On New Year’s Eve, sixty kilometers outside Paris, in the Chateau de Vaux le Vicomte, in a velvet-cushioned folding chair of all things, First Officer Martin Crieff was playing footsie with the Princess of Lichtenstein.
The Marquis at last finished his droning speech and a pinched-faced man took his place. He announced something in German, then various other languages before arriving at a stiff, clear English: “And now the royal family of Lichtenstein will perform their traditional Tanz des Turmfalken.”
Theresa sat forward and drained her glass of Chardonnay. She rose from her seat beside Martin. Her purple silk dress shimmered in the light like the aluminium exterior of an aeroplane.
“Oh,” Martin said, “you didn’t tell me you were-”
“Now, Martin,” she started. “Just follow my lead, okay?”
“Why- you don’t mean-”
“It’s a partnered dance, yes.” She plucked at her sparkling necklace and at the waist of her dress, pulling everything into place. “Now come on, let’s get it over with.”
“But I don’t know the Tanz!”
“Well of course you don’t! No one actually knows how this dance is supposed to go. I make it up each time.”
Martin looked up at her in dismay. “Why didn’t you tell me we would have to- have to perform in front of-?”
“Because you would have worried about it for weeks. Now you will only worry for a few minutes. It’ll be fine, Martin, come on!” She took him by the wrist and started pulling him toward the center of the floor.
“Theresa, I really don’t think- is this a spinning kind of dance- because, because you see-”
Theresa rolled her eyes at her sister, who tossed her head and whispered something into her date’s ear- the Viscount of… well, somewhere. The musicians began to play.
“Theresa,” Martin hissed.
She placed his hands on her shoulder and her waist, then took him rather firmly by the shoulders. He stumbled back; she pulled him right. Her heels made decisive clicks against the checkered black-and-white tile. He focused down on them, painfully tall heels which only served to make Martin look even shorter. He did his best to match her steps.
She led them into a spin. Martin whined a little out of the back of his throat. (Thankfully, no one could have heard it over the music.) They straightened out again, back, left, right, forward, surely the song couldn’t go on much longer?, back, spin – the strings swelled, the vaulted ceiling whirled above him, the checkerboard floor rolled –
“Have you got a New Year’s Revolution, Douglas?”
Douglas sipped at his sparkling apple cider, sweet and sober but at least looking the part. “Oh, I don’t know,” he answered. “Every year I promise myself to start stocking up on gunpowder, but, you know how it goes, I get wrapped up in other things…”
“What?” Arthur asked, alarmed, though not nearly as alarmed as he ought to have been.
Herc clarified. “It’s New Year’s Resolution, Arthur, because you resolve to make a change.”
“Actually,” Carolyn cut in, “it’s because you become resolute.”
“Oh, right!” Arthur tugged at the string of his party hat. “And what’s resolute?”
Carolyn imperiously scratched Snoopadoop behind her ear. “Firm; unyielding.”
“What’s yours then, Mum?”
“I haven’t got one.”
“Makes sense,” Douglas said, “I wouldn’t think it would be possible to be any more unyielding than you already are.”
“Nonsense. I simply don’t need the permission of a new year to make up my mind. I decide when to change something, calendar be damned.”
Douglas might have had another retort then, but he was distracted. A text: Happy New Year, Dad. He typed out, Happy New Year, darling. Hope to see you soon, but erased the second part, not wanting to push his luck.
“Do I take it you have a resolution, Arthur?” Herc asked.
“Oh dear,” said Carolyn.
“I’m going to learn about time zones!” he announced.
“Time zones,” Herc echoed dryly.
Douglas slipped his phone back into his pocket. “Anything… about them in particular?”
“Well, you know. How it’s different times in different places. And you’d think places being far away would mean they were different times, but parts of Australia and Russia are in the same zone.”
“Right…” Carolyn withheld a smile, but not well enough; Herc had caught her at it.
“In some places it’s tomorrow!” Arthur continued. “Which means today in some places it’s next year! But it’s all right now!” He leapt off the sofa with a shout. “IT’S NEARLY MIDNIGHT!” he bellowed.
“It’s eleven!” Herc corrected.
Out on the balcony, Martin blinked furiously as a paramedic shone a flashlight in his eyes. “I’m really fine, I promise,” he insisted.
“You didn’t hit your head?” Theresa asked, her hand tight on his arm.
“No, no, I’m fine, I just got dizzy and passed out, is all.”
The medic nodded and tucked the light back into her back. “You call your physician if you develop a headache over the next few days, feel any tingling, blurred vision-”
“Yes, yes, thank you. Really, really it’s just my damn ear.”
“Bonne année,” she said, and left through the glass door back into the ballroom.
“Oh, Martin, I’m so sorry!” Theresa cried. “I had no idea.”
“It’s alright. Actually, I should apologize to you. I completely ruined the dance- the Tanz.”
Theresa waved his apology away. “Honestly, I’m glad for the excuse to get out of there.” She bent to undo the buckle of her shoes, then kicked them off with relief.
Martin squinted at her bare feet, bare arms. “Aren’t you freezing?”
“Oh, yes. Won’t you come warm me up?”
He blushed and put his arms around her. She pressed her ice-cold fingers into the back of his neck.
From the hall, cheers erupted.
“Oh, no,” Martin gasped, “we’ve missed it!”
Theresa turned her head just as a heart-stopping boom sounded behind them. Martin turned to look, too, at the fireworks blooming.
The fireworks lit Martin’s pale face red, blue, green. Theresa turned his chin and kissed him. They held this kiss for a long moment, out on the balcony of the chateau, exposed to the chill but sheltered from the royals, heiresses, and tycoons.
They were interrupted by both of their phones buzzing at once. Theresa tugged her phone out of the bust of her gown. “Oh, it’s Arthur!”
Martin opened the notification from the group chat. Sure enough- a selfie of Arthur, Carolyn, Herc, and Douglas, gathered in front of the fireplace, a bit blurred and off-centered. Captioned: “HAPPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!!,” followed by approximately a dozen emojis.
“How sweet,” Theresa crooned.
“Looks like they’re having a nice time.”
“We should send them one.” She tapped her phone into the front-facing camera.
Martin caught sight of himself on the screen. “Oh. Oh dear. Do you have a tissue, or something, to wipe off your- the, the lipstick?”
“No. Smile!” she said, and tilted her phone to catch the fireworks behind them.