The last Thursday of November was always a busy day for the Johnson family. Thanksgiving was a day of cooking, football, and family, and this year was no exception.
Rita’s mom’s small house was a bumbling beehive. The food had just been placed on the table: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cornbread, canned yams, and the steaming apple pie were all calling her name, but she was already full. Desperately trying to keep her eyes off the bottle of wine that was being passed around the table, she focused on her conversation with her younger cousin Greg.
“Sixteen? Since when were you sixteen? I remember when you were first born,” she rambled. Did Greg notice her words were slurred? She tried to listen as he replied but the voice in her head was louder. Had anyone noticed she’d finished a bottle of wine while she helped prepare the food? She tried to keep her eyes on Chris but she felt her body involuntarily swaying back and forth, the wine was finally having its soothing effect.
There were two reasons for Jamie’s bad mood, and the first was her daughter. From across the table, Jamie felt a pang of guilt for her nephew Greg, Rita clearly drunk. Five years she watched her daughter struggle with an addiction she had known too well. Her brother, Rick passed her the pan of turkey and she took with a dry “thanks,” and added dark meat to her plate. Like usually, Jamie successfully plastered a fake smile that covered the anger.
The second reason for her anger was sitting across from her. Jamie watched Ryan as he kissed Lindsay’s hand softly. What a damn joke!
Since he came into her house, he acted like the perfect husband. Helping carrying in the groceries, surprising Lindsay with quick kisses when he thought no one was looking. Helping with the cornbread rather than huddled around the TV watching footballs with the boys. His eyes never left wife. Ha! Like he hadn’t been in Jamie’s bed two nights ago! She felt the mask beginning to crack. She sawed through her turkey with such force that Cameron, who was sitting next to her, was worried she would cut through the plate.
Cameron thought about asking his aunt if she was okay, but the pounding of his head kept his lips sealed. Oh, Jesus, the headache was bad, each beat more painful than the last. When was the last time that he was this sober? September? No, no it was in July when he came home for Greg’s birthday. The small plastic bag in his pocket was only for emergencies, but he was on the edge. Everything itched: his arms, his legs, his face. He could feel the beads of sweat forming on his lip. He peaked around the table, his parents were mumbling to each other, Greg was talking to their alcoholic cousin, uncle Rick was piling food into his mouth faster than a disease could spread, and Grandma Louie sat at the head of the table smiling to herself. So if he went to the bathroom no one would notice, he could snort just a little, just enough to keep him alert.
As Cameron trailed to the bathroom, he stumbled into his uncle’s chair, but Rick was too busy getting his second plate of food to notice.
“Jesus Rick, stop inhaling your food” Jamie snapped, “This is not a race.” Usually, Rick would be the first one to put his younger sister in her place, but not today. He ignored Jamie’s judgmental stare as he combined his stuffing with his mashed potatoes.
“Sorry little sis,” he managed to say through his mouthful, “I haven’t eaten today,” but today he meant the past three days. It was not like he couldn’t afford food, he wasn’t that poor…yet. A mix of depression and anxiety kept his stomach full. The pile of unpaid bills sitting on his kitchen table, the threatening foreclosure calls, the painful reminder that he’d lost his job…he had no time to be hungry.
“Mom, come on please tell Rick that he’s disgusting everyone at the table,” Jamie continued with her nagging. Rick kept his eyes on his plate, he couldn’t look at his mother. The few crumpled up dollars in his pockets started to burn his skin. Guilt hovered over him; how long would it take her to notice the missing bills from her wallet? He suddenly wasn’t hungry.
“Leave mom out of this Jamie,” Lindsay found herself saying, “we’re trying to have a nice family dinner.” Anger surged through her, it was only her husband’s calming hand rubbing against her leg that kept her from leaning across the table and smacking her younger sister.
Yes, Lindsay did think Rick’s eating was excessive, but why was it Jamie who had to point it out? Urg! She would never say it out loud, but she hated her sister. Hated how Jamie kept her slim figure. Detested how her little sister would walk into a room and was immediately the main event. Despised the jealousy she felt anytime Jamie talked to her sons. To them, she was the cool, much younger aunt. Loathed that Jamie had Rita. The boys were enough, but Lindsay always wanted a daughter. If Rita was her daughter, she would not be at the dinner table drunk that was for sure! Ryan moved his hand from her leg and entwined his fingers with hers.
“Ignore her darling,” he whispered into her. Just from his simple touch, Ryan had the power to soothe Lindsay. He was her ultimate drug.
She settled back into her seat and played with Ryan’s hand; she had Ryan, Jamie could never take Ryan.
“So how’s high school going? You have what two more years to go?” Rita said distracting Greg from his mom and his aunt fighting. The smell of booze was nauseating, but Greg rather suffered from the burning smell of wine compared to his brother’s bloodshot eyes.
“It’s going fine, classes aren’t too hard and basketball is going well too.” Rita threw her head back and laughed a little too hard. She stuck her index finger in Greg’s chest.
“You’re too damn polite! Loosen up you’re with family,” she said, suddenly she leaned closer and dropped her voice. “So Greg…do you have a special girl yet?” A chill ran down the course of his spine. He looked into his cousin’s eyes, could he tell her? He stuffed food into his mouth to keep his secret. It had been a year since him and Ben started dating behind closed doors. He knew that Ben was his true love. Ben, who did not make any apologies for his identity had for the past months asked nicely to meet Greg’s family. A simple request that Greg wished he could grant. He hated hiding his love, but he wasn’t ready…not yet. His palms started to sweat just thinking about it.
“No, no…not yet,” he answered politely.
Ryan eavesdropped on his son’s conversation, watching him and Rita from the corner of his eye. He had been wondering when his son would start dating, but right now he had his own women problems to worry about.
God, Jamie was a hard woman to ignore. She was calling for his attention in that little tight black dress. Since starting the affair, he had not been in the same room with both sisters and he was at a lost.
The heat of his wife’s clammy hand was starting to make him uncomfortable, but he did this to himself. Since walking through the door, he played the doting and loving husband because he did not want Lindsay to know.
He loved his wife, but he wasn’t in love with her. He hated to admit it, but after Greg, she never looked the same.
Her hand started to explore lower down his leg and it took all the power inside of him not to push her away. Out of weakness, he extended his free leg and grazed his foot along Jamie’s ankle. Quickly, her striking brown eyes met Ryan’s gaze. She was mad. She was so sexy when she was mad.
She was everything her sister used to be…but so much more; but two months later that all changed. Now, Ryan desperately tried to envision Jamie’s face anytime he was with his wife. When they ate breakfast when they went shopping when they made love. Not able to take it anymore, he pushed his wife hand off his leg, he had picked the wrong sister.
Grandma Louie loved her place at the head of the table. Though her mouth was shut, her mind was racing. Like an owl, she scrutinized her family with a watchful eye. Oh, how her children had forgotten just how observant she was. They did not need to say their secrets, the guilt was written in their actions. But oh, never the mind, it was Thanksgiving, and Louie loved her family just as much as she loved the Holidays