The sky is the colour of ink. Starless. You keep your nose pressed against the cool glass of the window, wanting to disappear into its darkness completely. You are standing in a overly crowded room, surrounded by people you can barely remember the names of. Eva, your old friend, is nowhere to be seen. Initially when she invited you to the party, you wanted to decline. You hadn't seen each other in a long while, but the primary reason was simply because you barely knew anyone there. Eva had introduced you to a large number of people and you had attempted pointless small talk and you had turned to find her no longer standing beside you. You avert your gaze from the sky, the world outside, and momentarily glance around you. Everyone is standing around in a state of oblivion. In little more than an hours time, they will surely all be drunk. You clutch your own half-empty glass in your hand self-conciously. Perhaps it is time you refilled your glass. Or perhaps it is simply time you left.
You sigh and begin to mumble your excuses as you pass endless huddles of people. A few raise their eyebrows as you pass; others don't appear to notice you at all. One, a man impeccably dressed in a dark suit, glances at you for a moment that seems to last too long. You vaguely recognise him; just one of Eva's many hurried introductions. You disliked him instantly. Even at the beginning of the party, he stood surrounded by a group of women. He was typically good looking in an overly explicit way; dark hair, slicked back without a single hair out of place, olive skin and a white smile. But it was his eyes that infuriated you - seemingly perfectly normal, but when you looked closer you could not help but notice the flicker of confidence within them. Arrogance. Now, his lips curve into a smile that unsettles you, raises his hand and waves at you. You do not return his gesture, instead turn and continue to push your way through the crowds of people. When you muster the courage to glance back again, you find him still watching you. He winks at you and you shiver, as if your blood has become frozen, and have to look away.
You knew you shouldn't have come. You've been in this situation too many times now; Eva promising that there will be a number of people there that you are well aquainted with or, if not at the very least, people who are friendly. Every time, every single party, you arrive to find yourself isolated from everybody else. Perhaps you're just not the "party" type. You should have learnt that long ago, and yet you so hoped that tonight would be different from the rest; for once you hoped you wouldn't feel quite so lost in a sea of people.
By now you had reached the hallway, but only just. You were beginning to feel even more insecure than when you had first stepped in to be greeted by a bunch of strangers who immediately seemed to analyse every inch of your skin with their eyes. Eva convinced you to do something different with your hair - you usually just kept it tied into a pony-tail or sometimes alternated with a loose plait. You never wore it down; you didn't like it loose and wild across your shoulders, but tonight you had relented. You regretted it now, but perhaps not as much as you regretted the dress you were wearing. Again, a fault of Eva's. In light of it being New Year's Eve, she'd told you to wear something other than the jeans and scuffed Converse trainers you usually wore. You'd found it at the very back of your wardrobe; short and black with long sleeves, patterned with sequins and a sparkly fabric that caught the light with every slight movement. Half the women standing around were dressed like you, although arguably more scathely clothed, but that still refused to set your mind at ease. That was why the lecherous man had been staring at you; your chosen evening attire. You could hardly blame him for staring him when you had hardly chosen a dress to avoid attention. Now, you blushed. You were used to fading into the background; a wallflower. People never looked at you. Listened to you. And a part of you was relieved for that very fact. But another, a part that had only emerged this very evening, was now somewhat disappointed. It was a night like every other; you remained unobserved, unnoticed, save for the lecherous man who you hardly deemed worthy of counting-
"Oh!" A sudden impact temporarily knocks the breath out of your lungs. You can do nothing but watch in shock as the contents of your glass - a mysterious fruit punch concoction Eva promised was entirely free of any kind of alcohol, though the fog descending and clouding your mind tells you otherwise - fall. You almost wish it would pattern and stain Eva's pristine white carpet but of course, as luck would have it, it falls over the person you have just knocked into.
"Oh God, I'm so sorry," You stumble over your words, suddenly unable to form comprehendeable sentences. I couldn't bring myself to look at whoever it was I had pretty much just assaulted. "It's so crowded in here and I -"
"Don't apologise for clumsiness," The voice replies. "Really, it's endearing."
You stare at him. Unfortunately, it is not the lecherous man who winked at you but a stranger; one of the very few people Eva didn't actually get round to introducing you to. His hair is strange, almost tangled in curls but not quite. In fact, everything about him is quite hard to determine exactly. The colour of his hair is not quite light or dark, lying firmly somewhere inbetween. But it is his eyes that you concentrate on most; green and blue and flecked with gold. They catch the light, tinted with amusement. He is dressed in a slightly crumpled shirt and jeans, but a blazer and smart shoes that comply with Eva's firm rules of a "non-casual dress code". He also appears to be staring at you as you haven't spoken in a long while, having been much too preoccupied with attempting to decipher the exact colour of his eyes.
"Sorry." You blurt out foolishly again.
His gaze is so intense; his eyes seem to search your own, as if looking for something. They fleet from every inch of your irises and pupils before, finally, he smiles.
"You've already apologised."
"I know, sorry." You say, and promptly wish you could disappear into the crowds of people and then fade into the night's sky so that you never have to attempt human interraction ever again.
He smirks, which only causes you to blush even more.
"Well, if nothing's stained I should..."
"Go?" He raises an eyebrow. "I never realised I had the ability to make people want to run away or perhaps just leave very quickly."
You smile shyly. "I was leaving anyway, before I succeeded in assaulting you with my weapon of choice; an unknown but undoubtedly alcoholic beverage."
"Eva's fruit punch?" He glances at the now empty glass in your hand knowingly, to which you nod. "Yes, I did have my doubts. It did not appear to contain very much fruit at all, just a lot of vodka."
You smile again. "I really should go. It was nice...bumping into you?"
"You're really leaving?" His smile falters somewhat.
"I don't think I'm really suited to these types of social gatherings...I'm not sure why I came here in the first place, to be honest."
He mockingly pouts. "Don't go, I'll be terribly lonely."
"Did I not just interrupt you talking to a rather large group of people?" You gesture vaguely over towards the people he had stood with before you collided into him. They remain oblivious to the whole debacle, his gap in the circle already having been closed.
"You did but, for that, I'm actually rather grateful."
"Are they not friends of yours?" You ask, genuinely curious.
He smiles, somewhat distantly. "People I am aquainted with, yes. People I would deem as 'friends'... no."
You almost laugh, full aware of the fact that you are perfectly well experienced with the notion.
He observes your cryptic expression. "Are you not with friends?"
"Not really," You shake your head. "I mean, I was invited by Eva. I've known her since primary school but..."
"But you're not all that close." He finishes.
You consider this statement for a moment. Eva was your best friend in primary school, your only friend to be exact. She contrasted with you in every way...perhaps that was one of the main reasons you ever became friends in the first place; her being charmingly confident and you being...well, for lack of a better description, hopelessly awkward. Her life always seemed to be enveloped by light whilst yours seemed to remain permanently in darkness. You grew apart somewhat in secondary school - she became friends with a large group of people who smoked cigarettes and went to lots of parties while you preferred to remain at home reading the endless fairytales in your cluttered library of books. You always remained in touch, though - whether you grew apart, or not. It seemed to continue even after school; Eva eventually ended up as a lawyer with a six figure salary while you became a freelance journalist and full-time writer without consistant wages. Eva always ensured you both stayed in touch, but the only times you ever saw her were at these lavish parties she liked to host. Perhaps the only reason she had ever wanted to stay in touch in the first place was simply because she wanted to cement the notion that she would always be better off than you.
"No," You say finally, exhaling a heavy sigh. "I suppose you could say that we're not all that close. How do you know Eva?"
"I don't, really. I mean, I was in a short film recently - her husband was directing - so I suppose we sort of became aquainted through that. I only really know her through Adam, though."
You nod. Adam is Eve's husband; you were one of the first invited to their engagement party. At the time, you thought nothing of it. Now you almost wonder if the only reason you were invited at all was so that Eva could emphasise how happily in love she was while you were still alone.
"So you're an actor?" You ask.
He smiles, almost shyly as if he is embarrassed. "Yes, yes I am. Though whether I am a very good one or not is still a question yet to be debated...what about you?"
"I'm a writer."
"A writer?" He nods, as if in approval. "Anything I might have read?"
You shake your head. "Unlike you, I have already concluded the fact that I am not a very good one."
"And what has caused you to come to this conclusion?" He asks, an eyebrow raised.
"The fact that nobody wants to publish my work." You laugh off your words, though you cannot mask the sadness that seems to creep up among them.
The stranger looks at you very intently, as if he is painting or sketching you. He does not look past you or through you like the majority of other people do, but into you. There is a moment in which you question whether he can see something within you that other people cannot.
"Writing can be a very difficult career," He deliberates his words carefully, really putting a lot of thought into choosing the right ones. You observe this in surprise, as most people seem to blurt out the first thing that comes into their mind. "But don't give up. If your writing means something to you and you haven't yet found someone that feels the same, you need to keep searching until you do."
"Easier said than done," You shake your head, as if to shake the sadness away. "But thank you."
"You're welcome." He says, quietly, never taking his eyes from yours. His smile chases away your darkened thoughts, like sunlight shining through rain.
You are about to ask him a question, anything at all, when Eva's voice suddenly interrupts you and everyone else around you from their conversations.
"Everyone! If I can just have your attention for one moment..."
You turn to find her standing in the doorway, a place ensuring that everyone will be able to see her. She is dressed in a dress that mirrors her red lipstick and her hair is curled into an elegant chignon, with deliberate loose tendrils of hair framing her face. There is a champagne glass in her hand, and you observe that her nails are painted the same shade of red as her dress. You don't, for a single moment, doubt this to be accidental.
"It's almost midnight and the countdown is about to commence!" She announces, her tone overly enthusiastic. She glances around at everyone, though her gaze towards you and the stranger you stand beside is fleeting. "While we wait, I'd like to remind you to consider your new years' resolutions!"
The hushed silence gradually dissipates as people begin to discuss. You turn to the stranger who, in the last few minutes, does not really feel like much of a stranger at all.
"Any ideas?" He asks as his lips curve into a half-smile, tinted with amusement.
"Well, no longer allowing people to walk over me and force me into attending social gatherings might be a good start."
"Ah, yes. That is something I can agree entirely with." He pauses for a moment, considering his own resolution. "I think perhaps I'd like to re-evaluate my library of books and perhaps invest in some work of some undiscovered and underrated writers."
You smile. "A worthy resolution, I approve."
He is about to reply, when Eva raises her glass in the air again to gain everyone's attention.
"OK, everyone, it's time; the moment we've all been waiting for!" Her poppy red lips stretch into a smile. "The countdown will begin shortly!"
He turns to you and rakes a hand through his unkempt curls. He appears to be flushing a little and you have to prevent yourself from smiling.
"Would you..." He laughs, awkwardly, at himself. "I mean...as it's New Year's Eve and, well..."
You wait as your heart trembles in anticipation.
"Would you...let me kiss you?" He frowns at his words, the flush across his cheeks deepening. "At midnight, I mean. I just..."
His words trail off and evaporate into the air and he smiles at you apologetically. You open your mouth to reply, when Eva interrupts.
"Let the countdown begin! Ten..."
His gaze is concentrated on you. You want to turn away, but somehow you can't take your eyes from his.
You take the small allotment of time to observe his face more closely. His eyelashes are very dark and impossibly long and tangled. They have been bleached at the ends by the sun.
His eyes themselves grab your curiosity again. Silver and green and blue. Reflections dance across their surface like water.
Time, despite the fact only seconds are passing, seems to have slowed down.
He is closer now. You notice that his nose is patterned with freckles. In your state of sudden disorientation, you think that they remind you of constellations.
He smells of woodsmoke, and faintly of soap. The scent comforts you.
His chin is stubbled slightly. You notice an unshaven patch and, without thinking, trace it with your fingertips.
Your movement seems to ignite a spark of courage within him. Before you know it, his hands are tangled in your hair.
You temporarily forget how to breathe. Your thoughts are blurred with confusion, but no longer shadowed with darkness. In that moment, all you can see is light.
He rests his cheek against yours for a fleeting moment that seems to last no time at all and yet somehow seems to stretch into forever. He draws backwards to meet your gaze again, just in time.
"Happy new year!"
Finally, his lips meet yours. There are shouts around you. Fireworks explode into the night's sky in a crecendo of sound and colour, but neither of you see them. You don't have to see them. In that moment, everything is enough and nothing else is important. It is as if you have been submerged underwater; the world around you is distant and muffled and obscured.
When the moment finally ends, he tucks a strand of your hair behind your ear and smiles at you. You smile back at him, overwhelmed by the light that has suddenly infiltrated every inch of your heart and chased away the darkness. It is then you become aware of the insignificant and yet extremely important fact that you are not even aware of his name.
"Who are you?" Your voice is little more than a faint whisper. "What is your name?"
His eyes seem to catch the light again; a kaleidoscope of colour. He smiles at you.
"My name is Benedict," He says. "But you may call me Ben."