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She adjusted her cashmere turtleneck sweater in the rearview mirror of their Uber. It only took a split second for their driver to look back and notice what she was doing, making for that sort of awkward eye contact that makes both parties jerk their heads in a different direction praying they’ll never have to confront it.
“How late are we?” she asked Todd who sat on his phone scrolling Instagram.
“Like, fifteen minutes,” he surmised. “But I think we’re kind of supposed to be the last ones to arrive to this sort of thing, no?”
“I mean,” she brushed off, “I guess.”
They both looked out their separate windows thinking about the night ahead of them.
Caroline had seemingly done it all. The Christmas-themed one-year anniversary engagement party was proving to be the holiday party of the season. She had invited 36 people but only budgeted food and drinks for about 24. Hell, their apartment could only fit about 20.
All the usual suspects had already arrived — John (obviously), Katie, Finn, Alex, Trip, Victoria, Megan, Ty, Ben, Spencer, and Stew, with some random dates and plus-ones dispersed out between all of them. For reasons that need not explaining, Claire and Tom RSVP’d “no” despite their original “yes” response.
Caroline had a holiday punch being served out of a crystal bowl they had registered for but never used, a refrigerator full of Christmas and white ales, two bottles of scotch, and enough red wine to ensure everyone would fall asleep with stained teeth. While the Spotify “Holiday Classics” playlist played on their speakers, everyone mingled as they normally would.
“Okay, okay, everyone!” Caroline announced from the kitchen. “If my Find Friends is right, they JUST pulled up! Assume your positions!”
She was treating it like a surprise party even though the invites had been sent out over a month in advance. Straightening the garland surrounding the charcuterie and cheese boards, Caroline made final adjustments despite how fruitless they actually were at this point.
The guys stood in the back while the girls adjusted their outfits in preparation for the photos that would clearly ensue. About three minutes after her original announcement that they’d be arriving, the knock came to the door. Caroline slinked behind the door and slowly cracked it open revealing the guests of honor who feigned excitement.
As they entered the decked out apartment, there was an awkward “congratulations” relayed by everyone. Were they supposed to say “surprise”? Happy engagement anniversary? Whatever the celebration was intended to be wasn’t incredibly clear, but there was enough yelling and smiling to at least pretend everyone was glad to be there.
“Oh. my. God,” she said to Caroline while gazing around their apartment that had somehow transformed into a Christmas-themed bar. “This is UH-mazing.”
Deep down, she didn’t think it was amazing. Her worst fears had come to fruition — Caroline did such a phenomenal job decorating and planning for the party that it nearly overshadowed the real reason everyone was there. After getting handed a steep pour of red wine from Alex, she took off her coat and revealed the outfit she spent the entire week planning.
“Girl, you look so skinny,” Alex told her. “Hasn’t anyone told you that you can start dieting for your wedding after the new year?”
She faked laughter before claiming, “Ugh, thanks, but you don’t have to lie to me — I’ve been eating like a freaking pig since Thanksgiving.”
Todd gave out his obligatory hugs before making his way toward the rest of the guys who stood drinking beers that they wished they hadn’t opened in favor of the scotch John had purchased.
“So how long do we have to stay here before we can go out?” Finn asked Todd jokingly (but not jokingly at all). They all laughed before Todd whispered, “Two hours, max.”
Todd couldn’t even get a full two minutes into conversation before he got yanked away to take Portrait Mode photos in front of all the decorations. Caroline insisted on using her phone for them, presumably so she could post them before anyone else.
“No, no, Caroline,” she told her while handing her phone off to Alex. “Use mine — I’ll put ’em all in the group text when we’re done.” Feeling slighted but still understanding, Caroline relinquished and set her phone down on their kitchen island.
Todd tilted his head back in an attempt to signal that these photos needed to be taken faster than slower. He knew it was inevitable, but he also didn’t know that the picture taking would occur so soon into the party.
“Put your drink down, babe,” she told him. “No drinks in the photos — my mom’s probably going to frame one of these and she’d kill you if she saw you drinking a beer with some shitty napkin wrapped around it.”
Caroline’s head whipped around. “Some shitty napkin?” she thought as she peered over to the stack of napkins sitting next to the makeshift bar. “These aren’t just ‘some shitty napkins,'” she kept thinking. She had gotten them monogrammed at a paper good store near her office. Hunter green with crimson text, they included their future monogram as well as their wedding date. Because the cursive font wasn’t one of the store’s stock choices, she had to order them three weeks in advance solely to make sure they’d be there on time due to their extreme customization.
“Some shitty napkins,” she muttered to herself while watching Alex take the couple’s photos in front of her Christmas tree. The photos were turning out perfectly — the lights in the background blurred to perfection, she looking skinny despite how chunky and rom-com looking her sweater was. Even Todd looked like he wanted to be there, which said a lot.
Caroline took the napkin that her glass of punch had been sitting on and gripped it tighter and tighter to the point where it was crumpled in her hand. Snapping out of her enraged tunnel vision, she approached them and blurted out, “Okay! Now time for a photo with the hosts!”
Gesturing for John to come over, he gave the same annoyed head tilt that Todd had given just moments before.
“John, come over here and not next to Todd,” Caroline barked at him. “This isn’t a middle school dance.”
John had yet to set down his drink, with Caroline doing the same with a freshly poured glass of red wine.
“Okay, okay, everyone get in tight,” she said with the girls bookended by John and Todd.
Todd could see it all happening in slow motion as he adjusted to fit four people into the Portrait Mode photo. To his right, he saw Caroline’s arm around his fiancée, with her other arm clutching her glass and tilting it in as she fake hugged her and smiled for the photo.
“Caroline!” he yelled, seeing the wine glass tipping in their direction. “Your wi—”
But it was too late.
“Shit shit shit!” she yelled. “What the fuck, Caroline?”
“Oh my GOD!” Caroline responded. “I am so so so so so sorry! Let me get some Wine Away out of our pantry!”
She looked up at Todd while welling up with tears in her eyes, only to mouth, “Are you serious?” to him. Todd attempted to stop her from being upset, but he had seen the credit card statement for this particular sweater and there was most definitely reason to be upset.
“We’ll get it cleaned,” Todd assured her. “I promise.” But in the back of his mind, Todd knew that it was entirely possible a new sweater may need to be purchased for Christmas should Caroline’s efforts to clean it didn’t work out.
In the pantry, John joined Caroline to help find the Wine Away. “Well, that’s not good!” he sarcastically told her.
“I know,” Caroline responded while lacking emotion. “Looks like we’ll have to use my shitty napkins to clean it up.” .