“A squash?” Cass double-checked with Frankie. “We’re carving a squash instead of a turkey?”
“It’s a tradition around here,” Frankie laughed as she cheered on Zeno in his attempt to literally saw through the hard rind, while the assembled crowd around him got splattered with the chiseled, flying results. “And don’t worry, turkey’s coming!”
“What are you going to eat?” Cass asked, suddenly worried that Frankie’s vegetarianism had been overlooked, ready to dash off into the night to play hero with a last minute order of macaroni and cheese.
“Oh, don’t stress it,” Frankie patted his chest reassuringly, letting out a final, “Yeah!” as the squash’s husk split open amidst a chorus of praise and huzzahs. “Zeno made sure there were plenty of options for me. I’m hardly the only vegetarian on the premises. Plus, we’ve got people who only eat organic, vegans, gluten allergies, dairy allergies, nut allergies, egg allergies, and, of course, Lori Ann’s cranberry allergy. Not to mention those on macrobiotic diets; Zeno saw to everything.”
“Great,” Cass said weakly, pasting on a smile as soon as Frankie turned to give him her full attention.
“Thank you,” she mouthed before leaning in for a kiss, only to abruptly break away and shout, “Dean! You made it!”
Frankie scurried off, pushing through the other guests to embrace her cousin, who looked a little overwhelmed by what he’d just walked into.
“I’m so glad you came!” Frankie hugged him. “Lori Ann has been asking for you!”
Dean looked over Frankie’s shoulder to see his daughter in a throng of other children, both older and younger, all wearing aprons, covered in flour, painstakingly rolling out the most interesting cookie shapes to plop down on a series of trays headed for the kitchen.
“She looks a little busy.”
“Go say hello, anyway,” Frankie urged, and Dean, against his better judgment, obeyed.
He squatted next to the kids, so that he and Lori Ann were at eye-level and, after another prompt from Frankie, who gestured for him to get even closer, offered, “Hey, babe.”
Lori Ann looked up, rubbing her cheek against her dress’ shoulder to get rid of the raw dough that had somehow found itself stuck there, and said, “Hi,” then went back to work.
Frankie leaned in, her chin brushing Dean’s hair as she suggested, “Want to give Daddy Dean a kiss?”
“No,” Lori Ann didn’t even bother looking up for that one.
“You heard the lady,” Dean tried to turn it into a joke as he stood up, dismissing Frankie’s attempt at an explanation with a wave of the hand. “She’s got stuff going on.”
“She really does miss you. She talks about you all the time.”
Dean sighed and shook his head. “You don’t have to blow smoke up my ass, Frankie. I know the score. I’m just the guy who shows up once in a while to take her to the movies and buy her another doll that’s just going to sit dusty in the corner of her room. You and Cass are Mom and Dad. My place is vacation. Yours is home. That’s cool. In fact, you know what? it’s normal. It’s how things are supposed to be. I’m glad Lori Ann’s got that, you know, stability. It’s exactly what I wanted for her, it’s why I gave her up.”
“It’s also why you came back to Bay City. So Lori Ann could know her father.”
“And I’m here when she wants me. Just like I know when I’m not.”….
…. “I’m glad you decided to come,” Sharlene told John quietly, the two of them face to face for the first time in months.
“Where else would I be today?” he pointed out.
“I thought maybe… Donna…”
“No,” John shook his head. “This is… This is exactly what I need. A big, down-home, family farm Thanksgiving. You’ve got Frankie and Cass and their kids, you with Josie and Gary and theirs. It gives me a chance to…” John lowered his voice even though, in the current bedlam, it’s doubtful he’d have been overheard in any case. The truth was, he was just embarrassed to be admitting this, even to Sharlene. “I pretend,” he confessed. “I pretend that Gregory is here, too.” John snuck a peek at Sharlene’s face. When he saw no judgment there or condemnation, he pressed on with a surge of courage. “Maybe he’s over there, right behind Charlie, you know? So I can’t exactly see him, but I feel he’s there. Or, a couple times, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a kid about the right build and hair color and… I don’t turn around. Because then I’d see it isn’t really him. But, this way…”
“What do you think he’d be up to now?” Sharlene asked John softly, willing to lose herself in the fantasy for as long as he agreed to spin it.
“Well, he’d be almost done with college. I’d be trying to talk him into medical school, but, you know Gregory, he can be intractable. That course he took, with Jen Fowler? He really liked a lot of what she talked about, it fit right in with his interest in the mind/body connection. He’s thinking of pursuing a Masters’ Degree in that maybe.”
“But, it’s going to be hard,” Sharlene said. “Because he’s also got a full coaching schedule at the fencing academy. A couple of his kids have qualified for Nationals, and even though he could hand them off to another coach, you know how responsible Gregory is, he doesn’t want to let them down, so he’s trying to juggle both.”
“And, of course, there’s Allie…”
“Allie,” Sharlene agreed, without a trace of rancor.
“I keep telling them they’re too young to be this serious, but since when do kids in love listen to anybody?”
“She makes him happy,” Sharlene said. “That’s all that matters.”
John took a deep breath. “We were so damn lucky, weren’t we?”
“I just wish we’d appreciated it. If I could go back, even if I couldn’t change anything, at least I’d appreciate… I wouldn’t waste a minute.”
“You would,” John shrugged. “We all would. We never learn. None of us ever learn.”
“Where is everybody?” Elizabeth demanded in response to the Hutchins’ surprisingly small Thanksgiving gathering. In addition to her, Cory, Rachel and Carl, the only other participants were Lila and Jasmine.
“Your brothers and sister had other plans tonight,” Rachel said smoothly, while turning to look at Cory, suspecting that, as usual, her youngest son somehow knew the complete true story, and would have no qualms about sharing.
Much to Rachel’s surprise, Cory kept discreetly quiet, occupying himself with removing his linen napkin off its plate and politely laying it across his lap.
It was, instead, Elizabeth who refused to take a hint. “They think they’re too good to break bread with the dreaded Hutchins’ clan.”
“Daddy just said he and Jeanne were busy,” Jasmine offered meekly. “And Aunt Amanda and Allie are having Thanksgiving with Kevin’s family. So is Uncle Jamie and Kirk and everybody. Because Mrs. Harrison is sad after Mr. Harrison died.”
“Exactly,” Carl smiled comfortingly Jasmine’s way while managing to frown at Elizabeth (all the while making clear that he agreed with her, but it was nevertheless impolite to upset the child this way; Carl truly could convey a great deal with a single expression). “In light of what the Harrisons recently experienced, we have all the more reason to give thanks for our own family’s health and happiness.”
“To your health, Father.” Cory raised a crystal goblet filled with sparkling cider in salute, the word he didn’t use echoing much louder than the one he actually did.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” was all Matt would explain in response to Donna’s befuddled query about why he and Jeanne would possibly be inviting her to join them for dinner.
“Happy Holidays, Ms. Love,” Jeanne said. “No one should be alone on the holidays.”
“Why aren’t you at your mother’s?” Donna asked Matt, accepting the chair he offered her. And gallantly pushed in.
“Matt and Rachel are on the outs,” Jeanne filled in before her husband had a chance to figure out how to massage the details. “Jamie and Amanda, as well. They told their mother it was either them or Carl. Rachel picked Carl.”
“Good Heavens, why?” Donna gasped.
“I don’t know. You were married to the man once.” Matt shrugged. “You tell me.”
“No, no, I don’t mean why did she side with Carl? Though that is another unfathomable issue. I mean, what in the world drove the three of you to offer her such an ultimatum?”
“Spencer is dead, and Kirkland could have ended up the same. All because of Carl.”
“But, surely you don’t think Rachel had anything to do with that?”
“She stood by and let Carl pull his strings, knowing what would happen.”
“It was out of her hands. You can’t blame your mother for – “
“Matt can, and he did,” Jeanne said firmly. “We’ve moved out of the house, and now he’s trying to convince Lila to do the same. Living under Carl’s roof puts Jasmine in danger. Who knows which member of the family might be the compound’s next target? Matt could never put his daughter at risk, living around a person like that.”
“No. That’s unnecessary. Rachel would never allow Matt’s daughter to come to any harm. Not just for Jasmine’s sake, but for Matt’s. Anyone who cares about him one iota would see to it that – “
“You said it yourself, Ms. Love. The situation was out of her hands. All the love and best intentions in the world weren’t enough to protect Kirkland. The people from the compound don’t care who they have to sacrifice in order to reach their main objective.”
“Spencer was their main objective,” Donna stressed. “And now that he’s gone, the rest of us have nothing to worry about.”
“Better safe than sorry. Especially when it’s your child. Jasmine has to be protected, no matter whose feelings might get hurt. Right, Matt?” Jeanne prompted.
He nodded absently, Matt’s attention – which had been squarely focused not merely on Donna and Jeanne’s surface conversation, but on what both women seemed to be trying to tell him without actually flat out telling him – waylaid by the sight of yet another lonely figure at the bar.
With Alice promising dinner in just a few minutes, Jamie stepped over to greet Russ, only to have his one-time stepfather come clean, “I heard about what happened between you and your mother.”
Jamie shrugged. “I’m sorry things turned out the way they did, but, Mom made her decision, I made mine.”
“Rachel loves you, Jamie. It may not always be obvious, based on her actions…”
“You would know, wouldn’t you?”
“Better than most, yes. I know what Rachel is capable of, especially when it comes to the men in her life. And I know how much she loves you. Always has, always will.”
“Sometimes I wonder,” Jamie chose to ignore the latter half of Russ’ sentence. “If things wouldn’t have been better for everyone, Mom just sticking with you all these years.”
Russ laughed. “They wouldn’t have been better for me. Or her. Or your brother and sister. Or you. Believe me, Jamie, as much as I would have loved being your father, things worked out for the best. I am no Mac Cory. If Rachel had stuck with me, she would be a very, very different woman today. To the detriment of many.”
“It might have been better for Alice,” Jamie had to note. “My father might still be alive. Sally. Kevin would have had a very different life. And you may be no Mac Cory, but you are no Carl Hutchins, either. The woman Carl turned her into… I don’t even recognize her sometimes. And I wonder to whose detriment that will ultimately be.”….
…. “Whoever he is,” Lorna whispered to Sarah in passing. “I definitely like the effect he’s had on you.”
“What?” the younger woman jumped, startled, whipping around, wondering what she could possibly mean, and what Sarah would need to do to convince Lorna otherwise.
“Relax,” Lorna soothed. “I’m just saying it’s nice to see you no longer mooning over Steven. I don’t think you’ve looked in his direction once since we came in. Dare I ask who we have to thank for this new development? There is a who, isn’t there?”
“Why couldn’t I just have gotten it together on my own?” Sarah challenged, barely getting to the end of her sentence before first she, then Lorna burst out laughing.
“I just hope this new man in your life is more appreciative of what he’s found in you than Steven was.”
“I – I think… I hope.”
“Make sure,” Lorna’s smile settled into affable firmness, as she offered the one piece of advice she wished someone had shared with her thirty… twenty… ten… five years ago. “Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t settle. Keep looking until you find someone who loves everything about you, most especially those things you hate about yourself.”….
…. “You don’t have to do that,” Jen advised Allie nicely after her new stepsister made yet another furtive, awkward attempt not to occupy the same space where Jen happened to be circulating at any given time. It was getting a little ridiculous. “If you want to avoid GQ, that’s fine with me. But, I’ve got no problem with you.”
“You’re not all worked up about the mess with my car, like he is?”
“GQ is a passionate person. I love that about him. I wish I could be more like that. I wish I could care that much. But, I don’t. I’m sorry your car got trashed. I’m sorry that bitch, whoever she is, called you names, that’s totally unacceptable.”
“You don’t agree?” Allie couldn’t help it. Maybe Jen thought Allie was avoiding her because she was afraid of what Jen might say to her. But, it was actually the other way around. Allie knew that if they started talking, she’d feel compelled to ask.
“Well, you are white, Allie, that’s kind of a tough one to argue with. As for the rest of it – trash talking is stupid. I was raised better, you know? If my grandmother had caught me using words like that, I’d have been coughing up soap bubbles for a week.”
“I guess,” Allie admitted. “I guess I really wanted to know if other people… “
“Other Black people,” Jen prompted. “It’s okay to say the word out loud, neither one of us is going to go up in a puff of smoke.”
“If other Black people felt the same way.”
“Okay, first of all: I’m not a big fan of playing spokesperson for 23 million people. I had enough of that in school and college where I was constantly being called upon to offer “the Black Perspective,” because, yes, we’re all that monolithic… But, to answer your question, Allie, I’ve got several bones to pick with you. None of them having anything to do with race.”
“Oh,” Allie said.
“Now, class, on the other hand. That, I’ve got a lot of issues with. People mix those two up all the time. Race and class, like they’re the same thing. You know what bugs me most about you Allie? You and the mess you put Hudson and GQ through? It’s that my mom never had the chance to pull the crap you did and live to tell about it. My mom… it looked like she had everything going for her. She was in the top 1st percentile for intelligence. She had to be, to get into that school she went to in New York. But, my mom wanted to be like regular people. So she started hanging out with, basically, idiots. And she got knocked up her Senior year in high school. And that was that for her. She didn’t have the option, like you did, of saying ‘oops,’ and handing off her mess for someone else to fix. She had to live with the consequences of her actions in a way you never did. Rich kids get second chances. When they screw up, they get a do-over. Poor kids aren’t afforded that luxury. I don’t care what color you are, Allie, or who you slept with or even why you lied. The thing that ticks me off most when I look at you, is that my mom never got the opportunity to be like you.”….
…. “What are you doing?” Sarah laughed as Grant snuck behind her into the bathroom, locking the door. “Someone will see us!”
“Let them.” Grant slipped his hands under Sarah’s skirt, squeezing her ass and pulling Sarah to him, burying his face in her neck, working his way down towards her cleavage. “Who cares?”
“Not a good idea,” Sarah advised, even as she stroked the top of Grant’s head with her palm and gasped from the feel of his tongue flicking between her breasts.
“Why not?” Grant resurfaced, probably for air, genuinely curious. “What are we keeping this a secret for? I haven’t been able to pry my eyes off you the entire evening. All I’ve wanted to do was get you – “
“To start, yes.” He kissed her. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t just waltz out and take you in my arms between the appetizers and the main course; show those other, purportedly happy, disgustingly smug couples how it’s done?”
“Give me one good reason,” Sarah pulled back, suddenly looking much more serious than Grant intended or really preferred, under the circumstances. “Why you should?”
“Well,” he blinked rather furiously, unprepared for the question, and baffled by the offense she seemed to be taking at it. “Because I want to demonstrate that I am not ashamed of you or of us… Prove how I don’t give a damn about what anyone may think or who might judge our relationship unseemly or inappropriate…”
“So you’d be doing it to make a point?”
“Yes!” Grant assessed Sarah’s reaction. “No?”
“Are we doing this for ourselves, Grant?”
“I don’t see anyone else around,” he indicated the tight-fit bathroom.
“Then why do we need to prove anything to anybody? The only reason to go public would be if we wanted to shock or piss off people.”
“Not at all. Why does it have to be negative? Maybe I just want to show everyone what a beautiful, brilliant, caring woman I’ve finally managed to find for myself.”
“So I’m just something you’re looking to flaunt?”
Grant gave up. “What do you want me to say, Sarah?”
“I want you to say that this is only between you and me. That even if we had to keep it a secret forever, you’d be okay with that.”
“Of course, I would be. I just… I didn’t want it crossing your mind that I thought you were something I needed to hide, something I was ashamed of. Marley – Marley wanted to keep the two of us a secret. I know how that made me feel. I’d be damned if I was going to do that to you. You have made me happier in the last few months, Sarah, than I have felt in I don’t know how long. Even with everything that’s happened – my father, Kirk… I – I’m… happy. All thanks to you. I’d shout it from the rooftops, I’d hire a jet to skywrite it throughout the heavens. But, if you don’t want that – “
“I don’t. At least, not yet.”
“You know, if it were anyone else, I’d wonder if you were the one ashamed of me..”
“No,” Sarah hurried to reassure. “It’s not that at all.”
“I know,” he whispered, cupping her face in his hands, looking into Sarah’s eyes. “And whatsmore, I believe you.”….
…. “Let me help you with that,” Felicia hurried over to aid Lorna, who was attempting to juggle Devon in one arm while bending over to pick up the baby’s diaper bag with the other.
“It’s okay, I got it.” Lorna smiled at her mother. “I’m kind of becoming a pro at this.”
“Are you sure you aren’t trying to do to much?” Felicia fretted.
“When have I ever not?”
“This isn’t a joke,” Felicia lectured. “You’re still going for your monthly neurological check-ups, aren’t you? To make sure there aren’t any complications from the accident?”
“Of course, I am. Jamie kind of circles the dates of my appointments in big, red letters on the calendar.”
“At least let me hold Devon for you, for a little bit,” Felicia held out her arms. “You must be tired.”
Lorna looked at her oddly. “You’re welcome to hold your granddaughter, if you’d like. But, I’m fine, don’t worry.”
“What do your doctors say?”
“They’re all in agreement: I am more than capable of holding my own baby for a couple of hours without much health risk beyond an arm cramp or two. And the way she keeps pulling my hair,” Lorna attempted, for the fifteenth time in what felt like as many minutes to disengage a tiny fist and distract its owner elsewhere.
“Not that you’d tell me if there was anything really wrong, anyway,” Felicia grumbled.
“Okay,” Lorna sighed. “In the nicest way possible: What’s going on here, Mom?”
“I just wish you’d confide in me more. I’m not trying to intrude into your business, or judge you. You don’t have to keep a happy face on all the time. Not for me, anyway. I can only imagine how difficult things must be for you these days; Jamie all wrapped up in Kirkland, and you alone with Devon….”
“We’re not living in the 1950s. Jamie helps a ton with Devon. Everything is really under control, I’m not exactly sure what you’re fishing for…”
Felicia’s eyes darted down to Lorna’s waistline, wondering if she could see anything yet, wondering if Lorna might take the subliminal hint and come clean on her own, but, in that instant, Alice announced that dinner was finally ready.
Everyone should come to the dining room.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” Matt repeated, urging Dean to join him and Jeanne – and Donna.
“Are you mental?” his friend hissed.
“Maybe we can all work something out,” Matt proposed, practically dragging him towards their table. “Something that would be good for everyone.”
“Hello, Dean,” Donna kept her voice as neutral as possible, even in the face of his return grunt, followed by a sneer. “And where is Lori Ann this evening?”
Dean plopped down in a chair, slouching, looking down at the two clenched fists in his lap. “At Thanksgiving dinner. With her parents.”
“I can’t believe Frankie didn’t invite you, as well,” Jeanne interjected.
“She did. But, it wasn’t exactly my scene. Lori Ann never even noticed I was gone.”
“She’s a beautiful girl,” Donna observed. “She looks just like Jenna as a child.”
“How would you know? You never saw her then.”
“Actually, I did,” Donna corrected. “Gloria used to send me pictures. Especially in the beginning. Before I asked her to please stop. There is a definite resemblance. Is Lori Ann allergic to cranberries?” Donna asked all of a sudden.
“Uh… yeah,” Dean said, somewhat surprised. “Frankie mentioned something about it. Real pain at this time of the year.”
“Jenna was too, at her age. Gloria got her the shots and she outgrew it. Lorri Ann will also, most likely.”
“I’ll mention it to Frankie. About the shots.”
Donna smiled. Dean didn’t. Then again, he didn’t growl, either. Matt chose to interpret it as progress. But, he also knew enough not to push matters too far.
“Are Felicia and Lucas having Thanksgiving with Cass and Frankie, too?” Donna asked Dean in the same pleasant tone she’d been using all evening, the one that suggested Donna was merely making harmless conversation, nothing more.
“No,” Dean perused the holiday menu without much enthusiasm, wondering if another beer qualified as Thanksgiving fare – it was made out of grains, after all. “They’re with Lorna and Jamie at Alice Harrison’s place.”
“Alice Harrison? What in the world is the connection there?”
“Well, Jamie, I guess. Also, Alice is going to be Devon’s godmother. Morgan’s the godfather. Ceremony scheduled for next week, right after the holiday. Lori Ann and I are invited. Guess ‘cause we’re relatives on both sides of the family.”
“How lovely,” Donna purred. And this time her smile was anything but harmless.
“I don’t mean to put you on the spot, Jamie,” Alice began as they all settled around the impeccably decorated Thanksgiving table.
“So why do I suspect you’re about to, anyway?” he asked with a good-natured laugh.
Alice smiled. “Everyone here remembers Mac and his wonderful toasts. And those who don’t, have certainly heard enough about them from the rest of us. I’m wondering if you might oblige to do the honors this year.”
Jamie coughed uncomfortably into his fist. “Those are awfully big shoes to fill. Especially at the last minute.”
“Don’t worry,” Grant reassured innocently. “We’re not expecting much.”
“Some people,” Amanda drawled in her ex-husband’s direction. “Set slightly higher bars for themselves than a notch above adequate.”
“Oh, believe me, Amanda,” it took all of Grant’s self-control not to sneak a peek at Sarah as he responded. “You taught me that lesson very, very well.”
“Better step up, Dad,” Steven advised. “Natives are getting restless.”
“How very thematic of you, Steven,” Felicia praised, even as she chimed in. “I agree.”
“Okay, then,” Jamie rose awkwardly, Lorna patting his hand in mock encouragement as he lifted his wine glass, waiting for everyone else to do the same. He looked around, gathering his thoughts and – admittedly – stalling for time. Wondering what Jamie could possibly say that might resonate with the motley group of revelers even a fraction as much as Mac’s words traditionally did.
“I’ve had a hell of a year,” Jamie began, figuring he’d start personal and move on the general. Assuming he managed to think of something before the food grew cold. “I married the most amazing woman in the world. No offense, ladies,” he addressed Alice, Amanda, Felicia, Pat, Sarah, Allie, Jen, Bridget and Michele.
“You’re allowed,” Felicia reassured.
“Just for this one time,” Amanda corrected. “Until the newlywed euphoria wears off.”
“I have a daughter,” Jamie continued. “Who I never in a million years dreamed I’d have, and who is a miracle in and of herself. I have one son,” he grinned at Steven. “Who, if I do say so myself, did a bang-up job of bringing me up to eventually become a vaguely presentable father. And another son,” he turned his gaze to Kirkland. “Who humbles me with his ability to accept people, flaws – major, major flaws – and all.”
Kirkland ducked his head, blushing, and feeling Grant’s eyes burning into him, pivoting just the tiniest bit, to offer his biological father a hesitant smile in return.
“I also have amazing friends and family,” Jamie kicked off with Alice, but made a wide circle with his glass, to indicate all assembled. “Who literally kept me alive to the point where I can now enjoy all the blessings of this, and previous, years. I never, ever want to take for granted the sacrifices that were made by others on my behalf. There are people to whom I owe so much, it would take several lifetimes to express my gratitude, much less repay them. With some, the opportunity is gone forever. In that case, the best I can do is pay it forward, learn from their example, extend myself to the people who meant the most to them.” Jamie’s sweep of the room momentarily paused on Grant, who was still watching Kirkland, Jamie’s allusion unmistakable. “My dad, Mac, one year, ended his Thanksgiving toast with: I give you life. I’m afraid I have neither Mac’s gifts for the poetic, nor the dramatic. The best I can do, in that vein, is to offer a little bit of comparable news.” Jamie looked questioningly at Lorna, who got his drift and, after a second’s thought, shrugged, “What the hell?” Jamie leaned over to kiss her briefly, before straightening up to announce joyfully, “Lorna and I are having another baby!”
HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL THE READERS OF ANOTHER WORLD TODAY! WE ARE TRULY AND SINCERELY THANKFULL FOR EVERY ONE OF YOU!
|Receive email notification every time www.anotherworldtoday.com is updated|