Home 01: New Holiday HomebyBelle_in_south©
Home for Thanksgiving. To describe the journey to her parents' home for turkey and interrogation as tradition was a gross understatement. Raegan thought of the event as more of a cult ritual. Throw in bleeding and cannibalism and a new religion could gain tax exempt status. Despite the fact that she began dreading the expedition on Halloween, it never occurred to Rae to abstain from the annual ceremony. Like most cultic faiths, family was not easily escapable. Her grandmother didn't even offer spiked Kool-Aid as a getaway.
Thanksgiving Day in her parents' house was always a special treat. Mother would start cooking the turkey at 4:30 AM. The smell of the roasting bird would waft through the house and rouse them all by 8:00 AM. Raegan and her sister Lacy would help their mother between watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. Mother's sister would arrive by 11:00, though she had told them in advance that she would be there by 9:30. Mother and Aunt Nell would promptly get into an argument over the turkey or the gravy or the green beans. By that time, Mother would realize she needed sage or celery or butter and Lacy and Raegan would flee to the local market.
Lunch would start at promptly 1:00 PM, as soon as all the cousins arrived. Grandmother had fought lunch not starting at noon, but had finally relented as the cousins had married and started their own families. Lunch would not be over before her father lead them into an argument involving politics or religion or science or history or landscaping.
Lunch would be followed by football. The family would divide into the Cowboys and the anti-Cowboys for four quarters of cheering and booing. It was Rae's favorite part of the weekend. Football was followed by dessert, and dessert was not always pumpkin pie and cheesecake. As the cousins married and started their own families, the meat on the chopping block became increasingly sparse. Rae did not bring home a boy friend. She didn't even talk about one. Grandmother and Aunt Nell took turns ridiculing her singleness. She brushed off their inquisition with mono-syllabic answers.
Lacy and Mother knew the truth, of course. Rae had been in a relationship for seven years. She had lived with her lover in a quaint townhouse in Nashville. There were two bedrooms, and the rest of the family knew that Rae shared a house with Jamie, but they all presumed that everything was innocent.
Rae wasn't certain she could endure the cross-examination this year. Jamie had left in August for Maine. It had been a difficult decision for both of them, but Rae had come to the conclusion that she did not love Jamie enough to leave Tennessee. They had decided to spend the year apart, not even commuting for holidays or weekend visits. Next August, they would re-evaluate their situation. Through September, they had talked on the phone every night, but by October the telephone calls were less frequent and they were communicating mainly by e-mail, and those were becoming less common. There had been one Wednesday afternoon before she had left for the long trek home.
Rae, I just wanted to tell you to have a Happy Thanksgiving. Have a safe trip to your parents. Give Lacy and Nora my love. I have been invited to spend the day with a co-worker. I think you would like her. Love, J
Rae understood the message perfectly. Jamie was getting ready to move on. Knowing that Jamie waited at home had always given Rae strength during the dessert dig, but Jamie was not waiting this year. Rae didn't know if she could keep a steady face when grandmother asked her if she had any intention of ever settling down and starting a family.
She mulled over her predicament and mentally practiced her answers as she compared bottles of sage in the spice aisle of Big Mart. She finally decided that she had wasted enough time. If she was gone any longer, her family would suspect she was hiding and her mother would be unable to finish the dressing by one o'clock. She returned one of the bottles to the shelf and made her way to the check-out.
Big Mart would be unbearably busy in less than twenty-four hours. Shoppers would clog the aisles to grab early-morning day-after-Thanksgiving sales. There would be fighting and injuries before Friday at noon, but the store felt vacant as Rae made her way toward the row of cashiers. There were a few other people in the shop picking up last minute items for their own Thanksgiving feast, but for the most part the warehouse seemed deserted. There were only six cashiers working and there were no lines for any of them. Rae put down her purchase without looking at the young lady behind the counter.
"Happy Thanksgiving," the clerk greeted in a faux cheerful voice. Raegan grunted in response as she thumbed through her wallet for enough money to pay. "It's going to be cold this year," the cashier continued, even though she knew Rae was not listening. "They are calling for snow tomorrow."
"I hope it doesn't snow too much," Rae answered, handing her bills across the counter. "I have a long drive ahead of me Saturday afternoon." For the first time, Rae looked at the girl, forcing a smile onto her face.
The cashier hesitated, her smile dropping, replaced by a puzzled crease of the brow, her hand poised above the money. "Raegan?" she questioned. "Raegan Hall?"
"Yes?" Rae answered slowly, her eyes examining the face in front of her and skimming through her history to identify the woman. The pretty girl was Raegan's age, so she was probably a piece of high school. Rae had few close friends when she was a teenager and this woman was definitely not one of them. Her friends would have addressed her as Rae. The woman's skin was naturally bronze and she had crystal blue eyes. Her natural hair color was a dark brown, but blondish highlights streaked through it. Reaching to the middle of her shoulders, it hung straight, framing her round face.
She laughed softly and Raegan thought that it was a beautiful sound. "I didn't think you would remember me. We had a few classes together our senior year. You sat next to me in Trig and let me cheat off your tests."
"Tara Roding," Rae declared. "How are you?"
"It's not Roding. It's Myers. I married Billy Myers."
Rae hesitated. "I heard about his accident. I'm very sorry."
Tara sighed, her smile dropping. "Thank you. It's been very difficult for us. I volunteered to work today just so I wouldn't have to deal with my family and his walking around on egg shells and feeling sorry for me." She took another deep breath and released it slowly, finally taking Rae's money. She quietly finished the sale. Rae dropped her eyes, wishing that she hadn't mentioned the terrible accident that had taken Tara's husband's life. "What about you?" Tara asked as she returned Raegan's change.
"Single." She hesitated. "Actually, I have just had a relationship end. My lover's job was relocated."
"That must be difficult, too." She passed the bag with the spice bottle to Rae. "I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving. It was nice seeing you again."
"You, too," Rae muttered, returning her wallet to her pocket and withdrawing her keys. She walked to the doors of the store, pulling her jacket closer to her body to fight against the bitterly cold wind. She looked back to the row of check-out counters to find Tara staring also. Rae placed a smile on her lips, lifted her hand in a wave, and hurried into the sharp wind.
Thanksgiving night. Mother had started another holiday tradition while Rae and Lacy were still in high school. She sent them away at night. After all the cousins had left and Aunt Nell had taken Grandmother home, Mother wanted some quiet time, so Lacy and Rae and their father would always pick a movie to see together on Thanksgiving and on Christmas Day. Mother would spend the time resting and enjoying the silence after a busy day while the girls spent quality time with their father. As Father had gotten older, he had stopped enjoying the movies. Lacy now had her own husband to go home to, but Rae had kept the tradition. She would pick a movie that she knew Jamie didn't want to see and enjoy the smell of popcorn and the crowded, dark theater.
She stood in line at the box office, her eyes skimming the titles, when a voice surprised her. "Here by yourself, Rae?"
Rae felt her heart skip a beat, something even Jamie hadn't been able to make her do in a long time. A genuine smile formed on her face as she turned to see Tara in line behind her. The clerk held the hand of a small boy who had many of his mother's features. Rae had found one of her old annuals when she had gotten home to refresh her memory of Tara and Billy Myers. The boy was obviously Billy's son. Rae turned her smile to him, and then lifted her eyes to Tara again. "Yes. I tried to get Mom to come with me, but she wanted to rest." She started to ask about Tara's day, but didn't want to drag up any unnecessarily painful memories.
"What are you going to see?" Tara asked.
"I hadn't decided yet," Rae answered.
"We're going to see the new cartoon. This is my son, Will. Will, can you say hello to Miss Hall?"
Rae squatted so that she was on eye level with Will. "You can call me Miss Rae. How do you do, Will?"
"I am very good, Miss Rae," Will answered carefully. "I got to eat turkey and dressing and rolls and chocolate cake at my Gramma's house today. It was very good. Did you know that Santa Claus will be here very soon? He's going to bring me a bicycle with two wheels."
"That sounds fantastic. You'll have to give me a ride some time. How old are you, Will?"
"Why, you are practically a man," Rae declaring, lifting her eyes to Tara.
Tara had a faraway look in her eyes as she listened to her son interact with her old acquaintance. "Why don't you join Will and me at our movie? I mean, if you would like to watch a cartoon, and if you would like some company. Will and I would love for you to join us, wouldn't we, Will?"
Will nodded eagerly, his smile stretching across his face. Rae stood up, taking Will's other hand. "I would love the company."
Rae insisted on buying tickets for all three of them. Tara bought gummy bears for Will and offered to share her popcorn with Rae. The young mother sat between her son and her friend and they talked quietly of old acquaintances while the theater filled and they waited for the movie to start.
The theater darkened and the film began to roll, so they fell silent, the only sound the rustle of the popcorn as they reached into the bag. Once, they reached at the same time, their hands brushing against one another. They both pulled away suddenly. Rae was certain she felt a charge. It fired into her cheeks, a bright blush spreading that made Rae grateful for the dark theater.
They finished the popcorn and became engrossed in the movie, laughing with the characters and delighting in Will's reactions. Unconsciously, Rae laid her arm on the back of Tara's chair as she leaned forward to watch Will. Tara shifted and her upper arm brushed the side of Rae's breast. Rae bit her lip as another electric jolt shot through her body. She dropped her arm and tried to move as far away from Tara as the chairs would allow.
She lost interest in the movie as she became aware of Tara's small body sitting next to her. Tara was nearly four inches shorter than Rae. In their brief touch, her skin had been very smooth. She could smell Tara's shampoo, a green apple scent, and an earthy, natural fragrance that could not be bottled in any perfume. Rae could feel the warmth of Tara's body. Tara's hand dropped and covered Rae's. Rae could feel Tara's palm pressed to her knuckles. The combination of sensations whirled through Rae's senses, but Tara seemed totally unaffected by the touch. Rae stretched her fingers and Tara threaded hers through the openings, pressing her fingertips into Rae's palm.
The credits began to roll and people around them stood, gathering their belongings and their children. Tara and Rae stayed in their seat without looking at one another. Will had fallen asleep, his head in his mother's lap. As the lights came up, Rae pulled her hand free. Tara smiled, combing her fingers through Will's downy hair. "He's had a big day," she muttered softly.
Rae stood, adjusting her coat. "I'll carry him to your car for you," she offered, bending to scoop the little boy into her arms. Tara rose, tucking his jacket around him before trio strolled out the door.
They walked toward Tara's Ford Escape in silence, Will mumbling sleepily in Rae's arms. He shifted and rested comfortably. Tara smiled as she unlocked the car, helping Rae place the boy into his car seat. He grumbled, but slouched without waking. Tara turned to Rae without losing the smile. "You'd make a good mother," she said as she twisted.
Rae inhaled sharply. She was unaware of how close the small woman was until they were face to face. "Your lover was a female?"
Rae gazed down into the upturned face, captivated by the crystal eyes. Tara's question was more of a statement. Rae could tell by the expression on Tara's round face that she already knew the answer. Tara's sweet breath warmed her face as the cold wind whistled across the parking lot. "Yes. Her name was Jamie."
"Do you still love her?" she asked.
Rae was taken back by the blunt question, partly because it was asked and partly because she didn't know the answer. She had met Jamie while they were in college and fallen in love almost instantly. Jamie had not been her first lover or her first love, but their romance had progressed quickly. They became friends and were lovers within three months. They had been roommates their last two years in college and moved to Nashville together when Rae had gotten a job at Capitol Records. Living apart had proven to be much more difficult at first than they had anticipated, but they were both making the necessary adjustments. "Jamie has been an important part of my life for a long time. Of course I still love her." Rae shrugged lightly. "You still love Billy."
"Always," Tara answered, wistfulness in her voice, but there was no sadness in her tone. Her little pink tongue slipped out of her mouth and wet her lips, their eyes still not parting from one another. "I had such a crush on you in high school."
Rae cocked her head in surprise, though Tara did not release her eyes as prisoner. She was uncertain how she should respond. "That's very . . ." she began, and then stopped, knowing that anything she said would sound awkward and immature. "Thank you."
Tara finally broke her gaze, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear as she looked down, a slight pinkness touching her cheeks. "Thank you for the movie. I enjoyed the company." She hesitated. "Will and I are going to the Christmas parade Saturday. Why don't you join us?"
Rae's heart raced for a minute. She planned to leave for Nashville early Saturday afternoon, but she could wait till Sunday morning and still be home in time to rest and be ready for the work week that would begin Monday. Her mother would be thrilled to have her home for another night, though she wasn't certain that she should tell her mother why she had changed her mind. She took a deep breath and nodded her head in acceptance.
Tara smiled warmly, taking both of Rae's hands in her own. She stretched upward, her lips parted slightly. At the last minute, Rae turned her head so that Tara's soft lips touched her cheek. Tara looked surprised, but Rae just grinned. She opened the door to the truck and helped Tara behind the wheel.
Rae stood in the parking lot, watching the tail lights disappear before going to her own small car. Even though she had known that she was gay since she was in high school, she was still not comfortable with her sexuality. She didn't broadcast to the world that she was gay, though she had never hidden her relationship with Jamie. Her family and her friends at home didn't know, but all their friends and acquaintances in Nashville had known. She didn't know how Tara knew.
In the entertainment industry, it was easy to be gay. In Jamie's business, it had been more difficult, but Jamie had been more comfortable with the label. For Tara, it would be impossible.
Saturday afternoon at the Christmas parade. The Christmas parade in town was a major affair. People picked their spots at least an hour before the parade began its three mile trek through the small town. Churches and civic organizations and school clubs began working on their float weeks before, spending hours tucking tissue paper into chicken wire. The Shriners in their miniature cars came from all over East Tennessee to do figure eights down Main Street. Princesses and pageant winners sat on the backs of convertibles, shivering in the November air. Local hot rod and horse owners showed off their stock. Venders made their way up and down the sidewalk with shopping carts loaded with cotton candy, giant inflated candy canes, and cheap plastic toys.
Tara backed her SUV into the parking lot of a dry cleaner and raised the hatch. She and Rae sat on the tailgate while Will danced excitedly from foot to foot on the sidewalk in front of them, waiting for the first sign of sirens and marching bands.
"I loved Billy very much," Tara announced suddenly. The mayor rolled down the street in front of them, tossing peppermints to the children. Will scrambled to get his share. "We didn't date in high school, but we got acquainted at our job the summer before we started college. He was a tender, passionate man. He provided well for me and was a good father to Will."
Rae did not feel it was appropriate for her to make any comments, nor were any expected, so she remained silent.
Tara threaded her fingers through Rae's, and Rae gave her hand a light squeeze in encouragement. "I was devastated by the accident. He spent a lot of time on the road, and for a while, it was like he was gone on another trip. Eventually, I started breathing again. Will stopped crying every night. Then I realized I was pregnant." Tara ran her free hand over her stomach and for the first time, Rae noticed the slight swell. "Probably conceived the last night we were together."
"Congratulations," Rae responded quietly.
"It's like he left a piece of himself for me. I'm four months along." She took a deep, shaky breath. "I would have eventually been miserable, though." Rae frowned at Tara's confession. "Billy was everything I wanted, except . . ." She swallowed with difficulty, pinching her lips together as she sought the words to explain her feelings to Raegan. "I really didn't know what it was. If I did know, I didn't want to acknowledge it. I refused to admit it." Her eyes shifted to Will, making certain he wasn't paying any attention to the adults. Her voice softened. "I found one of Billy's girly magazines. I thought that it was because he had been out of town and I was just lonely, but even when I was with Billy, I found myself fantasizing about women."
Rae felt a lump form in her throat as she tried to form a response. Tara smiled, seeing the struggle her friend endured. "I just wanted you to know that." She squeezed Rae's hand again and turned her attention fully to the parade. Their joined hands rested between them, linking them together. Rae was amazed at how comfortable Tara was with the touch, and at the sparks she felt shooting from Tara's fingertips. They fired up her arm and into her brain, making her unable to concentrate or reason.
Her arguments from the night before threatened to intrude their comfortable companionship. Tara was just experimenting. Rae didn't need that added baggage in an already difficult time. She missed Jamie. It had been a long time since she had been single. She was vulnerable herself and was misreading Tara's cues. It had been so long since she had been with anyone but Jamie, she wasn't certain that she could read anyone's cues anymore. Santa Claus rode by on the last float, waving to everyone and calling out cheerful Christmas greetings. Will answered enthusiastically, waving at the back of the float until it disappeared from site. Tara wistfully looked up at Rae, knowing her friend would be returning to Nashville tomorrow morning. "You'll come for dinner, won't you? Let me cook supper for you." Her voice was soft and urgent, her grip on Raegan's hand tight as her eyes pleaded for their afternoon to continue.