Outside, the snow melts silver, burned by the rain.

Inside, you smile, lips cracked, tea tipping the edge; I watch the flow, as the liquid feeds you, fiery fuel, so red, so brown, like autumn leaves. It calms you, steam still roiling from the glass brim. Smoke comes from your mouth; you are not immune, but still let it burn your tongue. With your feline eyes and narrow face, you look like a dragon; the smoke stops.

It is chilly, but you say nothing of it; merely draw your jacket closer, fingers shivering. Your hand is white, and still soft; even after all the work done with those hands, they have remained fine—you have said, many times, that you are cursed with good skin, skin that stays smooth and pale. You have said before, that you love the black of your hair—like ink—and the blue of your eyes, electric. You are brilliant, shining in the dark; you almost do not belong here, in this room so dim.

Hot chocolate? you ask me, just in case.

Of course.

Years have passed, but some things don't change.

Like you—you and your crow-feather hair. Your hard blue eyes. That skin like snow.

The tea floating in your glass, it's still brown, yellow, red—autumn. Hongcha, black tea. No sugar, no milk. Like your pen, it is bitter; that pen that strikes the yellowed paper, dripping fountain ink. You prefer the beautiful black, because it is dark and solid.

I turn on the light without asking; your room is too gray, too gloomy. It is like you now, for things change. I have not seen that smile of yours, sunshine white, that beamed from all corners—have not seen it for so, so long. The last time I saw you, you were smiling a sad smile—melancholy, so that crystal bells sounded in my ears. Nostalgia. That aching, sweet thing. We had had many years, but—there is a fork in the road, and we think differently, as nature wills. You took the path of black and white, and a little gray; I took the path of the rainbow swills, so that I could always shine.

It must be lonely, to be a writer.

Yes, you reply; but it is worth it.

A smile; you continue—There are people like you.... You're still here.

I feel a little guilty, but love that smile, curving your tired face; I have only seen it in our few photos—you were never one for the camera—resounding against the four walls. Now you are here, and you are old; you have grown. I think I still love you, the way Clinton loved André. I think you might feel the same. Do you?

But I do not say it, and you do not say it, only give me the mug, steaming. You have learned a thing or two from the Italians; it shows, the way, the foam floats at the surface. It sinks slowly to froth; so you left us for this. You left me for this. The Greeks, the Italians—this magic of turning our trashy American beverage into snazzy Mediterraneans. I like it, a little.

What've you been doing? I murmur, almost whispering; I cannot help it, but I am not angry. I've read your first book, nothing more.

Beer, you tell me, refilling your tea; even as you speak, you pick up that pen, jotting little notes on the paper spilled over your desk. Italy. Greece. Spain. Germany. Austria. You go on and on, flourishing the names; you've even been to Russia, and tramped through Siberia: It was cold there. Really cold. I boarded a weeklong train with three Russian men. Did you know that Russians sleep naked?—they sleep buck naked, with furs over their bodies.

I cringe, inwardly. How was it?

Scary, you say coolly, though with a faint grin.

And I think, as you sip your tea—they once thought us boyfriend and girlfriend. But I'm dating now, and you will never know how it feels. I chose love, because it chose me; but you, you repelled love, and walked away smiling. Did you ever like anyone that way?—when we were students, slamming lockers together. The hallways were ours then. All ours.

The test of time never was easy.

You sigh, putting your pen down; it clatters. Your papers have gone gray, smudged at the edges. How did you like my book? you say.

I think about it. Then I reply: It's very...interesting.

You flare your nostrils, huffing, but say nothing; then you add a smile, to show that it was light.

You know I love you, I say feebly.

I know you do, you reply, glowing. That's why my first book was about you. I blink—it was? So you summarize what I already know, with a flourish—A platonic friendship, and platonic throughout; others beg to differ, so there is only defense. The Russian bear and the Chinese princess, who go to Greece and never part; never, ever.

Selfcest? I say, almost laughing; you are Chinese and Vietnamese and something else long forgotten; you told me that once, when you believed yourself to be Russian. Because your eyes are so blue, too blue; more German than Russian, but you hold your beliefs tight.


Moron, I say back.

You know what? you say, pen in hand; the ink has stained your fingers, and the nib is already dancing. I am.

Then you write some more; for a moment, I almost understand why you chose this morbid life; so lonely, with nothing but the tree excrement and smell of ink, the familiar scratching of the surface. You love this art of creating, spinning with black love.

And how well do I know you.

I watch you as you write, tears swimming in your eyes, sparkling cobalt; one moment, they are there, but you turn away and wipe them, before I can say anything.

You left me a while, I think. But you would not let me go. And you know, very well, that I will never let go of you...

When I say goodbye, you choke a little, and I choke a little; but we shake, we hug, and I take my leave.