Josie was already starting small-talk. “How are you?”

“Fine,” he said quietly, pulling his hand back down and taking a big sip of his drink. Trying to look casual. “You?”

“Actually, I was hoping to come in for a checkup soon, because I think I have something going on…” As Josie talked, Alex’s eyes drifted to their own drink. He honestly couldn’t tell if they were drinking a cupful of plain water or hard liquor. Both options seemed equally realistic, both equally upsetting. “But I’ll talk about it when I visit, it’s kind of gross anyway.”

“Fine by me.” His eyes felt like they were going to pop out of his head; his internal demon was desperate to be a part of this conversation. He couldn’t hold it in. “What are you drinking?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” they said cheerfully.

‘Wow, the most worrying possible response!’ he thought to himself.

But himself had something to say: ‘It’s the holidays and they’re having a hard time, don’t be an asshole. Just let me handle this, alright?’

Alex tried his best to put his little mental devil back in the box, but it was all already tumbling out: “So what’ve you been up to, doll?” It had begun – he was out of control now, watching from the passenger seat of his own body as it all spun towards the inevitable crash.

“Oh, you know,” they said, stirring the little plastic straw in their drink. “Being sick. Nothing new.”

“Whatever you have, it must be contagious, because I’m love-sick for you,” he said with enough unearned confidence to silence the crowd if he had said it any louder. ‘NO! DUMB!’

Josie was silent for a while, seemingly staring, and then suddenly erupted into giggles. “Oh my goodness, you’re so cute,” they said, pinching his cheek. “Would you want to go back to your room later?” Alex was nervous – their demeanor was suddenly completely different. What was going on?

“Sure, and then I can show you something else that’s cute.” WINK. ‘What the hell do you mean by that?!’ “I mean my butt.” WINK.

“I’d love to see that,” they said. Then – and Alex just watched this all in slow motion as everything came apart – they reached one gloved hand delicately out to tap his nose, and they followed up: “Bring your scalpel and you can open up your present.”

Alex’s eyes flickered downward. Jesus, they were wearing a ribbon around their waist! It was way too much. Despite his other side’s best efforts, an ear-splitting scream was rupturing out of his mouth. “AUUUUGH! GROSS!” And then he threw his cup of eggnog – he swore he was aiming for the ground – but it spilled all over Josie’s dress.

Josie screamed. Alex screamed, again. Then he must have vomited, at some point, because everyone would remember this as the party that he threw up at for years to come. Then he ran for the bathroom.