Namaari watched as her two year old son hobbled down the hall, a large suitcase in his tiny hands. Struggling to carry it, but tugging it along all the same. Grunting the entire way. She was in her office, trying to get some work done she had neglected the last few days. For good reason, still, it needed to be done. Her son passed the doorway, determined to take the luggage to his room down the hall.
The Leader of Fang abandoned her work and her desk to see what the toddler was up to, coming around the corner just in time to see the suitcase disappear behind the door. Walking after him, popping the door open just a smidgen to slip inside. The boy barely paying her any mind as the suitcase now lay open on the floor. A single blanket, his favorite, inside.
“Going somewhere, Chau?” She asked, voice light. Amused at the way his tiny features scrunched in concentration, trying to look for something to add to the meager pile of things he was packing.
“Yeah.” He said, “spit-aw.”
Oh, now she got it.
He was packing to go to the hospital. Spit-aw, in his words. Where Raya, his Mommy and Namaari’s wife, was. Clearly missing her, wanting to be with her. Namaari hardly blamed him for this attempt, the two inseparable since the day he was born. A bond between them that Namaari had been thrilled to see, especially since Raya had been the most concerned out of the two of them that she wasn’t fit enough to be a Mom.
How the tables had turned..
“Sorry, buddy..you can’t stay at the hospital.”
“Mommy spit-aw?” Chau huffed, tugging open his closet door.
“Yeah, I go!”
“Yeah, I go.”
Namaari snorted, watching the determined look on the boy’s face. Now pulling out one of his shirts and putting in the suitcase. Mimicking Namaari’s actions a few weeks ago when they did the same thing, preparing some things for Raya to have while she stayed at the hospital.
He closed the lid, loudly letting it drop, before tugging it out of his room again.
“Bye Momma.” He called, waving at her with one hand while trying to pull with the other. Resulting in him falling over at the awkward handling.
Before Namaari could even attempt to help him to his feet, the doorbell rang and both Namaari and Chau turned towards the door. The toddler gasped loudly, hoping to his feet.
“Mommy!” He cried happily, “mommy, mommy!”
Namaari followed, watching the boy wobble back and forth as his tiny legs booked it towards the door. When Namaari got to the door to open it, he began to flap his arms up and down, feet bouncing back and forth on his tippy toes as he could hardly contain his excitement. Said excitement lasting a whole two seconds as she opened the door and saw Former Leader Benja, her Father-in-law standing on the other side.
Typically ‘Grandpa’ was far more exciting than either woman, Chau usually quite excited to see him when he saw his Moms every single day. However this time, he took one look at Benja and his face fell into a frown. Pouting, no longer hopping about.
“Goodness, what’s that face about?” Benja laughed, coming in with a brown bag of what looked to be containers of food. Homemade, wrapped up nicely, with little notes on the top. The man holding it out towards Namaari for her to take, an exasperated sigh on his lips. “More cooked meals from the public!” he laughed, “seems they’re even more excited about this one than the last!”
Namaari took the bag, walking it back into the kitchen. Truly unsure where she was going to put all of this food, knowing their fridge was already packed full of meals for the next few weeks. Freezing some, taking extras to their friends. Namaari appreciated the public’s support, especially since it was helpful that they didn't need to buy groceries for awhile. However, she really hoped they’d stop trying to feed them. Or..overfeed them in this case.
“He’s missing Raya.” Namaari called, opening up their fridge, shifting other trays of lasagna and hearty bowls of soup to the side as she tried to make room for the latest dish that was given to them. “Doctor said Christmas is when we can visit.” she added, sighing. This concept was difficult for Chau to understand, considering his age. Only knowing where his Mommy was and how they could get to her, not ideally getting why they couldn’t.
Benja chuckled then grunted as he knelt down to hoist Chau up and into his arms, trying to get him to smile. That pout just not letting up.
“It’ll be very soon, my boy!” he soothed, ruffling his dark hair. “Mommy misses you too.”
Namaari closed the fridge, turning back towards the pair with a smile. Knowing that much was true. This all being far harder on Raya than it was on Chau.
“So, you’ll be visiting tomorrow..!” Benja chirped, in a matter-of-fact tone.
“No,” Namaari corrected him, “on Christmas.”
Benja paused, giving her a curious look.
“Namaari..” Benja said slowly, face growing sheepish, “tomorrow..is Christmas..that’s why I stopped by this afternoon, to see if you needed any help getting something ready for Christmas Eve dinner at Lim and Shenden’s?”
Namaari paused, the woman taking in this information slowly. Her brain unable to make the connections for a solid second or two before it kick-started itself again, a panic rising as she realized what this meant.
Christmas was tomorrow and she hadn’t done a single thing.
“No, it’s-..no it can’t be tomorrow?” Namaari laughed, pulling out her phone then, “It’s Wednesday-”
“It’s Friday..” Benja carefully said, calmly, trying to help ease her down.
“Friday!?” Namaari screeched, seeing the date flash at her from her phone. Telling her again this was true. Tomorrow was Christmas. “No..no..I didn’t even go shopping yet for anyone!” she cried, “I-..with...everything happening...we kept putting it off and-..no, oh NO!”
God how could she have let this happen! She hadn’t just neglected the dates, she neglected getting the gifts too! The entire month of December so far had been absolutely crazy on the pair of leaders. Between the upcoming dates of Raya’s hospital stay and trying to mentally prepare Chau as best they could, finagling schedules and making sure that between their responsibilities and their own child that someone would be at the house with him at all times. Their friends stepped up to watch the boy, not wanting to uproot him from the comfort of his home along with everything else going on. Staying over and trying to keep to his typical schedule as best as they could. And that wasn’t even including all the paperwork she hadn’t finished, that pile waiting for her back in her home office. She never let things get so far behind. She would have had presents months ago hidden in the closet, ready to wrap, prepared for Christmas before it was even Halloween! She had completely messed up, Raya would be so disappointed...Chau and everyone and-
A pair of hands grabbed onto her shoulder, taking her from the whirlwind that was her mind back down to earth where she saw Benja had sat Chau back on the ground and come to her instead. Hands on her shoulders, stopping her from the pacing she had unknowingly been doing, the absolute panic that was ripping through her body coming to a complete halt when she looked into the man’s eyes. Calm, relaxed, an easy smile on his lips.
“Namaari..breathe..” he stated, lightly, and it was only then did Namaari realize she had been in complete meltdown mode. Her body felt jittery, her mind trying to grasp at so many issues she needed to fix. Spazzing out then, rambling out loud to the point where Benja had to come to her aid. “A deep breath...and then we can tackle this..”
She took a deep breath in, again only realizing in that moment that in her panic she had hardly breathed at all. The air filling her lungs immediately calming her, shoulders lowering, jaw un-clenching; head clearer than before.
“Good..okay..” Benja chuckled, “first off..don’t worry about making anything, we’ll just take one of these hundreds of casseroles to Lim’s.”. He removed one of his hands, his other staying to help keep Namaari grounded. “Second...it’s not too late, we can go now and get everything we need!”
“But it’s Christmas eve, the stores will be completely empty!” Namaari said, rather dramatically. True, it might be fairly empty, but it would have something there they could scrounge up. “We have a list..of stuff we wanted for the house and for Chau...and-”
“Then go get the list!” Benja laughed, “if we leave now, we might only be a few minutes late for dinner.”
So they left. Benja, Namaari and Chau; bundled up in their winter coats and a list of items that they prayed they got at least some checked off by that evening. The air was freezing, the traffic was terrible, and the stores were even worse as they were completely packed with last-minute shoppers who flooded out to make those final purchases. Grabbing cans of extra green beans for a recipe that called for it, candles to make their decor pop or candy to top off a gift bag to a friend they had forgotten to give. All tiny things, just stuff to finish what had already been done, whereas Namaari was starting at the beginning of all of this. Staring at the list with a look of defeat until Benja turned on the radio and started belting out along with the Christmas tunes being played, making both Namaari and Chau laugh and then sing along. The toddler flapping his hands and kicking his feet the entire time, overjoyed at the energy in the car
The shopping trip kept that same vibe throughout the entire busy afternoon. Namaari would feel overwhelmed, skimming the shelves or bouncing back and forth between aisles only for the man to jump to the rescue. Cracking jokes, making her smile, maybe not finding the exact thing that they needed but finding alternatives that were either just as good or even better. They hit the mall and while Namaari ran to find a model plane set for Tong that they had spotted months ago, Benja entertained Chau by playing with a mat that looked like a piano and made noise when you stepped on it. The little boy running back and forth on it, clapping his hands and squealing in delight when his Grandpa followed him.
Benja made them stop to eat halfway through the mall trip, someone knowing that Namaari had skipped lunch to finish work. The man giving her quite an earful when she admitted it.
“Your wife told me it was my job to make sure you eat!” he laughed as they waited in line in the food court, “I take my job very seriously!”
Noodles for Chau, because that’s all the two year old ever ate and a wrap for Namaari that she tore into. Only then realizing she was starving when she sat down to acknowledge the food. The fuel she needed after running around that afternoon.
Two more hours of shopping, waiting in lines, finding the right things, chasing after Chau when he got too excited and rushed off to see “pretty lights” or someone he thought looked like “Mommy” and the trio was heading home to Raya and Namaari’s place. Chau bursting through the door loudly, calling for Raya again as he expected her to be home. Continuing the search even when they had been home for quite a few minutes. Pouting then laughing when Benja gave him his own bit of wrapping paper that the boy rolled around in as he played with it. Benja helping them again by wrapping all the gifts while Namaari tried to assemble a large dollhouse for Chau. No point in hiding it, considering the boy’s attention span. That, and she barely understood the directions enough to get the thing built.
As another hour passed, Namaari figured she’d have to assemble it later when she returned home after the dinner party. Both Benja and herself trying to figure it out, only to end up more confused in the end. A little disappointed, but knowing she had to get ready to leave and Benja, who had been with them all afternoon, would surely need to head home to prepare as well. The man waving her off, insisting they finish up. Even when the time to leave was upon them. Namaari pointing that out to him, not wanting either of them to be late.
“Trust me, we won’t!” he chirped.
Namaari did, but she didn’t see how until the doorbell rang fifteen minutes later. Opening the door to find all of their friends standing on the other side. Warm smiles and delicious dishes of food, presents in their arms as they came inside. Lim and Shenden taking up the rear after Sisu, Tong, Boun and Noi. Along with their family members like Adele and Noi’s Mother.
“Heard you guys need help on a pesky dollhouse?” Shenden announced, the woman beaming with confidence as she looked down at the long wooden pieces, “I can definitely assemble this bad boy..it’s like Adele’s at home!”.
Namaari couldn’t help the smile on her lips, giving Benja a knowing look then.
The man shrugged.
“Hope you don’t mind, I figured we could use some extra hands anyways?”
Namaari didn’t mind at all, grateful she didn’t have to leave the task at hand. Even more so when their friends piled into the house and began to help in the forgotten Christmas tasks. Tong and Noi’s Mother helped Benja with wrapping (thankfully the only left belonged to Chau), while Noi and Boun took to cleaning up. Namaari and Shenden tackled the dollhouse and Lim, Sisu and Adele played with Chau to keep him occupied. They set up the Christmas tree and some decor around the house, trying to make it all look festive and bright for when Raya returned home in a few days. Stopping only to eat and put music on that had both the young and old dancing and singing along. The night, the whole day as well, turning out far better than Namaari could have ever hoped it to be. Everything done, the presents wrapped and ready for tomorrow.
Here on the other side of the evening, everyone gone home after hugs and thanks had been passed around; Namaari was finishing up the dishes while Benja had put Chau to bed. A task that was usually quite difficult as the boy never seemed to stop moving. However, after a long day, he crashed well before Benja had put him into his pajamas and tucked him in. She was just rinsing her hands clean when the man came into the living room, grabbing his coat as he prepared to leave. Namaari stopping him before he got to the door.
“Wait...um..” she paused, looking for the package underneath the tree, spying it in the back. Snagging it and handing it to Benja. “Here..Raya and I picked it out awhile ago, so I already had it wrapped..” she said, face flushing as the man looked between her and the present. “We..ah..you can open it now or..whenever I mean, tomorrow too-...ah..” she began, suddenly feeling shy, “I hope you like it…”
Benja didn’t miss a beat, he tore into the wrapping paper to reveal a small box beneath. He popped the lid open and slid the item out, a golden pocket watch. Intricate design all along it with the words “Greatest Dad” on one side and “Even Better Grandpa” on the other. When Benja flipped it open, the face of the watch was ivory with beautiful numbers in flowy design. On the other side, where the watch opened, was a picture of their family. All of them, a photo they had taken over a year ago. The very one Benja had hanging on the wall of his room, his favorite.
The man stared down at the watch for a long time, closing it again as he turned it over in his hands. Thinking of what to say, whereas Namaari couldn’t seem to stop talking.
“It’s okay..if you don’t like it, it’s..popular in Fang, the design I mean..my-..Mother she helped me find the right person to make it and Raya chose the photo..so it’s from..all of us..and I really appreciate you in our lives, you mean..ah..I really..I’m happy..I-..I’m happy that you’re our children’s Grandfather and I really can’t thank you enough for today and-”
“Namaari..” Benja said, cutting her short with a wide grin on his face, “I love it.”
She breathed out, happily.
“Oh, good..ah..that’s great-”
He hugged her then, Namaari accepting it.
“And I am happy you’re a part of this family too,” he added, “I love that you’re my daughter in law.”
Namaari swallowed back tears, smiling.
“I love that too.”
When they parted Namaari couldn't help the feeling of joy from everything. Feeling grateful for everyone and everything in their lives, especially Benja. The man like a second Father to her, the first she ever really got to experience. The man coming to the rescue today when she needed it, knowing she wouldn't have made any of this happen by herself; as well as keep Chau occupied and happy.
"Thanks for everything today.." she added, "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Benja smiled, nodding at the appreciation.
"Wouldn't miss it for the world!"
“She’s kind of ugly..”
Raya turned and saw her Mother in law trying to hide her amusement behind her hand, eyebrows raised as the two of them looked in on the newborn. Sleeping soundly in a little white room filled with other small babies. Nurses walking back and forth to check on them, her daughter in the tiny box-like bed with her name written on the front, “Linh”.
“Not at all what I thought you’d say,” Virana said, “however, not surprised..”
“Chau was ugly too.” she added, “I honestly think all babies are until they look less like aliens and more like humans again.”
“Well, it’s a tiny space..to live in..and it’s not exactly easy to come out without getting a few bruises or wrinkles along the way!”
“I mean- you don’t have to remind me,” Raya scoffed, “she really had to make my first and last time giving birth a major pain in the ass..”
“Reason why I only had Namaari..” Virana added, “once was enough.”
Raya smirked, loving how easily their conversations flowed together. Never thinking back then when Namaari and her first started dating that they’d ever be able to have moments like these. Yet, here they were, hanging out for days. Virana made sure that she was well taken care of, especially when Namaari had to return home to care for Chau and finish work. Spending time with her, helping talk to the nurses and doctors, as well as easing her worries about all of this.
Grateful for her part in all of this.
“Should we head back?” Virana asked.
“Already?” Raya whined.
‘Doctor said to take it easy,” she reminded her, “your delivery was...rough..”
Again, Virana didn’t need to remind her.
Raya would never get pregnant again.
However before she could comment, a loud noise erupted down the hall that startled them both. Raya turned towards the noise, seeing a tiny toddler at the end of the hall. Eyes wide, mouth open as he looked at her. Shocked, as if he couldn’t believe Raya was actually there, before his face absolutely lit up and he was running towards her.
“Mommy!” Chau screeched, “MOMMY!”
Raya felt her entire body explode with happiness, seeing her firstborn after being apart for far too long. Complications with the delivery, staying a few extra days, and the normal hospital rules keeping them apart. Raya would have ran to him had it not been the fact she could barely manage walking. Still, that didn’t stop her from taking a few hurried steps forward, kneeling down and scooping the boy up into her arms.
“Chau!” she cried, hugging the boy tightly, "Merry Christmas!”
“Mey Kem-Must!” he replied, “Mommy!”
Raya stood, holding the boy and nearly fell over. Forgetting her weakness, even in these minuscule tasks that she so easily did before. Virana quickly coming behind her to help right her, an exasperated sigh from her lips as she shook her head. Knowing Raya wouldn’t be letting go of the small child any time soon, despite her Doctor’s telling her not to lift any weight.
Ten seconds later, Namaari and Benja rounded the corner. Both absolutely winded, carrying a laundry basket of gifts, balloons and other festive items that had slowed them down from catching Chau. Both looking absolutely relieved to see the two year old had been found.
“God he’s fast..you’ll have to...sign him...up for track..” Benja wheezed, smiling all the same.
Namaari shook her head at the boy, coming to kiss Raya.
“Merry Christmas, how are you feeling?” she asked her, just as their lips parted.
“Better now that you’re here.” Raya replied, this being the truth. Tugging her back into another simple kiss until Chau came between them.
“MY Mommy..” he whined, holding tighter onto Raya’s neck. Clearly wanting Raya’s attention for himself.
“Fine, but she’s mine later.” Namaari teased, kissing her again and then the boy on his nose, making him laugh.
“MY MOMMY!” he squealed again, giggling.
“Ah..there’s a fun phase,” Virana joked, “good luck with that, Namaari had trouble sharing too.”
“He’ll have to learn now that he’s got a baby sister!” Benja added, smiling as he looked into the room to see if he could spot her. Eyes glowing when he did.
They all looked then, Raya pointing her out to Chau.
“Look, Chau..that’s your sister...Linh!” she gushed, “see the baby?”
Chau took one look at his sister, his eyes looking utterly confused while his eyebrows knitted together. Softening some when he looked upon her face, holding his attention on her for a solid minute before a smile fell on his lips.
“Bab-ee..” he whispered, sounding so adorable.
And then, louder, he added, “Ug-ee.”
Raya and Namaari snorted, unable to hold back a laugh while Benja and Virana just shook their heads.