Of Ego and Eggnog
"What are you doing here, anyway?" Race asked, glancing sideways at Spot. Who, despite his well-known disdain of all things Manhattan, was standing against the wall of Nine Duane’s dining hall, watching the holiday proceedings with a smug expression. "Shouldn’t you be off mugging someone in Brooklyn?"
"Shouldn’t you be sitting at the kiddy table? Wait—my mistake, you ain’t ten years old, you just look it."
"You didn’t answer my question," Race said, ignoring the insult. If he hadn’t known how to ignore insults, he’d absolutely never have managed tot talk to Spot—something most people avoided. The self-proclaimed leader of Brooklyn and top newsboy in all of New York had a reputation for being less than kind, and most people avoided him whenever possible.
Spot shrugged. "Better food here," he said. "Why—you gonna try and throw me out?"
Race laughed. "Yeah, I’m feelin’ suicidal," he said. "Nothin’ like spending Christmas bleedin’ in an alleyway."
Spot smirked. "Then mind your own business."
"Whatever. Try not to make anyone cry, though, wouldja?"
"Kelly send you over to tell me that?"
"No." Race drew himself up to his full height, as short as that was. "This is my home. You ain’t welcome to come in and cause trouble on Christmas. I don’t need Jack to tell me that."
To his surprise, Spot simply raised an eyebrow and said, "What makes you think I want trouble?"
"You always want trouble." Race waited for some kind of backlash, some kind of verbal assault that would make him wish he hadn’t even tried, but Spot shrugged.
"It’s Christmas, Higgins. I even brought you a present."
Spot’s smile, Race noted, was slightly crooked and really quite nice, which was odd, because when Spot smiled it was generally disconcerting. Like now, when he should have been threatening to soak Higgins ten ways to Sunday, and but instead was smiling at him with obvious amusement.
"What’s that?" Race asked suspiciously.
"Go get us some a’ that eggnog," Spot ordered.
"You want your present or not? Go on."
Shrugging, Race did so. He was suspicious—Spot was not known for his generosity, and the only person in the lodging house who he was even really friends with was Jack (but Jack was busy entertaining David in front of the fireplace, and not paying attention to much else). On the other hand, he was not going to turn down a present pretty much ever (being dirt poor made anything free a prize), and besides, Spot’s smile hadn’t been mean, just kind of amused.
Race grabbed two glasses of eggnog, provided by Kloppman to celebrate the holiday. He hurried back and offered one to Spot, who shook his head. "One second. I’m betting old man Kloppman didn’t put in none of this," he said, and produced a flask from his pocket.
Race’s eye lit up. "No kiddin’," he murmured.
Spot poured generous portions of the light amber liquid (which Race assumed was rum) into the glasses, pocketed his flask, and took his drink from Race. "Well, drink up," he said. "That’s your present. You got the balls to talk to me, you get the chance to drink with me."
"Some ego you got there, Conlon," Race said.
"Just drink it," Spot answered.
Race shrugged. He wasn’t going to turn down the drink, Spot’s ego notwithstanding. So he clinked glasses with Spot and took a swallow—and almost gagged. "How much a’ that stuff did you pour in here?"
"Enough," Spot said elusively.
"Enough to what, drown a rhinoceros?"
"You even know what a rhinoceros is?"
"Do you?" Race returned.
"Yeah, it’s a big...gray...has a horn," Spot said. "Shut up and drink your drink."
Race laughed. Spot, when he wasn’t glowering and threatening to do someone injury, wasn’t entirely horrible. This time, he braced himself before drinking and got down a few swallows of the drink, then a few more. Spot didn’t say much, just drank his own, and next thing Race knew, he was staring at the bottom of his cup.
"Enough to keep warm if we take a walk," Spot said finally.
Racetrack blinked, not sure what he was talking about for a second. But Spot started to walk away without saying anything else, and Race hurried after him, and they only paused to grab their coats and scarves. Race’s limbs felt kind of numb and he wasn’t seeing the world quite clearly. He realized distantly he might have been drunk. He wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but Spot had poured in an awful lot of rum, and Race didn’t drink very often because he couldn’t afford to.
Even so, despite what Spot had said, the cold winter air was a shock. His head cleared for a few seconds, then the cotton settled back down into it. Spot was lighting up a cigarette, and sat down on the stoop. Race sat next to him. "Why’d you come out here? You ain’t walkin’."
"Too many people inside," Spot said.
"Too many people for what?"
"For this." Spot shifted his cigarette from lips to fingers and kissed Race quickly on the lips. "You gonna do anything stupid like tell anyone about that?"
"That would be pretty stupid," Race agreed. "Gimme a drag."
"I already gave you a present," Spot said, but he was smiling that weird, nice smile of his again, and surrendered the cigarette to Race.
Sucking in smoke and air cleared his head again, enough to consider things a little, at least. "Jack know you’re queer?" he asked.
"Yeah," Spot said, and chuckled. "Jacky-boy figured that one out."
Race wondered what that meant but didn’t ask. His usual smart replies were all failing him. He decided that was the alcohol again.
Spot held out his hand for the cigarette, and as he smoked produced the flask again. "There’s a little left in here," he mused, and handed it to Racetrack. "Merry Christmas."
Race unscrewed the cap clumsily, but hesitated. "You always get guys drunk before you kiss ‘em?"
"Only the first time."
"There gonna be a second time?"
Spot shrugged. "Pretty much up to you, ain’t it?"
"I...oh," Race said. "Wait, what’s my Christmas present, the rum or kissin’ you?"
"Oh, me, definitely."
"Some ego you got, Conlon."
"Sure is," Spot answered. "An’ if you’ll hurry up and drink the rest of that, I’ll show you some of the other stuff I’m great at, besides hitting people and yelling at ‘em."
Race laughed. "Well, that I want to see," he said, and drank the last few bitter swallows. He handed the flask back to Spot and took a deep breath. It promised to be a pretty good Christmas.