A New Year's Eve one-shot, as promised, for betterleftblank :)
Steph and Dev: You guys are awesome and I appreciate you a-super-duper-lot! (Thanks for dealing with me being a pain in the ass :))
Hope y'all enjoy!
It was that time of year again. I had already been on the phone with my mother for over an hour and I couldn't see an end in sight.
"You already missed Christmas. You'd better be home for my New Year's celebration, Ashley."
I was supposed to spend Christmas and New Year with my mother, but instead I decided to stay and spend Christmas with my patients. Don't get me wrong—I loved my mother, and we usually got along great—but I also felt the need to strangle her when we were together for too long. Two whole weeks was too long.
"Are you even listening to me?"
"Great! You're going to love Elizabeth. You two will be perfect for each other."
"Wait! What? Who's Elizabeth?"
"If you were actually listening, you would know."
"She lives in L.A. as well, she's a successful lawyer, and apparently she's a workaholic. See? Perfect for each other."
There was no use arguing with her when she had her mind set on something. I knew that she only wanted me to be happy. She wanted me to find someone so I wouldn't work so much. This wasn't her first attempt at matchmaking. Actually, it happened every time I went home. Usually, the people she chose were decent, not-bad-looking, non-loser-ish people, but I never had a connection with any of them. There was not a single twinge of excitement, my heart never went pitter-patter, and my knees never went weak. Nothing. I was thirty years old and I had never felt any of those things. Then again, I had never really given myself a chance to. I was always too busy with school and the hospital. I never even thought about finding someone. It was enough that I was in love with my job.
"Ashley, please tell me you're coming home."
"I am, Mom. I promise. And you can introduce me to this Elizabeth girl."
I would go home for a few days, spend time with my mom, meet this girl, and then go back to L.A. It happened every holiday.
"You're going to love her, I just know it. I got it right this time, Ashley."
"Okay, Mom. I love you. See you in a few days."
My plane was due to leave at 6 a.m. but I was still at work when the clock struck midnight. I had just finished my rounds which had taken much longer than usual. I was leaving for three days and I wanted to make sure my patients would be taken care of. I had never been gone from the hospital for more than a day. I was especially worried about Stephen. Stephen was only six years old and recovering from an almost lethal combination of multiple drug-resistant tuberculosis and severe malnutrition, the extent of which I'd never seen before in my career. He had been under my care for a little over three months. He had been brought in when his mother was found dead behind a restaurant dumpster. We weren't sure how long Stephen had been living on the streets with his mother because we weren't able to find any relatives and no state agencies seemed to have any information on him. He didn't talk for the first few weeks, but once he started to get better and feel safe, he began to speak and he never stopped. Stephen was always and easily the best part of my work day. He was surprisingly smart and had such a beautiful heart. I hated leaving him for three hours let alone three days. Of course, he was a champ about it. When I told him I had to leave to see my family, he thanked me for spending Christmas with him and then told me to get lost.
I was going to miss the little guy.
I walked slowly down the crowded aisle, my carry-on bag hitting every seat along the way. It was noisy on the plane, and that didn't help the pounding in my head. I hadn't got much sleep and couldn't wait until the plane took off so I could close my eyes. My mother had bought the tickets for me in hopes that I had no other choice but to come home. I took solace in the fact that she had asked for a window seat. She knew that I enjoyed the views and the slightly extra room. After placing my bag in the overhead compartment, I sat down and closed my eyes.
I hated flying. My mind was usually consumed in thoughts of every possible horrible thing that could go wrong, while my heart would start racing and I'd make myself sick.
I needed a drink. Or maybe four drinks.
"You look like you could use a drink, too," said a woman's voice. A chuckle followed.
I opened my eyes and turned towards the voice.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you," she said softly.
"It's okay. You didn't," I finally responded. You see, the sweet and soft voice came out of the mouth of probably one of the most beautiful human beings I ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on. She smiled and I think I might have stopped breathing. Either that or time stopped: I wasn't quite sure.
"I could definitely use a drink. How did you guess?"
She turned around to put her belongings into the overhead compartment across from my seat and my eyes drifted to her backside. It was rather perfect, I thought to myself. I shook my head and looked away.
"You were gripping the armrest pretty tight. I do that myself. I hate flying," she said when she turned back towards me. "At least we both have window seats." She walked to the window seat directly across the aisle. I just smiled at her and then looked down, suddenly finding the book sitting on my lap very interesting. She was so beautiful and I felt very intimidated. I finally thought of a response when someone abruptly sat down next to me.
"Hi, I'm Tom. Any chance you wanted to give up that window seat?" His large hand hung out in the air in front of me and I ignored it.
"No," I said and turned my head towards the window.
"You don't have a name?" he asked.
"I do," I responded not bothering to look at him.
"You gonna make me guess, sweetheart?"
I turned towards him and glared. "I'll give you a hint. It's not sweetheart. Or babe, or darling, or honey, or boo-boo."
He sat back in his chair looking defeated and from across the aisle I could see the beautiful blonde trying to hold back a laugh.
"It's Ashley. My name." I held my hand out and he shook it, a satisfied look on his face. He had no clue that I was really introducing myself to her. She didn't look my way, but a small smile formed on her mouth just before she put her headphones on.
It was quiet until the plane was in the air. I placed a pillow up against the window and got comfortable. I wasn't able to sleep, though. There was some turbulence and I decided it was time to order that drink. After downing the first, I ordered another. Tom ordered a couple as well. I couldn't see the blonde anymore, as the plane was filled and two other people sat next to her were blocking my view.
The drinks weren't helping. I needed a distraction and was actually thankful when Tom started a conversation. We talked about him for at least a half-hour. Even though it was distracting me, I wanted to punch the guy. He was a self-absorbed misogynist.
"So what do you do for a living, Ashley? Let me guess: Shoe store clerk? No, you probably work at a salon, right? Or you're a stay-at-home-mom who shops on HSN all day. It's that last one, right?" I wasn't about to give him the reaction he wanted. I had dealt with men like him my entire life. I wasn't going to answer him at all, until he blundered on. "Nah, judging by your personality and attitude, you're probably a women's rights activist. You draw up your little picket signs and—"
"Actually, I'm a doctor," I said, interrupting him. "I specialize in pediatric infectious diseases."
He gave me a weird look. "So you're around sick kids all the time?"
"I am. And I'd rather be around them then people like you any day of the week. So, please, just sit there and don't talk to me for the rest of the flight." I sat back in my chair, annoyed and angry. The way he said 'sick kids' made my throat close up. I started to worry about Stephen and my other patients. And it wasn't the first time someone had commented on me being around sick kids. I saw the way he backed away from me. I knew the look on his face all too well.
It wasn't too much later when he stood up and announced he was going to use the bathroom. I sighed to myself and hoped he would get stuck in there somehow. Once again, I tried to sleep. I closed my eyes and laid my head back. I felt him sit back down, but opened my eyes in confusion when I smelled the unmistakable scent of women's perfume.
"Hi back," I said to the blonde. My head was tilted and my eyes narrow. I looked past her to see Tom sitting down in her coveted window seat.
"I offered him my window seat. He accepted."
"And why would you do that?" Not that I minded. I totally didn't mind.
"Window seats are overrated. The guy next to me had bad breath. This turbulence has me really nervous and I wanted to talk to someone. I didn't want you to get arrested and dragged off the plane. I like the sound of your voice. You intrigue me."
I looked away to hide my suddenly reddened cheeks.
"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you. Sometimes I'm a little too forward."
"No, it's all right. I like forwardness," I said, but my eyes still wouldn't look at her.
"My name is Spencer. And I promise you I'm not an asshole," she said so seriously that I laughed.
"Hi, Spencer. That's good to know because I think I've had enough of assholes on this flight." She held out her hand and I didn't hesitate to shake it. We both held on while we smiled at each other. Her hand was soft and warm and I didn't want to let go. Suddenly, my eyes didn't want to look away either. "I couldn't help but hear most of your conversation with the asshole. Okay, I'm lying. I could help it. I actually turned the volume all the way down on my iPod so I could hear it. I wish I could have heard more." She finally let go of my hand and held hers in her lap with the other.
"No, you don't. Trust me. I wanted to punch the guy square in his smug, narcissistic face."
"That's reason number," she paused, as if calculating, "four of why I wanted to switch places with him."
"I wouldn't have hit the guy, really. I'm not a violent person, at all. "
"Oh, I know."
"You take care of sick children and it's quite obvious how much you love your job. How violent a person could you be?"
"You got all of that from my conversation with the asshole?"
"I'm very perceptive. I'm great at reading people." She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and sat back.
"You could read me from all the way over there?"
"It's all in the tone of your voice."
"That's interesting. Is this what you do for a living, read people?"
"Nah, just a hobby. I'm a photographer. Which is why it's so easy for me to read people."
"Say I was taking your picture and I asked you to give me a real smile. What would it look like?"
"Smile for me. A real smile." I did as she asked and she laughed. I gave her a playful glare. "I said a real smile. That was so fake."
"I don't get what you mean."
"Close your eyes." She waited for me to close them. "Think about what makes you most happy in life. What you get the most joy out of. What you couldn't live without. Think about being in that moment of happiness where you wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world."
I thought about being with Stephen. He always made me smile and I wanted nothing more than to do the same for him. I thought about holding him and singing him to sleep and whispering that it was all going to be okay. I thought about his big brown eyes looking up at me and his little voice thanking me for taking care of him.
"There it is."
I opened my eyes to find the beautiful blonde wearing a wide grin. "Huh?"
"The real smile I was looking for."
I couldn't help but smile again. "So that's what you do for a living?"
"Yes, well, sort of. I photograph people. I capture moments of happiness and sadness and whatever else I need to. And I do whatever it takes to make those moments as real as possible. And this is how I know how much you love your job. When you told him that you were a doctor and that you specialized in infectious diseases in children, there was a split second in between where you smiled. It doesn't get any more real than that."
"You're really good at your job, huh?"
"I don't think of it as a job. Just as I'm sure you don't think of those kids as a job. Oh, look! Another real smile," she said.
As I looked into this beautiful stranger's eyes, I thought that I could easily smile like this for the rest of my life. And in that moment, I felt the twinge. The rush of excitement. A possibility of finally finding love. Another very real moment.
We both ordered more drinks and then we talked. She was flying home to Michigan to spend time with her father. Her parents were newly divorced and he was having a hard time with it all. I told her about my mother and her big party and how she was setting me up with some girl. I talked about my patients, mostly Stephen, and she talked about different places around the world she had photographed. It was so easy to talk to her, and she was a great listener. It was nice to talk about myself for once and to actually feel like the other person wanted to hear what I had to say.
When the plane landed, I inwardly pouted. I didn't want my time with Spencer to end. I would stay on the plane for four more hours if that meant more time with her. And I hated flying.
"Well, it was nice meeting and talking to you, Ashley," Spencer said, her hand out once again for me to shake it.
I slid my hand into hers. "It was a great pleasure meeting you as well."
We sat there doing the awkward stare again, but this time it really wasn't so awkward. I wanted to ask her for her number, but I didn't. And she didn't ask for mine either. When she pulled her hand out of mine, I felt it through my entire body: disappointment. Disappointment in not opening my mouth to ask and disappointment that she didn't ask either. The fact that she didn't ask made me think that she didn't feel the things I had felt. So I stayed quiet. We walked side-by-side off the plane and through the terminal. And I was surprised when she stayed with me until my luggage came through the baggage claim.
"How are you getting home?" she asked as I slung a bag over my shoulder.
"My mom got me a rental car. You?"
"My dad is going to be here at 3 to get me."
"I can wait with you if you'd like."
"Thanks, I would."
We stopped at a Coffee Beanery Cafe and ordered some hot drinks and sandwiches. The conversation flowed naturally again and I noted to myself that there was obviously something between us. I wondered what she was thinking and thought about asking her, but I didn't want to be embarrassed if I were wrong. She was a friendly person, so maybe that was all she was being with me—friendly. Maybe I had made our connection up in my head. She was sweet and she was beautiful and smart and everything she said was fascinating to me. What started off as intimidation ended in comfort.
I had never been more comfortable talking to someone, especially when it came to talking about myself, which I definitely did not like to do. I had never needed anyone in my life. The hospital and my patients took up all of my time and I was okay with that. I had never wanted anyone to disrupt that. I was happy with my life. But, as I stood face-to-face with her next to my rental car, I realized that, in under six hours, all that had changed. I didn't want to let Spencer go. I didn't want to drive away from that airport and never see her again.
She leaned in and kissed my cheek. "Goodbye, Ashley," she said. And then she walked away.
I spent the entire ride to my mother's house thinking about Spencer and yelling at myself for not saying something. Maybe she didn't feel the same, but at least I would have been able to say that I knew for sure.
My mother was so busy with setting up for her party that our reunion didn't last long, and I was grateful for that. I wasn't in the mood. I had just spent six hours with the most perfect person I had ever met and I didn't even know her last name or if I would ever see her again. And to make matters worse, I had to meet this Elizabeth girl tonight and, even if she were a great girl, it wouldn't matter. She wasn't Spencer.
"Hey girl! Oh wow, you look incredible!"
"It's so good to see you." I walked towards the best friend I had ever had and pulled her into my arms. "I've missed you, Chels." She smelled the same, but she looked so much more grown-up than the last time I had seen her, two years ago. Becoming a mother had made her even more beautiful.
There was still a half-hour before the guest would start to arrive so Chelsea and I caught up on what had been going on over the last few months. I felt bad that it had been months since I had talked to her, but she didn't blame me. We were both busy women. It was a bad excuse and we both knew it.
"So, who is your mom setting you up with tonight?"
"Some girl named Elizabeth. Apparently she's some big shot lawyer in L.A. and a workaholic, so my mom thinks were perfect for each other."
"Sounds like you've already made up your mind about this one and you haven't even met her. What's wrong?"
"Oh, nothing. I just happened to meet someone on the plane on the way here and she was perfect in every way that I would consider perfect."
"Ooh, tell me more."
"I just... let her go. I didn't even get her last name," I said quietly. "Do you believe in fate, Chels?"
"Some believe in destiny, some believe in fate, but I believe that happiness is something we create."
"Did you get that off a bumper sticker or something?"
"Pfft. No! Actually, I got it from Tumblr." Chelsea winked at me.
"Is that what you think, too?"
"Yes. Fate is just a word, Ash. You've made all the choices to get where you are today. Fate didn't put you two on that plane together. Things just happen. There doesn't always have to be a reason." I knew she was right. I didn't respond. I just stood there. "I always wondered how you could still be single. You're smart, beautiful, funny and sweet. You're a total 10. Now I see exactly why."
"Thanks, Chels," I playfully shoved her.
"Seriously, Ash. Not even a phone number?"
I plopped down on my bed and put my head in my hands. I was always considered to be smarter than my own good. How could I be so stupid? This was why I didn't want love in my life. It was too damn complicated.
Chelsea took pity on me. "Come on. Let's get you downstairs. Your date will be here soon."
"Yay! Can't wait to meet her," I said, feigning enthusiasm.
The house was already filled with strangers. Most of them were friends from the various charities my mother supported. People would say hello and I had no idea who they were. I was glad that I hadn't dressed too formally, going for a pair of grey pinstriped dress pants and a black lace top. It was not casual, but not too formal. My mother was happy with it, which surprised me. It took her a long time to deal with the fact that I was never going to be who she wanted me to be. It broke her heart and caused us to go over a year without speaking to each other. Once she accepted who I was, we got along great. I was glad to be able to make her happy once in a while.
She wasn't going to be happy after the party when she realized her matchmaking didn't work—again.
I made my way around the house, my mother introducing me to everyone. "This is my daughter, Ashley. She's a doctor." I shook my head, but really I loved hearing the pride in her voice.
Dinner was announced and everyone made their way into the dining room. I sat down next to my mother and she grabbed my hand under the table.
"She'll be here soon, dear," she whispered. I wondered if I looked worried. I wasn't worried.
Dinner was amazing, but I would have expected nothing less from my mother. She had been planning the party for months. Afterwards, I snuck away from the table and found a quiet corner in the back of the family room and sipped at my wine. Chelsea promised to keep me company until Elizabeth arrived, but she spent most of her time up in my bedroom on the phone. Her husband was spending his first night alone with their three-month-old and kept calling her. It made me think of Stephen. I called the hospital and spoke with Dr. Bradley who was taking care of my patients for me. I also talked to Stephen and his cheerful voice put me in good spirits. I tried not to worry so much about him. He had spent most of the day playing the new video game I had bought him for Christmas.
Chelsea went home around 10:30, because she was worried about the baby and her husband was exhausted. I tried not to laugh when she described the panic in her husband's voice. She felt bad for him and I felt bad for the both of them. They were a happy little family, though. I momentarily wondered what it would be like to have my own family. Then I downed an entire glass of wine.
"There you are, sweetie. I've been looking everywhere for you," my mother said as she sat down and put her arm around me.
"I'm sorry. I really thought this one was the one. She was a doll, Ashley."
"You've met her?"
"Yes, she was here for my Fourth of July barbeque which you were also supposed to be here for."
"Sorry, Mom. And I'm sorry this one didn't work out either."
"Elizabeth!" my mother said loudly.
My stomach dropped momentarily and I realized that I was avoiding looking up. I was shocked, to say the least, when I finally did.
"Spencer?" I whispered in confusion.
"Oh, I'm so happy you could make it." My mother stood up and hugged the beautiful blonde and I stayed still in my chair, so lost.
"Ashley, this is Elizabeth. Elizabeth, this is my daughter, Ashley. I'll leave you two to get to know each other." She hugged me rather tightly and whispered in my ear, "She's so beautiful, isn't she?"
"Yes, Mother, she is definitely beautiful."
I sat back down, still as could be, staring at her, my mouth wide open. Spencer or Elizabeth or whatever the hell her name was just stood there with that gorgeous smile of hers. She held her hand out to me.
"Nobody puts Baby in the corner," she said.
I had no idea what was going on, but I didn't hesitate to take her hand and let her pull me to my feet. I couldn't believe she was here. And she looked so incredible in her elegant black cocktail dress with one shoulder bare. Her hair was in an up-do and she had on long black pearl earrings. She looked so different from the girl I had met on the plane. And even though I was very attracted to the jeans and t-shirt Spencer, I was just as, if not more, attracted to the woman in front of me.
"You need a coat," she said. I noticed she was still holding hers. I looked at her strangely before walking to the hall closet.
She walked out to the back patio and I followed her. The snow was falling hard and she looked like an angel standing there waiting for me. I had never realized how beautiful winter could be.
"Sorry, I just needed you alone, and it's so beautiful out here."
"How? I don't…"
"I should fully introduce myself to you." She held out her hand once again. "My name is Spencer Elizabeth Carlin." My confusion must have been evident in my eyes. "When I was in Junior High, I was made fun of. A lot. I was a tomboy with a boy's name. So, one day, I got tired of it and I told my parents that I didn't want to be called Spencer any longer. I demanded they call me Elizabeth. And eventually they did and it stuck all these years."
"So, why did you tell me your name was Spencer? You knew who I was, didn't you?"
"Not at first."
"I wanted to get to know you. I wanted to see what was behind that beautiful face," She walked up to me and when her fingers touched my cheek, I felt a warmth spread throughout me. "You see, I'm looking for more than just a beautiful face. I've met a lot of women who were physically attractive but, once they opened their mouths, not so attractive anymore. I want the whole package. I don't mind beautiful—don't get me wrong—but I want smart, kind, genuine, a girl who's not afraid to get her hands dirty, or eat a hamburger. I want someone who's passionate and has a sense of humor. I want someone I can do absolutely nothing with and still feel like it was the best time ever." Her hand fell from my face and slid into my hand. "I figured, if I like her, I'll show up to the party."
"So, did you find out if I was more than just a pretty face?"
"I'm here, aren't I?" Spencer had a way with words, and I was eating up every bit of them. She made me feel special and wanted in a way that I hadn't been in a very long time.
"I'm sorry I didn't ask for your number or even your last name. I didn't know if you felt the same and I was scared. Now I know why you didn't ask for mine."
"You were scared, of me?"
"I was scared of getting rejected. I'm not used to needing or wanting anyone. And I knew before we even had a conversation that I wanted you. I've been kicking myself all night for letting you go."
"Well, I'm here with you now. And everything you just said? I'm there with you too."
I smiled and looked down at my feet. The snow had let up, but it was still rather cold out and I wrapped my arms around myself.
"Are you cold?" she said. "Maybe we should head back in."
"No, it's okay. I'm a little cold, but you're right, it's beautiful out here." I wasn't ready to go inside just yet. I wasn't ready to share Spencer with anyone else.
"Are you sure? It's almost midnight," she said as she moved closer to me.
"I'm sure," I replied, trying to hide the nervousness in my voice. "So, are you a lawyer or photographer?"
"I'm both. Being a lawyer is my job and sadly, I'm really good at it. Photography is my hobby, it's my passion and I do it because I love it. It's an escape for me at times." I couldn't help but stare at her. She noticed and she shyly smiled, her cold and rosy red cheeks hiding the fact that she was blushing. "Someday I hope to only do photography."
I spotted my mother peeking through the kitchen window. She had the biggest smile on her face and I laughed at her thumbs-up gesture.
"It's almost time, girls," she said through the cracked open window.
"Your mom is pretty cool, and she loves you so much. She talked my ear off about you on the Fourth."
"I really owe her one, huh?""
"We both do," she said, a serious tone in her voice.
"She's still staring." I said with a giggle
"Do you think she'll mind if I kiss you at midnight?" Spencer asked.
"I don't think she'll mind at all." I reached up and held her cheek in my hand, caressing it softly. It was weird to me that I was so comfortable touching her, even in the simplest way.
Everyone inside the house began the countdown.
10, 9, 8...
"I'm so happy that you're here right now," I said. She moved closer to me and put her arms around my lower back.
"Me too," she replied.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1...
The house erupted, as well as my heart, as she leaned in.
"Happy New Year, Ashley," she whispered before her lips finally touched mine.
My heart, which was beating so fast, leapt inside my chest, something I had never felt before. Both of my hands now cradled her face as she pulled me closer into her. Despite the cold, her lips were warm and soft. It was the first real kiss I had ever had and I felt so much all at once. The excitement was overwhelming and, even though I was still standing, I knew I was feeling that weak-in-the-knees, head-over-heels, swept-off-my-feet feeling.
She pulled away before re-angling her head and kissing me again. It was another soft kiss which didn't last long, but it was perfect in every way that I could think of. We both opened our eyes and it was easy to see she was feeling all of those things too. Her lips curled up into a smile, showing her teeth and reaching her eyes.
"Look at that, a real smile," I said, and we both laughed.
"Get used to it," she said.
We sat in front of the fireplace, a blanket around us, and a hot cocoa mug in each of our hands. My mother had demanded that we come inside before we both got sick. She brought us the cocoa and shut the doors on the way out. Before she left, I mouthed a thank-you to her and she nodded. She could not have been more right about Spencer being perfect for me. I guess my mother knew me pretty well.
"I like the name Spencer. I think it fits you well. It's different," I said once my mother was gone.
"Thank you. I do too, actually. Well, now I do. I go by Spencer in L.A. The only people who still call me Elizabeth are my family and old friends like your mother."
"So, Spencer Elizabeth Carlin, do you have any plans tomorrow?"
She set her cocoa down and scooted closer to me. "I do. I was planning on finding a big hill and going sledding. You wanna join me?"
"I've never been sledding before. I've never really done anything in the snow before."
"I know. You told me on the plane. You grew up surfing... I grew up sledding. And that's why I plan to take you out in it as much as possible."
"Oh really? And just how long do you plan on staying?"
"As long as you do." Her hands found mine as she turned towards me.
"I thought you were going back to L.A. tomorrow night? Another lie?" I joked.
"No, I didn't lie. I just changed my mind." She shrugged.
"It's a date then. I can't wait to go sledding with you."
This time it was me who kissed her, and this time it was long and hard and full of want. I wanted more from Spencer than I had ever wanted from anyone. I wanted it all. It was definitely another new feeling for me, but it was a new year, a fresh beginning. And I was so looking forward to a new life. Hopefully one I could share with Spencer.
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