“All right,” said Malcolm, drawing his knees up to his chest, “who’s first?”
The bottle of brandy set in the midst of them had been pilfered from the dean’s private stash, but since he wasn’t strictly supposed to have it there in the first place, Reginald had argued, there’d be little chance of his making a commotion upon finding it gone. Of course, he’d made this argument only after showing up in the dormitory’s small third-story common room with the purloined spirits, at which point old adages about begging forgiveness and asking permission suddenly seemed quite relevant. He was the most rakish of the lot, and indeed of the whole college; he was here on scholarship, on account of his brilliance at engineering, which covered steep tuition the other young men’s parents coughed up every semester. The other lads never let him forget it, but he in turn never let them forget how his name looked listed above theirs when exam results were posted. He was there because his parents couldn’t afford the train ride home from more than once a year.
Gautam tossed another log on the fire, though it didn’t stop his shivering. “I don’t understand why we are doing this again.” He was there because by the time he’d traveled all the way home to Madras, he would have had only enough time to remark on how he didn’t celebrate Christmas anyway before turning on his heel and starting the journey right back to his volumes of poetry.
“It’s tradition, yeah?” Izzy was another non-celebrant, though Hebraic where Gautam was Hindu. He was also an American, though, and thus had similar reasons for remaining over the winter holidays, his nose in his books of anatomy. “Read about it. Dickens and the Ghosts of Christmas What-Have-You. Not such a thing back home, so far as I can tell, but hey, when in Rome, right?”
Malcolm was a pedant by nature, but nevertheless refrained from pointing out that they weren’t in Rome, but in Sheffield. He himself had no family to return to. “It’s a tradition,” he confirmed, reaching for the brandy and taking a swift swig. It burned inside him, sending warmth spreading out to the farthest reaches of his extremities, even though he knew it made his cheeks flush and all the freckles dotting his fair skin that much more visible. “It’s just what you do on Christmas Eve.”