Nathan ran the towel over his body quickly. He was a lazy dryer but he folded the towel neatly after he was done with it. When he looked in the mirror again he felt renewed. The sickliness seemed to have withdrawn somewhere beneath the sheen of Nathan's still slightly soapy body. That first shower of the new year had been a brief moment of total peace for Nathan. He'd felt and thought nothing as he stood under the hot water, he simply let the steam and soap and water surround him and make him clean.
This zen state remained until Nathan stepped out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. More accurately, this moment of zen ended when he slid under the covers beside the woman in his bed. He'd intended to sneak under the covers and gently wake-up his wife before revisiting whatever seedy games they'd played the night before. Suffice to say, when he leaned over her to kiss her he was surprised to find Nadine's red hair brushing against his chest rather than his wife's short blond curls. Suddenly every event from the night before shot through his head like a rifle shell. He remembered Nadine arriving casually and he remembered sitting on the leather couch drinking rum and playing cards. He even remembered that he'd just ask her if she "had any sevens" when she leaned across the couch and kissed him plainly on the mouth. It was a dignified kiss; no tongue and only a few seconds of lip contact, and as she pulled away she'd whispered "Go fish."
Nathan seriously thought for a moment that he was going to throw up all over Nadine's face and chest. He put his hand over his mouth and let out a sick hiccough, but it was only the sensation of the small bud of guilt in his stomach blossoming. Nathan had been married happily for six years before that morning and he'd known Nadine for five of them. They'd worked together once on some irrelevant project and had remained tight friends since. On the other hand, Nadine and Nathan's Wife, Jordan, had been close for years before either of them met Nathan. Of all the woman who Nathan could have made this stupid mistake with, it had to be Nadine. Feeling disgusted with ashamed and disgusted, Nathan quickly withdrew from Nadine and laid himself down where he'd been sleeping. He could feel the wetness of his body soaking into the sheets, but he didn't care. "Nobody changes." Nathan whispered fatalistically, a statement followed by twenty minutes of nothing but Nathan's heavy heartbeats and the desolate static of time passing.
Nadine's eyes opened slowly, the last images of her world on fire fading as the whiteness of Nathan's apartment flooded her eyes. The brightness made her squint for a few moments but it passed as she adjusted. The only exceptions to the overwhelming whiteness of her environment was the sunlit and still wet back of Nathan, and the large incoherent print hung on the wall behind him. Nadine had realized she was in a foreign bed, but it wasn’t until she saw Nathan that the reality of the matter sunk in. She sat upright immediately her heart once again racing after settling only moments before. Under her breath she let loose a string of frustrated curses as she kicked off her blanket. She instinctively covered her breasts with her arm but quickly realized this was unnecessary as Nathan had obviously seen them.
"Shit, shit shit shit." she mumbled as she searched the room for her clothes and underwear. Hearing this, Nathan was snapped out of his thought and turned to Nadine. She was standing, silhouetted boldly against the window and for half a moment Nathan wondered "What if she didn't leave?" This kind of foolish fantasizing would be the downfall of Nathan. He had been ready to drop his entire life for Nadine as the result of one ephemeral moment of beauty. He snapped out of it but he knew that one day his fickle eyes would be the end of him. "Where's my shit?!" Nadine shouted hysterically, digging recklessly through piles of clothes on the floor.
"It's there." Nathan said bluntly, sitting up in the bed and pointing his finger at the jacket and skirt draped over a chair in the corner. Nadine jumped slightly at Nathan's voice but was too frantic to articulate any form of surprise other than a quick "Thanks."
Rather than rush to her clothes, she stood staring at Nathan. Her dark eyes appeared a richer purple than Nathan had ever seen. They just stared at each other, sizing each other up in the unfamiliar rashness of morning. Nadine was overcome by the strange realization. Despite the social proximity and the frequency of contact, this was likely to be the last time her and Nathan would ever see each other like this; naked, defenseless and completely honest. Nadine suddenly wanted nothing more than to leap over the hurdles of bed sheets between them and once again feel what it was to be a woman. It sounded stupid to say considering her promiscuous youth and the clumsy trysts of adolescence, but somehow when she had been with Nathan she had gleaned the knowledge of what it meant to be with someone, to truly feel the love connection.
Nathan did not feel the same inexplicable connection that Nadine did. To be perfectly honest, Nathan looked at Nadine and felt a complete absence of feeling towards her. When he looked at the ghostly woman standing before him he did not feel intimacy and he did not feel isolation. Her eyes were too dark, too beautiful and blunt to grasp any purchase of what what at work behind them. Their gaze only made him feel weak and foolish. He knew then that him and Nadine could never ‘be’ together. “Is this the pragmatism of maturity.” Nathan thought quietly. He realized then what it meant to be someone’s New Year’s Kiss; to be the brief champagne lips that seal the deal; that guarantee resolutions will lead to change, to provide hope despite your own hopelessness.