New Year's Eve
Twelve-year-old Mallory Hunt had lobbied very hard to stay up late on New Year's Eve. Her parents were throwing a party at their house, and she insisted that she couldn't possibly go to bed early like she was a child. She was practically a teenager after all.
Giving in, her parents had permitted her to stay up, under the conditions that she must behave herself with the guests, she must not pester her sister, and she had to be in bed by 12:15 with no excuses.
So here she was, at her first grown-up party, on New Year's Eve. She was wearing her favourite dark green velvet dress that perfectly complimented her long red hair - and she was bored.
All the adults wanted to do was talk with each other. She had tried to join in, but it was all hospital stuff that she did not know or care about. If she tried to talk about her favourite sports team or something that wasn't medical, they'd smile patiently, but she could tell they weren't taking her seriously. Like she was a child or something.
Mallory had hoped she could at least hang out with the Shepherd kids, but they weren't here yet, as their parents had been detained at the hospital. Her older sister, Chloe, told her to leave her alone before she had locked herself up in her room to play on her computer. Their little brother, Diego, was sound asleep in his bed.
If I had known grown-up parties were so boring, Mallory thought, I'd never have asked to stay up late for this one.
She had tried to pass around trays to help the caterers, but they got mad. Finally Mallory gave up on trying to socialize and sat at the bottom of the stairs off to the side. She pulled out her phone and communicated with her friends until they all had to go to bed. Her parents each sat with her for a bit, but they were very busy hosting their party.
So she sat and observed the talking and wondered what the big deal was about New Year's Eve. It certainly was not very interesting, not like Christmas or Halloween.
Mallory sighed. She was glad the holiday season was almost over. She loved everything about Christmas Day: waking up early for presents, helping her father in the kitchen, having a huge yummy supper together. But secretly, she was jealous that both of her siblings had birthdays at this time of year. She knew that her parents always gave them extra birthday presents to make up for friends and family overlooking their special days. It was unfair that she, Mallory Hunt, had been born in September, when there was nothing special going on at all. She did not get extra presents on her birthday. So unfair.
Close to midnight, one of her friends texted her. Engrossed in her phone, she barely heard the Shepherds arriving. Mallory stood up and smoothed her dress, preparing to go greet them.
"Where's Chloe?" JoJo Shepherd walked up to her and ran her fingers through her sleek blonde hair, looking disdainfully at Mallory's dress.
"In her room," Mallory said, forcing a smile, as JoJo walked past her. She didn't want to get sent to her room for rudeness, especially not so close to midnight. Surely midnight was when things would get interesting. She started to make her way through the crowd to where the other Shepherds were.
"Hey Robbie, gonna say hi to Chloe?" She heard Uncle Derek and rolled her eyes. Ever since Chloe had been a baby, Uncle Derek had tried to match her with his son. It was a very old joke and everyone but he was tired of it.
"Hi Mallory!" Auntie Meredith appeared in front of her and kissed her forehead. "You look very pretty in that dress."
"Thank you, so do you." Mallory beamed up at one of her favourite people. Lots of people wanted to greet Meredith, so she excused herself and crept back to her spot on the stairs. She wanted to avoid Uncle Derek and his tired jokes.
She looked up at the head of the stairs, where her little brother was crouched. Diego was wearing his pajamas and his black hair was tousled. He looked very sleepy.
"What are you doing up?" Mallory asked, going upstairs. "What's wrong?"
"I can't sleep," he yawned. "Too noisy."
"They're just talking," Mallory said, sitting down next to him. He leaned against her shoulder and they watched the people mingling at the bottom of the stairs for a few minutes.
"It's almost midnight!" Cristina yelled. "Find someone to kiss!"
"What happens at midnight?" Diego asked, lying down so that his head was resting in her lap.
"You count down to midnight, and then you kiss someone, and then it's the New Year," Mallory explained. She sighed. Here she was, at her first grown-up party, and the only person to kiss at midnight was her six-year-old brother. Who was falling asleep in her lap.
A familiar figure wandered to the bottom of the stairs, looking lost.
"Hey Robbie," Mallory called out softly.
Robbie Shepherd turned and looked up at her. He flicked on the light at the bottom of the stairs, so he could see them clearly.
"Hi!" He grinned and Mallory felt a queer feeling in her chest.
"TEN!" The partygoers shouted.
Robbie bounded up the stairs, his wavy black hair falling across his eyes. "Why are you sitting up here with Diego?"
"He couldn't sleep," she explained.
Robbie looked like he was searching for anything to say to her. "That's a pretty dress you have," he told her.
Mallory glowed as she looked up at his bright blue eyes. "Thank you," she whispered, suddenly shy. She had known Robbie all of her life, but it was like she was seeing him for the first time.
He smiled down at her. Mentally, she was doing the math. He was sixteen now – he was just being nice to her because she was a family friend.
She smiled up at him, blushing. Have his eyes always been that blue?
They could hear excited giggling coming from Chloe's room, where their sisters were.
"I want to kiss the prettiest girl at the party at midnight," Robbie smiled.
Mallory felt disappointment. He was going to leave and kiss Chloe.
Robbie leaned over and kissed Mallory on her cheek.
"HAPPY NEW YEAR!"
"Happy New Year, Hurricane Mallory," Robbie said quietly.
She beamed up at him. "Happy New Year, Robbie." She felt curiously faint.
Loud squeals came from Chloe's room as the party downstairs erupted in noise. Diego stirred and put his hands over his ears. Mallory looked at Robbie, and they both chuckled.
"Happy New Year!" Owen and Cristina appeared at the bottom of the stairs.
"Shhh," Diego said sleepily. His parents laughed as they came upstairs.
"Time for this little guy to go back to bed," Owen said, reaching down and picking up Diego.
Cristina looked at Mallory. "And it's almost time-"
"I know!" Mallory hissed, blushing furiously. "I'm not a baby!" She quickly glanced at Robbie.
That small gesture was not lost on Cristina, who suppressed a smile. "I know, Mal," she said, bending over to kiss her daughter on her forehead. "Do you want to come downstairs and get something to drink first?"
"Okay," she smiled, standing up and smoothing her dress.
Chloe's door burst open. Chloe and JoJo spilled out, laughing.
"Out of my way, Hurricane," JoJo said, bumping against Mallory as they ran downstairs. Mallory pursed her lips and said nothing.
"It's like she was raised by wolves," Robbie told Mallory, who grinned at him.
"Come on, Mallory," Cristina said, wrapping an arm around Mallory's slim shoulders. She obediently went downstairs with her mother and had one last glass of ginger ale, watching the adults laugh and hug each other.
"Isn't it your bedtime?" JoJo smirked as she and Chloe came over to have some ginger ale.
"Almost," Mallory replied primly. "Happy Birthday, Chloe."
"Thanks!" Her sister grinned, and Mallory smiled.
"It's so stupid that your birthday is on New Year's Day," JoJo told Chloe. "Nobody wants to do anything then so you're never going to have a good party on your actual birthday."
"Yeah, Mallory is the lucky one." Chloe smiled at her little sister. "You get to have the great birthday parties because there's nothing else going on at that time of year."
"I never thought of it that way," Mallory mused. "I'm always jealous that you guys get extra birthday presents from Mom and Dad because most people don't want to buy you two presents."
"That's true," Chloe laughed.
"Come on, Chloe," JoJo said, tugging her friend's arm. "Let's go talk to some grown-ups."
Mallory rolled her eyes and drank the last of her ginger ale as the older girls walked away.
"Well?" Cristina appeared by her side. "Did you like your first grown-up party?"
Mallory shrugged. "I thought it was going to be more exciting."
"Wait until you're older," Cristina chuckled. "When you want to kiss someone at midnight."
"Robbie kissed me," Mallory blurted out. "On the cheek."
Cristina appraised Mallory as she blushed furiously. "That was sweet of him," she told her daughter.
"Yeah, I didn't want to kiss Diego," Mallory grinned.
"I can see that," her mother laughed.
"Ahem!" Owen smiled as he approached, pointing to his watch.
"She knows," Cristina told him. "She's just finishing her drink."
"I'm not a baby," Mallory muttered.
"I know, kiddo," he said. "I've got my baseball bat all ready for when you turn thirteen, and I have to fight the boys off."
"He's not joking," Cristina said, stroking her daughter's long red hair.
"I know," Mallory sighed dramatically. "I know all about the barbed wire fence he's going to put up and how he's going to perform a criminal background check of every date and how I'm basically never going to be allowed to have any fun at all until I'm 18."
"You've been paying attention!" Owen grinned. "A small correction – you're not allowed to have fun until you graduate from medical school."
"Oh that's easy," Mallory smirked. "I'm sure I could find some online school that will give me a diploma."
Cristina laughed as Owen shook his head in amusement. "Better start ordering the barbed wire now," she informed her husband.
"She gets that from you," Owen sighed, as Mallory put down her cup.
"I'm going to bed now," she informed her parents. "See? Not a baby." She quickly hugged them and then marched up the stairs on her own. Quickly, she changed her clothes and got ready for bed. She crawled under the covers and laid her head down on the pillow, feeling tired
Her left hand curled up against her cheek, where she could still feel Robbie's kiss. She smiled and closed her eyes, ready for a new year.