Valentina Boundless - Book 2

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Home for the Holidays

I cannot believe that I have been in New York City for four months already. This city can keep you so busy that you don’t know which way is up or down. It is a city that can distract lovers from real love because it offers such shiny new objects to objectify.

Nate and I manage to enjoy Yankees’ games together, versus over the phone. In the past, we would watch the game “together”, with me at Triple Rock and him at home. This time we spend couch time together enjoying the games. We even take his dad to a few games thanks to the connections I’ve made.

I love that Nate is capable of solving my daily issues with baseball. No matter how tough my days get, Nate and baseball offer the best distraction. And whenever Nate isn’t available, Sylvia and champagne make everything better. Life doesn’t get better than this.

“I know you don’t want to talk about this but if you plan to go home for Christmas, you need to let me know now so I can book your travel.” Sylvia nags.

I used the momentum of the App as an excuse not to go home for Thanksgiving. All forgave me because of, well, because of my life. But I feel guilty about not going home for the holidays this year. It is my pre-Tommy life, so I don’t want to disappoint both Triple Rock and my parents down when it came to our amazing traditions. The only thing holding me back is the risk of running into Tommy. Or worse, not running into him.

I still have the fantasy that he is coming after me. Knowing my yearly Christmas routine, the only excuse for him not showing up is his non-interest in finding me. This reality will surely bite.

“I will go for a few days. Fly me in on December 23rd and book me a room at Claremont Club and Spa."

Gods saying that sounds better than I expected. When I was a student, I often wondered what it would be like to stay there.

"I want to book some spa appointments for that evening as well, please. Then I will go to Triple Rock and surprise the boys in the morning. Rent me a car so I can drive down and surprise my parents that night. I will go Christmas shopping and we can send a package of wrapped gifts to the hotel. I feel so grown up.”

“You are so cute when you amaze yourself.” Sylvia cheerleads me along.

“Have you ever seen what you think your life could be and when it happens it’s hard to believe? I feel like I am living in a dream.”

“Yes, I was the same way when I first got here. Still have moments of nostalgia.”

“Why aren’t you going home?”

“And miss my first Christmas in NY? No way!”

Sylvia jokes about her childhood but I can see if all her joking is, in fact, true, why she may not want to go home. For her Christmas gift, I will book her three nights at the Soho Hotel. That way she can be in the city and amidst all the amazing action. I will even have Bloom send a small decorated potted Christmas Tree.

Maybe she and I can plant it someday when it gets too big to occupy her small apartment, which shouldn’t be too long since her place is so small. I also arrange for an array of gifts to be placed under the tree. My life could not be what it is without this woman, so I will spoil her to the core.

“Can you do me a favor then? Can you please meet up with Nate after he drops me off at the airport to give him my gifts I got for him and his dad? I don’t want him to feel obligated to get me anything, but I know it’s his first Christmas without his mom, so I want them both to have some joy this holiday.”

“Absolutely.”

Of course, I ask Nate to please meet Sylvia at the Soho Hotel after he drops me off as a way to get her there and it’s his job to tell her about her gift. I put notes on the boxes telling her to open them on certain days because each box has an outfit for her to wear. I couldn’t figure out a way to sneak into her apartment and pack her a weekend bag. So I will have to dress her, myself through her gifts. Thank the Gods that Sylvia likes to window shop online. I just sent a list of what was in her Befdorf shopping cart to a personal shopper there and voila!

Sylvia manages to get a few tidbits out of me about Tommy. One is the story behind the charm bracelet.

“What’s the deal with the bracelet?”

“Why do you ask in that tone?”

“It’s just not you, but you never take it off.”

“It’s the first thing Tommy ever gave me. It was my first Christmas gift from him. Of course, the second is this ring that I can’t manage to take off either.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to be snoopy, just doesn’t look very you.”

“It’s not, but it was Tommy’s first attempts at showing me how well he knew me. I guess I wear it to remind me that he did know me at one point, and it all wasn’t in my head.”

Sylvia gets me two charms for my bracelet: one of a big apple and another of a bottle of champagne. I love this because being in New York City I am trying to reclaim myself, with this gift, I get to make the bracelet mine too. Charm bracelets are meant to give you a sweet rendition of your life. Sylvia is helping me to change my story.

“Are you sure you have to leave for the holidays?” Nate asks as he drives me to the airport.

“I do, I can’t avoid my family because I am too afraid to run into Tommy. Plus, what are the odds, he and I are from two different worlds? It’s so random that we ever met, to begin with.”

“I know, I just selfishly need you right now.”

“Trust me, I don’t want to leave you knowing it’s your first Christmas without your mom. But we both need to face our sorrows this season. Your dad needs you and my parents need me. You and I need to accept the way our lives have changed this year.”

“I know, it’s just easier with you.”

Over the past several months I have become a great buffer for Nate and his dad. Nights when Nate is working and there is a game on, I watch with his dad either at my place or FUBAR, Scores is not a place I am ready to chill with his dad at.

Nate bribes me with amazing food. He has been ramping up his cooking skills. He and I are still working through all these great new recipes, well old because they were his mom’s. Passed down through the generations. Some are so simple, three basic ingredients but so enticing to the palet. The ones we love we leave alone. The ones that need tweaking we do so together.

This reminds me of how Benji and I groove with computers. Minus the sexual play. Benji fed my ego because he was always trying to get down my pants. Nate makes me feel like there is no other woman in his world but refuses to let us out of the friend’s zone. Says he doesn’t want to be my rebound. There is no version of loving this man that could be temporary. I am sure when we finally kiss we will be physically inseparable. Everything else in our lives we move as one, I am sure that sexually we will too. Looks like Nate is teaching me patience.

“Call me as often as you need. And thank you for helping with Sylvia’s surprise. She is impossible to catch off guard. Remember to take pictures so I can see how surprised she is.”

“Will do. I will tell her to meet me up in the room, and when she walks in I will blind her with the camera so you can have a play-by-play of her surprise.”

“Funny, but yes!” Funny because Nate hates using his phone for anything other than to make a call. I feel honored when he texts me. So old fashion.

What both Nate and Sylvia don’t realize is that I am hoping this will get my two best friends to have some joy and love this Christmas. I don’t like the idea of either of them being without family during this time. When I land in San Francisco to find an email filled with happy photos of them both opening gifts and celebrating, I am beyond satisfied. I think to call them but decide that I am going to be like Nate and be media free.

I check into the hotel, proud of myself for being able to afford to give this to myself. See, I don’t need Tommy to afford luxuries, I proudly tell myself. I head to the spa to be pampered, this is exactly where I should be. I have worked my ass off all of my life to try to get to a point when I can spend with a little freedom. The bonus that Jessica kindly gave me allows me to give myself what I have been dying to do all my past Christmases. Who knew that an amazing day at a spa would give me the best sleep of my life.

I woke up nice and early Christmas Eve and head to Triple Rock to surprise the Mikey and Boss. I laugh when I find the key in the back that Boss hides for emergencies. There were a few mornings when I would get to work before him and didn’t want to disturb him because I knew he had a late-night before, so I suggested he find a great hiding spot for a spare key.

I start by preparing the turkeys and hams for the oven. I love cooking, it heals my being.

“Mikey! You better not be touching my turkey!” Boss shouts as he walks into the bar.

“Because only I can touch your turkey baby!” I tease. Boss rushes over and bear hugs me.

“Thank God it’s you, I thought Mikey was ruining my turkeys.”

We both laugh knowing this is about as sentimental as Boss can be. I will take it. My heart is so happy right now. Gods I have missed this place. I can see why it is so hard for me to need a man when I have such beautiful men in my life already.

We work diligently side by side as we do so well. Sharing stories and catching each other up. Boss and I have been doing this so long together that we are like the perfect ballroom dance partners when we cook. Gliding from one side of the kitchen to the other and twirling around one another with roasting pans and boiling pots, he goes high and I go low, he goes behind me and I lean forward. Completely in sync. Oh, I miss Nate. I know he is at his one of his aunt’s dancing in their kitchen to amazing Latin music. I will call him on my way down to my parents.

“Sorry Boss! I promise I tried to get here earlier. The chic wouldn’t leave.” Mikey shouts as he walks through the front door.

“That’s what you get for breaking the cardinal rule, never bring them home. Go to their place so you can be the one to leave when you are ready to leave.” I shout back.

Mikey couldn’t get his arms around me fast enough. I am laughing as he sways me around like a rag doll. Yes Val, keep feeding that ego. This is exactly what the doctor ordered.

“Best Christmas EVER!” Mikey shouts.

“I miss you too my teddy bear.”

The three of us are as if no time has passed. The jokes and the singing, even Boss chimed in a few chords here and there. I, of course, brought champagne!

“Dom! Oh, girl, you do know the way to my bed.” Mikey teases.

I am a liar if I didn’t want to ask about Tommy, but I am happy enough not to let that bit infect our fun. Dom was the first champagne Tommy drank with us all last winter, a thank you for our first night together. Mikey shoots me an empathetic look, he knows what this toast means to me. The question is, am I reclaiming Dom for myself or toasting how things once were?

After a few bottles, I’m numb again. Just as I do every year and put presents for my two men under the tree. A couple of early drinkers start to make their way to their usual seats at the bar. I am happy to serve them once more. I give Mikey and Boss their main gift from me.

“I have to say, now that you are a fancy big city girl your presents are much nicer!” Mikey makes fun as he opens his gift from me. “A laptop! The ladies are going to miss me in the computer lab. Thanks, my sugar momma!”

Mikey was able to transfer to San Francisco State University and thanks to my help we were able to find a few small grants and scholarship funds to help him pay for college. He is still helping his mom so everything he makes a Triple Rock goes to their bills. This laptop is a huge luxury for him that he deserves very much. Plus, the guys from IT got if for me from the pile of random freebies we get at INK. Thanks to Sylvia, I learned how to shop at work.

INK is always getting free products in the hope of influencing us to influence our readers to buy such products. Stella and mom are both the same size as the models so there were lots of great outfits that were never worn and make-up, skincare, and purses that made amazing gifts. I would say I felt guilty, but everyone was shopping out of our storage closets at work.

Of course, if dad knew he would say, “and if everyone jumps off a building…”, well, now it’s the Brooklyn Bridge.

For dad and Boss, I had to get creative. Although they are so much alike that I only had to come up with one idea for them both, a small tablet where they could watch T.V. from their kitchen and a lifetime subscription to NETFLIX and ESPN.

As promised, Benji and Josephine arrive. To see the two of them together, I see what true love looks like. Now I miss Tommy down to my core. Thank God I am heading home from here. Home always makes everything better.

“Josephine, it’s so great to meet you! I will apologize in advance while I hug your boyfriend, he has been my lifesaver.” And on that note, I hold onto Benji far too long, but I needed him to absorb all the pain my heart was feeling. And like the Benji he is, he takes it all lovingly.

Mikey and Benji fall easily into their groove of torturing and tormenting one another, two long lost brothers from other mothers.

“It’s great to see the love bug has bitten Benji hard.” Mikey teases. “I still don’t get how he manages to get the best ladies in town.”

“Yeah, I told him when I first met that I do bite.” Josephine teases back.

“Oh, I am sure that’s how you won him.” Stopping myself from the rest of the witty remark before I could make things uncomfortable. I wanted to say, “because I know how much he loves being nibbled on.”

Not sure if it’s the lonely and jaded me or if you never get over your first love but seeing Benji with Josephine stabs at my heart. I have no reason to dislike Josephine, yet I am casing her up and down, trying to find something wrong with her. Failing royally, she is amazing just like every woman Benji has ever loved.

Twenty-seven, yup, an older woman, which is great because Benji is a very experienced man in every way. Blonde hair, blue eyes, and a few inches shorter than myself but legs for days. Benji was always a waist down kind of guy. Magical with breast love when making love but legs and ass are his favorite. Josephine looks like the California Yoga-Vegetarian type, a.k.a. fabulous body! Okay Val, play nice. Lower your growing jealousy and be happy for them both.

“I am so excited to meet you finally. Benji talks about you all the time. This App you have him working on has re-energized his love for programming. He loves his job, but he likes being hands-on more than he likes managing projects.” And sweet as apple pie, great!

“I am so happy you shared that with me, I was worried that I was taking advantage of our friendship.”

“That’s what friends are for. I know I couldn’t be where I am at today without my friends.”

Where she is today? How many twenty-seven years old have their own café? Self-made of course. She started as a dishwasher at thirteen, working for cash to help pay her way. Dad bailed on her and her mother and her mom never got over it. Josephine was left to fend for herself. I should be holding her hands, basking in our sisterhood, and singing Kum ba yah. I can learn a few things from Josephine if I allowed myself. But alas, stubborn Val in the house.

“Benji says you own a café. That’s so impressive. You are so young.”

“I’m actually a cougar, almost thirty myself.”

“Twenty-seven”, Benji corrects, “she loves that she looks so great that she rubs it in our face by claiming to be almost thirty. The only woman I know lying about how young she isn’t. OUCH!” Josephine punches Benji.

“Oooh, I love that!” What a silly response but I am off guard.

I have seen Benji with another woman but this is different. I have lost my chance with Benji forever and it’s my fault.

“So does Benji.” Josephine winks at me. “It’s why we work out so well together. We both are busy with our professional lives but manage to escape into our love cave when we are together. I no longer have the need for partying and from the sound of Benji’s time with Izzy, he is over the rave scene.”

I have always been impressed with how accessible Benji is with everyone. He likes to preach that if you have nothing to hide and stick to the truth, everything will be fabulous. I am the complete opposite. I am a “need to know” kind of gal. I open up just a crack, exposing the foyer but no visitors allowed.

“I guess there is hope for us all yet. We do grow-up eventually.”

“Okay, things are too serious over here.” Benji interrupts us holding pool sticks out to us. “Rack ’em Val!”

“Oh, do you want to do this?” I tease as I rack the balls. “Shall I embarrass you in front of Josephine or play with one arm tied behind my back, so you have a standing chance?”

“I’ve been practicing. I have a table in the middle of my loft.”

“Yeah, yeah, remind me of how fair life is,” Mikey chimed in as he partners up with me, “the silver spoon kid gets a six-figure job right out of college.”

“Good to be me, Mikey, good to be me.” Benji has never apologized for his gifted life. But it’s his gift for computers and technology that got him six-figures going on seven. Deservingly! “And we aren’t at six-figures just yet, our company is growing. Once we sell it though, early retirement for lucky me.”

“Then I can put him to work at the café!” Touche to Josephine.

Per tradition, I start our Christmas Eve festivities at Triple Rock with a dance, on top of the bar. Still the best bar to dance on in the world! Then Mikey and I cream Benji and Josephine at a few games of pool. I know we should have been easier but I am very competitive when it comes to this pool table. No tears as I leave, just a promise to visit again very soon.

To keep the happiness flowing, I call Nate. He will be the perfect distraction for my drive home.

“Hola mi amore!” Nate answers.

“Hi-ya!” Sylvia screams in the background.

Surprised but so happy. Of course, Nate invited Sylvia to celebrate with his family, that’s Nate for you.

“Brilliant! I get a twofer!”

“Babes! You’ve out dun yourself, but I deserve it!” I love how Sylvia knows what she is worth. I am slowly learning this from her.

“Dad and I will open our gifts in the morning, but if they are anything like last year, it will be the new best!” Nate adds.

He is going to be thrilled. There was an amazing set of pots and pans and knives in our “employee shopping” closet at work and Sylvia managed to get her hands on them before anyone else could. I am sure the guy that stock that room all have crushes on Sylvia and give her first dibs. INK wants us all to look our part and knows we all can’t afford it so this closet was set-up for our pleasure and needs.

For his dad, I got him tickets to the opening game for the Yankees as well as the first home game after the All-Star break. As much as his dad loves these seats, he loves being with Nate at the game even more.

Looks like everyone is accounted for and joyful this season, now I can focus on my family time. I cannot wait to surprise my parents. They all think that I am stuck in New York City because of work. On the way down I stop at the CVS to pick up the “necessity” presents. Standing at the door of my childhood home, so surreal, I don’t live here anymore. I am all grown. The little girl has become a woman.

“Are we expecting someone?” Stella shouts as I hear her movement towards the door after hearing me ring the doorbell. I don’t need to write all the screaming and hugging and crying that is happening right now. I hope all of you have had this moment in your own lives.

Christmas with the parents, life is so amazing when you stand still enough for it to catch up to you and show you. I have been running for so many months. Thinking if I stop all the hard shit would take me down. But my family, Boss, Mikey, and Benji show me otherwise, as they do. Never thought I would say, “thank God for family drama.”

There appears to be more than enough cousins in my life causing enough drama that the family barely noticed I was there. Stella, mom, and dad always had their attention on me, taking turns keeping me grounded in their love. Cousin Sophia, pregnant and not married, is neck to neck with Cousin Tony, who wants to marry a nice Jewish girl.

I help cook the second set of Christmas turkeys and hams for our bar’s yearly neighborhood Christmas lunch. This year Boss and Mikey even show up. All of us trying to get as much time together as possible. Looks like a new tradition is about to start. Stella talks my ear off, sharing stories, mostly at a whisper of her new college life. She is at Cornish College of the Arts up in Seattle, Washington. My baby sister, how smart and strong she is, living her childhood dream, I seem to find myself rather envious of her a lot. Including her extremely flamboyant and social life up at school. As we all expected from our superstar Stella.

Tommy hasn’t reached out.

After an amazing Christmas, I and ready to head back to NYC, I can count on NYC to throw the best New Year’s Eve parties that will make loneliness obsolete, surrounded by millions to distract any lonely heart. Plus, Sylvia and Nate will start this next year off right; alongside my two best mates in this town.

I manage to get past the fear of what going home would mean, so I make a promise to return more often. So often people think that if you move to a different city, you leave the other city forever. We live in an age of aviation, communication, and technology; life is literally around every corner.

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