Happy Thursday, Christmas fanatics! Welcome to the third official installment of Another Christmas Story!
This week, everyone’s favorite elf – the one with the best voice – Julia Colburn will read to all of you Chapter Two of our tale, entitled “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”! [I know last week we said Thom would be reading this week’s chapter, but there was a mixup with the schedule and he’ll actually be reading next week’s!] Within this chapter, you’ll discover what Joseph Nazario is up to in the present day, ten-years after his Christmas Eve blowout with his next door neighbor, Mary Holiday!
We hope you like it! If you do, make sure to share this episode and our website, upon which the text of this installment is posted, to get it in front of as many eyes as possible!
Make sure to check your podcast feeds for your regular weekly episode on Monday, in which the elves will be discussing Serendipity, and next Thursday for the third official chapter of this story – “Chapter Three: Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, which our very own Thom will be reading! Enjoy, y’all!
Chapter Two: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
December 23rd – 3:30 p.m. PST
It didn’t feel like Christmas.
Even though he had been living out in California for six-years now, Joseph Nazario still couldn’t get used to the fact that it rarely dropped below seventy-degrees at its coldest; indeed, this particular day it was eighty-degrees outside. It very rarely felt like Christmas, which bothered him, since Christmas was still his favorite time of the year. That’s why he was excited to be flying back to New York to spend the holidays with his family for the first time since he had moved across the country – even though, at the same time, he was dreading it for various reasons. There was, after all, a pretty unpleasant change that had occurred in his life since the last time he had seen his parents.
Shaking his head, as though to clear it of the unwanted thoughts he could feel creeping in, Joey grabbed a pile of rolled-up socks that were lying on his bed and threw them in the half-packed, carry-on suitcase laying open on the ground at his feet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw an image of the Manhattan skyline flash across the T.V. mounted on the wall directly across from the bed. As a reporter appeared in front of the image, Joey hurried to grab the remote control in order to turn up the volume and hear what the man was saying over the loud hum of his air-conditioning and the muffled sounds of L.A. traffic that could be heard through his closed bedroom window.
“It looks like New York is in for a white, and extremely congested, Christmas this year,” the newscaster was saying. “Not only does it look like Winter Storm Elsa is poised to dump up to four feet of snow on top of the five boroughs and the Hudson Valley, but the traffic delays are sure to be made worse when a few very special guests descend upon the city this Christmas Eve. We’re not talking about Santa and his elves – but the President of the United States! The White House confirmed today – via brand-new chief of staff, Anna Dreyfus – that President Williams will be flying into town tomorrow to entertain the prime ministers of Canada and England – Nathan Dubois and Matilda Richardson. Given how much tensions are increasing with Russia, however, the White House did face some pushback regarding the timing of the trip. Take a look how the president’s chief of staff responded.”
Footage of Anna Dreyfus holding a press briefing earlier that morning began to play on the television screen at that moment, replacing the image of the New York skyline. “As far as I’m aware, and again this is my first day on the job, but I’ve been informed that this purely a social visit. The president, like all world leaders who celebrate, will be taking a vacation for Christmas just as everyone who’s ever held the office prior to her always did as well. Please remember that a vacation for a president is never truly a vacation. She’ll still get her daily briefings and deal with problems, both at home and abroad, as they arise in the same way that she would were she behind the resolute desk in the oval office. So, frankly, I see no problem with the timing of this social visit.”
The newscaster reappeared on the screen at that moment, once again standing in front of the Manhattan skyline, now holding a piece of paper in his hands. “The press office further elaborated on this social trip in an official statement released about an hour ago.” He stared down at the piece of paper and read, “Prime Ministers Dubois and Richardson have brought up to the president multiple times, individually in passing, that they’ve always wanted to experience a traditional Christmas in New York City. As England and Canada are two of our oldest, closest allies, President Williams thought it would be a nice gesture to oblige them and give them a presidential tour of Manhattan this Christmas Eve. Though we at the White House are, of course, closely working with the appropriate agencies in monitoring Winter Storm Elsa, the president is glad that she’ll be able to show her foreign counterparts not just what New York at Christmas is like, but what a white Christmas in the city that never sleeps is like to boot.”
The newscaster lowered the piece of paper and stared into the camera again with a bemused smile on his face. “Naturally, this statement isn’t doing much to lower raised eyebrows over this hastily arranged gathering, but perhaps those who are questioning the timing of this social outing given America’s increasingly icy cold war with the Kremlin, can find some reassurance in what else Anna Dreyfus said later on in today’s press briefing.”
Footage of that morning’s presser replaced the newscaster once again, though this time Anna looked much more frazzled as she sternly addressed a reporter’s concerns. “I’m going to stop you right there and ask you to consider whether or not any social visits between world leaders are ever purely social.”
“Ever purely social,” the newscaster repeated with a shrug and a wide grin, as he appeared yet again, still in front of the Manhattan skyline.
The man jumped in surprise as he heard the front door of their apartment slam shut, so startled that he sloppily dropped the pile of jeans he was about to gently lower into his open suitcase on the floor, rather than place them nicely within. “In the bedroom!” he called loudly to his girlfriend, as he turned back to the television in time to catch the end of the newscaster’s report.
“Whatever the real reason for the president’s one-day vacation in Manhattan with two of her foreign counterparts, one thing is for certain – between their presence, and the arrival of Winter Storm Elsa, it’s going to be one congested, traffic-filled Christmas Eve for New Yorkers. My advice for them? Get an early start tomorrow morning to get where you need to be for the holidays with plenty of time to spare.”
Shaking his head, Joey turned off the television as his fiancée, Lilianna Capello, entered the bedroom. Italian like himself, she had olive-toned skin, long dark hair, and beautiful green eyes. Having just gotten home from work, she was currently wearing a long gray shirt and a matching blazer over a purple blouse. “How was your day?” he asked, after giving her a swift peck on the lips.
“Oh, you know…” Lilianna gave a half-hearted shrug, as she threw a quick glance at Joey’s half-packed suitcase. “How was yours? Did you manage to get any more job applications in?”
“Not exactly,” Joey admitted guiltily, as he picked a pile of folded shirts up off of the bed and placed them into his suitcase. “But I did come up with a new idea for a novel!” He slammed the lid of his suitcase shut and began to zip it closed. “So I started to do some preliminary outlining on that.” He stood his suitcase up and patted the top of it, satisfied with himself.
“Did you ever send out the novel you already completed?” Lilianna asked, a hint of annoyed exasperation evident in her voice now. “You know – the one you were finally able to finish after you got fired six-months ago?”
“You know, I was going to,” Joey began. “But when I started to edit it, I realized I didn’t like the concept enough to actually finish polishing it up and get out to publishers. This new idea though – this is the one! It’s about a man who dies and is bestowed with the mantle of the Grim Reaper, so he’s forced to claim the lives of others. Naturally, this presents a dilemma for him when – what’s wrong?” He noticed the weary expression on his girlfriend’s face as her eyes darted toward his packed suitcase again.
“Nothing.” Lily forced a smile onto her face. “Tell me more about your book.”
“Lil.” Joey tiled his head to its side in order to observe the woman more closely. “Lily.” He took a step closer to her. “I can tell when you’re preoccupied and not interested. Did something happen today at work?”
“Well, yes, actually. It’s just that – well…I was a made a partner today,” she admitted shyly.
Joey blinked in surprise, taken aback by the unexpected news. Once he got past the initial shock, however, a huge smile spread out across his face. “That’s amazing!” He engulfed his fiancée in a tight hug before planting a passionate kiss onto her lips. “Congratulations!”
“Thanks.” Lilianna flashed her boyfriend a contented smile after letting out a small sigh of relief. “It’s pretty huge news.”
“Pretty huge?” Joey repeated. “It’s enormous! Tell me everything! What exactly does being a partner entail? I assume it comes with a raise?”
“A big one!” Lilianna replied eagerly, her smile widening. “I’ll finally be able to handle some of our bigger clients – more recognizable musical artists and A-list movie stars; and they’ll be renaming the agency to include my name. So it’s changing from the Emanuel-Piven-Gold Agency to the Emanuel-Piven-Gold-Capello Agency; the EPGC.”
“I’m so happy for you!” Joey planted another kiss on Lilianna’s lips, which she half-heartedly returned before glancing at his suitcase again. Noticing her glance, he backed away from the woman and smiled. “You better get packing; flight leaves at ten tonight! We get into New York about seven thirty in the morning. You’re seriously going to love it; there is no place in the world that does Christmas better! The snow, the lights, the tree – we can even celebrate your big news when we get there! Make a reservation at a fancy restaurant with water views, maybe book a room at the Plaza for the night – what do you think?”
Lilianna fiddled with her engagement ring, glancing down at the tiny diamond that Joey could barely afford, as her fiancée pulled a second suitcase from their bedroom closet. “Joey, I need to talk to you about something.”
But the man didn’t appear to hear her, for as he threw the empty suitcase onto the bed, he kept talking, as though he had not been interrupted. “So here’s the game plan – once we land, we’re going to take a shuttle into midtown and meet Ryan outside of his office building so he can hold onto our luggage for the day, which we’ll spend touring the island and seeing the sights until he gets off work. He’s going to drive us to Bayside tomorrow night; it just makes more sense to hitch a ride with him for free, rather than paying for a car or inconveniencing my parents. I mean, he’s heading that way anyway, plus, by the time that he gets off work, the president and her visitors will hopefully have already left the city so we won’t have as much traffic to deal with.”
“My parents can’t wait to see you! They’re going to be thrilled to hear about your promotion! Who knows? Maybe – if I’m lucky – it’ll help to offset how they’ll feel when they find out that I’ve hidden from them the fact that I’ve been out of work for a half-a-year.” Lilianna’s face darkened at the words, but Joey didn’t appear to notice. “Did you tell your parents your news yet? I bet they were—”
“Joseph!” Lilianna snapped forcefully, finally managing to get Joey to shut up as he registered the use of his full name. “Can we just – I need to talk to you about something.” She perched herself on the edge of the bed, still fiddling with her engagement ring as Joey blinked at her, looking so confused that she couldn’t help but pity him.
“What’s wrong?” he asked, perching himself beside her on the bed and placing a reassuring hand on her knee. “For someone who was just made partner at their talent agency, you sure seem depressed!”
“It’s just…” Lilianna took a deep breath and stared down at her knees, gently removing Joey’s hand from them, unable to look the man in the eye. “This isn’t easy for me to say, but I think we should…you know…” She looked up at her fiancée, hoping he’d finish the thought for her to spare her from needing to say it aloud herself. But when Joey continued to stare at her, perplexed, it became clear that she would need to grit her teeth and do it. So, in an attempt to get it over with, she said quickly, “I think we should break up.”
“What?” Joey blinked, not registering what the woman had said. Lilianna waited silently, unwilling to clarify, for she knew the man would get there himself eventually. It took him a few moments, but the reality of what the woman had said washed over him soon enough, and when it did, his stomach clenched uncomfortably, making him feel nauseous, and he was initially at a loss for words. When he was finally able to speak, it took him an enormous amount of effort to choke out words with his tied-tongue, and they tumbled out of his mouth in a nervous stutter. “B-break up?” he repeated. When Lilianna nodded, biting down nervously on her lower lip, he exclaimed, “You can’t be serious!”
“Look, Joey, it’s – it’s not you, alright? It’s me.”
Joey let out a humorless laugh despite himself. “Do not give me the ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ excuse, Lil. Just don’t.”
“But Joey, it’s true,” Lilianna insisted. “I’m sorry.”
“Where is this coming from all of a sudden?” Joey pushed himself to his feet, his heart racing. “Why—”
“It’s been coming for a while now,” Lilianna admitted guiltily. “One thing didn’t just bring this on. It’s just – I guess you losing your job six-months ago really started to wake me up to a few uncomfortable realities. And you – well, you still haven’t found a new one, and—”
“So it is me?” Joey interrupted. “It is my fault?” He stumbled backward into their wooden bureau and grabbed onto it for support in order to steady himself; he felt light-headed all of a sudden, and it felt as though the room were spinning.
“No, Joey, listen.” Lilianna stood up and placed her hands on both of his shoulders. Taking a deep breath, she stared into his blue eyes before continuing. “It’s not your fault that you lost your job. And I can’t begrudge you for using your newfound empty schedule to try and get your writing career off of the ground after you were fired; I really can’t. I know it’s your dream, and I firmly believe that everybody should follow their dreams. But my dream isn’t to support you while you’re trying to figure out how to achieve yours. I know that sounds harsh,” she admitted, noticing the man wince as though he had been slapped in the face as the words spilled out of her mouth. “But with my promotion, it’s just – well, I want more in life. I mean…” She laughed. “I finally have my dream job. I was kind of hoping to put all of the extra money I’ll be making now into travelling and seeing the world – not toward paying the bills my fiancée is struggling to pay. You understand that, don’t you?” she asked gently.
“But…I love you.” The way Joey said it suggested that this mere fact was all that counted and settled the ridiculous matter. But when he leaned in to kiss her, Lilianna turned her head at the last second so that his lips grazed her cheek.
“I know you do,” she replied, taking a few steps back from him. “I do. But…” She sighed deeply as she gave a small shrug. “I guess, somewhere along the line, I just…I fell out of love with you. I’m sorry.”
Joey’s knees buckled at the words, and he leaned farther into the bureau for support as he stared at the woman. “But we’re getting married next year.”
Lilianna shook her head. “We’re not,” she said firmly. “I – I can’t.” She slid her engagement ring off of her finger and placed it gently on the bureau beside the spot where Joey rested his hand. “I don’t want either of us to waste the prime years of our lives in a marriage that should never have happened in the first place; that wouldn’t be fair to either of us.”
“Why shouldn’t it happen?” Joey demanded, irate now, as he stamped his foot in frustration like a petulant child. “Give me one good reason!”
“I already did!” Lilianna yelled, noticing tears begin to well up in the eyes of the man standing across from her, which made hot, discouraged tears of her own begin to roll down her cheeks. “But if you want more, how about the fact that we have nothing in common anymore?”
At the words, Joey flashed back to Christmas Eve ten-years prior, when another girl said something similar to him in a very different, but just as hurtful context. He swayed on the spot, as his now former fiancée continued. “Some evenings I just want to cuddle on the couch with a bottle of wine and watch a Nicholas Sparks movie! But most of the time, I’m sitting next to you in silence watching as you play video games!”
“I don’t play them that often!”
“Or as you’re watching hours of ‘breaking news’ on MSNBC!”
“Well, excuse me for wanting to stay informed about what’s happening in our country and around the world,” Joey snapped, defensively.
“And if I have to sit through one more comic book movie, I swear to God—”
“Wow, you had all of these ready to go, didn’t you?”
“I’m sorry!” Lilianna yelled, for what felt like the thousandth time that day. “I’m just trying to make you understand!” Noticing how pitiful Joey’s look of desperation was, she sighed deeply and forced calm into her voice as she wiped tears from her eyes. “We just – we don’t like the same things anymore. And that’s okay! But I don’t think that makes for the best marriage. Do you understand?”
Joey nodded solemnly; he truly did. Closing his eyes, he did his best to regain his composure as his mind raced in a million different directions. “Okay. Okay.” He took a deep shuddering breath in an attempt to calm his quivering body. “Can you at least come home with me for Christmas? Put on a brave face for my family? It’s just – they’re expecting you, and—”
“I understand that, Joey, I really do,” Lilianna interrupted. “But I can’t! I can’t fake being happy with your family for two weeks, constantly talking about plans for a wedding that’s never going to happen! Plus, we both know that you’re the hopeless romantic type. If I fly home with you, you’re going to get it into your head that you can change my mind about breaking up with you, but I promise you that you will not be able to, and that will crush you all over again. My mind’s already made up. Besides,” Lilianna raised her voice slightly to forestall Joey from arguing with her when he opened his mouth to do so. “It would be nice for me to be able to actually enjoy Christmas and celebrate my promotion with my family, you know?”
As much as he hated to admit it, Joey knew that she was right. So, with a nod of his head, he mumbled, “I know.”
“I’m sorry,” Lilianna insisted yet again. “I really am—”
“Don’t be,” Joey interrupted, waving her apology aside. “It’s my fault.”
“It takes two to—”
“Lil, just – don’t, okay?” He stared at her across the room, silently pleading with her.
Lilianna eyed him closely for a moment before nodding curtly. “Okay. Okay.” She exhaled softly, as she stared around the room. “I’ll leave you alone; let you finish packing.”
“Don’t worry, I’m already done.” Joey pulled the retractable handle with which to drag his suitcase from the top of it with one hand, and pocketed the engagement ring Lilianna had placed beside him with his other hand, shaking as he did so. Lilianna bit down on her lower lip as she watched the action, but met the man’s eyes unflinchingly when he stared at her again. Joey was determined to commit her appearance to memory one last time; who knew if he’d ever see the woman again? As he eyed her closely, he realized that for the first time in a long time, she looked weightless – as though breaking up with him had lifted some long carried, heavy burden from her shoulders. Gritting his teeth, he said, “When I get back into town, I’ll start looking for a new place, alright? I’ll get out of your hair as soon as I possibly can. I can stay at a hotel in the meantime.”
“I can stay with a friend,” Lilianna insisted. “You don’t have the money—”
“I’ll manage.” Joey’s voice was firm. “I’d hate for you to have to support me one second longer.”
“Okay.” Lilianna cleared her throat so her voice didn’t sound so hoarse before saying, “At least let me give you a ride to the airport. I can—”
“I’ll call an uber. Thanks though.” And without another word, Joey dragged his suitcase past the woman and out of the bedroom, hurrying as fast as he could down the hall in an attempt to escape the apartment before his ex-fiancée could say anything more to him. He wasn’t fast enough, however, because he was still ten-feet from the front door when Lilianna called after him. “Joey!”
Stopping in his tracks, Joey reluctantly turned to face her one last time, and felt somewhat satisfied to see that she looked lost for the first time since arriving home that afternoon, in addition to sufficiently guilty. “It’s just – well – have a Merry Christmas, alright?”
Joey gave a curt nod. “You too. Congratulations again on your promotion.” Then he turned on his heel and hurried out of their apartment into the hot, humid, muggy Los Angeles air.
Though his flight to New York was still six-hours away, Joey had nowhere else to go to kill time, so he decided to call an uber and head on over to the airport much earlier than he needed to. For the duration of the entire, hour-long ride, he sat silently in the backseat of the car, absentmindedly twirling Lilianna’s engagement ring in his hand as he mulled over what had transpired between them. Since the moment they had met, she had been one of his best friends, and he had no clue what he would do without her in his life going forward. There was absolutely no way they could remain friends now; not after how things had ended between them.
It wasn’t until Joey exited the uber and watched the car pull away from the curb, however, and he was left dragging his suitcase into LAX, that a new, horribly embarrassing reality hit him full on in the face. In addition to telling his parents that he had been out of work for nearly half a year, he would also have to break the news to them that his fiancée, whom they adored, had left him. And because of both of those facts combined, he would probably need to swallow whatever pride he had left and ask if he could borrow money from them in order to move into a place of his own and get by until he found a new job. What a cheery Christmas Eve it would be for him!
With a deep sigh, Joey made his way over to the long, winding line for security, realizing that for the first time in his entire life, he wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all – and he couldn’t help but wonder if the holidays would now be tainted for him going forward forevermore.