I suppose it all started with the snow. You see, it was a very special kind of snow. A snow that made the happy happier, and the giddy even giddier. A snow that’d make a homecoming homier, and natural enemies, friends, natural. For it was the first snow of the season. And as any child can tell you, there’s a certain magic that comes with the very first snow, especially when it falls on the day before Christmas. For when the first snow is also a Christmas snow…Well, something wonderful is bound to happen.
The cab could not move quickly enough. Rafael thought of calling Natalia, texting her, but she might take off before he had a chance to look into her eyes. Impatiently tapping his toes as a light snow began to fall, he thought of one person that he should contact as he furiously pressed the keypad on his screen.
I have to miss moros y cristianos. I’ll explain later.
In less than a second, his mother’s response appeared on the back of a sharp ding.
Everything alright, Rafi? Is it work? Don’t they know that it’s Christmas Eve?
Yes. I’m fine. This can’t wait.
Lucia’s name came up on the screen and he thought of answering the call when the cab slid up to the brownstone. Rafael passed a ten dollar bill into the driver’s hand, and he realized he forgot the tip when the cabbie took off with a stream of curses. Fine; let the man think that he was Scrooge. His only thought was to see Natalia.
He rang the bell and waited. For several long seconds, there was nothing. Had she gone somewhere for the holiday when they should be together? What if it was worse? Rafael remembered his mother saying that she’d taken time off from the school with hardly a word why. Had she hurt herself in some way? He started to knock when the door inched open.
She wore a large brown sweater and a pair of yoga pants that threatened to slide off her hips. Her face was pale and drawn and her hair was tied behind her neck in a messy ponytail. Natalia gave him a small smile before stiffening as she clutched the door.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“I… I had to see you,” he started. “Are you alright?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” He feared that she might slam the door in his face when he looked up at the flakes continuing to fall from the sky.
“Can we get out of the cold for a second?” he said. “I just… I need to tell you something.” She seemed reluctant but turned her back and let him close the door behind them. Natalia shuffled to the couch, and he took note of the Christmas decorations. There were at least three Nativity scenes resting on sparkling white tablecloths mingling with elf statues and tiny gold sleds. At the center of the room stood an artificial tree adorned with rainbow colored lights and ornaments that seemed to tell the tale of a life. Most appeared store-bought. Some looked like they had passed down through the generations to this moment. But his eye lingered on a faded piece of cardboard meant to look like a wreath. Green Cheerios surrounded the circle, and the bow was a simple strand of red yarn. Rafael smiled at the thought that she had crafted this so many years ago. Had she wanted to show her students how to make the same thing? That like so much else had been ripped away from her in one awful moment.
And he had done nothing to help.
“You wanted to talk?” she asked. Dropping his briefcase, he turned to see her huddled on the couch looking sad and small. He sat at her side and longed to hold her when he just nodded and grazed his fingertips against the cushion.
“So talk,” she prompted. How was he supposed to do this? Start small and ask her how she’d been in the hope that she would open up her heart? Did he dare tell her about the case falling apart? Should he tell her of the blank space that was his soul in the weeks without her? Too much time had already stretched between them, and he leaned in closer until she met his gaze.
“Natalia, I know.” Her stare expanded, and she started to sink deeper into the cushions when he placed a gentle hand on her cheek.
“Liv told me,” he whispered. “I’m sorry I—”
“She wasn’t supposed to do that!” Natalia cried as she recoiled and moved away from him. Her hands swiped at the branches of the tree, and the sound of her moan against the glass was too much for him to resist as he inched to her side.
“Believe me,” he started. “I’m mad at her, too.”
“Why?” she wailed as her body started to break with brutal sobs. Unsure if he should touch her, Rafael sidled up the wall and waited until her teary stare found his.
“Because it I had known sooner, I would have been here,” he said. “I should never have left you alone. No matter how hard you pushed. I… I knew there was something else.”
“But I was too thick to see it,” he continued. “And for that, I will always be ashamed.”
Backing away from the window, Natalia pressed her palms together as her shoulders started to shake. Rafael waited until his heart pounded in his ears, and when he could no longer bear even the smallest distance between them he softly touched her arms.
“I am so sorry,” he confessed. “Please forgive me.”
Natalia fell into him with a heavy sob. Surrounding her with his arms, he gritted his teeth and tried to keep from crying as she wept against him. How could anyone hurt her like that? Give him five minutes alone in a dark room with Emerson. He would remember what it was to use his fists on the street and leave the man bloodied and begging for mercy. But later. Right now she needed him. And he… even as she cried his heart flipped at the feel of her so close after so long.
“Shhh,” he soothed. “I’m here now. I won’t let anything else happen to you.”
The lights from the tree sparkled as he smoothed his fingers through her hair and he softly kissed her temples.
“I should have known,” he said. “That wasn’t you.”
“I didn’t know what else to do,” she murmured. “He might have come after me again. And it would be bad for Melanie.”
“Why would you say that?”
“Because you need to be the one trying the case,” she cried. “I can’t be in the way.”
“Why did I ever go to her house?” He wished for the TARDIS now. He would have told her that there was no need to step into the fire. That the dye had already been cast. But a small smile still crossed his lips as he pushed back and pressed his fingers under her chin.
“Because you are brave and kind and everything that I could ever want,” he said.
“Even now?” she asked with a sniffle as she wiped her nose with the back of her hand. Rafael kissed her cheeks before pulling back to meet her tears with misty eyes.
“Always,” he said. “Who else is going to correct me on my Puccini?” That got a laugh out of her, and they stayed before the tree when she finally sighed.
“I missed you,” she admitted. “So much. Maybe I wanted Liv to tell you the truth.”
“You can tell me,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. Ever again.”
“He… his hands… Rafael, I said no.”
“It should never have even come to that.”
Rafael held her again and couldn’t remember her feeling so fragile as he kissed the top of her head.
“Have you eaten?” he asked.
“Not tonight,” she said. She felt like so much skin and bone in his arms, and he suddenly remembered Carisi’s gift.
“I have just the thing.” He sat her down on the couch and presented her with the white box.
“What do you have there?” she asked.
“I have some idea. But let’s find out together.”
Flipping the lid, he revealed a series of cannolis and sfogliatella and anise cookies bathed in sprinkles that matched the lights from the tree. Picking up one of the latter, he offered her the sweet and carefully draped his free arm over her back.
“For your sweet tooth,” he said. “You have to eat something.” Natalia nibbled on the cookie, and he paid the crumbs no mind as she settled her head on his shoulder.
“You got these?” she whispered.
“Carisi,” he said. “Said something about me being the hero that would bring dessert.
“That fits,” Natalia whispered. “I can’t believe you’re here.” Holding her head in his hands, he watched her face shine under the lights from the tree and pressed his lips to her ear.
They pushed apart at the sound of the door opening, and Alessia brushed the snow from her skirt and gasped when she saw them sitting side by side.
“Rafael!” she cried. “What are you doing here?” Standing up, he kept Natalia’s hand in his.
“Good evening, Mrs. Belmonte,” he said. “Merry Christmas.”
“Do you have something to say for yourself?” she asked. “My daughter has been crying every night for weeks.”
“Mommy, please,” Natalia begged.
“She’s been sulking around here like she lost her best friend.” Alessia’s words stung his heart, and one look told him that while she might have come clean with him, her mother still had no idea of the suffering she had endured.
“That’s my fault,” Rafael said. Natalia squeezed his hand as he kept talking. “I… we had a misunderstanding. I came around to make it right. Natalia is not to blame for any of this.”
Alessia narrowed her eyes, and as Natalia shuffled to her feet he kept her close to his side.
“And just like that, everything is alright again?” Alessia asked.
“I hope so,” Rafael answered. “I— please forgive me, Senora,” he said. “But do you mind if I stay? The snow and…and Natalia…”
He wanted to tell her so many things. The sight of her starting to smile made the time without her melt away and Alessia coughed as the spell broke and her daughter rushed to help.
“Mommy, you should be in bed,” Natalia said.
“It’s nothing,” Alessia insisted
“You should really lie down.” Rafael watched as Natalia regained her strength, and he stayed back as Alessia smiled into her daughter’s hair.
“Midnight mass did me well. I prayed for something like this. You’re my happy girl again.”
Rafael knew that that much was not entirely true, but he waited below the tree and touched the Cheerio wreath until Natalia returned.
“You like that?” Natalia asked.
“You made it, right?” he queried. When she nodded, Rafael smiled and pressed his palms to her shoulders. “Then it’s perfect.” He basked in her blush and traced his fingers under her hairline.
“How is Alessia?” he asked.
“She says this is a Christmas miracle,” Natalia said.
“Word of advice?” Natalia nodded as he held her hands.
“Don’t argue with your mother.” With a small laugh, she touched his face, and he saw her eyes light up as he smiled.
“Feliz Navidad, Natalia,” he crooned as he kissed her brow. She wrapped her arms around his neck and started to sigh when she jumped back and shook her head.
“But I don’t have a present for you,” she stated sadly.
“You are my present,” he said. “Te amre por siempre.” Natalia blinked back a few tears, and he still feared that she might run off when she lightly kissed his lips and nestled her head in the crook of his neck.
“Te amo, Rafael Barba,” she whispered. “Always.”
He lifted her into his arms and carried her up the steps. As he settled her body in her bed, he stripped down to his undershirt and boxers and laid at her side without moving until she sought the sanctuary of his embrace and sighed into his chest.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“Natalia, you don’t—”
“The last thing I ever wanted was to hurt you.” Believing her as he smoothed his fingers through her hair, Rafael couldn’t comprehend every turn that the path ahead would take. But she was back at his side.
“I know,” he said. “Just rest now. And I’ll be here when you wake up.”
Gilmore Girls Revival: Final 4 Words, Sookie's Return, Richard's Death and More Scoop From TCA Panel
It was the most anticipated press conference of the year — and I brought it to you live!
Netflix’s Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life panel — featuring stars Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and Scott Patterson, as well as series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino and exec producer Daniel Palladino — took place Wednesday at the Television Critics Association summer press tour, and I live-blogged the highlights. Check ’em out below!
11:36 am: We’re getting a first look at the first two minutes of “Winter”!
11:37 am: It’s Lorelai and Rory at the gazebo with snow falling talking a mile a minute!!!
11:38 am: Panel has begun! Amy is wearing a hat!
11:39 am: Amy urges fans NOT to fast-forward to the final scene to hear the final four words. It will ruin the experience. “It would be great if people who wanted to see the last four words first got some therapy first and got rid of that inclination. It really is a journey… It’s going to mean a lot less if you just flip to the last page. I would hope that people would want to take the whole trip. It’s a fun trip. It’s worth it.”
11:40 am: “It was really like no time had passed. It was easy. It was fun. It was joyous. It was exhilarating. It was the old show. ” — Graham on slipping back into the series. “It’s my favorite thing to do. It’s my favorite part of the show… It brought me back to the first time I read this part and fell in love with it. It felt like such a perfect fit, I couldn’t believe I got to do it again.”
11:42 am: AS-P: “I really feel like the s–t in your family never really gets worked out. But that’s what’s so great about family. That’s why the show was a great show to write. You’re never going to run out of conflict.”
11:45 am: AS-P not ruling out new episodes. “This is what it is right now. We put these together, we told these stories and now we throw them out into the universe.”
11:46 am: I’m asking Amy if she’s disappointed the episodes will be released all at once versus two at a time…
11:47 am: “told them I was going to hang myself with a shower curtain if they put them all out at once, and they said, “Wow, OK.” —AS-P
11:48 am: She continues: “It’s such a journey and it’s such a build to the last four words… However, you don’t always get what you want. I don’t have the a– I want. The good outweighs the bad in the sense that this is a wonderful place to create things and do things in a different way.”
11:49 am: AS-P on walking back into Luke’s for the first time: “It’s not Luke’s diner anymore. The Pretty Little Liars are lying there all the time now.”
11:50 am: Graham on original sets being destroyed: “No one saved anything because, why would they? Who would’ve thought we would go back?”
11:52 am: “Literally until the nght before we started filming, we didn’t have [the entire cast on board]” —Graham
11:54 am: Bledel on whether she wishes people talked about more than just which guy Rory should end up with: “I think it’s kind of interesting that that’s what people are excited about. There is so much more to her character. It’s great when people focus on her ambition and her accomplishments.”
11:55 am: “All of her exes make an appearance, and it was great to work with all of them… People’s questions are answered, but we can’t answer them today.” — Bledel
11:56 am: Graham says the death of Richard gives the episodes “a depth and emotional complexity that felt like, ‘Here’s the show, [only] more grown-up” and that plays into “all the choices the characters” make.
11:59 am: “It’s amazing to know that people are eagerly awaiting these episodes. It’s incredible.” — Bledel
12:00 pm: The revival “was a chance to go to college when you’re really ready. We were given the gift to go back knowing” what we know now.” — Graham
12:02 pm: “For me, there will be nothing else in my career like what we got to do.” —AS-P
12:03 pm: On getting Melissa McCarthy back, AS-P says, “We knew we were going to figure it out. Everyone wants everybody to hate each other.”
12:03 pm: “We love her,” AS-P continues. “We always knew amongst us and amongst her, we were going to figure it out. It just took on this weird life of its own.”
12:04 pm: McCarthy “came on one of our last days,” Graham adds.”If it had not happened, we would have felt a gap in what we were trying to do. We had an incredible time. It just made it even more perfect.”