we're sampling drinks. there are dozens to choose from. there's an almond liqueur that we deem too sweet (we, who like sweet wines). there's a vanilla jack daniels...a spiced rum...do you sense a theme? we should've gone with sake, like charles. he's drinking wine from a shot glass. everyone's telling charles he looks like doctor who. i started it, complimenting his bowtie, but after the fourth person we're all a little weary of it. the house is nice. rich people nice. "don't go back there," the son warns, gesturing behind the food table at the bookshelves. but he lets her touch the iPad. we just want better dancing music. johnson finds out i'm an actor, and he ushers me outside under the heat lamps to meet his friend, also an actor. "tell her your story, about taylor lautner," he urges. the dude rolls his eyes, protesting, "i hate that effing story," but in the next breath, "okay, so, i was at this competition...." at 11 exactly, i text a mountain-time-zoned friend, happy new year. the sarah lawrence kids tell us we make them feel at home. "when you three walked in," they say, "we said, our people are here. because you're all cute, but kind of off-looking." we laugh at the compliment. we play a game like apples to apples but politically incorrect. it's one minute, thirty seconds to midnight. the countdown, on the television, is about to begin. people are pairing up, even the ones without romantic partners. the boy who will later say goodbye to me, ask for my last name, tries to catch my eye. i look away, i'm not in the mood for kissing strangers. maybe if the music was a little louder, maybe if i wasn't the designated driver. midnight, she kisses him, then says, a minute later, removing his arm from 'round her waist, "it's the new year. we're done with that. just friends, now. yeah?" "i wish i could be with you," he says, all boyish yearning. "even just to sleep outside, in the cold, on your porch. just to be near you." "mm," she says. suddenly all the guys are taking their shirts off. a dance-off occurs. we sing/yell a warpaint song at each other. the best conversations come in the first hours of the new year. everybody is drunk enough to be more interesting than "what do you do?" and "how long have you lived here?" "check out 11:11," i instruct him. "but my favorite album is soviet kitsch." "wait! are we talking about regina spektor?" gina says, overhearing us. and we squeal and hug, because it's music to love, and because it's late, and okay, maybe she's a little drunk. "charles hates men!" she exclaims in the car. "tell her!" she commands. "well, for starters," he begins, "i had a pretty terrible father..." that's how it always starts, i know.