It’s the first Friday of the month. Time for another installment of short fiction. You can, at any time, find this work or any of the First Friday Fiction Features (#FFFF), by going to the My Work tab, clicking on Freebies, and selecting the story you wish to read.
Remember that 2014 is the year I’m trying serial work. This is part 11 of 12.
Laci and Del: Giving Thanks Was Never So Difficult
Laci loved autumn—crisp air, cozy clothes, football and hockey season, hearty and spicy foods—and Thanksgiving was one of her favorite holidays. She pulled her sweet potato casserole out of the oven and breathed in deeply. Ah, nothing could smell better. Except her mother’s turkey and stuffing. She pulled on her favorite sweater, loaded her casserole and pumpkin cheesecake into the car, and left for her parents’ house.
Yes, this was one of her favorite times of the year. But this year she couldn’t enjoy it.
Try as she might, she couldn’t get past her breakup with Del. The past few weeks had been torturous. She vacillated between knowing it was for the best, to staring at her phone praying he’d call, to almost dialing his number.
In the end, though, none of those were true. She didn’t think it was in either of their best interests to separate, but she couldn’t follow him, he shouldn’t stay, and he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to try to repair their relationship. He hadn’t contacted her once. Not one call. Not a text. Not a single email.
She sighed and bore left, her car automatically heading toward his apartment instead of her parents’ house. If she could maybe just get a glimpse of him before being inundated with family for the day, she might feel a bit better.
Or it might just make things worse.
She stopped at the corner of his street and stared, dumbfounded, at the sight in front of his building. A cab sat near the curb, trunk open, and the driver had exited and was helping Del load luggage into the back.
Definitely made things worse. She suffered the worst case of déjà vu ever. She struggled to breathe while the tears streamed silently down her cheeks. Of course he hadn’t tried to contact her. She’d told him to move on, and he was. Literally.
It was too awful to watch the cab driver pull away, taking her love and her future with him. Instead, she made an illegal U-turn and drove back the way she came. She didn’t get two blocks before the flashing lights in her rearview mirror indicated a problem. No one else was on the street. It had to be her. When the siren blared, she signaled and pulled to the curb. The police officer followed and, after parking behind her, approached her window.
“Miss, do you know why I pulled you over?”
Tears continued to fall, but now accompanied by wracking sobs. She nodded her head.
The officer sighed. “License, registration, and insurance, please.”
She fumbled in the glove compartment and produced the papers he needed. Then she got her license from her purse. Her sobs came like hiccups as she handed the information out the window.
“Miss, are you all right?”
She just shook her head. He produced a handkerchief from his pocket and passed it to her. “I’ll be right back.” He went back to his patrol car and did whatever took cops so long to do back there.
Laci tried to settle herself before he came back, mopping at her face and taking deep breaths. All she managed to do was smear her makeup.
He came back to her car and handed her information back to her. “You have a clean record, and I wouldn’t want to mess that up on Thanksgiving. Let’s consider this a warning. But be careful. And no driving until you’ve calmed down. Okay?”
“Okay.” It sounded more like “ah… ka,” but it was all she could manage to utter.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
She nodded and offered a watery smile.
“Drive safely, Miss Marks.”
She offered him his hanky back, but he smiled and waved her off, then returned to his vehicle.
To Laci’s dismay, he didn’t pull out. She figured he was waiting for her, so she composed herself as best she could and left for her mother’s. He followed her to the bridge, then turned away.
The rest of her ride was uneventful. Because of her side trip and the subsequent stop, she arrived at her parents’ home late—right when the food was being placed on the table. No picking at turkey and stuffing right out of the oven this year. No matter, she wasn’t hungry anyway.
The house bustled with activity. The littlest children colored hand-outline turkeys while the older ones sang “Over the River” and danced around. The men walked sideways into the dining room, trying not to miss the last football play they’d get to see before dinner was over. Her mother and aunt hovered over the table, fussing over details while her cousin Clara snoodled up to her boyfriend Kyle on the couch. Everyone else must be in the kitchen, but she couldn’t see past the commotion in the dining room. Soon people filed to their seats from all corners of the house.
Far too many people, far too little room. Packed elbow-to-elbow and hip-to-hip, everyone—almost everyone—she loved clustered around the table. It was the kind of family event she adored.
And she didn’t know how she’d get through it.
Her dad looked at her and frowned, but he didn’t say anything. He just enveloped her in a hug and took the casserole dish out of her hand. Her mother reached for the cheesecake but stopped in her tracks. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing.” Lying was just easier. “I got stopped by a cop on my way here, and I had to cry to get out of the ticket. Thank God it’s Thanksgiving. He was in a holiday mood and took pity on me. I got off with a warning.”
Her mother frowned and took the dessert from her, weaving her way between the kid table and the adult table to put it in the refrigerator. Her Aunt Rose smiled and kissed her cheek. “Well, we’re just glad you’re here now. And what about your young fella? Where’s he?”
Her mother, reentering the dining room, cleared her throat and glared at her sister. “Help me pour, Rose.” She thrust a bottle into Rose’s hand, saving Laci from answering.
Laci swallowed her tears past the lump in her throat and wondered if she’d be able to eat anything. She knew it all smelled wonderful, but she was sick to her stomach and the aroma of the food just made it worse. Taking her seat, she grabbed her goblet of water and downed it in two gulps.
Her aunt got the children ginger ale while her mother walked around pouring Taittinger for everyone. Her father, at the head of the table, stood and tapped his fork against his champagne flute. Everyone grew quiet while he said the blessing, then he raised his glass.
“Another year, another wonderful spread. Another houseful of loved ones.” He turned toward Laci, but she couldn’t meet his gaze. She reached for her champagne flute and stared at the table. “I’m so grateful for all our blessings, and for each one of you. If you’d all raise your glasses…” When everyone had complied, he said, “For the bounty of Thanksgivings past, the blessings of Thanksgiving present, and the promises of Thanksgiving futures. Sláinte!”
Laci mouthed the words as he spoke them. He ended every Thanksgiving toast the same way. This year, though, when everyone else drank, she put her glass down. She didn’t feel like celebrating. She didn’t feel blessed this year. And she certainly didn’t think her future was very promising.
Clara and her boyfriend managed to get to their feet without knocking over any chairs or crushing any toes. Clara clinked her fork against her glass, the crystal sounding shrill to Laci’s ears. When everyone looked at the couple, Clara said, “We have an announcement.”
Laci sighed. Clara always had something to share. Why it needed to be an announcement, she had no idea, but she refrained from rolling her eyes and waited.
Clara and Kyle wrapped their arms around each other, then Clara thrust her left hand into the air. “We’re getting married!”
The reaction was thunderous and immediate. Everyone did their best to extricate themselves from their seats and rush over to the young couple to offer congratulations. Everyone, that is, but Laci and her parents. Laci headed for the door, and they followed.
“Laci,” her mother said.
“I can’t, Mom. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.” She rooted through the pile of coats strewn on the stairs and found hers, second from the top. “Make my apologies, say whatever you have to. But I have to get out of here.”
“But it’s Thanksgiving,” her dad said.
She pecked him on the cheek and hugged her mom. “I know.” And she walked out the door.
Laci was really starting to get the hang of driving through a flood of tears. It had become the norm. She’d also grown accustomed to letting the car decide where to go, as she didn’t have the will or desire to direct it. For some reason, she was driving through the city again instead of heading home. The parade was long over, but in her mind she heard the echo of the marching bands, saw the horses and the floats, listened to the delighted squeals of the children as Santa made his way down the street. She liked to attend the parade every year, but this year she hadn’t been up to it. Now, the streets still littered with candy wrappers, soda cans, and confetti, it seemed so profound to her. Life was just like that parade. It was beautiful and exciting. And fleeting. And once the magic was over, all that was left was the tattered remnants. Until someone cleaned them up and disposed of them.
When she got to the bridge, she saw a street cleaning crew heading the way she had come. Too bad she couldn’t hire them to clean up her mess.
She drove across the bridge, not bothering to look at the fountain at The Point, the paddle boats on the river, the incline on the hill. Those were things she never missed; the city was gorgeous and the sights always lifted her spirits. But that day, she didn’t care. She just went where her car took her.
And cried when she ended up on the Coal Mountain overlook. The place Del had taken her on Valentine’s Day.
She put the car in drive and headed home, her heart broken and her mind reeling. Would she ever be thankful for anything again?