A group from his dorm was going to Times Square for the ball drop, and they wanted him to join them.
Being a native New Yorker, Tucker wasn’t at all impressed by the big show. He’d watch it every year because that was what his family did, but now that he was off at college, he wanted a tradition to call his own.
Besides, being packed in midtown with hundreds of thousands of drunk strangers was not his idea of fun. So he told the group to go on without him.
Of course, there were still plenty of New Year’s Eve parties going on in the dorm, but Tucker wasn’t a drinker. And he wasn’t exactly a people person.
Okay, he was shy and girls intimidated him. He couldn’t talk to them when he was sober, so he had no desire to see what he would be like around them when he was drunk.
Since most of the city was either at Times Square or attending a party, Tucker would have the park to himself.
Because his New Year’s Resolution was to eat healthier, he thought it best to take his container of New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream with him and polish it off.
And that was how a tradition was born. Tucker spent every New Year’s Eve during his four years at NYU in Washington Square Park eating his favorite ice cream.
It didn’t bother him one bit that he passed on the parties and the trip to Times Square. While his dorm mates slept off their hangovers on New Year’s Day, Tucker would start off the year on the right foot by going for a run and working on his current writing project.
Sure, everyone teased him about it, but Tucker liked having “a thing”. He knew it made him unique, and more than one girl he’d dated while at NYU had started up a conversation by asking him if he was that guy who ate ice cream alone in the park on New Year’s Eve.
Tucker might’ve been shy, but he was by no means a hermit.
Even now, ten years after graduation and living in Brooklyn, Tucker continued his tradition. His apartment was within walking distance of Prospect Park, and every deli and supermarket in the neighborhood carried New York Super Fudge Chunk.
Sure, it was a little lonely, especially now that all his friends were married and being single seemed like a curse rather than a quirk. He definitely wouldn’t mind having someone to kiss at midnight, but he didn’t want to go to a party just to hook up with a total stranger.
If he was going to change his New Year’s Eve tradition, it would have to be for someone special. Curiously, none of his relationships since college had ever spanned the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays.
Tucker wondered if there was anything to that fact as he entered the park and headed over to his favorite place to sit.
There were some tables just beyond the swings, and he loved the view they offered of the buildings that surrounded the park. He could see the fireworks that people set off around the neighborhood, but he didn’t have to deal with the noise and crowds.
He was so intent on getting to the tables that he almost didn’t notice the girl on the swing.
Why would he? No one else was ever in the park at fifteen minutes before midnight on New Year’s Eve.
It was the sound of the swing that caught his attention. The girl sitting on it looked like an angel because she was back lit by a streetlight. She was at the top of her arc, and her long legs seemed to almost touch the full moon.
Her long blonde hair, which went all the way down her back, trailed behind her like a gorgeous yellow tail as she urged the swing to take her higher.
Tucker was enchanted. At first by her stunning beauty, and then by her giggle.
She appeared to be his age, but she laughed like a little girl. It was the loud, happy laugh of someone having the time of her life while thinking she had the park all to herself.
She made several attempts to kick the moon, her laugh growing louder with each ascent towards the stars, before she noticed Tucker. When she finally saw him standing there, holding his container of ice cream, she waved at him and smiled.
Tucker wasn’t quite sure what to do. He was mesmerized by this giggling beauty, but at the same time, he realized that he was just a strange man staring at a beautiful woman in a deserted park.
He wanted to run, but he was frozen in place.
“Happy New Year,” she called out to him as she used her feet to slow the swing until she finally brought it to a stop.
“You like being alone on New Year’s Eve, too?” she asked like she totally trusted him because they had that in common.
Tucker smiled as he showed her his ice cream. “I do have my ice cream.”
She giggled again and gentle rocked the swing back and forth as she studied him. “I’m Kelli, with an “i”. I don’t know why I’m always compelled to point that out to people when I meet them. I guess I just assume they’re going to write about our encounter in their diaries, and when they do so, I want them to get the spelling correct.”
Tucker chuckled. She was witty and beautiful, yet he wasn’t fighting the instinct to run like he usually did when around someone like her. “I’m Tucker. Spelled like it sounds.”
Kelli quickly checked her watch. “We’ve got ten minutes left in the year, Tucker. Would you like to spend it alone with your ice cream, or do you want to ask the crazy girl what she’s doing riding a swing at such an odd hour?”
It was a no brainer. “I’d love to hear your story, Kelli.”
Kelli pointed to the empty swing next to hers, and Tucker took the hint. Once he was seated, she began her tale. “My Grandfather died the week before Christmas, and I always spent New Year’s Eve with him. When I was little, he used to bring me to the park and push me on the swings for hours. I just loved the idea of being so close to the sky and feeling like I could fly.”
Tucker nodded in agreement, but didn’t want to interrupt her story, so he said nothing.
“I was really missing him tonight, and I thought the best way to feel like I was with him was to ride the swing,” she explained as a tear shone in eye. “I thought the higher I could get on my swing, the closer I could get to him in Heaven.”
Tucker didn’t know what to say. He was incredibly moved by the story, but how could follow something as touching as that?
“Can I share my ice cream with you?” was what ended up coming out of his mouth. Tucker felt like an idiot and was about to run like hell from embarrassment, when Kelli’s face lit up with the most beautiful smile he’d ever seen.
“I’d really like that,” she replied. “How did you know that New York Super Fudge Chunk was my favorite flavor?”
Even though Tucker liked to be alone on New Year’s Eve, he always carried two spoons with him when he headed out to the park.
He might have been shy, but he was also an optimist…