Tony woke to the early grey pre-dawn curling across the floorboards. He pulled in his limbs where they'd crept out from under the pile of blankets and tucked them up into the small pocket of warmth created by his body. He rubbed his cold-numbed nose against the pillow, inhaling the scent of shampoo and cologne and probably (if he admitted it to himself) drool. In his half-muddled, sleepy state, it didn't register just why he'd woken up so early until he stretched out an arm and, instead of another sleepy body, encountered a lumpy object that crackled under his fingers.
His eyes popped open. In the head-shaped hollow of Sean's pillow lay a small package wrapped up in gold paper and a cheap stick-on bow. The crackling noise was his fingers pushing against the stiff curls of ribbon.
Groaning, Tony rolled over, the blankets following down past his bare shoulders and chest, and stared at the alarm clock on the end table by his side of the bed. The red numbers said 5:37. A whole seven hours until he had to get ready for work. They weren't ten-year-olds anymore; he could wait until past dawn to open his present on Christmas morning. He pulled the blankets back into a cave over his head, fully prepared to sleep for a few more hours, when the people in the apartment next door turned on their American Idol Christmas CD. They had a ten-year-old and obviously were of the opinion that if they had to be awake, so did the rest of the floor.
Tony cursed in two languages at the fucking neighbors and their shitty taste in music. He added a third language to the mix when he heard laughter from the other room.
"Goddammit, Sean, I was gonna get to sleep in for once," he growled past the sleep-burs in his throat.
"World's smallest violin," Sean said pointedly.
"Fucker," Tony muttered. He took a bracing breath and tumbled out of the covers. Immediately his skin pebbled in the winter air, from the nape of his neck to the waist of his underwear where it was settled low around his hips, and down his limbs. He hobbled across the floorboards to the dresser and fought the top drawer open. It finally gave with the protesting shriek of unoiled hinges or fingernails across a chalkboard. Minutes later he was feeling much better in a pair of old sweats, and hopping from foot to foot as he wrestled on a pair of thick socks. He still wasn't ready to forgive the world for waking him up against his will, but he was starting to feel the childish enjoyment of Christmas bubbling up inside him.
The present on their bed called out to him and he shimmied across the mattress until he was kneeling over it, hands placed on either side of the package. Tony glanced at the open doorway leading from the bedroom to the main room of their apartment, but there was no one there to yell at him not to open anything until the whole family was gathered. As a child that had been torture; sometimes it had taken over an hour to gather the various relatives and get them into the same room. Now, seventeen years later, he could do whatever he wanted, and he still had to stifle the impulse to run and knock on his parents' door.
His blunt fingers made quick work of the wrapping, the faint noise of tearing paper lost in the strains of Clay Aiken singing White Christmas and Sean rattling dishes in the kitchenette. A grin made short work of the lingering frown at the corners of his mouth, as he brought the package up to his nose and inhaled until his nostrils ached from the dry cold. The scent of cigarette cloves seeped into the air until he could taste it when he licked his lips.
There was a small gift card no bigger than his palm among the paper. The scrawled, familiar writing on it simply said, "Merry Christmas." It was signed, "Secret Santa." Tony left the golden-papered mess on the bed and moved to stand in the doorway.
If not for the short, light-strewn tree in the apartmentin the corner farthest from the heater, to prevent the plastic needles from melting, like they'd learned the hard way one yearhe might not have been able to tell it was Christmas. Neither he nor Sean went in much for the holiday stuff now that they were away from home. At first Tony had tried the whole deal, with holly and mistletoe and elaborate meals, but it had felt forced. Sean was much happier with their simplified traditions and Tony was just as happy to spend that money on presents to send his nieces and nephews.
Right now Sean was at the kitchen table, feet propped up on a stool near the heater. He was all lanky, wiry muscles and freckled skin in one of his white t-shirts and jeans. One of his socks had scrunched down and the toe was flopping limply as he moved his foot in time to the music from the other apartment. He was reading the comic strips in the paper.
Blinking away the tenderness on his face, Tony slid into the chair opposite Sean and reached for the front page. He found that he still had the carton of cigarettes clutched in his hand. Sean gave them a brief glance before going back to Garfield.
"Fancy shit," he said.
"Yeah," Tony agreed. "From some import shop, looks like."
"They that pansy clove stuff you like?"
Tony laughed. "Yes. And who are you calling a pansy, pansy? Who was sucking whose dick last night?"
Sean flicked him off from behind his section of paper. "I might suck dick, but at least I don't smoke girly clove cigarettes." The way he said "clove cigarettes" implied that he thought they were on par with glitter lipstick, stuffed animals, and the Olsen twins.
Tony dug a nail into the plastic wrapping the carton and retrieved one of the offending cigarettes. He tilted his chair back until he could reach the counter with one stretched arm and palm his lighter. Taking a deep drag, he let the lingering cold melt from his bones and the scent of smoke permeate the air as the sun crept through the gaps in the blinds.
He'd fetch his present for Sean in a little bit and watch him open it while smoking another cigarette. They'd both pretend that Tony's gift came from some outside source, whoever Secret Santa was. That was the way Sean was; he could do all kinds of sappy shit like hunting down Tony's favorite obscure brand of cigarettes, as long as he could pretend that he had nothing to do with it. Tony had eight years' worth of secret santa cards tucked away in a back corner of the closet, where Sean wouldn't find them and tease him mercilessly about keeping.
Sean's hair was beginning to gleam in the morning sunlight. Tony scooted his chair around the table and insinuated his feet onto the stool with Sean's. Sean pressed their thighs together. They both listened as the CD in the next apartment looped and started from the beginning.
"Merry Christmas," Tony said around an exhalation of smoke.
Sean's fingers curled around the back of Tony's neck and shook gently. "Merry fucking Christmas."