I checked the names on the guest list. Quarter to eleven and Luke's family was the only one not here. All the other families had arrived, from Liam's to Grace's, and even Chiara had come. She didn't even like me.
Luke had said they were coming, and his exact words had been, "Don't worry, Emily. I'll be there!" I sat by the pool in my bikini, soft drink cup in hand. Most of my friends were eighteen and were drinking beer, but I was a year younger than them so I had to stick to the basics. Lola sat beside me. She was also seventeen. She and I were both silently seated there for a few seconds, just staring at the bubbles fizzing in our drinks. Despite having pretty much the entire grade there, I felt lonely without her. And someone else.
"Don't worry, he'll be here." She knew I had a crush on Luke, and she was the one who discovered he liked me back. He was my other closest friend, with Lola, Liam, Grace and Serah. "He promised you, right? And knowing him, any opportunity to see you is good." She checked her watch. "It's eleven. Give him half an hour."
When that time had passed and there was still no sign of him, I gave Lola that look. The one that meant, 'I don't want to say I told you so, but... I told you so.' She sighed and jumped into the pool, hollering in delight at the cold water on that hot Australian New Years. I smiled despite myself, doing a rather clumsy looking bomb dive into the pool. As I surfaced, I saw a familiar face staring down at me from the poolside. His face lit up as we made eye contact, freckles hiding in small dimples on his perfect face. I laughed.
"Luke, I thought you wouldn't make it!" He responded with a grin. "Come on, let's play Marco Polo!" He jumped into the crystal water, pool lights illuminating his beaming face. As he counted down from ten, I swam away as fast as I could. Lola and Liam were just as serious as me when it came to this game, and we kept noise to a very minimum while others splashed recklessly, spilling mountains of water over the edge. When he began to swim after me, I squealed in delight. I dashed away, pushing off the pool wall with my legs and keeping low to the bottom of the pool. As I sped away through the dark water, I heard Luke call Marco. I answered with Polo along with about seven other voices. And despite there being seven others playing, he came for me again. Just as I was tagged, Lola looked at her watch. "Em, it's quarter to!"
With this we rushed inside, conducting our tradition of first getting dressed and then mixing all the soft drinks at the party into one drink. As I poured cola and raspberry Fanta into the same cup, I heard Luke come up behind me.
"You know, that's a lot of sugar. You don't really need it."
"Well, why not?"
"Because you're already so sweet."
I hadn't expected that. As I sipped the strange mixture of soft drink, I felt the butterflies that come into your stomach when you drink this sort of stuff. But they didn't go away, and for some reason... I knew they were staying.
I heard the cry of number ten from somewhere across the room. I joined in with a whoop on nine. As eight was called, I saw Luke rushing through the crowd. He held out his had to me, and I took it as shouts of seven drowned out the music. I stood up, and our eyes locked. I moved closer to him, and to my surprise, he didn't back away. Then the world went silent. It was just us.
"Emily, have you ever had a midnight's kiss on New Years?"
"No," I responded, my voice barely a whisper.
He smiled as two was called, the entire world rushing back to us in waves of excitement. He cupped my face in his hand. "Then this will be your first time."
As number one echoed through the night, he leaned forward, pressing his lips against mine. I wasn't sure whether to be alarmed or happy, so I turned autopilot on. Surprisingly, I closed my eyes and wrapped my arms around his neck, letting him kiss me.
I can't really describe the feeling. It was a feeling of freedom. I no longer had to hold back from him. There were the butterflies, who had flown into my throat and were now doing somersaults. And then there was that small electric buzz. For some reason, even though it was mildly painful, I loved it. It flowed through my body and past the butterflies, killing them. There was now only contentment.
I realised that it had only been moments when it really seemed like hours. I whispered, "happy New Years" into his ear as the whoops and cries of my grade filled the air. I turned my head, watching fireworks burst in the sky. We still hadn't let go of each other, my arms still around his neck and his hands still on my hips. As I looked back at him, he smiled. "Happy New Years to you too, Emily." I kissed him again despite myself. This had to be the best New Years ever.