A Happier Thanksgiving: A Free Short Story
A Stewart Realty Extra Short Story!
SPOILER WARNING: It’s highly recommended that you read through at least MUTUAL RELEASE first. But hey, no matter really. Just enjoy! Then snag the ENTIRE STEWART REALTY SERIES (Floor Time, book 1 is 100% Free on every ebook retailer site) and get your Jack & Sara on!
THIS SCENE IS RATED NC17 FOR EXPLICIT CONTENT AND REALISTIC FAMILY DRAMA. It also introduces the Black Jack Gentlemen, my fictional Detroit pro soccer team. They have their OWN series. Check it out here!
A Happier Thanksgiving
by Liz Crowe
All Rights Reserved
“What the hell are you talking about?” Evan asked and sighed and watched as Julie dashed from room to room, muttering under her breath, calling out at varying intervals for June or Claire to fetch this or that, or to materialize at her side. Which they did. He shook his head, ever in awe, and no small amount of fear over the Total Female Presence in his home.
“Dad! Daddy! You're in the way!"
“Oh, huh?” He got shoved aside. “Sorry.” He scuttled into his study and sat in front of the computer a while, ignoring the whirlwind chaos just outside the heavy wooden door. After about an hour he glanced up from brewery profit and loss spreadsheets, his newly acquired reading glasses sliding down his nose. There it was again, a soft knock. He looked out the large, un-curtained window onto the lawn. When did it get dark? Jesus, he was getting old.
“Yeah,” he stood and stretched, pondering a bourbon drink and a fire in the fireplace.
Julie stood at his open door, dressed only in a silky robe, holding two tumblers of amber liquid. “Sorry. I never answered your question.” She said, tiptoeing into the large, bookshelf lined space that took up an entire corner of their house. A smile lit the corners of her gorgeous lips.
“I forgot the question.” He grinned and tugged her close, relishing her smell, her taste.
“Hang on, I’m gonna spill these.” She shouldered him away and started to set the drinks on his big, mahogany desk.
“Mmm, hmm…” He muttered, gripping her ass and walking her backwards. “Here,” he took the glasses from her, set them on the desk and cradled her face between his hands. “So…”
She raised an eyebrow, leaned in and blanked his mind a moment with a kiss. “I was talking about,” she whispered, letting her lips trail down his jaw and neck and bringing every single one of his nerve endings to full attention. “The fact that I needed to make more appetizers and the fact that you fucking forgot…” She dropped to her knees and unbuckled his belt then unzipped his jeans.
“I will go and get whatever it is you want that I forgot as long as you keep…oh hell yes,” he groaned and gripped her hair.
She teased him a bit, brought him to the ragged edge, then popped up in front of him, leaving him breathless. She kissed him then broke away. “You forgot the god damn feta cheese, Country Club.” Her smile was flirty, just like he liked it. His brain processed the words and he gave himself a mental slap but he was so tingly from the waist down he could hardly stand it. “I have appetizers to make for something like a hundred people including a hoard of soccer players.”
“Feta…cheese…Okay, just let me do this…first,” he sighed, shoving her back and pinning her on the desk, her arms spread on either side of her head. “I’m all over it baby.” He said, yanking open her robe and getting to work.
“Oh…well, all right then,” she sighed. “We can discuss it later.
“I don’t know why they are subjecting themselves to this…this…”
Julie plopped her bare feet on Evan’s lap, contentment rolling through her like pleasant, warm climate waves. Never mind the huge snowstorm brewing outside their walls. Her man never failed to make her feel this way, ever. Her earlier fury at his forgetfulness and obstinacy had disappeared like a puff of proverbial smoke. She smiled, sipped her bourbon and watched as Evan did the same, staring into the fire in the massive stone-fronted fireplace of their family room. The girls had decamped at some point, at her encouragement, once she’d sorted out that Evan was ignoring them.
“Jack has to make a statement. He wants to have the team over, at least once,” he sipped, stared, his face set in happy lines. She grinned into her glass.
“Well, it’s gonna be a zoo. Sara was freaking out today. I mean in a big way. Like I’ve not seen her do in a while.”
“Yeah,” Evan grunted, and leaned his head back as he kneaded the instep of her left foot. “She should take that shit out on her husband, not you.”
“She’s not taking anything out on me, dear. She’s my friend. You know. It’s what we do.” She leaned her own head back, relaxing, for the first time in what felt like weeks, despite the inherent stress of her job as president of a successful beer and wine distribution company, especially at this time of year.
“So since you forgot one of my key ingredients…ouch!” She sat up when he dug his knuckle deep in deep. “You have to help me figure out how to finish up these damn appetizers. No biggie. I mean, you know, for a genius like yourself.”
“Where are our daughters?” He asked, mildly, still rubbing her foot.
“Out,” she said. “Some party or another. They’ll be around all weekend, never fear.”
“I don’t fear that. I just worry…you know…about them because that is job one for me. I guess that tool of a boyfriend is coming tomorrow?”
“I know,” she said, putting her glass on the table next to the couch. “You’re great at it honey. And no, Todd is officially out of favor.”
They sighed in unison. “Thank god. I really hated that smarmy kid. Can I convince you to head to bed with me Missus Adams?” Evan asked, now standing and holding out a hand.
“You have got to lighten up on the bad mouthing boyfriends, Country Club.” She sat, staring at him. “It’s gonna backfire. You hate them. The girls go for them. Why has it taken you so long to figure that out?”
He sighed, and sat back down, looking defeated as only he could when it came to the active love lives of their twin daughters. She’d put them both on the pill a couple of years ago, had long, sit-down conferences with their father and without, hoping to get him to come to terms with reality. But it seemed only to make him more uptight.
She smiled and got up, wrapping herself around him, smothering her misgivings about this whole over the top pot-luck soccer club project of her friends. She let him pull her up to their bedroom, her haven, the one place she could feel totally free to be what she wanted to be.
“Hold on,” he said, halfway up the steps, turning to her with a concerned look on his face. “Do I have to get up early, I mean, to get to the store and get…what was it again?”
She smacked his shoulder and shoved him up against the stairwell wall, loving him so much at that moment she had no words. But also so worried about her friend Sara, the memory of her frantic, angry voice very clear, she knew she’d have a hard time sleeping.
Sara sat at the kitchen table, staring around at the utter chaos of the room, on the edge of that party moment—the moment any honest person will admit to, when you say “Ok, I don’t want to do this anymore,” to yourself and really mean it. Kind of like when you are about to push a baby out—the zero hour, the moment of hard reality and you’d just as soon go home and forget the whole fucking thing.
Stop it. You suggested this. It was, in essence your damn idea. So deal with it.
She shook her head, sipped her tea and blinked, bleary-eyed out at the sea of food and preparations. The turkeys were ordered, the bar purchased at astronomical expense. She only knew because she had to use her personal credit card to buy it all and also knew that her husband monitored every nickel they spent like a frigging church mouse, worrying over ever farthing. He’d texted her about thirty minutes after she’d spent it, asking her what the holy hell was worth nearly six hundred god damned dollars at the liquor story just now. It was exhausting, justifying it all to him. Although she knew by now that much of his bluster was just bluff. She was just as frugal in her way as he was. They were well matched that way.
Just as that put-upon feeling was creeping up on her, he appeared, dressed in a pair of ratty, Michigan State flannel pants and nothing else. She shook her head, determined to hang onto the low-lying fury that had hovered around her consciousness for so many days. He leaned in the doorway, Jack Gordon, all six foot five inch trim, lean, cocky amazing man of him. Hers.
She looked away, unwilling to acknowledge that she was in any way going to acquiesce to his charms. Not tonight. She was too exhausted.
Jack’s head pounded. Every damn inch of him thrummed with stress. He should never have agreed to such a stupid thing—hosting the entire roster and staff of the Black Jacks at his house? Jesus. What had he been smoking?
But, here he was—here they were, on the cusp of the day itself. Sara had outdone herself, and he knew it. He also knew he’d not acknowledged it properly. But at this moment, observing her sitting at their large kitchen table, with a cup of her favorite Earle Grey tea clutched in one hand, his heart clenched with stress. She looked so tired, so worn out. And he’d done that to her. He would never, ever love or desire another woman like he did Sara Thornton, despite her (at times) stubborn bullshit. The concept that he had made her unhappy, stressed, overly tired, made his heart pound with anxiety.
He took a step into their large, gourmet-style kitchen a little unsure, reading her wife cues on how to proceed. Opening their large, Sub Zero fridge he frowned at the crowded contents, until he found what he wanted. He pulled two coffee mugs out of the cabinet and filled them with chocolate milk, zapped them a few minutes in the nuker, then set one in front of Sara while sinking into a chair opposite her with is own mug.
“Thanks,” she said, sipping but not meeting his eyes.
“Sure, “ he said, not worrying about it just yet.
“Did you set up the tables in the basement?”
“Did you guys fill both racks full of firewood?”
“Is the alarm set?”
He got up then, dragging Sara to her feet. “Yes. Kiss me,” he insisted. “I love you.”
“I know that Jack. I’m just doubting my…our…sanity right now, hosting all these damn soccer players. I mean, you know they are all gonna show to please the big boss. Jesus. I want a small celebration back. The kind that doesn’t mean I’m doing a baseboard level cleaning, you know? No. Don’t answer that. You don’t know.”
He sighed, set his mug down and leaned into her. The sounds of her son and his best friend Gabe playing endless violent war games down in the basement floated through her brain.
“I am so tired,” she said into his neck, relishing his familiar scent and feel.
Without a word he picked her up, cradling her to him like a baby and walked them back to their bedroom, kicking the basement door shut with a foot, silencing the video game noises behind them. He kissed her, blotted out everything, the fatigue and still half finished to-do lists, everything but the beloved, familiar contours of his lips, shoulders, torso, face. His voice in her ear, commanding her, compelling her to let it go, to drop it all, to surrender to him—it all worked, just like she knew it would.
She lay, wrists lightly bound together, blindfolded and sucking in huge breaths of slightly bleachy-scented air from the cleaning services efforts that day and had never felt more content. Jack knew what to do. He could read her like a book, contribute his own footnotes and illustrations and she adored him for it. Even though she knew damn good and well the Book of Sara Thornton was full of selfish misunderstandings and unexplainable hairpin turns. Jack didn’t mind. He’d studied it back to front, accepted what it contained and made it his own.
“Baby…Sara….” She could hear the quick breathing behind his words. Playing this way was always such a turn on for him. Granted the man would gladly fuck her any way she wanted, but going this extra mile when she needed the mental break was just like him. And he got his pay off. “I need something from you.”
She could sense him, smell his skin, tinged with his subtle cologne but underneath it pure, raw lust. She nodded her head, as she had not been given permission to speak. He pulled her up to seated. Now that he’d licked her to the edge of orgasm only to back away and leave her gasping, unable to release she was humming with erotic energy but yet within a lovely, silent, white space in her head. One of her very favorite places.
Using her bound hands she stroked his cock, then leaned into taste him, to take as much of him into her mouth and throat as she could. He groaned, low, then hissed when she released him, loving his taste, wanting to do more but waiting for her instructions. He stayed quiet, hovering near as she sat perched and still blindfolded on the edge of the bed. “Lay back,” he whispered. “Use this,” he untied her hands and placed a cool, glass dildo in one of them. “Make your self come. And you can, but slow, easy, I want to watch.” He kissed her deeply, in that somewhat subtle way he had, teasing but at the same time owning her, putting his mark on her with his lips and tongue.
She flopped back and did as she was told, teasing herself with the glass toy,
drawing out the climax, feeling her whole body clench and pulse and release.
“God I love that,” he said, now stretched out beside her, his erection pressed against her hip. She lay there, gasping, attempting to regain her equilibrium, not really wanting to emerge from the place where he’d taken her. “Now, come on up here for a ride.” She turned her head and met his wicked gaze. He raised a dark eyebrow, then the hand that had been stroking her stomach gave her hip a hard smack, making her shiver in anticipation.
She scrambled up to straddle him, taking him inside her with a quick tilt of her hips. They both groaned at the sensation. He smacked her ass as she rode, using him to satisfy her, to bring on another mind blowing orgasm. “That’s it,” he said, his voice hoarse, his eyes closed against the urge, she knew, to gain his own release. “Now, roll. I need to fuck my wife.”
They rolled and the sensation of him filling her, taking his own pleasure from her kept her breathless. “Tell me,” he gasped at one point.
“Come Jack. Come inside me….I want it.” She said, fisting her fingers in his thick black hair and meeting him thrust for thrust.
He did with a low groan and a sigh into the damp skin of her neck. “I love you so much,” he said, kissing her again.
Within minutes they lay tangled in sheets, their bodies cooling, Jack lightly snoring. She traced a finger along his stubbled jaw, marveling at this, at him, at her luck finding him and at how much they had been through. She settled into his shoulder, draped an arm and a leg over him and took her own refractory nap.
Jack woke with a start, a unbelievably real nightmare still rattling around in his subconscious. His breathing was short. He was covered in a slight sheen of sweat. He reached for her, needing to feel her, kiss her. But the bed was empty. He lay there, alone, coming to terms with the sounds down the long hall behind the closed bedroom door.
Sara. Where was she? Why had he dreamt about…about…he shook his head, dispelling the demons of unconscious fear to a far corner. He had a ton of work yet to do. It was Thanksgiving eve, his clock shone eight o’clock, he’d been asleep for about forty-five minutes. He put his feet on the floor, shook his head again forcing the horrific images of himself, his children, mourning her—Sara. Jesus. Ridiculous. He sometimes did that, worried himself into a bad dream about one or more of his family members. But this one—damn it had been vivid.
It clung to him like spider webs as he pulled his jeans back on, found a clean shirt and wandered out to find the Gordon kids in full-throated argument over something, probably nothing. He ignored them as best he could, still seeking Sara, as that damn dream would not leave him. She was unloading the dishwasher, also ignoring the kid fight. He grabbed her, tugged out the holder and buried his face in the tumble of her dark blonde hair, sucking in huge, reassuring breaths of her. She hadn’t taken a shower. She smelled like him. And he liked that. A lot.
“Okay, so you deal with World War Three in there.” She turned and kissed him lightly before moving out of his embrace. He gripped the cold granite counter edge, grinding his teeth and berating himself for being such a sap over a nightmare. “I’m gonna go pick up the birds.”
They’d ordered three huge turkeys to feed the crowd headed their way tomorrow. A local restaurant had smoked one, barbequed one and baked the other in the traditional manner. They were something like twenty five pounds each and Sara had already worried about it not being enough. He assured her that while they were grown men, and professional athletes to boot, they were also bringing dishes to share. There would be so damn much food it would be obscene. He took a breath, smiled at her, and watched her put in her coat and gloves before disappearing into the garage with a lightly blown kiss.
He squared his shoulders. The kid noise had escalated alarmingly. He waded into the fray, sorting out who had done what to whom, figuring it was, as usual, Brandis instigated, something about reading an online diary and tweeting out a deep dark secret of his younger sister’s. Katie was in town for the holiday and had been giving her younger brother what-for over the sounds of Bethany’s tears and screaming accusations.
He separated them, got the stories, figured out that it was less about what Brandis had tweeted and more about that he had been such a jerk as to read her secrets.
He reminded Bethany that keeping a diary on the computer was probably unwise even if her system was password protected. He told Katie it was admirable of her to stick up for her sister but that calling her brother a perveted shit-head might be a bit much. Then he opened his son’s bedroom door and watched a few minutes while the kid tossed a football up and down over his face, concentrating, unaware that Jack even stood there. Brandis was tall already at fifteen going on twenty-one, and was turning his mischievous nature into a bit of a mean streak that worried he and Sara both.
Jack observed as the ball went up and down, right into Brandis’ talented quarterback hands. He had such amazing potential—for good and evil, like most boys Jack supposed. But something about his own son frightened Jack at times. The way you might raise a lion you caught in the wild, trained it up to be a furry, lovable housecat but woke one day to find a full-grown, male predator sitting in your living room, looking at you like you resembled dinner.
He cleared his throat. The football tumbled to the floor.
“Okay son, let’s figure out a good punishment. That was a total asshole move. Why did you do it?”
They talked a while, comfortable, easy, no predator in sight, and established that Brandis would have to be confined to the Gordon house for a couple of weekends in a row. Not being able to move around, as it were, to come and go as he pleased, was the worst sort of punishment for a kid like this, Jack knew.
“All right, let’s go,” he smacked the boy’s shoulder.
“Where?” Brandis asked sullenly, dropping onto his back after snagging the football from the floor.
“Work to be done, son. I’m getting your sisters in on it never fear. We gotta get this place set up for tomorrow.”
“Why did you even do that? Invite all those people over?” Brandis rose, knowing better than to resist.
“Because, it’s Thanksgiving and I’m thankful for this team and want them to know it and share the day with the people I love.”
Brandis rolled his eyes. “Nice speech. So, a bunch of soccer dudes, huh?”
“Some of them have very hot girlfriends.”
Brandis shot him a look.
Jack held up both hands before moving down the hall to pull his daughters from their rooms. “Not that I would notice of course.”
By the time Sara returned and Brandis had carried in the turkeys which they had instructions to keep cold in the spare fridge then warm slowly in the morning Jack had all the rented tables and chairs set, the girls had draped them with deep maroon table clothes and had set up the long tables in the living room ready to receive the food orgy the next day.
He smiled at this brood, moving around, laughing and joking and preparing their house for guests. He was such a lucky bastard. At one point Sara glanced at him, her face puzzled. He startled. Had he said something? The dream still lingered around his brain, making the whole scene take on a surrealistic sheen. Her eyes shone and she walked over to him, put her arm around his waist and leaned into him. Brandis had laid a fire and the kids were all piled onto the couch, seeking consensus on a movie to watch. Katie had made hot chocolate and set out five huge white mugs with the Stewart Realty logo on them on the ottoman. Bethany had a popcorn bowl ready to go. Jack closed his eyes a second, thanking a god he barely believed in for this, all of this. He leaned down and kissed Sara’s sweet-smelling hair then dropped into his large leather chair and let his kids wait on him a while.
Lila observed as her husband and daughter mixed, rolled, crimped, dusted, filled and baked half a dozen pies over the course of the afternoon. She herself had been given cookie duty so their double Wolff ovens were running at peak performance, accepting carefully crafted ingredients and producing delicious smelling desserts for the hoard of people expected at the Gordons the next day.
“What possessed them to want to do this anyway?” she said, pulling another tray of oatmeal chocolate chip cookies out.
“Not sure. But you know Jack, always looking for ways to mix it up. I think he thought to invite a few people, Metin, Rafe, Sophie and Brody and then felt bad because so many of the team can’t travel thanks to the friendly on Monday. So he extended the invite to everyone.”
Rob wiped his cheek, leaving behind a streak of flour. She frowned, wanting to reach out and wipe it, to kiss him. But unwilling to do so. Words were etched into her brain, words on the small screen of her husband’s smart phone. From a number, no name attached. But clearly…she shook her head, determined not to let it ruin Thanksgiving.
Tears welled in her eyes so she put the cookies on the cooling racks and left the large, busy kitchen, site of so many wonderful memories with her and Rob and their kids. Gabe was over at Brandis’s at the moment, helping carry in wood, set up tables, likely playing video games. Blair and Rob kept working, talking, laughing. She dropped into a chair and had a small cry, then wiped her eyes and sat, staring into the darkened yard. She and Rob had to have the conversation but it would wait. She would not ruin the holiday for her kids or their friends.
Rob worked at lightening speed, pleased at how well his daughter took to the crust making process. The crust of a pie is the most crucial part, the foundation. If it were underdone, had too much milk in it the sogginess ruined whatever you put over it. If it were too brittle and broke apart it turned each piece into a jumbled mess. The crust—crucial. He looked up when Lila left the room without saying anything. A small nugget of worry nestled down in his chest.
An image rose in his mind’s eye but he banished it, stuffing it in to the compartment he labeled “California” and kept working. After all the pies were done and cooling and the kitchen cleaned up, he wandered out, beer in hand to find Lila asleep on one of the leather couches. He sat across from her a minute, taking in her petite form, her delicate features, the contours of her well-loved body under a light blanket. Sighing, he got up and walked out of the room.
He didn’t deserve her. Didn’t deserve to even be in the same room as her. Lila—the one good thing in his life, whose appearance in it had given him the sort of dimension he’d never thought he’d gain, and of course, whose body had borne his children. His, Blake’s….he leaned his forehead on the wall, breathless with never forgotten loss, and raw fury at himself.
He stomped into the kitchen, dumped the beer down the drain and turned, fully intending to come clean to his wife. But by the time he’d returned to the living room, she’d left. Must have gone upstairs. He followed her, the old house steps giving off their familiar creaks and groans. He needed her, in his arms, now. He needed to make love to her, to bring her pleasure and find some of his own in the process. She was brushing her teeth, her back to him, dressed in a pair of silky shorts and a ratty sweatshirt of his from college. His mouth practically watered at the sight. He came up behind her, but she stepped aside without a word, rinsed, spit, wiped her lips and left the bathroom. Unhappiness rolled off her in waves.
Rob brushed his teeth, stripped down to his boxers and climbed into the cold, dark bed behind her. He scooped her up, held her close, unsaid words choking his throat. His body hardened as his hands roamed up and down her, cupping her breasts, kissing her neck. She took one of his hands and put it between her legs and he stroked and teased her to a silent, shivery climax. When she rolled to face him, tears were streaming down her cheeks. He sat up, flipped on the lamp and stared at her.
“What is it honey? Did I hurt you? God…” he wiped at her tears, kissed her, desperate for connection, to not know what he thought he already knew at that moment.
Lila shook her head. “I…I…need you Rob. To be here, with me, just me.”
“Of course, Lila, honey what is this….”
But she shoved him onto his back and straddled him, taking him deep, her body gripping him in the familiar way he loved. It didn’t take long. And later, she lay across his chest, her small frame a perfect fit against his torso…so much different, so much more perfect than….No, Rob. Stop. Don’t.
He held her close, kissed her hair and they slept that way, skin to skin until she rose to go the bathroom. When she returned, she stood, re-dressed, shivering, her huge dark eyes somber. “I think you need to go sleep down the hall.” She said. Rob attempted to focus his brain on her words. He sat up, staring at her, mouth hanging open. What had he done?
When he opened his eyes the next morning, he came face to face with Blair’s cat, which sat heavily on his chest, batting at his nose. He groaned, and stretched, trying to figure out where he was and why his back hurt so badly. The cat gave a small yowl of protest as he rolled, sat and glared at him from the floor as if to ask: “Really? This? This is worth what you did you sick, lame bastard?” Before turning giving him the cat-ass salute on its way out the guest room door.
“Daddy?” Blair stood in the hall, wrapped in her robe, looking like such a little girl it broke his heart. “Why are you sleeping in there?”
“Later Blair. We gotta get ready to go to the Gordons.”
Lila opened their bedroom door then, and stood, glaring at him, Blair between them looking confused. “Yes, Blair, go get a shower. I’ll make some breakfast. Rob,” she said, briskly. “Wake Gabe up please and you guys go shovel the steps and walk. It snowed.” Then she moved past him without another word, leaving him to look at Blair, his heart somewhere in the vicinity of his feet.
Evan, Julie, Claire and June arrived first, hauling in half a dozen platters of appetizers. Katie and Bethany were playing food traffic cops, and pointed out the right spot before the doorbell rang again, revealing the Frietags. It took Jack about two seconds to suss out that his pal Rob was in the doghouse, big time. For what, he had no idea. Lila, his petite, quiet and efficient wife was not prone to the sort of explosions of spousal anger he got subject to on a regular basis. But his finely honed friend radar started pinging like mad the minute the couple walked in his front door. He glanced at Sara, met her eyes and without words conveyed that there was something up between Rob and Lila and it was serious. She nodded, smiled at her friend and guided her into the kitchen.
Jack handed his friends each a bloody Mary, they all clinked, and sipped. The silence emanating from Rob’s end of the small circle was deafening. Evan narrowed his eyes, Julie gave him a worried glance, then made her excuses to head for the female-dominated kitchen space. The men chatted about football, about the soccer team’s shot at winning their international friendly on Monday, then the doorbell rang again.
A smiling couple flanked by two young men stood the man holding a small, pink wrapped bundle, and more cars were pulling up the long drive behind them. Brandis and Gabe were parking attendants. The grown was frozen solid and the boys were directing the cars onto the large front expanse of snow-covered lawn. “Welcome! Metin, Mel, boys…come on in, please.”
“Where does the bread go?” Mel asked, pointing her sons into the room. They both held towel draped trays of home made yeast rolls.
A small-boy shaped missile streaked past his shins, making him think for a split second that Brandis was little again and tearing around like the hellion he’d been. He snagged the kid by the collar and picked him up, grinning into the dark brown eyes of Sam Harrison, son of Sophie, his chief legal lady and their former star goalie Brody Vaughn, who’d retired thanks to one too many concussions. Brody appeared and grabbed Sam, putting him up on his shoulders and shaking Jack’s hand. Sophie put her food contribution on the side dish table, then she turned and accepted a bloody Mary from Katie with a smile.
The house quickly filled. Katie adjusted the ambient music coming from the whole-house speakers. Jack tried to find Rob, to check in on him but the living and dining rooms were too crowded to spot him. Brandis and Gabe’s parking lot job was done and he’d put them on bartender duty, walking through the crowd making sure glasses stayed filled with whatever. The boys were doing their fair share of sipping half empty glasses and ogling the many hot WAGs that populated the room. He smiled a second, holding onto his cold beer glass, just observing the party evolve. He loved this moment, loved entertaining people in his house, with Sara. She loved it too.
He spotted her, chatting with Nicco Garza who had a small boy up on his shoulders. Nicco and Parker were two of the original team members. They co-parented the small boy, Parker’s son with a woman who now ran the Black Jacks PR department. At that moment, Parker was on the back lawn, playing a game of snow soccer with a mix of team members, kids and significant others. These men were incapable of sitting still for long, Jack knew. So he’d made sure that both footballs and soccer balls were plentiful on the back patio, should a breakout game or three become necessary. It had not taken long.
After champagne toasts and the food line, Jack stood at one of the floor-to-ceiling windows, watching as the man-boys played another quick pick up game of footie.
“Hey, boss,” Sophie stood next to him. “Thanks for letting the inmates take over for a while.”
He smiled and gave her a squeeze. Julie, Evan’s wife materialized on his other side and they all watched as the overgrown boys played actual boys and a few girls in the snow. Both of their husbands were out there, getting rowdy with the rest of the group. Julie leaned across Jack and squeezed Sophie’s hand. “I am so happy for you.”
Sophie looked at her. Jack felt the moment squeeze down to something with potential disaster encoded into it, considering Sophie’s long ago history with Evan. But she smiled, and Jack blew out a breath. “Thanks Julie. I really appreciate it. And same to you.” She nodded towards Julie’s twin daughters, long, gorgeous blondes at the moment sitting on the hearth and flirting with a few of the declared bachelor team members.
“Thanks.” The two women put their arms around him and gave him a squeeze. He laughed, kissed each of them on the cheek then made his way across the crowded room to snag Sam as he ran under the tables, being chased by Parker’s little boy, he forgot the kid’s name. He grabbed them both, stuck one under each of his arms and hauled them to the basement to show them the giant table full of legos Sara had pulled out of the bowels of the basement storage and set up for just this moment. The boys got straight to work building something. He turned and saw that June or Claire, one of the Adams twin girls was on the couch, playing FIFA soccer on the giant TV with Kago, the dark-skinned, official team clown, another original Black Jack team member. He watched as the two of them yelled at each other, deep into their game. At one point Kago yelped as June/Claire must have scored and she grabbed him for a hug. Jack shook his head. Poor Evan.
He bounded back upstairs and almost ran smack into Rob, who was carrying a couple of empty pie plates from the nearly decimated table. “Whoa, hey, sorry.” He grabbed one of the plates before it hit the hardwood. “Hey, come in here a second and talk to me over a beer.”
Rob sighed and followed him into the kitchen, which looked like a rampaging army had run through it. He shoved a few things aside on the table and grabbed a couple of beers from one of the coolers, opened them, handed one to his friend and held his up for a clink. Rob just stared at him, his eyes haunted looking. “Do I want to know?” Jack asked, sipping and suddenly terrified of whatever was going to come out of his friend’s mouth.
Rob sighed, started to speak but they were interrupted by a clatter of noise when someone opened the back French doors and a bunch of the backyard players spilled into the house. “Hey, Brandis!” Somebody yelled. “Time for a real football game. Let’s go!” Jack saw his son stride across the living room, run his eyes over every girl in the room, then snag a football and turn to the crowd.
“Ten minutes. Battle for rights to the video game later! Rafe, you’ve got the other team, let’s go!”
By the time the snowy outdoor war was won (Brandis’ team, by a touchdown) several couples and families had made their goodbyes. Sara sat in her favorite chair, nursing a glass of red wine, surrounded by her friends Julie and Lila, Sophie, the legal lady for the team, Melanie, the coach’s wife and Mo, her sister-in-law. The fire sanpped and crackled. Her house was a stone cold disaster area, the kitchen piled with dishes and silverware and food. But she didn’t care.
Julie sighed and stretched her bare feet towards the fire. “You guys headed out to Manistee tomorrow?” she asked Sara, sipping her own glass, and staring into the flames.
“Nope. Jack and Brandis want to ski so they’re going up to Boyne. The girls and I will be engaging in some serious retail therapy. Wanna join us?” Sara watched as Blair, Katie and Melanie’s sons Zach and Tanner played Euchre at one table. Bethany had a couple of the little boys corralled for a game of Battleship at another. Jack had told her he would pay her to be a babysitter/ kid distractor and the girl never turned down the opportunity to please her father, or take his cash. Brandis was downstairs with Gabe and a bunch of the soccer players, killing people on a video game, if the sounds floating up the steps were any indication.
The house smelled of outdoors, firewood, desert, coffee and candles. She sighed and stretched, thankful the party was, for all intents and purposes, over. Evan, Jack and Rob came in from outside, where some of the other, non-video playing men were still kicking around a soccer ball. She wondered, at that moment, if her life could be more perfect. Jack stopped and put his ice-cold hand down the back of her sweater, making her screech and leap up. He grabbed her, kissed her long and deep, then whispered into her ear: “I am most thankful for you, wife.”
She grinned into his lips. “You’d better be.”
Evan and Julie were standing by the fire their arms around each other. When Rob had come in with the others, Lila had excused herself. “What’s up with them?” She asked, watching Rob plop into the chair his wife had just vacated.
“Not sure. We keep trying to talk but getting interrupted.”
“Go, find out.” She gave him a shove. Brody had reappeared and he and Sophie were gathering up Sam’s toys. Metin had taken the now-crying baby girl from Melanie and was wandering down the hall, crooning to calm her while Mel snagged her boys from the card game.
The party’s final groups were breaking up. Sara looked forward to the usual gathering of her best friend stragglers—but for that strange thing brewing between Rob and Lila. She watched Jack say something to Rob near the fireplace, then the two men headed for the formal living room and the bar. The various players and their wives, or girlfriends made their thanks and farewells, gathered up their dirty serving dishes and headed for the door. It was nearly dusk now, and snow was falling again. Brandis and Gabe stayed downstairs and the rest of the team shuffled up the steps.
“Hey, where’s Kago?” One of them asked. “He’s my designated driver.” A tall, blonde, extraordinarily good looking player asked, glancing around. The others shrugged, muttered, took their coats from Katie. So much testosterone in the room, it was heady. Sara smiled, accepted hugs, kisses, a little woozy from the wine and all the athletic, attractive men in the space.
“Yo, Kago!” One of them called down the steps. “Where in the hell…?”
“June!” Evan stepped around the crowd, his face angry.
Katie glanced at Sara, then slipped down the back hall towards the bedrooms. Sara tried to distract Evan, and shot Julie a look when she appeared at her husband’s shoulder, carrying a stack of empty serving dishes towards the kitchen. “What?” She asked.
“Where the hell is June?” He demanded, arms crossed, eyes blazing. Julie rolled her eyes and elbowed past him. Sara knew they had a lot of discord over the girls’ active social lives. It drove Evan a hundred percent nuts that they even had such a thing, much less as robust as one as they apparently had.
“She’s around…move out of the way Country Club. Make yourself useful.” She shoved the stack of plates into his hands just as the entire group turned at the sound of a door shutting behind them in the hall. Katie stood with June, both of them looking sheepish. Even frowned.
“Where have you been?” He demanded. But Julie started shoving him towards the kitchen. Not soon enough though. Sara groaned inwardly when the missing soccer player appeared behind the girls, hands tucked into his pockets and looking a little stunned. “Oh, well, great,” Evan started spluttering. But Sara and Julie both pulled him into the kitchen so Kago could get his coat and leave sans an angry father scene.
“Jesus,” he muttered, putting the dishes down and rubbing his forehead.
“Relax,” Sara soothed, rubbing his shoulders. Then, when he turned and glared at his wife across the kitchen, she made some unheard excuse and left them to their discussion. The house had mostly emptied now, but she had no idea where Lila had gone. She grabbed more dishes and blew out candles on her way through the living room. Jack and Rob were sitting across from each other in the formal living room chairs, heads bent together in discussion. She frowned when Jack sat back as if Rob had slapped him, a stunned look on his face. Then she turned and saw Lila standing by the front door, her coat in her hand, eyes full of tears.
Sara set the dishes down and pulled her friend into the kitchen where Evan and Julie were still arguing.
“Break it up,” she shoved Evan aside. “Go. Be with your man friends. This is now a female zone.” She mimed drawing a line around the kitchen. “You might catch a germ. Beat it.”
Evan snorted and spluttered but backed out. Sara poured them all a glass of wine, shoved more crap out of the way on the table pushed Lila gently into a chair. “What is going on with you guys?” She asked, grabbing her friend’s hand.
Lila took a long breath, fiddled with the stem of her wineglass. “I’m…it’s…he…”
But the women were interrupted by the sounds of Brandis and Gabe thundering up the basement steps, arguing about something. Lila stood. “We should go.” She said.
Sara and Julie looked at each other. “Well….we’re here. You know, to listen.”
“I know. I’m not…I can’t talk about it. Sara, this was an amazing party. Thanks for doing it. I think everyone had a lot of fun.”
Julie eyeballed her daughters who’d just wandered into the kitchen. “Yes. Some of us had a lot more fun than others it would appear.”
June stuck her tongue out at her mother then ate a bite of pie. Claire stood next to her, a solid wall of support as always. Julie sighed. Sara got up to referee whatever was going on between the boys but found Katie had cornered them into a game of scrabble to distract them, along with Blair.
Her family and friends all around her—she put a hand to her throat, suddenly choked by emotion. Jack and Rob were standing now, Rob with his arms crossed over his chest, Jack still holding onto a beer bottle. Julie came out, wrapped her arms around Evan’s waist from behind, bringing a reluctant smile to his face. Sara wanted to go to Jack, to hold him, to have him hold and reassure her. But she saw Lila whisper something to Blair then kiss Gabe’s cheek before turning and walking past all of them, open the front door and close it firmly behind her. Rob stared at the closed door. Blair stared at her father, then at her brother. Brandis snapped impatient fingers under her nose. “Yo, earth to Frietag. Your turn already!”
She frowned at him, then focused back on the board. Rob walked to the table and grabbed the few remaining empty plates and headed for the kitchen in silence. Jack watched him, then looked at Sara, his eyes worried. She walked over to him then, went up on her tiptoes and kissed the tip of his nose, then his lips. “Tell me later?”
He nodded, turned and cranked up the tunes. As the sound of the Rolling Stones blared through the house the adults all started dancing, much to the embarrassed chagrin of the kids, until Bethany jumped into the fray, joined by Little Blake, Mo and Rafe’s son. By the time the song shuffled to, of all things, Don’t Stop Believing by Journey, everyone except Rob who stayed in the kitchen was dancing and singing in the middle of her large living room. Sara smiled when Jack grabbed her ass and pressed her close. He bit her earlobe, making her shiver.
“Great party, baby. As always.”
“Same to you Jack. As always. Happy Thanksgiving, my love."
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Because I am thankful for you!