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New Year's Eve

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"Check out these hands." Danny holds them out for Mindy to see, fingers spread wide, but she barely looks over. She's too absorbed in watching Sandra Bullock stare wistfully after Peter Gallagher on the ancient TV in the hospital's break room.

Danny moves his right hand into Mindy's field of vision and she pushes it away. "Why, what's to see? They're swarthier than most, I guess, but otherwise-"

Danny looks at his hands again. "Swarthy? I'm not swarthy."

"Accept it as a compliment, Danny. Everyone knows fair-haired men aren't to be trusted." Mindy's tone carries a familiar sharpness Danny's glad to hear, no signs of the vulnerable version of herself he'd taken a microphone from at her Christmas party. "Just look at the general track record. Brad Pitt ditches Jennifer Aniston, Ryan Phillippe steps out on Reese Witherspoon with that Aussie no one ever hears about anymore. It's a definite pattern. Prince William's got a lot riding on him, is what I'm saying."

Mindy looks at Danny like she expects him to have something to say to that, but he doesn't, at all. She rolls her eyes and says, "What's the big deal about your hands, Danny? It's clear you've got something to say."

"Just that they're the hands that are going to bring the first baby of 2013 into the world."

"I see how you might have thought that," Mindy says. "But really what you're seeing is a reflection of the energy coming from the hands that will truly deliver New York's first baby. And those would be my hands, Danny. Mine."

Mindy holds out her own. Her nails are short, but polished; a glittery silver on her left hand except for her ring finger, which has gold polish. Her right hand has the opposite. "What's up with your nails?"

"The different colors? It's the new manicure thing."

"It looks stupid, like you changed your mind halfway through."

"No, Danny, that would be you with your marriage," Mindy says. "And you know who loves it? The mother of the first baby of 2013, Marta Cortez."

"Last I checked, your Marta Cortez has been stalled out at six centimeters for quite a while. Not much time to make that up between now and midnight."

"Oh, there's plenty," Mindy says. "Just wait."

Danny looks over at Mindy, who's gone back to watching the movie. "Care to make it interesting?"

Mindy sighs. "Why do people say that when they want to make a bet? Doesn't the fact that we're talking about the issue imply that it's interesting already? Wouldn't it make more sense to say something like, 'Hey Mindy, would you care to take some money off of my hands, because I'm about to propose a bet I'm sure to lose?'"

Danny stares at Mindy for a long moment. "Are you done?"

Mindy grins. "I'm done. And yes, I'm up for a bet. What are the stakes?"

"Loser buys lunch next week at work?"

Mindy holds out her hand and Danny shakes it. Her grip is strong and steady, but not aggressively so; a good handshake, the kind Danny's uncle spent a long time teaching him the importance of when he was a kid. Danny holds onto this one a beat or two longer than necessary because a good handshake is worth respecting, nothing to take lightly. That's the reason it's hard for him to let go.

~~

Mindy loses the bet first. Danny realizes this when he's standing in Carrie Punchuk's room a little after nine, waiting for Carrie and her husband to decide on an epidural, when he hears the familiar squeak of a bed being wheeled down the hallway. He looks to the right and sees Marta being wheeled by, Mindy by her head. She's speaking too quietly and is too far away for Danny to make out the particulars, but he can hear the tone; her usual confidence with something gentle underneath, like she's trying to make Marta less afraid. Hearing it makes Danny remember Marta more specifically; that she's only nineteen, and alone, and on Mindy's Worry List.

"What the hell is a Worry List?" he'd asked when she first mentioned it. "It sounds like something Oprah would come up with."

"I know that's supposed to be an insult, but Oprah is a transcendent positive force in the world and a true inspiration to me, and so I will take it as a compliment," Mindy had said, flipping her hair over one shoulder. "But it isn't something I got from her magazine. My Worry list a list of patients I worry about, Danny, either because their tests are problematic, or they've got a tough medical history, or there's just something about their pregnancy that makes me concerned. I keep a list of those patients and then when I have downtime, I work on their files and do research so that I can be more prepared."

Danny stays where he's standing but he wants to go out into the hallway and walk alongside the gurney, tell Marta that she's got nothing to worry about because Mindy is pretty much the best, and tell Mindy that, too. That she's got nothing to worry about, because he's figured out by now that Mindy's Worry List isn't just about worry that her patients might do badly, but worry that she might do badly by them. He wants to go out there and tell her that, but he can't, because they don't do things like that, and also because before he can take that first step toward the door, Carrie Punchuk says, "Dr. Castellano?" and he has to turn back to his patient.

~~

Danny loses the bet a couple hours later, when Carrie delivers a baby girl forty-seven minutes before midnight. One of the last babies of 2012, instead of one of the first of the new year. He goes to the break room and finds Mindy the way he did earlier in the evening: lounging on the couch, black glasses perched on her nose, watching a Sandra Bullock movie.

Danny looks at the TV again. "How is this on again?"

"What?" Mindy looks up. "Oh. It's on a DVD. I brought it in."

"Of course you did," Danny says, sitting down on the couch beside her. He watches Bill Pullman and Sandra Bullock struggle to stay upright on a patch of ice, and looks over to see Mindy watching it with a smile. "Hey, what about this guy?"

"Shh!" Mindy holds up a silencing finger in Danny's direction until the scene ends, and then looks back. "What about him?"

Danny gestures with his chin toward the TV. "Isn't he a fair-haired guy? He seems pretty stand-up compared with the guy with the eyebrows."

"Bill Pullman is not fair-haired," Mindy says, as if he'd just suggested Bill Pullman to be a space alien.

"He is compared to the guy with the eyebrows-"

"-otherwise known as Peter Gallagher, who is an awesome actor with a ton of great roles, how do you not know his name?"

Danny gestures toward the TV. "Because he's the guy with the eyebrows! Everyone knows him as that."

Mindy shakes her head at that and pauses the movie. She leans her head back against the couch and looks over at Danny, and without the TV or any conversation between them, she looks different. Smaller and a little tired. "How's Carrie?"

"Good. Delivered a healthy baby at 11:13, so we're both losers," Danny says. "How's Marta?"

"Fine," Mindy says. "Her monitors went south really quickly and I had to do an emergency C-section. She was one of the ones on my Worry list, did you know that?"

"No, I didn't realize," Danny says, because it feels weird for him to know something like that.

"I know you think my Worry List is stupid-"

"I don't think it's stupid," Danny says, and then when he sees the doubt in Mindy's expression, he says again, "I don't. Clearly you picked up on something with Marta and it helped you. What's stupid about that?"

"Nothing. It did help, because it ended up being pretty tricky," Mindy says, shifting the way she's sitting on the couch so that she's more upright. It places her closer to Danny, which he tries not to pay much attention to. "Because of that, I feel I should win the bet because of degree of difficulty."

Danny can't tell if Mindy really means what she's suggesting. "You can't change the terms of the bet after the fact."

Mindy shrugs. "If we both lost, why can't we?"

"Because – " Danny struggles to find a reasonable argument against this particular brand of Mindy-Logic and can't quite get there. He has to resort to, "Because you can't! It's just how it is."

"Excellent argument. I hope they're teaching that kind of rhetoric in America's schools," Mindy says, and then turns her head sharply toward the door to the break room. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" Danny asks, but in the quiet he can: the distant, high-pitched sound of noisemakers in the hall. He looks at his watch and sees the time, just ticking past midnight. The real first New York baby of 2013 is probably on his or her way into the world right about now, at the same time all those idiots in Times Square are screaming their heads off. He looks up to make a comment like that but Mindy's still looking at her watch, something thoughtful in her expression that makes him wonder if she's worrying about Marta, or thinking about Josh, or wishing she were someplace other than sitting beside him on the couch at this moment.

Mindy looks up and right at him, and none of those things are in her eyes, just the familiar Mindy he knows, formidable and sure. The force of it, of her, knocks something further off-kilter deep inside him, something that hasn't felt quite as steady as it should be since the day he met her. He ignores it the way he always tries to and says, "Hey, Happy New Year," in as laid-back a way he can, but he knows he hasn't pulled it off entirely because of the way she looks at him.

"Happy New Year, Danny," she says, and then does the absolute last thing he's prepared for, which means it's probably exactly what he should have expected: she leans over and kisses him. Once, quickly, a casual and impulsive New-Year's-Eve kiss, the kind he's given and received in the past without thinking of it. But it's like the handshake before, only worse, when Mindy starts to pull away; Danny finds himself leaning into her, putting a hand around the back of her neck to keep her close, turning what was a casual New-Year's-Eve kiss into something not casual at all because whatever went off-kilter inside feels like it's been put right in this moment, and he doesn't want it to end.

.end.