Title: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas
Fandom: Van Leeuwenhoek University
Characters: Francisco Fonseca
Prompt: Like You Mean It
Francisco cringed as he stepped out of his sixth period classroom and into the chilly afternoon air. He zipped up his jacket further as he walked and ducked his head against the wind. He scowled as a shiver ran down his spine; it was only mid December and it would only get colder. Of course he knew that someone from the Midwest would probably think it was a nice day, but Francisco’s Mexican blood had been simmering in the California sun all of his life. He didn’t need to experience snow to know that his poorly insulated body couldn’t handle it.
As he left campus and started on his walk back home, Francisco tried to ignore the usual cacophony of car horns. One in particular was quite persistent and Francisco resisted the urge to yell at the driver that whoever he or she was trying to call obviously didn’t give a shit. Instead he turned to give the driver his best death glare, which died on his face when he saw that the driver was his grandfather Arturo, who actually was honking at him.
“Hola, Líto,” he greeted quietly as he got into his grandfather’s truck, face flushed. “I didn’t know you were coming to get me today.”
“Surprise,” his grandfather grinned. “Voy a comprar mi arbol. I want you to help me pick one.” Buckling his seat belt, Francisco frowned.
“Mi papá-” he started, but his grandfather cut him off.
“I already talked to your papá,” Arturo assured. “No te preocupes.” Francisco relaxed; if his grandfather had talked to his dad, then there really was nothing to worry about. He smiled and settled into the seat.
Brow knitted in concentration, Francisco circled a stout little tree searching for gaps in the branches.
“What about this one, Líto?” he asked once the tree had passed his inspection. Arturo looked away from the tree he was scrutinizing and walked over.
“¿Ese?” he inquired. “Kind of fat, isn’t it?”
“That just means more room for gifts underneath,” Francisco said matter-of-factly, crossing his arms. His grandfather laughed and Francisco grinned.
“I like the way you think, mijo,” Arturo said, ruffling the teen’s hair. “All right, you stay here and guard the tree.”
Once the tree was loaded and secured on his grandfather’s truck bed, Francisco climbed back into the truck, eager to get the heater on so he could warm up a bit. Still, even though the tree-picking trip had meant spending some extra time out in the cold, Francisco was glad that his grandfather invited him; there hadn’t been a Christmas tree in his own home for five years and even when there had been trees he had never been allowed to choose them.
After parking in front of Francisco’s house Arturo unbuckled his seat belt to give the boy a hug.
“I’ll pick you up Saturday to decorate the tree.” Francisco nodded, giving his grandfather a smile before getting out of the truck with his backpack. As if it hadn’t been enough to be out of the house for an extra hour that day, Paco also had Saturday afternoon to look forward to.
It was raining Saturday morning, and Francisco was glad it had waited for the weekend so that he wouldn’t have to walk in it. Still, his relief was short-lived as his father decided it was a good day for Paco to run to the store for some coffee. Paco started to argue that it would be a better idea for his dad to just go in the car, but when his father gave him a harsh look, he thought better of it, grabbed his jacket, and headed out. When Francisco returned, his grandfather’s truck was in the driveway, and his grandfather was in the living room, yelling at his dad for sending Paco out in the rain. After setting the coffee can on the kitchen counter, Francisco rushed to change into dry clothes and broke up the fight by telling his grandpa he was ready to go.
Despite a bad start, the day went fairly well. Arturo had hot chocolate and cookies to share with his grandson as they decorated the tree and the rest of the interior of the house. All of the ornaments that Paco had made in elementary school had ended up here, and as Arturo put each one on the tree he voiced nostalgia for when Paco had been younger. Paco listened to stories of his own childhood, blushing with the usual embarrassment of someone who didn’t entirely like being talked about, and said nothing about his own feelings on the matter. Personally he was glad that each year that had passed had passed, and would never waste his time repeating yesterday when all he wanted was to see tomorrow. Still, with every mention of his mother he felt a pang that made him hate himself for missing her. Before Francisco could dwell on this too much, his grandfather found that his stockings had been attacked by moths and suggested that they go out and buy new ones.
The department store was always busy around Christmas time, but though it was crowded and noisy and even somewhat dangerous, Francisco was happy to be there, just to be away from home where it was empty and lonely and more dangerous still. Picking Christmas stockings wasn’t exactly rocket science, even when trying to match them with the rest of the Christmas décor, but Francisco delayed the process as long as possible, examining each individual stocking within each style to find the one with the smallest amount of stains and snags.
After putting the finishing touches on the house, Arturo and Francisco spent the afternoon eating pizza and watching Christmas specials on TV. Francisco had seen them all dozens of times before, and the songs would be stuck in his head for days, but it was still preferable to being home, so he made no complaints. He could not, however, muster enough interest to really watch them and was asleep on the couch within minutes of finishing his lunch. He awoke to his grandfather gently shaking him by his shoulder.
“Mijo,” Arturo said softly. “Levantate. Your dad wants you home.”
The last week of school before winter break was painfully slow for most of the students of Mountainview High School, but for Francisco it went by much too quickly. Two weeks of being home all day was not what he considered a break. Still, there was Christmas and New Years with his grandpa to look forward to, so on the last day of school Paco tried his best to enjoy the festivities. However, forcing himself to enjoy things wasn’t one of Paco’s strong points, and so while he was appreciative of the access to free snacks in his sixth period class, he couldn’t get caught up in the chatter and cheer, opting to read ahead for his English class at the back of the room while the rest of his class engaged in their supervised revelry.
Looking up from his copy of Lord of the Flies to see if there were any more cinnamon rolls left, Paco noticed two girls whispering and stealing glances at him, eyes occasionally darting to the ceiling. They were Luz Campos and Arianna Viacruz. Arianna was blushing.
Francisco had a quick look around himself to see what they could possibly be looking at, and that was when he noticed the mistletoe; he was sitting right under it. The next thing he knew, he was blushing as well, and staring hard at the pages of his book.
Both girls’ whispering grew more frantic, as they apparently debated whether or not Francisco had seen. Finally after some prodding and shoving, Luz convinced Arianna to go over and talk to him.
“Hi, Francisco,” the girl said shyly, averting her eyes as she took an empty desk next to him. “Working as usual.”
“Hm,” Francisco managed. He turned the page, though he hadn’t read a word from the previous one. Arianna lightly bit her bottom lip before speaking again.
“Plans for the holidays?” Francisco shrugged.
“You?” he forced out.
“Family stuff,” she replied. She bit her lip again. “Francisco?” He looked at her.
“You’re sitting under mistletoe.” Francisco cringed, though he hoped it was only inwardly. He turned his eyes to the book again.
“So it would seem.”
“So, um, do you think it would be okay if I…?”
Paco stared hard at his book, unsure of what he should say. Arianna was nice as far as teenage girls went, but she was still a girl.
“I’d really prefer it if you didn’t.” Arianna hesitated a moment.
“It’s a Christmas tradition,” she tired. Paco frowned; it was a good argument. But he already had a counter.
“It’s not Christmas yet,” he replied. Arianna was silent, and Paco made the mistake of looking up at her. Her eyes were downcast and her smile was embarrassed.
“Sorry I bothered you,” she said. She started to get up.
“Arianna,” Paco said, before he knew he was going to. “Wait….” She looked at him, and Paco averted his eyes. He lifted his hand and tapped the side of his face. “Go ahead.”
From where she sat, Luz gave small squeal. Arianna grinned over at her friend before leaning over and kissing Paco’s cheek. When she pulled back he immediately buried his burning face in his book.
“Merry Christmas,” Arianna said to him before getting up to join Luz. The two girls were whispering again, and this time punctuated with giggles. Francisco managed a glance at them. Arianna did look happy. He supposed it was his good deed for the season. With the way his Christmases usually went, it might even be the highlight. Still looking down at his book, Paco smiled in spite of himself. Maybe showing Christmas spirit wasn’t such a bad thing.