Hannah has been writing fictional short stories for Solo Living over the last three years. She writes character-driven stories about single life and solos living alone. Here is Part 2, Amanda’s New Year Story story while Part 1 can be found here. To read more solos short stories, click here.
It was New Year, and there were plenty of people crowding the pubs looking to celebrate. The streets were packed with smiling people, their faces illuminated by the glowing street lights and twinkling Christmas lights strung across the pub’s windows.
Amanda loved Christmas, and she loved spending it with family – but what she loved just as much was New Year, because she had always been one of those people that looked forward to starting afresh as midnight rolled around. Of course, very little actually changed as the new year rolled around, and she never stuck to her resolutions, but it was less about the reality of it all and much more about the feeling of happiness it brought.
She was outside now, buried deep in her fluffy winter coat to ward off the chill. It hadn’t snowed this year, which was a shame, but it was still icy cold in a way that made her hands tingle. “I hope there’s still seats,” she said to Jenny, gesturing to the pub in front of them. The Star and Garter was one of the more upscale pubs in Linlithgow, and it was no less crowded this evening.
Jenny only smiled and rolled her eyes. “I told you, you should have booked us a table.”
Well yes, she probably should have, but it was too late now. With a childish huff, Amanda hooked an arm through Jenny’s and towed her inside.
It was warm, thank God, and the circulation slowly came creeping back into Amanda’s freezing hands. She poked her head into the bar area and saw the mob of people taking up every inch of space. But, towards the back, there was a single unoccupied table.
“I think we’re in luck,” she called to Jenny, voice raised even though they were right beside each other, “let’s go before someone else nabs it.”
Although Amanda wished she could have said it was quieter at the back, that simply wasn’t true. Even though the table was in a little side room, connected to the main bar by a shallow archway, it was just as noisy as everywhere else. Still, the din only enhanced that feeling of enjoyment and excitement, because it wasn’t only Amanda that was looking forward to the bells but everybody else in this little pub.
Jenny collapsed into the wide armchair, still wrapped in her coat. “I can’t believe we got a seat,” she said with a laugh, “I was sure that everywhere would be full.”
“I’m a good luck charm,” Amanda quipped as she shrugged off her own coat, “I’ll grab us drinks – let me guess. Vodka lemonade?”
They may have been sisters, but Jenny and Amanda were different in many ways. Jenny hardly drank, especially now that she had three children to think about – but tonight those kids were with their father in Glasgow, and it was just the two of them out to enjoy themselves.
The bar was busy enough that Amanda had to fight to be noticed. There was no sense of a queue with everyone simply clamouring to order, but she eventually managed to snag the bartender’s attention. Then she returned with their drinks – one vodka lemonade for Jenny, and a martini for Amanda herself.
Except, when she wandered back over, Jenny was no longer alone. There was a tall blonde woman with her, back turned. The woman talked animatedly with her hands, throwing them all over the place as she spoke, and her clear voice rose even above the chatter of the Star.
There was only one person that it could have been, and Amanda’s stomach sank. “Hello Erin,” Amanda said as she ambled over, setting down the drinks.
Erin’s pretty face broke into a wide smile. Although it had been years, she didn’t look a day older than the last time they’d spoken. “Oh, Amanda! How good to see you!” Her grin widened as she stood to envelop Amanda in her arms. Amanda didn’t reciprocate, her entire body freezing up, but Erin either didn’t notice or simply didn’t care as she practically crushed Amanda’s ribs.
When they parted, Amanda was quick to sit. The chair groaned under the suddenness as she dropped into it. The last time she had seen Erin, they had fought. After that, contact between them had been reduced to the odd smile in the street or small talk if they bumped into each other somewhere. Did Erin not remember any of this?
Apparently not, because she was talking now. “It’s been over two years,” she said, elegantly lowering herself into the third seat. Her long hair was perfect, and as she brushed a few strands from her face, a ring glinted on her finger. “We just have to catch up – I saw Jenny here and knew you couldn’t be far behind, why else would she have come all the way from Glasgow?”
Amanda forced a smile. “Yeah, we always spend New Year together, have done since I moved here.”
“Well, that’s so sweet.” Then Erin’s brow furrowed. “Still no husband, though?”
Amanda and Jenny shared a look, and it was Jenny who replied, “no, we’re both single. I’m divorced.”
“And we’re both perfectly happy,” Amanda cut in reassuringly, just in case Erin got any ideas.
“Well, I thought I was happy until I met Andrew. We got married last year, did you know that? He bought me the most beautiful ring and proposed on holiday in Italy.” She flashed the ring. It was enormous; a thick gold band with dazzling diamonds, and a perfectly round emerald in the centre.
It was beautiful, and Amanda could only smile. “It’s gorgeous, Erin. I’m really happy for you and Andrew and that you finally got married.”
“But still nobody in your life?” Erin frowned. “You just haven’t found the right one yet. Same for you, Jenny – you two just need to keep looking until you find your soulmate.”
“Oh, Erin, it is all very romantic,” Jenny said suddenly, and her cheeks were stained pink in embarrassment. Amanda couldn’t blame her, “but really, we’re both fine. We already had this talk with our family at Christmas dinner.”
“I understand, but what if I helped you? I’m sure there’s somebody out there for both of you – Andrew and I met through a friend of mine, she played a sort of matchmaker for us both. I could do that for you too!”
It would have been a kind offer; if they had wanted it, and if this hadn’t been the first conversation they’d had with Erin in years. It all felt a bit… how could Amanda put it? Forced?
“No thank you,” Jenny said politely before Amanda had the chance.
Yet Erin, ever the stubborn one, simply smiled. “Oh, but you’ll thank me when you’re happily married like Andrew and me.”
“It’s very nice of you to offer,” Amanda said slowly. She took a sip of her martini, hoping that it would give her a boost of strength to kindly turn Erin down. The drink was sweet and strong, just how she liked it, but it didn’t help. Yet she had to say something, so biting down on her lip she continued, “I don’t want to push away your kindness, Erin, but it’s been a long time since we’ve spoken and I don’t think you should just go around trying to set people up without their permission. Our permission.”
Erin’s face fell, and all of a sudden Amanda remembered why they had stopped seeing each other. Her expression darkened, arms folded across her chest, as she slowly rose to her feet. “You haven’t changed a bit, Amanda. You just won’t accept anybody’s help, will you? A woman your age should have settled down a long time ago, and you just can’t see that I’m trying to help. What about when you’re old, and the chance for love has passed you by?”
“It’s not really passing me by if I don’t want it,” Amanda replied, “and old people can still fall in love too-“
“I came over here tonight to reconnect in time for a New Year. To offer my help. But if you don’t want it, I won’t waste my breath.” Then she turned heel and stalked off, pushing her way through the crowd standing at the bar, and vanished outside.
Maybe Amanda should have gone after her, or tried to apologise; yet she was locked in place, cheeks bright red, as she stared down at her half-finished martini. “Well, that’s thoroughly ruined the mood.”
Jenny reached across the low coffee table to squeeze Amanda’s shoulder. “Erin was trying to help, but it isn’t your fault that she went about it in the wrong way.” When Amanda peeked up, her smile was gentle. “Try not to worry about it – it’s New Year’s Eve, today is supposed to be fun!”
At thirty years old, Amanda thought she had her life figured out. Now, though, with Erin’s criticism rolling around in her head, she had to wonder. It seemed that everyone wanted her to settle down; at Christmas, her mum had made her disapproval quite clear. Aunt Kirstie, too. Now an old friend had popped up out of nowhere to judge her, and it increasingly felt like Amanda was doing something wrong-
“I know what you’re thinking,” Jenny said sharply, “and you had better not be spiralling. I know how you get when you overthink.” She fixed Amanda with a knowing look; brow raised, lips pursed into a thin line. It was the same sort of expression she often gave her youngest, Dean when he misbehaved.
Amanda frowned. Suddenly, the atmospheric cheer surrounding them wasn’t quite so inviting. Rather, it felt as if Amanda no longer belonged here in her favourite pub.
Yet Jenny’s gaze didn’t waver. “Are you really questioning yourself over what one person said?” she challenged, “I never understood why you liked Erin anyway, she was always pushing her ideals onto everyone else.”
“She’s the type of person who doesn’t understand that her way of life doesn’t suit everyone,” Amanda replied, “but she has a special way of making other people feel like crap.”
“So don’t listen to her.”
It wasn’t that easy. Amanda swirled her glass, watching the clear liquid slosh around inside. “I know that Alexander and I didn’t exactly part on good terms,” she said softly, voice almost lost to the chatter. It was perhaps the understatement of the year because Alexander had caused hell for her when they broke up. They shared a lot of friends and he forced them to choose between himself or Amanda, and then when most had chosen her he left aggressive voice mails on her phone for weeks… but that had been six years ago, and she was over it, and couldn’t she be happy without him or any other man in her life?
Sometimes, Jenny had this uncanny way of knowing exactly what Amanda was thinking. Or perhaps Amanda just had a terrible poker face. Regardless, her expression softened as she let out a sigh. “Don’t let Erin or Alexander ruin our New Year, yeah?.” Her eyes flickered to her watch. “It’s ten o’clock and there are only two hours until the bells, so let’s enjoy it.”
“I don’t know if I can, now,” Amanda confessed.
Jenny, of course, was having none of it. “Hey, aren’t you supposed to be the sociable one of the two of us?” she asked with a smile, “do you want to go somewhere else?”
Erin had already left, and there was no guarantee that anywhere else would have tables free. So… no, Amanda was fine here. “It’s all right,” she said softly, even though the prickle of embarrassment still itched at the back of her neck. “I’m not really mad, I just wish people would quit trying to intervene in my life, you know? It’s none of their business.”
Jenny hummed in agreement. If it was even possible, the Star and Garter was busier now, and so she had to lean close to speak. “I know how you feel, Mandy. I’m seven years your senior and people have been judging my choices for a lot longer – you just have to steel yourself and try not to let it get to you. Okay?”
Yeah. Sure. Amanda could do that. She had been doing that for years. After Alexander, she had withdrawn into herself for a good while, before deciding that she wasn’t going to let one guy ruin her best years. What people didn’t seem to understand, though, was that remaining single wasn’t a decision made out of refusal to try again, but a choice made because she wanted to focus on herself. She was a whole, functioning person all on her own without a husband or boyfriend.
Although she said none of that out loud, Jenny sat back with a satisfied nod. “Now, round two is on me. Same again?”
Amanda hummed. Already, she felt a little better. “Maybe I’ll have something different this time. Surprise me?”
Jenny laughed. “Why not? Just don’t complain if I get you something gross.”
“As long as there’s no coffee, I’m fine. I’ve never understood why people put coffee and alcohol together.”
Jenny nodded. “No coffee, got it.” She stood, fumbling through her bag for her purse, before pulling it out with a flourish. “I’ll be back soon,” she said while meandering past the table.
Amanda stuck her hand out at the last minute, hand squeezing hers. “Jenny?” she asked, eyes turning up to meet her blue ones, “thanks, for coming out with me today. If I’d met Erin on my own I might have lost my calm. You always know what to say, too.” She paused, biting down on her lower lip. Her lipstick, which was bright red, was probably a mess from all this worrying. “I don’t regret being single any more than you regret divorcing Lewis. I know what’s right for me. I just hate that nobody else understands it’s what I want just now.”
Jenny smiled kindly. “I get it. Trust me. Sometimes it’s difficult to accept what’s best when everyone else thinks otherwise, but you know yourself better than anyone else, so don’t doubt yourself.”
Amanda smiled. “I don’t.”
“Good. Now, I’m going to get us some more drinks, so hold tight for a minute.”
Amanda watched her vanish into the crowd with a reluctant smile tugging at her features before she turned back to the table. Out of everyone, Jenny understood her best. Maybe she was the only one to understand her at all, but Amanda was grateful to have her as a sister.
Those thoughts were still swirling through her mind when Jenny returned, carrying two margaritas. She set them down carefully before returning to the armchair.
“Oh,” Amanda chirped, “we’re going classy tonight.”
Jenny grinned in response. “Hey, I never get to enjoy a drink with three kids running around – I deserve a treat. And so do you, so enjoy!”
Back when Amanda and Jenny still lived at home together, they used to go out like this all the time. Then Jenny had moved out, and Amanda followed three years later, and this sort of thing became less and less common as they grew up. Despite the thundering noise and the excitement of the pub, there was something so calming about spending time with Jenny. It was almost like old times when they were still young and didn’t have to worry about anything.
So they drank overpriced cocktails and talked about everything, from family to their favourite TV shows, and Amanda slowly forgot about Erin and her insecurities. By the time they’d finished their third drink, that buzz in the back of her brain gave everything a pleasant, hazy glow.
It wasn’t until the pub fell quiet that Amanda realised how much time had passed. She set down her glass and turned to peek into the main bar, to see that someone had switched on the TV. The countdown was about to start.
A beaming Jenny grabbed Amanda’s arm, so tight that her manicured nails dug into the fabric of Amanda’s sleeves. “One minute to go,” she chirped. Had she been keeping track the whole time? How very Jenny.
Yet excitement was bubbling up inside of Amanda too, as she gripped her glass tightly between her slim hands. Her drink was almost gone, so she drained the last in one small sip.
Then, as she grinned across the table at Jenny, voices filled the air. The countdown to New Year started at ten, and the entire pub called out in sync.
Without even thinking about it, Amanda joined in. Across from her, Jenny did too. They chanted, voices mixing with dozens of others until the entire pub erupted into a cheer.
Jenny was on her feet then, tugging Amanda up too so they could hug. Jenny smelled like bitter alcohol but it didn’t matter, because her grip was strong and her hug was warm.
When they parted, both of them were grinning from ear to ear. “Happy New Year!” Jenny gushed, her smile positively infectious.
Amanda beamed back. “Happy New Year! I have the feeling it’s going to be a good one.”