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Tangled Up In Tinsel

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Rod sighed sadly, as he gazed out at the bustling winter wonderland that surrounded his dismal dingy den. He felt so lonely. Everyone else seemed to be having so much fun, messing about in the snow. And he knew if Nicky was around, his impulsive bouncy friend would insist they join the snow party, build snowmen and go sledging down the icy sidewalk.

True, Rod always grumbled when Nicky dragged him out into the freezing cold air for such childishly absurd frolicking sessions. But secretly he got tingles down his spine when they were skidding around in the soft white mush together. Because his friend’s festive friskiness always seemed to result in the two of them tumbling on top of each other!

Rod yawned deeply. He had been working virtually non-stop since Nicky’s departure, thus he scarcely had time to think about his deep burning loneliness. Yet, he knew it was there, lurking just below the surface. Because everything seemed so insipidly dull without his best buddy around to inject some color into his world.

It was strange, as it had barely been three weeks since Rod’s mad dash with Nicky to the airport, but it felt like a lifetime ago! Although, he still couldn’t believe how lucky his clueless friend had been that day! Because it was only after Rod checked his dopey friend’s tickets, that they realized Nicky had less than two hours to finish packing and get to the airport before the check-in desk closed! He still got hot sweats thinking about the feverish frenzy that had engulfed them that night!

----- MINI FLASHBACK (NICKY PACKS FOR HIS FLIGHT) -----

Rod was finally back from work. By some miracle, he had managed to persuade his boss to let him leave early today, so that he had time to say goodbye to his friend at the airport. However, as soon as he entered the bedroom, his heart-rate quickly sky rocketed at the sight of his perpetually lazy roommate still packing his suitcase.

“Nicky what’s going on?! I thought you would be all packed and ready to go by now!” Rod said in exasperated disbelief.

“Yeah, sorry, got a little distracted is all. Don’t worry though! I’ve got it all under control buddy, promise.” Nicky forced a smile, but he couldn’t maintain the facade for long, and his face quickly drooped. “God this sucks Rod. Why can’t you come with me buddy?! How am I supposed to cope over there for four weeks without you?” Nicky stared sadly into Rod’s hazel eyes.

Rod gulped, “Look, I’m sorry. But you know I can’t get that much time off work, especially in December! Hell, I’m lucky if I can book a week off, let alone a month! I’ve told you so many times.”

Nicky looked incredibly glum for someone who was about to partake in an adventure of epic proportions. You would think he'd be excited to see his family face to face for the first time in over three years!

“Jeez Rod, you’re always workin’ buddy! Can’t you just take a few weeks off? Just this once?! You know, my family would love to see you and I need you with me!”

Rod sighed, “Nicky, you know I can’t. Besides it’s too late now!”

“But Rod, what if I get lost in LA when I’m changin’ flights?! I can barely find my way back home after a night drinkin' for God’s sake! How am I supposed to find my way to Australia all on my own? What if I end up on a flight to New Zealand by mistake?! Or end up in Turkey because I got a stomach rumble? Rod, please buddy! I need you!”

Rod rolled his eyes, “Look, just stick to the schedule I printed out and you should be fine. By the way, are you sure that your check-in deadline is nine Nicky? Because I could have sworn I wrote down the departure time as being ten, not eleven?”

Nicky sheepishly took his tickets from his pocket, and gulped, as he re-read the instructions. “Um, really Rod? Oops.”

“What do you mean oops?!” Rod’s eyes widened in horror as he snatched Nicky’s tickets from his hand, and immediately spotted the recommended 7pm to 8pm check in time.

"God Nicky! I knew it! I knew I was right! And it's already gone six, so now we have less than two hours to get you packed and to the airport! Why did I even believe you?! Why did I leave you unsupervised?! I know, because I had to work! But hell Nicky! You said you had it all under control! You promised me that I didn't have to worry about anything!" Rod smacked himself on the forehead to reprimand his brain for its lack of attention to Nicky's inadequate preparations.

Nicky hung his head in shame and bit his lip, "Sorry Rod buddy, I um, didn’t check. Jeez, I confess, I kinda got carried away watchin’ both the Home Alone movies again. And well, yeah, I kinda didn't think to check the check-in time again, cuz I thought for sure it said nine!”

“God damn it Nicky! I should have known better then to leave you to sort things by yourself! Because you never have a clue when it comes to air travel, do you Nicky?! Gah!” Rod began dashing around in a mad panic, unsure of what to do first. “How did you get it wrong? Why didn’t I check it myself?! Hell, this is a living nightmare Nicky!” He slapped Nicky on the arm lightly to express his rapidly rising levels of annoyance.

“Gee, I’m sorry Rod. I, um, just really really thought that was a nine! But I guess it’s a seven. I was so sure buddy, honestly I was!”

“You really need your eyes testing, don’t you Nicholas?! God! Okay, okay, don’t panic!” Rod shrieked, as his voice got ever squeakier and he rushed around in an increasingly flustered state.

“Rod, buddy, calm down! Jeez, you’re gonna have a heart attack if you keep runnin’ around like that!” Nicky grabbed his friend by the shoulders. “Look, everythin’s cool, yeah? It’s not like I even need clothes out there anywho, it’s gonna be so hot! Besides, I’m sure my folks will happily buy me a few bits and bobs to tide me over. It’s you I need to pack buddy! It’s you I can’t live without!” Nicky stared longingly at his stressed out friend.

“Nicky don’t be ridiculous! Of course you need clothes!” Rod wriggled out of his roommate's grasp. “Gah! Why didn’t you let me pack for you?! I offered! I offered several times!” He despaired, as he began quickly shoving various items of clothing into Nicky’s open suitcase. “Okay, right, I’ll call for a taxi, you finish packing! And hurry up Nicky! We have to be out of the door in less than twenty minutes if we’ve got any chance of making it to JFK airport in time! You know it can take over an hour to get there from here right?!”

“Rod, stop!”

“Nicky no! I didn’t give you that extra $500 to waste on tickets that become useless because you were too stupid and lazy to pack ahead of time! And what about all that money your parents sent you towards the tickets?! Now come on! Enough nonsense! We’ve got to act fast if you’re going to have any chance of seeing your family this Christmas!”

----- END OF MINI FLASHBACK -----

Rod shook his head as he remembered their frantic rush! However, all that excitement had long since faded. And now the only thing giving Rod hot sweats was the relentlessly fluctuating stock market!

Rod hated being alone in the apartment at Christmas. Because his fanatically festive friend was always the one to sprinkle fun over the season, and without him around everything seemed so stale and sluggish. Of course, Rod had tried his best to emulate Nicky’s gaiety. But try as he might, he just didn’t have the same talent for ’decking the halls’ as his lavishly frivolous friend.

Beginning to feel the sting of holiday depression, Rod had even tried lifting his spirits by listening to his roommate’s recommended yuletide songs. And although it had cheered him up for a short while, ultimately it was just another thing that reminded him how much more fun he would be having if Nicky was by his side. However, it was bizarre that he found himself longing to hear his roommate’s silly seasonal singing! Because Rod often despaired at Nicky’s exasperatingly repetitive reiterations of ’Wombling Merry Christmas! He smiled and shook his head in loving adoration, as Nicky’s merry melodies echoed around in his mind.

“All day long, I’ll be with Roderick in the snow! We wish you a Rod and Nicky Merry Christmas! All night long, we will be snugglin' toe to toe! We wish you a Rod and Nicky Merry Christmas! Hey Rod buddy! I can keep singin' now, right? Now that I’ve changed the lyrics to make it different and all? I even made it extra interestin' cuz I put our names in the song! Come on buddy! Why don’t you sing it with me? You know you wanna! Come over here! Come away from that computer! This is no time for workin' buddy! We need a Christmas singalong! We need a Christmas hug!”

Rod stared longingly at the picture of him and Nicky stood beside Marshmallow Puffington the Seventh (the snowman they had built together last year) over on the pin board. This was going to be his first Christmas alone, but worse than that, his first Christmas alone without Nicky. Not that Rod didn’t understand his roommate’s need to be with his family.

Indeed, Rod knew all too well how long his home sick friend had been waiting for this vacation. Because the past three years, Nicky had settled for lengthy Skype sessions over the Christmas period, while his family saved up to cover the nearly $1500 cost of his flights!

Feeling sorry for his friend, Rod had spent months researching where to get the cheapest tickets from New York to Brisbane.  In fact, he had even added an extra $500 to Nicky’s flight fund, just to ensure that his best buddy didn’t have to wait another year for a Christmas visit. Because as much as it pained him to send Nicky away, he knew that paying towards his friend’s tickets ‘home’ would be the best Christmas present he could possibly give him. He just wished that Nicky didn’t have to spend the entire festive season half way around the world in Australia!

Of course, preferably, Rod wished that he could have taken time off work to go with his friend. Because he would have loved to have seen Nicky’s family again too! But alas, Nicky had been away for three weeks already, and there was no way Rod could have talked his boss into letting him take even a week off! Especially not during December, one of the busiest months of the year for Investment Bankers!

Rod briefly considered going home to visit his own parents for Christmas, but quickly decided against it. Of course, his mother kept insisting that he visit and provide her with some respite from her quote, ‘tedious life with his father'. However, luckily Rod only had to mention that he was busy at work, and she soon changed her tune. He groaned, as his mother’s last words to him echoed around his mind.

“Nothing is more important in life than hard work Roderick! So don’t return home until you’ve finished all your projects and finalized all your business deals! If you have to work all Christmas to earn an extra couple of hundred dollars, then you should definitely do that! Because that way you will be able to pay off your debts to us more quickly!”

Rod rolled his eyes, as her endless nagging sessions replayed in his mind. ’Home’ is the very last place he wanted to be right now, or in fact, ever! But that meant he would be alone on Christmas day. All alone. Sure, Brian and Christmas Eve had invited him over for dinner, and he had reluctantly said yes, just so he could avoid a day of cooking for one. But the whole arrangement still seemed somewhat awkward, didn’t it? I mean, what was he going to do over there? What was he going to say? Surely he would just end up being an annoying third wheel, at their otherwise romantic Christmas dinner for two?!

Rod buried his head in his hands, ‘God Nicky! Why do you have to stay in Australia for so long?! Why couldn’t I quit my job and come with you? I know you wanted me to quit. I still remember the song you sang to get me to see sense!’

“Rod buddy, please quit your job! I need you cuz I’m a slob! I know I've got a big gob. I know I look like a blob! But I really need my Rod!”

‘God why do you have to always make me feel so guilty?! Because you know I can’t quit Nicky! As much as I want to just throw in the towel and kiss goodbye to Wall Street forever! I can’t do that! Because I need my paycheck to cover the rent, repay my parents, cover both our student loan repayments, cover both our health insurance costs! Not to mention how much I spend on groceries and booze to fill your bottomless pit of a stomach!’

Rod groaned, as his head filled up with yet more and more bills he knew he had to pay, and yet more and more responsibilities he knew he couldn’t ditch! ‘Gah! It’s not fair Nicky! You have all year to slob about and relax! And yet I’m lucky if I get three measly days off over Christmas! Hell, sometimes I don’t even get that!’

Rod stared at the calendar. Just three more days to go until 25th December. Then only two lonely days here in the apartment by himself, until he had to return to his relentless treadmill of a job! Nicky was due back on New Year’s Day, so he just had to survive for another ten days on his own!

Rod was just about to return to his desk to finish his stock chart analysis, when he was startled by a loud series of knocks. He gulped, as he walked over to the door.

Rod bit his lip and his heart beat quickened, as his usually dormant optimism, fueled by Christmas hope, tempted him to imagine Nicky stood on the other side. He quickly checked that the quiff in his hair was still perfectly positioned, before he pulled the door open.

However, Rod's face instantly dropped at the sight of Kate Monster. “Oh, hello Kate. How can I help you?” He said, trying his best to hide his disappointment, but failing miserably. He knew it was ridiculous to think it would be Nicky, as his roommate wasn’t due back until 1st January. He had seen the tickets with his own eyes for Christ’s sake!

Kate forced a smile, “Sorry, I know you were hoping I was someone else.”

Rod blushed, and his voice went slightly squeaky for a moment, as he tried his best to dismiss the idea. “Don’t be silly! I’m always happy to see you! Who… who else would I want to see on such a lovely snowy afternoon?”

Kate rolled her eyes, “I know you miss Nicky.” She said bluntly, as she continued to smile sympathetically at him.

Rod bit his lip slightly, and tried his best to move the conversation along, “Don’t be ridiculous! I relish the peace and quiet! In fact, these past few weeks have been divine. Because I’ve actually managed to catch up on some sleep without that green blob wittering on every night! Now what can I do for you? Christmas Eve said you were planning to return home to see your family the day before Christmas Eve?” Rod’s blush intensified slightly, as he realized that sentence sounded kind of weird.

“Um, yes.” Kate confirmed, but quickly added, “But tonight I’m holding a last minute Christmas get together at mine. A mini party of sorts. And well, I was hoping you might be able to swing by?”

“Oh, a party?” Rod looked somewhat excited for an instant, but his gleeful expression immediately flipped again, as he remembered Nicky wasn't around to accompany him. “Um, well, thanks for the offer Kate, but I don’t know. I've got so much work to do, and…”

Kate quickly interrupted, “Oh come on! It’s Saturday night! And you’ve been working like crazy these past few weeks! You deserve a break! Besides, Nicky left a surprise Christmas present for you in my apartment.”

Rod’s eyes lit up, “Really?! He did?! He told me he would give me his present when he got back on 1st January. Gosh, why didn’t you tell me about it sooner?!” He tried his best to tone his excitement down a notch, “Um, I mean, why don’t you bring it round? I can put it under my tree.” He gestured towards the somewhat pathetic looking, tiny white synthetic tree in the corner, with only a single scrawny piece of tinsel wrapped around its base.

Kate’s eyes widened in bemusement, as she took in the pitiful sight. “Gosh, I guess you weren’t kidding when you said Nicky usually takes care of all the decorating!” She covered her mouth to hide a few giggles.

Rod rolled his eyes and frowned, “Look, I haven’t had time to wrap the whole apartment in tinsel and cover every inch of surface space with miniature snow figures like Nicky, okay?! I’ve been working!” He folded his arms, and stood back in front of the door, to block Kate’s view of his somewhat lackluster seasonal decorations. “Anyway, if you give me Nicky’s present, surely that will add a bit of extra sparkle to the scene, so…?”

Kate shook her head, suddenly looked at her watch, and slowly edged away from her grumpy neighbor, “Sorry, um… Gosh, is that really the time?! I’ve got to dash! I’ve got a… Um, a thing. But you’ll come to the party tonight, right? Starts at eight. And I promise you can take your present home with you afterwards!” She shouted, as she dashed down the corridor towards the main exit.

Rod shot her a somewhat annoyed, puzzled look, and shrieked, “Wait! Kate! Why can’t I just come and collect it before the party?!”

Kate shook her head again, “Sorry, no can do Rod! I’m not going to get back ‘til after seven thirty, then I’ve got to get ready and have a shower before all the guests show up.”

Rod shouted out anxiously, “How many people are coming to this party?”

“Um, just half a dozen or so. Just a few neighbors and close friends. You’ll have a great time, I promise! So, see you later, right?”

Rod rolled his eyes, and reluctantly agreed, “Okay. Fine. I suppose I could drop by for a few minutes. See you at eight!” He knew he really needed to work all night on his personal investment portfolio. However, he figured that maybe he could take a short break to stop by and check it out. After all, he didn’t have much choice if he wanted to collect that present and put it under the tree. He was somewhat annoyed that Nicky hadn’t trusted him to keep hold of it, but he knew how stubborn his roommate was, when it came to keeping presents hidden until the last possible second.

----- KATE MEETS NICKY AT THE AIRPORT -----

A huge grin spread across Nicky’s face, as he spotted Kate Monster. He was so happy to be back in New York, to be back on the same continent, in the same city, as his bestest buddy! Of course, he’d had fun in Australia with his family, but he couldn’t stay away from Rod a day longer!

Indeed, Nicky had barely survived three weeks without his ’15 years and still going strong’ best friend! And it didn’t take his parents long to pick up on his obvious home sickness, and pay to upgrade his ticket to an earlier return flight. They had planned to surprise him with some extra spending money, but as soon as they realized what Nicky really wanted for Christmas, they simply couldn’t ignore their son’s true desires!

“Hey Kate!” Nicky hollered, as he rushed over to her, pulling his suitcase behind him.

“Nicky! I did what you said, I think he bought it!” Kate smiled wildly, quickly stretching out her arms to wrap her friend into a hug as he approached.

Nicky’s grin grew larger still, “Gosh, really?! I can’t wait to surprise him you know! He’s gonna be so shocked! Shock and awed! Um, is that a thing?” He looked puzzled for a moment, as he considered the meaning of the phrase.

Kate giggled, “Er, maybe… Look never mind all that! We’ve got to sneak you into my place! The box already arrived, so all we have to do is decorate it a little, spruce you up to match, and we’re all set!” She beamed at him. “You still want me to wrap you in tinsel?”

“Yeah! Rod’s gonna love it! Jeez, I can’t wait to see the look on his face! He’s not expectin’ me back ‘til New Year’s you know!” Nicky chuckled, as the two friends headed towards the taxi bay outside.