Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Designated Driver

I wonder if there is anyone else at this New Year's Eve party having a miserable time. The last guy who danced with me and left me alone at my table just a minute ago stepped all over my feet.
Not all his fault, though, since he seemed a little tipsy.
Really, I shouldn't be here with all these people enjoying the McGrath Engineering New Year's Eve party in the Gold Room of the Blackhawk Hotel. Everyone else is sipping a drink and chattering, or listening to the six-piece band playing oldies while dancing up storm.
I don't fit in. I don't make small talk easily, I don't have the face or figure many guys would give a second look, and I don't drink. Which brings me to the real reason I'm here.
For the second year in a row my work-place friends Edna and Alice—also my best friends—asked me to be their designated driver? But why? I wondered. They hardly touch alcohol. The answer hit me in a second. It was an obvious scheme to get me out among the living.
This year when they begged me to be their driver, I agreed. I hadn't had plans for New Year's Eve since my divorce three years ago and didn't want to spend the night alone again. I'd experienced too many nights like that in the last couple of years. So I said, "Sure, sounds like fun."
But now I could kick myself in the pants, and I'm thinking my best bet to get though the evening is to leave this center-ring table close to the dance floor and hide away at a table in a corner—I have my eye on one—and sip on my ginger ale with a twist of lime.
I'm ready to move when Edna comes prancing up to our table. She looks marvelous in her slinky black dress.  She says, "Saw you dancing three times tonight, girlfriend. Told you guys couldn't resist that flaming red hair of yours."
I don't mention I danced only three times in the last three hours—it's now ten-thirty—and that the last guy was a little tipsy and probably thought my flaming red hair was on fire.
Then Alice races up, tucking her long, loose, blond hair behind her ears. "I just met the most marvelous guy," she says, bubbling with happiness. "You know what you should do, Erin—do like I did. Go up to the bar where all the single guys are, order a drink, and smile at one. Hit on a someone, girlfriend!"
My friends scurry off, and I decide the only hit I'm going to make is on that empty table off in a corner. I grab my purse and my drink. I rise and weave my way around crowded tables only to realize that a hunky-looking, blond-haired man in a dark suit, white shirt open at the collar, is sitting alone at my table, a drink in his hand.
Hit on someone!
Isn't that what Alice said?
I grab a deep breath, and my heart pounds like mad.
I'm thirty-five years old, and I've never done anything like this before. I pull out a chair and sit across from the guy, my eyes darting to his ringless left hand. "Hi," I say, hardly able to breathe. "Are you alone?"
"I am," he says, appraising me with an amazing smile, then glancing at my left hand. "I'm a designated driver for my mom and dad."
My eyes pop wide open.
How can this be?
I must look as if I don’t believe him.
He explains that his folks retired from McGrath Engineering four years ago. They love this party, but neither one can drive at nighttime any longer. He always volunteers to be their chauffer. "I'm Eric Jensen," he says when he finishes. "I'm a fireman. Would you like to dance...?"
"Erin Fisher," I say. "Accountant for McGrath Engineering. I'd love to dance. I'm a designated driver, too."
"Are you kidding? Both of us?"
While we glide across the dance floor, I explain about driving for my girlfriends, Edna and Alice, and that they really don't need a driver. They were dragging me out into public.
After three dances, Eric and I sit at our little table in the corner, chatting and chatting. We like the same movies, music, and food. Spots, too. Baseball. We lose track of time.
Suddenly the band is playing Auld Lange Syne. Lights flash, kazoos blare, people sing and cheer.
When Eric leans in to kiss me at the table, my heart explodes.
"May I call you in the morning?" he asks, breathing on my lips. "We'll go out for breakfast, if you like. I'll be the designated driver."
"Please call," I say, and kiss him back. "Designated driver is not such a bad gig."

The End
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