It’s Thanksgiving, and I’m sitting in the formal dining room with my parents and our catered meal, counting the minutes until Dad and I can pretend fixation on a footbal game that neither of us cares about. China, crystal, white linens, and we’re barely speaking. Mom is drinking wine, abstaining from the hard stuff at the table, but the hand attached to the stem of her wineglass is trembling faintly. I suppress the urge to mix her something stronger, and myself, too.
There was a time when Mom cooked. Not every meal, but whenever the staff had a day off. Before my grandmother died, the two of them would get up before dawn on Thanksgiving Day to start everything. By the time I’d wake up, the whole house was suffused with the aroma of roasted turkey and a conglomeration of spices from the stuffing and pies—rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon.
Mom would wrap me in an apron that fel past my knees and I’d mash the boiled cranberries and sugar through a mesh strainer until only the pulp remained, and later I would tel Dad I’d made the cranberry sauce by myself.
Dad’s foot is tapping; he’s already anticipating the horror of an entire day with no escape to work, wondering how long he has to perform this farce of family togetherness. There couldn’t be a more uncomfortable silence over a holiday meal.
Dori and her parents are dishing out donated portions of turkey and dressing to LA’s homeless population now, but she’s coming over later tonight. She’l be tired after being on her feet al day, but I don’t want to let her go early. A pang of guilt hits me with that thought, and I think about what might make her want to stay longer.
When she arrives, she confesses that she had very little to eat today. I offer to reheat some of our leftovers and she nods grateful y, which tel s me she must be ravenous. “Be right back. Make yourself at home.” I press her down to sit on the end of my bed. From the half-lidded look on her face, I wouldn’t be surprised to come back and find her curled up asleep in the center of it.
Instead, she’s nestled into the pil ows at the head of the bed, reading. I wonder which book of mine she found interesting and then I get closer. Oh, hel . She smiles up at me, bookmarking her spot with a finger and turning the cover towards me. Her smile is more of a smirk. “I didn’t realize you were a fan,” she says, reveling in her discovery.
Nearly every girl in our age group owns this recently popular novel while younger girls snatch up dol s and graphic novel adaptations with stylized manga artwork. What the book doesn’t have are many male fans.
I shrug, setting the plate on my desk and turning towards the bed. “My agent sent me the screenplay, and I thought I the bed. “My agent sent me the screenplay, and I thought I should check out the novel before I decide if I want to represent it.”
Her smirk disappears. “They’re making this into a movie? And you’re being considered for—”
I nod, climbing onto the bed. “What do you think? Am I a viable contender for the role? Could I bring him to life on the big screen?”
“Um,” she says, her wide eyes on mine.
I shake my head slowly and chuckle. “I knew it. You were one of those brainy girls who only got in trouble when caught after bedtime with a flashlight and a book under the covers.” I push her hair behind her ear on one side and can’t help the widening of my evil grin; as usual, her ears cannot be trusted to keep her secrets. “I’m right, aren’t I?” She pins her lips together and doesn’t answer. She has no idea what she does to me. I’m used to calculating girls—
aware of their sexual power and not afraid to use it. I’d swear on the hood of a new Porsche that Dori is aware of every other power she possesses, but when it comes to this sway over me, she’s oblivious.
“Do you remember a few nights ago, when I offered you a proposition?”
Her lips fal open and she blinks. “You said something about objectives. And recklessness. But you didn’t propose anything… specific.” She swal ows, staring down at the book in her hands.
“Hmm. Then I’l clarify.” I take the book, turn it face down on my bedside table. When I turn back, she’s wary. I remain on the edge of the bed, facing her. “If you want to experiment… use me, rather than some stranger at a bar who could chop you into manageable portions and bury you in a shal ow grave.”
Her eyebrows elevate. Final y she says, “Manageable portions?”
Our laughter mixes together, dying away when I take her hand. “Okay, though?”
She nods, her eyes sliding away. “Okay.”
“Good. Now let’s get you fed while I kil demons.” I slide off of the bed, handing her the book and picking up the plate on the way to the media room.
I’m going to kiss her before she leaves tonight, that’s a goddamned certainty. Enough of this playing around crap.
I’l send her home with visions of me as a widely lusted-after literary character, but instead of remaining safely ensconced in the pages of a book, I’l be solid and real and right here.
*** *** ***
The plate Reid hands me is loaded with odd gourmet versions of typical Thanksgiving fare, but it smel s good and I’m starving. Tel ing myself this is no time to be finicky, I sample a bite of something that looks vaguely potato-y.
I realize I’ve said this out loud when Reid grins and says,
“I’m glad someone can enjoy that meal.” I finish that bite and decide to try the green beans and—
whatever that is—on top of them. “You didn’t enjoy it?” I ask, fol owed by another Mmmm.
Shaking his head, he perches on the edge of the sofa, elbows balanced on his knees as he points the control er and pushes buttons, click-click, click-click. Eyes never leaving the screen, he smiles again. “I’m enjoying listening to you eat more than I enjoyed eating.”
Uncertain how to take that, I attempt to muffle the appreciative sounds.
The gore-level on his game is high, but thankful y the volume is down low. Without the soggy-sounding death blows, the carnage is somehow less revolting. Or maybe, considering that I’m watching him play while I eat, I’m becoming inured to the violence. Weird. Even weirder, I sort of want to play, too, though I’m sure I’d be inept. Maybe I’l ask him to teach me next time.
Having been here half a dozen times over the last couple of weeks, I assume there’l be a next time. I refuse to think about the point where that wil no longer be true.
When I finish eating, I lean back into the sofa cushions and thumb through the novel. I read it multiple times just before I started high school. Like many of my friends, I had a crush on the male lead—sensitive and strong and yes, a bit brooding. I remember lunchroom disputes over which current star would be perfect for the role if it was a movie, laughing with fel ow bibliomaniacs when we ultimately concluded that any of them would put the boys in our school to shame. Now I’m friends with a guy who may star in the movie adaptation. Friends with Reid Alexander. Surreal.
movie adaptation. Friends with Reid Alexander. Surreal.
He pauses the game and tosses the control er aside. “I think there’s pie. Want some?”
I nod and start to get up, but he tel s me to stay. Soon after he leaves the room, I hear a noise at the doorway.
“Forget something?” I ask, turning to look over the back of the sofa, and standing in the doorway is a woman who must be Reid’s mother. She’s petite and beautiful and holding a drink in her hand. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I stand up and smile, hesitant. “Mrs. Alexander? I’m Dori.”
She doesn’t move from the doorway, so I walk towards her. Her blue silk blouse swishes as she straightens. She’s wearing black dress pants and heels. “Pleased to meet you,” she says, and her words are slurred. “Where did you say Reid is?”
I’d hoped he was exaggerating about the alcoholic mother. As I get closer I see that her eyes—the same dark blue as Reid’s—are bloodshot, so disguised by intoxication I almost can’t see the resemblance. Her skin appears sal ow, even with the indirect lighting. I’m too familiar with the indicators of chronic drinking to discount the symptoms. He wasn’t overstating.
“He’s getting pie.”
She frowns. “Oh.”
“Do you want to join us? I think we’re deciding between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and, um, Goldfinger.”
“Ah, Sean Connery. One of Reid’s favorites. Favorite Bond, anyway.”
“Mmm-hmm. I’l just leave you two alone.” She tilts her head and a trace of a smile hovers around her mouth.
“You’re a friend of Reid’s, you said? A girlfriend?”
“I—I’m a friend.”
She nods, lays a hand on my arm. Her breath is sour—
whiskey, I’d bet—and again, I’m more familiar than I’d like to be. “You seem very sweet.” She leans closer, and I concentrate on breathing through my mouth as she says,
“Don’t let him fool you. He’s very sweet, too.” She turns and walks a meandering path down the hal way just as Reid tops the stairs with a plate of pie smothered in whipped cream, and two forks.
He scowls. “Was that my mom?”
“She stopped in to say hel o. I invited her to stay, but I think she was afraid of intruding. Either that or Sean Connery is not her favorite Bond guy. My mother prefers Roger Moore.”
He looks at me a long moment, then hands me the forks and uses his free hand to tug me close. “Feeling reckless yet?”
I nod once and he doesn’t wait for further affirmation, lowering his lips to mine. I forget the pie in his hand and the forks in mine as he opens my mouth with his. He kisses me once, twice, three times, pul ing back a hair’s breadth each time while reeling me closer and closer until I’m completely off-balance and curving into him. “I real y have to know,” he says, holding me securely, our mouths an inch apart, breath mingling, “how delicious you’l taste after you have a few bites of this pie.”
I giggle and he smirks, taking my hand and pul ing me down to the front where we sink onto the sofa. He feeds me a bite of pie before setting the plate and utensils aside on the ottoman. “I think you stabbed me,” he breathes against my neck before brushing my hair aside and kissing the base of my throat. The feel of his mouth on my skin triggers waves of need in my bel y that coil and spring like stretchy filaments of connection to every nerve ending I have.
“I’m—sorry?” I gasp, because his fingers are stroking the skin under my shirt, fanning out over my sides. He pul s me onto his lap as his lips move up my jawline, lighting an explosive pathway to my ear.
“Didn’t hurt. I barely noticed.” His voice is soft and near, a murmured caress. “My brain was occupied with more important things than minor flesh wounds.” And then his mouth is on mine, his tongue sweeping through my mouth.
“Mmmm,” he growls softly. “My God, Dori.” He doesn’t speak again, does nothing but kiss me—with occasional pie breaks, like marathoners downing cups of Gatorade for endurance—until it’s time for me to leave. I’ve never been so kiss-drunk; if he hadn’t pointed out the time, I wouldn’t have noticed it.