Love at Thanksgiving

By: Mary Andrews

Whole Story Box Set


LOVE AT THANKSGIVING

1.

The Stewarts’ home was magnificent, stone and stucco with potted plants framing the large mahogany front door. The tree-lined driveway opened to a circular entrance surrounded by a manicured lawn, green even in the November cold. Stephanie parked behind Holly, wondering why her friend and co-worker had not wanted to drive together. Maybe she planned to spend the night with her family. Stephanie and Holly owned a condo together and worked for the same employer, a global financial institution. They had been best friends since high school, and Holly’s family was used to having Stephanie at their Thanksgiving table.

“How lovely to see you, my dear!” exclaimed Holly’s mother as she drew Stephanie into an embrace, “welcome, welcome….and happy Thanksgiving.”

“Thank you for having me again this year,” Stephanie replied, “even under these circumstances.”

“How are you coping? Holly is quite distraught, and so are the rest of us.”

“Well, it’s a shock for sure. I’ve never been suspended and sent home before! The walk out of the building felt like a walk of shame,” Stephanie felt sick to her stomach thinking about how she had been escorted out of her workplace the day before. Their employer had suspended them pending an investigation into a suspicious funds transfer that had been discovered during an internal audit.

“It’s sickening,” Stephanie continued. “How can anyone think we could do something illegal!? It’s hard just waiting for them to figure out who did what, and after working there for so long, it’s all the more upsetting.”

“You have been devoted to them for years, so it’s understandable,” Mrs. Stewart said, guiding Stephanie into their large living room. “Try to put it all out of your head for tonight.

Come greet everyone.”

Stephanie saw familiar faces around the room. Holly was teary eyed, clinging to her father’s arm and speaking loudly to Heather and Zach, her sister and brother-in-law. Zach was holding their son Joseph, a red-cheeked toddler who grinned at Stephanie.

Holly left her father and stood next to her best friend. “This Thanksgiving is ruined,” she informed Stephanie. “The food might be divine, but it’s still ruined.”

“Everyone here is in our corner,” Stephanie replied. “At least you have their support.”

Stephanie could sympathize with her friend. Whenever she thought of it, the shock of the accusation made her hands shake.

Holly’s older brother Hugh greeted Stephanie warmly, expressing his concern over the suspension. After that, Holly’s grandfather Otto squeezed Stephanie’s hands and kissed her on the forehead. “Don’t worry! It’ll all get straightened out,” he assured her. Stephanie felt slightly better, wanting to believe him.

The remaining Stewarts were scattered around the room, and Stephanie left Holly with her brother to greet them all. The Stewarts also normally invited their next door neighbors the Hughes for Thanksgiving. Stephanie noticed Mrs. Hughes and her son Jack by the sliding glass doors toward the back of the room. She’d seen Jack at a restaurant with a date about three months ago, and wondered whether he remembered her. As Stephanie neared them, Mrs. Hughes saw her coming and stepped toward her.

“Don’t you look lovely, Stephanie,” she said. “I’m so sorry to hear about what happened at work!”

“Thank you, Mrs. Hughes,” Stephanie replied, “and how is your husband? Holly tells me he’s been having a hard time lately.”

“Some bad days and some better days. Thank you for asking. I’ll be sure to tell him you asked about him when I get home. Do you remember our son Jack? Jack, this is Holly’s roommate Stephanie.” Jack had been facing away from them and talking with someone else, and his mother grasped his elbow, turning him toward Stephanie.

“Of course,” Jack said, “I remember you from last Thanksgiving.” He held out his hand, and smiled. He obviously didn’t remember seeing her at the restaurant. “What happened at work?”

“I didn’t realize you were listening to us,” Mrs. Hughes said, her blue eyes teasing her son. “Somehow you always hear what’s being said when I talk to women, but not when I talk to men!”

“I don’t want this Thanksgiving to be about my problems at work,” Stephanie inserted. “I’m trying to forget about work altogether.”

“I’ll be happy to discuss the weather or sports instead,” Jack continued to smile at Stephanie, “or we can talk about Mother’s book club since she’s still holding my elbow.” Stephanie couldn’t help noticing how Jack’s eyes almost disappeared when he smiled, and how engaging his smile was.

“I like talking with your mother,” Stephanie said, “about books or whatever she feels like talking about.”

“Really, dear,” Mrs. Hughes replied, “I’m not that interesting! Also, I did promise my husband that I’d visit with Otto, so I better go find the poor man before I forget my obligation. Jack, you talk about something other than work with Stephanie, and that’s an order!”