Christmas Eve at the Cruz residence has always been chaotic, but it was a good kind of chaos. I woke up on that day with a sense of anticipation deep in my stomach and the smell of cookies baking in the oven, rousing me up from bed. Mommy must have woken up early to start baking, just as she has always done years and years back. As I stayed in bed for a few more minutes, I heard my sister’s laugh and my brother’s voice, which had noticeably gone deeper since the last time I was home. A Christmas song played over the cacophony, and true enough, it was the kind of song that only Daddy listens to that makes us kids cringe.

I sighed in contentment. There is really no place like home. I’ve missed being home ever since December rolled around and was I ever glad to be home from the seminary early this year.

“Kuya! Ate Rebekah is here!”

But home is not home without my best friend Rebekah.

I smiled at the announcement just as my sister’s head popped up from the doorway. Cathy saw me smiling and grinned, and I knew immediately what that meant.

“Uy, Kuya’s happier now that Ate Rebekah is here!” she said in a singsong voice.

I sat up from my bed and rolled my eyes. “Well good morning to you too, sis. Why shouldn’t I be happy that she’s home?”

Cathy stepped inside my room and leaned on the doorway. “Oh, I don’t know, Kuya. Maybe it’s because you’re in love with Ate?” she said with a laugh.

I threw a pillow in her direction which she dodged expertly, her reflexes the result of being in her school’s soccer team in the past year. “I swear, Cathy, that is the oldest news already. I am not in love with Rebekah.”

“Whatever you say,” Cathy replied in her singsong voice again. She turned to leave me as I got out of bed but stopped when I called her back.

“Is Rebekah downstairs?” I asked.

Cathy’s eyes gleamed as she shook her head. “No. She just called a little while ago to tell us she’s arrived. She wanted to talk to you but she figured you were still asleep. She knows you very well, you’re perfect for each other.” She finished with a laugh, before running back downstairs, no longer waiting for my retort. I just shook my head and smiled, and started moving to fix my bed before joining the family festivities downstairs.

* * *

I was itching to see Rebekah as soon as lunch rolled around, but Mommy kept me busy with helping out for the preparations for the Noche Buena. True to tradition, we will be having Noche Buena with the Riveras at our shared yard, just like we had for as long as I can remember. I really wanted to go to Rebekah’s house as soon as I was free, but it seemed like Mommy was cooking for an army instead of the usual ten.

There was something else I wanted to talk to Rebekah about too, one that has been bugging me since I talked to her last night. I kept on replaying our conversation, and there was one thing I said that I could not get out of my head:

Bye Bekbest, love you.

It just slipped out. I didn’t even know I said it until I hung up, and then it didn’t hit me until a few minutes later. When it finally did, I fretted over sending Rebekah a message, and I fretted over Rebekah sending me a message but neither happened. Usually, Rebekah would send a message to me first for slips like that, but she was unusually silent after. Fine, she was in the middle of writing a paper…but it’s so out of character for her to point out a slip like that. She used to do that a lot when I was pretending she was my girlfriend before high school ended to stop all those girls and gays flirting with me. But now…nothing.

I wonder if she’s mad. But if she was…why?

And why is it such a big deal to me? I’m in the seminary, I’m going to become a priest. And I really do love Rebekah, but we have been best friends for so long that it was just natural. Sure, she was my first girlfriend ever, but that’s the past and we’re both over it now.

If it doesn’t matter to Rebekah then it shouldn’t matter to me, too.

I continued to mull over those things until Mommy finally told me to go to the Riveras because she can tell by the look on my face that I wouldn’t be able to concentrate until I get to see Rebekah. I gave my mom a grateful kiss and went up to change into a fresh shirt before crossing the yard to my best friend’s house.

I could hear people laughing inside the house when I knocked at their back door. I would just go in, as I normally do, but from the sounds of their laughter, it seemed like they had a visitor. Although Rebekah’s relatives know me and my family, I didn’t want to be impolite and just barge in.

The door opened and I was greeted by Rebekah’s older brother, Kuya Ivan. He was wearing a Santa Claus hat and he looked mighty jolly already, even if he doesn’t have the paunch to be Santa Claus.

“Hey Isaac!” he said, giving me a brotherly hug. He opened the door to let me in and I followed him inside. He made his way through the kitchen to the living room and I heard a burst of laughter from there — I could still easily pick out Rebekah’s voice over everyone else’s inside. Just as the laughter died down, Kuya Ivan turned on his heel to face me, so abruptly that I almost crashed into him. “How’s it going over at your house? Do you need any help?”

I took a step back to give Kuya Ivan his personal space and shook my head. “Mommy has it all under control. I’m here to see Rebekah.”

I saw Kuya Ivan hesitate, and for a moment, I felt my stomach clench. Was there something wrong? Is Rebekah not there? Did she get into an accident from the commute? I knew I should have insisted to pick her up!

But her brother relaxed, and he patted my shoulder. “She’s here. I’m sure she can’t wait to see you.” He smiled at me, and I smiled back, even if I noticed that his smile looked a little different, like he was pitying me or something. I didn’t have a chance to ask him about it because he turned and led me to the living room.

“Look who’s here!” Kuya Ivan declared as soon as he entered. The chattering died, and suddenly, there was a loud shriek. Loud footsteps followed and before I could even make sense of who were inside the room, I was engulfed in the hugest and tightest hug in history. My nose was filled with the scent of daisies, and I inhaled involuntarily.

“Isaac! You’re here! I missed you so much!”

The arms finally released me from its almost deadly grip and my vision was filled with the face of my best friend, Rebekah Rivera. She held me at arm’s length, her hands still gripping my shoulders, and on her face was the biggest smile I have ever seen. It was almost like it was Christmas morning already, and Rebekah had opened her presents and found out she got everything she wanted.

“Hi, Bekbest,” I said, meeting her smile. She hugged me again, and this time, I had the chance to hug her back. She smelled of daisies, her favorite flowers. I remembered the first time I ever gave Rebekah flowers: it was Valentine’s Day during freshman year in high school. Dad and I picked her up from her school, and I practically shoved the bouquet to her face. It was the first time I gave her flowers, and it was the first time I noticed her differently. I knew she kept some of the dried daisies in a scrapbook in her room, together with all other gifts I gave her when we were still together.

As I hugged her, memories of our friendship and our short-lived relationship flashed through my mind: from our childhood to when we got separated in high school when I transferred schools, to when we became a couple and broke up, to our missed proms and graduation balls, to our graduations and the party where I told her I would be entering the seminary, to her eighteenth birthday. All our emails and phone conversations, all the times I visited her on campus and the few times she visited the seminary before school work ate her time up. All these flashed in my mind and when it was done walking through memory lane, I knew one thing.

I am in love with Rebekah Rivera.

I am in love with my best friend. Again.

Rebekah finally let me go and I found myself letting go reluctantly too. She smiled at me again, took my arm and led me further into the living room. I said hi to her parents and to Kuya Ivan’s girlfriend. Inside I was buzzing with the realization and my heart was pounding, almost like it wanted to escape, or at least, let me tell Rebekah what I felt then and there.

“Now Isaac, for my surprise,” Rebekah’s voice broke into my thoughts and I looked at her. My face broke into a smile again — I just couldn’t help it. Rebekah smiled back and dropped my arm. I watched her walk to the couch, where there sat a guy I do not know. I watched as Rebekah reached for his hand, and the guy stood up, lacing his fingers with Rebekah’s. She pulled the guy towards me, and I stood there, my heart still pounding but not from the same exhilaration I felt earlier.

“David, this is my best friend, Isaac,” Rebekah said. I was only vaguely aware of her free hand motioning towards me — I was too focused on her other hand that held the other guy’s hand, and how she looked when she said his name. I had a very, very bad feeling about this, and Rebekah’s next words confirmed it.

“Isaac, this is David, my boyfriend.”

[1754 words]

Author’s note: After almost a year, a new entry! Forgive the rambly prose, I’m still getting used to writing here again. Plus I just came from NaNoWriMo, so my inner editor is still unconscious. This is the long-delayed continuation of Home for Christmas Part 1. Stay tuned for more Christmas stories coming to Wordplay in the next few days. 🙂

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