Amelia held her breath as she entered the town’s local pub. Being back home was always difficult, but this time — with the prospect of meeting her childhood sweetheart and eternal crush Mark before her — her return to Lincoln was more anxiety-inducing than usual. Childhood friends had a way of bringing out the worst in her, with the way their eyes saw right through her successes to the unpopular teenage geek she’d once been.
Deirdre was the first to notice her; she approached Amelia at a slow waddle, one hand curved protectively around her lower belly, her mouth already pursed with gossip. Escape was impossible.
“Fancy seeing you here for New Years’,” Deirdre said, crinkling up the outer corners of her eyes in what passed for a smile. “Geneva not cutting it for you anymore?”
How everyone would have relished her failure, to see her brought down to their level, a level of teenage pregnancies and university dropouts. “I’m just home for the holidays,” Amelia replied, adding, “I’ve been promoted to senior partner so my schedule’s become far more flexible.” Just saying the words made her feel small and spiteful, but there was a certain vicious pleasure mixed in with the guilt.
“Keep that quiet around Mark,” Deirdre replied with a sly smile. “Looking for a wife, he is, though as I hear it he’s already got someone in mind.”
Mark was still single? No amount of internal scolding could settle the sudden butterflies in Amelia’s stomach when she caught a glimpse of him, smiling right at her as he manoeuvred his way through the crowded room.
“Only you would be so brave as to come here alone,” Mark said when he reached her, his attention so obviously focused on Amelia that Deirdre excused herself and left.
Pleased, Amelia stepped that little bit closer to Mark, her stomach flip-flopping at their proximity. “Quite brave, yes.” Red had always been a good colour on Mark; he looked good — he smelled good! Small talk be damned, she wanted to close those final few inches between them, but did he?
“TEN!” everyone shouted, breaking the moment between them.
Under the clamour of people counting down the last few seconds of the year, Amelia felt her heart begin to pound. Very few women had held Mark’s attention for long, and Amelia was nothing like those that had: not blond nor leggy nor outdoors-y. Wife-seeking or not, would Mark even consider her as anything more than an old classmate and friend?
XKCD had a funny comic about this, she thought, trying to distract herself from the thought that he wouldn’t want to kiss her, that they were still “just friends”. Yet when she turned her head to the side to look at him, there he was, staring right at her.
“Zero,” Mark whispered, and then he pressed his lips against hers.
My favourite — the ABC Challenge!