The Tui Lodge at which we were staying lent bicycles for a refundable deposit, which seemed like a super-smart way of ensuring safe driving after an evening of revelry. After some brake and gear testing of the available models (many battered to the point of dubious functionality) we found a couple of serviceable mounts and proceeded to shower and prep for the evening.
I have a love-hate relationship with New Year’s Eve. I do heartily approve of any holiday involving fireworks, especially one characterized by drinking and unencumbered with weird religious shadows and perverse consumerism. Most often, I have a great time on NYE. However, the inherent optimism of the occasion can become a curse if circumstances confine you to a less-than-auspicious situation, glumly imagining everyone but you kissing hot mysterious strangers at midnight, women all looking svelte in glamorous slinky dresses while glittery, midnite-released confetti flutters gently into their perfectly coiffed hair and ample cleavage. (Look – I don’t know what to say: it may be my freaky, cheesy cinema-driven imagination, but I have no control over it.)
As stated, Coro had two bars, so this was not precisely slinky dress territory, but I gave Lewis an enthusiastic talk on what to do if he met a nice young lady with whom he might like to enjoy some holiday cheer, stating I’d take the van if he just came and notified me the room would be in use. There’s always the possibility of an evening populated by fabulousness, I thought – might as well plan for it!
We stopped first at the Star and Garter Hotel. An earlier afternoon investigation had revealed it to be an invitingly clean place sporting a tidy industrial/light hardwood look, with a tented back outdoor patio area. They had a band out there doing great covers of all sorts of rock music – not cheesy, just awesome.
Lewis and I sat at the bar, with me next to an open drink ordering area. A young guy came up to refill his bevvies and bid me happy new year, which I returned. He’d ordered a couple of adult drinks and three orange juices, and I joked about the number of designated drivers he must have in his party. “They’re for my daughters,” he replied, proudly pointing out a small posse of ponytailed 6 to 9 year olds. As I looked carefully around, I realized this was an all-generations affair: NYE at the pub in New Zealand is not the same as the cocktail-napkin-sized miniskirted clientele in meat-markety downtown Orlando. Grandparents perched on stools as kids ran around and adults knocked back the cocktails. It was pleasantly wholesome in an inebriated, hooting way.
Lewis expressed some concern that the music was not really New Year’s Eve-y, so we agreed to go check out the bar down the street, which –while just as lively– seemed to cater to a slightly more working-class base. Lewis, spotting a lovely Maori girl, whispered breathlessly, “Look at those cheekbones!” I made encouraging eyebrow motions in her direction while I explained I’d be returning to the other bar and he could try to text or come there if he wanted me.
A conscientiously slick youngster had started chatting me up on my return when an older man appeared beside him and admonished him to “Look after her; I have to run out for a few minutes.” Slick agreed, and after the man left, turned back to telling me about his trip to America (California). After some minutes I interrupted and asked, thinking of the little girls about the place, asked “Who exactly is it you’re supposed to be looking after?” “Ah! Let me introduce you!” he said, smiling broadly. He brought me over and presented me to an adorable early-20-something girl who chirped and hugged me enthusiastically upon learning my name, exclaiming “Dara is my mother’s name too!” I was duly hugged as well by her very warm and welcoming dad when he returned, sporting his hot new fiancée on his arm (the Dara being an amicable ex-wife). I was tipsy enough by now, just before midnight, that I didn’t give a fig about the usual self-consciousness that prevents me shaking my booty in public, and proceed to do just that with Dara’s daughter and Slick. The new fiancée eventually got drunk enough to fall over on the floor, spilling my drink in the process, so the whole little family said their goodbyes, collected their things, and headed home, half-dragging and half-carrying the listing new missus-to-be out to the street.
Midnight came and went in a hail of cheering. I started chatting to the folks who moved into the table after the Other-Dara family departed. After doing me a favor, I offered to buy a drink for one of the guys comprising the group. He said he was fine but referred me to make the same offer to his nearby wife, who also professed to be fine. “Here,” the guy said, shoving a long, lean figure towards me. “You can dance with my mate to return the favor.” Since I was at that point pleasantly beyond caring about my normal inhibitions –buzzed, but gently– I agreed, and what ensued was a happy if uncoordinated effort to shake it down with this stranger. There were a few attempts to communicate over the roar of the music, starting with names. “Gahhhh,” the guy shouted in my ear. “Um – what? That’s your name?” I hollered back, confused someone would be named after an exclamation evocative of a painful toe stubbing. “Short for Gareth,” he clarified. “Oh! Garrrrr,” I affirmed in my pedestrian American accent. We danced around for several minutes, conversing more to the extent that the volume and close-held ears would allow. A Black Sabbath cover came on and he howled in delight, “I LOVE this song!” A couple of times we snugged up to create any kind of semblance of being in coordination with each other, and, with him rather taller than me, I found a hand landed on my chest – not in a pervy way, but in a convenient ‘hand hold that also had the benefit of being squeezable’ sort of manner. I repositioned it to my shoulder where it stayed, and reflected curiously how amazingly pleasant it felt to be snuggled up this guy who seemed kind and polite -small instance of boob grabbery notwithstanding- and was quite cute to boot.
At 12:10, he abandoned any semblance of dancing, stopped still and looked at me with a smile, gently tipped my chin up with his hand, and smooched me.
Now, however unromantically, it should be said at this point that I have always had a weird aversion to saliva. My mom was offended for years because even as a small child I refused to share a straw with her from the occasional fast food fill-up. It was such a momentous occasion when, aged 17 in freshman year at college, I swapped a lollipop back and forth with a dear girlfriend, I actually called my mom to report this news. So my first instinctive thought at having this stranger’s mouth on mine was “EW!!!!!” and my hands tensed to push him away.
Then another part of my brain stepped in with a sonorous, James Earl Jones-style, brook-no-dissent command, and said, “WAIT JUST A MINUTE, YOU DUMBASS.” Amid a warm, blissful glow, a shimmering realization undulated slowly to the top of my consciousness, and I dazedly informed myself, “Holy fuck – this feels amazing… stand down, ye saliva police.”
It is against my general principles to disclose overly mushy bullshit to people who it does not directly concern (and sometimes not even to them), but to treat this fairly, I must be truthful. The hackneyed movie characterization of time slowing down and the background fading away actually stinkin’ happened. Gar was leaning slightly towards me, balanced at a perfectly chivalrous point of polite, not-pushing-anything-on-me-ness, the lights on the band glowing behind him, illuminating a handsome face with gorgeous blue eyes gazing earnestly at me. And my knees got ridiculously weak. If I had an ample bosom and perfect coif upon which to shower glittering confetti, it would have fluttered softly through the mental spotlight that seemed to be shining on only us. His friends, having noticed the liplock, shouted, “Gar, you’re ten minutes too late!”
We continued for hours after to talk and drink, and I attempted converse over the music with the rest of the party, which in addition to Gar consisted of the married couple I’d met before, Luke and Aimee; one of their moms; and friend Brendan (again, the multi-generational NYE thing at work.) Everything Gar related as he talked to me was surprising in a good way – maybe even a great way. It was like being tightly zoomed in on Google Maps, and constantly having some invisible force bang your zoom view back until you realized you weren’t looking at a tiny hamlet anymore, you were looking at a freakin’ continent. This guy was sharp. Witty. Clever and well-read. Sarcastic in a way that made me grin evilly in gleeful, black-hearted amusement. Interested in photography; astronomy; science and sci fi; cars and racing them; motocross racing; a writer too, about video games; sophisticated understanding of American politics; supportive of gay rights – I mean, it was one thing after another where I thought to myself, “Well, hellooo random bar guy… who’d have suspected my favor return would be tasty, intriguing, personable, moral, and brilliant?”
And when he put his arm around me and snuggled me close, it felt so great I could have fainted with dizzy happiness.
When the family group got ready to leave, they invited me to come along with them to their rented bach (a Kiwi holiday cottage, typically one in a beach area). Gar and I walked a bit ahead, and he pointed out constellations to me in the few breaks in the cloud cover, including the Southern Cross, which I’d been wanting to identify before I left. People meandered past in the other direction, cheerily singing out, “Happy New Year!!!” We passed a church – Gar and I had already discussed our shared atheism – and he raised his eyebrows, smiled at me wickedly and asked, “Want to be blasphemous and make out on the church steps?” This was followed by more amazing smooching, albeit it on hard damp concrete stairs. I was pretty much in a constant state of dizziness. It was fucking fantastic.
Back at the bach, we ill-advisedly had a couple more cocktails and all sat outside on the patio talking. One by one, people started to drop off to bed – it was nearly 3:30 in the morning. Gar offered a bed in the house to me, noting there was a room full of bunks available, and flung a door open to illustrate, spilling light on his mortified married friends, already comfortably ensconced in their double bed in the aforementioned room and definitely not entirely clothed. “Shut the door,” I hissed at him, dragging him away by the arm. “Look, walk me back to my van – I’ll pull the bed out and you can crash there; I’ll bring you home in the morning,” I suggested. We retrieved my bike and strolled the hour or so walk through town and along the sheep pastures back to the hostel, conversing avidly and stopping occasionally to look at the stars, collapsed in the hastily arranged bed, and snuggled up to sleep.