Times Square was not where Sara expected to spend New Year’s Eve. If asked, she would have said that she’d be at home, alone, curled up on her couch with a decent book and a bottle of wine, and that’s only if she was unlucky. If she was lucky, she’d be working, at a crime scene somewhere, or in the lab, and she wouldn’t have to think about herself, or her life, or how much she hates New Year’s Eve.
She wasn’t to know that Deb, one of her team-mates, her closest friend in San Francisco, in and out of work, would take umbrage at the bare notion of her spending the festive period in the lab. “No way,” she’d said, New York accent unusually pronounced. “No way are you working the whole of Christmas.” Sara had tried to protest, tell her that she didn’t mind, that she was going to request it, but that hadn’t been good enough for Deb. “Forget it,” Sara had been told, in a tone that brooked no argument. “You’re coming home with me.”
And so it was that Sara had been welcomed into the bosom of the O’Reilly family, a large boisterous crowd, Deb being the middle child of seven. The house was never less than packed, but very rarely were they inside for prolonged stretches of time, Deb having a sizeable contingent of friends and being intent on introducing Sara to every one of them.
It was when they went to a party with Deb’s brother Mark – well, Deb went voluntarily, Sara went because they threatened her with guns and badges – that things had taken an unexpected turn.
A detective in the NYPD, Mark brought them to a party thrown by one of his friends, a party that was, quite literally, wall to wall with New York’s finest. Some of them knew Deb, some of them didn’t, but all were quite eager to make the acquaintance of Mark’s sister, even if they did so with him looking over them with eagle eyes. Sara, however, was afforded quite a bit more anonymity, and though she never usually had a good time at affairs like this, was a bit too adept at playing the loner, she managed to mix quite successfully at this one, moving around, talking to various people, swapping tales of San Francisco and New York with ease. She picked up invitations to several New Year’s bashes, not to mention several suggestions about places she should visit, and when she’d had as many as she could handle, she tactfully excused herself to visit the buffet table.
She was scanning the choices available when she heard a new voice at her elbow.
“I’d skip the chicken if I were you… the barbeque sauce is kinda hinky.”
“I’m a vegetarian,” Sara said as she turned, “So that’s a no-brainer.”
The edges of her companion’s lips turned up in a small smile, and he lifted one eyebrow in appraisal. “Oh, so it’s like that is it?” he asked, turning his attention back to the buffet table, which gave Sara a moment to collect her self-possession, which had momentarily deserted her when she’d looked up at him. About the same height as her, maybe an inch or two taller, he had the kind of looks that had Deb’s voice screaming “Result!” in the back of her head. Dark hair, dark eyes, obviously had some kind of Latin blood in him, he was a handsome man, New York born and raised if the accent was anything to go by, and if he was frequenting this party, probably a cop. But what appealed to Sara, more than the obvious, was the way he’d smiled at her, how his eyes had seemed to dance with amusement as he’d spoken, how they still did so when he turned back to her, pointing to one of the bowls on the table. “I recommend the guacamole…and the salad seems to look particularly… green…” His tone made it clear what he thought of that option, and Sara surprised herself by laughing out loud.
“Let me guess… if there’s no meat there, it’s not a true meal?” She’d been on one disastrous blind date where the guy had actually told her that; it had made her swear that she’d never let anyone fix her up again.
“I’m not sure I’d go that far,” he replied. “Though I will say that if God intended me to eat salad all day, he’d’ve made me a rabbit…” Once again, Sara found herself laughing, and she dimly hoped that Deb wasn’t watching; she’d be picking out her bridesmaid’s dress.
“Well, I’m not actually that hungry anyway,” she told him. “But you’re right about the guacamole; I had some earlier. Skipped the salad though.”
“A woman of taste… I’m impressed.” Turning to face her, he tilted his head, looked her up and down. “No offence… but you don’t sound like you’re from around here.”
“San Francisco actually… I’m just here for the holidays.” She realised, somewhat belatedly, that she’d never introduced herself, and she’s sure she hadn’t met him already. A man who looked like that is a man she would have remembered. “I’m Sara… Sara Sidle.”
“Tony Rodriguez.” He surprised her by extending his hand; his grip was firm, strong. “Nice to meet you, Sara Sidle.”
Her immediate thought had been that it was nice to be met; thankfully, she retained enough common sense not to say as much out loud. Instead, he asked her about the friends she was staying with, and what she’d done with her vacation time, and she was enjoying talking to him so much that she didn’t realise how late it was until Deb appeared at her side, telling her that she and Mark were heading off. Her eyes lingered on Tony when she spoke, and when she turned to Sara, her face obscured from Tony’s eyes, her grin spoke volumes. “You don’t have to come with us though… I mean, if you’d rather stay…”
Sara could read the look on her friend’s face, a veiled order to stay put, but Tony took the matter out of her hands by looking at his watch. “I should be going myself actually… I’ve got an early start tomorrow…” He didn’t look any more eager to leave than Sara felt, and he glanced at Deb quickly before looking back at Sara, his gaze lingering. “Look, a gang of us are meeting up on New Year’s Eve… we’re gonna head for Times Square, see what’s going on there… would you ladies care to join us?”
The invitation was addressed to Sara, who looked at Deb for confirmation. Deb must have taken it as something else though, because she leaped in with, “We’d love to.”
“Great.” Tony reached for a napkin, pulling a pen from his pocket and scribbling something on it. “This is my number… if you call me tomorrow, we can sort something else…” He pressed it into Sara’s hand. “It was good talking to you Sara.”
“Yeah.” It was all Sara could say as she watched him walk away, her cheeks warmer than the temperature of the room could account for. Deb’s grip on her arm brought her back to reality in a hurry.
“Details, Sara… right now!”
With a little prompting, Sara told her friend everything in the cab on the way home, and when they’d reached the house, Deb had practically done a victory dance up to the front door. She’d been the one who, when Sara had had a crisis of confidence and told her that Tony was just being polite when he gave her his number, had insisted that she call him, and stood over her as she did it. It had been Deb who ransacked her wardrobe, and her sister’s wardrobe, to find Sara “something perfect” to wear, and it had been Deb who physically sat her down and did her hair and her makeup.
She hardly recognised herself when she looked in the mirror, and that alone had been enough to make her uncomfortable about going, even without Deb developing a sudden desire to ring the New Year in with her family. Sara tried her best, but Deb couldn’t be dissuaded, was just as insistent on putting Sara into a cab, and at that precise moment, Sara could have cheerfully killed her. However, when she stood in front of a small restaurant on a side street in Manhattan and saw the appreciative look in Tony’s eyes as he greeted her, she was very grateful to her friend.
True to Tony’s word, there was a large group assembled for dinner, but he introduced her to everyone, sat beside her, made sure she was included in the conversation. And, when they made their way down the street, heading towards Times Square, he walked slowly with her, unconcerned when they ended up at the back of the group, everyone else far ahead of them. All the while, they were chatting animatedly, and Sara barely even noticed when Tony’s hand slipped into hers.
She did notice, however, when she went to cross at an intersection they came to right before Times Square. Sara could see the lights in the distance, could hear the excited chatter of the crowd that was already building, and a tremor of anticipation ran through her body. She felt momentarily foolish, acting like a tourist around all these native New Yorkers, and she smiled to herself, looking across at Tony to share the joke. What she saw in his face, in his eyes, stopped her in her tracks, and she was about to open her mouth to ask him what was wrong when he laid his free hand on her cheek. His palm should have felt cold, but it was warm, sending goosebumps down Sara’s spine, or maybe that was his voice, low and sincere, saying words she’d never heard before.
She wanted to protest, to make some weak joke about how he needed his eyes checked, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead, her cheeks warmed, and she smiled up at him, and when he leaned in to kiss her, his lips were as warm as his hand on her cheek.
It was a brief kiss, because the crowd moved around them, the intersection crosslights having changed in their favour, and still hand in hand, walking closer together than ever, they moved up Times Square to join the crowd already waiting there.
This wasn’t where Sara would have planned to spend her New Year’s Eve.
But she couldn’t wait to see what the New Year would bring.