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The Godfreys always threw a holiday party on the tippy top of the white tower with fountains of champagne and glittering lights strung up around the cold metal sculptures that Pryce insisted were good for the modern aesthetic of the facility. Roman found that most of the statues looked like large penises and weird, claw like hands. In the holiday spirit he put bows on the top of all the more phallic sculptures and tied two balloons at the base of them with the feeling that if Shelley had been there she would’ve hit him. Off one of the claw hand fingers he did a line of cocaine to try and capture a little of his begotten youth but it felt hollow, an echo of dalliances past.

Olivia made Roman wear one of his father’s ties: a cold blue striped with silver that made him look as sullen as he felt wandering through the midst of many guffawing board members tipsy from champagne and the way Hemlock Grove looked from the top of the building. From up there all of the snow laid down on the town’s rooftops looked like a long white blanket covering everything up. Roman leaned against the window, forehead pressed on the glass and breath fogging it up, and watched the snow glitter in the moonlight. Almost unconsciously he noticed it was a waxing moon.

“You looking for your balls?”

Roman started and spilled some of his drink on the window. He wiped the glass with the corner of his suit, turned around and faced the grinning Rumancek boy. Peter looked peculiar with Letha’s touch clinging to his tied back hair, his neat dress shirt tucked into a pair of slacks that, judging by the pins on the hem, belonged to Norman Godfrey. The line of his mouth was tight with compromise. In his hand Peter was holding a glass with something smelling sweet likely a mix drink a la Letha Godfrey. Roman had had enough cherry, soda and vodka mixes foisted on him to feel Peter’s pain.

“Nah,” he said, forced casualness sitting poorly in his posture. “I’m trying to find all the trees you’ve pissed on.”

“Ah, well,” Peter stepped beside Roman and pointed to a tree on the Godfrey Industries front lawn. “That one. Pissed on that one half a dozen times.”

He took a sip of his drink, glancing back at the dance floor. Peter putting his drink to his lips, the press of it making them pink, and drinking it with the line of his throat all there for Roman to gaze at made Roman feel a pinch in the back of his neck. He fumbled with his glass. This evening was turning out to be a problem and even if the plastic bag in his back pocket was still there for the jittery nerves nothing was going to make the grinding behind his eyes go away as long as Peter was there.

“You here with Letha?” Roman asked. Peter nodded and kept his gaze on the dance floor. Letha was out there, belly round and she grinned up at some family friend who was twirling her around. When Peter looked at her there was a lump in Roman’s throat. He patted his pocket to make sure the bag was still in there and took a slug of his whiskey.

“You know,” Peter said. “I didn’t want to come at first since your people are not really my people.”

“No shit?” Roman mumbled mockingly and didn’t look up from his drink to see Peter snort.

“But Letha said it would be fun,” he continued. He was looking into his drink, swirling it around with a hand in his pocket fiddling with something.

“She’s good at convincing me,” Peter said. His smile was that of a man who’d been promised a lot of sex. Roman rolled his eyes. “And she said, uh, she said you might want some company.”

“Well,” Roman said, shrugging. “She wasn’t wrong.”

Peter patted Roman’s shoulder. His hand was warm and Roman could smell the smoke of the Rumanceks’ trailer underneath the layer of Norman’s cologne. Olivia was wafting around the dance floor looking seductively festive in a red dress cut in low sweetheart neckline and spilling down in a full satin gown that shone under the gold lights. She glanced over at Roman, frowning when she saw his company. He raised his glass to her and winked.

Enjoy the fucking view, he thought.

“Look,” he said, turning to Peter. “I gotta take a piss. Join me?”

“Why?” Peter asked. “Need a tampon? Girl talk?”

“No,” Roman said and slid the bag of cocaine a little ways out of his pocket to show Peter. “Just need a lookout.”

Peter followed Roman through the crowd and down the clean medical hallway of the institute. He pushed open the door to the bathroom and glanced up. Someone had thought it would be funny to put mistletoe on the door frame. Peter grinned and reached up, flicking the mistletoe with one finger. Roman noted with distaste that Peter’s fingernails had not fallen under Letha’s scrutiny and so were still disgustingly long.

“Invite me for a different reason Roman?” he smirked at Roman who snorted. He pushed past the other boy and rolled up to the first sink. Turning on the faucet, he wet his fingers and pulled them through his hair, slicking it back and flicking what was left into Peter’s face. Peter came to lean his back on the sink next to Roman’s. He set his drink on the rim, arms crossed and Roman spied in his pocket something shiny.

“Whose watch is that?” he asked adjusting his tie. Peter grinned and pulled out a gold watch. The frame was inset with diamonds and the strap looked like it weighed nothing, just a fine weaving of metal. Roman imagined Peter’s rough hands moving swift and soft over the wrist of a well suited investor while shaking his hand and slipping the watch into his sleeve. He had the long fingers of thief. For a moment the urge to suck those fingers lingered in Roman’s mind but he packed it away with all the others like it.

“Someone who can buy another watch,” Peter said and put the watch back in his pants pocket. “So, what does the heir to the Godfrey fortune ask for on his Christmas list? Or, don’t tell me. You’re Jewish?”

“Lapsed Catholics,” Roman said and felt rather tired. “Wouldn’t step inside a church for shit but my mom likes to light the candles at the cathedral when she’s on a business trip.”

“She ever light one for Shelley?”

“What do you think?” Roman said and turned on his heel toward the stalls. They were lucky the bathroom was empty but that could probably be chalked up to it being the beginning of the party. By the close every stall would be full of exhibitionists getting blowjobs and other addicts snorting whatever they could get up their aristocratic noses. Roman chose the second to the last stall. He sat cross-legged on the floor with his knees bumping against the door and wall. Peter didn’t join him, still outside. He heard the taps turn on loud and thunderous.

He did one line with the feeling like a bolt of lightning in his head. Squeezing his eyes shut Roman could feel the way his heart beat pulsed through his veins, could taste the bloody mucus in the back of his throat. He coughed, loudly, and Peter shouted to ask if he was all right.

“I’m fucking fine,” he yelled back and stood up to push the stall door open. “What the fuck do you care?”

“Jesus Roman,” Peter said. “You’ve still got – on the top of your lip – “

Roman looked in the mirror and moved to wipe the little powder still under his nose. Peter got there first and used his thumb to wipe it off. With the drug thrumming through his body Roman could feel every ridge of Peter’s fingerprint on the soft of his lip. Not thinking he opened his mouth around it and there Peter’s thumb rested half against the top of his teeth and his upper lip. He was breathing on the under of Peter’s hand, the delicate webbing between his thumb and palm.

Peter took a deep breath but didn’t move his hand.

“Roman,” he said and Roman rushed forward to kiss Peter on the mouth. His hand crushed between their chests, Peter did not kiss back. Roman didn’t move to open his mouth, only pressed himself nearer. Both hands were scrunched on Peter’s shoulders as though if Roman held him tighter he could keep Peter longer and he refused to open his eyes. Finally he came up for air and could see what a mess he’d made. Peter was staring, wide eyed, with his hand still palm open and extended toward Roman.

“What,” he trailed off. Roman stood stiffly and looked everywhere but Peter’s face. He saw the mistletoe.

Fuck, he thought.

“Uh,” he said into the almost silent bathroom. “Merry Christmas Peter.”

He turned sharply and ran into a urinal.

“Ow,” he hissed through his teeth. His knee was a bright red light of pain and he curled over it. “Jesus motherfuckin’ Christ.”

“I don’t think you should say that,” Peter said. “It being so close to his birthday and all.”

“Do I look like I really give a shit about that?” Roman snapped and then turned red when he looked back at Peter from over his shoulder. “Uh. Yeah. So anyway, sorry and mer –“

“Roman,” Peter said.

“Look,” Roman stood up to his full height. “That was a mistake and I’m sorry. I know you’re like fucking in love with Letha or whatever so. Sorry I kissed you. I didn’t mean to be a fucking fag about it.”

“Roman,” Peter said again this time a little rougher and put both of his hands on the sides of Roman’s face. His palms felt like sandpaper. “Shut the fuck up.”

He jerked Roman’s head down and crushed his lips against the other boy’s. Immediately Roman opened his mouth to Peter letting him in with teeth sharp and tongue wet. Kissing Peter was like kissing a sink hole with the way his hands melded to the contours of Roman’s face, melting into his skin.

Swallow me whole, Roman thought, just swallow me. The thought was a spiral in his head and it made him hungrier, this idea of being consumed by Peter. He wanted to be inside him, eaten up and in his stomach: living in Peter’s body like a parasite. With one hand he reached and yanked Peter’s hair out of its pony tail, sank both of his hands into the thick of Peter’s hair. Maybe the smell of it would get under his fingernails so he would have Peter always in his hands. The thought was a delight to behold.

A loud knock rang out. Peter pulled back, a thin string of spit connecting his mouth and Roman’s. When a loud party goer came in, yelling and a little green around the gills, Roman slipped out behind him. He booked it from the party, not even remembering to the drugs he’d left in the bathroom stall. Peter, he supposed, went back to Letha. Roman went back to his empty house.

 

For Christmas Eve, the house was bare of any cheer. Roman was sitting in the living room watching Die Hard and eating a bag of the black licorice Norman always brought over for Olivia. He was mostly eating them out of spite since Olivia had hidden the keys to his car after he’d been absent at the holiday party and so until he found the stupid things he was bereft a way to get around town. It was just as well. After the disaster he’d brought down on himself Roman really hadn’t felt like doing anything but lying in a funk down in the drained swimming pool smoking and listening to The Smiths. The living room was a vast improvement. Maybe by Christmas Day he’d move into the dining room and actually eat something not made entirely of sugar.

He hadn’t said a word to Peter in the days since the party. Not even trusting himself to talk to Letha lest she ask him about the sudden distance between himself and Peter, Roman was only texting Ashley Valentine in a sort of vague and brooding way. Luckily she was a much better conversationalist than he was and filled the space with stories about her racist white grandmother. Roman texted her about how he and his mom were probably going to end up killing each other over the holiday so she should watch for that on the news.

As he was rummaging around his pile of things for a pack of cigarettes his phone buzzed. He didn’t check it and expected it was just Ashley telling him to stop being so creepy. Without looking he opened the message up. It was from Peter.

What are you doing?

Roman frowned. He typed out a reply, deleted all of it and then wrote something else.

nothing. u?

Peter took five minutes to reply during which Roman wanted to yell over the phone what the hell took five minutes to type out.

At Destiny’s drinking her mulled wine. She asked about you.

Oh did you tell her I kissed you while high as a fucking kite? he thought, did you tell her about how you kissed me back?

cool

Roman wanted to chuck his phone into the garbage disposal. Cool? The best he could come up with was cool. Even Shelley could text better than he could.

Okay.

So it was over now. One word sentences meant the conversation was over. Roman didn’t text back. He ate the rest of the licorice and texted Ashley about if she knew anyone with a good connection for sedatives because if he could sleep through the next day that would be a true Christmas miracle. Peter didn’t text again until an hour later.

Thanks for the Christmas gift by the way. Loved the part where you ran away.

Roman frowned, then rubbed the screen of his phone with his thumb. The smell of Peter on his hands had worn off before he’d gotten to really do anything about it but that hadn’t stopped him from jerking off to the memory, to the idea of a permanent mark of Peter on him.

whatever its nbd i was just high

The reply was instantaneous.

What does nbd mean?

it means no big deal

Roman put his phone down and got up to get another bag of Olivia’s licorice. When he got back Peter had replied again.

I think it was a big deal.

maybe that’s bc u r a first class gaylord

It was a stupid thing to say but Roman didn’t really feel like now was the time to chat about latent homosexuality. Christmas was a time of shutting your fucking mouth and keeping a lid on everything that might make waves. If Peter wanted to make Roman out to be some sort of queer ass fairy for kissing him in the men’s bathroom then he could do that on December twenty sixth.

At least I’m first class.

And what if Peter actually meant that it was a big deal. What if the conversation he wanted to have was more along the lines of “We should reconsider our friendship because I’m in love with Letha and you are in the way” than a sort of confession of romantic intent. Peter wasn’t a fucking queer and probably didn’t jack off to the smell of Roman’s hair like a freak.

yeah u r a blue ribbon gaylord congrats

Roman changed the channel to Home Alone not really watching the movie so much as staring at his phone like he wanted to slowly, carefully just swallow it whole. In his ribs it felt like someone had started to squeeze his lungs.

mayb u can stop txting me about this now ok???

Please stop fucking texting me about this, he thought.

Okay.

The squeezing loosened, barely, and Roman ate another piece of licorice. In one pocket he had a razor and fuck if he didn’t want to at least cut a little something on his thigh or maybe even on his upper arm. Just something to bleed some of the bullshit feelings out of his body.

thnx n’ merry xmas u filthy animal

Merry Christmas Roman.

It was snowing outside in Hemlock Grove while Roman set his phone down, laid back on the couch and worked his razor into the thin skin of his forearm. Humming Jingle Bells he slid a finger across and wiped the blood on his lips. Upstairs he heard his mother walking around in Shelley’s room. His tongue darted out, cleaning up the blood and the knots in his guts started to untie.

Roman closed his eyes and imagined kissing Peter again. He imagined the hot and unwavering press of him until it felt real enough to drown out the rest of the season.