I’m sitting in my living room alone on New Year’s Eve, glaring at the fake fireplace on my TV screen. This isn’t at all how I planned to spend tonight, and I blame Jim Halpert.
There’s this episode in The Office where Jim Halpert finally gets the balls to tell Pam Beasley how he feels about her. The whole show is built around this “will they/won’t they” thing, and even though Pam is engaged to another guy, Jim gets her this really thoughtful Christmas gift full of inside jokes and memories they shared together. He tops it off with a Christmas card in which he wrote all of his feelings. Then, in the episode, as he’s packing up the gift, he says, “Cuz Christmas is the time to tell people how you feel.”
I was watching that episode with Ellie when I handed her my gift. My card. I had been planning it for months. I had four ornaments custom made by a clay artist I found on Instagram, all cartoon-esque molds of our best moments from our friendship: the time she broke her leg and I stayed home from summer camp to take care of her back in middle school; the day I graduated college and she showed up with her whole family to cheer me on because my family didn’t exist anymore by then; all the nights we spent texting when we were eight hundred miles apart; and, of course, the countless nights we spent sitting next to each other, eating pizza, and watching The Office after we both moved back to our hometown to find jobs and be real adults.
She’d been talking for years about wanting to have a tree of her own with custom ornaments to capture all the special memories from her life like her parents and grandparents had. As we sat in her apartment, her brand new, very first Christmas tree sparkling, I was sure I’d nailed it. I handed her the gift, hoping that she’d open the card last. But she opened it first.
I held my breath as she read my carefully chosen words. I’m not a man of many, but these were true and deep, straight from my soul. I’d been in love with Ellie since I met her in seventh grade. Almost twenty years of loving the same girl, never making a move, never having the courage. But this year was my year. I’d promised myself, and with time running out, I had to let her know.
She looked up at me, tears in her eyes, but not the kind of tears I was hoping for. I recognized that look. Heartbreak. Pain. “Jay, I really don’t know what you want me to say.”
I wanted her to say that she felt the same way. I wanted her to say that she was the Pam to my Jim. But I didn’t tell her that because I had already irrevocably messed up the best relationship in my life, so instead, I said, “I had to tell you the truth, that’s all.”
“That’s all?” Her voice was louder, anger edging into the pain. “You know I’m with Derrick! I can’t believe you’re doing this. You’d torch our friendship like this?”
She asked me to leave, so I did. She said she needed some space. I tried to call, text, message, but Ellie didn’t reply. Not even our traditional Christmas dinner happened this year. Instead, I checked Instagram that night and saw that she’d posted only one photo of her left hand adorned with a brand new, shiny diamond ring.
I wouldn’t have gotten the courage to say anything if it hadn’t been for Jim Halpert and his skewed views on Christmas and feelings.
So now, I’m alone on New Year’s Eve, an event that I normally spend with Ellie and her family because they are also my family. Or they were until she stopped speaking to me. I’m sure by now they are playing board games and watching Rockin’ New Year’s Eve on TV while sipping champagne and dining on Ellie’s mom’s famous pizza balls while I drink diet coke on my living room floor next to an empty plate of pizza rolls.
I pick up my phone, automatically looking for social media apps that aren’t there. I’d spent way too much time looking at Ellie’s photos. My buddy Tim told me it was unhealthy and actually grabbed my phone out of my hand and deleted the apps for me. I’m thankful for this now as I stew in my own self-pity.
I find Tim’s name in my phone and hover a thumb over it. He’d invited me over to his place for a party, but I’d politely declined. I don’t feel particularly festive. I sigh again as I stare at the fireplace. Maybe leaving the house would be better than sitting here alone.
“Hey, my man!” Tim says after the third ring. “Where are you?”
It’s loud on the other end. Dance music plays and people laugh in the background. I’m surprised Tim could hear his phone ring because I can barely make out what he’s saying. “Hey, I think I’m gonna stop by for a few minutes,” I say a little louder than I normally would.
There’s a slight lag as Tim processes what I say. “Alright, bro! Come by! Everyone will be psyched to see you.” There’s a pause and the background noise goes quiet. “Hey, Lisa from accounting is here and she keeps asking about you.”
I smile in spite of myself. “I’ll see you in a few.” We hang up. I trade my t-shirt and sweatpants for jeans and a sweater. I run a comb through my hair and use some gel to get it to lay just right. Even though I haven’t shaved in a few days, I think I have a sort of rugged mountain man thing going. The pain is still fresh, but it feels good to wear real clothes and have somewhere to go.
When I arrive, it’s just as busy and packed as it sounded. People are everywhere in Tim’s tiny house, but luckily there are enough people from work that I won’t have to be alone most of the night. I make my way through the kitchen to get a drink and Tim stops me on the way. He claps me hard on the back and pulls me in for a hug. “Hey man, glad you came out. Hope you have a good time and let loose a little bit.” He hands me a drink and we toast, then he’s on his way to play host.
I spend the next hour drinking a few beers and talking to people from my department. I don’t know most of the people here, but I’m thankful for the other programmers that make me laugh and let me sit with them. When it gets closer to midnight and people get more alcohol in them, they start to pair off. Everyone settles down with their partner and cuddles or dances, which only reminds me painfully of what I originally planned for New Year’s Eve.
My eyes rove the crowd for Lisa from accounting when they rest on someone who I don’t work with but I definitely recognize. Derrick, now Ellie’s fiance , is making out with Lisa in the corner.
My entire body goes cold. I rub my eyes and double check that I’m right. Yes, that’s definitely Derrick. He’s even wearing the cufflinks that Ellie asked my opinion on before she bought them for him for Christmas. They’re unmistakable–diamond embellished initials. He’s running his hands through Lisa’s long, blonde hair, and he only comes up for air to whisper something in Lisa’s ear. She smiles, gets off of him, and they clasp hands to leave the party.
I’m standing by the front door, so they’ll have to pass right by me to leave. My shock turns to anger as I realize what he’s about to do. I put my glass down and stare him down as he approaches. It only takes him a second to realize who I am and that I’ve caught him. When he reaches me, he hands Lisa the keys and kisses her cheek. “I’ll meet you outside,” he says. She gives me a polite smile and walks around me, disappearing into the cold outside.
“What are you doing?” I ask as I glare at him. My blood is on fire with rage, but I don’t want to make a scene at Tim’s party.
Derrick shrugs. “What’s it look like? It’s a party. Lighten up.”
“Why aren’t you with Ellie?” I ask, standing a little taller as the storm inside me builds.
Derrick scoffs. “Why aren’t you? I figured you two would be cuddled up close tonight.” His comment takes me off guard and my face must show it. “She broke up with me yesterday. Probably has something to do with that love letter I found in her nightstand.” He shakes his head. “You’re lucky I don’t punch you right now, man.”
He shoulder checks me on the way out, but I’m too preoccupied with what he said to care. They broke up. Because of my letter. This is everything I hoped for, but I don’t feel particularly excited. He said they broke up yesterday, but I still don’t have any messages or calls from her.
I step outside and call her, hoping with each ring that her voice will replace it on the other line. But after just three, it goes to voicemail. I sigh and hang up, determined not to leave another desperate message. Maybe she needs some time. That’s reasonable. I dropped this bomb on her, she got engaged, and she ended things with Derrick all in the span of a few weeks. That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin, and if I know Ellie at all, she’s struggling.
I call an Uber and head home. Being at this party is no longer the fun distraction I need it to be. I need to sleep this off. Maybe I’ll think clearer tomorrow.
When the Uber pulls up at my apartment, someone is already sitting on my doorstep. “Ellie,” I say, barely believing that she’s there.
She looks up at me with a tear stained face and a pained smile. “Hey.”
“I tried to call you, but—“
She cuts me off with a kiss, planted warm and soft against my lips. It takes me a second to catch up, but when I realize what’s happening, it’s like my body has been rehearsing this moment for years. I wrap her in my arms and hold her close, falling into the moment head first without any hesitation. This is the way it was meant to be.
She pulls away and all the cold air comes rushing back. Her cheeks are red from the cold, and I reach up to wipe a stray tear. “I’m sorry,” she whispers. “I blocked you because I needed some time to think.”
“It’s OK.” I cradle her face in my hands. “I can be pretty annoying sometimes.”
She laughs and the sound activates some part of me that I never allowed to hope too much. It’s like taking a deep breath of fresh air after holding it for a long time. Somewhere far off a clock chimes and people cheer. Ellie lights up for me–the way only she can. “Happy New Year.”