Wordplay # 7: Christmas Break

Oh my goodness, it’s finally Christmas break.

I used to be able to get a break earlier, but this year’s holidays landed on strange days, and December 24 was declared a working holiday (*shakes fist*) and then I don’t actually have a lot of leaves yet so I decided to just stay working until almost Christmas. Technically, I’m not really working anymore because who has the will to work in the past days? Not me.

Anyway, it’s almost Christmas, and I feel like we’re still stuck in a limbo no thanks to the panini, but also…there are some normal things? Like, I was actually able to meet some friends recently, and getting my booster shot did help me feel a bit more secure (but still cautious). Is this the “new normal”?

I’m hopeful for the next year — partly because the Philippines’ national elections are coming, and there’s a lot hanging onto this year’s elections. It’s not even a joke about how a lot of my life plans are waiting for the outcome of the elections, and I’m still not thinking of what I’d do in case the outcome isn’t what I prayed for. Maybe I’ll deal with that next time. But for now, please let’s take this election seriously. Nico would like that very much.

Speaking of Nico…today’s Wordplay is a Christmas special! I may be cheating a little bit with this because I never posted this on my old fiction blog, but it feels like I’ve distributed this everywhere else. Or it could just be because this is Nico and Faith and I feel like I’ve been living with them for the past years since I wrote them. This was a cut scene from Five Minutes Till Midnight, my short story in the Make My Wish Come True anthology. I wanted it at first to be alternating POV but I couldn’t get it, then I wrote the rest of the story in like three days. Oh, to be able to do that again! I didn’t post this on my old fiction blog, instead, I sent it to my old newsletter subscribers.

Speaking of, I’m starting over with my newsletter. Would you like to subscribe? 🙂

Christmas Break

Nico wasn’t entirely sure if he should send another message to Faith, but he went ahead and sent one anyway.

Hey, French Fries. I’m at the Cathedral. Do you want me to light a candle for you?

He held his breath as he watched the green bar disappear, telling him the message was sent, and stood by the Cathedral’s doors, waiting patiently for a reply. If she’d reply at all. Not that it wasn’t her habit to do so because she always did, even if it was just to say thank you but Nico felt that she thought yesterday’s conversation after he called her to talk to the kids at Estancia was the last time she’d talk to him for the break.

It wasn’t. He didn’t want it to be the last, anyway. And yesterday didn’t count as a conversation because they barely talked for five minutes before the kids asked him to play with them. Of course, he’d let them.

Nico’s phone beeped, and true enough, Faith’s name was there. He swiped his thumb across the screen, smiled when he read, Oh sure. Okay. Thanks for the thought, Nico. That’s really nice of you.

He smiled, pushed his phone back in his pocket and stepped inside the Cathedral, whispering a silent prayer of thanks as he walked to the devotional area. He had always liked lighting candles in churches, and he did that at every church he had a chance to visit. It was always in a darker area of the church – and sometimes even outside of the main building – but he thought it was the brightest. Well, it was literally bright, because of the lights, but Nico also thought that all the intentions represented by the candles just meant that people were still praying, asking, hoping for divine things. It always calmed his heart, seeing the dancing fires above each candle, as if it was writing the prayer it carried to the heavens.

He lit his third candle and set it in place, watching as the flame move – small at first, then growing bigger until it stood straight up, still and steady. Nico closed his eyes as he prayed for the girl in Manila that he was already starting to miss.

He smiled at the thought. It had only been a few days since he flew home, and a few hours since he last heard her voice. They had only known each other for a few weeks, so it felt a little strange to miss someone that he barely knew, but he did. The longing in his heart was similar to how he felt when he was missing home.

Another smile. Nico opened his eyes, made the Sign of the Cross and headed to the back office, where his mom was in a meeting with the rest of her parish committee. When he saw that they weren’t done yet, he headed out, found an empty bench outside the Cathedral, pulled up his phone and dialled Faith’s number, without even thinking if he should do that or if she will be available for a call. There was no time to think of this decision – he just wanted to hear her voice again.

Nico kicked a stray pebble away from his foot as he listened to the phone ring, his other palm flat on the bench. When there was no answer, he hit call again, this time his other hand running through his hair. A second later he realized that he was actually nervous, so he took a deep breath —

“Hello, Nico?”

— and almost choked when he heard her voice. He coughed, then quickly spoke. “Hi, French Fries.”

“What’s up?”

“Are you busy?”

He heard a door close on the other line. “Not anymore. Diana just fell asleep.” Diana, her niece. She told him she was babysitting that morning while the rest of her family ran the Christmas errands.

“Oh, okay. Cool.”

“Why did you call?”

This he didn’t think about well enough. He couldn’t just say that he missed her, right? Could he? “My mom’s meeting is taking ages,” he blurted out instead and then slapped his forehead lightly. What a stupid thing to say.

“What meeting?”

“With her parish group. They’re planning their Christmas activities. I dropped her off earlier, left to go to my cousin Lyn, then went back to light some candles. But they’re still not done.”

“Why don’t you join them instead?”

Nico laughed, the sound a happy rumble in his chest. “No, thanks. They’re my mom’s amigas.”

“And so? What, are you afraid they’ll fawn all over you?”

He laughed again. “Yes.”

This time, Faith laughed too. “And tell you how cute you are when you show them your dimple when you smile?”

“So you find that cute?”

Her laughter faded, and he could imagine her eyes slowly growing wider and her cheeks turning red as his words sank in. She had always blushed easily. His amusement was quickly followed by fear that he had embarrassed her and he instantly regretted what he said. Maybe he shouldn’t have said that.

Everyone finds it cute, Nico,” she replied finally, with another light laugh. “Don’t be so full of yourself.”

He smiled. Everyone included her, so she thought it was cute, too. Good enough. “Well, I’m glad to be of service.”

Voices floated over the quiet afternoon and Nico glanced at the parish office door to check if one of them belonged to his mother, but the door remained shut. He leaned back on the bench, the cool Christmas breeze lifting some of his curls away from his face.

“So, why aren’t you out doing Christmas things, too? Are you done shopping?”

“Diana didn’t want to go out,” Faith replied. “And…I’m not quite sure what to do, either.”

He caught the hesitation in her voice. “Why don’t you know? What were you doing this time last year?”

The pause lasted longer this time. “I was doing some last-minute Christmas shopping,” she said slowly.

“Okay so –“

“With James.”

Ah. The ex. Nico knew of him, no thanks to the people at the HQ talking about it when he was new and Faith was still away for mission, and later from Faith when he finally asked after he had caught her stalking him online several times. It wasn’t surprising that she had brought it up, although Nico thought he should have seen that coming. A rock seemed to have settled in the middle of his stomach, warning him. Proceed with caution.

“You guys were still shopping for presents at this time?” Nico asked, tone incredulous. “Why do you guys like cramming? Christmas is the worst time to cram.”

“Fine, you’re the shopping expert now,” Faith retorted, but he heard a chuckle on the other line. “James belonged to a huge family. Cousins everywhere, and he knew every single one of them so he had to get a present for everyone.”

“Must be fun.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Nico opened his mouth to speak, to tell her that it couldn’t be that bad, but she continued. “It’s so terrible shopping for gifts this close to Christmas Eve! Last year, James and I went to Divisoria, and I don’t know what he did to make me agree but I made him swear that we will never do it again after I almost passed out from having to deal with all the crowds.”

She stopped to catch her breath, and then the pause lasted longer than Nico expected that he had to check if she was still here. “French Fries?”

“And that’s just it. We will never do it again,” she said softly. Faith sounded so sad that there was nowhere else Nico wanted to be at that moment than right where she was.

The line was silent for a while and he pressed the phone harder against his ear, trying to discern if she was sniffling. But all he heard was a sigh, and Nico blinked when he realized that she was waiting for him to say something.

“I’m not from Manila but I know that wasn’t a bright idea,” Nico said slowly, trying not to sound too contemptuous. “He’s a bank manager, right? Are you sure he’s really smart?”

One, two, three seconds of silence. Then a happy sound burst from the other line and Nico’s smile was so big that it felt like his face was going to split into two.

He made her laugh.

Of course, Nico couldn’t see her eyes so he wasn’t sure if she was faking it, but she was still laughing, so it must be real. And it was good enough.

“Oh, Nico. You’re so mean.”

“Come on, it’s not a good idea,” Nico argued good-naturedly. “And I know I’ve only known you for a few months, but I know you’re too much of an introvert to be with too many people. Bet you’re happier now at home than when you’re with them, French Fries.”

“That’s not entirely true, but I do like this quiet.” He could imagine her rolling her eyes now, but he was pretty sure that there was a smile on her lips now – her voice said so, and was even confirmed when she added, “Thanks, Nico.”

The wind carried some voices over to him and he glanced up in time to see his mom emerge from the parish office. “Oh, mom’s done with her meeting.”

“Good for you. Bye, then.”

There was a tiny stab of disappointment knowing he had to cut the call short, but he made a decision right then and there. Nico was going to make Faith forget about her ex this Christmas. Never mind if he was 633 kilometers away. He’s going to try, anyway.

“I’ll call you later, okay?”

“Sure, no problem.”

“I mean it,” Nico insisted. “I’ll call you. Unless you’ll be busy tonight?”

There was a beat before she answered. “No, I won’t be busy.”

Nico smiled. “Great. Bye, French Fries.”

The church bells rang then, and but he heard her answer loud and clear. “I really enjoyed talking to you, Nico.”

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