“This is the best party ever.” He downs champagne while catching glimpses from his family a few tables over. The other Feldmans are whispering to one another about the grand transgression, but they’ll be over it by Christmas dinner. Too bad. Zack would love to have something to talk to them about for once. “Too bad it’s going to implode on itself now that everyone knows who the daddy is. Oh, look, there’s the first casualty.” The Monroes are shuffling out of the venue as if the Andrews have just said, “No, but really, how about swapping partners, eh? Ken’s always wanted to fuck a woman in her second trimester.” Not that the Andrews are looking much more amused. Zack figures Lana will last five more minutes before she starts harassing people for gossip.
One by one couples and whole families leave the event early. Even the table full of old and new friends is getting up and leaving together. The Coles and Warrens lead the way while their west coast friends follow. Zack makes a note to send his hearty congratulations to Henry Warren for not being the father.
“I’m sure that bothers the shit out of you,” Seth says beside his friend.
“Not as much as the knowledge you’re having a threesome tonight and I’m not.”
“Don’t even. Judith is supposed to stay with me tonight. He can wait his damn turn.” They both look over, where Judith is sitting in Miguel’s lap and speaking so animatedly that her breasts are constantly jiggling. Miguel is doing anything but listening to his girlfriend explain the ins and outs of high society drama in New England.
“So I guess that means you don’t wanna get out and have a drink with me.”
“No. And you should probably sober up a bit before driving home. How much of that champagne have you drunk so far?”
“Not enough, Dad.” Zack wouldn’t get this much flack from his own father.
But Seth is right. Perhaps it’s not the best idea in the world to hop in his vintage Corvette before some of the bubbly wears off. Luckily for Zack, weak alcohol lasts about a half hour in his system, and that’s plenty of time for him to make the rounds of the venue and overhear the trash talk. Some of it in French.
He doesn’t head out to the valet until Seth texts to say that he and Judith are heading out. For a brief moment, Zack drags himself for not having a girlfriend to take home with him, and this party is not the place to pick up chicks. Zack doesn’t care for stuffy heiresses, anyway.Zack’s thinking about heading to his favorite dive bar to chat with mixologists and any young co-eds who wander in… or maybe going straight home to chill with a bowl of guac (maybe some chips in there, too) and his sketchpad. At some point his mother will call to harass him about Christmas dinner, but Zack has hired the family caretaker to do all the present shopping on his behalf. All Zack has to do is show up for dinner and present opening. An all-American Christmas!
The valet whips the Corvette around. By the time Zack gets behind the wheel, he’s decided to head straight home. But he’ll take the scenic route so he can zoom by the marina and make sure his yacht the Priss & Moan hasn’t caught fire or been abducted by pirates.
Rain is falling. The longer he drives, the harder it falls. The windshield wipers are on high, and Zack is really, really wishing his night driving skills were better so he didn’t have to drive 20mph on a curvy road and not die. Because as much as certain guy friends of his would make fun of him for being careful, he’d rather not spend the holidays dead. (He can hear Seth at his funeral now: “As his gynecologist, I would have recommended he practice safer sex – er, driving.”)
It’s a good thing Zack is driving as slowly as he is. Because if he were driving any faster, he might hit the poor young woman stuck on the side of the road trying to futilely change a busted bike tire.
Zack catches her in his headlights. Her black raincoat reflects the sheen of the rain and a streetlight shining a few feet away. He slows down, initially content to carefully go by her, but a flash of her pale face prompts him to stop and call out his window.
“Need any help?” Clearly, she does, because the young woman is about five seconds away from lighting her broken bike tire on fire. “I know a thing or two about fixing tires long enough to get you home.” It’s been years since he’s ridden a bicycle, but Zack has a Harley that gets a lot of use. Some things aren’t so different.
The woman stands up, her lack of balance sending her back against Zack’s car. He shuts off the motor and hops out of the driver’s seat. Rain instantly drenches the top of his head and drips down his face, but he only has eyes for the woman bracing herself against his Corvette.
“I’m fine!” she calls over the rain. Zack pulls his jacket over his head as he approaches. “I don’t need any help!”
Her voice is cloaked in anger. Her body language is ready to lash out and destroy her bike for no other reason than leaving her trapped in the rain. Zack’s instincts tell him to abandon all hope at helping this woman, but he isn’t about to abandon her to the elements and less careful drivers.
“Should be a simple fix, really. I can have it fixed in five minutes. Consider me the AAA of bicycles.”
She shoves herself between him and the bike. “I said I’m fine!”
Her balance betrays her again. The woman is on the ground, sliding through the mud on the side of the road and wondering why she ever left her apartment that day.
What Zack doesn’t know is that this woman has just come from the worst date of her life. Someone she met online spent half their date implying that she is too ugly and too “detached” to not only be loved, but to be good enough for a one-night stand. She’s not ugly. And her detachment is a result of assholes like that constantly making her feel like pure gross shit.
Too bad Zack has caught her at one of the lowest points of her life. Because of course she has gone off the road and fucked up her bike.
If she yells and screams loud enough, she’ll scare him back into that old car of his and send him on his Merry Christmas way. Rachel Taylor would rather sit in the ditch and wait for her friend to come by with a SUV to carry her back into town. Because that friend is female, and after the bullshit Rachel has dealt with regarding men? Zack could be actual Prince Charming and she would still lash out at him with her claws fully extended.
So he gets back in his car, the leather interior now covered in mud and rain. He gives Rachel two more seconds to change her mind before he starts up his car and makes his way home.
It’s the sort of chance encounter that people shrug off as the days go by. What are the odds of them ever meeting again?
What are the odds of them remembering each other when they cross paths in a nondescript café a few months from now?
Zack won’t remember Rachel. Not her face or her brusque way of yelling at him, anyway. He will, however, remember her well enough to go home and sketch the image of an angry goddess about to chop a foe’s head off. 2017 is going to be the start of Zack’s Muse Period.
And when his life completely changes in the best of ways, but we won’t scare him with that yet.
The End – For 2016, Anyway