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New Year's Eve was not turning out to be as much fun as Vin had hoped. He winced at the harsh sound of the violent spasms of coughing that were coming from the other end of the couch. He turned his head to look at the figure huddled into the piled-up pillows and swathed in what looked to be every blanket in the house. Forcing a note of sympathy and concern into his voice, he asked, "You okay there, pard."
The glare Chris sent his way was expected, but was somewhat diminished by the feverish look in the watery green eyes and the dark circles of fatigue under them. Just in time, Vin restrained himself from rolling his own eyes in annoyance. Why did I even bother? He ain't spoke more than a few words to me since I got here, and those were to tell me to go home.' Vin would have shown more worry about his friend if the doctor hadn't assured him that it was just a really bad case of the flu and it had to run its course. A sick Chris was not a happy Chris. Hell, forget happy; he's downright unfriendly. Yep, this is gonna be one hellova New Year's Eve.'
With a dejected sigh, Vin resumed his rhythmic stroking of the big black cat that was contentedly purring in his lap. Well, at least someone's glad I showed up.' There were times when he preferred Gabby's company to that of the two-legged variety. Another quick glance at the shivering, coughing man taking up most of the sofa confirmed that this was definitely one of those times. He turned his attention back to the television, but watching other folks whooping it up just reminded him that everybody must be having a better time than him. Petting Gabby was the most excitement he was going to see tonight. That thought made him even more depressed.
"Hey, Chris. You know what just came to me?" Vin decided to take Chris's grunt as a sign the other man was listening, even if not interested. "Here we aretwo, good-lookin'...." He paused to smirk in the direction of his friend. "Well, at least one of us is good-lookin'. The other looks like death warmed over."
It was amazing how much hostility could be expressed in a voice that could barely speak above a whisper. "And whose fault is that? This was one delayed Christmas present from you I wasn't plannin' on. I swear I never got sick until you joined the team. You get everything that comes along and insist on working anyway and pass it right on to me. How in hell you..."
Vin knew that, once started, Chris's enumeration of all Vin's faults could go on all night. He hastily overrode the hoarse voice. "Like I was sayin '...here we aretwo, good-lookin', single guys home alone...."
"Meowrow!" This time the indignant interruption came from the vicinity of Vin's lap.
Vin's voice was beginning to take on a distinctly hostile tone of its own. "All right! Geez! Make it even more pathetic than it already is. AS I WAS SAYIN'...two, good-lookin', single guys home WITH THEIR CAT on New Year's Eve. What's wrong with this picture?"
"Leave me and Gabby out of your miserable little trio," Chris protested. "She had an invitation for tonight. JD offered to pick her up; he still wanted her to come to his and Buck's big shindig since all the others were bringing their cats. And I have an excuse, too, remember. I'm sick...with the flu...that you gave me."
Vin was pretty much fed up with having that reminder thrown in his face at every opportunity over the last few days, and he wasn't too thrilled with the realization that the cat had more of a social life than he did. With as much of a snarl as his Texas drawl could muster, he snapped back. "Oh, give it a rest! That dog won't hunt no more."
Chris answered in kind, "And lay off the cat, will you. You insult her again, and she's just gonna get mad and come sit with me; and I'm too sick to handle that bulk right now. I woke up one morning and I couldn't breathe and I had this crushing weight on my chest. I swear I thought I was having a heart attack. I almost did have one when I saw those green cat eyes staring back at me."
"Yeah, well, thirteen pounds of cat will do that to ya," Vin muttered.
"Thirteen pounds! God, Vin, what have you been feeding her? I've bought Thanksgiving turkeys that weighed less than that."
"Me?" Vin was quick to jump to his own defense. "Gabby lives here with you. Why am I the one to blame?"
In between coughs, Chris answered, "Because I've seen you with the cat treats. You're supposed to give her a few at a timenot dump a whole package of em in her food dish. What are you trying to doget her as hooked on junk food as you are?"
Vin lapsed into a sulky silence. Oh, yeah. This New Year's Eve was turning out to be bunches of fun.'
The older man studied his friend for a moment. He didn't mean to be so hard on Vin, but he really didn't feel good, and somebody keeping him company was the last thing he wanted. Still, there was no reason to make this evening any worse than it already was. He nudged the younger man with his foot. "Hey, pard, you know what's worse than two, good-looking, single guys staying at home with their cat on New Year's Eve?"
Vin looked up at the sound of the husky voice. Chris had a smile on his face. As sick as he was, if he could make an effort to salvage the evening, then Vin could too. He returned the smile. "Okay, I'll bite. What's worse than two, good-looking single guys at home with their cat on New Year's Eve?"
"Two, good-looking, single guys at home on New Year's Eve, talking about their cat."
Vin just groaned. "Oww, that really hurt."
With their camaraderie restored, Chris tried once again to get his friend to see reason. "You know, Vin, you don't have to be stuck here with me. It's still not too late for you to get out and do some celebrating. Heck, there' s always Buck and JD's party. I don't know why you aren't there right now. You could have even taken Gabby."
Vin's mutter was hard to hear through all the congestion in Chris's head. "What did you say?"
The flush of embarrassment crept up Vin's face as he answered a little louder. "I said they ain't havin' a party this year."
Chris looked stunned. "You're kidding, right? Buck and JD always have a New Year's Eve party. It's a tradition, and you know how the kid is about tradition."
Vin really didn't want to have to admit this, but he knew Chris would just keep asking him to talk louder. "They ain't havin' a party coz Buck and JD both got the flu. They came down with it this morning. I don't think they' d be too happy to have either me or Gabby show up."
Chris looked at the younger man, who sat there with his head sunk low. He looked like he'd lost his last friend. Even the cat had moved off his lap and was curled up between Chris's legs and the back of the sofa. Damn, cowboy, this really isn't much of a New Year's Eve for you.' He wanted to do something to cheer up his friend, but he felt terrible. The chills had returned with a vengeance, and there wasn't a single part of his body that didn't ache. Maybe the best thing he could do for Vin was to leave him alone.
Slowly, Chris pulled his sore, shivering body off the sofa, grabbing at the blankets to keep the warmth in. He swayed a moment until the dizziness had passed, then he looked down at his friend slumped on the cushions. "I'm sorry, Vin. I thought I could make it to midnight, but that's just not gonna happen. I haven't been good company anyway. I'm gonna go on to bed. You stay and watch TV. At least you can see the ball drop. Next year'll be better, I promise."
Now Vin felt guilty on top of being depressed. Here was his best friend in the whole world apologizing to him for being sick and not making the evening fun, and Vin was the one who had made him sick in the first place. "Hell, face it, Tanner. You made the whole team sick. Chris and Buck and JD just held out longer than the others.'
"No, Chris, I'm the one who should be apologizin'. I wanted to make sure you were all right. That's the only reason I came by. I didn't mean to make you think you had to go entertainin' me. You go on to bed. Gabby and I will see the new year in."
Chris gave him a little smile as he turned away and shuffled off to his bedroom. With a loud thump and a "meow", Gabby followed him.
Sneaky, lowdown, traitor! You've gotten your last cat treat from me, Fur Face.' A little bit ashamed of his thoughts, Vin let his head drop. If there had been anything handy to beat it against, he would have done so. He didn't know why he was so mad at Gabby. A warm bed was starting to look pretty good to him, too. Maybe he should give up and turn in himself. Apathy kept him on the sofa. He didn't see that it made much difference where he spent the night.
The television droned on in the background as the hour passed, and midnight was soon approaching. Shame had gradually replaced the self-pity and disappointment he had been feeling. What's the matter with you, Tanner? It's not like you haven't spent plenty of New Year's Eves alone. Hell, most years you didn't pay no attention to the year changing. It was just another night, or if you were out partyin', it was with a bunch of people that didn' t matter much to you anyhow. Now you've got real friends, and look how you treat them. Some friend you turn out to be.'
That was it; that was the root of the problem. He did have friendsreal special ones. Ones that he had gotten used to sharing all the special as well as the just plain ordinary times with. It was the company, not the occasions, which he enjoyed, and he had gotten used to having the easy companionship of such diverse men. He had taken it for granted, and then the others had gotten more than a little put out with him through the holidays. When it looked like he would be by himself, he'd panicked and held on too tightly to what he thought was slipping out of his grasp. Sure he liked time to himself, but alone wasn't the same as lonely, and he never wanted to be lonely again.
Vin smiled when he realized that he didn't have to worry about that. He might be alone on New Year's Eve, but he would never be lonelynot with six friends and a big black cat around. From the television, he heard the countdown to the new year begin. When "one" rang out, a sound from the hall made him look away from the TV set.
Still wrapped in his blankets, a very drowsy Chris stood in the doorway, a big black cat clutched to his chest. "Happy New Year, Vin."
A very contented Vin replied, "Happy New Year, Chris."
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