I’ve never given much thought as to how I would spend my Christmas this year. It’s all the same anyway; a perfectly normal day, secretly wrapping of presents, a dinner out, and lounging in the living room waiting for the clock to strike 12:00.
I don’t make a big deal out of it.
But my best friend does. And he’s made the effort to come home just for the holidays.
He wraps his arms from behind me and envelopes me into a tight bear hug, lifts me feet off the ground and twirls me around. I close my eyes, dizziness coming onto me and I let out a shrill “stop it!” and he puts me down.
“I swear to God, Alex–” I start to say when he turns me around and embraces me, though this time, a little more gently.
I love hugging people who are way taller than me. It makes me feel safe and protected, like they could be this cute human shield whenever someone tries to harm me. I rest my head on Alex’s chest, just under his chin, and feel the warmth radiating from his body despite the thick jacket he has bundled himself into. I wrap my arms around his neck and ruffle his hair from behind.
I missed him so much.
The airport’s bustling with activity as flight after flight departed and arrived, bringing homesick people into the arms of their family just in time for the holidays. Wreaths hang from every post, twinkling with Christmas lights that run in an array of red, green, blue, white and yellow. Songs play in the speakers, filling the cavernous area with cheerful spirit mixed with laughter from the people and shouting from the children.
I missed him so much.
When Alex got his letter from Yale, he had jumped around the house in pure joy and grabbed his mom for an impromptu dance as a sign of celebration. Then he climbed over the coffee table and hugged me so tight, I was sure my lungs would burst. I knew how much time he sacrificed to bust his ass off just so he could get the best grades for an Ivy League. And he did it.
It’s only been 4 months since our separation but the emptiness that hung between our distance sent our emotions into ricochet as soon as we saw each other in the flesh. No amount of texting or skype-ing could have prepared us as he barreled behind me and went on with his trademark hug. People usually think of us as a couple and I don’t doubt the ones here would think any differently.
But I know what we are and what we are not.
“Jazz, oh god, I missed you so much!” Alex whispers in my ear, tightening his hug even more.
“4 months,” I reminded him. “I missed you, too.”
He lets me go and he grins at me mischievously. I could feel something was coming and before I could fend off his incoming question, it beat me to line. Spotlight’s on me.
“Connor…” I trailed off. I admit, I haven’t gotten around to telling him that Connor and I were over. One month ago.
“Jazz…” He knows I’m hiding something. He knows me too much. “You’re not making eye contact. Are you keeping something from me?”
I back off a little, hand in the air like I surrender. “Well…” I gulp. “Connor and I are over.”
He crosses his arm. “I bet you’re planning to use the–” he makes air quotes, “It’s-better-to-tell-you-in-person excuse.”
I hit him in the arm, a little too hard to show him I was serious. “It is better to tell you in person!”
He just nods. “Whatever you say,”
But his voice was taunting me. And he knew I hated that.
But before I was riled up, he envelopes me into another hug and plants his forehead against mine. “Doesn’t matter. Now, it’s just the two of us again.”
Alex always says I’m the best photographer in town. Sometimes, he says it so persuasively I almost believe him. And even if I tell him I’m not, he stands firm anyway. I value memories so much that I keep them forever frozen in photographs. Polaroids and developed pictures in frames take up half of my bedroom wall back home. I even brought some to my dorm in Columbia, where my roommate enjoys looking at Alex’s pictures too much and even to the extent of fawning over our pictures together because she says we have chemistry.
“Where are we going?” I ask as he slung his arm over my shoulder and pulls me close to his side as we walk out of the airport.
“Ah,” he smells the air, “Welcome to New York.”
I look up at him. “Dude, it’s only been 4 months.”
He looks down at me, his trance broken, and waggled his eyebrows. “Which felt like 4 years.”
I stick my tongue out. “Better get used to it, then.”
He meets my gaze and we lock eyes for a moment. The sound of car horns faded away in the background as I noticed the tiny golden flecks in his green eyes. My hands wanted to get my camera so that I could capture this moment forever, the snow gently falling on top of Alex’s head and melts as quickly as it had come. Suddenly, his grin wolfish, he breaks the contact.
“Let’s get to Central Park,” he says.
Central Park looks like a winter wonderland in this time of the year. It always has been.
Memories come rushing back of a 10-year old Alex gliding across the frozen lake, ice skating shoes on and a 10-year old me, wobbly, even with both of his hands gripping my own. I was too wrapped up with the thought of humiliating myself in front of kids who were way better and experienced than me. But Alex never let go and said:
“Jazz, you’re safe. You’ll always be safe with me.” And patiently glided alongside as I struggled and fell a dozen times, laughed at the appropriate moments and cheered when I finally maintained balance.
Even Central Park in summertime held memories I’m sure I’d never forget. Only that time, I was the boss and I was teaching Alex how to ride a bike at 12 years old.
It had been hot and humid, and yet I forced him to wear his protective gear (kneecaps, elbow caps, and helmet) even though I knew he’d be bathing in sweat by the time we finished. It’s a best friend thing, you know.
“Ahhhhhh,” Alex yelled as his bike swerved a hard left and he toppled over in a heap. “Jazz!!!”
I ran over to where he was, laughing despite his furious look and offered a hand. He took it quite hardly and pulled me down in a heap beside him. We laughed some more.
Somehow, I have photographs of those moments too, though it wasn’t as accurate as what really happened.
And now, as I take a look around, with Central Park illuminated in twinkling white lights, I catch sight of Alex sitting down on a bench. He pats the space beside him, beckoning me over.
“Melancholic, don’t you think?” I say as I sat down, my hands nestled deep within my coat pockets.
“Yes, I think so too,” he answers and turns to look at me over his shoulder since his elbows were propped on his knees. “I have something to tell you.”
My heart starts to pound so fast against my rib cages. Blood floods my face and I am glad it was starting to get dark. Around us, figures grew shadows as they stand under the light and then disappear.
He continues, poker faced. “Jazz, I’ve been thinking about this since I was in Yale.” He looks down for a while. Then he locks eyes with me. “I’ve been thinking about you.”
I start to open my mouth so that I could as why when he shook his head. I stop.
“Remember that time when someone gave you a bouquet of red roses during Valentine’s day, senior year? How you thought it was Connor who gave you those and when you asked him, he said yes?” He gives me a crooked smile. “He lied. I sent those.”
I falter. No wonder he seemed so bitter that day. I had to practically beg him so that we could go and watch the movie we’ve been waiting for years.
“You did?” I whisper.
He nods, fiddling with this fingers, twisting the ring on his middle finger. “Also, I didn’t really want to go to the Tinseltown Prom with Natalie. I wanted to go with you since you seemed so lonely but Natalie had expected too much and so I relented.”
One by one, his confessions hit home. And one by one, my heart started to jump in joy. Of course I liked Alex. And he liked me back.
But it was an unspoken understanding between us. And it was enough because we weren’t in a hurry.
As the snow fell from the sky, the faint voices kids signing Christmas carols filling the air between us, he suddenly zips his bag open and fumbles for his phone.
“Alex, what are you doing?” I ask.
Music comes playing and he says, “Dance with me, Jazz.”
And we smile as he wraps his hands around my waist, bringing me closer, taking my hand in mine and resting my other on his shoulder.
“I’m not too late, am I?” Alex asks, his voice barely a whisper.
“Why are you whispering?” I giggle.
“Jazz,” his voice is back to normal, “I’m not too late, am I?”
I shake my head slowly. “You’re never too late, Alex.”
He leans his head forward and we kiss, his arms going all the way around my waist and my hands gripping the nape of his neck, going all the way through his hair.
Sometimes, why settle with photographs when alive and moving memories are so much better?