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Once in a Blue Moon
By Ann


She stood alone, close to the wall and next to an antique credenza, and sipped on a glass of champagne. The smile she wore didn't reach her eyes and her responses to the other partygoers were more along the lines of good manners and proper upbringing than genuine and sincere. No one had any idea what she was feeling or what she was thinking, and, truthfully? They didn't really care.

They were too caught up in trying to rise to the occasion and present themselves in the best light possible so as to maintain their current social status amongst their so-called 'friends.' It was a game Kate Ashurst knew all too well and one she stubbornly refused to play.

"Kate, darling, how are you?" Carolyn Sumners asked as she leaned in and kissed the air on each side of Ash's cheeks. "Still chasing after low-lifes?" She offered a plastic smile and purposely didn't allow Ash time to respond. "You'll never catch a man as long as you stay in that profession. Well, other than some criminal, of course," she said, laughing lightly at her joke.

Ash returned the false smile with one of her own and took another sip from her glass, the reference to her work being the sole reason that she remained unattached not exactly a new revelation to her. She'd heard it dozens of times from her own mother, but she did wonder what her mother's best friend would say if she were to confess that she wasn't interested in snaring a man. That, in fact, she'd already found the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with and that the particular person wasn't a man at all and, how, if she had the guts, she'd inform the woman in question of her feelings, too.

"There you are, Carolyn. I've been looking all over for you," Janice Worthington gushed sickeningly, but Ash welcomed the nasally-voiced interruption and quickly planned her escape.

"If you'll excuse me, I see someone I need to speak to," Ash said politely and gestured across the room to a small circle of people. Not that the other women had actually looked in the direction she'd pointed as Janice had already looped an arm through Carolyn's and had started toward the far side of the room. Sighing tiredly, Ash walked past the group she'd planned to use as a diversion and opened a pair of French doors that led outside. She slipped through unnoticed and closed the door behind her, breathing in fresh, cool air and ridding her lungs of the stale, ostentatious air that had threatened to suffocate her.

A shiver coursed through her as she moved further away from the house, but Ash wasn't about to go back inside for her coat and chance another unwanted encounter. She'd rather brave the elements and take the risk of catching a cold than be forced to speak to another one of her mother's friends or, heaven forbid, another potential suitor. Her mother had gone all out this New Year's Eve and had invited more than the usual two or three eligible bachelors in hopes that Ash would find at least one of them attractive.

Taking another sip of her drink, Ash looked out across the lawn and squinted against the darkness to try to make out the line of trees that bordered the property. A full moon shone down but seemed more enchanted with her than the frost-covered ground or shadowed trees and she finally gave up her search and walked over to a small wrought iron table and matching chairs. She eased into the nearest chair and stared down into the liquid of her glass. This was not how she'd hoped to spend the last evening of the year but, as with all of her previous New Year's Eves, here she was once again: alone and miserable.

It hadn't been so bad when she was growing up. In fact, she used to beg her mother and father to allow her to stay up and taste her first champagne. Her mother would chastise her for being so ridiculous and her father would just smile and pat her on the head. Some things never changed.

Glancing to the sky, Ash focused on the bright moon above - normally not a full one – it was still another constant of her New Year's evenings as it always managed to find her whenever she'd sneak away from her parents' party to seek quiet and solitude. It was like an old friend, one in which she could whisper her hopes and dreams and, sometimes, reveal her secret resolutions that she never actually planned to keep. It didn't judge her or criticize her; it understood her dogged determination to follow the paths she'd chosen. It didn't mock her rules; it recognized that she needed order in her life and, oftentimes, reasons to avoid the very things that frightened her the most. Hiding behind her rules was something in which Ash excelled and, lately, she'd become a master of the art.

"Kate, what are you doing out here?" Her father's voice drifted over from the doorway and she turned to spy him standing half-in and half-out of the open door. Her mother wouldn't be pleased that he was allowing cold air to seep inside, and he seemed to sense the potential trouble he was courting and quickly stepped outside, blocking the voices of his guests as he closed the door. "And where's your coat?"

"I just needed some air, and it's really not that cold out here," Ash lied unconvincingly, her words wavering noticeably at the chill that had begun to settle in her bones. "I'll go back in a minute," she lied again as, according to her latest calculations and the last time she'd checked the grandfather clock in the foyer, she had a little over an hour before midnight struck. She planned to be alone when it did, even if it meant she may very well begin 2010 as a human icicle.

"Nonsense, you'll catch your death of cold if you stay out here another minute," her father scolded, his stern words losing their intended effect when he slipped off his jacket and gently placed it around his daughter's shoulders. "C'mon, Katie, let's go back inside where it's warm. I can tell your mother that you have a headache and retired for the evening."

Ash shook her head. "I had a headache last year, remember?" She looked up at her father and shrugged. "Can't use that one again so soon."

"You're right," he nodded. "How about if we tell her you're coming down with a cold? That's probably precariously close to the truth, too."

"Nope, that was the year before last and I really did have a cold," Ash said, vividly remembering being sick. She'd been too ill to drive home and had had to stay an extra two days at her parents'. It had almost driven her mad.

"Okay," her father said, his thoughts settling on an old favorite. "What about work? You could say you've been called in unexpectedly." He knew she'd just used the excuse this past Boxing Day, but it was a good one and very plausible, too. There were always emergencies with police work, even if it seemed that Middleford had more than its fair share. "You sneak out and I'll tell her. It'll be easier that way."

Ash frowned at putting her father in the line of fire. "I don't…" she protested, but a hand against her cheek stopped her from continuing. She could barely feel it cupping her cold skin.

"It'll be okay, Kate. I just want you to promise me one thing in return."

Ash's frown deepened. Her father had always helped her deal with her mother and he'd never asked for anything in return. Her insatiable curiosity and very real need to escape overrode her better judgment. "What?"

Her father smiled. "Go find the person who's put that look in your eyes. Don't hesitate, don't think… just do it."

"I don't know what you're…"

"Kate," he said firmly but gently. "Life doesn't always give us second chances. Sometimes it doesn't even give first ones. Tonight is extra special," he paused and slid his arm around Ash, leaning in and pointing up at the bright ball in the sky. "Once in a blue moon, Katie… don't wait until it's too late."

A long list of credits rolled slowly across the television screen, appearing brighter than usual in the darkened room and casting odd-shaped shadows across the walls and floors, while soft music played in the background and accompanied the scroll of words. The rest of the house was eerily quiet, except for an occasional sniffle, so the soft knocking at the door that may very well have gone unnoticed otherwise was easily detected by the person sprawled across the couch. Emma Scribbins wiped her nose with her sleeve and turned her attention to her front door.

"Great, Mr. Haverson's lost again. Probably pissed, too," she grumbled unhappily and groaned as she pushed to her feet, her joints protesting the unwelcomed move. After two full-length features and only one trip to the loo, her body had become stiff and unyielding, wanting nothing more than to stay settled on the warm, comfortable couch. A sudden bump against the end of the sofa made things worse. "Shit!" Scribbs cursed and moved her hand to the middle of her thigh, immediately rubbing the injured area as she limped toward the door. She didn't even bother checking the spyhole as she turned the locks and opened the door. The directions to the house next door died on her lips.

"Um, sorry to bother you, Scribbs, er… I hadn't realized how late it was," Ash stuttered and burrowed her hands deeper into her pockets. She'd known exactly how late it was, but her father's words had resounded in her head until the next thing she knew she was parked in front of Scribbs's house. Now, she wished she'd have had more faith in second chances.

"Is something that matter, Ash?" Scribbs instinctively stepped outside and placed her hand gently on her partner's arm. "Has something happened?"

Ash looked closer at her partner: Scribbs's eyes and nose were red and she was dressed in an old pair of jogging bottoms and a t-shirt. "Are you ill, Scribbs?" she asked in concern.

"What?" Scribbs replied, confused that the topic had suddenly shifted to her own well being. "No, I'm fine. I've just been watching movies."

Ash nodded in understanding. Scribbs was a softie when it came to movies. It didn't matter if it was a happy or sad flick, Scribbs usually managed to shed a tear or two. "Why don't you go back inside where it's warm?" Apparently it was only okay for Ash to stay outside and risk getting sick, but Scribbs was another matter entirely.

"In a minute," Scribbs replied stubbornly. "Tell me why you're here first."

"Well," Ash stalled and struggled to find an adequate excuse or at least one Scribbs would buy as her father's words continued to whisper in her ear. Was there a second chance for her or was this it? She grasped at straws and came up with a medium-sized one. "Did you know it's a Blue Moon tonight?"

Scribbs smiled like a child finding a huge stack of presents on Christmas Day. "Really?" She ducked her head around the eave of her house and looked up at the bright moon high above. "Doesn't look blue to me."

"It's not actually blue, Scribbs, but it is quite brilliant, isn't it?" There was a hint of wonder and something akin to hope in Ash's voice. Scribbs noted both and grinned again.

"Why don't I make some hot cocoa and we can sit outside in the back garden?"

The corners of Ash's lips turned up into a smile that was almost as radiant as the rare moon above. "I'd like that," she said softly.

Scribbs nodded and took hold of Ash's hand as she led her partner inside. "We can share our New Year's resolutions, too."

Ash's smile grew. What better way to share her secrets than under a full moon with the one she loved? Once in a blue moon had finally arrived.

The End

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