On a night that promised to be as unassuming as any other, I found myself trudging through eight inches of snow, my older sister Kami resting her head against my right shoulder. With each shivery step we grew closer to the inevitability of over-crowded bars, all packed tight with obnoxious, inebriated tourists. Kami guaranteed me that one of the stops would be a gay bar — in Reno, my hometown, this meant rubbing shoulders with leather daddies and drag queens shipped north from Las Vegas — and that we would be throwing down twenties at the blackjack tables after we’d consumed half a dozen tequila shots. Since I only had six dollars and two nickels in my wallet, I figured I’d let her do most of the buying.
I rested my cold, chapped hands inside my jacket pocket as we sauntered down an empty side street toward the first bar of the evening. I wasn’t in the best of spirits. This would mark my third year in a row without a New Year’s kiss, my third year without a boyfriend. And this year I had zero chance of finding a guy, because unlike Los Angeles — where I’d lived for the past eight years, and where a thousand young twinks swarmed the city like a gang of man-hungry zombies — the only cute gays in Reno were either in the closet or still physically hiding in their closets.
Five Star Saloon, Reno’s only halfway decent gay bar, was the fourth stop on our invisible checklist. The dimly lit bar had a crowd of at least a hundred people, with too loud an oldies soundtrack to make manageable conversation, and barely any room to maneuver. Kami ordered me a gin and tonic, herself a Peachtree Martini, and we started pushing through the massive crowd.
“I have to use the bathroom,” Kami said. “Can you hold my drink?”
While she strutted into the ladies’ room, I enjoyed a taste of her sweet concoction, a strong mix of vodka, peaches, and orange juice.
Then I almost choked, when I turned to my left — and saw him.
The cute boy I had been chatting with online for the past six months appeared before me, unexpectedly, and for the first time in the flesh. His name was Landon, and he stood in the middle of a group of attractive twenty-somethings, a Corona in his right hand and a cigarette in his left. While his friends laughed and talked over each other, he seemed lost in his own world, tapping his feet against the sticky hardwood floor, and watching the local New Year’s coverage on the overhead television with cool disinterest. 6’2, twenty-three years old, with short brown hair and lime green eyes, he was dressed like a hot nerd, doofy yet still somehow unattainable, with a brown-and-purple sweater, a black jacket, and a large pair of dark-framed glasses resting atop his pointy nose.
I stared at him, my mouth agape, shocked and elated at the coincidence of seeing him.
Kami returned from the bathroom and pulled her drink out of my hands. She tousled her hair before taking a sip. “What’s up? What’s going on?”
I focused my attention on her for only a second, when someone’s shoulder rubbed against mine. I turned back to my left to see Landon walk past me, to the men’s room, oblivious to my presence.
“It’s nothing,” I said. “I just recognize someone.”
“Oh really?” Kami asked. “Friend of yours?”
“Well, no, actually, I’ve never met him.”
She grinned. “Him? Is this a guy we’re talking about, Ryan?”
I nodded but didn’t answer with words because Landon exited the bathroom and started walking straight toward me. I didn’t think I would say anything; it wasn’t like me to make the first move. But in his short march from the hallway to his buddies, I decided to go for it.
He turned to me right away, and before I had the chance to follow my first word with a second, he smiled at me with that infectious grin and unexpectedly wrapped his arms around me.
“Hi, Happy New Year’s,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he recognized me.
“Hey,” I said. “Do you remember me? We’ve chatted — ”
“Oh my God, Ryan, hey!” Landon said. “I had no idea you were coming to Reno for New Year’s. How are you?”
“I’m great. You?”
“My word,” he said, staring into my eyes, not bothering to answer my question. “You’re even cuter in person.”
He hugged me again, allowing me enough time to fully inhale his spicy cinnamon cologne.
“Landon,” I said, excitedly, pointing to my right, “this is my sister Kami.”
As we all exchanged pleasantries, I waited for him to ditch me and go back to his group of friends, who were still being rowdy and loud at the back of the bar. But he stayed real close, and he asked questions about me, and he never stopped smiling, as if running into me had been his best surprise of the night.
At the point when I started searching my brain for something else to talk about, a friend of Landon’s pushed him forward, alerting him that the group was moving on to a casino downtown.
“Well, it was nice to finally meet you — ” he started.
“Yeah, for sure,” I butted in. “Can I get your number?”
I wanted to pat myself on the back: I hadn’t found the courage to ask a guy for his number in two long years. While my dating life had thrived in college, I lately spent most of my nights cuddling with my cat.
Landon stepped toward me and told me the number, without hesitation.
“Text me!” he shouted, before he lit up another cigarette and followed his friends out into the chilly nighttime air.
“Oh my God, Ryan,” Kami said, slugging me on the shoulder much harder than she needed to. “He was cute!”
“You’re telling me.”
“And he was totally into you!”
I shook my head. No he wasn’t. Of course he wasn’t. No guy that cute, and that sweet, and that charming, could possibly have been into me.
“He gave you his number,” she said. “You should text him!”
It was a fine idea. But I didn’t want to come off as desperate. “Let’s get out of here,” I said. “I want to gamble before the countdown begins.”
We stepped back out into the furious cold around 11:20. The roads and sidewalks were almost empty, as if a blusterous wind had rolled into town and blown all the tourists into Tahoe.
It only took a minute to discover that everyone had migrated to downtown South Virginia Street, four blocks up, where at midnight fireworks would light up the night sky. Kami and I walked side by side, passing over so many stretches of black ice that I was astonished to arrive to South Virginia without an embarrassing bump to the head.
We entered the Harrah’s casino, which was adjacent to Reno’s famous arch. Since we had less than half an hour until showtime, we abandoned the blackjack and instead grabbed a few more drinks.
I wanted to text Landon, but I had no idea what to text him. When I looked out the nearest window to see the arch, the idea finally popped into my head.
“Oh my God,” I said.
“What?” Kami asked.
“I know what I’m going to say.”
I started to text him. I decided not to think too hard about the words I punched into my phone, fearing I would psych myself out and cancel the text. I sent it before I had the chance to reconsider.
Kami noticed me grinning, and she pushed herself against me to take a look at my phone. “You texted him, didn’t you?”
“What did you say?”
I didn’t answer her question. I just stared at her. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Yes, I would! Tell me right now!”
Her tightening grip on my jacket suggested I had to reveal my secrets to her pronto, no matter how much I wanted to keep them only for me.
“I told him that I was going to be under the arch at midnight, and that he should come find me.”
Kami didn’t respond so much as let out a wail so loud that nearby celebrators were stunned into silence.
“This is so exciting!” she shouted, finally letting go of my jacket. She clapped, then started dancing in place. “Oh my God, it’s so romantic! My brother’s finally found love!”
“Yeah, well, don’t get your hopes up. For all I know he could be on his way back to Carson City. That’s where he lives — ”
She flicked me on my forehead. “Doofus, stop being such a buzzkill. Think positive! It’s New Year’s!”
I glanced down at my phone. Landon hadn’t texted me back. It was 11:38.
At 11:45 I looked at my phone, for the fiftieth time in the last few minutes. Still no text. We traipsed through a depressing, crowded corner of the casino that was jam-packed with tacky nickel slots.
“Anything?” Kami asked.
I didn’t have the heart to voice a response. I shook my head, knowing full well that he probably wasn’t going to text me back. It had been almost ten minutes. That was like ten years in texting. It was the surest sign of all. Not. Interested.
“We should go outside now if we want to get a spot under the arch,” Kami said.
I nodded, and followed behind her.
We curved around a winding outdoor corridor, and I tried my best to stop glancing at my cell phone every two seconds. We finally made it under the arch, and I found a spot in the center.
The sign itself, located above my head, appeared to have been fixed just in time for the New Year’s festivities. On a trip to Reno last Halloween I headed downtown for a night out with two high school friends, only to discover the famous sign suffering from a bad case of cancer. “The Biggest Little City in the World” had been reduced to “The Biggest Little City World,” which I thought would make a great title for a Ray Bradbury short story. But tonight the sign had strength and pizzazz in every inch of its foundation, gleaming its lights against all the spectators waiting in the benumbing temperature for the free sky spectacular.
“Did he ever text you back?” Kami asked.
I shook my head. “No.”
“I’m sorry, Ryan.”
“It’s OK. It’s not like I actually expected him to — ”
I felt it against my leg, that wonderful, pulsating vibration. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and clicked open the main screen.
The vibration hadn’t alerted me to a missed text from Landon. It had alerted me to a missed call.
“Oh my God.”
“What is it?” She grabbed my jacket again.
“He called me! I don’t believe it!”
“What? Are you serious?”
I was so embarrassingly excited that it took me three attempts just to dial his number, as I tried my best not to drop the slippery phone on the icy cement. Finally I heard ringing, and I smiled nervously at Kami as I awaited Landon’s response.
On the fourth ring, Landon picked up his phone, but I couldn’t hear him. The only words I deciphered were “loud” and “street.”
“Landon! Are you there? I can’t hear you.”
I heard the words, “right back,” then echoes of static cluttered my eardrums.
I hung up and quickly dialed his number again, but this time four rings became six, and the call went straight to voice-mail.
“Shit,” I said.
“What did he say?”
“I couldn’t hear him,” I said. I dialed his number a third time. Again, voice-mail. “Crap! What do I do?”
“What time is it?”
The rumbling in the crowd grew louder, everyone anticipating that magical minute when time stands still, friends and lovers embrace, and kissing becomes the national norm.
My phone didn’t light up for a whole minute, and I feared it had gone dead. When the light finally came back, I breathed a sigh of relief, only to see that I had another missed call from Landon.
“Oh no!” I shouted.
“What time is it?” Kami repeated, louder.
I checked. “11:56!”
“Crap! There’s no time!” she shouted crazily, like we were trying to diffuse a bomb. “Just text him! Text him where you are!”
“OK. Here goes.”
“Did you do it?”
I texted Landon my location and stashed my phone into my pocket.
“Now,” I said, standing up high on my tippy-toes, “we pray.”
“He has to find you!” Kami shouted. “This has to happen, Ryan!”
I crossed my arms, tried not to shiver from the cold, and scanned the tops of a thousand heads in hopes of spotting the tall brunet beauty.
I checked my phone. 11:58.
“Do you see him?” Kami asked.
I didn’t. I surveyed a line of chanting tourists that hovered near the casino, as well as the stragglers dancing on the sidewalk. I turned around, with the hope that he would be coming at me from the other direction — but he wasn’t in that crowd, either.
I glanced at Kami. The world’s most disheartened frown took shape on her frustrated face.
The shout came from my left. My heart leaped into my throat as I jumped back up to my tippy-toes and scanned the left side of the street. Landon walked toward me from the casino exit, maneuvering through the raucous crowd.
At least twenty seconds passed before we were face to face, but it felt like two. One second he was across the way, a tiny bobbing head in the distance, and the next he stood right in front of me, his face mere inches away. He took hold of my hands, and tilted his forehead against mine.
“You made it,” I said.
“TEN! NINE! EIGHT!” People screamed as the final countdown began.
“Oh my God!” Kami shouted, looking toward me. She jumped high into the air and started to cheer.
Landon didn’t stop smiling as he held me tight, staring into my eyes with an infectious glee. He moved in closer toward my lips.
“THREE! TWO! ONE! HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
His warm breath grazed the side of my cheek, and the calamity of boisterous cheers drained away from my senses. I closed my eyes and found his lips, soft and inviting, open just enough to let me in. The kiss lasted only a second — but a second was all I needed.
When our lips departed, the defeaning clash of fireworks brought us back to the present. We smiled at each other again, recognizing the luck and beauty of this perfect moment, before we turned our gazes to the rainbow of heavenly colors above.