"I'll miss you," the eight year old bundle of sweaters and scarves said as she gave me a hug. I squeezed her tighter, just one last time. She was two years younger than me, and probably didn't even realize how much I was going to miss her. My heart was hurting already and she was standing right in front of me.
My dad honked the car horn. "Come on, Matt! We've gotta get going or else we'll be too tired to unpack!"
I ignored him. "I'll miss you, too, Shorty."
She turned bright red, even though her cheeks were already rosy from the cold winter breeze. "It's Sherry!" she whined.
"What?" My buddy Kenton gave me a confused look as he handed me another shot glass.
I took the drink only to lay it on the bar behind me. I never drank. "You see that girl there?" I nodded in her general direction.
Kenton made a disgusted face. "Yeesh, looks like mother nature wasn't too kind to someone."
I looked at him like he was crazy. "What are you..?" I followed his gaze to a very large woman with thin, tangled hair and sweat stains on her dress as she tried her best to dance. "Not her, you idiot! That one." I pointed to a gorgeous strawberry-blonde in a red boat-neck top and tight blue jeans, dancing with another girl almost as pretty.
Kenton whistled. "Nice. You know her?"
"Used to. We were friends before I moved here."
"You moved here ten years ago."
"No shit, Sherlock."
He laughed hysterically. "Dude! You're insane! That could be anybody! There's no way your memory is accurate after ten years."
My eyes didn't come off of Sherry. "That's her. I know it is, man."
He put his hands on my shoulders and turned me to face him. "Okay, let's say it is her. Do you honestly think she's going to remember you?"
"I was her first kiss."
"How old is she? She isn't our age with an ass like that."
I raised my eyebrows at him. He coughed. "Sorry."
"She's eighteen now."
"So that would mean she was..." he paused as he went over the math in his head. It never was his best subject. "She was eight, dude. No eight year old would remember something ten years later. No matter how good of a kisser you think you might have been," he joked.
"I'm gonna go talk to her."
"You're crazy, man."
"Nope, just lonely. You got a girl. Remember how you got her?"
Kenton laughed and pointed a finger at me. "That's besides the point, Matt." He got his girlfriend almost the same way I was hopefully about to get mine. She was an old friend he met up with at a party; he said hello to her and now ten months later they were engaged.
I wrapped my arms around her waist from behind. A bit gutsy on my part, and had earned me a couple slaps to the face before, but no matter how much Sherry changed I knew she wouldn't get physical. "Hey there, shorty."
She craned her neck and raised an eyebrow. "Hey there yourself," she said as she unwrapped my hands from her waist and started pulling her friend away. I hadn't seen her in ten years and whether she remembered me or not I wasn't about to let her get away.
"So what's Strawberry Sherry doing all the way out in New Jersey?"
She froze and let her friend's hand drop. Slowly she turned around and sized me up. "Oh my God... If it isn't Marmalade Matt," she said, stepping closer cautiously.
When we first met, we'd hated each other. I'd always made fun of the bright red showing through in her hair and she couldn't stand it. She had more strawberry in her hair than most, and then she started trying to make fun of my orange-y hair colour. In the end we somehow became best friends Strawberry Sherry and Marmalade Matt.
She straightened the collar of my shirt and smiled up at me with those gorgeous blue eyes. "I thought you swore you would never drink?"
"Doesn't mean I can't come to a bar for an office Christmas party," I said. "I thought you said you wouldn't ever get a boyfriend?"
She took a step back and gave me a strange look. "How did you know about that?"
My eyes were on a man about five foot two, walking toward us and looking ready to kill me. He was wearing a suit for some reason, which clashed terribly with Sherry's easy-going look. "Can I help you?" he asked me, staring daggers into my eyes.
Sherry jumped at the sound of his voice behind her. "Oh, um, Matt, this is George. George, this is Matt. He's a uh, well, he's..."
"I'm an old friend of hers," I offered a hand shake, but he just eyed me suspiciously.
"Is that so..." he said as if he didn't quite believe it. "And how long have you known Mary?" George said as he wrapped his hand tightly around her waist. Sherry looked uneasy and avoided my eyes.
"We were," I started slowly, keeping my eye on his hand around her waist. "We were childhood friends up until I moved ten years ago... I'm sorry, did you say Mary?" I asked as it finally clicked in.
"Of course I didn't. I know my beautiful wife, Sherry's, name."
A somewhat hostile laugh escaped me. "Wife?"
"Yes, I thought you would've known, what with being such good old friends and all!"
"George, that's enough," Sherry whispered, trying to lightly pry his hand off her waist.
"Now, now, Sherry, it's just some friendly conversation between a man and his wife's old pal. We're all adults here, and I'm sure we're both business men, right? I mean, after all this place is booked up just for an office party."
"You know what, it is," I said, dripping with sarcasm. "So we must both be business men, but uh, I don't recall ever seeing you around the building before?"
"He's a new transfer," Sherry spoke quietly. "We just moved here."
"Oh really?" I said happily. "Starting out a new life, eh? Got any kids?" Jealousy was getting the better of me.
"Is that a hint of embarrassment I hear?"
"Matt, stop it!" she said sternly.
"Actually, no, but we're working on it, if you know what I mean," George said. Then he gave me a wink, and it pushed me over the edge. I raised my hand into a fist, and was just about to punch him when I felt Kenton grab my arm.
"Think about what you're doing, man. There's no one here but co-workers and getting into a bar fight completely sober is a damn good way to get your sorry ass fired."
I lowered my hand and glared at Sherry. "Won't be sober much longer."
"You don't drink, Matt," she replied in a shaky voice.
"No, but I'm thinking about it." I stomped off and headed for the door. I felt someone put a hand on my shoulder but I shrugged it off.
A burst of cold air hit my face as I walked outside and leaned against the hard brick wall. I closed my eyes and thought, you have no idea how much you're killing me right now.
I opened my eyes and looked around. Cars were flying down the road, probably out to buy last minute Christmas presents. The bar was a business running in town square, and right in the centre of the square was a giant Christmas tree. It was covered in decorations and lights, much like the rest of the town, but they always waited until midnight on Christmas eve to light them all up. Tonight.
I heard a jingle of the bell on the door. "Hey."
I didn't look at her. Instead I stared at the angel on top of the tree. "Hi."
"What was that all about in there?"
I turned to look at her. She looked like she was crying. Her eyes were red and her voice was still a little shaky. Then I noticed the red mark on her cheek. "Did he hit you?"
She held her hand up to her cheek. "It's nothing."
Suddenly I forgot how pissed I was at her and directed all my rage at George, which I guess I should've done in the first place. "Sherry, if he's hitting you-"
"I just dumped him."
I froze. "What?"
She looked up at me. "He hit me because I just dumped him."
"Sherry, why would you..."
"I missed you, Matt," she whispered.
"I missed you, too, but..."
At that moment, the huge grandfather clock in the square chimed midnight. Both of our eyes left eachother's gaze and watched as the tree and the buildings began to light up in an array of colours.
"It's beautiful," She whispered, looking at the tree.
"You always were," I said, eyeing her, and she looked up at me confused.
I looked above us. A sprig of mistletoe had been tied onto the hanging bar sign with a red ribbon. Sherry didn't notice.
"Hey, you still have all kinds of traditions in your family, right?"
"Yeah..." she said, unsure of what I was planning.
"Did you ever do the mistletoe thing?"
She looked confused. I pointed up. When she looked back down, I tilted her chin just enough so that our lips met. She wrapped her arms around my neck and stood on her tiptoes, and that Christmas Eve, Strawberry Sherry stole my second ever kiss.