Mending and A Different Axel.
Leah’s POV :
The backdoor leads to the kitchen which is hustling people running around and working on their respective tasks frantically. I look around to see a familiar face talking to Axel and I recognize her as Hana, the waitress from the other day.
“Guys!” Emilia calls out loudly, garnering everyone’s attention. They all stop doing whatever they were doing to turn to look at her curiously. Axel and I sigh knowing what was coming. “Guess who I brought along today? Leah Carmen!”
Hana meets my eyes and smiles and I smile back. Another girl with frizzy African girl and gorgeous chocolate brown skin steps forward and narrows her eyes at me with concentration. Suddenly, a loud gasp followed by a clapping of hand breaks out the silence in the room and an older guys, probably in his forties steps forward. “I know you.” He pauses, either to create suspense or to be sure of what he’s gonna say. “You’re Fred Carmen’s daughter, aren’t you?”
Emilia’s smile widens and she nods frantically. “Yes, Henry! She’s Leah, my new friend and our favorite chef’s daughter. We’re so lucky, aren’t we?”
Another round of multiple gasp is followed and suddenly, the whole kitchen is murmuring things altogether making whatever they’re saying incoherent. “Hi guys.” I say not really hoping to get my sound out there but upon hearing my voice, they all go silent and look at me with excited smiles.
“Are you going to cook with us today?” A guy with blonde buzz cut asks.
I nod. “That’s the plan, yes.”
Emilia tugs my hand, dragging me further into the large kitchen. “Come on, I’ll introduce you to everyone.” She makes the first stop in front of the older man who recognized me first and smiles wide. “This is Henry, our head cook and yes, he’s fan huge fan of your dad’s skills too.”
Henry greets me warmly and asks me to tell him some secret recipes before getting back to work. Emilia then drags me towards a group of five girls two of them looking alike. “And this is Hana, Alia and Amy. They are my cousins. Alia and Amy are twins.” I’m tackled into a hug by the twins while Hana chuckles. “We’ve met.” She says.
I nod at her, admiring the sisters’ beautiful platinum blonde hair.
“This is Abigail and Margo. They work here with us.” I smile at the two girls, the former being the gorgeous African beauty and the other one an older woman with somewhat Asian features.
“My mom’s Asian.” She smiles when she realizes my thought process. “I get that look a lot.” She continues to clear my lingering confusion and I chuckle.
“Sorry.” I say sheepishly.
Emilia then drags me towards the three guys , one of them being Axel who is busy on the phone. “This is Abel.” She says pointing towards the blonde guy from before. “And Jake.” She points to another dark haired guy. “And you already know Axel.”
I nod. “Mr. Scowls, yeah.” I mutter and he hers is and scowls. The other two guys laugh and smile flirtatiously but before they could begin with their charms, Henry claps his hands.
“Okay, enough with the introductions. As much as I would like to sit and talk with our recent addition to Christmas Kitchen, we have got lots of work to do.”
“Yeah, and we’ve got to be at the hospital at five, sharp so let’s get back to work.” Axel pipes, pocketing his phone.
As everyone turns serious and gets back to work, I fidget, not knowing what to do. “Um, what do I do?” I ask.
Henry turns to look at me and frowns. “Can you cook?” He asks.
I nod. “Yeah.”
He looks at me skeptically. “How good?”
“Nothing compared to my father but good enough.”
Emilia jumps in to my rescue. “She’s an amazing cook, Henry. You can ask Axel. We had dinner had her place last night that she cooked.”
Henry and all other look at Axel with amused eyes who scowls further and ignore everyone, busying himself in kneading the dough for the base. “Is that so?” The older man muses. “Well then I’d have to believe Axel’s judgement for if you didn’t know how to cook, he wouldn’t let you enter this kitchen.” He winks at me, jokingly.
For some reason, I know there’s some truth in that sentence seeing that this Christmas tradition of the Holden family was Axel’s idea and I have a feeling this means more to him than just social service.
“Okay, so what do I do?” I ask.
Henry thinks for a while. “How about you help me with the main dinner while the others work on the pizzas? They know how to do that and I was hoping to learn a few tricks from you.”
I chuckle and nod. “Sounds good.” I join Henry on the other end of the kitchen. Everyone works in in harmony, throwing in a few jokes here and there or singing random songs at random times as the rest of this kitchen crew joins them. I enjoy myself to the brink and I find myself smiling more openly around here.
The next four hours are spent us all enjoying and working and surprisingly finding the best balance between both. If it were only me, I know I could never have gotten this work done. Axel is a good leader. Whenever he sensed us getting distracted, he brought us back to track. He even cracked a few jokes that were actually really funny and all I could think was that this boy never fails to surprise me. Every time I see him, he leaves me more confused about who he really is.
When all the boxes are packed and loaded into Jake’s truck, he and Abel leave first to avoid traffic and get to the hospital before time, if possible. Hana, Amy, Alia and Emilia rush back upstairs to clean up and change. Margo and Abigail bid us goodbye and leave to celebrate Christmas with their own families.
“You can head out too, Henry. I’m sure we can manage cleaning up.” Axel says and Henry turns to me. I nod at him and when he is confirmed he sighs and smiles.
“Thank you, kids. I’ll leave it to you then. See you tomorrow!” With the, he leaves and I move to help Axel in cleaning up.
“You don’t have to. I just said ‘we’ so that the old man would leave. He already over works himself.” Axel says taking the rug from my hand as he started wiping the counter.
I shrug. “I don’t mind. Besides, it will be done faster if I help out.” I say and pick out a plastic bag and start dumping trash and wasted food that we burned when our attention was swayed.
Axel doesn’t argue and we work in silence. When the kitchen is clean, he takes the trash bag from be and brings it out as the four sisters head back down.
“Wow, you guys cleaned already. We were just coming to help.” Alia says.
“I can always mess the place back so you can clean it if you want.” I joke and she shakes her head at my suggestion.
“No thanks, I hate cleaning but I’m used to it during Christmas week.” Amy sighs.
Hana chuckles. “Well, let’s head out, it’s five already. Jake and Abel must already be there.”
Emilia, and the twins follow her outside and I gather my things that I kept in one of the kitchen drawers before I started working. Axel comes back in and washes his hands. “Have they not come down yet?” He asks.
I shake my head. “They left through the front door. Let’s hurry before they leave us.”
I shrugs. “You go ahead, I’ll drive my truck.”
I nod and rush out and he locks the front door behind me and disappears back into the kitchen, I’m guessing to exit through the backdoor. I see the four girls piled up in a silver car across the road and I cross the road to get to them. “Hey guys, where do I sit?”
Emilia frowns and before she could suggest anything, Axel’s truck makes loud noise as he backs out of the alley where he parked. She looks at me and grins. “Sorry, we’re full. Why don’t you catch a ride with Axel?”
I’m about to deny but Hana rolls down her window when Axel parks beside her car and looks at us confused. “You guys didn’t leave?” He asks.
“We were about to but we’re short on space for one person. Give Leah a ride, yeah?” Hana says and not waiting for any response, she drives off.
Axel sighs and motions me to get in. “Get in, I’ll drop you off at your place.”
I frown as I make my way towards the passenger’s side. “But I was thinking I’ll be tagging along with you guys to the hospital?”
He looks at me surprised. “You want to come?”
I shrug. “Yeah, why not? I helped after all.”
He looks a bit hesitant but sighs and nods his head. “Fine. But tell you parents about it first.”
I grin. “I was just gonna call them.” As Axel starts driving, I call Mom to tell her about my slight change of plans. She, at first, insists of having Christmas dinner as family but when she asks Dad to agree with her, he just tell me that my plan was a good idea. He let’s me off on one condition that is to be back before 10 p.m. so that we could have dessert together before the night ends to which I agree.
The rest of the ride is silent as soft music plays on the radio. When we reach the hospital, Julie is bidding Jake and Abel who wave at me and leave for their own homes. The girls’s car is already parked in the lot which makes me think that they’re already inside. Axel parks right beside them and we get out. Julie smiles when she sees me.
“Oh, Leah. I didn’t know you were coming when I saw Emilia come without you.”
I smile. “I wanted to. I hope you don’t mind.”
She looks up at Axel and back at me. “Of course not, sweetie. If Axel doesn’t mind, I don’t either. And seeing that he drove you here, .......” She leaves the sentence unfinished and we follow Axel who is already heading inside. He waits for us near the elevators and we ride up to the sixth floor together. When the doors open, I’m surprised to see this floor so different from what hospital usually looks like.
The whole corridor is filled with colorful balloons and ribbons, different sizes and designs of greeting boards hung over every room. The nurses on this floor are dresses in Santa clothes, and I realize that Julie wasn’t the only one. There’s one Christmas tree beside the reception desk of this floor too and hundreds of gifts are lying there for these children who are grinning and running around happily. There are a few family members too, smiling seeing their children happy while some have tears in their eyes for not being able to be at home at such a joyous occasion.
Axel freely strolls in front of us, his body slightly relaxed and a different kind of smile dancing on his lips - the kind that makes me intrigued of what he’s hiding behind that smile.
My thoughts are cut when a little girl, barely five or six years old comes running towards us, giggling and screaming and latches onto Axel’s long legs. “AXEL! You came.”
Axel chuckles and bends to her level and ruffles her hairless head. “Of course I did, Princess. I promised I would, didn’t I?”
The little girl grins and nods her head. “You did! And did you bring me a gift?” She asks with wide, twinkling eyes and looks behind him where she sees me. I give her a shy wave and take a step forward. Her smiles widens and she looks back at Axel as if he had given her the best gift in the whole wide world - like a trip to Harry Potter’s Wizarding World.
“Is she my gift?” The girls asks Axel with wide, hopeful eyes. “You brought your girlfriend as a gift for me, didn’t you? I knew you would, you promised me you would. And you did!” She squeals and jumps around making a full 360 before she runs towards me and stops just a few feet away.
“Hi.” She smiles shyly. “I’m Adira.”
I bend down to her level, pushing the thought of her mistaking me as Axel’s girlfriend back in my head. “Hi Adira, I’m Leah. You’ve got such a beautiful name.”
Adira beams at me and steps forward one more step, just a hug away. “Axel gave me that name. He says it means powerful and that I’m powerful - like the power puff girls.”
I grin. “That, you are.”
She smiles at me approvingly and turns to Axel who is now standing and looking at Adira with love filled eyes. “I like her.” She whispers loudly to him and I hear it and chuckle. She turns to me, hiding her wide smile behind a shy one. “Can I hug you?”
Instead of answering, I pull the little girl towards me and give her a hug not to tight which was difficult as she was just so cute and I wanted to crush her but I know that would be cruel. Adira breaks the hug and grins at me.
“Come one, I’ll let you meet my friends.” She says and takes my hand and starts dragging me towards a large ward.
Due to my sitting position, I stumble forward but Axel guides me back on my foot. I don’t get to thank him as Adira is already dragging me inside the ward.
“Mia, Aiden, Joanna! Look, Axel’s girlfriend came with him today.” She shouts as soon as she steps inside a room full of children who are playing with Emilia and the other girls. At Adira’s voice, they all look up at us.
Three kids who Adira called out stepped forward and look up at me with disbelieving eyes. Adira’s smirk is smug when he folds her tiny arms on her chest. “I told you all, Axel always listens to me. I told him to bring his girlfriend and he brought her.”
Aiden looks at me with awe written all across his face while Mia and Joanna run towards Axel who had followed us inside to confirm what Adira said. “What’s your name?” He asks with excited eyes while Axel comes to stand beside me, not answering the little girls questioning eyes.
“Leah.” I smile down at him. “And you’re Aiden, right?” The little boy smiles on the fact that I know his name. He nods his head vigorously and shakes my hand.
The girl with brown pixie cut hairs steps forward and stretches her hands towards me. “I’m Mia.” I shake her hand and smile. “And this is my friend Joanna.” She says pointing towards the shy girl who is bald too, like Adira.
Joanna steps forward, still hiding half her body behind Mia and takes my out-stretched hand, shaking it. “Are you really Axel’s girlfriend?” She asks in a quite voice, her eyes dancing in excitement.
Not knowing how to break the little kids’heart by denying the simple fact, I choose to go with the truth when Julie enters the ward along with a few nurses holding pizza boxes. “Pizza Time!” She hollers and all the kids’ attention is drawn towards the table where Julie keeps the pizza while I awkwardly shift and go to stand beside Hana and the other girls who were smiling mischievously at me. I did not meet their eyes.
“Since when is Leah your girlfriend?” I hear Emilia ask Axel in a whisper and he glares at her.
“Shut up. I didn’t have time to deny it to Adira before she was already introducing her to her friends.” He says and looks over at me.
Emilia looks at me with a strange smile and winks before turning back to a scowling Axel. “But what if she learns the truth?”
Axel takes a moment to think about it and looks torn when he says, “I’ll just say we broke up, or something.”
“Or...” Emilia trails off and leans in to whisper something in Axel’s ears that I couldn’t hear. Whatever she said makes Axel frowns as he meets my eyes and I instantly look away. From my peripheral view, I see him sighing and shaking his head before he goes off to join the kids.
Seeing him play and enjoy with the kids brings strange thoughts to my head, specially the one where I find him so different than the Axel I’m used to. Seeing him smile instead of scowl makes my heart flutter a little. As he sings to the kids, plays children’s games with them and dances weirdly to give them company, I am given a whole new insight to what Axel Davis might really be.
Not only him but his whole family, his aunt and cousins - everyone is so engrossed and happy with these kids that I feel out of place. Seeing them, specially Axel interact with everyone around here makes me feel as if I’m intruding into something intimate and personal, something I wasn’t invited to and I immediately feel guilty for tagging along.
After a while of standing in a corner and silently observing, Mia and Adira drag me out and make me join them with everyone else as we sing Christmas carols and nursery rhymes. Aiden even gets on his knees and asks me to dance which I gladly accept to and pick him up as I sway my hips, making him giggle.
One of the nurses walks in with the camera and orders everyone to gather as she starts fixing the camera on a tripod and sets the timer. Everyone hurdles around together and I step back a little, out of the frame, not wanting to include this personal moment too but a hand grabs my wrist and pulls me closer so that I’m back in the frame.
I look up to see Axel smiling at the camera, his one hand around my waist and the other on Adira’s shoulder who is standing in front of us. A sound of click and flash turns my attention back towards the camera and this time, I smile as another flash follows. We all make weird faces when three more flashes follow through before everyone scatters back to singing and dancing.
“I’ll give you one copy of each of them.” He whispers in my ear and picks up Adira on his shoulder and walks way too.
When finally all the kids are put to bed and Axel sings them to sleep while I tap softly on Joanna head resting on my lap, I don’t feel so out of place anymore.
And when we leave, Axel offering me to drive back home just fifteen minutes before my curfew for tonight, I didn’t feel that guilty for tagging along either.
“Thank you for tonight. This was maybe my best Christmas till date.” I say sincerely when he parks on the curb outside my house.
Axel nods and turns his head to look at me. “You’re welcome.”
I smile. “I’m sorry if I intruded in your family traditions though.”
Axel shakes his head, a soft smile playing on his lips as he lets his head fall on the headrest. “Trust me, everyone enjoyed having you there.”
The way his eyes hold mine, I don’t need to ask to know that maybe he was also included in the everyone he was talking about. After biding him goodnight, I go back inside my home, to my family and we spend an hour together, smiling freely for the first time in a long time as we talk about stupid things and laugh as we take a family picture together, teasing each other.
That night, before I get lost in the slumber land, I realize for the first time that maybe this is what Merry Christmas feels like.
If you're reading this, I want to thank you for all your love and support. I love that you're giving my book so much love. I just have two requests to make of you :
1: Please leave reviews and comments on what you think of the chapter. It helps me interact with you guys and imporve for better.
2: Please understand that this is a first draft of the book. I've managed to cover up plot holes but I know that the book has too many grammatical errors. Constantly pointing that out kind of demotivates me and makes want to unpublish the book, edit it and then publish it which would take too much time for me right now, keeping the personal life in mind.
It's also useless because I know that there are grammatical errors and pointing out where or what exactly is the error would be called constructive criticism because only then I can correct. Just pointing out that there are mistakes just makes me sadder.
I hope you understand what I am saying. I love you guys anyway! And sorry for the rant.