This chapter is dedicated to fearlessbenson, without your comment about Noah's reaction to Barba being back, this wouldn't have been written!
Even though it was Christmas morning Noah didn't wake up any earlier than he normally would. He went out to the living room like he did every morning, but something was different. He froze when he saw the presents piled under the tree. Slowly he looked around and saw the stockings stuffed with presents.
Then he noticed the plate of cookies on the coffee table: it was empty! He was sure that Santa had been here. Noah turned around and ran to her bedroom; Mommy needed to see it.
He carefully turned the doorknob and pushed the door open, only to be greeted by an empty space on the bed where she usually slept. But there was a big lump under the blankets on the other side. Noah thought that was strange, Mommy always slept in the same spot.
He climbed up on the bed and crawled closer to the lump. Just as he reached out his hand to pull back the blanket Olivia entered the room from the bathroom. Noah looked at her and forgot all about the lump.
"Mommy! Santa was here! He brought presents and ate his cookies!"
Liv smiled brightly at her son and his excitement. "Really, sweet boy? That's so exciting!" She said in a hushed voice. "Let's go out to the kitchen and get mommy some coffee okay? Then we'll see what Santa brought us after breakfast."
Noah smiled back and nodded. He was about to jump into Liv's outstretched arms when the lump under the blankets started to move. His eyes got really wide and he whispered, "Is that Santa?"
She chuckled lightly. "No, baby. It's not Santa." She reached out and took Noah into her arms then settled on the bed with him in her lap. "I have something really important to tell you Noah. Something that might be a little confusing. Do you remember how Papí died and went to heaven?"
"Yeah." Noah answered quietly. He still got sad thinking about when Papí died.
"Well, something happened and there was a mistake." Olivia's mind was racing, hoping she wasn't about to scar her son for life or ruin what little understanding of death he had.
"What's the mistake, Mama? You can fix it. You the best at helping people."
Tears filled her eyes at his earnest words. "Thank you Noah. This is a really big mistake. See, the doctors said that Papí died. But... Papí didn't die. He just took a really really long time to get better."
Noah considered her words for a moment. "Papí didn't die and go to heaven?"
Liv shook her head, fighting to hold back her tears.
"Where did he go?" Noah pouted, upset that his Papí would go anywhere for this long without him.
Not sure what to answer Liv looked over at the lump of blankets on the other side of the bed. Noah followed her gaze. Finally it clicked. "Is that Papí?" he whispered.
"Why don't you go see," she encouraged gently.
Noah crawled slowly over to the lump. He gingerly pulled back the blanket to reveal Rafael's face. His eyes were closed, giving the impression that he was sleeping. Olivia knew better. Noah gasped.
"Papí!" he screeched. "Mama! Santa brought Papí home just like I asked for!" Noah was practically vibrating from excitement. Slowly Rafael opened his eyes and feigned waking up stretching and yawning dramatically.
He focused on his son but immediately became concerned. "Noah?" The little boy's face had crumpled and he was crying. Rafael looked to Olivia frantically.
She reached out and rubbed Noah's shoulder, reassuring him that everything was alright. "Do you want a hug?" Noah nodded but instead of going to her, he flung himself at Barba.
Tears fell steadily down Rafael's cheeks and he felt his heart break once again. He wrapped Noah in his arms and just held him tight, rocking slightly. After a few minutes Noah had calmed down enough to speak.
Olivia reached over to rub his back and asked, "What is it, baby? Can you tell us why you are you crying?"
Barba braced himself for Noah's answer; despite the boy choosing him for comfort he still felt terrified that Noah would hate him.
"I missed Papí so much," he sniffled and rubbed his face on Rafael's shirt.
"I missed you too Noah," Rafael said lowly. "I missed you every day and I'm so sorry I was gone for so long."
Noah tightened his little arms around Barba's neck. "You home now Papí?"
"Yeah, buddy. I'm home now."
Barba gently leaned back and looked right into Noah's eyes. "I promise. You, me, and Mommy are going to be a real family again. I love you both so much." He glanced at Liv, making sure she was hearing him as well. "I love you Noah. And I'm not going anywhere."