Back in Santa Barbara - Nine


Ising shrieked upon seeing Crux sitting opposite to me in the kitchen. She slapped her face and opened her eyes again. “No, this can’t be true. I am still dreaming. I need to go back to bed and then I’ll wake up. This is just a dream.” She walked towards her room when Chris came running downstairs. 
“What’s going on here?” he asked, surprised with the scenario that greeted him early morning. It’s 6 am, and everyone’s up. His eyes grew upon seeing Crux. “What in the Queen's name are you doing here?” 
I stood up and followed Ising to her room. She looks disturbed and scared. She started crying. “What was that in the kitchen, Felicia? Dios ko, Maria Santissima,” she made a sign of the cross. 
“Don’t be shocked, Ising. Remember when I told you I spent a year in the Underworld? I was not joking or making things up. It was true. I have spent a year with the engkanto and dwarves in their world. They were nice to me. There in the kitchen is Crux, one of my friends.” Chris showed up at the door, a glass of water in his hand. He handed it to Ising while massaging her shoulders. 
“Ising, he’s no harm.” 
“And it’s true that you’re not human at all, Chris?” She howled at him. 
“I was an engkanto, Ising. But not anymore. I am a human being now. Look at me.” He held her shaking hands to his. "You do not need to be scared.” She eventually stopped shaking. 
Ising looked at me and spoke, “No one should know about this.” Chris and I nodded. “We’ll keep this a secret.” 
“Yes, we will.” I gave her a hug. “I’m sorry for doing this to you.” 
“It’s not your fault. You tried to explain, and I didn’t listen.” The three of us gently walked back to the kitchen where we found Crux petrified, looking at his shoes. Ising drew near and handed her hand. “Hi, I am Ising.” Crux gradually smiled showing his crooked teeth. His tiny hand shook Ising’s. “Now, what does a dwarf eat for breakfast?" 
"Oh, I eat anything." 

And so, Ising made a hearty breakfast. We all amusingly finished all of it. “This is so much better than what I had all those weeks of traveling to Santa Barbara,” Crux commented. 
“Where do you go after this, Crux?” Ising asked while refilling his plate of more garlic fried rice. 
“Uhm, I am thinking maybe I can stay for a few days until the twentieth?” He gazed at Chris who furrowed his brows. 
“The passage won’t open until next year. What do you plan to do here in Santa Barbara?” Chris asked. 
“We don’t need to discuss it right here, right now,” Crux answered. 
“He’s right. Crux can stay for a while.” 

Ising and I decided to go to the plaza for groceries. Chris needed to go to work and left that morning. Crux assured us that there’s no reason to worry about him. He’ll walk around on his own. “Invisible, of course!” he confirmed. 
“Just don’t play with these people. You know how human beings would react if they see something like you.” 
“I know, Chris. You do not need to warn me. You’re not the only Underworld creature who spent time in this world you know. You’re not the only cultured entity here.” 
“If you say so, dwarf.” 
“Says a former engkanto who chose botanist as a profession.” Crux giggled. 
“Stop mocking, Crux. Mr. Botanist here needs to go now, or he will be late for his job.” I said handing Chris his lunch box. 
Chris faced me and planted a kiss on my cheeks. “What do you plan to do today?” 
“I plan to do groceries and perhaps have a good siesta.” 
“Sounds like a plan. Have a good rest because tomorrow morning is the first Christmas mass.” 

That afternoon, I continued walking around the town on my own. People said shopping is the best temporary remedy in the world, and that those who do not think money can buy happiness, do not know how to spend them. I know where to spend my money - on books on sale this month. Aunt Georgette’s bookshop is the most accessible for me ever since I was a kid. After school, I remember stopping there before going home. I won’t buy every time, sometimes just standing there, staring at the shelves filled with books, scanning the new titles and their blurbs, were enough to make me feel peaceful again. Aunt Georgette who own and runs the place would let me stay there. She was busy with her reading. Her bookshop this time was filled with Christmas decorations. A colourful wreath hung by the glass door. Metallic coloured pines with white Christmas balls filled the window, and in the centre of it all, a Santa Claus’ figure was in a rocking chair reading a book. 

Aunt Georgette by the cashier fixed her glasses in her eyes and looked at me. “Felicia, is that you?” She looked surprised to see me. She stood up and instantly gave me a hug. “How are you, child? May I get you something to drink?” 
“I am just here to scan the new titles. Don’t let me bother you.” 
“Oh bullshit, you’re not a bother. I missed you looking at these shelves.” She said the curse word so sweetly which isn’t supposed to surprise me. Ever since I was young, whenever she would have tea with my Mom at home, my Mom would cover my ears every time Aunt Georgette would speak. She’s a best friend of my Mom. “I heard you came back to Santa Barbara weeks ago, but I know you’ll be busy, so I didn’t dare to call or visit you. I hope everything’s well? With your life? I heard you have a boyfriend. Is this right?” 
“I have a man I like living in the house with Ising and me. But I am not sure how long will he stay so I don’t want to put any labels on it.” 
“Of course, hija. It is the twentieth century where no one cares, but you know, this isn’t Manila or Spring City. This is Santa Barbara. People are a bit conservative. Anyway, in case you are sure about this guy, what’s his name?” 
“Chris. Promise me, you’ll introduce him to me. Okay? Otherwise, if he’s a temporary like Richard, don’t bother.” I giggled at the thought. Aunt George still has not changed. “Now, go ahead. There’s the new section." 

I walked towards the new section. I scanned the titles, picked one and inhaled as I gazed through the pages. In my peripheral view, I thought I saw Lucy. When I looked again, I confirmed that it was indeed her. And she was not alone. She was sitting by the fountain with a man. He must be Jonathan, and they were gazing at each other like lovers. I found myself smiling as I continued browsing. 

Siesta was as planned that afternoon. Dinner was the usual favourites, but Crux was no longer in his room. It was only me, Chris and Ising in the living room. I praised Ising for being a good sport about Crux. Ising had told me a lot of urban legends when I was young, a lot of those stories includes dwarfs, engkantada, and engkanto. “I’m sorry I panicked. Those stories I told you when you were still young were not true. Those are the stories that came from my grandma too, passed on by the old generations. I never really thought it could be true. I mean there were stories, but you never believe unless you have seen and met them.” 

At 10 pm, I went back to my room. When I wake up tomorrow, it will be the sixteenth, and that means I only have four days left until Chris leaves me. I heard Chris knocked and entered the door. “Hey.” 
“Hey.” I sat up and turned on the lamp. “Can’t sleep?” 
“I think I would sleep better if I sleep next to you.” I thought for a while. The decision to sleep on separate bedroom was for me to figure things out between us. A month ago, I told him I needed the time to think about our relationship. “Just tonight, I promise,” he added. If this man is going to leave me in four days, why don’t I take this chance to be with him? What if I am not sure if I love him or not? What the hell, and who cares? Of course, I want him next to me. I need him to be here with me. 
“Come. Lay beside me.” 

The alarm rang waking us up. It’s 4 am. I reached my arm and clicked snooze. Under the cover, it felt comfortable. I wanted to sleep back again. But then Chris’ arms encircled my hips. His lips went to my ears, whispering, “Time to wake up.” 
“May I have five more minutes?” 
“If you do that, we won’t have time for coffee. And believe me, you’ll need a chance to warm up.” He kissed me behind my right ear. “Wake up, dear.” 
“What motivates you to do this, huh? What do you wish for?” 
“I don’t think I need to answer that. I believe the wish could be at the last mass, right?” 
“You really plan to complete this?” 
“Hey, I need your support on this.” He sat up and stretched his arms. “Wake up, sleepyhead.” 

We went to the bathroom together to wash our faces and brush our teeth. When we went down, we found Ising wrapper in her bathrobe in the living room with two cups of coffee prepared. “You’re not joining us?” 
“I need more sleep because it’s going to be a long day for me, señorita.” 
“Why? What do you plan to do?” 
“I will be flying to Cebu for a few days, remember? I told you about this. I promised Angelina that I am going to spend Christmas with her this time.” 
“Oh yes, I remember. How could I forget? I’m sorry, I guess I’ll need to sip this coffee for now.” 
“Don’t worry; you’ll be fine. Chris is here and he'll take care of you.” 
“I just don’t know how the Noche Buena is going to be without you, Ising. Promise me you’ll leave the recipes.” 
“Already done, Felicia. It’s in the refrigerator.” 

After the morning coffee, we wore our sweaters and sneakers and started to walk to the Santa Barbara Church. It’s only a twenty-minute walk. It was chilly, and like yesterday morning, the sky was filled with a million of stars. Each one of them, holding a promise that everything is going to be alright. I looked at Chris who was beaming at the sky. “You need to watch where you’re walking, you know,” I reminded him. 
“Why should I? You would be there to catch me, right?” Before I answered to his teasing, I got distracted by people who were just coming out of their houses to walk to the Santa Barbara church. The Christmas tree wrapped in white lights, which we put in the middle of the Plaza still stood.The door of the church was open, where the melodious combination of the organ and the choir’s soft singing of “Hallelujah" made my throat hurts. Memories of Mom and Dad bringing me to church flashed and I got teary eyed. I wiped my eyes before Chris could see me. 

At the plaza, a few stands were selling Puto Bumbong or rice cakes inserted in small bamboo tubes. Covered with butter, Puto Bumbong is served in banana leaves. I wanted to drown from the smell of toasted Banana leaves from Bibingka, another type of rice cake that’s soft and spongy and cooked in clay pots. “This smells amazing!” Chris commented. 

“Come on, let’s have some. We still have ten minutes until the mass starts.” 

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