From the author: A fun pick-me-up to start the new year.
I wake up in the yard.
I always wake up in the freaking yard.
I wake up shivering in the pale pre-dawn gloom, rub the rime of frost from my eyelashes with numb, swollen hands, and push myself to my knees. It’s snowing. Fat, fluffy flakes bob and drift on a cold, dry breeze, but nothing’s sticking yet. I take a deep breath, then double over as it comes out in a hacking cough. When I look up, a crow is watching me from the oak by the front walk. He takes off, circles once around. I feel a hot, wet splat against the back of my head.
Just like always.
“Hey,” Dale says. “Happy New Year.”
He pushes a corn muffin toward me. I drop into the chair across from him.
“How many times have you said that?” I ask.
“How long has it been since you broke the space-time whatever?”
I shrug, and bite into the muffin. Dale looks up from his phone and gives me a long, blank stare.
“The answer is 215 days,” he says finally. “215 days, Doug. Because of you, I’ve had to live through 215 hangovers, followed by 215 cold-ass January firsts in Craptown, New York. Fix this, Doug. Fix this, or I swear to God I’m gonna start stabbing you in the eye every morning instead of handing you a muffin.”
I understand why Dale is getting pissy with me. It’s bad enough having to relive the same cold, crappy day over and over again when you’re the hero. Knowing that you’re a bit player in someone else’s story must make it a hundred times worse.
I head into the village, stopping along the way to help an old lady get her car started, to catch a little girl on her bike just before she falls, and to return a puppy that’s gotten out of its yard. I turn right on Main, walk a block to the Starbucks, open the door.
Molly’s there behind the counter, just like always.
“Doug,” she says. “What a surprise.”
I take off my coat. We’re the only ones in the store.
“So,” she says. “Got any fresh ideas today?”
A long, dark braid hangs across one shoulder. She flips it behind her as I step to the counter.
“Not really,” I say.
She brushes my hair back from my forehead.
“We can’t just keep doing this,” she says.
I catch her hand, press it to my face.
“Come on,” I say. “Don’t talk about that now.”
“Someday the universe has to stop hitting the reset button, Doug.”
I lean toward her until our foreheads touch. She closes her eyes.
“Maybe,” I say. “Let’s see how today goes.”
I hang around Starbucks drinking chai until the day manager shows up and tells Molly she can leave. She changes out of her uniform, and we walk through the thickening snow to the park at the corner of Empire and Main. We build a sickly little snowman, then spend an hour poking around in the patch of woods by the creek, until Molly gets tired and I get hungry and we cross the street to Bailey’s Irish Pub, the only restaurant in the village that opens on New Year’s Day. The waitress rolls her eyes when she sees us come in. She doesn’t bother to take our order, just brings us two bowls of shepherd’s pie, two raspberry scones, and a pitcher of iced tea.
“Eat up,” I say. “Gotta stay strong.”
“I know,” Molly says. She touches her braid. I imagine it gone again. It took months to grow back after the first round of chemo. She tries, like always, but the tumor’s pressing on her stomach and she can’t finish her scone. I eat mine, then what’s left of hers when she pushes it away.
A sweet time passes.
Evening, and we’re sitting on the couch in Molly’s living room, watching the tail end of the Fat Charlie’s Snack Bowl. The players are phoning it in. Understandable, I guess. Coastal Carolina’s won by a touchdown 215 times in a row. Molly’s hand touches mine.
“It’s okay,” she says. “You can kiss me tonight.”
I look at her. She’s smiling, but her eyes are liquid.
“It’s not fair,” she says. “It’s not fair to those poor idiots on the TV. It’s not fair to the waitress at Bailey’s. It’s not fair to Dale. You can’t keep the world on hold forever just because…”
“We don’t really know,” I say.
She shakes her head.
“So try,” she says. “Kiss me.”
And she’s right. I know she’s right. This was a perfect day. Nothing was missing, nothing was wrong. Nothing until now. I turn my head.
“Tomorrow,” I say.
She sighs, and leans her head against my shoulder. I close my eyes. Today really was perfect.
I wake up in the yard.
It’s New Year’s Day.
This story originally appeared in Saturday Night Reader.