I'm thankful for my amazing readers! Happy Thanksgiving!!
A Dartmoor Thanksgiving
“You did what?” Holly asked, voice faint. Her throat tightened and it hurt to swallow.
She stood just inside the kitchen, looking through the open door that led out onto the deck. It was unseasonably cold, and she wasn’t dressed warm enough, hands pulled into her sweater sleeves and arms folded tight against the chill. Michael stood in the middle of the deck, in the old canvas jacket he only ever wore when he was at the farm, a hilarious red-and-black check trapper hat crammed down on his head. He had a rifle propped over one shoulder. And in his other hand he held the feet of the largest turkey she’d ever seen.
It was very feathery. Very ugly. And very dead.
“I shot a turkey,” he said, and his normally flat voice was tinged with the barest hint of pride. His face was a little pink, and it might have been the cold, but Holly thought it might have been excitement.
“I…can see that.” Oh God, he wasn’t going to bring it into the house, was he? She’d been forced to do a lot of unsavory things in her life, but she might just draw the line at plucking and dressing a massive bird.
“It’s Thanksgiving,” he explained, unnecessarily.
“It is tomorrow, yes. But I think…”
His lips pressed together in a grim line, all signs of pleasure draining out of his face.
“No, no, the turkey’s wonderful,” she said, and managed to hide her wince. Bless his heart, he was just so proud, and he thought he was being helpful, and she loathed disappointing him. He was so good to them; she tried to reward his kindness with all the support possible. “I just think Maggie might already have a turkey. People usually buy those ahead of time.”
“Oh.” His shoulders slumped. The turkey lowered so that its poor limp head thumped down onto the porch boards, which in turn made Holly’s stomach turn. “I can put it in the deep freeze, then.”
He gave the impression, as he often did, of an innocent child. How a man this cold and ruthless could look childlike, she’d never know. Maybe it was only her perspective; he still made poor Whitney jump every time he entered a room. But to Holly, who loved him dearly, his reaction was that of a boy afraid he’d done something wrong, ashamed of himself. He would never be a diamonds and roses kind of husband; shooting a turkey for their table, to feed his family, was the ultimate sign of love from Michael McCall.
“Wait, no,” she said. “I’ll call Maggie right now. Who can turn down a fresh wild turkey on Thanksgiving?”
It might have made her a bad mother, but Maggie would be lying if she said she’d ever hoped Ava would go off and find a non-club way of life, settle down with a regular guy and live somewhere far away from their odd little outlaw family. Personally, she didn’t think Ava would have ever married anyone who wasn’t Mercy. But if she had, if on that slight chance…well, Maggie would have missed this.
They sat together at the kitchen table, Ava chopping green beans into irregular thirds, Maggie peeling sweet potatoes into a big silver mixing bowl. Remy sat with them, rolling a toy motorcycle across the table, quiet and thoughtful as ever.
“How’s Jackie?” Ava asked.
Maggie sighed. “She’s got her mom living with her. I can’t imagine.”
“Me neither,” Ava said, deadpan. She held it a second, and then laughed. “Sorry, couldn’t resist.”
Maggie leaned over and tickled his ribs, turning his giggles to real laughter, his eyes scrunching up into crescents and his nose wrinkling in a way that melted her heart. “Is your mommy hilarious?” she asked him, laughing herself.
Ava watched them, smile warm.
Maggie had never had this with her own mother. Sitting in the kitchen in wool socks, shooting the shit, the sound of male voices rumbling in the other room. Ghost and Mercy were having a spirited conversation about Tennessee and LSU football, both of them lamenting the season’s big losses. For all that they were outlaws, it was all so normal. So homey and casual.
Growing up, Thanksgiving had been prepared by hired help. Their on-again-off-again cook, Gabby, with a flour-dusted apron and talented hands, taught Maggie everything she knew about cooking. She remembered the woman as broad and boxy, with hips like a mini fridge, standing at the stove and humming to herself, old church hymns. Maggie would drag a stool over and stand beside her. “Here, sugar,” Gabby would say, and set a bowl of flour and sugar before her. “Stir that up for me real good.”
But after the food was ready, Gabby would go home to her own family dinner, and Maggie would sit midway down the long dining table, her parents at the head and the foot, the candles flickering in their tall silver sticks. The only sounds were the clip of utensils against china, and the occasional creak of a chair.
She’d longed for this. Ached for it. It had taken starting her own family to get there, and she wouldn’t trade it for a second. And the sweet potatoes she was making? Gabby’s recipe.
“Huh?” She shook her head, clearing away the cobwebs.
Ava was watching her, curious but not yet concerned. “Your phone’s ringing.”
“Oh.” She grabbed it up off the table and saw Holly’s name flashing across the screen.
“You know,” Ava said, peering through her mom’s back window out at the patio, “if there’s such a thing as too many cooks in the kitchen, then there’s such a thing as too many butchers in the back yard.”
Ghost, Mercy, and Michael stood over the picnic table where the turkey carcass had been laid out. Michael – bless his weird, antisocial, murderous heart – looked completely put out that two of his club brothers were trying to commandeer his…whatever he was going to do to that bird.
Beside her, Holly hummed under her breath. “Poor baby.”
“You want me to call off the dogs?” Ava asked, withholding her laugh.
When she glanced over, Holly rolled her eyes. “No. He’s a big boy. He can work it out.”
On the patio, Mercy gestured to the dead turkey, movements expansive, smile gracing his handsome face.
“Don’t worry,” Ava said, smiling. “I’ll clip a leash on him if he gets too annoying.”
“Mama,” Cal said, and Ava turned to see her middle kid looking up at her with Mercy’s face and Maggie’s golden hair.
“Can I go outside with Daddy?”
“Uh…not right now, kiddo. In a minute, okay?”
He stuck his lower lip out, which made Holly chuckle.
“Oh no. Don’t even try that. I’m tougher than Daddy.” Mercy was a total sucker for The Lip.
“But…” he started, and the back door opened.
Mercy strode in.
Cal said, “Daddy!” and launched his small body at his father’s legs.
“Hey, champ.” He swung him up and perched him on his hip, like he was still a baby. He looked to Ava and said, “Baby, the way I figure it, if I can gut and skin and tan a gator, I can handle a measly little bird, don’t ya think?” His accent went super Cajun.
Ava bit her lip. “Are you bothering poor Michael?” she asked.
He shrugged. Cal had his little hands hooked in the collar of his shirt and the movement pulled his arms up. “Probably.”
“It’s fine, Mercy,” Holly assured.
Mercy grinned. “In that case, I gotta get my knife.”
Maggie stood at the counter, assembling the casseroles she’d bake tomorrow. “You will disinfect that knife, Felix. I know where it’s been.”
He chuckled. “Yes, ma’am.”
Emmie was never going to get over the sight of Walsh with a baby in his arms. It was an especially nice sight right now, considering he was still flushed and damp from his shower, wearing nothing but a towel, sitting on their bed and cradling Violet in his arms. His hair stuck up in all directions, thick and wheat-colored. He stared down at their little girl, an absent smile on his face, the kind he didn’t show to just anyone.
Emmie propped her shoulder in the threshold and watched, just soaking it in.
Walsh finally looked up, spotted her, and one corner of his mouth lifted. “What?”
“A girl can’t enjoy her family the day before Thanksgiving?”
He snorted. Damn, she loved him. “Not you, love. What?”
She sighed. “Michael killed a turkey and they’re having a whole big thing at Ghost and Maggie’s getting it ready for tomorrow.”
He stood and walked toward her, Violet cradled with the utmost care. “I’m a London boy. I don’t know anything about dressing a dead animal.”
She snorted. “Me neither.”
He leaned forward and kissed her, and it was her favorite kind of kiss, their baby between them, warm and soft.
“Wait ‘til tomorrow?” he asked, blue eyes dancing.
She nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I figure.”
“Okay…” Whitney said. She’d rounded the corner of the Teague house, expecting the typical sight of the winterized lawn, and instead found the guys gathered around the picnic table. Mercy was gutting a dead turkey with a knife.
“Ah, shit,” Tango muttered. “Guys, what the hell?”
Mercy glanced up, grinning. “You want in on this?”
“You went hunting?” Whitney asked. Really, she wanted to gag, now that she smelled the blood and saw the innards. But she swallowed and put on her game face.
“Mikey did,” Mercy said, clapping the man on the shoulder with one bloody hand.
“Oh, God,” Whitney muttered. She said, “That’s great!” and gulped down another surge of bile.
Michael didn’t look like he thought it was great.
“We’re gonna have it tomorrow,” Ghost said. Then he tipped his head toward the house. “Liquor’s where it always is, Tiny Dancer.”
“Thanks,” Tango said, and grabbed Whitney’s hand, towing her inside with him.
Sam tried to convince her mom and sister to come to the big Dartmoor Thanksgiving feast. But they opted not to. “That’s your scene now,” Erin said, rolling her eyes. “We don’t need to be there.” Mom kissed her on the cheek and wished her a happy time.
It was held, as Sam sensed it always was, at the Teague house. Most big gatherings were held at Briar Hall, due to the size of their group and the size of the farm’s dining room. But Thanksgiving was tradition and it was held at the king and queen’s place.
In the middle of the dining table sat the biggest, brownest, most beautiful turkey she’d ever seen.
“Wow,” she commented as she set her offering of salad on the piecemeal dining table.
Holly smiled. “Michael shot it.”
Sam felt her brows jump. “He did?”
“On the cattle property, apparently,” Maggie added.
“Let’s hope turkey don’t eat earthworms,” Ava said with a dark, low laugh.
“Oh, baby,” Maggie complained. “Why’d you have to go there?”
It was, without question, the best turkey any of them had ever tasted.
If you looked closely, and paid careful attention…you could see Michael smiling.