Star Struck - Nicole Erdmann - ebook

Star Struck ebook

Nicole Erdmann

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Lilly DuMont is graduating from university and dreams of a future in a trendy ad agency, until an ugly break-up, an endless job search and a horoscope app that is too precise for comfort all cast a shadow over her bright future. Vowing to regain control over her life, she swears off romance and fun and is determined to focus on her career. It sounds simple enough, until the horoscope app and the mysterious Marcus direct her path into surreal adventures that even she couldn't dream up.

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For Raiden, Cassidy and Drake

Never give up

star struck

Miss Teri's Horoscope

Contacts

Creativity, ideas

Health

Partnerships, friendships

Love, relationships

Goals, hopes, groups

Horizons

Career

Home, family

Energy

Finances

Travel

Table of Contents

Prologue

Chapter 1: January

Chapter 2: February

Chapter 3: March

Chapter 4: April

Chapter 5: May

Chapter 6: June

Chapter 7: July

Chapter 8: August

Chapter 9: September

Chapter 10: October

Chapter 11: November

Chapter 12: December

Epilogue

Prologue

December

December

Out with the old, in with the new? Your life is likely to take a whole new direction this coming year, especially on the professional front, maybe even a new love? Don’t be surprised if you even find yourself kissing that certain tall and handsome someone this year on New Year’s Eve, Gemini, as you meet someone interesting head on. New beginnings can be scary, and at first this may take the wind out of your sails, but don’t give up too quick. Good things are on the horizon if you listen to the signs.

Who writes this crap, anyway? Kissing a tall, dark and handsome someone? Flirting? With whom? Seeing that Joe, my tall, dark and handsome someone was four thousand miles away from me in Amsterdam, well, kissing that certain someone was the one thing that would surprise me.

I turned off my phone with a vengeance and tossed it down on the cherry wood side table. This was just another cockamamie prediction from 'Miss Teri's Horoscope', the horoscope app on my cell phone. If Miss Teri is so psychic, shouldn’t she know that my handsome prince is far, far away?

It was still dark in the hotel room, its white walls slightly shimmering from the light of the street lamp outside that was still shining and the questions were still rolling in my head when I heard Bree start to stretch and moan in the other corner.

“Morning,” she mumbled from beneath her fluffy comforter.

“Morning,” I mumbled back.

“It's early.”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“Oh,” she whispered. She must have picked up the irritation in my voice.

“Still haven’t heard anything more from Joe?” she asked carefully.

I put my hand over my tightening stomach.

“No,” I swallowed, gathering some strength, “and I don’t want to talk about it,” I said strongly, hoping it would make it real.

“I mean, we didn’t save every penny for this vacation, just so he can call from . . . God-knows-where, completely wasted, just to drive me crazy. I’m not going to do it.”

My voice got louder as I still tried to process the phone call from last night. “We just went jogging,” he'd drawled with a drunken slur. Only after we’d spoken for a while did it finally come out that he’d jogged an entire two blocks before he found himself, as the window gods would have it, mysteriously and euphorically in the middle of the red-light district surrounded by skimpily clad women sitting in windows, and well, what was he supposed to do?

“OK, OK,” Bree backed off, sitting up in her bed. “You don’t have to talk about it. I think that’s a good plan. I wasn’t trying to get you worked up over it, first thing in the morning,” she assured me. “Why don’t we try to get off to a good start? Let’s just wake up Maddie and get to the slopes.”

“Right,” I agreed. “Good idea. You can go get ready first.”

Bree flipped her long brown hair out of her face as she got up quietly and tiptoed around our luggage that was distributed around the individual beds and into the bathroom. We stayed at the Miner’s Inn, an old hotel that lay outside a sleepy little mountain town in California which boasted two ski lifts, a café and a rustic bar and lounge. As we'd pulled into the nearly deserted parking lot the night before, I wondered where my cousin Maddie had brought us. I mean, I hadn’t expected it to be a luxury five-star hotel, but the place was an ancient wooden construction, stuck in between the highway and the side of the mountain. Fresh snow hung on the faded gray wooden slats on the sides of the box-like structure, and icicles dangled precariously like daggers from what seemed to be a rusted, corrugated metal roof hiding beneath the snow.

“This is it?” I’d asked skeptically.

“Just be patient.” Maddie laughed. “You’ll see.”

I had been patient, but I was still unconvinced.

Despite the large window, it was still dark and quiet, allowing for all kinds of thoughts to go through my head. I turned over in my bed and swallowed, fighting back the gloomy feeling that threatened to take me in its grip and wondered if our dream to have one last “girls' vacation” before we finished college had terribly backfired.

Maybe I took it all too seriously. Maybe I was suffering from burn-out. This last semester at school was a doozy. I had a class that consisted solely of one capstone ad campaign project where we had to come up with an entire ad campaign. Flyers, print ads, commercials, presentations, product packaging... The whole nine yards — alone. My pseudo-client was the distinguished Culpepper Horse Farms. How many horse breeders make TV commercials? Or even magazine advertisements, for that matter? Even coming from Texas, I couldn’t remember ever having seen any such advertisements. Anyway, I guess I wasn't doing too well because half way through the semester, Mr. Millington, my adviser, checked my work and advised me not to quit my day job. Maybe he was joking, but if so, the joke was on him since I didn't even have a day job. Ha!

In any case, the campaign had taken almost all of my time and resources and nearly drove me crazy. Ads for horses. (sigh). If this was what having a career meant, I thought, then I’d better make the most of it now, you know — YOLO and all that.

“You’re going to make it,” Bree assured me during one of my meltdowns. “You have plenty of time. I mean, you do realize that graduation is still six months away, don’t you?”

I did. Real Life was almost upon us, careers and/or families were right around the bend. In fact, that was exactly the realization that had prompted us to go on this last “girls' vacation” in the first place. Bree and I had skyped with Maddie, my cousin, who lived in Santa Cruz. We started looking for vacations, but with our budget, we had a hard time finding anything that wasn’t in the “Scary Category” and after a long and unsuccessful search for an acceptable vacation package, we were getting worn down.

But then, out of the blue, Maddie called with an offer she’d found for us to go skiing in California. The flights left right after Christmas and they were even cheaper than the ski passes at the “little-known, off the beaten path” ski area. We thought about continuing our search, but with dwindling time, budgets and options, we decided we were up for an adventure.

At first, I was apprehensive about what Joe, my boyfriend of nearly two years, would think about our great idea, but to my surprise, he also thought it was a great idea, and right after I had told him about our plans, he announced his own plans to have a “guy’s vacation” - in Amsterdam. Amsterdam? I thought. Hmm.

Anyway, we all thought we had great plans worked out and that it would be adventurous and fun, and I never thought there could be a problem, that is until yesterday when Joe called slobbering drunk from the red-light district in Amsterdam, which was where he was spending New Year’s Eve with “the guys”. At least I think he was drunk. Or maybe he was still baked from all the coffee houses he’d been going on about.

Calm down, I told myself as I held my stomach and rolled over. Surely, they weren’t only hanging out there, I rationalized. Surely, they weren’t only watching women in windows and smoking themselves completely stupid in coffee houses. Although he didn’t really mention anything else.

I repeated this to myself over and over for over fifteen hours, trying to convince myself that he really was just having good, clean and cultured fun with the guys.

“Next,” Bree said as she slipped out of the bathroom, and Maddie got up silently and slipped in. I hadn’t even realized she was awake. Bree turned on her bedside lamp and broke the morning silence when she started to dry her hair, which only made me curl up tighter in bed, and I promised myself to try not to think about what Joe was doing for the rest of the day. It was almost a new year, a time to make a new start and be positive about the future. And I, for one, was positive that my future included a job in advertising. I dreamt of collaborating with one of those young, dynamic, creative teams of professionals at a major newspaper or in some plush ad agency downtown. But as they say, first you’ve got to “get your feet wet”, “get a foot in the door” and all that.

So, to get my feet wet, I applied at every job I could find that had anything to do with advertising, and as fate would have it, right before Christmas, I got hired to work part-time selling ad-space at a local weekly newspaper — the Canyon Beacon. When they told me I could have the job, I was so excited that I actually had a job in the industry that I ran home and told Joe that I was finally getting my feet wet.

“Get this! I landed a job at a newspaper and I start next month!” I exclaimed.

“What? You got a paper route?” he asked.

“No, smart ass. Really,” I said, “at the Beacon, I’ll be a bonafide in-training Advertising Sales Representative.”

Maybe that should have told me something then.

“Good morning,” Maddie sang as she left the bathroom brushing her blond bob. “Your turn!”

“Morning,” I mumbled.

I got up, made my way to the shower and miraculously, by 8:30 a.m. we were all dressed in ski suits in varying shades of blue and ready for breakfast.

We went downstairs to the front desk of the small hotel where a disheveled young man wearing a ski hat was sitting behind a dark front-desk, only a few people were milling around in the lobby, where it was mysteriously quiet. From the looks of it, I wondered if there would be anything going on at all here for New Years. I mean, it was way up here somewhere in the mountains. Who would come up here?

“Lilly, are you OK?” Maddie asked me with a look of concern.

“No. Fuck, I’m sorry. I think I already need a time-out,” I said as I started walking towards the front door. “Can you guys get direction at the front desk? I’m going to the car and get a breath of fresh air,” I called out to Bree.

“Fresh air. Right,” Bree called back as I went outside.

Snow flurried around the rustic cafe — The Golden Nugget — that hugged the side of the mountain on the other side of the parking lot. It had the same faded blue stripe running through the middle of the building, hinting to its association to the Miner’s Inn. I hurried through the parking lot to Maddie’s red Mustang and looked for my cigarettes, which I found crammed and crushed in the glove box. There was one left and it was broken, but I was determined. Despite the freezing temperatures, I steadied my shaking hands to light the last half cigarette that had been spared as I noticed the huge pine trees that cast an early morning shadow over the entire valley.

Beep!

My phone announced a new message, which turned out to be a repeat of Miss Teri’s message from this morning.

You meet someone interesting head on...

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought. Who am I going to meet head on out here? I turned it back off as I took refuge in the calm quietness that comes when everything is covered in snow. However, being that I only had half of a cigarette, my moment of serenity ended much too quickly and was officially over as Maddie bounced outside, her voice ringing over the parking lot.

“We’re ready! Let’s go eat! Hurry up!” she called, a tick left over from her glory days as a cheerleader.

“Are they expecting a New Year’s rush?” I asked approaching her.

“How should I know?” she asked as she blew her breath into her palms. “Anyway, you’re smoking at 9:00 o’clock in the morning. That’s disgusting.”

“Oh no,” I stepped on the rest of the cigarette, “I see you’ve been out here too long. I can still remember a time when you practically lived off coffee and cigarettes, regardless of the time of day.”

“Well, that was then, and this is now. Whatever. They’re your lungs,” Maddie said, now pulling on her gloves. “Anyway, breakfast is in the cafe and we have to go down the road to get to the ski lifts. That’s also where the ski rentals are. So let’s hurry, I can’t wait!”

We followed Maddie across the snow-packed parking lot to the other box-like wooden building: a tiny establishment that begged you to go in and spend some time chatting and drinking coffee, but no, we were in a hurry to get to the lifts, so instead, we inhaled our scrambled eggs, orange juice and coffee and started down the road to a posher ski resort where the ski lifts were. When we got there, tons of people were already lined up to buy lift tickets and rent ski gear, and after another half an hour, we were on our way.

“The main thing is to try to stay together,” Maddie instructed us as we sat on the benches near the counter putting on our gear. “But . . .I mean, you guys do have your cell phones, don't you?” she asked.

“Of course,” Bree said, “but just make sure yours are on. I haven't been skiing in decades.”

“Well, just in case anything happens, if anyone gets lost, we’ll meet back here around noon and again at three. OK?”

“OK,” Bree and I said simultaneously as we agreed to her terms and after watching what everyone else was doing with their skis, we just did what they were doing: picking up the skis, hoisting them over the shoulder – and voilà! Like real pros as we hobbled outside and headed for the lifts.

“Make sure you always watch behind you,” Maddie said, as she walked behind me, and just as I turned around to catch what she was saying, I bumped Bree’s head with my ski.

“Hello!?” Bree cried. “Wake up!”

“That’s exactly what I mean,” Maddie reprimanded with a fake smile. “You have to be careful with the skis. Remember: there’s probably always someone behind you.”

“Sorry, Bree, Guess Maddie’s just worried that something is going to happen.

“Because it usually does with you around,” she teased, although the first near-miss was already at hand.

I saw her point and was now also a little weary myself of what might come as we jumped on the ski-lift and rode up to the top of the mountain. It was beautiful with the snow and the deep blue sky, but I felt out of my element, overwhelmed, even, and thought I might need to get back down quickly to lower elevations, so I checked out the paths, opted for an easy green run and started my descent.

“Look, Mom! No hands!” I called to Maddie as I reached her at the bottom, surprised that I had made it down the slope without plowing someone down.

We scooted back over to the ski lift, now officially into our first ski day. A second run, a third, and to my surprise, they went without incident. Smooth, you could almost say. In fact, the entire day went rather well, and I wondered where was the catch?

Around four o’clock it already started getting dark. We change back into our regular shoes and hiked back to the hotel with all our gear in hand and over the shoulders. As we stumbled through the lobby in single-file, the front-desk guy was still sitting behind the counter and stopped us half way through the lodge.

“You know, there are lockers in the back of the restaurant right across the parking lot.” He pointed to the Golden Nugget. “It’s first come, first serve, so if you want one, you better go ahead and take one now.” He didn’t wait for an answer and gave us each a key to a locker to store our things.

“Well, then let’s go put our gear in the lockers first,” Maddie said. We agreed and walked slowly back to the rustic restaurant, where there was a sign on the door of the Golden Nugget.

“Oh, check this out! Karaoke Rockin’ New Year’s Eve!” Bree exclaimed, “You guys ready for some soul-sister singing?”

Oh no. Images came rushing back to me from the last time I saw Bree singing drunk karaoke and we had to rush her off the stage before she puked on it.

“Is it the return of the Inebriated Chanteuse?” I asked hesitantly.

“That was three years ago. Don't you ever forget anything?” she asked.

“I know, I know. And the image is still with me.”

I shuddered as Maddie laughed the silent laugh.

“Come on, party pooper,” she said, “It’s New Year’s Eve. We’re here! No need to bring up past horror stories.”

“I know, I know. I’m trying to switch modes,” I said, acknowledging my less-than-cheery mood. “I’m just not the bundle of energy that you both are, I guess.”

We walked into the dark restaurant, which was much louder and fuller than you would have suspected from being outside. The lockers and restrooms were on one side of the restaurant, a lounge area on the other, and a bar was in the middle with a band playing in the back.

We stuffed out gear in the lockers and walked up to the bar.

“It’s après ski till seven o'clock. Half price drinks. Should we stay for a beer?” Maddie asked reading a sign on the bar.

In Amsterdam, it must have been around midnight or even one o’clock. I wondered if Joe had called.

“Stupid question,” Bree said as she turned and order three draws from the bartender.

“Do you want to stay at the bar or should we go sit down somewhere?” I asked.

We looked around and saw an empty table in the back of the room, and we decided to sit down.

“I'll get this round, you the next one?” I asked digging around for my wallet.

“I'll go save the table before someone grabs it,” Bree said. She swung her purse over her shoulder as she picked up the glasses as soon as the bartender put them on the bar, and off she marched to the table, while I dug some more under the watchful eyes of the said bartender.

“Damn it.”

“What now?”

Embarrassed, I realized that along with my gear I must have left my wallet in my butt-pack in the locker.

“OK. I’ll pay this round,” Maddie offered.

“Thanks. I'm gonna go get my butt-pack and I'll be right over.”

As I reached the lockers, a guy was crouched down fumbling around in front of his locker which was directly beneath mine. I waited patiently for about a minute before I started tapping my foot and whistling in the direction of the blond hair, but the man didn’t seem to notice at all that I needed to get past him. Are all men so egotistical? I thought to myself and went forward, reached above him and inserted my key in the keyhole.

“Excuse me,” I said loudly, and in a split second, as I opened the door, my bag and a ski boot slid out and hit the guy right in the small of his neck.

“Au, Scheiße!” the man yelled and held onto his neck.

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry,” I apologized frantically. “Are you OK?”

He looked at his hand, and there was blood on his fingers! And my impatience quickly escalated into near panic.

“My God, you’re bleeding,” I said hastily, trying to keep my cool while I was really thinking, oh shit!

“Ja. — I mean, am I?” he asked.

His dark blond, curly hair tousled around his face, and the rest of his face looked chapped and sun-burned beneath a five-day beard.

“Please, let me have a look. I’m so sorry.” I straightened his hair over to the side with shaking hands and saw a gash on the back of his neck. Instinctively I grabbed my bag out of the locker and fished around until I found some tissues.

“Here, turn around.” I dabbed the gash, which luckily looked worse than it was, I saw after it was cleaned.

“I'm sure it's OK,” he said, more to himself than to me. “It’s probably really just a scratch.” He held onto the back of his neck as he looked up at me.

OK. His neck is still moving. He is conscious.

“I think I’m alright,” he said convincingly, but his dark blue eyes, surrounded by skin that was left pale from wearing ski goggles, revealed something else. “Really, it’s OK,” he repeated. “I’ll be alright.”

He said “alright” kind of like “aw-rite” with some kind of accent.

“Now, maybe I match my sunglasses,” he said as he demonstratively held up a pair of badly scratched goggles that he’d been inspecting. But at least now he seemed to be joking. Relieved, I thought that must be a good sign.

“I, um, I could go get some ice,” I stammered. “It might lessen the swelling.”

“No, I’m alright, really.”

The accent was more audible this time. Swedish? German? I couldn’t tell.

“OK, then,” I said with shame, unable to look him in the face. “I’m sorry.”

I grabbed my pack and quickly pushed the rest of all my gear and my coat further back into my locker. I pressed the locker door hard to make sure it shut and left in a wave of embarrassment.

As I went back to the table, I could hear my phone beeping in my pack. Maybe a New Year’s greeting? I thought with anticipation. Maybe one from Joe? There was a nine-hour time difference, so he must have already had the stroke of midnight.

I pulled out my phone.

“Two calls,” I announced. “One from Mom and one from Sybille. At least they remember me. Oh, and one message from Miss Teri.”

But there was still nothing from Joe. I looked at the time: four thirty-three Amsterdam time. Ouch. This was beginning to hurt. Suddenly a part of me wanted to go back to the hotel and curl up with warm water bottle and tea, but then I got the more realistic vision of me in the bed, crying into my pillow with a bottle of wine and cigarettes surrounding the bed.

No. The risk was far too great, and I was fairly sure, this course of action wouldn't make him call any sooner. I leaned back in my chair and sighed when Bree and Maddie started looking at me with wide eyes.

“I’m sorry, OK? Just give me a little more time; I'll be the life of the party. I think I’ve just had a bit much for today,” I apologized and closed my eyes for a second.

“What’s wrong now?” Bree asked.

They stared at each other before Bree put on her sweet-talk voice.

“Lil, come...come back to us,” she said slowly, hypnotizing me back.

“Yeah, we’re here now. Let’s try to forget about everything else for now, can we? I mean, I’m sure, everything is fine,” Maddie said. “or, is there something else bothering you?”

Just then, I spotted the blond guy walking across the room. His head was still intact which was probably a good thing, since, even from this distance, it looked like nice head to keep in one piece.

He went to a table where several other guys in their mid-twenties were sitting and as he turned to sit down, he caught me looking at him and I instinctively sunk in my chair, trying to hide behind my beer glass.

“You are acting so weird! Jesus, Lilly! What are you doing?” Bree asked under her breath, her patience wearing. “You look like you’re about to melt into the floor. What is the matter with you?” She was clearly embarrassed.

“That guy over there,” I whispered, as if he could hear me.

“What do you mean, ‘That guy?’ Over where?” She turned around so quickly that it drew even more attention to us.

“Don’t look!” I hissed. “He’ll think I’m looking at him!”

“You were looking at him,” Maddie pointed out.

“Well, he doesn’t need to see me looking at him.”

“Oh. I see.” Her eyes started to roll.

Beep!

My phone. Joe, finally? A bit of relief waved over me at the thought of him finally calling, plus I now had an excuse to stay under the table – out of anyone's field of vision. I tapped the phone's glass, only to find the same new / old messages from Miss Teri:

You meet someone interesting head on.

I hit the exit button on my phone but instead of turning off, the horoscope popped back up again. “Crap. This is so weird. This app won't close.” But here, look at this.” I showed them my horoscope, hoping it would explain everything quickly. “When I went to get my butt pack, my ski boot fell out of my locker — nearly decapitating that guy. He’s from . . . I don’t know where he's from. I mean, I think I gave him a concussion. I just hope I haven’t caused some kind of international incident. You know, I’ve been trying to not think about international incidences.”

There was a short pause while they still stared on the screen.

“You think that guy’s in your horoscope?” Maddie took notice. “And you were worried that Joe was going to have all the international fun,” she teased. “Here, drink your beer and calm down. At least you don’t have to go to the red-light district to have fun.”

“Yeah, maybe it'll come to you!” Bree laughed. “Maybe you're right.” I took a big sip. “When I read this, I thought it’s kind of funny. I mean, now, I can also say I hit on some foreign guy. Ha ha.” I laughed.

“Do that,” Bree said.

“Well, by looking at him, he doesn’t look hurt,” Maddie observed. “But if he is, you should think about making amends with him,” she whispered aside.

“Hi there, ladies.” A short, tanned waitress appeared at the table and began her memorized lines, “Happy New Year Hamburger and Fries are on special today. More New Year’s specials are up on the board. Can I bring you something right now?”

We all directed our attention to the Specials Board.

“I’ll take the hamburger and fries,” I said quickly.

“Me too,” said Maddie.

“I’ll have a coffee and a bowl of tomato soup,” said Bree. “I’m still freezing.”

“And I’ll have another beer,” I said.

“Me too,” called Maddie.

The waitress disappeared and I scooted my chair to position myself so that I could watch the band, conveniently in the opposite direction of my victim.

The waitress came back with our drinks and food, and just as we had finished eating, the music died down.

“We’re going to take a break,” the singer announced, “so we’ll leave y’all to your own devices for a little while here with the Karaoke. Mics are over here. Instruments are off limits! We’ll be back after the break.”

“Come on before anyone else gets up there!” Maddie urged, grabbing Bree by the arm to go off to the karaoke stage.

“Good idea,” I said.

“Any requests?” Maddie teased. “This one goes out to . .?”

“Don’t you dare,” I warned.

They went to the guy manning the Karaoke machine and requested a song and returned after a short series of 80's One Hit Wonders.

“We’re back — the Inebriated Chanteuses,” Maddie said in my face as they came back just long enough to down a beer and then went back to scan more songs in the Karaoke machine.

I listened as long as I could, then thought I better call my mom back and tossed around the idea of texting Joe or calling him to wish him a Happy New Year.

“I’ll be back in a few minutes,” I mouthed to Bree on stage as I stood up and gestured to the door to go outside. My coat was in the locker, so I made a quick stop and as I turned, the blond guy was also there, standing in the way again, but at least standing this time.

He managed a cautious smile when he saw me and stepped aside. “You first,” he said, holding out his hand to my locker.

Almost immediately, I could feel the heat rise. Why was I embarrassed? I hoped my cowl neck sweater was hiding my blushing, flushed neck.

“I’m prepared to catch any falling gear this time,” I announced as I walked past him. I inserted the key and turned it while he stood behind me, waiting, and I could feel him looking at me. I quickly grabbed my coat out of my locker and closed it turning the key.

“OK,” I said as I turned, “I think you’re safe.”

I expected him to open his locker, too, but he didn't. He just stood there, kind of in my way, in close enough proximity that I could smell his cologne, or maybe it was just him. I don’t know how long I stood there.

“Well, I . . . um, I have to go and . . . call my Mom,” I said as I pulled on my coat and walked by.

“Thanks,” he said as I made my way around him and walked out past the bar. I saw Bree watching me, so I raised my phone to indicate that I was going outside, and shook my head trying to shake off the previous five minutes. I turned on my phone to call Mom, but my horoscope popped back up again.

“OK, OK. Shit,” I mumbled, closing the app and then dialing home. The phone rang several times before the answering machine flipped on.

“Hello. This is the Dumont residence. Please leave a message after the beep.”

“Hi! Happy New Year!” I called into the answering machine. “Just wanted to check back in. I got the message that you called. We’re leaving on the second, so I’ll try to call back tomorrow. Hope you all are having a wonderful New Year’s Eve.”

I disconnected and wondered again if I should at least text Joe. But, after his last phone call, I didn’t know if I wished him a Happy New Year’s Eve or not. It wasn’t like he had texted or called me, and where he was, it was already New Year's. Probably more like New Year's lunch, even.

I went back inside the Golden Nugget and decided to go into the lounge where it was still kind of empty and sat down at one of the dark wooden tables. There were dimly lit faux candles on the wall and a long, rectangle window where I could still see some of what was going on in the main restaurant area. The band was back on stage, but from here, it just wasn't as loud.

I ordered a beer, answered Sybille’s message and considered posting tons of pictures of us all over the slopes having the best time, thinking it might indicate to viewers that I was totally too busy to even look at my phone to know if they had gotten in touch or not. But then I just sent a few pictures to Sybille. Just have a good time, I told myself. Forget the rest for now. Forget it.

The waitress brought me my beer, and when she turned around to leave, I saw the blond guy behind her sitting on the other side of the lounge. He saw me and smiled lifting his own beer glass. Instinctively, I waved back, then I thought I should go and apologize properly, maybe make sure he was really OK. I walked over.

“Hey, we meet again,” I said. “How’s your neck?”

“Well,” he answered quietly, putting his hand on his neck. “It’s still there.” His smile was crooked. I noticed a scar in the middle of his chin, deep enough to be seen despite the four or five day shadow. Now he'll have a matching scar on the back of his neck.

“Look, I’m really sorry about earlier. I was just in such a rush”, I said “I don’t even know why.”

“It is OK now. I hardly feel it anymore.” He pointed to the other chair at the table. “Would you like to sit down?”

“Here? Um, sure. Why not — for a few minutes,” I said putting my coat and bag on the back of the chair and sitting down.

“I hear some accent. Where are you from?”

“Cologne.”

“Cologne?” I repeated.

“Germany,” he added.

That figured.

“Oh, OK.” Everything I could think of about Germany was stereotypical: cuckoo clocks, beer, Mercedes. I tried to get a mental picture, but I was caught so off guard and was only drawing a blank.

“So, do you come here often?” I asked, a lame attempt at starting a conversation.

“Not often, but I’ve been here before, actually. On a school trip.”

Again, I was caught off guard. “A school trip?” I caught myself repeating his last statement again and started to feel a little awkward, but I was really surprised.

“Yah, but it’s been several years ago”, he went on. “I always wanted to come back.”

“Is that where you learned English so well?”

“Is it good?” he asked unsure. “Well, there and at school. We all had to start taking English in the fifth grade: See the man. The man is in the van,” he recited something he'd learned years ago.

“I guess you have to start somewhere.”

“Now they start even earlier, third grade I think.”

“Wow. I only speak English, and I have trouble with that. I mean, I had two years of French in High School. I think I can still say my name. Je m’appelle Lilly. But that’s all I remember.”

“So you are Lilly who learned some French?” It sounded much better the way he said it.

“Oh, right. Yes, well, I’m Lilly, who didn't learn French.”

“Have you ever been there? To France?”

“I’ve never been so far outside of Texas. Just a couple of times to New Mexico, Oklahoma, you know? This is kind of a big thing for me. Actually, this is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.”

“That is where you’re from? Texas?”

“Yeah,” I answered.

“Texas. Ah, yes, J.R.,” he replied.

“J.R.? You mean J.R. from Dallas? That's funny. You know J.R.? That’s so old.”

“The whole world knows J.R.”

“And you? You’re from Germany. That’s somewhere around Holland, isn’t it?” I couldn’t resist.

He gave me a look that asked if I were serious. Deciding I was, he took a pen out of his pocket and drew a map of the States on a small napkin, scribbled some water on the picture and an amoeba that was supposed to be land on the other side of “the Pond”. “U.S., U.K., Holland, Germany.” He pointed to an “X” that marked Germany and said, “Here.”

“Oh, OK.” In the age of instant technology, I thought it was funny that a handwritten map on a napkin was the source of my information to European geography. But I still I felt like I was getting the inside scoop.

“So, I guess they’re pretty close then, Germany and Holland?” I asked.

“Well, it’s the next neighbor, what is it called? Neighbor country? Right?”

“OK, the next country,” I said, somehow feeling the need to explain my lack of geographical knowledge. “It’s just that I’ve never been so far out of Texas. I mean, I didn’t do a year abroad in college, and I wasn’t an army brat or anything like that.”

“Well, it’s not like I know where every state is over here, either,” he admitted.

His geographical knowledge was obviously better than mine, but he wasn’t smug or arrogant about it, and somehow that made me feel better.

I smiled at him, and our eyes met for a stretched second as he also smiled. Embarrassed, I quickly started to scan over the menu, hoping I looked more composed than I felt.

“So, tell me, do you have micro-breweries in Germany?”

“Yeah, well, I guess so. We have a lot of breweries, also smaller ones where they serve beer and special traditional dishes.”

“What a stupid question.” I looked up at him lifting my hand to my mouth, “Of course you do. I mean, it’s Germany! You guys are probably, like, world-leaders in microbreweries.”

He just stared.

“So, what’s your favorite beer? Do you like St. Pauli or Paulaner beer better?” I asked quickly.

“I don’t know,” he answered. “I don’t like Weizen, and I don’t know St. Pauli. So, maybe St. Pauli.”

“You don’t know St. Pauli?” I asked in disbelief. “OK, now, you’re totally messing up my stereotype here. I thought everyone knew St. Pauli. Isn’t it like the German beer?”

“Not in Cologne.”

The waitress came to our table.

“I’ll have another one, please,” he ordered. “You?”

“Yeah, me too.” I said. “OK, well, what kind of beer do you have in Cologne?”

“Kölsch, for example.”

“I don’t think they have that here. I’ve never heard of it anyway.”

“Well, Kölsch is very good. You should try it sometime.”

“OK, if I ever see it, I will.”

The waitress returned with the freshly tapped beer and disappeared again. He looked at me for a moment in silence before finally lifting his glass.

“Prost,” he said finally.

“Prost?”

“Cheers,” he translated and we both took a drink.

“Oh, cheers.”

“So what do you do, when you're not getting hit by ski boots?”

“I cook.”

“You cook?” I asked surprised. “OK, so how’d you get over here?”

“I’m on holiday and just — you know, checking some things out,” he said rather vaguely.

“So, isn’t this, I don’t know, kind of boring for you? I mean, you could be in Europe somewhere, with all the coffee shops and the red-light districts and all that.”

He looked at me with question marks almost literally flying out of his eyes, and I immediately regretted saying it.

“Why should I go to a red-light district?” he asked a bit stunned.

“I don’t know. I mean . . .” I stammered around not knowing if I should say what I knew was about to come out. “I actually have some friends who are in Amsterdam right now. OK, one of them is not just a friend. My boyfriend, actually. Anyway, so far, that’s about all they have to write home about. So I just thought, well, that must be the big thing to do over there.”

He sat silently with an awkward smile on his face and I was embarrassed that I had brought it up. Were there actually men out there who didn’t think that was the thing to do?

“I’m sorry,” I said, “I don’t know why I’m telling you all this. I just met you. Maybe it’s true what they say: Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a complete stranger than to someone you know.”

“Did you say ‘boyfriend’?” he suddenly asked.

“Oh, yeah. We took separate vacations this year for New Year’s Eve.” I unexpectedly felt a trace of guilt.

He silently looked at me. Was he disappointed? No, get real, I thought. It was much more probable that he was just surprised that someone as awkward as myself would actually have something similar to a boyfriend.

“OK,” he went on. “Well, you may just need an objective person to talk to, so, OK, I’ve been to Amsterdam, but it's not only red lights and coffee shops. I mean, I've been to the coffee shops as well,” he laughed a little and looked like he was trying to find the right words.

“They have a good side to them, I admit. But the red-light district? OK, maybe you go down it once to say I’ve been there, you know, to look. But to hang out? I don’t know. No, that’s not me.”

“Wow. I think you must be the only guy I’ve ever heard say that.” I liked his answer, but I also wanted to change the subject quickly. I think he did, too.

“So, how long have you been here?”

“One week so far. There are two left.”

“That’s a long holiday. I hope your skiing won’t be too messed up frommy ski boot.”

“It’s starting to feel better. Maybe it’s the beer. But I’m also leaving here in a few days.” He showed his crooked smile.

“What about you? How long have you been here?”

“Just a couple of days. First, we stayed with my cousin in Santa Cruz and then now we're here for New Year’s. We leave the day after tomorrow. Have you ever been to Santa Cruz?”

“No.”

“It’s a lot of fun. Right on the ocean and all. It’s so cool. I mean, I’d never been to the ocean. I’m from Amarillo.”

“And where is Amarillo?” he asked.

I was glad that he didn’t know exactly where Amarillo was. I saw a chance to regain some of my dignity and took another napkin to draw an “X” by California and another one for Texas.

“Two days by car, six hours by plane. Home to the Palo Duro Canyon.” I chimed like the jingle from the ad on television.

“The what?”

“The Palo Duro Canyon — the second biggest hole in America, outside of the Grand Canyon,” I said proudly.

“That must be nice,” he said and smiled.

There was no way around it. This guy was gorgeous and I was finding it hard to concentrate on anything coherent to say. Or maybe it was the beer. Either way I was starting to feel like a giddy school girl, and not only was I getting tipsy, I also needed to go to the bathroom.

“I’ll be right back,” I said when I got up to excuse myself. “I have to go to the ladies' room.” I reached back for my bag that was hanging over my chair, but it caught on the corner of the table, and in one less than graceful move I tugged on the strap, popping the bag over the corner where it hit his mug, knocking his beer over in his lap. Hastily, I grabbed a cloth napkin from the next table and tried to help him quickly soak up the beer from his lap, when I noticed that I was wildly scrubbing the top of his ski pants.

Stop, Lilly! Stop!

It was as if someone had flipped the off-switch on me. I stopped instantly.

“I’m sorry,” I said blankly. “Ex. . .cuse me.”

I handed him the napkin and walked away feeling the blood drain from my face. I reached the bathroom without any further incident where I sat down in the messy, white and terracotta stall.

You idiot! I whispered to myself. First the boot, now the beer! I was a total Calamity Jane! I could feel my heart beating fast with embarrassment and a lump in my throat. It was hard to convince myself that I still had some degree of sobriety or even some dignity, especially as I sat in the wet stall where I’d been noticeably longer than I needed to be. As I walked out and looked in the mirror I took several long breaths to calm myself down and washed my pale face. After I’d calmed down, I went back to the table to find the man sitting there with a fresh, full beer.

“You’re back.” He smiled as he theatrically clutched onto his glass.

“I’m surprised you’re still here,” I whispered embarrassed. “I’ve been told that it's a little precarious to be around me. I’m sorry about the spill.”

“It’s alright. It was good.”

It was good? Did he just say that?

“Was it?” I laughed.

“I mean, it’s alright,” he explained.

I sat back down, unable to not notice that he had taken off his sweater, revealing a black turtleneck shirt that stretched out across his broad shoulders.

“Is your sweater also soaked?” I asked, although I didn't really want to hear the answer.

“No. It was just getting too hot in here.”

I was thinking the same thing as I strained to make a conscience effort to follow all the small talk advice I’d been reading for years. Keep cool, keep cool.

“Well, I’m really sorry about that,” I whispered.

“Maybe we can start over,” he suggested.

“Good idea”, I was relieved. “Very good idea.”

“So tell me, what about you? What are you doing here?”

“I’m here on vacation with my friends. We’re celebrating our upcoming graduation. It’s in May.” I took another sip of my beer. “Actually, Maddie is my cousin, she lives in Santa Cruz. So my best friend Bree and I are here to visit her.”

“Is that them?” he asked, pointing through the plastic window behind me where he could see up to the stage.

I turned around and could hardly suppress a gasp when I witnessed Bree and Maddie shaking their hair as they sang their hearts out doing karaoke, as Maddie sang off-key and high-pitched into the microphone.

“Them?” I heard myself ask trying to sound as normal as possible. “No. I don’t know them.” I mumbled as I looked down shaking my head, ashamed of myself.

He didn’t say anything, but when I cautiously looked up at him, he was looking at me over the rim of his beer glass with a sparkle in his eyes. A sparkle and a big grin that disclosed he saw right through my story.

I swallowed hard, embarrassed that I’d been figured out, and changed the subject immediately. I checked my phone. There was one new message: “Happy New Year! Have fun and look forward to this new year with all the new chances. From Mom, Dad, Sybille, and Brett.” But there was still not anything from Joe. It had been New Year’s in Amsterdam for a while now, and when I started to think about it, (boyfriend away, boyfriend pissing me off, me on vacation, gorgeous guy, beer...) I felt all the ingredients of an oncoming royal fuck-up coming together: We talked some more, and before I knew it, we’d been talking for half the night. Despite myself, I was having fun talking with this stranger. That was when I decided I better try to do the right thing, and start some damage control: Go back to the hotel room.

“Are you OK?” he asked.

“Look, I better get going.”

“You have to go so suddenly?” he asked.

“Yes, I know. I'm sorry.”

I called over the waitress to pay my tab and put the change on the tray and the receipt in my bag.

“Well, it was nice to meet you, . . .”

“Marcus,” he said, filling in the blank.

“It was nice to meet you, Marcus,” I repeated. “I hope the rest of your trip is safe,” I said and put the change and a tip in the plastic tray. “Maybe, I’ll see you around.”

I grabbed my coat and my bag and walked through the bar area, which was now much louder, and went outside. The temperature had dropped dramatically and it was still snowing. I walked around to the back, and leaned up against the building where it was not quite as windy, cigarettes in hand, the name Marcus going through my head, and I thought how ironic it was that Joe was in Europe supposedly not checking out the girls, and here I was, in California,