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Auld Lang Syne (The End)

After that day, Ariel spent her vacation talking to Joe whenever he wasn’t busy. Apparently, they both weren’t drunk enough that night because they had remembered everything that had happened. When they were together, Joe never talked once about work. They were exchange pleasantries and the like, enjoying each other’s company but this time they were cautious about touching. Since they weren’t drunk every time they met, sobriety took hold of their decisions and they both held off on the hand holding.

By the end of the week, both had to resume normalcy so they decided to stop seeing each other the way they were. It wasn’t healthy for the divorce if they were in constant contact with each other. And since neither were willing to admit their feelings to each other, sober, they walked away from each with regret. Ariel was too stubborn to apologize for her rash thinking, and Joe was too stubborn to let up his promise to himself to let her go and be happy.

The next three months were tortuous for Ariel- her divorce had finalized and she hadn’t spoken to Joe ever since. She spent the holidays with her family, being awkwardly quiet whenever Joe was mentioned. Christmas was the worst. She hadn’t spent a Christmas without him since they met, and if she didn’t feel like celebrating it with anyone else, so she spent her time alone. That was the hardest thing about the divorce so far, and she cried the entire day.

When new years came along, Ariel had not wanted to celebrate another holiday so soon. However, Mike and Rainie had just bought a house in her neighborhood and wanted to have a housewarming parting on that day. Ever since the vacation, Mike and Rainie were inseparable; so much so that they decided to live together. So, they had pleaded Ariel to attend since she made it clear that wasn’t going anywhere. After much argument, Ariel gave in and helped Rainie with the festivities.

“Thanks for coming Ariel,” Rainie said, nudging her friend on the arm as she unloaded the box full of party favors.

“Not like I had any other choice, Rain,” Ariel teased.

The party started off without a hitch. Friends from all over had come to celebrate the housewarming as well as  the holiday with grandeur. More and more liquor poured in as the house began to fill. Rainie was busy greeting her guests but Ariel stayed back to bartend. She wasn’t in the mood for small talk and she was actually really good at preparing drinks for everyone.

Just as Ariel was getting the hang of handing out the drinks, she heard Rainie’s shrill voice as she greeted Mike at the door. He had finally come home, and Ariel realized he had been absent the entire time she was there. The crowd rallied around the door, shouting Mike’s name and putting their drinks up to him. Ariel poured one last drink before she looked over at the door and saw Joe enter behind Mike.

She hadn’t expected to see him tonight. Ariel had forgotten that Joe and Mike were friends- obviously he would be invited. But after everything that had happened, she didn’t want to see him. It was already awkward enough to be alone at the party but it was just hard to be around an Ex husband, especially since she wasn’t over him. Grabbing the glass that she just poured, Ariel chugged the champaign down in one gulp.

The first thing she saw after she caught her breathe was Rainie pulling Mike aside and she didn’t look happy. Meanwhile, Joe shook the hand of a guest and smiled politely. He then, by some act of sheer coincidence, locked eyes with her. She could feel her throat hitch in anticipation as he walked towards her. Trying to resume her previous task, she picked up a bottle of champaign and began to pour it into a glass.

“Hey,” she heard him say. The bottle almost dropped when she realized just how close he was to her.

“Hi,” Ariel answered, hoping not to sound too embarrassed. “Would you like a drink?”

“Um…sure,” he smiled back. He took his time to start the conversation as she handed him a glass. “You look good.”

She responded with a smile before she quickly made up some excuse about mingling with other guests and bolted away from him. Too dangerous, she thought as she made her way into the crowd. Throughout the night, she deliberately avoided him as much as possible and only offered a slight smile whenever she caught him looking over at her. When midnight neared, Ariel knew she couldn’t avoid him then so she pulled Rainie aside to the kitchen.

“I’m just going to go over to my place for a while,” she explained. “I’m going to get more champaign.”

“Well, okay but hurry up,” Rainie replied. “It’s almost midnight!”

Ariel almost ran as she headed to the door. When she got outside, the cold air felt good enough to calm her down. Her house was just a few meters away as she wrapped her arms and began the tread. She could see a familiar car parked on the side street as she went closer. It was the best parking space in the street, right underneath the biggest tree on the block. Made sense that Joe would be the one who would be the one to snatch it.

“Lucky,” she muttered to herself.

She went into her house slowly, waiting for midnight to approach before she headed back to Rainie’s. Figuring that Rainie might go ballistic, Ariel headed back  with a bottle of champaign. The countdown to the near year wouldn’t start for another 20 minutes but she didn’t want to spend the rest of the night alone. As she locked the door, she could feel another chill coming from the street and shivered. Meanwhile, she noticed Joe walking toward the car in front of her house. She had caught his attention as well.

Holding the bottle close, Ariel asked him, “What are you doing out here?”

He stood for a minute and gave her an exasperated look. “What does it look like?” Joe jiggled his keys in his pocket and walked over to her.

“You’re not staying for the countdown?”

“And awkwardly try to kiss you- the only single girl in the room? I don’t think so,”he joked.

Joe had luckily escaped the party without detection, just like Ariel. She was happy that he at least shared her feelings about being at the party. Even though it was hard to talk to him now, she couldn’t help but give him a smile.

“I’ve been looking all over for you, though,” he suddenly said. “You sort of ran off when I saw you, like you saw a ghost, or something.”

She cringed at that. “Sorry about that. I didn’t – I forgot that…”

“You weren’t expecting me,” he answered for her. “I wasn’t supposed to. Mike dragged me to the party at the last minute. I apologize if I made the night uncomfortable for you.”

“Oh, don’t worry, you didn’t make it uncomfortable. I have liquor, see?” Showing him the bottle, Ariel was able to convince him that she was getting along just fine.

Joe gave a chuckle and looked past her. “I saw the house when I came. It looks nice; been a while since I’ve last seen it.”

“Would you like to?” Ariel accidentally blurted, mentally pummeling herself for not being able to talk small talk.

The question startled him as well. He almost thought it was a joke, but asked, “Really?”

Since she had already asked, Ariel figured she might as well go with it. Besides, every passing minute away from the party was better than being stuck there. Gesturing him towards the house, Ariel walked in front as she opened the door to let him in. Joe hesitated at first, but stuffed his hands in his pocket and followed her into the house.

“Everything is the same!” Joe said as he entered. He looked over at Ariel as she nodded proudly. “Your Christmas tree is still up. Please don’t tell me you’re going to keep it up until Valentines day again?”

“That’s the way I like it,” she shrugged. “Besides, I don’t have you here to take it down for me.”

“Speaking of Christmas, I got something for you.” He took out an envelope from his inner coat pocket and handed it to her. “I had wanted to give it to you earlier, before you ran away from me. Consider it a belated present.”

“What is it?” Flipping over the flap of the envelope, she noticed that there was just a thin piece of paper. It was too flimsy to be a card, and there was a familiar watermark. “It’s a check.”

“Yeah,” Joe nodded. She flipped the check over and saw the amount written to her.

“This is a lot of money,” she replied, flicking at the crisp, thin paper to check for authenticity. “Where did you get this?”

“I saved it,” he responded with a smile. “When we got married, I kept a secret account for you- well for us- in the bank for a rainy day or for a vacation or whatever. Every month I’d put a few bills into the account so you’d know all the times we’ve missed because I had to go to work, weren’t going to waste. I thought it would be a good surprise for whenever it seemed fit but since we’re no longer together, I wanted to give it to you now.”

“You didn’t have to do this,” she sighed.

“I know I didn’t have to, but I wanted to,” he laughed. He shoved his hands back into his pockets and continued. “Technically I saved it for you, so it is yours. You can use it to help pay off the mortgage.”

Ariel looked at the check that she held in her hand. It was more money than she had ever dreamed of holding onto. There was a joy that filled inside her, knowing that she had more financial stability, but she couldn’t help but wonder about his intentions.

“Why are you doing this?” she asked. “Why are you being so nice to me?

“What do you mean?” Joe almost scoffed at her question as if the answer was obvious.

“Why are you giving me this money?” Ariel tried to calm herself as she spoke again. “We’re divorced; you don’t have to take care of me anymore.”

Joe was taken aback by her reaction but stayed mostly composed. He saw how uncomfortable she had suddenly got so he walked towards her and lowered his face to meet her nervous gaze. With his arms now crossed around his chest, he gave her a stern look.

“Just because we’re not together, doesn’t mean that I don’t love you,” he said in a softer tone. “It may not seem like I do most of the time, but it doesn’t mean I don’t.”

With the sudden closeness of his face and the words that seemed to have whispered into her ears, Ariel was suddenly very quiet. She couldn’t move an inch. Her lips started tugging, her limbs went numb. The only thing should could feel was her pulse beating from every part of her. Joe was still had his gaze fiercely  on her which she could only respond by looking back doe-eyed.

“I may not deserve to be with you,” he suddenly continued without changing his position. “But until you find someone who does, I’ll always be there to take care of you. Even if it costs me an arm and a leg.”

Ariel took a sharp breathe before she frowned and shook her head. “It’s too much, I can’t accept this, Joe.” She handed him the check, but he pushed her hand back.

“It’s okay.” Finally offering a smile, Joe tapped her on the nose making her cringe. Taking his time, he reassured her of his intentions. “Really. Take is as collateral for everything I ever put you through.”

For a moment, she thought why did I divorce him again? The answer struggled to come out. She knew better than to take him back but right now, she couldn’t remember why. The only things that came to mind were all the reasons why she decided to marry him. He was her prince charming; loving, respectful, caring and trusting. But she just had to ask, was that all just in her head?

Abruptly, Joe laughed and pointed to the door. “Auld Lang Syne.”

He was referring to the music that was playing around them. They didn’t notice crowds of people singing the song from Rainie and Mike’s house as the New Year arrived.

“We missed the countdown,” he continued to laugh. “Hmm…I guess lucky us.”

Ariel stayed quiet and she thought hard. Was she willing to take him back? Her mind knew the answer was no, but that didn’t stop the rest of her body from protesting. Her heart was pounding madly almost as if it was tugging her towards him. Her hiccups came back and that incessant knot in her stomach combated along with the hitch in her throat. She had to cover her mouth with her hands to stop from grabbing Joe and doing something she might regret later.

“Ariel? Are you okay?” he asked when she didn’t talk. She let out a simple nod but kept he hands on her lips. When he saw she was fine, Joe nodded back and smiled. “Good. I should be going then.”

Joe reached for the door knob behind him and opened the door just a crack. Unexpectedly, he placed his hands on her shoulder and leaned over to kiss her cheek. Ariel was so taken back by the gesture that just when was about to pull away, she wrapped her arms around his neck and held him closely. She knew it was the right thing to do when she felt his arms pull her body in towards his. For a few seconds, Ariel breathed him in.

“Hon? Are you going to let go?” Joe laughed, as her grip got stronger.

“Wait,” she replied. Without pulling away from him, she managed to whisper into his ear one last question. “Can you give me one reason why I shouldn’t let you leave?”

Joe’s eyes widened. He didn’t know if he had heard her correctly. When she didn’t let him go, he knew she was probably touched by his gift as he hoped she would be. That was why she allowed him to be so close to her.

“I can’t think of any,” he chuckled despite himself. “Anybody in their right mind wouldn’t have a good enough reason.”

That wasn’t a good enough answer for her, so she continued. “Do you still love me?”

Without hesitation he answered, “You know I do.” For the first time tonight, he could feel his heart settle in his stomach.

“Can I still trust you?”

Suddenly, Joe unwrapped her arms around his neck and Ariel gulped down that stubborn lump in her throat. He had a pained expression on his face, but it soon melted away in a form of a subtle laugh. She couldn’t have predict what his answer was going to be but everything felt right when he placed his hands on her face. And as if he read her mind, he kissed her.

The knot in her stomach came back in a delicious form, flushing her body with excitement when he pressed her hands onto his chest. With his lips still locked tightly onto her, Joe kicked the door behind him, slamming it shut. He let one hand drift behind him to lock the door before he finally answered her question.

“Probably not tonight.”

Giving a cheeky little grin, Joe put one arm on her waist and one under her legs before lifting her off the floor. Ariel held a hand over her lips to cover her excitement as he carried her up the stairs. By the time they reached the bedroom, Joe kicked the door open and tossed her softly on the bed. The night had been especially dark, but Ariel felt incredibly safe as she made love to the one man who could ever make her happy.

Ariel knew she had been wrong; it wasn’t just in her head. Joe was still the man she loved and even though he still hadn’t gotten the promotion, she was willing to trust him this time. Even if it meant occasionally missing a  holiday or a birthday, there were scars so deeply cut into both of them now that it would be hard to ever let each other go again. Nothing could hurt more than the months when they were apart. And now, they won’t ever forget.

 

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