Daren made his entrance as inconspicuously as possible, wending his way among the partygoers as if he had been there for hours instead of putting his arrival off until the last minute. Normally he enjoyed the company’s New Years party, if only because they were liberal with the alcohol and the single girls in the office had all secured dates and so left him alone, but this year he couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm. He promised himself he would stay long enough to get delightfully buzzed, then take a cab home and turn that buzz into a blind stupor. How else should one celebrate the holidays?
“Happy New Year,” A glass of champagne appeared before Daren, a second already lifted to Tanim’s curled lips. Daren accepted the drink with a nod, inwardly grateful to have something alcoholic in his hand so soon. “Where’s Catherine?” he inquired once he drained his glass. Not that he needed to see Tanim’s shrill wife to be reminded of why he would be going home alone tonight, of course; the unacknowledged tension between himself and his colleague was reminder enough.
Tanim waved in a vague direction. “Oh, off working the room. You know how she is; has to make an appearance in all the circles. God forbid she miss out on a piece of good gossip.” Turning so his back faced the majority of their gathered colleagues, he brushed a hand down Daren’s arm and added under his breath with a conspiratorial smirk, “You know, she’ll be occupied with her rumor mongering for a while…”
“Stop that,” Daren jerked his arm back, irritated both by the reckless display of affection and his own desire to play along despite the risk. “We’re going to get caught, you fool.”
“So?” Tanim shrugged, twirling his empty glass as he continued to grin.
“Maybe you want to get caught,” One judgmental eyebrow rose as Daren fixed Tanim with a hard stare. “Have any New Year’s resolutions I should know about?” The man snorted at the insinuation. “I’m just drunk,” he lied, then added with an appraising expression of his own, “and you’re particularly touchy tonight.”
“Not that drunk; and you’re the touchy one,” Daren frowned down into his empty champagne flute as if pure determination might magically fill it with something stronger. What a mistake to have come at all. He should have skipped the party and jumped straight to the drinking alone at home part. He was clearly in no mood for witty banter.
“Come on, why don’t we–”
“Ten! … Nine! … Eight!” The countdown chorus interrupted Tanim’s illicit offer. Relieved, Daren used the momentary distraction to inch back from his companion. “Looks like time’s up,” he muttered, nodding to the lithe young woman craning her head as she searched for her wayward husband among the embracing couples. “Go kiss your wife happy New Year or you’ll never hear the end of it.” Tanim stared at him a moment, lips parted as if to argue or perhaps apologize, but in the end he only lowered his eyes to hide their guilt and disappeared into the crowd.