I didn’t mingle at the party. Inside, revelers waiting for the ball to drop sipped their Champagne, ate hors d’oeuvres, and laughed. They didn’t laugh at anything in particular, they just laughed. It wasn’t my scene, so I stood on the balcony, looking down.
From the top of one of the few skyscrapers in Belport’s financial heart, the people looked like ants, but noises of celebration still made their way up the heights. No one else joined me, which I was grateful for. I didn’t want to have to pretend with them. I just wanted to reflect. But that wasn’t going to happen.
“You heard me? You’re improving.”
I shook my head, then pointed at my nose. “Perfume.” She smelled like roses, her favorite flower and scent. It was subtle, and lost inside that room, but in the drizzle-scrubbed breeze, I caught it.
She joined me at the railing, looking down at everyone.
“What’s it like for you, Nikki, the New Year?”
She gave me a slow shrug. “What are the passage of years to the trees, Matthew? After the first century, I stopped counting.”
“Then why are we here? Why be with them?” I nodded to the room full of revelers.
“So much of what we all do is artifice, Matthew. And with my power I could have all of them on their knees worshipping me, yet I am still bound by the customs of society that bid me to attend when invited. In the end it is less troublesome to put in an appearance for a short while than to be entirely absent.”
“What troubles you, Matthew?”
“Been a rough year. Lot of changes. I used to do simple cases. Me and Max, together. It’s not like that anymore. Max is gone. Don bailed out. It’s just me, and the city, maybe even the world, seems to be dumping all the weird stuff on my door.”
It started as a small giggle, but then rolled into a full chuckle. I looked at Nikki, who made no effort to hide the laughter.
“Matthew, the world has always been full of weird. I am an example of that. What has happened, dumpling, is your awareness has expanded. You have perspective that you didn’t have before. All of those people below us. They can only see those immediately around them. Their world is small. But from this vantage, we know just how many revelers there are.”
I cocked my head from side to side, and then finally nodded. “Guess you’re right. I just . . . I guess I want to go back to simpler times.”
She bumped me with her hip. “In every way?”
That was easy. “No. I like you much better as a friend than an aloof bloodsucker.”
“As do I.”
“Let’s get out of here.”
“And go where?”
“I don’t know. Just away from this stuff.”
She took my arm, and we made our way through the party to the elevator. The entire building celebrated, so the sounds of celebration even came through the elevator’s speakers, counting down to midnight as we descended to the lobby. We faced the doors as the count reached five, but then I turned to her, and she to me, and I kissed her on one.
Her lips were cold from being outside, far colder than mine, but that didn’t bother me as much as it used to. I knew she was alive—in her own way. I came away from the kiss breathless.
“Happy New Year, Matthew.”
“Happy New Year, Nikki.”
Not all change is bad.