"Happy New Year!" The Gerhards said in unison when the clock struck midnight. The radio played Guy Lombardo's Auld Lang Syne on the dot as Abby's extended family sang along. Carol was sitting by the window, mindlessly puffing at her cigarette as she watched the snow fall. She wanted to be with Therese that evening but after the young woman mentioned that she had been invited to a party with her friends and could easily drop it to be with Carol, she immediately forced her to go. The reason was that she could meet more friends that way but Carol just really didn't want to feel guilty of robbing Therese of another holiday.
When Abby caught wind of it, she insisted that she join them for New Year's instead of being all by herself in that lonely house. Carol was reluctant at first, not wanting to hint at her marital problems to Abby's family. But the loneliness that threatened to overwhelm her had surpassed her pride and she relented. In a little while, it would get out anyway once she and Harge would officially divorce.
A tap on her shoulder prompted her to turn around and be greeted by a small plate of mashed potatoes. "You hanging in there?" Abby said as she handed her the food. Carol just gave a nonchalant shrug as she stared at the silly cone hat sticking out of the dark haired woman's head. "So… have you decided on when you'll take that trip with Therese?"
"Around the eighteenth. There isn't that much to arrange, really." She said with a tired tinge in her voice.
"Well, if you need anything for the trip, just let me know."
"I don't think you'll be able to do much though." Carol said blankly and placed a spoon of potatoes in her mouth.
"True." Abby sighed as she took off her party hat. The singing got louder and the kids were noisy hiding under the tables. Abby's father laughed as he said something in German. "Do you want to head up to the other side of the house? It's getting noisy here." Carol just nodded and placed the plate of half-eaten mashed potatoes at a nearby table.
"Carol, it's so nice to have you here." Mrs. Gerhard said as she approached them.
"Thank you for having me." Carol said.
"It's too bad Rindy and Harge couldn't make it. The more the merrier."
"Yes…" Carol looked back out of the window to hide any impoliteness that was seeping from her face. Abby let out a distressed sigh.
"It's snowing quite a bit outside, isn't it? Why don't you stay the night?" Carol's eyes widened in alarm. It was so subtle that nobody else would have picked it up. Abby noticed it immediately.
"It's fine. A little bit of snow won't hurt, right Carol?" Abby said.
"It's dangerous once the roads freeze over." It brought back several flashes of memory. That snowy January night, that intense feeling of proximity with another woman…
"Carol's an excellent driver. I'll even accompany her home if you're so worried, mom." That fervent amatory tension between her and Abby…
"Don't be ridiculous. Come, let's fix up the guest room." The room Carol would always stay before didn't have any sheets in them that night. She spent that night alone with Abby…
"Carol…?" Abby murmured. I was in love with her… another woman… I had a husband... a daughter… but I wanted it… "I'm sure if we leave now, we'd be able to get there before it snows in completely."
"What's gotten into you, Abby? It's almost as if you're chasing Carol away." I had loved her more than I've ever loved a man in my life… I wanted to leave my daughter behind just to have more of that forbidden fruit… I was a monster…
"Carol?" I was so afraid… Abby grabbed her wrist, snapping her out of self-loathing and pulled her across the room. "Party's over. Let's get you home." Carol nodded and followed her out the door.
"Sorry, she still doesn't have a clue about it at all." Abby was behind the wheel in Carol's car. "It's for the best anyway."
"Thanks, Abby." Carol sighed. Silence wafted between them as the car sped on the snowy roads.
Along the way, they could still see some late parties celebrating the New Year. It would almost be one year since her affair with Abby started, Carol thought. Ring out the old and ring in the new… It would be a completely different year for her, she knew.
"Carol?" Abby finally said after a while. The blonde threw a tired, questioning glance at her. "This… really is for the best, right?"
"What do you mean?"
"About… us…" Carol blinked and didn't answer. "Was it really that bad to…?" Still no answer. "Never mind…"
"You've been drinking." She sighed.
"I'm perfectly sober right now or else I wouldn't be able to drive us in all this snow." The silence between them continued all the way up to Carol's house.
"I'll drive you to the train station once the snow clears up." Carol said obligatorily as they pulled up by their driveway.
"Sure." The two women walked into the large house, the complete stillness after the New Year's celebration shrouding the both of them. Abby glanced at the Christmas tree as they settled into the living room. "She sure knows her stuff, huh?"
"Therese?" Carol asked, her eyes following Abby's line of sight. "Yes. She does."
"She loves you, doesn't she?"
Carol didn't respond. She just brushed her hair on either side as she turned away from the Christmas tree.
"Do you love her…?"
Carol closed her eyes. Did she love Therese, that stranger who just happened to show up one day and save Carol from her loneliness on a few occasions? Was she still a stranger now that they would spend several weeks together alone on the road?
"I like Therese. She's a good friend."
"Somehow, I don't think that's all there is to it…" Abby said with regret.
Carol just lifted her chin.
"We've been friends since we were very little, Carol. It's okay if—"
"You're drunk, Abby."
Suddenly Abby's demeanor changed and startled Carol. "I am not drunk, Carol." She exasperated. "How could you say that now of all times? Is it because there really isn't anything left for you to say about Therese? About me?"
Carol opened her mouth to protest but nothing came out.
"Ever since you've met that girl, you've changed, Carol, and I can see it clearly. Maybe you haven't noticed but I can." In Abby's jealousy, she felt like she was talking to Therese, and not in a good way. But this was Abby, and she's known Carol almost all her life. "And the worst part is…" Abby's voice began to crack. "It seems like you're much better off with her…"
"You're just being dramatic." Carol said, trying to brush the uncomfortable situation aside. But after she turned to look Abby in the eye, her voice caught. Tears were streaming down Abby's cheeks.
"Is it because you're trying to replace Rindy with her? Maybe you're trying to replace me? What we had before? Because it's a new start with her? Or maybe you really just do love her…?" Abby's voice trailed off as she turned away.
"Abby…" Carol was at a loss for words. Sometimes she really hated how much Abby could read her like an open book.
"You really wanted to be with Therese this evening, didn't you…?"
"That's not true…" A lie.
"I wanted to be there as much as I could to support you, especially now that your divorce is finally coming through. But it looks like I'm really more of a problem than any help at all. It's not fair, Carol, I can't compete!" Abby quickly stood up and headed towards the door.
"Where are you going? It's three in the morning!"
"Anywhere as long as I can't see you!" She said with tears glistening in the dark. "I hope you'll be happy, Carol. You and Therese. I love you."
Carol stood aghast as she watched Abby's figure quickly disappear in the dark.
January eighteenth just couldn't come soon enough.