If We Last Another Year
“Check this out,” Ian shoved his phone in front of Gwen’s face. “My assistant Val sent me this video of her kid opening his Christmas present from Katie and me.”
Gwen was polite enough to watch the cell phone video of a four-year-old tearing open a modern model train set since, as Ian explained it, the kid was going through a hardcore Thomas the Tank Engine phase and needed to be indulged that Christmas. (Especially since Mom was pregnant again.) The video was forty-five seconds of a kid screaming because his Santa Claus dreams had come true.
“Adorable.” Gwen sat back in the loveseat, glass of champagne threatening to spill all over her glittery gold dress. Champagne Dreams for 2018 was the theme of the Monroes’ New Year’s Eve party, and the female guests were encouraged to wear their “cocktail” dresses, if they knew what Alice Monroe meant in the invitations. Gwen went with a literal interpretation, because she was too depressed to get clever. Better to put herself on auto-pilot and hope for the best.
Because it sure felt like the worst was always lurking around the corner.
“Almost makes me want one.” Ian put his phone away. “Almost.”
Ian double-glanced at her. “A kid. Almost makes me want my own kid. But I think I’m better at playing Uncle Ian than anything else.”
“Always thought that about myself.” Gwen had promised herself she wouldn’t get into this topic tonight. No baby talk. None at all. Don’t let anyone suck you into it. That was the topic everyone had dodged around her for the past year. Right after, “So you’re still with James after what happened?”
Yes. She was. Tenuously.
There he was, on the other side of the lounge. James Merange acted the usual life of the party as he joked over drinks and fielded questions like the master of deflection he could be. Don’t remind me. Gwen had been dealing with that for the past year.
God, had it really been a year since she found out her partner of seven years was a baby daddy?
They had been conversational pariahs for the first six months after the news came out. Nobody wanted to talk to them – unless it was to hear details about how James managed to father a child with Cassandra Welsh and never cheated on Gwen. Turned out that James, like most first-born and only sons from well-to-do families, had put his genetic material into cold freeze in case he died before begetting the next generation of Meranges. Since his family did not wholly approve of Gwen and her commoner, motherhood-eschewing ways, they had signed over material they had no right to use to their good friends the Welshes. Because Cassandra was desperate for a baby to fix her messed up life, and James was the lucky winner in the DNA department.
Gwen wasn’t sure what she hated more: the strain the news had put on her long-term relationship, or the way people acted around her now. It had taken a few years just to convince the region’s high society that she wasn’t going anywhere, and they were expected to at least put up with her. Now it was like they all patiently waited for her to silently go away since James had a child with Cassandra, a childhood friend that was not a friend any longer.
The jokes she heard via her friends were even crueler. Cassandra was a known philanderer, particularly among the good-looking heirs who were often sucked into her damsel-in-distress shtick. Except for James. He claimed to have never slept with Cassandra before, and while Gwen believed him, it still didn’t make the situation any better.
Especially when Gwen sat next to one of Cassandra’s more high-profile ex-boyfriends.
“Excuse me.” Gwen got up from the loveseat. “I need to powder my nose.” With any luck, someone else would come by and babysit Ian for a while. Like maybe his girlfriend, who was in another corner conversing with the host and hostess. You slept with one of them before, Kathryn, and here Ian is, acting like he’s totally fine with it.
Once upon a time, Gwen would’ve been fine with it too. Oh, James had once slept with the hostess of a party? Whatever! Old relationships were dead for a reason. Could a one-night-stand even be called a relationship? Gwen wouldn’t want James holding her old partners against her. And after several years together, she certainly hoped James didn’t care about who she might have slept with before meeting him. Not that the list was long. Not as long as James’s was, if all the stories she heard were true.
“Gwen!” A hand waved above the crowd. “Gwen Mitchell!”
She stopped halfway to the ladies’ room. A woman in a frosty white dress appeared, her wrinkled hand reaching for Gwen’s.
“Jaqueline Forsythe.” The tiny, tanned woman shook Gwen’s hand with unneeded gusto. “Lifestyle Editor from The Daily Examiner.”
Gwen contained her disgust. Another thing I learned from being with James for so long. When Gwen decided to make a relationship with the billionaire son of an even larger fortune work, she began clinging to the kinds of manners that made her mother cry. “As long as you’re not from The Daily Social.”
“Oh, no. Much more reputable than that, or so I hope.” So Gwen hoped as well, since The Daily Examiner was the city’s everyday periodical. Well, so is the other one. Daily, that is. Daily trash that got its kicks from being the type of tabloid fodder that appealed to the lowest common denominator. How many relationships had it exposed over the years? Exactly.
“What can I do for you, Ms. Forsythe?”
“Well! I’ve been trying to get in touch with you for several weeks, Ms. Mitchell. Wonderful dress, by the way.” Jacqueline stood back to admire the gold fringe bedecking Gwen’s body. “You must tell me who your personal stylist is. Is it Jerome Johnson? No, wait. Carly Clarkson!”
“I don’t have a stylist outside of the hair and nail salon.” Gwen curated her own wardrobe and did her own makeup every day. Other women with her kind of money paid other people to take care of it.
“Fascinating. Well, I’ve always believed no one knows their own style better than they do.
Anyway…” Jacqueline puffed out her chest. “I was hoping that I could trouble you for an interview that would be exclusive to the online version of our paper.”
“An interview? About what?” Gwen was one of the last women to be selected for anything around there. She didn’t have an interesting career. She wasn’t big into charity, outside of what she could do to help her friends’ projects. And she didn’t have a family worth poking into once it was discovered her father was a retired factory foreman and her mother was the floor lead at a DeMarco’s Department Store back home. “I wasn’t aware that I had done anything of note as of late.”
“Oh, but you are an inspiration to women across the country! I can’t go to a single soiree without hearing your name on everyone’s lips.”
“The name Gwenyth Mitchell is now synonymous with perseverance and endurance. I’d love to do a spot on you, and feature any advice you can give to other women in your situation.”
Gwen squared her shoulders and swallowed whatever pride she had left. “My situation?”
The professional smile faltered on Jacqueline’s face. “Well, yes… with Mr. Merange and Ms. Welsh.”
Gwen didn’t ask to be excused again. She merely pushed Jacqueline aside and marched right up to her partner on the other side of the room.
Just in time for someone to announce the countdown to midnight.
“Thirty seconds!” came the voice. Gwen snatched James’s hand and instantly melted beneath his glistening gaze.
“Gwenny! Just who I wanted to see!” He swept her into his embrace and waltzed with her to the center of the room. She barely had time to catch her breath, let alone say what was on her mind. I’m tired. I’m done. I want this over with. I can’t take this anymore. “Are you ready for another new year?”
Couples were reunited all around them. Everyone with an empty hand soon had a glass of champagne in it. Neither Gwen nor James had empty hands. Hands were preoccupied with holding and squeezing.
“I don’t know, James. Are you?”
“I’d kiss you, but I’m waiting for the ball to drop.”
She braced her palms against his chest. “You’re right. Save the kiss for the new year.”
The countdown began. A chorus of numbers erupted around them as everyone within grasp excitedly remembered what it was like to watch a ball drop in Times Square and to be even the slightest bit hopeful about the future.
James kissed Gwen before she heard the words Happy New Year! He was that determined to be the first thing she thought of in 2018.
“How do you do it?” one of her friends had asked her earlier on in 2017. “How do you put up with all the crap these people put you through?”
She didn’t, most days. She retreated into herself, ran away for a week, or distracted herself with movies, games, and fruitless conversations with friends.
Then the man kissed her on New Year’s.
“Don’t ask me how I do it. Half the time I’m convinced we won’t last another year.”
“Happy new year.” James tipped her chin up. “Maybe this year will be the one everything changes.”
Gwen was tired of changes.