to figure out that he was too strong and almost crushing my bones.
When he released me, he faced Gareth and stretched his arms out wide. "My new best friend," he called out and then he had Gareth in the same embrace.
"Best friend," Gareth greeted back and was hugging Arthur just as tightly.
"Should I be worried about that?" Trevon asked Alex and Vincent.
"No?" Alex said but it was more of a question.
"He says he's straight," Vincent said.
"You want a threesome?" Arthur asked Gareth as he pulled away from the hug. I think my eyes about popped out of my head, but Gareth just smiled.
"If only I swung that way," he said. "I've tried so hard to like men since my two best friends do - sorry three best friends - but no matter how hard I try I just can't make myself."
Arthur smiled wide at this, sauntered back to Trevon and said, "See, nothing to worry about." He grabbed Trevon's hand and started to lead him to the dance floor.
"You weren't serious about the threesome thing, right?" Trevon asked Arthur, but Arthur just smiled mischievously.
"Let's go," Gareth said. He clapped me on the back as he followed Trevon and Arthur. I grabbed Vincent's hand, but paused when I saw that Mateo was unmoving. He had never hesitated at the school dances.
"Let's go," Alex said to him. Alex held his hand out to Mateo, but Mateo didn't move.
"I'll stay here," he said.
"Why?" Alex said. He closed the distance between them and took Mateo's hand. He tried to pull Mateo along, but Mateo wouldn't move.
"I'm not a good dancer," Mateo said.
"Who cares," Alex said. "I'm not either. We'll just go have fun together."
"No," Mateo said, "I'll just wait here. Go have fun." He tried to drop Alex's hand, but Alex wouldn't let go. Alex frowned. I hadn't seen that look on him before.
"Gareth," I called out to our retreating friend. He turned back around to look at me. I nodded Mateo's way. Gareth smiled quickly catching on to what I wanted. I let go of Vincent's hand and Gareth and I went on either side of Mateo. Alex let go of his hand and stepped back when he saw us. We each grabbed an arm and dragged him to the dance floor.
"I really don't want to," Mateo said to us.
"Don't be absurd," Gareth said. "You love dancing."
"I can't let Alex see me look foolish," he whispered.
"He'll love it," I said. "You'll look sillier if you just stand still while the rest of us are dancing."
Arthur and Trevon were already dancing on the dance floor. Arthur was a great dancer. His movements were a little too refined compared to everyone else's and Trevon was unusually clumsy, but they were cute together and having fun.
Alex immediately started to dance in front of Mateo. Vincent and I both started dancing. Gareth mixed himself in between all of us. Mateo looked around at all the dancers and must have realized he did look more foolish by not dancing. He started to dance, but it was more subdued than his usual dance.
After we had all danced a while, we went and found something to eat. The seven of us crowded around a food stand serving tacos. We found a lawn to sit on. It was cold, but dry. It hadn't snowed for several days and that had all melted away. When we finished the tacos we found another stand serving donuts and hot chocolate.
It was nice to see a new side of Vincent. I had seen him with Alex obviously, but the way the three of them interacted with each other - Alex, Trevon and Vincent - was like they were now complete and comfortable. The three of them truly treated each other like close brothers. And Arthur and Gareth acted like they had been best friends all their lives. Arthur was cute and bright. I liked him. Trevon was more subdued, but still friendly. Arthur complained that Trevon only liked to watch science shows so Trevon complained that Arthur only liked to watch overly dramatic reality shows.
We walked around, talking, browsing the stands, holding hands with our boyfriends. Except Gareth of course, but he didn't seem to mind as he and Arthur kept teasing each other.
I saw Melissa in the crowds with both Jimmy and Devon. "I'll be right back," I said to Vincent. He saw Melissa too and nodded to me. Then went back to paying attention as Alex and Trevon were trying to win prizes at one of those water gun games and Alex was kicking Trevon's butt.
I made my way through the crowds. Melissa, Jimmy and Devon smiled when they saw me, but then Jimmy and Devon immediately turned their attention to the pop the balloon game they were trying. I stepped away from Jimmy and Devon. Melissa followed me so there was distance between us and them.
"I'm surprised to see all three of you here," I said.
She shrugged. "They both asked me out and it was too hard for me to choose between them. And they're both friends. It's been alright so far."
"Things aren't serious between you and one of them yet?" I asked.
"I'm not sure I want to get serious with either of them," she said. "They are seniors and both are leaving the state at the end of the school year. I can't follow them as I need to finish school too. I think it's best to just keep things light for now."
I saw a familiar face in the crowd. One that made my stomach drop and my heart went cold. Kiet's eyes met mine. He didn't move to greet me, he didn't smile, he didn't nod his head in greeting. We just stared at each other. And then Liz grabbed Kiet's arm drawing his eyes finally away from me. Liz looked at me. I didn't know her well. She had dated my brother since high school. They had both been in and out of prison. I hadn't spoken to her or seen her in years. The one thing they had going for themselves was that they were loyal to each other. Maybe that wasn't a good thing though. Maybe the two of them together kept them both on meth and in trouble. Liz did give me a nod in greeting before Kiet pulled her away and the two of them disappeared into the crowds.
I was empty. Alone. And then the pain rushed back as fresh as if it had just happened, as if Kiet had just stolen from us again, as if he had just hit me, as if he had hit Kannika. "It was good to see you," I said vaguely to Melissa before I left her without waiting for a response.
My group had moved onto the next stand. They didn't see me at first except for Vincent. "What's wrong?" he asked me as I wrapped my arms around him and buried my face in his shoulder. I felt the presence of others gathering around us, but I didn't look up. Gareth tousled my hair. I knew it was Gareth. He was the only one who did that.
"I know this look," Gareth said even though I had my head buried in Vincent's shoulder. "He must have seen Kiet."
"Oh," Vincent said with understanding and his arms tightened around me.
"Who's Kiet?" Alex asked.
"His brother we never talk about because he's an asshole," Mateo said.
"Oh," Alex said.
There was more shuffling around us and then there was silence. Well, not a true silence, there were people talking around us, and people walking, but I didn't hear our friends anymore. I peeked around, but now it was only me and Vincent among the crowds.
The pain slowly started to retreat while Vincent held me. "Do you want to go home?" Vincent asked me.
"And let him ruin my night? No." I pulled away from Vincent and looked around for our friends. They had moved on to another food stand. This one served nachos. "He doesn't have that much power over me. Besides, I don't think my parents would like us coming home early. And I don't want to walk in on them doing anything I prefer to think they never do."
Vincent chuckled at this. "All right," he said.
"I want nachos," I said.
"Let's go," Vincent said. He took my hand and we regrouped with the others.
We got our nachos and found another lawn to sit on while we ate.
"Officer Hunt!" Alex called out to two police officers who were walking on the sidewalk in front of us.
One of the officers turned to us. He smiled brightly when he saw Alex. He walked over to us and the other uniformed officer followed.
"If it isn't the man with the awesome middle name," Officer Hunt said.
It occurred to me then that I didn't know what Alex's middle name was. I'd have to ask later.
"Has it been a busy night?" Alex asked.
"There have been a few minor incidents, but nothing major," Officer Hunt said. "You don't have anything to worry about. There are plenty of police officer's here to keep the peace."
A muffled, distorted voice came in on their walkie talkies. The other officer took a few steps away from us and replied too low for us to hear. When he was through he nudged Officer Hunt.
"Duty calls," Officer Hunt said. "Have fun tonight, but be careful." He turned and walked away with the other officer.
"What's Alex's middle name?" I asked Vincent. It was later, right? I could ask now.
"Wyvern," Vincent said.
"Really?" Gareth asked.
"That is awesome," Gareth said.
We finished with our nachos and moved on. We gathered back to the main area downtown when it was almost midnight. We started counting down with the rest of the crowd until it reached midnight and the crowds cheered, fireworks lit up the sky and I pulled Vincent to me so I could kiss him. Alex and Mateo gave each other a chaste kiss. Trevon's and Arthur's kiss was not so chaste. Other couples around us kissed.
We watched the fireworks arm in arm. The positive energy of the crowds filled me, but more than that, just the fact that Vincent was by my side made this the best New Years Eve ever.
When the fireworks were over, the crowds began to disperse, the stands and shops began to close. We walked back along the streets to where our cars were parked.
Along the way Trevon asked Vincent, "How are things with your brother?"
"Okay, I think," Vincent said. "He called me on Christmas. We can't talk much because of our dad, but I think things are good between us right now."
"That's good," Trevon said. "That's a big relief actually."
"Why?" Vincent asked.
"Because he's dating my cousin," Trevon said.
"Right," Vincent said.
We came upon a street that was completely blocked off and there were policemen directing the crowds elsewhere. It would take us longer to get to our car, but I wasn't about to argue with the police.
Kannika, Serafina and their other friends were in the crowds just ahead of us. "Kannika!" I called out to her.
Her head swiveled all around until it found me behind her. She and her friends made their way to us through the crowds and then walked with us.
"Did you hear what happened?" Kannika asked.
"No," I said. "What happened?"
"Someone got shot," Serafina said.
"Two someones," Rachel said.
"We heard a little girl and her bodyguard were shot," Kannika said.
"We don't know if it's true though," Becca said. "It's just what we heard people say as we passed the roadblock."
"No one died though, right?" Alex asked concerned. He had a sweet soul.
"Not that we heard," Serafina said.
"Someone actually said the girl wasn't hurt that badly and the bodyguard took the brunt of it, but who knows if it's true."
We parted ways with Trevon and Arthur first and then Kannika and her group. When we got to Alex's car, I climbed into the back between Gareth and Vincent. I held onto Vincent a little tighter as we made our way back.