There’s something beautiful about capturing the perfect moment in a photograph. In the way the lighting catches the waves, in the way someone is caught mid-action. Or in Neo’s post processing right now, the way he captured a photo of his daughter mid-laugh.
Lyra Amelie Loyola-Concepcion is probably Neo’s favorite subject right after Salle, mainly because she exudes so much joy and innocence that only children can carry. Salle’s the perfect model for when Neo wants fierce and quick movements that came with his dancing. But while the raven-haired man gave off a charismatic, magnetic aura, it’s Ami who gives off pure, wholesome, and unadulterated love in photos. And not to be biased, but Ami’s the cutest kid he’s ever taken a photo of –and he’s taken lots, so that says something (or maybe he’s really just biased but he doesn’t care). The current photo he’s editing is Ami in a plain white backdrop, mid-giggle after Salle ripped up a piece of paper for her. How she finds it funny is something he’ll never find out.
When something tinkles and hits his thigh, Neo turns to see the said baby giving him her blue rattle. Her black hair is kept away from her face with a floral headband that her Tita Asia got for her 7th month celebration.
“I’m sorry talaga I couldn’t make it to the party.” Asia apologized yet again to both Neo and Salle. “I would have gone, pero my flight was rescheduled. London was so cold and being stuck sa airport was so bad.”
They were sitting in the living room, all occupied with Ami who sat on her mat on the floor. Asia’s been occupied for the past 15 minutes pushing a plush ball towards the baby, who returned it with a laugh each time.
“Okay lang. ‘Di din nakapunta si Benjo and Yssa eh.” Salle shrugged.
Neo nodded and rubbed Ami’s back. “And you can come next month! Salle thinks it’s extra that we throw a party for her every month,” he throws his husband an accusatory look, “but I just think it’s nice to celebrate milestones.”
Salle rolled his eyes jokingly. “Pareho lang naman kayo ni Mama eh. You love spoiling her.”
Asia was quick to back up Neo. “Of course, she deserves to be spoiled.” And, as if a lightbulb went off in her head, she perked up and reached for the large gift bag she brought. “Oh, I got her some really nice pasalubong pala on my trip!” The orange-haired Tita fished out a smaller paper bag and hands the rest of the gift bag to Neo, which he weighs in his hand and still found it heavy. “Those are chocolates for you guys, but this is my gift for Ami.”
She opened the smaller bag in her hands and pulled out an array of cloth strips which Neo recognized as headbands. Salle’s mom had given him a bunch of them as well. “I found this when I was shopping sa London, and I thought it will be, like, super adorable on her!” Asia displayed the gifts for the fathers to see. In her hands were headbands in different shades of blue, green, white, and pink. “Hala, ang cute!” Salle exclaims and takes a green one and examines it. The hairband is mostly green dotted with pink flowers. He immediately took the chance to have Ami wear one before Neo could do it with the blue one his husband was holding.
Just thinking about how much Ami has grown makes Neo think of how worth it all the sleepless nights and countless crying sessions had been for them. “Thank you, Mimi.” Neo grins and takes the offering. She babbles something in response and walks away in her bright blue walker.
The living room is spacious for the baby to practice her walking, though the floor is littered with several toys from getting pulled out of the toy box. Neo pushes himself to stand and pick up the toys she might run over. “Wait!” he calls after her.
Ami pushes buttons and continues to talk as she goes, and each button makes an animal sound he’s probably going to hear in his sleep. He’s quick to stop her walker from moving any further as he picks up the toys she might bump into. When he deems it an all-clear, Neo releases the walker and Ami continues her exploration. The little girl passes by the TV, where Salle is playing Injustice on the PS4.
Frantically, Salle moves left and right to see the screen with Ami in the way. “Excuse me!” he pleads, trying to win the battle he’s in.
And Neo, being the good and loving husband that he is, doesn’t do anything.
“Babs, can you get her?” Salle asks Neo, who watches his little girl in amusement as she suddenly finds the perfect spot to play right in front of the TV. “I can’t lose to Batman again.”
He’s been playing this thing for over an hour now, this may be the excuse for him to finally stop playing. “No, she’s having fun.” Neo shrugs and goes back to his post processing.
“Please, matatalo na ‘ko!” Salle squirms in his seat as the battle finishes and his character gets finished off. “No, no, no!” He wails as the end credits of the battle come on the screen. Neo snickers as he watches Salle sprawl on the couch, defeated. Neo watches as his husband finds the energy to look up and point at Ami. “You traitor! You’re the real enemy!” He claims loudly, catching Ami’s attention. Bright blue eyes look up at him with confusion, as if to say ‘me?’
Neo watches as Salle charges up to her with wiggling fingers and tickles her sides, making Ami squeal. The baby gets lifted from her walker and tickled in the neck with the little stubble Salle has going on. “Kasama mo si Batman, ‘no? You helped Batman beat Tata?” Salle wrongfully accuses.
“No!” Ami shrieks in laughter.
Both fathers look at their child whose giggles start to die down. Neo and Salle blink at each other, unsure if they heard her right. They’d been itching to hear her first word and debating if it would be Tata (tatay for Salle) or Papa (for Neo). They even had a bet and whoever was mentioned first wouldn’t have to change diapers for a week. “Ami, say that again.” Neo requests, a grin slowly making its way on his face. He crouches a little to be nearer to her face. The baby in question, however, is already too preoccupied with Salle’s ponytail, tugging on it with force.
Salle, though in slight pain, couldn’t hold in the laugh and pride that was bubbling inside him. “Ow, ow. Ami, come on, what did you say?” He urges, bouncing Ami in his arms.
The other man opts for a different route to prompt a response from her. “Ami, do you want green peas for dinner later?” he asks politely. The little girl merely shakes her head in response. The brunette looks at his husband oddly as he stands up straight again.
“She said that first word naman, right? I wasn’t just imagining it?” Salle looks back and forth between his husband and his kid. “Ami, come on. You wanted Batman to beat Tata?” he repeats, nuzzling her cheek. But Ami’s already over it with the milestone she didn’t know she surpassed. Her Tata only gets a grunt in response and some pats on the arms, eager to be placed on her walker again.
A dramatic sigh escapes Neo. “She’s as stubborn as you, I guess.” He tells Salle, then swoops in to peck Ami’s cheek. “So proud of you, Mimi!” he coos and pinches her cheek. Showers of praise rains on Ami from her Papa. The word and its timing were completely unexpected, but he still thinks it’s a huge deal. Neo doesn’t like to brag, but maybe he has the smartest baby, even if she was a little smartass.
Salle joins in the praise-fest and coddles her hair pulling at least for now. When Neo is sure he’s distracted, he takes Ami off his arms, leaving Salle with nothing. “I’ll take it from here.” Neo quips.
“Hey! I thought we were having a moment!” Salle complains. “I was the one who made her talk!” he reminds him loudly.
Neo pointedly looks at the forgotten game controller on the couch where Salle was previously playing. “No, you told me to get her. We’ll go get ready na, you should too.” He smugly replies and walks off to prepare Ami for the rest of the day, leaving a deflated Salle and his last say on the subject. His call out reverberates in the empty room. “It was still on me! It was Tata that did it, so I win!”