Cindy Laxton had planned to hop on a plane with her husband, Craig, and ring in the new year in New Orleans. Plans changed. Instead of dancing the night away in the Big Easy, Craig, a sheriff's deputy in St. Mary's County, will be at work, and Cindy expects to be making meatballs.

"Disappointing" is how she politely characterizes their change in plans.

While Craig is working traffic safety Friday night, Cindy will join other members of the Sheriff's Office Spouses Association in providing eats for her husband and his on-duty colleagues.

Across the region, hosts of couples like the Laxtons--who normally wouldn't dream of spending New Year's Eve apart--are finding that the millennium bug has squelched all thoughts of a midnight smooch after the most celebrated countdown of their lives. Instead of sipping champagne with loved ones, many police officers, computer technicians and firefighters will be on the job when 2000 rolls in.

Although the separation is tough for those who must work, their better halves say it's even harder on them, rendered mate-less while everyone around them has elaborate plans.

The thought of spending New Year's Eve without her husband has so upset Nellie Quesenberry that she's threatening to break into the Loudoun County jail. That's where husband Randy works as corrections and courts security commander. He'll be in place Friday night, a la Dick Clark, in the event of computer glitches or a flurry of new prisoners.

"I teased him that I'd just come down and throw rocks at his office window and he'd have to come out and get me," she joked.

Justin McNaull, a public information officer for the Arlington County police, thought he'd solve the problem by having his wife join him in the patrol car, a first-ever "ride-along" for the young couple.

Five minutes later, McNaull revised his remarks: "Did I say my wife was going to ride along? I was wrong."

Officers will be doubling up New Year's Eve, McNaull was told, so no guests allowed. Furthermore, he'll be working a desk job. As of yesterday, his wife's plans were still unclear.

Outside the realm of public safety, some family members are allowed at the office, and that's where they want to ring in the new millennium.

Terri Clark and her three daughters will spend Thursday preparing a smorgasbord of hors d'oeuvres and desserts, including crab dip, sweet-and-sour meatballs, ham biscuits and decorated sugar cookies. Then Friday, while the girls' father, J.T., makes sure the medical equipment at Fauquier Hospital operates without a hitch, they'll bring the party to him.

"We'll dress up, do our hair and have a fun girls' night," Terri Clark said.

Groom- and bride-to-be Bill Ashton and Andrea Bendorf, meanwhile, will toast each other with sparkling cider in Ashton's office, under fluorescent lighting. Ashton is director of information services for Herndon, so the best he can offer is dinner out before he and Bendorf retreat to his work cubicle and wait for midnight.

"I couldn't think of being in any other place but with him," Bendorf said. "It would be nice to do a big party, but what's most important is that we'll be together, even if we are in an office."

A twist on the theme comes from couples who are also work colleagues:

Lynn and Tom Hoffmann are both Arlington police officers. Come New Year's Eve, she'll be in the police command center, which lies within his district. Barring emergencies that night, their plan is scripted as carefully as a bank robbery: He'll pull up in his patrol car at 11:55 p.m., and she'll slip outside to meet him.

"We'll have five minutes standing on the sidewalk together saying, 'Happy New Year,' " she said. "Then he'll go his way, and I'll go back."

Ditto--sort of--for Liz and Tom Magyar, both Alexandria police officers. She's on duty as a hostage negotiator from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. (If no hostage situations develop, she'll help serve food to colleagues.) At 6 a.m., she goes off duty, and he comes on.

Champagne? Yes, "once we both have an evening off" and neither has to work the next day, she said. And when might that occur? Liz Magyar was stumped. "It probably won't be--hang on and I'll give you an actual date," she said, reaching for a calendar.

"We do have it chilling," she added, stalling for time.

Finally, an answer: "It probably won't be until the eighth."

For Belinda Tierney, wife of Alexandria police Capt. Al Tierney, New Year's Eve will mean staying up with her children and watching the ball drop. She remembers calling her on-duty husband in the past when she went into labor and when the children had high temperatures. So New Year's Eve 1999 is just part of an ongoing theme.

"You get used to it because you know they want to be there, even though they can't," she said. "They're there in spirit, if not physically. You miss them, but you say it the next day, 'Happy New Year!' "

CAPTION: Producers of the "America's Millennium Gala" on New Year's Eve--John Williams, left, Steven Spielberg, George Stevens Jr. and Quincy Jones--at a news conference at the Lincoln Memorial.