Authors: Ginger Voight
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Family Saga, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Sagas
In the end, I agreed to go back to Fullerton Enterprises International not because of Jonathan, but because I needed to prove to Alex that Drew no longer had any kind of hold on me. I loathed the triumphant smile on Drew’s face when he sauntered into our office that Tuesday morning. But I kept my feelings to myself and stayed on task, rewarded at least that Jonathan was ready to
go full bore into his studies.
His favorite project was a horse ranch in Mexico, where Drew had wanted to acquire more horses for their stable. So far Alex had declined the trip south of the border. He knew it was all a part of the Teton Tech/Senator De Havilland connection, and wanted nothing whatsoever to do with any of it. So of course that was the project Drew gave us to research, to undermine Alex’s concerns.
And of course he couldn’t subtly tear down Alex without building himself up in the process. He was charming and accommodating, filling our office with flowers and goodies, and keeping the line of communication open by meeting with us several times throughout the day. He always insisted on taking us out to lunch, which was the best news for Jonathan. After months with Olivia, lunch with his father and me was idyllic.
As November wore on, it was increasingly difficult
to manage Jonathan’s expectations, even if I risked pissing off Alex by doing it.
Alex, likewise, spent more time at the office. I knew he was looking for any crack in the veneer that would show him I was anything like Elise. It only took a couple of weeks for us to all naturally fall back into the same patterns as the year before. Jonathan cajoled us until the three of us did things together as a family, while Alex watched closely to see how far he could trust me, if at all.
Drew didn’t make it any easier when he would suggest that we do things outside of the office. That first week we returned to Fullerton Enterprises, he offered to take us out to dinner to celebrate… sans Olivia. Jonathan pounced all over it. He wanted us to go to a movie that Friday. I tried my best to decline but found myself without any excuses after Drew put me on the spot by asking if I had a “hot” date.
“Rachel doesn’t date,” Jonathan laughed. “Do you, Rachel?”
I opened my mouth but no words came out. I tried to call Alex but he wasn’t answering. So I left several messages to explain.
I raced out to the ranch after the movie, but Alex wasn’t there. Millicent informed me that he had taken Max and flown again to England for the holiday, and wouldn’t return for another week
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked softly when he finally answered the phone. “Maybe I would have wanted to come with.”
“Would you?” he pondered just as softly. “Or would there have been just another excuse why you had to put me last?”
He was still angry and he was still hurt, stinging over my “betrayal.” “Happy Thanksgiving, Rachel,” he said with a hitch in his voice before he disconnected the call.
I felt helpless as I sat at my kitchen table, staring at my phone. Finally I texted, “
I’m not Elise
Within a few minutes he answered. “
You’re right. I was never in love with her
In the end, I was an orphan that Thanksgiving. Jonathan split time between his parents, and I had no desire whatsoever to spend the holiday with either of them and their plus-ones. Instead I went to the mission, to volunteer like I had done the year before.
That was where Jonathan and Drew found me that afternoon, after donning aprons for themselves to dish out Thanksgiving dinner to the neediest among us.
“Rachel!” Jonathan waved wildly as he ran towards me. “Dad was taking me over to Mom’s, so I suggested we stop by here and help hand out food.”
“The more the merrier,” I found myself saying, echoing what Alex had said to me last year.
Drew was on his best behavior, smiling readily at the people I knew he felt were beneath him. But no one was any the wiser as he dished out food, carried pans, washed dishes and spread a little holiday cheer for the downtrodden.
He even stayed to help us clean up. I left before they did, but not before a big hug from Jonathan. “I wish we were going home with you,” he said.
I just smiled. “I don’t have turkey at my house.”
“Neither do they,” he retorted. “It’s made out of tofu,” he confided with a wrinkle in his nose.
I had to laugh
. “Be a good sport anyway, hon. It’s the holiday.”
“I will,” he promised before he landed a kiss on my cheek. I sighed as I walked away. I loved that kid so much I thought my heart might split in half. I was depressed as I let myself into my apartment, which seemed smaller than usual. Yoda was happy to see me, and I gave him a few treats in between the hugs and kisses.
I thought about what Alex might be doing. It was nearly midnight in England, so if he hadn’t called me by now, I seriously doubted that he would. I changed into my pajamas, uncorked a bottle of wine and settled on my sofa to wade through all the festive holiday movies on TV.
he merrier the movie, the more I drank. It was the only way I could cope with the message of love, unity, family and togetherness being shoved down my pitiful, lonely throat.
It was odd how melancholy it made me, considering I had spent many holidays alone in my adult life, and I preferred it that way. Now all I could think about was what my life was missing. I pulled out my phone and thumbed through my photos, lingering of those photos of Alex and me.
We had been so happy. I learned what love was in his arms.
And now I had pushed him away with my dishonesty and my sick obsession
to prove something to his brother.
What was wrong with me?
I pondered this as I opened my second bottle of wine, the only thing that numbed the ache inside my soul as I recalled the last Thanksgiving, when I started to see the real Alex beneath his crusty veneer.
I snorted at the irony that a mere year ago I couldn’t swing a dead rat in any direction and not hit Alex, a proverbial thorn in my side every time I turned around.
One year later and he needed to cover half the globe to get away from me.
Just as the sky darkened, someone knocked on my door. I figured it was old Mrs. Lafferty in the apartment down the hall. She was appalled that I had no Thanksgiving plans, and had offered to fill my day with food and levity by inviting me to her Los Angeles Orphans Thanksgiving Extravaganza.
“It’s for all the transplants
with no family close by,” she had winked when she handed me the colorful invitation. “Pot luck. Bring your best dish!”
I had politely declined each and every time we met at the mail boxes or the laundry room, so I figured this tenacious senior was going to force-feed me turkey and cranberries whether I liked it or not.
I stumbled to the door, figuring the drunk pitiful creature I had morphed into over the last few hours would be enough of a reason for her to withdraw her invitation.
Only it wasn’t Mrs. Lafferty on the other side of my door. It was Drew Fullerton, with a bag full of Chinese takeout.
I was weary just at the sight of him. “What are you doing here?”
“I was ordered to bring you sustenance,” he grinned. “Jonathan mentioned that you didn’t have a turkey dinner waiting for you, so I picked up all your favorites. Dumplings, won tons, Kung
Pao chicken, Mongolian beef and a double order of fried rice.” He offered the bag.
My head spun. I couldn’t do this again. “Drew
,” I started but he quickly interrupted.
“It’s just dinner, Rachel. And it’s Thanksgiving. No one should be alone.”
I wanted to ask how he was so sure I was alone, but he had to have known Alex was out of the country. “Fine,” I relented as I stepped back.
He grinned as he began to unpack the white containers. “What? No argument about how inappropriate this is… my being alone with you in your apartm
“Would it matter?” I asked, as I leaned against the counter. I was
much too tired to fight, and the bottles of wine had effectively numbed me.
“Not at all,” he admitted cheerfully as he pulle
d plates down from the cabinet.
“Where’s Olivia?” I asked as I dipped the dumpling in the dipping sauce.
“Palm Springs,” he answered. “Some industry thing. Sounded positively boring. But it’s her job, so what can you do?”
“You could go with her,” I suggested. “Like every other photo opportunity you’ve taken.”
He chuckled. “Still not letting me get away with anything,” he said. “I have to say I missed that.”
He handed me a full plate, and I took it to the dining room table. “I hear your fiancé
e is no pushover.”
He joined me minutes later. “It’s not the same. She’s entitled, like most really beautiful, really
I arched my eyebrow. “You’d know.”
He suppressed a grin as he grabbed his chopsticks. “Indeed.”
“So why are you here, slumming with me?”
“The truth?” he asked.
If you can manage it,” I shot back.
“When we were at the mission today, I was reminded of how lucky I am. I spend so much of my time with tunnel vision to the next goal or the next challenge that I often forget that there is true suffering in this world. There are people who have nothing. And not just food or a place to live… but people who truly give a damn about them. They end up alone with strangers on a holiday meant to celebrate bounty and abundance. Just seemed wrong somehow. They’ve suffered so much, the least I could do is offer a kindness.”
“So you’re taking pity on me,” I supplied.
“Pity is not the word I would use,” he corrected. “But of all the people I’ve ever known, you’re the one
person who should never be alone on a family holiday.”
I opened my mouth to protest, which he quickly shut down with a wave of his chopsticks.
“Eat,” he commanded as he dug into his plate full of food.
I felt subconscious as I sat there in the relative quiet of our meal. My hair was in pigtails, and I wore my fleece pajamas with no robe. I had scrubbed my face clear of makeup, and I knew my freckles stood out on my nose. But he made no comment, either positive or negative, as we ate. He poured me
yet another glass of wine as we tried to finish our impressive feast.
He gave up first, leaning back in his chair with his hands on his stomach. “Now that was a meal,” he grinned. “I don’t think I have room left for dessert.”
“You brought dessert?”
He went to the kitchen and revealed a pink bakery box. He showed off the perfect pecan pie inside, which, even though I was stuffed to the gills, made me drool a little bit. “
My favorite pie,” I said. “How did you remember?”
“I remember everything about you,” he said softly. Before I could say anything he took our plates to the sink. “You find something to watch on TV. I’ll clean up the kitchen.”
When he joined me ten minutes later, he had a slice of pie in one hand, and a glass of wine in the other. I still regarded him suspiciously as he joined me with his own plate and glass. We settled on family movie about a fairytale princess who was plucked from her safe, animated home and sprung right in the middle of New York City. She was a romantic idealist and the man of her dreams was a pragmatic realist. Yet despite their differences, and the fact they were both promised to other lovers, they found their way together in a standard, audience-approved, happily ever after.
That was the fairy tale, I decided. Real life was messy and complicated. In real life, people got hurt despite your best intentions otherwise. They felt disappointment and suspicion and jealousy. They were brooding, flawed humans who got in the way of their happiness
far more often than riding off into the sunset, hanging their hearts on some moony daydream love was the answer to every single question or problem.
It wasn’t like me
at all, but I found myself tearful at the movie’s end. Drew glanced at me from the other end of the sofa. “Are you all right?”
“No,” I sniffed as I reached for some tissue. He scooted closer to hand me the box.
“I know I wasn’t your first choice,” he murmured softly. “But you are not alone.”
I snorted with derision. “Only because you can’t be with your first choice.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” he said, almost hypnotically, as he brushed my hair from my face. “You’ve always been my first choice, Rachel.”
My soul ached with
loneliness so wretched even two bottles of wine couldn’t numb it. Worse, I knew he could see how weakened I was, which made him even more of a bastard for toying with my raw emotions. “Why do you say these things, Drew? I know the truth. And you know the truth. You know my history, yet you continue to play these stupid games. Don’t you realize what you’re doing to me?”
He stroked my hair, brushed back my pigtails, and gently caressed the curve of my face.
“Don’t you realize what you do to me?” he said softly. “Every time I close my eyes, I see your face. I hear your voice in my ear. I feel your touch on my skin.”