A picnic table underneath strings of faery lights, on the table is pizza, a journal, and mason jars filled with fairy lights
Picnics

Ways to Stay Calm When Thanksgiving Goes Wrong

By Raspberry, Pineapple, and Apple (in order of parts written) | Content Warnings

Part One

Lily heard Lena squeak out a forbidden word in the kitchen, which meant she forgot to use an oven mitt again. While her first instinct was to go investigate, she forced herself to ignore the background noise of her sister fretting and a few pots clanging against each other.

And the equally distracting smell of turkey, which had been slowly spreading its tempting aroma since the early hours. Even with the bedroom door closed and a curtain of blankets surrounding Lily, it was impossible for her stomach to ignore the siren song. 

Lily pulled back the hair-tie on her wrist, snapping it to wake her from her stupor. 

Focus, she told herself silently and sternly, furrowing her brow so she knew she meant business. 

Her sparkly blue notebook was opened before her, with names and carefully drawn sketches of today’s guests: Alex, Brendan, Caty, and Amber. They were all Lena’s friends, but after today one of them wouldn’t be. Not if Lily had anything to do with it. 

Lily crossed Amber’s name off the list immediately. She tried to entertain the thought, but there was no way it could be her. She didn’t know the others as well, but if Lena was friends with them, they must be good people.

She remembered Alex wore a beanie, like, all the time. And Lena liked wearing beanies too (though she only wore them when it made sense, like, in cold weather). Lily circled Alex’s name. He was the first choice. 

“Hey, Lil!” Lena called. “Can you come help out?”

Lily jumped so hard she hit the top of the bed. With a groan, she rolled herself out from under the bed and tucked her notebook under her pillow. 

“Coming!” she called. 

She quickly pressed down the frizzy strands escaping from the French braid Lena worked so hard on earlier and rushed to the kitchen. Lena’s corresponding braid looked like it had walked through a hurricane. 

“Hey, can you double check all the forks are washed?” Lena asked, wooden spoon in one hand, pot lid in the other. “We need all of them, unless you’re planning on using just your hands.”

Lily grinned, but immediately caught herself. 

“I’d never do that in front of company,” she replied solemnly. “How would you be able to bring somebody home like that?”

Lena gave her a confused look, but Lily figured it was because she sounded so grown up saying that. She’d heard Amber saying something like that a few weeks ago during movie night. 

“Are you ever going to bring somebody home? OW!”

The “ow” was when Lena punched Amber’s shoulder and said she shouldn’t talk during the movie. Lily didn’t even think anything of it until last week.

 “I know, but I can’t exactly walk up and be like ‘hey, let’s have dinner together.’ It’d be too awkward if I’m shot down,” Lena had said with a deep sigh and long swig of her red wine. 

It had reminded Lily of a romance movie, except her sister had been stuck in the ‘sadly single’ phase of it too long.

“Trust me,” Holly had said, reaching for the popcorn with a grin, “I don’t think you’ll get shot down.”

 “You know how close we are. It’s impossible,” Lena insisted with a shake of her head. “I might as well just get over this.”

That’s when Lily realized Lena was trying to get a date. And apparently everyone realized what a challenge that would be. Luckily, Lily decided to help, and, since she saved Christmas last year, finding Lena a boyfriend was going to be a piece of cake. Especially when Lena and a few friends decided to have a Friendsgiving celebration (so maybe saying it was a piece of pie would be more thematically correct). 

“What are you smiling at?” Lena’s voice brought Lily from her thoughts. 

Lily glanced up and realized she has been sudsing the same fork with the sponge for too long. She flushed. 

“Oh, nothing,” she replied in her sweetest tone. “Nothing at all.”

You’ll be thanking me soon enough, she added silently, glancing around as Lena flashed her a suspicious look before returning to the food. 

At least Lena’s cooking looked like she could rope in a boyfriend. A green bean casserole lay on the counter, waiting to be put in the oven just before guests arrived so it wouldn’t cook too fast and be cold for dinner. Potatoes boiled on the stove-top, waiting to be turned into creamy, fluffy goodness.  Lena pulled a steaming turkey from the oven and began basting it with precision. Lily’s stomach gave a hopeful (and premature) grumble. 

“Hungry already?” Lena asked, glancing over with a grin. “Why don’t you grab a snack? Food won’t be ready for a while.”

“My stomach doesn’t want cereal or trail mix,” Lily said with a long sigh. “She won’t be happy until I stuff her with all that.”

“Well, everyone should be arriving in, like, an hour—” Lena began. 

A sharp knock at the door interrupted the second half of her sentence, and Lena looked at her wristwatch with a furrowed brow. Lily felt her heart skip a beat, and she tried to look as casual as possible. She leaned against the counter and crossed her arm, realizing a little too late that her hands were still soapy. 

“I wonder who that could be!” Lily squeaked out, hoping the bubbles now scattered across her t-shirt didn’t give away the fact that she did, in fact, know who it could be. 

Lena opened her mouth, but another knock pulled her attention away. She sighed and trudged to the door. Lily inched away from the sink to get a better look at the door. A red beanie poked above Lena’s head. 

“You’re early!” Lena exclaimed, moving out of the way as Alex stepped inside. 

Lily noted that Alex had long, fluffy hair under his beanie. Freshly-washed fluffy. A good sign. A grisly-looking goatee, though. Bad sign. Maybe she should take another look at her guest list, she thought, as Alex rubbed a hand over the top of his beanie with scrunched eyebrows. 

“I’m on time,” he said with a confused tone. “Lily said on the phone—”

“To bring the dinner rolls!” Lily interrupted loudly. 

He can’t even keep a secret, she thought. He’s one strike away from really missing out on his future. 

In response, he held up a bag of buttery rolls. Family-sized. Lily figured that at least made up for the goatee.

“I also brought an apple pie,” he said, holding up a plastic bag. “It’s just store-bought, though, so don’t get too excited.”

“That’s sweet,” Lena said, and Lily hoped that meant her sister was already starting to swoon. “But you know Amber’s bringing, like, three pies.”

“I know,” he replied with a flush. “But I have a bit of a sweet tooth. I’d feel bad if I accidentally ate all the dessert.”

Lena chuckled, but Lily felt a wave of panic wash over her as she looked around. Lena didn’t prepare a single sweet thing. This was a disaster. Now Alex would fall in love with Amber instead. Lily dropped the sponge in the sink and rushed out of the kitchen.

“Lil?” 

“I just remembered I need to—” Lily calls, dodging her sister and heading for the front door. “I need to wish everyone a happy Turkey day!”

“Honey, you can do that later,” Lena began as Lily opened the door. 

A man was standing outside, fist raised as he tried to knock on a door that had swung away from him. Lily stared up at him. He had hair in need of a haircut (or a hair-tie at least) and an oversized sweater with a cartoon turkey on it. Lily began rethinking her plan. 

“Brendan!” Lena called, her voice a mixture of pleasure and surprise. “You’re early too!”

“Alex told me the time changed,” he replied, stepping in and flashing Lily a quick smile. “You’re getting taller.”

Lily started to think she had chosen the wrong suitor. She looked over at Alex again and doubted he’d ever wear a turkey sweater. 

“She won’t stop growing,” Lena agreed, winking at Lily. “How are you? Did Kenzie not come with you?”

A girlfriend? Lily almost stomped her foot with frustration. Why was she the last to know?

“No, we… uh… split up last week,” Brendan replied. 

Lily had to pretend to scratch her nose to hide her grin. 

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Lena sounded sorrier than Lily hoped she actually was. 

“Nah, we weren’t that serious,” Brendan said, placing a bag on the kitchen counter. “It wouldn’t have worked out anyway. She hates Chinese food.”

“Was that the deal-breaker?” Lena’s voice was teasing, and Lily imagined her sister was grinning even as she turned her attention to the food on the stove. 

“You know I need my weekly chow mein,” Brendan quipped back. 

The conversation felt easy, Lily thought, furrowing her brows as the three adults swapped jokes. But it was hard to tell who Lena liked more. Alex already had some points, but also he couldn’t keep a secret, which was a definite flag. Brendan had a turkey sweater and knew how to give out compliments. But if he had just broken up, he’d be what Amber called rebounding. And she was 90% sure that was a bad thing. 

Maybe she didn’t have to choose though. The thought brightened Lily’s smile, and she slipped out the front door, racing down the hall.

“Oh, it’s you,” Lily said with a sigh, pushing past Nick. “I was kinda hoping Holly was free.”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you too,” Nick muttered, but his usual grumpy tone sounded softer.

She knew it was only a matter of time before she wore him down. 

“Lil, is that you?” 

Lily marched into the kitchen with purpose.

“I need something sweet and something Asian for dinner, or my sister’s doomed to singledom forever,” Lily said, raising a weary hand. 

“What was that?” Holly sounded either uninterested or confused, but Lily wasn’t going to stand around all day talking.

“I really don’t have time to explain,” she said. 

“In that case, I’m sure Nick can get you whatever you’re looking for. It might help take his mind off of how nervous he is.”

Now that Holly mentioned it, Nick was looking a little less Nick-like. She had just thought he was hungry, but maybe that was his scared face. 

“What did you say you needed again?” he asked, like he wasn’t paying attention. 

Lily thought she’d better explain it slowly so he’d actually listen. 

“Something sweet. And something Asian-y,” she explained with a roll of her eyes. “My sister’s future depends on it, so we’ve got to go above the usual Splenda and soy sauce, okay? I need sophistication.”

He directed her to the sauce and spice cabinet, which was filled to the brim. Unsurprising because Holly was a culinary genius. 

Also unsurprising was Lily had no idea what most of the sauces and spices were. Was the coriander a sweet flavor? Was cumin Asian? 

She bit her lower lip. Holly looked busy, and Nick probably wouldn’t know either. She’d never seen him cook. She felt his eyes on her though, so she assumed a confident expression and chose a couple bottles quickly. 

“Nothing beats the classics. Thanks for the help,” Lily said with a grin. “And Happy Turkey Day.”

She practically skipped out of the kitchen, wondering if she should work today into her speech at Lena’s wedding. Probably. 

“Oh.” Lily paused and looked around. “We… uh… don’t have to mention this to Lena just now, right?”

“Perfect! Wait, what are we not telling Lena? Lily?”

Lily rushed out, shouting some form of goodbye and running off before Holly could call her back and squeeze the truth out of her. Nothing, not even Holly, was going to ruin this happy ending in the making. 

Lily slipped in the kitchen with the bottles secured behind her back. Lena was pouring wine at the counter.

“Hey, Lily!” Amber called from the couch, reclining next to a girl Lily only saw pictures of. “How’s it going?”

“Where’d you go?” Lena asked, furrowing her brow.

“I told you I had to wish everyone a Happy Turkey Day,” Lily retorted with an innocent smile. “Shouldn’t you be talking to your friends?”

As if on cue, Brendan offered to help carry wine glasses to the living room, and Lily gave him an extra point in her mind. She set the bottles on the counter and cast another glance to make sure no one was looking. Amber and Caty were looking at something on Amber’s phone and laughing, Alex and Brendan were clinking glasses and telling Lena to make a toast, and Lena… was looking out a window. 

Lily rolled her eyes. No wonder Lena needed help in the romance department. She opened the bottle of honey and took a sniff. It smelled sweet. Just what Alex wanted. Lily examined the kitchen. Maybe honey would be good with green beans, she thought. Sweet vegetables were definitely popular. She drizzled honey on top. And it’d probably make the mashed potatoes more delicious too. 

Lily hesitated. Maybe the potatoes would be too sticky then. She had to think these things through carefully, she reminded herself. 

Gravy’s a liquid like honey

Lily dumped honey into the gravy bubbling on the stove and stirred it in. She really was a genius sometimes. 

“Lily, come hang out!” Amber called, and Lily sighed. 

She’d forgotten what a nuisance Amber was to all her great plans. She quickly opened the fish sauce and dribbled a bit into each dish, because Brendan was inching his way to the top of Lily’s list. 

“Hope it’s ready soon!” Caty exclaimed. “I’m starving already.”

“Well we can’t have that, can we?” Lena’s voice teased. “I’ll check the turkey again.”

Lily jumped and grabbed the two bottles. Lena couldn’t see them. She looked around wildly, trying to find a place to hide them—

She dumped them in the sink as Lena walked in, narrowing her eyes at Lily.

“Sorry, I forgot to finish the dishes!” Lily said quickly, dunking her hands into the soapy water. “You should go hang out with your friends.”

Lena tilted her head at this, and Lily felt her heart skip a beat. Of course her sister could sense the lilt in her voice. 

“Lil, are you okay?” Lena asked. “You’ve been avoiding everyone. Should I… not have invited anyone over?”

“What? No,” Lily said quickly. “You know I’m all for Friendsgiving, even if it means sharing food.”

Lena chuckled and set down her glass to pop on an oven mitt. 

“Okay, but you’re acting like they have cooties or something,” she pointed out as she opened the oven door.

Please, Lena, I’m too old to believe in cooties,” Lily scoffed, hesitating as she watched her sister stab the turkey with a thermometer. “So… uh… if that’s what’s holding you back from dating anyone—”

The thermometer dropped to the floor with a clatter, and Lena’s face turned bright pink.

“I mean, I heard you talking about dating and stuff before,” Lily said quickly. “And I’m totally okay with it. I… think Brendan has my vote though. Alex is a little dodgy if you ask me.”

“Oh,” Lena said, and then chuckled. 

Her chuckle didn’t stop, and Lily realized it sounded more like a maniacal chuckle than a happy one. Was her sister turning to the dark side?

“I’m not,” Lena tried between breaths. “I mean, it’s not—”

“You’re starting to look a little crazier than usual,” Lily said.

Lena stopped her laughter and wiped her eyes. Her cheeks were still flushed, but she gave Lily a serious look. 

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “Okay. Um, how can I put this? They’re both great friends, but it’s just… I’m not really that interested in… guys.”

“But you said you were open to dating!” 

“I am,” Lena replied slowly. “I’m just… I’d rather have a girlfriend than a boyfriend.”

“Oh!” Lily almost smacked her head. 

But of course, her hands were covered in soap so she wasn’t going to actually smack her head. She couldn’t believe she wasted honey and fish sauce for non-contenders. Lena picked up the meat thermometer and tossed it in the sink with a splash. She put an arm around Lily and gave her a tentative smile.

“Are you… okay?” she asked slowly. “With that?”

“I mean, I wish you told me sooner,” Lily said with a sigh. “I’m going to have to update some things.”

Lena gave her a curious look, but Caty called from the other room.

“Go hang out with your friends,” Lily insisted. “I’ll be there in a sec.”

She waited until Lena left to crank up the heat on the oven. The least she could do was make sure Caty got food in her belly soon. She also needed to update her plan. 

Lily pulled her notebook from under the bed and crossed off Alex and Brendan’s names from the list. She wasn’t a fan of having all the eggs in one basket, but it looked like it was now Caty or bust. Lily let out a deep sigh and wondered if Amber was going to have to end up on the list as a backup plan.

“Hey, Lil, you didn’t finish the dishes yet,” Lena said, swinging the door open. 

Lily jumped and immediately sat on her notebook, flashing her sister an innocent smile. 

“What are you hiding?” Lena wasn’t buying the innocent act. 

“Nothing,” Lily replied quickly. “My homework.”

“What homework?”

“I mean, my diary.”

“You don’t have a diary.”

“That’s what I want you to think,” Lily replied with an emphatic nod. “So you won’t go snooping.”

“Okay… well are you going to finish the dishes? Cause we still need utensils, and I need the meat thermometer to check the turkey soon.”

“Is it done yet?” Lily asked hopefully.

“Probably not for another hour or so,” Lena replied with a shake of her head. 

“Even though the oven’s hotter?”

“What?” Lena’s voice sounded panicked. 

“I turned up the heat so it’d cook faster,” Lily said, waiting to add the ‘you’re welcome.’

Instead, Lena turned and rushed for the kitchen. Lily kicked her notebook under the bed (just in case) and followed her out.

“You turned it to the max temperature?” Lena practically shrieked. 

Lily was apparently the last one in the kitchen. Lena’s friends were gathered around as Lena threw open the oven door. Lily thought she smelled something burnt, and she flushed. Maybe this wasn’t the best idea she had, she thought. 

“Where’s the meat thermometer?” Lena fretted, pulling on oven mitts and looking around. 

Lily silently pointed to the sink, still filled with water, soap, and forgotten dishes. 

“Here, I’ll help,” Caty offered. 

She dipped her hand into the sink and fished around. 

“What the—” Caty pulled out a bottle of honey. 

“Lily?” Lena’s voice had returned to its usual calm, but Lily knew that it was a cover-up. 

“Alex said he liked sweet food?” she ventured. “To be fair, that’s before I knew you didn’t want to date him.”

She wasn’t sure why almost everyone in the room flushed at that. Lena’s cheeks pinked, Alex and Brendan exchanged wide-eyed looks and then stared at the floor, and Amber bit her lip and looked like she was holding her breath. Or a laugh. Maybe both.

“And what about this?” Caty asked, pulling up a bottle of half-empty fish sauce. 

Lily was starting to not like Caty.

“Brendan said he liked Asian food,” she mumbled, just as Brendan inhaled so hard he sounded like a steam engine.

“I’m allergic to fish,” he said. “What… um… which dishes did you put the fish sauce in, Lily?”

Lily felt her face heat up, and she couldn’t even look at Lena trying to save a blackened turkey. She shrugged and stared at her toes. 

“The gravy,” she said. “And the… green beans, I think? Or maybe the stuffing. Or… wait, the honey was in the green beans, and the… wait.”

“I think we should just assume it’s all potentially tainted,” Amber said, waving her hand so hard that the wine sloshed from her glass. “Why don’t we, uh, just have turkey and rolls and some cranberry sauce?”

“I’ll open the cranberry sauce,” Caty offered.

“I think we can count the turkey out,” Lena announced, slamming the oven door closed. “It’s still under-cooked on the inside, but the skin is charred.”

Lily’s eyes were beginning to sting, and she had the sinking feeling she knew what was coming. She spun on her heels and raced to the bedroom, slamming the door and diving under the bed before salty tears spilled out onto her cheeks. She heard a yelp from the other room and then complete chaos. Probably, everyone got so hungry they decided to start eating each other, she thought.

A door slammed in the distance, and then there was silence. Lily wiped her eyes with her fingers and used one of the shirts on the floor to wipe her nose. 

The bedroom door opened with a squeak. 

“Lil?”

A soft thump nearby told her that Lena had dropped to the floor to look under the bed, but she refused to look. 

“Tell your friends I’m sorry,” Lily mumbled, shifting further under the bed. “I didn’t mean to ruin Friendsgiving.”

“Oh, honey, you didn’t ruin it,” Lena said quickly. 

“Then where’d your friends go?”

“Um… to the emergency care center.”

Lily shot up at this and bumped her head against the bed. She wiggled out from under it and sat up. 

“You’re joking,” she said, and Lena shook her head.

“Caty cut her palm open with the can opener,” she replied. “Just as you left, too, so it took away from your dramatic exit.”

“This day turned into a disaster,” Lily said with a deep sigh, leaning into her sister. 

“It’ll definitely go down in history,” Lena agreed. 

“I’m sorry.” Lily studied her sister’s socks so she wouldn’t have to look up at her face. “For ruining another holiday.”

“You haven’t ruined anything, silly.”

“And that you’re still single.”

Hey.”

“I heard you talking to the others,” Lily confessed. “I didn’t mean to be in the way of you dating or anything—”

“You aren’t,” Lena said quickly. “Why would you think that?”

“I thought that was why you aren’t dating,” Lily replied, looking at Lena’s face. “I mean, why else would you not date?”

Lena flushed and brushed hair out of her face. 

“Oh my god, I knew it!” Lily exclaimed, jumping to her feet. “You like someone, right? Is it Caty? Is it Amber? Is it… I actually don’t know many other single women.” She gasped. “It’s not a married woman, is it?”

“Of course not!” Lena said quickly. “And it’s not important—”

“Oh! Carly?”

Lena’s face turned deep red, and Lily let out a gasp. 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded. “I like Carly too! Oh, we can pretend you clogged the toilet and call her over—”

“I think we’ve done enough for today actually,” Lena cut in. 

Lily felt her cheeks grow warm, and she let out a sniffle. Maybe it was more of a gasping, snot-filled half-sob, but Lena pulled her in close and wrapped her arms around her. 

“I love your heart, you know,” Lena murmured. “I know you were just trying to help out in your special Lily-way, and I appreciate that you care. But I am an adult, and romance is definitely an area I should take care of myself… okay?”

“Even though you suck at it?” Lily asked with another sniffle. 

There was a pause. A sigh. 

“Even if… I’m not the best at it,” Lena replied finally. 

“You’re going to be single forever.”

“Tell you what, if I get really desperate, I’ll call in a wing-woman,” Lena promised. 

Lily moved away to look at her sister’s face. She looked more bemused than upset, which was a good sign. At least Lily didn’t completely ruin the day. 

“What’s a wing-woman?” she asked. 

A loud knock on the front door interrupted Lena before she could open her mouth. Lily and Lena glanced at each other. 

“Someone probably forgot something,” Lena guessed, rising from the floor. “You can stay here. I’ll get it.”

Lily took the moment to grab a wad of tissues and empty her nostrils. A few moments later, she heard Lena’s surprised voice. 

“Holly, what are you doing here? Is everything okay?”

Part Two

Actually, Maria was kind of looking forward to something low-key when Freddie invited her over for Thanksgiving. Usually, it was her and her overbearing parents, grandparents, a ton of food, and football that she didn’t particularly care for. Frederick’s family was bigger, louder. She’d been invited over once—took a pie her grandmother made—and the entire atmosphere was vibrating with the energy between all the people. She’d left exhausted.

This year, Freddie’s parents were on a cruise, his older brother was spending the holiday with his wife, and his older sister was on a trip abroad. He invited Maria over, if she wasn’t busy, he assured her that he wasn’t sad or lonely, and that she should spend time with her family if she wanted to. When she crashed into his worn-out couch that Thursday, she was prepared for a day of slow kisses, cuddling, and naps. Maybe they’d order out from a nice restaurant if there were any open.

Instead, someone knocked on the door.

Sure, since last Christmas, Freddie had gotten to know his neighbors much better, and they were all pretty close now. But she heard Freddie’s voice squeak out, “Adam?”

And she knew that that couldn’t be good.

So she sat up to see Freddie back away from the door to make way for another person, who wrapped his arms around her boyfriend.

“Freddie!” the other man shouted. “It’s been so long!”

The other man, Adam, Maria assumed, was a bit taller than Freddie. His hair was light and wavy, with a nostalgic looking haircut. His eyes were squeezed closed as he hugged Freddie, but when he opened them as he pulled back to look at Freddie’s face, the color matched his hair. But the really strange thing—stranger that how at home he looked in her boyfriend’s arms—was that he called him Freddie. Nobody else did that, except for her, as far as she knew. Freddie had even corrected their neighbors, asking them to call him Fred, when they were first getting acquainted.

“Adam—” Freddie struggled out. He breathed out, reaching up and ruffling his friend’s hair. “Why are you here? I mean—how did you—I never gave you my new address? I thought you moved out of town?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he agreed easily. “I did, after school, I mean. You know. Big job and everything. Came back to visit the fam. Your brother gave me your address.”

“My brother?” Freddie echoed and oh it sounded a little bit like he was plotting murder beneath the veneer of surprise.

“Ha, yeah. We’re friends on snap, and he saw my post about—”

“You two are friends on—”

Maria jumped up from her spot on the couch and latched herself onto Freddie’s arm to keep him from yelling and, well, Adam must have realized that he was still holding onto Freddie too, because he let go of him as soon as he saw Maria. He turned big, curious eyes onto her. “Who’s this?” he asked.

“I’m Maria,” she answered with a big smile. “You’re Freddie’s roommate from college? I’ve heard so much about you. Are you just stopping by to say hello or…?”

Adam looked between the two of them. “OH,” he said, loud, exaggerated. “Oh, I’m so sorry!”

“What—”

“Fred, your brother told me you’d have me over for Thanksgiving, I didn’t…” His pale skin started to flush.

Maria exchanged a quick glance with her boyfriend, a whole conversation happening in a single glance. She urged him to do it. He begged her not to.

“Of course you can spend Thanksgiving with us,” Maria said. “You must know what a terrible cook Freddie is if you bunked with him for so long, huh? I was, uh… just about to get started. My grandma taught me a thing or two, you know.”

Freddie put on a smile a nodded quickly in a mix of nervousness and agreement. “Yeah, yeah. I mean, yeah, she’s a great cook, of course. What about your parents, Adam?”

She nudged Freddie. Hard.

“I mean—” Freddie shook his head like he was coming out of a dream when Maria spun around to go to the kitchen. “I mean, you know. Come in. Make yourself comfortable. Are you cold? I have, um… blankets?”

He waved a hand and laughed, but it was pitched up an octave or two and airy. “Oh, you know how they are. Dad decided last minute to go on a ‘spiritual journey,’” he said, air quoting the words. Freddie shut the door as Adam finally stepped into the apartment and slid out of his shoes. “He went to a church in his hometown and my mom thought going to a farm would be a fun Thanksgiving activity. No, thank you.”

“A farm?” Freddie echoed.

Adam nodded, raising his eyebrows with a knowing look and a heavy sigh as he fell into the couch.

“Yeah, your mom always was kinda…”

“Freddie!” Maria called from the kitchen.

He waved an apology with his hands and rushed to the kitchen. His voice was hushed as he stuttered out a panicked question. “Why—why—why would you invite him to stay? We weren’t going to do anything! I don’t have anything to cook!”

She threw open his fridge, held open the door with an accusatory stare. “Freddie? This is seriously all you have?”

Freddie looked into the white abyss. All it contained was an almost expired carton of milk, half a bottle of creamer, a small, pre-cut ham, eggs, some bags of chips, and a frankly ridiculous amount of assorted drinks. He looked up at his girlfriend and shrugged. “I was really only expecting you and, well… we had plans. We could still order in.”

“That isn’t what your stupid brother promised your friend!” Maria whisper-shouted, letting the door shut. She took a deep breath. “Okay. I can do this. Nana prepared me for this. Years of mirroring her in the kitchen have trained me for this particular Thanksgiving.”

He set a hand on her shoulder. “Maria…?” he asked cautiously. “You really don’t have to. I could talk to him, he’d understand if I let him down easy.”

Her head snapped to him. “What does that mean?”

His smile was gentle, his eyes sparkling. He leaned in and kissed her. “I love you,” he reminded her. “Please don’t stress yourself out for this, okay, Love? Just say the word and I’ll—I’ll kick him out—or come help you here. Whatever you want.”

“Freddie, what…?”

“Hey, Fred!” Adam shouted from the living room. He really didn’t need to be so loud. The walls here were not that thick. The neighbors would hear. “Everything okay?”

His head snapped to the living room. “Yeah—of course,” he answered. Something in his voice sounded… wistful? Maria watched him looking over the threshold into the living room.

Freddie squeezed her shoulder. Then he grabbed some drinks and went back out to the living room. “Do you need something to drink, Adam?”

“Oh, thanks! You remembered my favorite?” Adam asked, giggling.

She heard the sound of Freddie dropping into the sofa. He laughed. “After drinking it so much with you, you know, I started to like it, too,” she heard him say. “Maria hates it, though.”

“Ah.” Adam sighed. “It’ll grow on her.”

They clinked cans.

Maria put the dinky little ham in the oven with some cloves and a brown sugar glaze, put on all of Freddie’s potatoes to boil—a realistically pathetic amount from the frozen produce section; her grandmother would be so disappointed with the food being cooked tonight—and went out to find the boys watching a holiday movie. It would have been funny, except Adam’s head had lolled to the side and was resting on Freddie’s shoulder with his eyes closed. When Maria looked at him, eyebrows raised, he just sighed.

“Jetlag,” he mouthed to her, taking her hand.

When she got up to check the potatoes, she heard Adam wake up with a start. “Freddie?” he asked. “Oh—sorry—” he began. “Fred, I mean. Fred. Did I fall asleep? You could have shoved me off, you know.”

“My bed is in the other room, you can go take a nap, if you want,” Freddie offered.

Maria stabbed through a potato with a fork. Well! She thought, desperate to think of anything other than what was up with the anything-but-platonic way Freddie and Adam looked at each other, Soft enough to mash them!

Except…

“Freddie!” She announced loudly.

“Hm?” He hummed from the other room. It took a moment or two, but he wandered in, scratching his messy, dark hair. She sighed, looking at him. He looked like he was about to fall asleep himself, and here he was, offering his whole bed to someone he hasn’t seen since college.  “Something wrong, Love?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Do you seriously only have three forks?”

He laughed. Avoided making eye contact. “Um…”

“Freddie!” She yelled, laughter creeping into her voice as she slapped his arm. “Seriously?”

“We always eat out! What do I need them for?” he laughed, catching her hand and holding it.

She pouted. That was a fair point. “Okay, fine. Do not touch anything. Lena seems to always have people over. I’ll go ask if she has some silverware to spare. You won’t even have a spoon to serve with at this rate.”

He grinned, half asleep. She ran a hand through his messy hair. “You take such good care of me,” he murmured. He leaned in and kissed her. “I love you.”

“I’ll be back, Freddie,” she whispered into his lips, and then walked out into the hall of the apartment building. She walked over to Lena and Lily’s apartment and knocked on the door.

She heard movement on the other side and then Lena opened the door. She was still talking, not even looking as she spoke, “it’s not even locked, Lil, and where did you even—oh! Maria!”

Maria raised a hand in greeting. She felt herself relax, now that she was out of the… strange tension between Freddie and Adam. “Hey, girl, Happy Thanksgiving,” she said. “One of Freddie’s old college friends came over and of course he doesn’t have enough silverware. Mind if I borrow a couple things?”

“Of course, lemme make sure we have silverware,” Lena laughed. “I asked Lily to do the dishes and of course, now she’s AWOL.”

Maria breathed out a thanks, following her in as Lena gestured an invitation. She went to the sink and washed a few utensils, peering over at Lena and squinting.

“Is everything okay? You look…”

“Frazzled?” Maria finished for her. She laughed it off with a wave. “Good, just… I suspect this friend of Freddie’s is a little bit more than that. Or was, at least. But Freddie never mentioned an old boyfriend from college, so I’m not sure.”

Boyfriend? What do you–” Lena let out a deep sigh and shook her head. “You know what, this sounds more like a conversation for the next wine night.” She held out a handful of mismatched cutlery. “If we both survive past today.”

Maria took the silverware with a pout. “Thanks, girl,” she said. “I owe you one. Hopefully your Thanksgiving goes a bit better than mine is looking to be.”

She waved a farewell to Lena and headed back to Freddie’s apartment. When she arrived back, new silverware in hand, she found Freddie pouring the potatoes into the sink and almost panicked. But Adam was beside him, guiding him and telling him to make sure everything was in the colander for Maria when she got back.

She paused in the threshold before either of the boys realized she was back.

“There ya go, Freddie,” Adam said with a laugh. “Your girl will be so impressed with you.”

Freddie elbowed Adam in the stomach. “I didn’t even notice that they were boiling over,” he said. “Credit where credit is due.”

Adam smiled, a funny little thing as he looked down at Freddie. “Same humility as ever,” he said with a breathy laugh.

Freddie tossed the oven mitt down, glancing up at Adam for just a second. “We’re missing the movie,” he said. “How will we ever know if the couple gets back together or not?”

“You big sap. They always get back together.”

Freddie spun around in the kitchen, rolling his eyes at Adam. “Oh—Maria. How’d it go? Did Lena let us borrow some?”

Maria smiled and held up her fistful of borrowed forks and spoons. “I’ll have to buy her a nice bottle of wine to make up for it, but we are set for tonight as long as you boys didn’t ruin my kitchen.”

“Technically, my kitchen…” Freddie muttered.

She stuck her tongue out.

“If you really need something, though, I think there’s a bottle in my car. I dunno how good it is, though,” Freddie said with a sigh. “Coworkers gave it to me as a holiday present.”

Her eyebrows shot up. “And you weren’t going to bring it up for tonight?” she chided. “Go get it!”

Freddie looked between Adam and Maria. “But…”

Adam nodded solemnly, like he was having a silent war with Freddie, and pushed him half-heartedly towards the door. “Please. Maria and I have barely even talked. I can help her in the kitchen if she needs it. Lord knows I’ll be more help than you will…”

Freddie looked at Maria, but she already had her back turned, beginning to attempt to mash the over-cooked potatoes. He pouted to nobody in particular and made his way out to his car to grab his bottle of wine. Hopefully it was okay after sitting in the backseat overnight.

On his way back up, he heard voices echoing in the hallway. He spotted Nick on the phone and slowed his steps. Nick looked stressed.

“Everything okay?” Freddie asked tentatively as Nick put the phone away.

“I might have just… ruined things with Holly’s parents.”

“I’m sure it’s not ruined,” Freddie said, patting Nick on the shoulder.

Nick cast him a glance. “You good?”

“Ugh,” Freddie cringed, burying his face in his hands. “My ex came and now Maria is trying to make a whole dinner out of… whatever is in my fridge.” He sighed. “Holidays, am I right?”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “You guys are welcome to join us, if that helps. We’ve got way too much food for two people.”

Freddie’s eyebrows shot up. “Seriously? All of us? Maria promised him a meal and I feel bad sending him away…”

When Nick agreed, Freddie held up the bottle of wine. “I can bring wine?” he said, more of a question than a statement.

“Sounds good.”

Freddie offered a laugh and a wave, and went to tell Maria the good news.

Part Three

Haircut? Check. Decent credit score? Eh. Retirement plan?

Maybe Holly’s parents wouldn’t ask.

Optimism was a thing people did, right?

“Hey, breathe,” Holly told him. “It’s okay. They’re going to love you. You’ve already talked to them before on the phone. Plus, my mom loves everyone, and my dad probably won’t even notice you’re here,” she said in her most reassuring voice. “But if it’s too much, I can always tell them you had something come up and then sneak you over some food later.”

It was her first time hosting for a big holiday. Nick wasn’t going to do that to her. Even if he did want to retreat back to his place, bolt the door, and crawl inside his own skin.

He took a deep breath. He could tell Holly was nervous too, behind all the excitement. Nervous enough to be pulling an empty bowl and what looked like the whisk for her stand mixer out of the fridge. “What about you?” he asked, brow raised in concern. “You doing okay?”

She glanced at the bowl in her hands and laughed. “It was supposed to be in the fridge. I was chilling it.”

“Right. Sure.”

“Shut up,” she said, bumping him with her hip, and he felt himself finally start to relax.

“Want some help?” He wasn’t much of a cook, but his peeling and chopping skills had definitely improved over the last few days.

“Everything is pretty much done. I just need to do the whipped cream. Don’t distract me,” she added over her shoulder as she poured ingredients into the bowl. “If I take my eyes off this and it curdles, I will be so mad.”

“Well, see…” he said, stepping closer, “now I want to distract you.”

The doorbell rang.

Nick tried to keep the terror off his face as he glanced toward certain doo—the door. “Is that them?” he whispered. Why was he whispering?

“I don’t think so,” Holly said as three knocks followed the bell. “Mom said she’d call when they landed.”

He covered his face with his hands and let out a long breath. “Cool. Yeah. I knew that.” He headed for the door. “I’ll get it.”

“You’re so brave,” Holly teased before turning on the mixer.

A low whirring noise filled the apartment, but it was drowned out by a new round of knocking and doorbell ringing that gave Nick a pretty good idea who was actually outside. He looked through the peephole and opened the door.

“Oh, it’s you,” Lily said with a sigh, pushing past Nick. “I was kinda hoping Holly was free.”

“Happy Thanksgiving to you too,” he said; although, he was way too relieved to see her (and not Holly’s parents) for there to be any bite in it.

“Lil, is that you?” Holly called from the kitchen.

Lily strode over to Holly like she was on a mission. “I need something sweet and something Asian for dinner, or my sister’s doomed to singledom forever,” she said.

“What was that?” Holly asked, struggling to lean closer and hear Lily better while still keeping her eyes on the bowl.

Lily raised a weary hand. “I really don’t have time to explain.”

“In that case—” Holly made the briefest eye contact with him before returning her focus to the whipped cream— “I’m sure Nick can get you whatever you’re looking for. It might help take his mind off of how nervous he is,” she added in a faux whisper that was loud enough to be heard over the mixer.

Nick rolled his eyes. “What did you say you needed again?” he asked Lily. Because none of what he’d heard her say earlier had made any sense.

“Something sweet. And something Asian-y,” Lily explained, rolling her eyes right back. “My sister’s future depends on it, so we’ve got to go above the usual Splenda and soy sauce, okay? I need sophistication.”

Yeah, that made even less sense. Didn’t people usually pick ingredients based on what they were making? He gave up on trying to understand and opened the pantry door, gesturing to Holly’s eight million spices and sauces. “Will any of these work?”

Lily reached into the pantry and pulled out honey. And fish sauce. It wasn’t a combination he’d heard of, but honestly, what did he know?

“Nothing beats the classics. Thanks for the help,” Lily said, grinning in a way that suddenly had him very, very scared for whatever food was in Lena’s kitchen. “And Happy Turkey Day.”

“Uh-huh…” Nick replied as she skipped toward the front door.

“Oh.” Lily paused and looked around. “We… uh… don’t have to mention this to Lena just now, right?”

“Perfect!” Holly exclaimed, turning off the mixer. “Wait. What are we not telling Lena? Lily?”

Lily rushed out the front door, yelling the most garbled goodbye Nick had ever heard.

“Should we be worried?” Holly asked.

“It’s probably fine? I mean, she didn’t ask for poison or anything.”

“Maybe I should give Lena a call… Just to be safe.” Holly pulled her phone from her apron pocket, but it rang in her hands before she’d even unlocked it.

Nick caught a glimpse of the screen, and every ounce of air left his lungs.

“Hey, mama!” Holly chirped as she accepted the call on speaker, a wicked grin on her face while she took in Nick’s suffering. She reached over and ran a soothing hand down his arm. “How was your flight? Are you guys on the way?”

“Sweetheart, you won’t believe who we bumped into at the baggage claim! That country duo that won on that music show—you know the one! Anyway, they invited us to dinner.” Holly’s hand froze on his arm. “I couldn’t possibly turn them down, dear,” her mother continued as he watched the light fade from Holly’s eyes. “They’re such big fans of mine. You understand, don’t you?”

“Yeah, of course. I was planning on giving away some food anyway. And the place I donated to might still be accepting some. I just… I made so much, you know?”

Nick slid Holly’s hand into his and squeezed.

“That sounds like a wonderful idea! I’m glad it won’t all go to waste—Why, yes, I am Christine Day! Sure, I’d love to sign that for you. Harold, honey, do you have a marker? Oh!” she said as though just remembering Holly was still on the line. “I’ll call you back, sweetie! Talk soon!”

The line went dead, and Holly stared at the screen. Nick was never one to mind long silences, except when it came to this woman, who couldn’t seem to go a minute without singing offkey or blasting Christmas music in the middle of literally any season. He tugged her hand, hoping to prompt some words from her.

“I’m alright,” she lied, like he wasn’t looking right at her as tears welled in her eyes. “I should probably do something about all this,” she said, gesturing to the counter tops full of pies, a cake, and the freshly made whipped cream. “I’d better get this in fridge.” She let go of Nick’s hand and turned away.

“Well, you won’t have to put all of it away. I’m planning on eating a ton, for starters.”

“True,” Holly said with a watery laugh. “We can probably finish half of this ourselves.”

“Exactly,” he said, kissing her temple. “And the neighbors have never turned down your cooking. Maybe we can see if any of them are free for dinner.”

“That’s right! I was supposed to see warn Lena about whatever Lily is up to.” Her phone rang on the counter right as she was snapping a lid onto the whipped cream. She looked at the caller ID and frowned. “Could you get that for me?” she asked him. “Tell her I went to Lena’s? Or you can let it go to voicemail,” she added quietly.

“Sure,” he said, taking the phone. “I’ll go see about Fred and Maria while I’m at it.” There was no way he was going to answer in here when Holly was just starting to feel better.

He accepted the call as he stepped out into the fall breeze. “Hey, Mrs. Christine. Holly’s about to head next door to drop off a pie.”

“Nick, dear!” she trilled. “Did Holly tell you we won’t be able to make it? It really is too bad. I was looking forward to meeting you after all this time, but you know how it is.”

“Yeah,” he said, thinking of his own phone, set to do not disturb in his pocket. He knew exactly how it was. He just didn’t want it to be that way for Holly.

“We’ll simply have to do this again sometime,” she continued as though the current situation was completely out of her hands.

Nick told himself this was a bad idea. Even as he spoke, he was begging himself to shut up. “To be honest… Holly is pretty disappointed. She’s been working all week to get ready for your visit. And… I think she really misses you too, so… if you happen to change your mind, it would mean a lot to spend Thanksgiving together.”

There was a long pause on the other side of the line, and Nick knew he’d overstepped. Any and all chances of making a good impression on Holly’s parents were as dead as Holly’s old plant.

“Well…” Mrs. Christine began, her voice flustered. “I think—well, it was lovely speaking with you, dear.”

“You too,” he croaked. He cleared his throat. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“Yes, happy Thanksgiving.” The line went dead. Along with Nicks hopes and dreams.

He was just trying to figure out how to explain to Holly why her mom no longer wanted to speak to him when he spotted Fred coming up the stairs.

“Everything okay?” Fred asked, walking over tentatively.

Nick slipped Holly’s phone into his pocket. Although, the damage was already done. “I might have just… ruined things with Holly’s parents.” Maybe that was just his thing. Ruining things with parents.

“I’m sure it’s not ruined,” Fred said, patting Nick on the shoulder.

Now that Nick was looking at him, Fred seemed pretty down himself. “You good?” Nick asked him.

“Ugh,” Fred buried his face in his hands. “My ex came and now Maria is trying to make a whole dinner out of… whatever is in my fridge.” He sighed. “Holidays, am I right?”

“Yeah.” Nick wasn’t sure how Fred had ended up with his ex and Maria in the same place, but at this point, he was in no position to judge someone else’s poor life choices. “You guys are welcome to join us, if that helps. We’ve got way too much food for two people.”

Fred’s eyebrows shot up. “Seriously? All of us? Maria promised him a meal, and I feel bad sending him away…”

“I’ll double check with Holly, but it should be fine.”

Freddie held up the bottle of wine. “I can bring wine?” he said, more question than a statement.

“Sounds good.”

By the time Holly was back with Lena and Lily, Nick and Fred had moved another table from Nick’s apartment over to Holly’s.

Carly arrived while Maria and Adam were setting out more plates and silverware. Apparently, her family had finished eating by noon, and Carly was ready for dinner number two.

Nick ducked his head to hide a smile as Holly glanced from Carly and Lena to him and flared her eyes. She always talked about how she was positive Carly and Lena were going to get together. She just didn’t know when.

“Hey, Carly,” Holly said with all the subtly of Rudolph’s nose. “You know, Lena made this pie herself.”

Fred said something about needing a corkscrew, and Nick went to grab it from the kitchen since Holly was clearly busy and Fred probably didn’t know which drawer she kept it in.

Except “finding a corkscrew” was apparently code for “making up with my girlfriend,” and Fred hadn’t thought to tell him that before pulling Maria into the kitchen. Neither of them seemed to realize Nick was standing there, partially blocked by the bulky fridge.

Should he shove the drawer shut so they noticed him? Or would interrupting throw Fred off?

This was exactly why Nick never left his apartment.

“I need to tell you something,” Fred said, sending a glance over his shoulder (in the wrong direction) to make sure they weren’t overheard. He nervously took Maria’s fingertips in his hands, and Nick prayed for the open drawer to become a blackhole and swallow him.

“What’s the matter?” Maria asked.

“Adam isn’t just my college roommate,” Fred said. “I tried to tell you before, but I didn’t want him to overhear and mess it up when you were trying so hard to be a good host and–”

“Freddie,” she said, squeezing his hands. “I love you, but get to the point.”

Please get to the point, Nick agreed silently.

“I tried to tell you,” Fred repeated, pouting. “He’s my ex.”

“I knew it!” Maria shouted, pointing at him. “Lena, I was right!”

“Huh?” Lena half-glanced in Maria’s direction, and it took her a moment to process. “Oh! OH!”

“What is it? What’s going on?” Lily asked, her head swiveling between the two. “Are we talking about your crush on—”

“Let’s get some food in you,” Lena said with a quick laugh, her hand swiftly covering Lily’s mouth.

Lily made giant motions as her sister pulled her away, pointing towards Carly and drawing a giant heart in the air. Lena mouthed what looked like We’ll talk later to Maria with a flushed face.

Nick used the commotion to slip past Fred and Maria unnoticed. Lily was seriously starting to grow on him.

The doorbell rang then, and Holly glanced around in confusion. “Everyone’s here, right?”

“I thought so,” Nick said, doing a head count.

Holly looked through out peephole and gasped. “Mom!” she said, throwing open the door. “Dad!”

“My baby!” Mrs. Christine exclaimed, wrapping Holly in a hug and looking nothing like someone that had just spent hours on a plane.

“I thought you couldn’t make it,” Holly said, stepping back to let them both in. Nick realized Holly and her mom were both crying as she shut the door.

“Oh, that was such a silly thing of me to say, dear,” Mrs. Christine sobbed as Mr. Harold pulled two tissues from a package in his pocket and passed them over. Holly took one and Mrs. Christine took the other, dabbing her at her eyes and round cheeks with a delicate hand. “I’m so glad Nick was able to catch me in time and remind me of what’s important.”

Holly’s smile stretched from ear to ear as he walked over.

“This must be him,” her mother said. “Do you mind hugs, dear?” she asked him.

 With his permission, she pulled him right in, and he felt Holly join the hug on his other side. Nick reached over with his free arm to shake Mr. Harold’s had. “It’s nice to me you, sir.”

“Hm,” Harold said, keeping the handshake firm but brief. To be fair, that was pretty much the only response Nick had gotten from him on the phone, too.

Behind them, Nick heard Adam whisper, “Is that Christine Day?”

Holly and her mom released him with a laugh. “Introduce me to your friends, sweetheart,” Mrs. Christine said, following Holly toward the dining table.

Mr. Harold stayed back, surveying the apartment like he was two seconds away from checking the water pressure. “You might want to hide that remote,” he said, voice gravely, “before those two get started on their Christmas movie marathon.”

Nick tried to decide if getting along with Holly’s dad was worth coming between Holly and anything remotely Christmas related. Especially after the day she’d had. “Sir, I’ll probably hand them the remote myself.”

Mr. Harold chuckled. “That was a test,” he said, resting a hand on Nick’s shoulder. “You passed, son.”

As Harold walked off to join everyone at the table, Nick took in the fact that he’d somehow ended up in the timeline where Holly’s parents didn’t hate him.

For the first time in years, he was spending the holiday surrounded by friends and family, and it was definitely awkward.

But it wasn’t bad.

He had a lot to be thankful for.

Read more!

We’re extra thankful you’re here! For more from these characters, check out Ways to Stay Warm When Christmas is Ruined. We’d also like to share a post by MsKellyMHayes with ways to support Native people in the US!

1 thought on “Ways to Stay Calm When Thanksgiving Goes Wrong”

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