24. Follow the script

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                   Christmas came. The days before it were just a mix of buying decorations, buying gifts and buying food. I guess I could slip happiness and love into the equation, but the illusion of what Christmas meant when I was 5 years old had been disappearing for awhile now. The same old script slowly exposed itself, taking out the magic year by year. At 9am we went to church, at noun our living room became a theatre. My mum, the leading actress, danced around the table with silver plates and lively giggles. My dad talked to the guests about finance and my grandpa snorted at everything he said. Cousins and aunts looked at me with judgement and concern. How are you doing, Pietro? Are your grades better now? Oh, that's good to know. What about girls?

    Follow the script. Dance to the choreography. I heard the bell ring to the melody of the Christmas concert, but then I opened the door and everything stopped. I stopped bobbing my head. I stopped smiling. On the happiest day of the year, the happiest girl of the world was at my doorstep. And she seemed to have an empty script. 

    "Noemi?" I whispered. 

    And then I regretted my words. The question mark wasn't supposed to be there. My eyebrows shouldn't have furrowed. This tone of confusion seemed to upset her, and she already looked so lost. Out of breath and shaking, yet standing still with darted eyes. I could feel the cold by just looking at her. She was wearing a cute red dress that was covered by the denim jacket and the giant mustard scarf that she had clearly put on without checking in the mirror first. It looked like she had escaped her family Christmas meal. 

    "Are you okay?" I asked. 

    She glanced up at me and didn't say a word. God, it looked like she had been crying. If not, it looked like she was going to. 

    "Yeah, I'm uhm..."

    She looked over my shoulder. She saw the corner of the living room, where my cousins sat beneath the tree and organized the pile of gifts. She felt the smell of stuffed turkey coming from the oven, she heard the sound of clinking glasses full of wine. I knew she did because her eyes got watery and I could almost tell the exact moment her heart squeezed out of pain. 

    "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I shouldn't have – "

    She turned around, but I grasped her arm before she could take a step. 

    "My mum's turkey is delicious," I said. "I think you should stay." 

    I gestured for her to come in, but she seemed reluctant. "No, I can't, I... it's Christmas and it's your family – "

    "They're just a bunch of dorks. They'll like you."

    She smiled softly and bit her lip. God, I had never seen so much sadness in her eyes. She was about to say something, but my mum walked by and her voice made us both bounce. 

    "Oh, Noemi! I'm glad you could come," she exclaimed. "I'd kiss you but my hands are dipped with chocolate. Why don't you come in? The table is almost ready." Then she threw a glance at me. "And you, don't just stand there like a lemon. At least be nice to your guests!"

    Now Noemi just had to come in. My mum's energy was too contagious and her warmth too hard to resist. I tried to get her to my room so we could talk in private, but as we crossed the living room my five-year-old cousin started chanting "Pietro has a giiirlfriend! Pietro has a giiirlfriend!". He said it as though it was something I was supposed to be ashamed of. I ruffled his hair and told him to shut up. My aunts whispered to each other and my grandpa just gave me a silent thumbs up.

    Once we finally reached my bedroom, I let out a sigh of relief. Noemi looked at me with that same expression of distress she had moments before and then, without saying anything, she just fell into my arms. Confused, I held her close to me because although I didn't know what was going on, I wanted her to know that I was here for her.

    "Is it your mum?" I whispered.

    With her head pressed against my chest, she nodded yes. Then she released me from the hug and took off her scarf. 

    "I just wanted to surprise her," she said. "I just wanted to have a normal Christmas, like everybody else. All that darkness and silence, I couldn't stand it. The night before I put on some decorations, I made a cake. But then she woke up and she just... she exploded."

    Noemi's shoulders trembled and her voice sounded like a broken violin. "She tore it all apart," she choked out. "She threw the cake in the trash, all the effort I put into it. And you had to see her, Pit. She couldn't stop screaming. And then she closed herself in her bedroom and just stayed there. And I had this feeling that kept intensifying, it was this fear, this paralysing terror that... what if I break again? What if I go back to zero? What if all of this progress is useless shit because I'm crying again and feeling helpless?"

    I wished I could have said something at that moment that would somehow alleviate her pain. I wished I knew all those comforting words they said in movies that magically made everything okay. But instead I just stood there and looked at her in silence, because seeing her cry made me want to cry and that was the last thing she needed to see. Because I knew nothing of the monsters she was fighting against, nothing of the sorrow she was going through. I didn't know if it was possible to conquer these demons, or if it was okay that they came back from time to time. I didn't know shit about depression. All I knew is that I loved her, I loved her so much it ached my bones. 

    "It's not useless," I said. "Everything you did to get better, every second you dedicated to yourself, it's never useless. It can happen, remember? You said it yourself. There are days when you feel low and the universe is against you, but then the next morning is different again. Your mum doesn't want to enjoy this holiday, but that doesn't mean you can't. And if she ruined this day, that doesn't mean she ruined everything. Now come on, let's go and eat that turkey!"

    Noemi wiped off her tears and smiled. It was the kind of smile that accompanies a crying session. She took off her denim jacket and revealed the beautiful red dress underneath. She was breathtaking. Even when she was a mess. 

    She kissed me on the lips and grabbed my hand. "Thank you."

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