Time in NYC

He had Alex now, he thought. He wouldn’t feel those old pangs. But the loneliness greeted him like a—well, not so much like an old friend. But. You know. Like loneliness.

Amos Barshad is a journalist currently living in London. He’s written for The Fader...

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At the signing of the lease, neither Leo nor Alex found Nikoloz immediately impressive. He was of average build, trending to paunchy; wore his gray, stringy hair in a kind of a shag, loose tufts surrounding a bald stretch on the crown of his head; and sat in a big couch-chair and smoked constantly—Kents, which he happily sucked down to the filter. They were indoors, in an estate agent’s office, but for some reason no one made him stop.

“Whatever you need, Nikoloz will take care of it,” Joseph, the landlord, said. “Nikoloz is always around the flat. Nikoloz will always be there for you.”

“You alright,” Nikoloz said.

Leo and Alex were new to London. They didn’t yet know that “you alright” was a thing people said without expecting any kind of answer.

“Sorry?” Leo said.

“You don’t hear good?” Nikoloz said.

“No, I hear OK.” Leo paused, looking around, wondering how, in a room full of people, he’d gotten himself into this one-on-one exchange. “Although I do worry about tinnitus.” Pause. “From, uh, going to hardcore shows when I was in high school.”

Alex looked at him and raised an eyebrow and smiled, and Leo realized he was divulging unnecessary information again. Nikoloz smiled too.

“Yeah, you’re alright,” he said. “So like Joseph said, I’ll be there for you. I’m reliable and that. I’m solid and that. I’m always around.” He took a drag. “Always around.”

At a cozy pub after with a couple of pints, Leo made Alex laugh imagining just how “around” Nikoloz would be. They were actually both supposed to get back to work, but the euphoria of having finally found a place to live was too much to ignore. So they emailed off their respective excuses and hit The Wellington Arms, and Leo immediately launched into an honestly not too bad Nikoloz impersonation: “Yeah mate, do you have the kettle on, is the kettle on, can I go ahead and pop the kettle on?”

It was a small flat but, everyone agreed, really lovely. There was exposed brick, a chandelier in the bedroom, and tall windows in the kitchen that overlooked the backyard of the flat below. The strange bit: those kitchen windows also overlooked the living room of the flat below, which was encased in glass and had been constructed to jut forward past Leo and Alex’s place. Due to that combination of curious design and architectural choices, Leo and Alex could effectively stand in their kitchen and peer directly at the goings-on of their downstairs neighbor.

Two things revealed themselves in quick succession.

First: The reason Nikoloz was always around wasn’t just a dedication to his craft, but because he was the downstairs neighbor who lived in the flat with the strange glass protrusion.

Second: There were quite a few things Leo and Alex would need Nikoloz for. Because while their apartment was, and remained, lovely, it was also very much falling apart.

No one thing was unbearable, but the list was long. The chandelier in the bedroom regularly went into rapid-fire horror-movie flickerings. The blinds in the living room were old and hopelessly twisted. A tiny combination washer/dryer worked wellish-enough on its wash setting but when switched over to dry was less than useless. And the bathroom’s air filter shrieked. You’d turn it on and the noise would be alright for a second or two, then violently pitch upwards into an unbelievably piercing, almost melancholic, whistle.

Because Alex’s work schedule was more rigid than Leo’s, they agreed it would be Leo’s job to communicate with Nikoloz and oversee these maintenance visits. So Leo would message Nikoloz for help, and Nikoloz would text back elliptically, confusingly, mysteriously:

“I blinds not her”

“Joseph said it and yeah”

“fix want”

“are you are”

“are in now”

“is there one in”

“can reaper the boiler?”

“It be OK

“no Joseph’s mum out I will see at 2 there”

“cant be done well m8 mayb it can be done”

… always saying he’d come up at very specific times, 9:50, 3:07, always showing up hours later instead. One time, Leo texted Nikoloz about some minor fix and Nikoloz responded in a manner suggesting that it was in fact he who was interested in hiring Leo’s services for a bit of work: “how much would it cost to clean the roof glass”

But even though it would take forever, would take loads of back and forths, Nikoloz would usually come and fix the thing, and fix it well. And then, invariably, he’d look around in awe, as if he’d built the place years ago, under duress and against all odds, and had never before thought to come back and see how it had held up.

“This boiler was where Joseph’s dad’s gun safe used to be,” Nikoloz said one late afternoon, excitedly jabbing his fingers toward the gray boxy thing, as if that would make the guns come back. “You had to have it special lock and hidden then, like camouflaged, like a hidden compartment. There were 12 bore shotguns. For hunting. Two Rigbys and a Holland & Holland.”

Leo smiled and thought maybe it was time to share an anecdote himself.

“I went skeet shooting once. With my dad and my cousin Petey. We were all absolutely, uh”—Leo briefly considered using what felt like a more appropriately English word, “rubbish,” but chickened out—“we were all terrible at it!”

Nikoloz looked at him blankly, then kept on telling his story. “Them guns were worth a lot of money back then. I should have taken them and sold them! I’m the one took the secret compartment out!”

Then Nikoloz guffawed and Leo guffawed too.

Nikoloz liked to tell these very mild origin stories again and again. Leo would come to know them well. He didn’t mind it, the repetition. It was nice, actually, these strange interactions with what Leo understood was this very London type of dude. When else would Leo get to hang out with a real person?

Leo had been excited to move to London, although the bulk of the motivating energy, he’d readily admit, had come from Alex. She’d gotten sick of New York, formulated a plan and, true to form, carried it through it with remarkable efficacy and speed. Her new job was at a more prestigious architecture firm than the one she’d previously worked at, where her designs would be more consciously and environmentally executed. She’d effectively willed herself into a transatlantic promotion.

After settling in London, Leo had quickly found a permalance gig editing on Love Island. The pay was good and the work was demanding: there was so much raw content coming in and such an appetite for a finished product. It was his edits that he saw become conversation topics nationwide the next day. But it wasn’t exactly… progressive. There was a serious, troubling baseline of disreputability. It was totally compelling and totally fucked up. When he told people at parties or at pubs, they always had a thousand questions. They’d manage a few polite ones to Alex about architecture, then pivot back to Love Island.

“They do wanna hear about countervailing beams!” he’d crack to Alex after.

“They don’t know I protect them from structural collapse,” she’d answer, deadpan. “They don’t know how close they come to death if not from me.”

Alex worked long hours, but they’d always make a point of cooking and eating together. Simple meals, Leo doing the shopping at a Turkish green grocer that hated small talk but had the best tomatoes Leo had ever tasted, and Alex doing the washing up. She would get back from work, and as he was chopping Leo would run her through that day’s insane Nikoloz interactions. It was a bummer that it was so hard for anything to get fixed, Leo thought, it was definitely a bummer, but at least it led to some good material.

From the beginning, he’d felt good about the move. He’d moved around with his academic parents when he was a kid and had cherished memories of bland-sounding mid-major European cities. They left Ann Arbor when Leo was six and bounced around some less-heralded bits of the continent. Antwerp, Dusseldorf, and Arnhem, then Riga and Tallinn. He was an only child, not naturally gifted at making friends, but there was this academia-parent circuit, with equally unmoored kids, and so Leo would end up with pals for one or two years at a time. There was loneliness, for Leo and for his parents—every move came with pangs of loneliness; that would have been impossible to avoid—but the pattern itself, of getting up and then settling again, became its own comfort. And, secretly, he prided himself on his heartiness and adaptability. To Leo, at least privately, it came to define him.

He didn’t go back to Michigan until his freshman year of high school. After graduating, he did a semester at Central Michigan before dropping out. He thought his parents would be upset, but they actually seemed impressed with him for realizing higher education was very much never going to be his bag. On his own, he would read books about communism and economics. Well, about communists and economists. He’d never had a head for theory; he read a Keynes biography once and his only takeaway was that Keynes was extremely horny. He didn’t feel bad about it, though; he’d long known his appreciation of history’s grand movements came down to the people involved.

He moved to New York, but he could have well moved anywhere he’d seen in movies. He took classes and learned video editing—a practical self-sustaining move, but he found that he liked it, and he got good jobs in TV and documentaries. He even worked on some slasher flicks, which he loved. He met all kinds of people, and he fell in love with New York, and then he fell in love with Alex.

Looking back later, after the move to London, he realized New York was the first place he’d ever felt totally at peace. Nearly his entire twenties had been New York—ten initially rowdy, increasingly comfortable years. First Chinatown, then Prospect Heights, and, most recently, Astoria, a less-hip neighborhood that, to Leo’s surprise, he found himself loving most of all. And even if some friends had left for Chicago and San Francisco and, God forbid, Montclair, New Jersey, enough were staying around, even post-childrearing. He wanted everything in New York to remain in stasis, waiting for his inevitable return. He missed the city every day.

But he was ready for something else. Really, he was. And—and this again he realized only after the move—he’d never fully let go of the possibility that he would keep being moved. Not so much against his will. Just, without his participation in the decision-making process. He’d always thought, somehow, that inevitably a decision would be made, by other people, and that he would have to get up and go. Before the move to London he thought back to the European days, how it felt initially to exist in a new place. He had Alex now, he thought. He wouldn’t feel those old pangs. But the loneliness greeted him like a—well, not so much like an old friend. But. You know. Like loneliness.

Alex was a highly motivated person. Leo felt he was too, to a degree—that degree was just a significant few ticks south of Alex. He’d articulated to her, a few times, and she’d always denied it, that she reacted with an almost physical aversion to mental weakness. A few months into London, Alex left for a work trip to Paris and Leo tried messaging a few loose acquaintances to see about pints but no one was around and he tried calling his cousin Petey but his cousin Petey didn’t call him back and so Leo found himself having a bit of an anxiety attack. That whole weekend he found himself Googling “time in nyc” over and over, in part because it made him feel more connected to home, in part because he preferred it to doing the math on the time difference.

When Alex came back from Paris, they sat in the kitchen and analyzed his mini-meltdown.

“I think you should talk to someone,” Alex said.

“I am trying to talk to someone!” Leo said, his voice rising, despite his best efforts to not let it. “I am trying to talk to you!”

“Yeah, well. I think you should talk to someone who’s not me.”

Leo knew exactly what not to do.

Leo knew not to make this about the move.

Leo failed.

“It was your fucking idea to come here! I was happy in New York!”

“Oh my god. You’re an adult. You were offered an opportunity. You made a decision.”

“I know that. I know that. I fucking—know that! I just want.” Leo could feel that he was screaming. He was able to catch himself, most of the time. It was incredibly awkward though, incredibly obvious—a reckless scream brought down to a forced whisper. Lowering the volume was, on its own, a capitulation. Still, he forced himself to do it.

“I just want,” he said quietly, way too quietly. “A little. Empathy.”

“You want sympathy. Empathy would be me feeling what you were feeling. Sympathy is me acknowledging that your feelings of sorrow are valid.”

“Yes. Jesus fucking Christ.” He was screaming again. “Do I have to actually say it out loud? Acknowledge that my feelings of sorrow are valid!

It was such a ridiculous thing to say. Even worse to scream. Leo had lost the upper hand. Alex’s lips turned up at the edge.

“Your feelings of sorrow are valid.”

Leo wasn’t making eye contact. If he did, he wouldn’t be able to stay stone-faced, he knew. He’d either cackle or cry.

Alex came up and hugged him, and whispered in his ear. “So many feelings of sorrow. Each and every last one of them valid.”

It didn’t fix anything. But it was nice to end on a positive note.

***

When Leo had first started contacting Nikoloz about the home fixes, he’d rotate through calling and emailing and texting until he heard back. That became its own running joke for Alex: “Which form of communication is Nikoloz best using to avoid you?” Eventually Nikoloz admitted to him that he only ever checked WhatsApp. That he loved WhatsApp. Then one day, thumbing through their inefficient exchanges, Leo realized Nikoloz had added a picture to his WhatsApp profile.

It was Nikoloz as a young man, and, frankly, it was arresting. Time, it turned out, had not been kind to Nikoloz. That same wry smile was there, as was that manic, almost forbidden energy, but the stringy hair, the saggy cheeks, were nowhere to be seen. Leo showed it to Alex.

“Holy shit,” she said.

“Yeah.”

Leo stared at the screen.

“He looks.” There was no other way to put it. Nikoloz in a short-sleeve dress shirt open to the sub-chest area, multiple gold amulets on chains around his neck, looking directly at the camera, holding a glass of white wine. “He looks hot.”

Alex looked again. “Hot Nikoloz. For sure. Hot Nikoloz.” After that, she always only called him Hot Nikoloz.

Alex didn’t care too much about most of the little fixes, but the dryer drove her insane. “How is it getting the clothes more wet?” she shouted one Saturday afternoon, after another failed cycle. “Is this a psychological torture experiment?”

“He’s coming Monday!” Leo answered automatically. “He said he’s pretty sure he knows what to do this time!” That’s how it was at first, Leo defending Nikoloz out of habit. He didn’t see him as a kindred spirit, not really, but he did feel a knee-jerk desire to defend his fellow well-intentioned fuck-up from Alex’s ready gaze.

It wasn’t until Leo and Nikoloz started spending more time together that Leo began to feel differently about Nikoloz. Leo never smoked, and didn’t even really like people smoking around him. But when Nikoloz came around he found himself cracking a window and, indeed, putting the kettle on and sitting for hours, letting Nikoloz go through a pack. At their hang sessions, which were always at Leo’s flat, Leo found himself staring at Nikoloz’s hands. They were thick, rough, capable hands. The skin was weathered. Most of the time, Nikoloz wouldn’t actually do anything with them. But when he put them into motion, there would have been no doubt to anyone that they were capable hands.

“These radiators, they come out of a railway waiting room,” Nikoloz said one afternoon. “You know, the, architecture of old railways, that where they come out of—the guy sold me ’em, yeah, the guy, every time I seen him, he says”—Nikoloz paused—“he says, I wish I didn’t sell you those radiators! I wish I didn’t sell you those radiators! I should never have sold you those radiators!”

Leo could tell Nikoloz liked him, but not how he liked him. Did he hold him in any particular regard? Did he find him to be an interesting person? Or did he just find him good enough amusement? Leo often felt like people were dangerously close to laughing at him, not with him, but he mostly didn’t mind. Leo knew exactly who he was. With Nikoloz, though, he realized, he did care. With other people, he wanted attention, warmth, love, their fleeting recognition. With Nikoloz, he wanted respect.

One morning, in the kitchen, idly glancing down at the flat below, Leo saw Nikoloz preparing a simple meal of sausage, mash, and buttered brown bread. He hadn’t meant to watch, but there was something magnetic about the brute way Nikoloz went about the process. Alex was in the bedroom on her phone. Leo kept waiting for her to come in and catch him in the act and ask him what the fuck he was doing, but she never did.

As the weeks went on, Leo caught himself doing it more and more. It was usually in the mornings, as Alex was getting dressed. Leo would go over to the coffee machine and fiddle with it loudly and stare down at Nikoloz below. It was just little glances at first, here and there. Then it was every morning. Nikoloz was always down there, making his tea, toasting his bread, doing something laboriously, meditatively slow. Leo told Alex he liked making the coffee for the two of them. Which wasn’t not true. But it wasn’t the whole truth.

Staring down from his kitchen one morning, into Nikoloz’s apartment, Leo saw what he believed to be a small, framed rendering of the logo of the 1970s Graxis movement, the high point of Moldovan communism. The timing, he’d worked out, made sense. Nikoloz would have been 18 or 19 at the peak of it, and the mass movement which swept the nation presumably would have hit the small village of Petresti, where Nikoloz had told Leo he’d grown up.

The Graxis symbol looked like a plus sign on top of a triangle. He’d read about Graxis somewhere, but he couldn’t remember where. He started reading up more. Leo became slightly obsessed with the vision, a history he’d previously known little about. He learned that the movement had been built on a network of student leaders, cells bonded together as a unified organism moving in lockstep. He felt suddenly like he had a dog in the fight, even though that fight had been crushed in the early ’80s and had led to the authoritarian right-wing government that had summarily and violently crushed the student-led network.

What Leo kept coming back to, what kept tripping him up, was that Nikoloz had mentioned he’d been in London since 1983, the exact year a coven of the most stringent Graxis leaders had been expelled. The UK Home Office had allowed in Moldovan exiles on the condition they not interfere in politics. Many of the exiles famously flouted the rule, but still, it made sense why Nikoloz wasn’t being forthcoming about his possible radical past. Leo would ask him what his friends were like back in Petresti, and Nikoloz would just smile and say, “They were crazy. They were the craziest ones.”

In Queens, Leo had attended a few meetings of the PFA, the fledgling socialist-leaning organization that had pushed the twentysomething former schoolteacher Laura Schvishivli to an unexpected congressional seat (from the district that included Leo’s Queens neighborhood) and had made her a national celebrity. He hadn’t grown up in a politically minded household. His parents’ default philosophy was basically be nice to people. They were professors. They just wanted to think about lectures and research. His friends in New York were worldly, technically—they’d traveled, met strangers, had experiences that suggested life could be many different things. But when he sat around drinking with them at one of the three bars they liked to rotate through, depending on which was least crowded, their rolling conversations would go for hours without finding any friction.

Graxis felt so much realer than all the PFA noise. Yes, one was happening now, right now, which he could theoretically belong to, believe in, support in some material way. But it all felt so silly by comparison. PFA was a social media movement. In Moldova, there had been blood in the streets.

***

“He had power!” Nikoloz was saying one afternoon. “He had real—you know—power.”

They were talking about an old friend of his, a movie journalist from Glasgow who would come to London to interview all the top stars and would always take Nikoloz for a good meal out. “He looked smart, too. Sharp, sharp suits. And he could go into his little book and find the telephone numbers, you know—Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Clint Eastwood. James Garner!”

Leo couldn’t quite figure out how they’d gotten on the topic, or why. The conversation had started with Leo telling Nikoloz about his job. Love Island, and its loose ties to the celebrity circuit, was apparently enough to trigger this reverie into old Hollywood.

“The first time Angelina came, yeah, no one could be bothered but he went, yeah, and that’s why the studios liked him,” Nikoloz said. “And then after that Angelina would come and she’d always ask for him, and he’d go over and do the interviews. And they could trust him, the studios, yeah? And that’s why he had power.” Nikoloz stopped to drink his tea. “With him I met former president Gerald Ford. You know former president Gerald Ford?”

“Your buddy would write for newspapers?” Leo asked.

“No, not newspapers. Magazines. Or he used to do private work, like if Paramount Studios wanted him to do something about something.” Nikoloz paused again. In the course of a regular conversation, this might be Leo’s turn to talk. But Leo had a half a year of reps with Nikoloz by now; he knew it was best to let Nikoloz control the flow of the banter.

“It’s all to do with the studios,” Nikoloz said. “They are the main, the main people. They are the ones who call the shots. They say, look, go and see this person—you can’t say no. And if you go to them, they say, ‘Ahhhhh. Right. Here’s what you’ll be doing.’ D’jou understand?”

Actually, for once, Leo felt like he did understand. Was Nikoloz not—carefully, delicately—lodging a complaint against the class system? Control from above? Was this not the closest he’d come to revealing his revolutionary politics?

Leo was desperate to make this subtext into text. But he didn’t want to break the spell of the moment. He imagined the rest of the conversation, the winking, conspiratorial turn it could take, Nikoloz bringing him back into the old hothouses of Moldovan ideological warfare. Forming him into a person who could think in that way. The Graxis way.

Maybe it seemed ridiculous, so far removed from that moment in time. But Lenin had lived in London. Marx had died in London. And right here, where Leo and Nikoloz sat and talked, they were barely five minutes’ walk from Three Johns, the actual pub where the Menshevik/Bolshevik split had taken place! That bitter infighting in the back room of that pub between those mad Russian expats had ended in nothing less than the October Revolution. The night before the Bolsheviks took power, Lenin sat in Zelensky’s kitchen, plotting maneuverings on the back of Zelensky’s kid’s drawing books!

(A few weekends back, while Alex was away again, Leo had sought to avoid another mini-meltdown by actively filling up his spare time. He did so by taking a “Dead Communists of East London” walking tour.)

But it wasn’t just this one example. Every revolution had started, if you thought about it, at some point, with some form of humans sharing words in a kitchen.

Leo realized he’d lost the thread. He clicked back in to hear Nikoloz saying, “Years ago you had Laurence Olivier, a real actor. Once you do stage, yeah, you’re good. You know. And not like—Rocky! Rocky, he can only play Rocky! He’s always playing Rocky. He can’t do the overall thing.”

Leo had to admit: he was at a loss to figure out how this bit related back to the subterfuge-like class consciousness stuff. But that was Nikoloz’s enigmatic way.

***

One evening, while simultaneously Googling and going off about Graxis, Leo found a Frontline documentary about it from the ’90s on YouTube and Alex said she was game to watch.

Alex entertained his pet obsessions; she’d be happy to come home after a day of work and listen to him rattle off book summaries. Leo was an amateur, but he was an impassioned amateur, and even if it was all so scattershot and stop-and-start, it was nice, Alex repeatedly told Leo, to feel the heat of his passions.

This support had an edge to it, Leo knew. He would bet that in her heart of hearts Alex would say that freelance video editing didn’t represent the complete and total fulfillment of Leo’s potential. She had never said as much, but there had been hints. The thought didn’t offend him: Alex was the kind of person who surely thought a lot of people—herself included, most likely—hadn’t accomplished the complete and total fulfillment of their potential.

The thing was, Leo worried that the obsessions, to Alex, represented something beyond—they represented Leo reaching out beyond his station in life.

There was a clear logic to it: why would someone take six months to read every book they could find on American labor history if they didn’t, maybe, want to become an American labor historian? That particular obsession fizzled out. Eventually, they all did. But Leo really didn’t secretly want to become a professor, like his parents. He liked what he did, truly, and was actually impressed he’d found a calling. Alex’s version of his best life wasn’t his version of his best life.

Still, his perceived feelings about her unspoken feelings lingered. If he ever followed an obsession out to its end, he thought sometimes, Alex would have no choice but to respect it.

The narration of the Graxis doc was stiff and the editing predictable, but the images were undeniable. There was power to them. The protesters were so young and sun-kissed and so, so beautiful. The men and the women alike. They wore all white and they knew nothing of the destruction that was to come.

Leo and Alex were in bed, watching the documentary on Leo’s laptop. Then suddenly Leo seized. Almost certainly—that dark, long-haired young man appeared on the left of their screen, holding up a massive banner that read “All Power Now” in Moldovan, in front of the marchers—that could not have been anyone but Hot Nikoloz.

It had been a joke, that phrase. But Leo couldn’t get it out of his mind. It opened up a world. The WhatsApp photo in his mind’s eye, the young radical. It was a blip, but he was certain.

He didn’t say a word to Alex. They finished the documentary and shut the lights and Alex gave Leo a kiss on the lips and rolled over and, as always, passed out within seconds.

The next day Alex went off to work and Leo stayed home. He told her they didn’t need him at the editing suite, which wasn’t totally true: the supervisor had said they could survive without him, as that night’s Love Island was a previously-cut best-of catch-up montage. But she had also told Leo that if he wanted to come and get started on the next day’s chop she would gladly throw him the work.

Without really thinking why, Leo had turned down the offer, and again without really thinking why, he had told Alex the half-truth. For the most part he did hate seeming less committed to his work than she did. But even if he did always want to project his commitment, he realized now, he had never gone so far as to lie about it before.

Leo walked Alex to her bus stop and got the paper and walked back home. When he sat down at the table he realized, with an unsettling clarity, why he’d called out of work.

Still in sweatshorts and a T-shirt, Leo WhatsApp’d Nikoloz.

“Wanna come by?”

Leo put the phone down and picked up his book. It was David Harvey’s A Companion To Marx’s Capital. It was supposed to be on the more readable side of the Marxist theory spectrum, but Leo was struggling. With today open, though, he thought, he’d try to really crack it. He knew Nikoloz sometimes texted back right away and sometimes not for days. But as soon as Leo got through one laborious page, the phone buzzed.

“what for”

It should have pissed Leo off, getting that message. When they first moved into the place, it surely would have. The dryer was still out; Leo had been chasing Nikoloz to fix it for weeks now.

But instead of screenshotting it and texting it to Alex as he would have done once—“NIKOLOZ YOU FUCK”—Leo picked up the phone and stared at it. His heart, he had to admit, was beating fast. He took a beat then wrote—

“dryer still broken”

—then again—

“will make you tea, haha”

He cursed himself for the haha. It was a Young Millennial affectation that he’d accidentally picked up from Alex, punctuating everything with one form or another of lmao for no real good reason. He was an Old Millennial and it was unbecoming. He was usually pretty good at catching himself from doing it to his elders. But he’d slipped up and suddenly hated himself for it.

Still, two seconds later, the phone buzzed again.

“oh yeh right”

Leo stared, started to answer, then stopped, and stared some more. Another buzz, another message from Nikoloz.

“wanna come down here”

Why would he come down there? How would Nikoloz fix anything from inside his own apartment? But there wasn’t even time for the confusion to register. All he knew was that he did want to go down there. He wanted to very badly. He hadn’t realized just how badly he wanted to go down there. To the flat downstairs, the one he’d stared at, the one he’d—there wasn’t really another way of saying—the one he’d fantasized about. The air of righteousness that it held. The cigarette smoke seeped into the wood, the rough brick walls, the austerity that it screamed. The Graxis icon hanging with power. Nikoloz’s place. At that moment, there was nothing he wanted more.

He messaged—

“Cool … be right down”

Leo waited, one palm flat on the book, eyes open staring into the middle distance. He felt his heavy breaths.

“yeah cool mate”

Leo shut the book and then blinked his eyes shut, hard, for a few beats. He was buzzing, he had to admit it. He tried to shake himself out of it but it was still there, and so it was on shaky legs that he got up and walked out the door. Walked out to go see Nikoloz.

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