If Race had had a choice, he probably wouldn't have picked peach schnapps. The sickly sweet liquor had coated his tongue and his teeth had that horrible fuzzy feeling that was reminiscent of too much Halloween candy. The bottle was on the floor next to him, half empty and settled precariously in the small pile of dirty laundry that his mother had been after him to clean up for weeks now. The Grinch was showing on the small TV in the corner, he'd swiped it from the attic, but he'd set it on mute so he could stare hard at the snow that was drifting by the window.
He couldn't sleep, despite the warm laziness brought on by the schnapps. Christmas eve. Sleepless hours were familiar on December 24th (it wasn't quite twelve yet), but normally it was born out of the excited anxiety of a child waiting impatiently for presents, and eggnog and the cookies he could sneak before dinner if his mother was too busy mashing potatoes. This year, however, the anxiety wasn't that pleasant restlessness in his gut, the kind that made you toss and turn, and grin at the ceiling and huff little sighs as you tried not to peer at the digital clock on your bedside table, hoping that it's red glare will ease that horrible, wonderful twist in your stomach - but no, it's always earlier than you think - ten instead of eleven, eleven thirty instead of twelve.
This time around, he would glance and time would be moving faster than he wanted. When his parents woke up there wouldn't be anything to ease the tension between them, not even his little brother singing carols and banging away at the piano, or the cheap but well intentioned presents Race had purchased and shoved, messily wrapped, under the tree. This particular fight had been a nasty one. Money. It was always about money.
Race sniffed once and reached for the bottle of schnapps. He didn't even care about the smaller pile of presents under the tree. He'd swiped the schnapps from his mother's cabinet because his mother had called his father a cheap bastard and his father had thrown his glass of punch at the wall, terrifying them all into silence. They didn't used to fight like this - his mother had sobbed on the phone to her sister later, when she'd thought Race had shut himself in his room upstairs - just a few years ago things had been better, but then dad had had to find a new job and it didn't pay too great and Race's brother was still too little for her to work full time and-
Race had stopped eavesdropping at that point, choosing instead to disappear upstairs with the schnapps.
He slurped at the bottle and his nose wrinkled up tight as that thick sweetness crossed his tongue again. The snow was coming down harder and it was probably the muffling affect it had that kept Race from hearing the car that snuck up the driveway. The distant clatter of someone climbing up the lattice, however, was obvious and it made Race pause. One drunken giggle escaped him.
Another giggle, but he pushed awkwardly to his feet and crossed to the window. As expected, Spot Conlon came clambering in as soon as Race slid the window up and tumbled to the floor, snow shaking off his bare head and narrow shoulders. "Merry Christmas, Race," he said from his spot on the now wet carpet, "that schnapps?"
"Yeah." He brought the bottle down from his lips so Spot could snag it and give it a sniff. He made a face.
"Peach? You fairy."
"Fuck you," Race responded amiably as he turned to go back to his spot with his back at the bed, next to the laundry. Spot took a slurp and smacked his lips.
"Shit that is foul." He sat up and unzipped his thin jacket so he could shrug it off, shaking his head like a wet dog. "You couldn't have grabbed the Jack?"
"My dad took it." And was probably still holed up in the TV room, watching infomercials and muttering to himself.
Spot really looked at him at that. He tossed the jacket in the corner and scooted back on the carpet until he was sitting next to Race against the side of the bed. Race could feel the heat radiating off his wiry body and it made him bite his lip hard. He shifted a little to the right so the were pressed together, side-to-side. He didn't care how wet Spot's t-shirt was. "They fighting again?" Race just nodded mutely, looking hard at the window again. After a moment, Spot's arm settled over Race's bony shoulders. "What was it this time?"
"Is it ever anything different?"
"Sometimes it's over you guys," he said as though that were somehow funny. Race reached over and punched him in the thigh. Spot made a choked sound and rubbed the spot. "Sorry."
"Heard my mom crying." He took another slurp of the schnapps.
"Shit." Spot took the bottle from him again for another long draw. Race felt a surge of gratitude, even as Spot smacked his lips again. It tasted like shit, and Spot didn't even like getting drunk, but Race was drunk and it was harder to be sad-sack drunk if you had someone else to be drunk with. He pressed closer again and let his head drop to Spot's shoulder.
"Apparently my dad pawned that watch he got from gramps when his uncle died." His tongue felt furry and he dragged one socked toe through a patch of snow Spot had tracked in.
"Your parents are good people," Spot said gruffly, his voice rumbling through Race's head where his ear was resting close to the boy's throat. "They take care of you little bastards, even if it's a pain in the ass sometimes."
Race scowled. "You're a prick. Was that supposed to make me feel better?"
"Hey, at least you got parents."
Race straightened and shrugged Spot's arm off his shoulders. "Listen, I didn't even ask you to come over, so if we're going to start playing who's life is shittier..." He was so not interested and he leaned away from Spot to drive the point home.
"My life is definitely shittier," Spot said around the mouth of the bottle.
"Spot, what the fuck."
"Race." He shifted so he was facing the boy, blue eyes sharp and not amused. "I'm sorry your mom was cryin'. And I'm sorry it's Christmas and they were fighting, but your parents are good people and they ain't gonna do anything that hurts you or your brother and you know it. People got it real bad all over right now and Christmas just makes it worse." He quirked one eyebrow at Race, sending him a look. "You know how I feel about Christmas."
Race continued to glare at the window. Bastard snow. Bastard Christmas. Bastard recession with it's bastard pay cuts. "What if they get divorced?"
"They ain't gonna get divorced, Race. You remember that valentine's when your mom was stuck in jersey lookin' after your grandma and your dad worked a whole weekend overtime so he could get the train tickets for you and your brother and him to go stay with her too? They ain't gonna get divorced."
Race's shoulders slumped and he glanced back at Spot - just for a second - and then at the drifting snow again. Then Spot, then the snow, then Spot, then the snow, then Spot and before he could look away again, he was being kissed. "You worry like an old woman," Spot murmured affectionately against his mouth, one dirt stained hand resting warm and damp against Race's cheek.
"It is my family," he grouched back just as the Grinch was stealing the Christmas tree and shoving it up the chimney. Blast this Christmas music! It's joyful and triumphant!
"Yeah, and you got one. And they got you, and they're damn lucky." Spot kissed him one more time before pulling back and sticking his tongue out. "Shit, you taste like peach schnapps. You gotta go brush your teeth if you want any more of that."
"Oh you're staying the night?" Race asked dryly as he rolled to his feet, "Merry Christmas to me."
A pair of boxers (gross, dirty) hit him in the face and surprised a laugh out of him. But he went out the door after tossing the boxers back and went to brush his teeth. A soft murmuring, however, stopped him at the top of the stairs and he paused to listen. Unable to make out what was being said, Race carefully descended a few steps until he could peer down into the living room. His mother and father were sitting on the couch, the room lit only by the lights off the tree, talking very quietly and very earnestly. Their hands were clasped between them, their knees brushing, and even though her cheeks were wet, his mother was clearly trying not to smile.
Race felt tears burn his eyes and he sat back on the stairs, head set in his hand, elbow on his knee. He sat and listened to them talk, his heart swelling up into his throat at the low sound of his father's laugh. He must have lost track of time because a hand on his shoulder startled him out of his relieved daydream - lulled into a half sleep at the comforting sound of his parents' quiet conversation.
"Hey," Spot said quietly in his ear as he sat behind him, knees on either side of Race's torso, his other hand smoothing down his hair. "Thought you were gonna brush your teeth."
"They're talking," he said instead of answering. He felt Spot smile against his hair.
"Told you, dumb ass."
Race reached back to pinch his bony ribs and Spot muffled a yelp. "Come on," Race said as he carefully pushed to his feet, sliding his hand in the other boy's to pull him up as well, "I'll really brush my teeth this time."
"Eh, whatever." Spot started them both back toward Race's bedroom instead. "I finished off the bottle while you were out here. Don't think I'll even notice, now." And indeed there was a slight slur in his speech.
"Maybe we should just sleep, then," Race pointed out as they slipped back into his room and he shut the door behind him. But Spot was pulling him to the bed with the kind of eagerness that didn't imply sleep, and when they both tumbled into the pile of mussed blankets, and Spot kissed him again, the peach schnapps made him smile. A new tradition, maybe. Too bad his teeth still felt fuzzy.