This short story takes a look at one woman's typically frustrating family Thanksgiving experience and the way it all changes when she meets a new guest.
Original characters, blah blah blah. Sorry, but the intimacy is left to your imagination this time.
I'm an aspiring young author and this is my first submission to the Academy, so feedback is welcome! Please, let me know what you think by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org . Comments, criticism, praise... it's all welcome!
“Lucy, dear, will you pass the stuffing?”
She fought down a sigh and passed the overflowing bowl to her grandmother. It didn't matter how many times she asked, but they simply refused to call her the name she preferred. It was hardly even a fight anymore, as she was simply resigned to having to deal with the cursed given name for a few hours at every family function.
And her mother wondered why she avoided those family functions.
This was one Thanksgiving that she could hardly get out of though, seeing as she had recently moved back to the area after spending the past ten years in Portland. In the end, she missed the sunshine and the mountains a little too much. So back to Colorado it was, even if it meant having to deal with family close by once again. At least she was in Boulder while most of the family was down in the Springs. That simple hour and half drive might end up being her salvation.
This year's festivities were at her mother's house, with grandparents and cousins, aunts and uncles crammed into every available nook and cranny. In so many ways, she recognized that the fact her family was so close-knit was a blessing. She just wished they would accept her for who she was. As a teenager, it had been fun to be the black sheep, but that appeal had worn off years ago.
Everyone in the dining room chattered around her, but she barely paid attention. Caught between the conversation she was expected to partake in and the one she was actually interested in, she let her mind wander back to the near argument she'd had with her mother when laying out the place settings a few hours earlier.
“Why can't I sit near Joey and Matt? You know I don't know or care anything about the domestic affairs that you and G-ma and all the ladies will be discussing.”
“ The ladies includes you, Lucy, whether you like it or not. You're well past old enough to join the adult conversation instead of bantering on about football with the boys.”
The boys, of course, meant her father, grandfather, brother, uncles, and male cousins, with absolutely no regard to age. No one, least of all her mother, cared that she was more interested in the games of the day than in the gravy recipe. As if being forced to listen to that prattle once again would suddenly snap things into perspective and she would settle down into the domestic housewife role that was expected of her.
The excuse for dividing the dinner guests into two long tables was size, but really, her family clung to the traditional gender roles with ancient fervor. Women sit at one table and talk kitchen, men at the other and talk… well, it probably didn't matter what they talked about. She was not likely to ever experience that conversation first hand.
The sigh she suppressed a few minutes before finally escaped her, but a quick glance around confirmed that no one had noticed. Or no one cared. That was a bitter alternative to consider, so she mentally shoved it away and chased it the lingering taste with a mouthful of cranberry sauce.
Three hours later, she found herself loitering on the border between worlds again. To her left, the men gathered around the TV, getting ready for kick-off of the evening's NFL game. To her right, the women flitted around the kitchen and dining room, cleaning and gossiping with a natural ease that was almost impressive. The people-watching aspect of the day was the most bearable part—in fact, in was probably the only way she survived at all—but that didn't stop her from counting down the minutes until she could politely escape.
Lost in her solitary musings, she was surprised by the sudden voice at her shoulder. “So, what should I call you?”
Turning, she found herself eye to gorgeous honey-brown eye with a woman she'd seen in the kitchen, at home with the rest of the flock. “We were introduced earlier,” she replied gruffly, somewhat surprised by her own impatience at her interrupted exile. Be polite. “You're Ali, right?”
The woman nodded. “Yes'm. I'm Andrew's sister-in-law, getting my first taste of a Richards' Family Holiday. But you didn't answer my question.”
She sighed. “My mother introd—”
“I know that. But you cringe every time someone calls you Lucy, so I was hoping to find out who you really are.”
Maybe it was something in Ali's tone, or maybe just the fact that she had noticed. Whatever the case, she had now captured the undivided attention of her reluctant conversation partner. The loner leaned back, considering this newcomer and her knowing expression. Ali was, in addition to being keenly observant, also rather beautiful, in that rough around the edges way that she loved.
Her lingering hesitation melted away when her assessment rose back up to the level of Ali's eyes and she was met by an amused, if curious, grin. “Well?”
“Luc. I prefer Luc.”
Ali nodded, as if this name was a perfect fit for the woman before her. “There now, was that so hard?”
Luc looked away for a moment, forcing herself to break the hypnotizing eye contact with Ali and remember just where she was. This was a home in which she'd struggled for her own identity and begged to be recognized for so long, she didn't even realize that they had effectively silenced her.
Luc turned back to Ali. She didn't know what she might find in her, but somehow, she knew she was safe, despite the rocky territory she had somehow stumbled into. Her instinct didn't lie, and she was met with a warm gaze and a soft touch at her elbow.
“I'm sorry,” Ali murmured.
“For making you do something that was hard for you.”
Luc felt a warmth spread through her from beneath Ali's fingertips, resting innocently on her arm. “Don't be. You have no idea how much better my day just got.”
“Maybe I do.” Ali smiled, and Luc discovered the heat there was even stronger than her touch. She felt a cautionary stir in her gut and realized that Ali might be more dangerous than she seemed. Although her head screamed at her to back away, Luc's body refused to move.
“Who are you?” she asked, impulsively.
Ali's brow scrunched in a studying expression. “I thought we went over that.”
“No, I know who you're related to. But that doesn't really explain who you are.” Luc paused for a moment before adding, “Or why you're here.”
At that, Ali pulled her arm back, and Luc instantly felt a chill at the lost contact. “Hey, I was just trying to be friendly, since you've looked so unhappy today.” She turned to walk away, but Luc caught the confusion and the hint of hurt in her eyes.
“Wait!” She reached out and caught Ali's arm. “I didn't mean that as an accusation.”
Ali paused, still clearly suspicious of her less-than-gracious host.
“I only meant that… well, I guess I'm confused. Maybe a little wary, but it's not you. It's year after year of having to be Lucy every time I enter this house. I no longer expect anyone to notice or care, and now that you have, I just… I wondered why.” Luc blushed a bit at her hasty admission. She scrabbled, trying to save the conversation. “I mean, why haven't I met you before today?”
Ali turned back, puzzled. “We have met before. Just the once, at the wedding this summer. My sister married your cousin, remember?”
Luc frowned. “I remember the wedding,” As much as I wish I didn't. “But I don't remember you.”
Ali shrugged, an easy gesture that brought with it a returning comfort. Luc almost sighed in relief that Ali was again relaxing. “I'm not actually surprised,” Ali said. “I don't think I've ever seen a more miserable wedding guest.”
“You noticed that, too?” Luc wondered if she should perhaps feel ashamed, but the wedding had been so awful for her, she still couldn't muster any regret for her behavior.
“Noticed? You could have been wearing neon and it wouldn't have been any more obvious. Actually, I that's why it struck me as so odd. There you were, the mysterious loner in the corner nursing a—what was it, whiskey?”
Luc nodded. “Black label.”
Ali rolled her eyes. “Anyway, you were all by yourself and it was as if no one noticed. That was almost stranger than your behavior itself. I couldn't help but watch as your mother paraded a train of young men over to you for introductions and they chatted you up as if nothing was out of the ordinary.”
Hearing herself described that way, for the first time Luc did feel a little bad about it. But Ali leaned in, a conspiratorial glint in her eye. “It made me wonder what exactly my sister was getting herself in to.” Then she glanced around the room, her brow hitched up as if to say, See what I mean?
Luc laughed. Yes, she knew exactly what Ali meant. “It seems you paid me a fair bit of attention. Unless I was really that much of a spectacle?”
“No. Like I said, it was as if no one else noticed. But you're right. I saw you.”
Three words. Somehow, Ali's voice shifted just enough on those last three words to send a hot chill down Luc's spine. For a moment, she was speechless as their eyes held. Then, did Luc imagine it? Ali's eyes flicked down to Luc's mouth, but they were back up and locked on her own green eyes so fast that Luc wasn't sure she had really seen that.
Somehow, Luc found her voice. “Do you—”
“Ali! There you are!” Another woman bustled over— why do all the women in this family bustle? —and weedled her way between Luc and Ali as if Luc weren't there at all. As if they hadn't been lost in some shared trance. “How are you doing? You disappeared a while ago and I've been looking for you for ages!”
Luc caught the eye-roll that Ali tried to suppress and allowed herself to be distracted. What was I about to ask her, anyway? Luc knew all too well the influence of the woman now between them and instantly decided to step in and save Ali. “Oh, hello, Aunt Mags.” Luc grinned and forced her way back into the conversation. “I hear that you are the one I have to thank for the pleasant company.”
Mags begrudgingly turned to acknowledge her niece. “Excuse me?”
Luc's grin threatened to falter, a faint anger at her aunt's condescending tone simmering deep inside her, but she managed to respond. “I've just been enjoying a quiet conversation with Ali here. I understand she comes to us from your line of the family?”
Luc saw her aunt pale slightly and glance between them. Mags knew damn well that Luc was gay, but she was the expert in denial, having been the confidant and advisor to Luc's own mother during “that troubling phase” when Luc had tried to come out. Now, the idea that Luc had been talking to another woman—and a gorgeous one, at that—had Mags uneasy. Luc didn't care what Mags thought, but she didn't want to upset Ali. Glancing back to her, though, she found a grin and a mischievous glint in Ali's deep brown eyes.
“Well, yes,” Mags blustered. “Ali's delightful sister is my newest daughter-in-law. And we're so happy that Ali was able to join us for Thanksgiving as well.” Both Ali and Luc stared at Mags, taken back by the proprietary tone with which she'd claimed Ali's sister. As if she were collecting daughters-in-law.
Any momentary off-balance that Luc may have forced was forgotten, and Aunt Mags plowed ahead, babbling on about the pumpkin pies that she had baked as if Luc and Ali should both be enthralled. “And I'll just need you two to come help serve that up. You know how the boys get cranky without their taste of my famous pie!”
Luc had learned years ago the firestorm that erupted if she suggested the boys get their own pie, and besides, she didn't have a chance to respond as Mags swept both her and Ali back into the kitchen, where the women clearly belonged. Without any attempt at subtlety, Mags shoved Luc over to help dish out ice cream while she led Ali away across the room to a row of pies that needed plated. A brief glance back and Luc saw that Ali, too, realized what had just happened.
While Luc took out her frustrations on the ice cream—it was a good thing that the presentation for that particular dessert mattered little—she couldn't stop herself from sneaking an occasional peak over to where Ali stood. Ali was beautiful, that was undeniable. In tight-fitting jeans and a loose sweater, Ali had found an outfit that perfectly complemented her strong figure. Her long chestnut hair was pulled into a loose ponytail that somehow managed to look casual and elegant at the same time. Luc knew she shouldn't be staring and tried to look away, but it was never very long before her eyes drifted back to Ali. It wasn't until she was captured by those soulful brown eyes that Luc knew she'd been caught and forced herself to focus on something else. But not before she caught the soft smile on Ali's full lips.
When dessert was finally finished, Luc looked for Ali once more, hoping that she might be able to talk with her again. To her disappointment, though, Ali appeared deep in conversation with several other women, one of whom Luc recognized as Ali's sister. Not one to join in an established conversation—at least not in this house—Luc instead turned and slipped her way into the back of the living room. Maybe she could steal just a few minutes of football before her mother found out and dragged her back to the land of the ladies.
For the second time that day, Luc let herself be snuck up on, and she jumped at the frustrated sigh from behind her. “I was beginning to think I'd never escape.”
Luc turned to meet her. “Are they always like that?” Ali asked with an exasperated smile.
“Let me guess, extolling the 8 th wonder that is G-ma's stuffing? Or perhaps swapping secrets for the perfect cranberry stain remover?”
Ali laughed. “They really are, then.”
Luc was surprised when Ali followed a second sigh by leaning into Luc's side, seeking out support against the trials of the day. Instinctively Luc wrapped her arm around Ali's waist and gently tucked a loose strand of hair back behind Ali's ear. The small embrace seared heat into Luc's body, and she couldn't remember the last time she had felt so perfect. Her brain, however, knew this would explode any moment.
“We're going to get in trouble,” she whispered, wanting nothing more than to stay there with Ali's cheek resting against her shoulder, Ali's eyes nearly closed in content. But her words had the required effect and Ali lifted her head. “You're serious?”
“Unfortunately. Welcome to the Richards family.”
Ali drew a frustrated breath. “God, get me out of here.”
She spoke out of irritation alone, with no real intention in the request, but Luc jumped at the possibility. “Where would you like to go?”
Ali must have heard the promise in her tone. She pulled back, not quite breaking the embrace, but far enough to really study her new companion. “Are you coming with me?”
Luc smiled softly. “I hope so.”
“Are we allowed to leave?”
This time Luc considered the question. She knew her mother would be mad at her for not staying to see all the guests out. And that would be nothing compared to the fury that would ensue if Luc left with Ali. But one glance into those honey-brown eyes instantly made up Luc's mind.
“Who cares?” She smiled and shrugged, looking around the room and finally escaping the prison they had built for her heart.
“But we'd better hurry, because I think the head harpy is assembling her hunting party.”
Ali followed Luc's gaze and saw Mags glaring at them from across the room, whispering frantically in the ear of her younger sister, Luc's mother. In that moment, Luc was joyfully conscious of the fact that her arm was still loosely around Ali's waist. Luc didn't give Mags a chance to pounce, though, leading Ali gently out to the hallway and away from her aunt's piercing glower.
The quickly grabbed their jackets and slipped out the back. Once the door was closed behind them, Ali let out a laugh and practically skipped down the block to her car. “I feel like I'm in high school again, sneaking out to spend time with the cute girl.” Luc smiled, pausing to watch Ali's joyful progression through the moonlight and gently falling, early season snow.
“You coming?” Ali had noticed Luc's hesitation and came back to her, slipping effortlessly into her arms.
But Luc didn't immediately step forward, instead glancing back to the house they'd just left. “What is it?” Ali asked.
Luc drew a breath and looked from the house, up to the stars, and back down to Ali's sparkling eyes. Then Luc leaned in, brushing her lips across Ali's. Before losing herself in their first kiss, she whispered, “Just taking a moment to give Thanks.”
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