Champagne was awful. There was no other way to describe the unpleasant taste on Finley’s tongue. Maybe she wasn’t educated enough on the finer things in life or elegance, but it didn’t change the way the sparkles assaulted her taste buds. And yet, she braved another sip of the foul liquid because it was the obligatory New Year’s Eve drink.
The party was in full swing, well, at least Erin thought five people constituted a party. There were only a few more hours until midnight. Finley wasn’t sure all her mates were going to make it that far.
Trashy 2000s pop music filled her ears as she made her way through the glitter-filled living room to the kitchen to grab a cannoli. Glitter-filled wasn’t even quite the right term, sure everyone was wearing something that sparkled like a disco ball under the lights, but craft glitter floated in the air like a sparkly haze that, come the following morning, everyone was sure to think was just from alcohol or any other intoxicants her friends passed around the room.
Finley smiled at a joke one of her friends shouted across the room.
It was strange celebrating New Year’s Eve with her friends. A good strange, but strange, nonetheless. Usually, she was home with her parents and sister. They’d never done much for New Year’s Eve, never a party, just a movie or two with no mind to watch the time for midnight. It was so much quieter.
Finley left the noise of the living room and opened the balcony door. A fresh breath of frozen air greeted her as she stepped outside and pulled the door closed behind her. Her skin prickled under her knit sweater.
There weren’t any chairs on the balcony; Erin had put them away for winter. Finley sat on the cold surface and crossed her legs in front of her. She put the glass of champagne down beside her; the base settled on the ground with a little chime. She watched her breath puff clouds that hung by her face before drifting off into the purple night sky.
Finley pulled her phone out of her pocket and dialled her sister’s number. She stared at the screen as it rang.
The flashing lights of a disco ball filled her screen as her sister answered. “Hi!”
“Hi,” Finley said. “Where are you?”
“Just on campus,” she said.
The blinking lights died as her sister walked outside. She sat down on the stairs outside whatever building she’d been in; the sounds of shouting and faint music ebbed in the background.
“I miss you,” Finley said.
Her sister’s smile fell. “I miss you too.”
“Will you be home for Easter?”
She shook her head. “It’s too short of a holiday for me to fly home.”
The sound of people shouting rose, and Finley could just make out what they were saying. They were counting down. Her sister glanced back at the building.
The voices hit ten. “You should go.”
“Talk to you tomorrow?”
“Yes, now go!”
Her sister ended the call, and Finley dropped her chin onto her arm that sat balanced on her knee.
The lights shimmered from the neighbouring buildings, scattering across the courtyard below. Music from other apartments drifted through the air like music notes in a Disney short.
“Hey, there you are.”
Finley turned to her friend.
Erin ran a hand through her dark hair. “It’s freezing out here.”
She shrugged. “It was getting stuffy inside.”
Erin rubbed her bare arms. The sparkle of her dress danced across the balcony as she bounced on her feet in the doorway.
“Yo! You’re lettin’ all the cold air in!” Erin’s girlfriend, Heather, shouted from somewhere inside.
Erin closed the balcony door behind her, joining Finley fully in the winter air. “What are you really doing out here?”
“I was warm,” she said.
Erin crouched down beside her. “You are never warm.”
Finley leaned towards her friend. “I was talking to my sister.”
“How is she?” Erin asked.
“Good. Having fun.”
“That’s good,” Erin said before falling silent.
A whisper of a chilling breeze caressed their cheeks, leaving streaks of glowing frozen skin.
Erin stood up. “You wanna come back inside, or do you want to turn into an icicle?”
“I’ll come inside.” Finley smiled. “But only if you let me control the music. Your taste is terrible.”
The sliding glass door whined as Erin tugged it open, leading Finley back into the warm cacophony that was inside.
Heather frowned at the pair of them. “What were ya doin’ outside?
“It’s really hot in here,” Erin said and handed Finley the Bluetooth speaker.
Heather smiled. “That’s because I’m here.”
She rolled her eyes. “We needed to cool off.”
“Finley, want some more champagne?” Heather waved the bottle of bubbly in the air.
Finley looked at the empty glass in her hand, wondering when she had finished the vulgar liquid. “No thanks. It tastes like rat poison. I don’t even know how you’re drinking it.”
Heather chuckled and made some comment about there being more for herself.
Finley smiled and connected her phone to the Bluetooth speaker before grabbing a new glass and filling it with cranberry juice, a much more pleasant drink she’d loved since childhood. The sound of her music floated through the room, filling the living room with the bourbon voice of Andy Black. It sounded like home.
This short story by Natalie Knoll is posted in submission for the ESA’s 2022 Short Story Competition.