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There wasn’t much Jen enjoyed about the holiday season. For the longest time, spiked eggnog was really the only highlight. And then she had kids, and then the holidays centered around crafting gingerbread houses and frosting Santa shaped sugar cookies. Rum infused eggnog took a natural second place. 

 

(She generally loved two things: her kids, and alcohol.)

 

Mostly, it was that she felt the cheer surrounding the unfolding days between Thanksgiving and the new year were almost always faked and forced, and she didn’t much like that; it was as if everyone had decided that for a few weeks out of the year life wasn’t an incessant cesspool of ever-growing shit. Jen was never good at forcing herself to feel happy when she wasn’t, and the holidays were no exception. 

 

And it really was no different this year; she didn’t necessarily enjoy any of the Christmas themed activities she and Judy did with the boys, but she liked that Henry and Charlie and Judy at least seemed happy. She had figured that if anyone deserved happiness, it was those three. 

 

Out of every activity done, Jen definitely did not love the annual Christmas night market held downtown. It was a bit insane how much people genuinely loved Christmas, a few overzealous people spotted with “ugly Christmas sweaters”, decked head to toe in red and green. The food they served was just okay, so wildly overpriced for a bag of kettle corn. They didn’t even sell alcohol, mimicking some sort of totally family-friendly Disneyland bullshit. 

 

(There was a part of Jen, though, that felt a spot of jealousy in the joy Christmas brought for others and was only ever lacking for her.) 

 

Soon enough, though, the holiday passed, and with it, a new tradition rose; Judy’s cinnamon rolls. Unsurprisingly, Judy made the best cinnamon rolls Jen’s ever eaten. Homemade, from scratch, all the works. And, of course, both boys loved them, each ate two for breakfast on Christmas morning after the presents were taken care of. Pretty quickly, from glances across the table shared between Jen and Judy, as they watched the boys in their fatigued haze from a surely restless night of excitement eat nearly like they’d missed three days worth of meals, it was an unspoken decision that Christmas morning cinnamon rolls were going to be routine. 

 

It was that incredibly odd chunk of time between Christmas and the new year that felt liminal, and like the days didn’t really count for much of anything. Work was slow for Jen, and Judy had time off; the most that got done included finishing up the rum and eggnog cream mixture, slipping it into cups of midafternoon just because coffee, and watching random movies ready to stream. 

 

She and Judy and the boys had spent the season further sinking into the unit they’d unintentionally found safety in; there was something relieving where Henry and Charlie seemed to find a similar sense of comfort as she did with Judy being a permanent fixture. Jen had known Henry was certainly attached to Judy, though with Charlie, both she and Judy weren’t sure his level of comfort. The big question for weeks being, if Judy continued living with them going forward would it be different than under the guise of temporary? 

 

And then Charlie had humbly asked her one night weeks before Christmas if he were to buy Judy a gift, a few paintbrushes, maybe? if Judy would want something like that, which had practically sealed the deal that Judy wasn’t any sort of infiltrator, but a sort of extra piece to the puzzle they had so luckily (paradoxically) found. 

 

Jen hadn’t thought of New Year’s as any special thing, either. The new year, for everyone it seemed, was exciting in the sense that there was something exhilarating about the change of the calendar, though maybe it was just some primordial setback, the symbolism of it all, and it was always a great excuse to drink the fanciest champagne, but for the last three-fourths of her life, December 31st felt nothing like the precipice of something new, rather like she was just about to be thrust into another year where daily she’s just trying to make it through without a breakdown in the Ralph’s grocer. 

 

(She didn't like to think about the kissing aspect of the holiday, either. She hadn’t had a good one in a very long time.) 

 

This year, the idea of a fresh, clean slate had felt slightly more promising. The year coming to a close for once felt like the end of an old, wrought chapter, and the beginning of something slow, yet burgeoning; a life being reclaimed. Jen almost felt hopeful, and for the first time possibly in her life, she had zero instinct to squash it, protect herself, and carry on guards up. She wasn’t going to rely too heavily on it though; jinxing it was the last thing she wanted. 

 

It was nearing 9 pm, the end of what Jen thought was called When Harry Met Sally, a movie Judy said was the perfect new years classic, playing on the TV. Harry was declaring his love, as all good leading rom-com men do, and Jen was reaching forward into the popcorn bowl sitting on the coffee table, only to have found it empty. She leaned back into the cushions, and looked at Judy beside her, curled into the arm of the couch, a thick, cream-colored knitted blanket tucked around her and felt herself smiling as she admired Judy’s own soft smile. 

 

Jen looked back at the TV, feeling at odds with herself that she found any of this confessing of love dramatics charming. So, maybe it would be even sort of sweet for someone to tell you that they are in love with you at a New Year’s Eve party after years of friendship. She was emotionally repressed, not a monster. 

 

“And it's not because I'm lonely,” he passionately says, “and it's not because it's New Year's Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

 

Judy sighed longingly and so loudly she startled herself, inducing her wide eyes, and tinged red cheeks. Jen looked at her, and she nodded, and she had hoped that Judy would get it: no judgment, she tried to say, it would be nice, wouldn’t it?

 

When the credits rolled, Judy stretched her arms up, and said from her position next to Jen, “that reminds me…”

 

Jen raised her eyebrows, again making the mistake of reaching for the popcorn. “Damn, who ate all of this?” she said, retracting again. When she slumped back against the couch, Judy said, “The Roomba, definitely.”

 

“Right under our noses, too,” Jen said, and immediately, upon Judy’s grin, it was as if everything inside of her vibrated. It wasn’t such a startling thing anymore, to look at Judy and have felt her body move as if every molecule suddenly had found its rightful home. The first time she noticed it, the moment was a lot like this. 

 

She thought of Judy all the time, and often that meant that life was growing into an embarrassing collection of cataloged thoughts like the flower display at the grocery store was a lot like you. 

 

Judy had leaned her head back against the couch, her hair falling gently, her bangs cascading across her forehead. She smiled, and her eyes were heavy, and she said, “Care to attend an octogenarians' New Year's Eve party?” 

 

“What 80 year old from your art basics class are you dating?” Jen said jokingly. 

 

“Oh, his name is Lee,” Judy said, and so casually it was as if a true to life confirmation. Judy didn’t give herself away, in fact, she set her face in such a nonchalant look, for a moment, Jen was certain Judy was dating her 80-year-old student. Questionable in so many ways. 

 

“What, didn’t I tell you?” Judy said, finally cracking enough to where a small sign of Judy shone through; her smile, set perfectly. 

 

Jen considered Judy only momentarily, studying the grin Judy now had, one that so often had become a point of pride for Jen. No matter the reason, Judy’s smile, aimed at her, felt like finding a twenty on the sidewalk. 

 

Snapping herself out of it, Jen shook her head with a gruff laugh. 

 

“So, if it’s not your boyfriend’s party, then whose is it?” Jen asked, “Because not to be a bummer but neither of us has a phone book's worth of friends.” 

 

“They wanna do a party for the residents at work,” Judy said. “It’s nothing crazy, just like, a small thing in the common area, mostly so no one spends the night alone. You’d be surprised how lonely it is, especially because a lot of the time it’s like people just dump their parents there, and barely ever visit them. So, I said I would be there because only a few others had volunteered—"

 

“I can’t blame them, I’m not sure I would wanna spend new year’s there, either.” 

 

“Jen, we’ve talked about ageism—"

 

“No, Judy, not cause they're old,” Jen shot back, “just because I think I’m a little past parties in general, and I mean, okay, kill me, a party with exclusively old people sounds like watching paint dry.”

 

“Well, you don’t have to go, of course,” Judy said, reassuringly. “We just hadn’t discussed any new years plans, so I thought maybe you’d wanna accompany me to what I’m sure is going to be the hottest party in Orange County.” 

 

“Ah, well, my plans are usually something like stay home and drink champagne and watch the boys fight over who will stay up the latest,” Jen said, and felt herself suddenly well up, her stomach sinking at the thought of Ted, and him not being here, and the loneliness that ruminates at the thought of him, the loneliness she’d attached to him for so long—the loneliness that is now a stranger, like a cold, empty bed. Jen shrugged lightly, and told Judy, “The retirement home for the night might be a nice change of pace, who knows.” 

 

Judy smiled. “The boys could probably come if they want. Family is invited.” 

 

Jen, as if Judy were some sort of mythical being, felt this near mortifying sense of wonder while Judy spoke. Family—it was as if each of them had these terrors bounding within, both separate and intertwined, and when the word was in place, meaning her and Judy and Henry and Charlie, them , mixed up all together...well, it felt a lot like love, standing in, and remodeling those terrors into liveable ones. 

 

“What time is this thing at?” Jen asked, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but don’t they have a bedtime?” 

 

“See, that’s a myth,” Judy said, as if a kind lecturer, “They get ready for bed at a certain time, but they don’t have to go to bed by any time. It’s not a psych ward, and they have patient rights that allow them that freedom.” 

 

“Well, good to know that I have rights when I end up there.” 

 

“You think the boys would put you in a home?” 

 

“Henry might take care of us.” 

 

“Aww,” Judy said, in a sort of coo. “I think he would. Charlie would come around I’m sure.”

 

“Yeah, the little shit,” Jen said, laughing at the thought of her, old and fighting with Charlie about whether or not the fate of their living situation lies within his hands. “Anyway,” Jen said, “maybe I’ll see if Lorna’s interested in spending the night with the boys. Henry, unfortunately, is still on this grandma kick. He always wants to go over there.” 

 

“And Charlie?” Judy said. “I just wouldn’t want them to think they aren’t welcome.” 

 

“Well, Charlie loves to say no, he’s like a two-year-old,” Jen said, “I don’t know, he could probably stay home if he really wanted.” 

 

“Oh, he would probably love you for that,” Judy said, laughing.  

 

“Well, I’ve gotta do whatever it takes if I don’t wanna end up in a home,” Jen said, returning a smaller laugh. 

 

“So, it’s a date?” Judy said, as if she conjured up all the hope in the world, and lit it, burning it between the two of them, leaving it up to Jen to keep the fire going. 

 

Jen would be certifiably selfish to say no.

 

***

 

It happened like this: 

 

Lorna jumped at the chance, thrilled over the phone that Jen would ever even offer to send the boys to her for New Year’s. A monologue about how alone she always had been on December 31st, how horrible it had always been that Jen had kept Ted and the boys from her every year (what the fuck was that all about? Lorna never even hinted that she wanted them for the holiday), and with the consent of the boys later, the plan was set. Charlie and Henry would head over to their grandmother’s at half-past 8, and she and Judy would go over to the nursing home after dropping them off. 

 

And then Charlie decided throwing a wrench in the plans, though a tiny one, would be fun. Apparently, Charlie had made friends over the past few months at school that he kept to himself. Clearly an issue about trust and communication, Jen allowed him to stay at his friends for the night, with the promise of no fucking funny business, and her own inner promise that she would work on the fact that her son wasn’t telling her the most basic of things; new friendships should be celebrated, not hidden. 

 

Henry was a kid who went to bed early, every night, his sleep schedule not yet tarnished. He announced on the way, from the backseat, “I am going to stay up until 3am, mom, so I will probably be facetiming you and Judy at midnight so be ready, okay, please?” 

 

“Sure, thing,” Jen had said. She knew she would be receiving a text from Lorna that Henry was out by 10 pm. 

 

When they dropped him off, they stood on the sidewalk in front of the car, he hugged Judy tighter than he hugged Jen, and she couldn’t even be mad about it, because Henry had kissed Judy’s cheek, and hastily said, “Happy New Year. Thanks for the pancakes always, love you and mom, bye!” before running up to the door to greet his grandmother. 

 

Jen looked at Judy then and played it off, but the pure joy, there, on Judy’s face, radiating like a sunbeam...Jen thought she might live and die for that kind of thing, her kids happy, and Judy the cause and effect. 

 

(Charlie had done the same, though to a more low stakes effect; night mom, night Judy, love you both, bye. It worked fine, really. Judy, eyes watering, twice induced.)

 

Jen was new to the world of nursing home new years eve parties, but she was pleasantly surprised by the alcohol selection. She wondered briefly how many people here couldn’t mix meds and alcohol before she got herself a glass of pink champagne. 

 

The space was about as big as a middle school’s multi-purpose room, like a miniature school gymnasium, the smell of sweat replaced by old people—something Judy maintained was a bit of an ageist claim. 

 

It was new, seeing Judy in her work environment. Despite it being a party, it was certainly a much calmer atomosphere, and Jen thought that Judy didn’t seem totally at ease, but she had this swiftness about her. Like she was everywhere at once; there when someone turned around to talk to her. Judy was good with older people and kids, it seemed, and not the best with those she shared a generation with. Seeing Judy walk around, she had wondered if they met under the guise of anything other than the both of their extreme emotional vulnerability if they would even be friends. She’d like to think they would, but she wasn’t sure, and that scared her. 

 

It wasn’t until Jen stood off to the side of the decorated in the black and white common area, after Judy had briefly introduced her as my friend, Jen, to a few people she worked with, that she really took in Judy’s outfit. Jen had known Judy dressed well, and Jen tended to come up with a billion and one buzzwords for anything other than beautiful, but tonight, with her hair in her natural wave, a little longer than it’s been since knowing her, a pale purple flowy and long-sleeved dress that she wore, she just looked beautiful, and that was all there was to it. Judy looked beautiful.

 

Jen had briefly wondered, sipping her champagne, if she, compared to Judy, looked less than in her pantsuit. Judy said she liked the white blouse underneath, though, and that she liked that they matched well, and since her opinion was really the only one that mattered, the fear was squashed upon the thought. 

 

It was sort of exactly what you would expect: quiet crooning music, folks gathered around, some sitting, some standing and swaying to the music, a few what surely were kids of these residents visiting. One, in unfortunate particular, that Judy had been talking to off and on. 

 

Judy wasn’t the type to take you to a party and leave you, Jen knew that much. She knew that Judy was working, but Jen noticed this man trailing behind Judy as she walked from small group to small group of residents, checking up on them, and Jen decided she would see how Judy was doing. And see what this guy had in mind. 

 

Jen caught Judy midway between groups of people. She reached for Judy’s upper arm and squeezed and felt relieved when Judy lit up, smiling at her. “Hey,” she said eagerly, turning toward Jen, and Judy grabbed her forearm. “I’m just doing a round of checking up on people and then I’m yours for the next half an hour straight.” 

 

Jen smiled. Judy really was beautiful. She hated that there was no other way to say it. She just was. It seemed a fact like the sky was blue, or that she was 45. 

 

She followed Judy like a puppy, but she couldn’t be embarrassed because she had a slight worry that there was someone here who took a liking to Judy that wasn’t her—a thought in and of itself that made her recoil. She would deal with that later, when Judy wasn’t being infringed upon.

 

When Jen wasn’t looking, mesmerized by the bubbly, how it fizzed to the top, the man, the culprit, saddled up and went for it. 

 

“This your friend Jen I heard so much about?” 

 

Jen looked up at him. She regarded him. She heard Judy say, “the one and only,” and Jen put on her best relator’s smile, and said, “Hey, bud,” like she was talking to a kid.

 

He tilted his head. “Nice meeting you,” and then, tipping his own glass forward, he said, “what are you drinking?” 

 

“The pink stuff,” she said, too stern. She recognized the harshness in her casual words. She didn’t tone it down. “Not sure what it’s called—"

 

“Eh, it’s all alcohol, right?” he said, smiling satisfied like he made that great of a remark. 

 

“Exactly.” Jen punctuated the word with a flat smile. 

 

“So, how do you know Judy?” he asked, and then sipped his drink. Dark liquor. Hm. 

 

Jen thought, how do I know Judy? How do you know Judy, asshole? Okay, maybe too harsh. 

 

“We go way back,” Jen said through semi gritted teeth. The lie was easier than the semi-truth. We met at a grief group wasn’t even untangled with questions. 

 

“Yes, we do,” Judy confirmed. Jen looked at Judy then; at that moment, she had a smile so fake to Jen, but so real to an outsider. It was sort of impressive, the way Judy was able to reel her emotions in, her face unreadable. 

 

“How do you know Judy here?” Jen asked. She wasn’t sure why everything she said had been condescending but she wasn’t sure if she even cared. She got the vibe from this guy, a nameless brunette with a beard insofar, that he probably was trying to make it as an auteur in LA like any other white guy, so why be nice?

 

“She teaches art to my dad,” he said.

 

“Oh, well,” Jen said, glancing at Judy. She politely smiled at Judy, then softened. “She’s quite the artist.” 

 

“Very talented,” he said, confidently. “I’ve seen some of her paintings, and they’re beautiful.” 

 

Judy smiled then, and said, “oh, thank you,” but Jen had to force herself not to scrunch her nose, and she thought, well her paintings are hanging in our house. 

 

“And I never thought I would find a date to this kind of a new year’s eve party in my dad’s senior art class, but,” he trailed off, as if this was a huge feat, and sipped his drink. 

 

Jen realized her jaw was clenched. She swallowed and then cleared her throat. Okay, she thought, interesting development. 

 

“Judy,” Jen said, accidentally sing-songy. She looked at Judy who seemed shocked, though come down with only a mild form of it. 

 

“You know what,” Judy said, placatingly. She smiled at no name, and said, “I am gonna use the bathroom. The bubbly is getting to me.” 

 

Jen nodded between them and said, “Girl code. Me too.” 

 

As soon as they both turned, Judy harshly whispered, “That was a lie. I haven’t even had any alcohol, I’m on the clock.”

 

Mind blank, Jen slugged back the rest of her drink as they walked away, and when done she dropped it off at the nearest table. Jen didn't say anything until they’d rounded a corner, away enough from the main crowd.

“Jesus Judy, maybe I need to get a job here, every date you’ve had recently you’ve snagged from this place. Never would’ve thought that this was a breeding ground.” 

 

“Okay, it’s not like that,” Judy said, stern in a way Judy wasn’t, and Jen felt fired up enough that she couldn’t immediately drop the act. 

 

“Okay, what’s it like, then?” Jen asked. “Because I could be at home, in my pajamas, slightly drunk and making fun of Ryan Seacrest or whoever hosts the ball drop right now, Judy.” 

 

“I think it is Ryan Seacrest,” Judy said, thoughtfully. 

 

“And Jenny McCarthy,” Jen added. 

 

“No, she left,” Judy said. 

 

“Oh, that’s good.”

 

“Yeah, for the best. I think she’s antivaxx—”

 

“Okay,” Jen said, cutting her off, and lowering her voice. She looked at Judy expectantly. 

 

“Michael is...a bit persistent,” Judy whispered. She stood against a canary yellow wall, and it suddenly hit Jen that if she stepped even an inch forward their faces would be squished. The champagne must’ve been going straight to her head. She stepped back. 

 

“I never said yes to this being a date with him,” Judy said, matter of factly, “he just said he would be here to visit his dad, and I said I would be, too, work-wise, and he said it’s a date, but I didn’t think he meant a literal, actual date until he greeted me tonight and said I looked beautiful for our date.” 

 

“Of course his name is Michael,” Jen said. 

 

“What’s wrong with the name Michael?” Judy asked as if Jen had a real answer. 

 

“He like, tricked you,” Jen said, “that’s weird. That’s like, a setup.” Feeling protective, and lacking the filter or the ability to stop and think, Jen said, “Well, you’re officially my date now. So too bad for fuckhead Michael.” 

 

“Oh, Jen,” Judy said, Jen swore with a blush, “that’s okay, I mean, I know it’s not a date, and I think he does, too. If he gets weird about it—"

 

“I’ll punch him,” Jen said, simply. 

 

“Noo,” Judy said, “never violence, please.”

 

“Violence...sometimes.” 

 

Judy gave her a look. 

 

“Violence occasionally.”

 

Judy sighed. “Depends, I guess,” she said with a shrug.

 

“Violence when men are insistent assholes.”

 

“Okay...maybe.” 

 

“Judy, c’mon, if he’s being a dick maybe he deserves a bit of slap around.” 

 

Judy leaned her head against the wall. “What are you, my knight in black pantsuit?” 

 

Jen laughed lightly. “Well, I guess.” 

 

“You know, he’s probably already threatened because you look better than he does,” Judy said, pointedly. 

 

Jen clammed up. She stuck her hands in her front pockets. “You think?” 

 

“Oh, yeah,” Judy said, smiling. She reached out and grabbed the front of Jen’s blazer, and gently tugged. 

 

“You look nice, too.” Jen could barely say it. Not because she didn’t think it, but because she meant it more than she even let on. 

 

“Well, thanks.” Judy smiled wider, and she dropped her hand. She did that thing again, where she grabbed hold of Jen’s hand, and guided her arm around her waist, and swooped in for a hug. Judy’s face was in her hair, and her arms were sliding around Judy’s back, and Jen realized it had already happened before she could stop it. 

 

She loved Judy. 

 

At that moment, it was the only thing she wanted to say. And she wanted it to mean something other than love you, best friend. She wanted it to mean I’ll protect you here from this person, and you’ll protect me at home while I pour my heart, and we’ll take turns shielding one another because love is the catalyst. 

 

(And if it were true, that love was something that just happened, at least it wouldn’t be her fault.

 

Though it would kinda be easier if it was.)

 

When they walked back out, she slipped her arm around Judy’s waist. She felt Judy lean into her, and she shivered like a symbol, struck suddenly.

 

Jen hadn’t thought too deeply about what would happen at midnight, but now she increasingly worried this guy was going to at least try to kiss Judy. She knew there was a part of her that liked the idea that she possibly, in some stroke of luck, would be the one getting to kiss Judy, and in this strange way, it felt like she had already accepted it—as if the wanting had already been happening long before she realized it. 

 

When she thought of Judy, an all the time occurrence, she felt the sort of fear you harbor with knowing the truth in the face of denial. There didn’t seem to be a way she could ostensibly deny it; she liked Judy around. She wanted her forever. She wanted Judy in the way you’d want a wife—and, well, that didn’t feel exclusively friendly. 

 

Judy, when she left Jen’s side to do her rounds again, eventually wound up talking to Michael, and when she left him for Jen and walked over to her, Jen had to refrain from thinking in terms of ha, she’s mine because she wasn’t and because that’s misogynistic, really. Judy was an autonomous being...but, it would be something if she were Jen’s. 

 

She wasn’t even sure how late it was—all she knew was that Judy was slightly swaying to soft music, and right next to her, and that all she wanted to do was wrap Judy in an embrace and sway with her. She had gone so soft, and was able to not feel an ounce bad about it...the magic of Judy, she guessed. 

 

They spent a significant chunk of time standing around, mingling lightly if anyone spoke to them. 

 

Maybe it was the alcohol she picked up, something stronger than champagne, one of the dark liquors, barely even mixed with anything regular, but Jen began...ruminating. Never a good thing, only ever leading to rash realizations. So maybe Judy had done what Jen had always hoped someone would—maybe Judy got Jen to pull back, and let go, and not feel ashamed about it. Maybe Judy had wrecked her life, wrecked any semblance of plans she had, and maybe Jen felt lucky she was the one whose life Judy momentarily ruined. 

 

Judy turned to her, and she thought maybe Judy could read minds because she was leaning in like she was about to do some wish fulfillment for Jen, but she said, “You know, we can leave early. Boss said that I don’t need to stay till midnight if I don’t wanna.” 

 

“Oh,” Jen said, weirdly hushed--and fucking relieved. “Well, what else are we gonna do?” 

 

Judy’s eyes sparkled, Jen swore. “Oh, I can think of a few things.” 

 

***

 

Weed, of course. 

 

It was always weed. Not that Jen was complaining. 

 

There was something fitting about going where they’d always gone.

 

It was like the nighttime cast a veil of anonymity, and Jen was tricked into safety, openness, and honesty. Tricked, but still willing, the cloud of weed over her sensibilities...maybe even the cloud of Judy, too.

 

It was a little too cold to be sitting on the beach, December in California though thought of otherwise was not always a beach dwelling habitable place. So, they sat in the car, and despite the worry that they would get caught, they each took a few hits of a small joint Judy had shoved into the bottom of her purse. They each had the seat fully reclined, and the sunroof, not open, but uncovered, showed a navy night’s sky. 

 

“You know,” Jen had said, turning her face to look at Judy. The sidewalk light was the only thing illuminating either of them. Her cheek was squished against the faux leather or the seat, and Judy’s too when she looked at Jen. “It’s nice to feel like the walls aren’t caving in on me for two minutes.” 

 

It was instances like this one, where everything was truly fine, where Jen wondered how she ever dealt with being so deeply, incredibly unhappy. She thought, for forever it seemed, like she enjoyed suffering, like some sort of masochist who knew no else so reveled in it, but with Judy, she knew that was not true, that she surely would prefer something better—and it’s unbelievable, even undeserved, that she’d gotten it, right before her. 

 

“It’s always nice to feel happy,” Judy said, quietly. 

 

“Yeah,” Jen said, hushed. She looked back up, and at the deep gray clouds now hiding the navy. Soon, it would be a new year. Soon, her kids would turn 11 and 17, and Charlie will be graduating high school. Soon, she will have known Judy in multiple years, across months doubled over, and soon she would be older than her mother ever was. Soon, she would have to deal with that. 

 

She roughly exhaled.

 

It hadn’t dawned on her how much they’d made it through until now, not fully anyway. Of course, she was aware of it all, but now she thought about how the worst thing in the world had happened, multiple times, by her own hand, even, and she still got up the next morning, and she still was alive, and she still sat and drank her coffee. 

 

That must count for something. 

 

She had thought about how much they’d both gone through, how they had each held a lifetime of pain within them before ever even crossing paths. How they were at the point of no return. They knew each other's worst acts, and wouldn’t even think twice about them. They had carved a space for each other, and they would never leave the other abandoned. Jen faced Judy, who was already looking at her, and she said, like a crack through the air, “Thanks for inviting me.”

 

“Of course,” Judy said, “who else?” 

 

Jen smiled, her eyes suddenly heavy. 

 

“I mean, who else would threaten to punch someone for me?” Judy said. Quieter then, she said, “Who else would be so giving?” and she smiled, and it made Jen smile, too. 

 

She hadn't known any other thing to say. 

 

“Judy, I—” she took a breath. “Well, I think I love you.” 

 

The orange glow surely added to the shine in Judy’s eye, somehow. Impossible that they’ve lit up so much, Jen thought. Judy turned her body, so she was lying on her side. “So, what are you so afraid of?” she said, sing-songy. 

 

Jen felt slightly taken aback. Uh, a lot, she thought. “Well, shit,” she said, turning away. 

 

“Oh, no,” Judy said, and she sat straight up. Jen only turned her head to look at her. “Like, the song.” 

 

“Doesn’t ring any bells.” 

 

“The Partridge Family?” 

 

Jen shook her head. 

 

I think I love you so what am I so afraid of, I'm afraid that I'm not sure of, a love there is no cure for,” Judy said, bobbing her head like it even mattered. 

 

“Never heard of it,” Jen said pointedly. Last time I ever confess to fucking love, she thought. When Harry did it in the movie, he got kissed. Judy just tried singing her a song. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Judy said, nose scrunched. She slumped over, frowning. “I thought who doesn’t know The Partridge Family, she’ll think that’s cute...sorely mistaken.” 

 

Jen chuckled, despite. 

 

“If it counts for anything…,” Judy said, “I think I love you, too.” 

 

Jen softened. She had decided that her resolution, as they say, would be accepting happiness, and never denying it. It felt pointless to--and she realized it always had been. She reached out and grabbed hold of Judy’s hand. Judy squeezed back and, without letting go, she lied back down. Their hands clasped against and over the center console, Judy said, “It’s also nice not to be alone on New Year’s.” 

 

Jen smiled. “Yeah,” and she thought about briefly mentioning how she had thought it, too, but she decided on, “What about with…” and trailed off.

 

“We always went to some party,” Judy said, her thumb gently circling the outside of Jen’s index finger. “But it was always business, and I got left to talk with people I didn’t know. I wasn’t alone, just like, lonely, you know?” 

 

“I know,” Jen said. “Never really alone, just really fucking lonely.” 

 

Judy nodded, her cheek against the seat. “Well, I don’t think there is anyone else I would rather enter the new year with.” 

 

To avoid her heart acting as an open wound, Jen smiled, and said, “what time is it?”

 

“Oh,” Judy sat up, quickly, disconnecting them, and she grabbed her phone from her purse. “11:56.” 

 

Jen walked into this certain that she wasn’t getting a New Year’s Eve kiss. She had assumed that if it was going to happen, the only sort of kiss she would be getting come midnight would be Judy giving her a sympathy peck along with a gracefully spoken "happy new year," because Judy seemed the type to love charity work, and kissing your other dateless best friend at a New Year’s Eve party was the fucking epitome of giving to those less fortunate than you. 

 

She didn’t expect to be in her car, parked at the beach, Judy across from her, looking as if she’s forcing herself to stay seated, and not climb on top of her. She didn’t want to be presumptuous, but she was pretty sure it was going to happen. 

 

Jen sat up, eye contact sharp. “I don’t…” Jen said, but quickly lost her steam. She breathed in. “I don’t wanna wait four minutes.” 

 

Judy smirked. “Maybe patience is a virtue.” 

 

“Yeah, one that I clearly lack,” Jen said. 

 

“Well,” Judy said, and suddenly she was moving. So swift, she smiled right at Jen. “Maybe,” she began again, forming into a position where her palms were planted on the center console, her knees pressing into the leather of the seat. She leaned forward, and Jen was hypnotized. 

 

“Maybe that can be one of your new year’s resolutions,” Judy said. 

 

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Jen mumbled. 

 

“Oh, I think you can,” Judy said, a small smirk, there, and Jen wondered what Judy would show her. For a moment, Judy looked like she was questioning herself. Jen shot her a look, and a small shrug, and she wondered how much time they’d so far wasted. 

 

“I’ll set a timer,” Judy said, and after she grabbed her phone and did so, she somehow, and very meticulously, climbed on to Jen’s lap while she said, “until midnight.” 

 

Jen felt like a bird that’s just run into a fucking sliding glass door. Suddenly, Judy, just on top of her. She didn’t even know what to do with her hands. She set one hand on the rest of the door, the other on the console. She bit down on her tongue, and stared straight forward, right into Judy’s hair. She could feel Judy’s skin against her, and she could tell her thighs were cold, and that she was wearing tights. She almost, almost indulged herself. 

 

“Comfy?” Judy asked. 

 

Jen looked at her, surely the closest Judy’s ever been. There was something so juvenile about being straddled in a car. Jen nodded. She lifted her hands, and she gently settled them on Judy’s dress, on the top of her thighs. The material of her dress was scratchy, and Jen bunched it in her hands. 

 

There was a certain fear Jen felt she always carried that broke open. Many times in her life, she had feared the moment something with another woman would happen—had feared that she’d be clueless, or embarrass herself, but she, in that singular second that Judy so boldly decided for them that this was happening, thought the biggest thing she’d ever learned was true, that nothing was ever as bad as you think it’s going to be. Jen leaned back, and slid her hands up to Judy’s waist in an attempt to steady her, keep her there, and she looked at her.

 

It was good to have what was missing. 

 

When Jen made eye contact with Judy, she looked slightly nervous. Being looked at can do that to you, Jen supposed. She grabbed Judy’s phone from the passenger seat, and she felt her stomach drop at the 12-second mark.

 

Time had never gone so slow yet so rapidly. The seconds went by like time had frozen, though her heart sat in her throat like a stone had been swallowed. Judy leaned in and pulled Jen to her, and wrapped her arms around her, one around her back, one around her neck, and hugged her. A Judy hug was a rejuvenating one; as if her arms around you could cure any single ailment. Jen thought a hug, if that was all she was ever allowed, would suffice, surely forever. 

 

And then the crash of the alarm rang through, and Judy had flinched, and it made Jen laugh lightly, how Judy squeezed a little tighter.

 

“Happy New Year," Judy said, and it sounded so hopeful.

 

It felt like a full minute, but it happened within seconds.

 

As Judy pulled away, she maneuvered so their cheeks touched. And then, Judy kissed her cheek, and she pulled back entirely, as if regarding her, as if asking her to be the one to, and Jen lifted her hands to Judy’s face, slid one hand to the nape of Judy’s neck, and in one quick confirmation, Jen kissed her--and for once, January 1st, 12am, felt endless in its promise.