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As the doorbell rang, I let go of the napkin I was fingering and hurried, then slowed down, as I walked to the door. Ted watched me from the other side of the room and smiled reassuringly. My heart felt as if it would leap out of my chest. I took a deep breath, paused at the door, put a smile on my face, and said a brief prayer. As I opened the door, Valerie was on the other side with a silly grin on her face.
She said, “Hey you!! How have you been? She stepped in confidently and gave me a big hug. It felt great, and we held onto each other for an extra moment and then stepped back with tears in our eyes. She saw Ted and called out, “Hey, big guy!” He grinned back.
“Well, I’m lots better now that you’re here. Are you sure you’re ready for this?”
“Of course, I am. It’s time to get over ourselves and move on. Don’t you think so?”
“I agree, but I’ve never done anything quite like this before. I feel like I’m asking everyone to be guinea pigs! But I miss all of you. I just hope this works.”
“It’ll work fine. Don’t worry.”
At that moment the doorbell rang again and I stepped around Valerie to answer it. As I opened the door, Bill and Ellen smiled tentatively at me.
“Julia, how are you?”
“I’m doing great. How are you?”
“We’re fine, too.” Ellen looked around, saw Valerie and Ted and gave them a princess wave. I suspected her stiffness was an omen.
“It’s good to see both of you. Thanks for agreeing to come tonight. Why don’t you two come over here so I can explain first how all this will work.”
I walked toward the bridge table with the teal tablecloth covered with little stickers; some were pale yellow and the rest were emerald green. Valerie had followed us with a friendly grin and I took another deep breath.
“So, thanks for coming, you guys. It’s been a tough four months, and we’ve all discussed how we wanted to experience life as it used to be. Since the twelve of us have known each other for a long time, I thought I’d have this fun way to bring us together so that we could all be comfortable spending time with each other, since we all have different degrees of ease with social distancing; we want to be careful and yet not sacrifice the friendships we have. The others should be here shortly.
“So, I’ve designed these little badges for us to wear. We all know each other pretty well, so we probably don’t need them, but at the same time, it might be hard to anticipate which of us would rather maintain our distance, and those of us who don’t mind hugging or sitting close.
“The light yellow stickers are for those who would prefer to keep six feet apart, and the dark green ones are for those who don’t care about distance. I tried to use light and dark since a couple of you guys are color blind. Does that make sense?”
Bill, with his sardonic tone, asked, “Is there a reason that you used yellow for those who are concerned, Julia?”
I felt my face turn warm and tried to laugh. “No, Bill, but I knew I could count on you to find something wrong with the idea.” I bit my lip and looked away. Ted was watching us and I saw him purse his lips. Not a good sign.
Bill lifted one eyebrow and said, “I think I’ll fix myself a drink. Are those divided up, too?”
Valerie and I locked eyes, and she subtly shook her head.
Seven more people were due to arrive at any moment.
It was going to be a very long night.
My thanks to @rushbabe49 for her post that inspired this story.Published in