Chapter Three

            He hated Christmas carols. I remember that. He would wrench the door open with his long lean arms and stare icily down at the people huddled in their chunky coats and knit hats and he would growl softly that they were off-key and that it was ruining his eardrums which he needed thankyouverymuch, and he would stand there teaching them the proper notes to "O Come All Ye Faithful" until his lips turned blue and his fingers numb. Then I would shoo the carolers away and drag him back into our room where I would hand him mug after mug of steaming hot chocolate which he would refuse, saying that it was bad for his throat, and I would roll my eyes at him and he would laugh and take it back.

            I didn't have anymore hot chocolate. I couldn't afford it.

            Come to think of it, I could hardly afford heat too. And sooner or later, I wouldn't be able to pay the Christmas carolers too. All I could do was sit in my apartment, watch my breath form clouds in the frigid air, and remember the way his voice would sound in the mornings, crisp and cool and sweet as peppermint candy. And how I would protest sleepily as he would fling my bedsheets and blankets up up up into the cold air and I would curl up and screw my eyes shut hoping for another wink of sleep, but he would sing again, loudly, random jingles and annoying ham radio picks, until I would roll out of bed and stagger to the bathroom.

            I missed him so badly it hurt. A sharp, physical ache.

            And now it was Christmas and I was crying over the song he had written about us when our apartment had turned a year old.

            Ever since he moved to that uptown apartment and started socializing with uptown people and performing for uptown audiences, I saw less and less of him. That is, unless I scraped together enough money and skipped enough meals to see one of his plays. There he would be, on stage, dressed in whatever you want it to be, from drag queen corsets and mile-high mullets, to ripped t-shirts and black eyeliner, to refined business suits with accompanying briefcase and omnipresent cellphone. There he would be, my chameleon best friend, singing and smiling and charming and cavorting his way to fame. There he would be, singing everything from love songs to funeral requiems to bawdy beer songs.

            And when the curtain fell, I would always be the first to clap, the first to stand. Of course, everyone else followed.

            He left me a number, I remembered that, and I dialed it over and over and over again from the corner payphone, my fingers turning blue under the thin mittens I cut out of kitchen towels. Over and over again, to hear a polite woman's voice telling me that the number was inaccessible at the moment and could you please try again later because your one and only best friend is too busy talking to people who are way more important and way more powerful and way richer than you will ever be, you sad little thing.

            And now it was Christmas, and I was crying into a payphone and a number that was forever busy.

            I tried one more time. I always do. This time I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and sang our song under my breath. I sang about greasy ramen noodles and walks through a playground at midnight. I sang about peppermint mornings and a boy with a voice as beautiful as the dawn. I sang about how much I loved him and how I hoped this call would get through because if the pretty operator lady told me to try again I would go home and spend Christmas hopelessly drunk.

            Operator lady came back on the line and repeated the same message over and over and over as I dropped the phone and ran off to the nearest liquor store.

            Hours later, I was red-eyed and red-nosed and blue-fingered and blue-lipped. Johnny Walker lay on the floor and scotch and gin and rum splayed out in a marvelous alcoholic frenzy as I slumped down beside my typewriter that did nothing but serve as a very ugly paperweight. I was just wondering if I should go back for another six-pack when my door resounded with knocks.

            I slurred the most unwelcome sentence I could think of at that moment, what with my brain addled and all. And I waved my arms heavily at the door, fell over and lay there wondering what he was doing now and who he must be having dinner with and oh god, does he miss me too? But I hear keys at the door and that worries me only slightly because when you're drunk you don't care you don't care and the keys turn in the lock and my eyes widen because there is only one other person on this earth with keys to this apartment.

            Flat on the floor I watch the door swing open and a pair of shiny beautiful boots walk in lightly and I hear a voice so familiar it almost made me cry again. I hear that voice carry above my heavy head and I imagine him staring down at me prone on the floor surrounded by oh-so-lovely poisons-of-choice, I hear him curse slowly and softly, and I hear amusement in his voice as he scoops up the bottle sin his long lean arms and carries them away, no where are you taking Johnny?

            "Pining for me, are you?" he laughs in my ear as he scoops me up like he did the bottles and half-drags me to the rumpled bed leaning against the far away wall and I mumble "Hell yeah." up at him with his lopsided grin and pale skin that never tanned and he puts me down among the old pillows and unchanged sheets and I grimace and he notices that he rolls me out of bed and as I lie contentedly on the floor staring up at his outrageously expensive-looking clothes he changes the bedsheets and fluffs the pillows and replaces me on the bed as if I was a favorite toy.

            I close my eyes and lose myself in his new scent of pine needles and rain from so far away and I sort of miss his old scent of soap and grass, but then again maybe not since this one is obviously much more expensive and I say nothing more as alcohol takes over and turns everything to black. But before I fall into that lovely sweet sleep I feel the bed sink beneath added weight and a warmth beside me and I don't question this because I know it is him and there is no one else I would rather be with right now and for ever.

            And I knew that tomorrow morning would be just like the other mornings and I would expect the bedsheets flung high into the air and his voice singing me a wake-up call like nothing else I've ever heard. I found myself dreaming that he had come back for good.