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December 25th, 1921

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December 25th, 1921--

The light shines into Nathan and Richard’s shared apartment. Nathan wakes up to the sun shining in his face. He hasn’t had a good night sleep, especially since Richard had been up all night building a plastic model of a tsar tank. Nathan still can’t believe they haven’t been kicked out of the room yet, between Nathan’s smell of taxidermied birds and their bacchian yelling. He can’t remember the last time he has slept well. Ever since he decided to room with his friend, Nathan’s life has been like the best nightmare in the world.

Nathan stretches over to turn on the radio, and hits Richard’s face in the process. Richard is sitting atop Nathan’s bed. The ash from the cigarette falls onto Nathan’s bedsheets. Nathan flinches at the embers.

“Merry Christmas, babe.” Richard looks down at Nathan with a blank expression. Nate slinks back, surprised.

Joy to The World plays on the radio.

“At least smoke in your own bed,” Nathan complains. “My parents and studymates think I smoke now, since I can’t think up of a reason as to why you’d be in my bed.” Richard ignores Nathan’s complaint and continues to smoke as if the other boy doesn’t exist.

Nathan sighs to himself when he catches a glimpse of Richard’s infamous smirk. It’s a bit self-centered, but sometimes, Nathan thinks Richard only acts the way he does to exasperate him.

Richard stubs out the remnants of his cigarette into an ashtray on the bedside table. He languidly starts to take another cigarette from his left breast pocket. Nathan’s hands go to Richard’s, preventing him from lighting it.

“Why do you smoke?”

“Why shouldn’t I?" Richard replies. Nathan shrugs, which Richard takes as an invitation to keep on talking.

"Because it’s cold? Because cigarettes are in? I have no clue. I don’t think much about why.”

Richard flicks Nathan’s hands away and stands up. Nathan’s dark and somber eyes search Richard. Richard averts his eyes and starts walking to the kitchen. Upon reaching the kitchen, Richard turns the tap on.

“Remember when I mentioned ZBT?” Richard asks over the tap water. He has been inseparable with the fraternity members for the past few months, and Nathan feels himself slowly being replaced.

“Yeah?” Nathan follows Richard to the kitchen. While Richard washes his face with tap water, Nathan searches through the cupboard. He finds what he’s looking for-- two coffee mugs, one with a teddy bear painted on it and the other with a wind-up bird. The haul is from a otherwise horrible garage sale that’s become an inside joke between them. Nathan smiles, remembering how exciting shopping together was.

“I’m joining them.” At Richard’s words, Nathan’s serene smile melts off of his face. He shoves his face deeper into the cupboard to prevent Richard from seeing the mixture of emotions on his face. He focuses on the radio.

“Oh, okay. Do you know where the cocoa mix is?” Nathan replies. Richard is surprised by Nathan’s response. Richard repeats himself, certain Nathan hasn’t heard correctly.

“I’m leaving you.”

“Alright.” Nathan makes a show of finding the cocoa mix. He takes milk from the refrigerator and boils it in a pan. After a few minutes of watching the milk boil, Nathan adds honey and cocoa mix into the pan. He pours the hot chocolate into the two mugs. Nathan inserts marshmallows into the hot chocolate.

“I can’t believe you haven’t psychoanalysed why you smoke.” Nathan hands the freshly made cup of hot chocolate to Richard.

He wants their falling out to be clean. Maybe he’ll leave the University of Michigan. Nathan doesn’t want to admit it but he’s tired of their relationship. Distance will help him regain his senses, Nathan thinks.

“I’m just trying to die early.” Richard jests.

“Well, I guess it isn’t too bad. I mean, it’s like your smell fills the room. I can linger in your scent even after you leave.”

“That’s real disgusting,” Richard laughs, lifting his cup of hot chocolate. Nathan grins back while lifting his own cup. As Richard closes his eyes to down his chocolate in one gulp, Nathan looks down at his cup. The murky liquid whirls by itself, and the spiral slowly merges to become one in the cup.

---

The scorching pain of burning flesh brings Nathan back to reality. He drops the cigarette burning between his fingers.

20 years since Richard’s death, and Nathan is still alive, feeling like a remnant of a lost era. He rarely remembers Richard this strongly. Nathan closes his eyes as he remembers the past. After the clean split came two years of peace. The two were the least entwined then, and Nathan surprisingly feels like it was the peak of his life. Nathan’s dependence upon Richard intensified as he graduated college. Richard was his cigarette. Crime was the tar, romance the nicotine. Though smoking is a habit Nathan picked up in his Joliet years, addiction is not new to Nathan.

He wanted their falling out to be clean.

Nathan laughs to himself as he repeats the words Richard said that day.

“I’m just trying to die early.”

The cigarette smoke flows upwards and merges with the grey-ish skies above.