Almost Midnight Read online
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MY TRUE LOVE GAVE TO ME
31 December 2014, almost midnight
It was cold out on the patio, under the deck. Frigid. Dark.
Dark because Mags was outside at midnight, and dark because she was in the shadows.
This was the last place anyone would look for her—anyone, and especially Noel. She’d miss all the excitement.
Thank God. Mags should have thought of this years ago.
She leaned back against Alicia’s house and started eating the Chex mix she’d brought out with her. (Alicia’s mom made the best Chex mix.) Mags could hear the music playing inside, and then she couldn’t—and that was a good sign. It meant that the countdown was starting.
‘Ten!’ she heard someone shout.
‘Nine!’ more people joined in.
Mags was going to miss the whole thing.
31 December 2011, almost midnight
‘Are there nuts in that?’ the boy asked.
Mags paused, holding a cracker piled with pesto and cream cheese in front of her mouth. ‘I think there are pine nuts . . .’ she said, crossing her eyes to look at it.
‘Are pine nuts tree nuts?’
‘I have no idea,’ Mags said. ‘I don’t think pine nuts grow on pine trees, do they?’
The boy shrugged. He had shaggy brown hair and wide-open blue eyes. He was wearing a Pokémon T-shirt.
‘I’m not much of a tree-nut expert,’ Mags said.
‘Me neither,’ he said. ‘You’d think I would be—if I accidentally eat one, it could kill me. If there were something out there that could kill you, wouldn’t you try to be an expert on it?’
‘I don’t know. . . .’ Mags shoved the cracker in her mouth and started chewing. ‘I don’t know very much about cancer. Or car accidents.’
‘Yeah . . .’ the boy said, looking sadly at the buffet table. He was skinny. And pale. ‘But tree nuts specifically have it out for me, for me personally. They’re more like assassins than, like, possible dangers.’
‘Damn,’ Mags said, ‘what’d you ever do to tree nuts?’
The boy laughed. ‘Ate them, I guess.’
The music, which had been really loud, stopped. ‘It’s almost midnight!’ somebody shouted.
They both looked around. Mags’s friend Alicia, from homeroom, was standing on the couch. It was Alicia’s party—the first New Year’s Eve party that Mags, at fifteen, had ever been invited to.
‘Nine!’ Alicia yelled.
‘Eight!’ There were a few dozen people in the basement, and they were all shouting now.
‘I’m Noel,’ the boy said, holding out his hand.
Mags brushed all the pesto and traces of nuts off her hand and shook his. ‘Mags.’
‘It’s nice to meet you, Mags.’
‘You, too, Noel. Congratulations on evading the tree nuts for another year.’
‘They almost had me with that pesto dip.’
‘Yeah.’ She nodded. ‘It was a close call.’
31 December 2012, almost midnight
Noel fell against the wall and slid down next to Mags, then bumped his shoulder against hers. He blew a paper party horn in her direction. ‘Hey.’
‘Hey.’ She smiled at him. He was wearing a plaid jacket, and his white shirt was open at the collar. Noel was pale and flushed easily. Right now he was pink from the top of his forehead to the second button of his shirt. ‘You’re a dancing machine,’ she said.
‘I like to dance, Mags.’
‘I know you do.’
‘And I only get so many opportunities.’
She raised an eyebrow.
‘I like to dance in public,’ Noel said. ‘With other people. It’s a communal experience.’
‘I kept your tie safe,’ she said, and held out a red silk necktie. He’d been dancing on the coffee table when he threw it at her.
‘Thank you,’ he said, taking it and slinging it around his neck. ‘That was a good catch—but I was actually trying to lure you out onto the dance floor.’
‘That was a coffee table, Noel.’
‘There was room for two, Margaret.’
Mags wrinkled her nose, considering. ‘I don’t think there was.’
‘There’s always room for you with me, on every coffee table,’ he said. ‘Because you are my best friend.’
‘Pony is your best friend.’
Noel ran his fingers through his hair. It was sweaty and curly and fell past his ears. ‘Pony is also my best friend. And also Frankie. And Connor.’
‘And your mom,’ Mags said.
Noel turned his grin on her. ‘But especially you. It’s our anniversary. I can’t believe you wouldn’t dance with me on our anniversary.’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ she said. (She knew exactly what he was talking about.)
‘It happened right there.’ Noel pointed at the buffet table where Alicia’s mom always laid out snacks. ‘I was having an allergic reaction, and you saved my life. You stuck an epinephrine pen into my heart.’
‘I ate some pesto,’ Mags said.
‘Heroically,’ Noel agreed.
She sat up suddenly. ‘You didn’t eat any of the chicken salad tonight, did you? There were almonds.’
‘Still saving my life,’ he said.
‘No. But I had some fruit cocktail. I think there were strawberries in it—my mouth is all tingly.’
Mags squinted at him. ‘Are you okay?’
Noel looked okay. He looked flushed. And sweaty. He looked like his teeth were too wide for his mouth, and his mouth was too wide for his face.
‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘I’ll tell you if my tongue gets puffy.’
‘Keep your lewd allergic reactions to yourself,’ she said.
Noel wiggled his eyebrows. ‘You should see what happens when I eat shellfish.’
Mags rolled her eyes and tried not to laugh. After a second, she looked over at him again. ‘Wait, what happens when you eat shellfish?’
He waved his hand in front of his chest, halfheartedly. ‘I get a rash.’
She frowned. ‘How are you still alive?’
‘Through the efforts of everyday heroes like yourself.’
‘Don’t eat the pink salad, either,’ she said. ‘It’s shrimp.’
Noel flicked his red tie around her neck and smiled at her. Which was different than a grin. ‘Thanks.’
‘Thank you,’ she said, pulling the ends of the tie even and looking down at them. ‘It matches my sweater.’ Mags was wearing a giant sweater dress, some sort of Scandinavian design with a million colors.
‘Everything matches your sweater,’ he said. ‘You look like a Christmas-themed Easter egg.’
‘I feel like a really colorful Muppet,’ she said. ‘One of the fuzzy ones.’
‘I like it,’ Noel said. ‘It’s a feast for the senses.’
She couldn’t tell if he was making fun of her, so she changed the subject. ‘Where did Pony go?’
‘Over there.’ Noel pointed across the room. ‘He wanted to get in position to be standing casually near Simini when midnight strikes.’
‘So he can kiss her?’
‘Indeed,’ Noel said. ‘On the mouth, if all goes to plan.’
‘That’s so gross,’ Mags said, fiddling with the ends of Noel’s tie.
‘No . . . kissing is fine.’ She felt herself blushin