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© 1998 Bobette Bryan
she'd paused to check her hair and makeup in the hallway mirror, Allison trudged
to the front door to greet the first of her guests. Looking through the
peephole, she groaned--Jillian and Jake, her in-laws.
Like usual, they had arrived early.
Stifling another groan, she braced herself as she opened the door to greet them. When she saw their artificial smiles, she was reminded of a clown she'd seen in a Stephen King movie.
“Happy Thanksgiving, daughter,” Jake said, giving her a hug with his free arm; the other supported a covered casserole dish that doubtlessly contained Jillian’s tasteless, fat-free cooking. He leaned forward to plant a wet kiss on her cheek, and she wrinkled her nose at the smell of alcohol.
“Allison, it's so good to see you,” Jillian erupted on cue in her usual dramatic way, her voice dripping with sweetness, but Allison knew the truth. Like the smile, the words were as false as everything else about the woman. Allison just hoped that Jillian didn’t say her usual, “you've lost weight,” line. It wasn’t that Jillian might actually think that Allison had lost weight. Far from it. Jillian just liked to draw attention to Allison’s slight weight problem.
As Jillian gave her a hug, Allison had to fight back the nausea that swept through her. She hated the woman’s heavy perfume as much as she hated the woman. It had a cloying sweetness that was as artificial as the woman who wore it.
“Happy Thanksgiving to both of you, too.” Allison managed a half smile after she’d freed herself from Jillian’s grasp. Nearly gasping for air, she extended an arm toward the hallway. “Come in. Come in. That wind is bitter cold. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get our first snow tonight!”
“You might be right about that,” Jillian said, as she entered the big Victorian house, her sharp eyes raking the interior. “On the news, they said there’s a cold front coming in from Canada.”
“Then we’ll just have to put an extra log or two on the fire and enjoy the evening anyway,” Allison said, doing her best not to belie her discomfort over the way that Jillian was studying the hallway with those radar-like eyes. The woman would miss not the smallest dust bunny, and Allison knew that regardless of all the housework she’d done the past two weeks, Jillian was bound to find fault. The twenty-room, one hundred and ten year old house had been in abominable condition when she and Henry purchased it four years ago. But now, after extensive and costly renovations, it virtually glowed like new and was the couple’s pride and joy. Thus, where it was concerned, she wouldn't take Jillian’s typical below the belt blows kindly.
“Jake, please put the casserole on the dining room table. Everything’s already set up,” Allison said.
“Well, do!” After he'd hung his coat on the hall tree, he headed down the long hall and turned left through the pocket doors.
And she was alone with a woman who was, perhaps, her greatest nemesis.
“Can I take your coat?”
Jillian gave her an icy glare. Oh, yes, thought Allison, that mask is slipping now that Jake is no longer in sight.
“Yes,” Jillian said with an unmistakable haughty air as she removed the wool coat and stiffly handed it to Allison. “But please, put it where it won’t get covered with hair. The last time I visited, I had to pick the hair off for weeks, and you know how much I detest cats.”
Funny, thought Allison, hands tightening into fists at her sides, I'd always thought that witches love cats. But, she reminded herself, Jillian was more of a bitch than a witch, though she certainly reminded Allison of the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz! And Jillian’s rude remark didn’t surprise Allison. The woman hated anything associated with Allison, no matter how remotely; for Allison had committed the worse crime imaginable; she'd stolen Jillian’s precious son from the nest and would forever see Allison as “the other woman.”
But Allison neither voiced her thoughts nor hinted at her displeasure. Instead, she was the perfect lady, the perfect hostess as usual. Taking a deep breath and said: “Of course. I’ll hang it in the hall closet where, I assure you, the cats can’t get to it.”
“I hope you do!”
Fighting back her anger, Allison marched to the closet beneath the stairs where she was out of Jillian’s view, and tossed the coat on the floor. She smiled as she turned back to Jillian, who was studying the picture over the fireplace. Suddenly, the antique clock tolled the hour, and Jillian let out a startled yelp.
“It’s alright, Jillian. It’s just an old grandfather clock that we picked up at an auction recently.”
Still breathing hard, Jillian spun to toss her a glare. “I don’t understand how you and Henry can stand to live in this old house. The place gives me the creeps. Always has. It’s so dark and sinister.”
“Well, as you know, Henry and I adore the place. We love the history about it and even its ghosts. Now come, let’s go into the dining room. Maybe some brandy will settle your nerves.”
Without another word, Jillian followed Allison through the informal parlor to the large dining room where Jake was repositioning the dishes and desserts that Allison had so cleverly arranged on the buffet. He was like Jillian in many ways. He absolutely had to have things his way. Forget that it wasn’t his house. Allison hoped her growing ire didn’t show on her face. Some things were difficult to hide, and Allison had never been good at acting.
“Smells good,” Allison lied, eyes on the casserole dish that the terrible duo had brought. “What is it?”
“Oh, we brought some peas and carrots,” Jillian said. “We didn’t want to bring anything too exotic, since it’s Thanksgiving.”
Don’t worry “exotic” isn’t in your nature, Allison thought. She wasn’t surprised that the two had brought the usual plain boiled peas and carrots, no seasoning, no spice. This dish, as conservative, plain, and boring as the couple who brought it, always went uneaten except by them.
But, instead of dwelling on the loathsome pair, Allison had to attend to the turkey, which had filled the house with a mouth-watering aroma. She excused herself and went to the kitchen to see that Egan, the recently hired help, had opened the oven and was about to baste the twenty-five pound foul like she'd instructed. It wasn’t that she doubted he’d do his duty. During the past few weeks, she’d learned that she could trust him completely. It was just that she had no idea how much experience he had in the way of cooking a bird. And the meal had to be perfect today. Yes, she thought, not for the first time, the dinner must be flawless, not a lump in the gravy.
When she peeked inside the oven, she discovered that Egan must be doing something right, because the turkey was golden and simply beautiful. The succulent aroma filled the room, stimulating her appetite. She couldn't wait until the feasting began. She turned about to commend Egan, when, much to her dismay, she found that, Jillian and Jake had followed her into the kitchen.
“It looks so good. It’s just a shame that Henry isn’t here to share the meal with us. I warned him that if he went into the Army reserves that he’d be gone too often and at the worst times,” Jake said with a disapproving shake of his head. “I even offered to give him a little extra money each month--if that’s what he needed.”
“It wasn’t about money,” said Allison. “He wanted some excitement.”
“Some excitement,” he said, clicking his lips. “What excitement can you find in a fox hole? What is so lacking in his life that he’d prefer to be away from his wife on Thanksgiving?”
He raked Allison from head to toe, eyes disapproving and accusing, while Jillian stepped up to land another blow.
“Oh, come now, dear, no need to get yourself worked up.” Jillian patted him on the shoulder. “You know how hardheaded Henry has become over the years. It simply can’t be helped.”
Another dig, and Allison knew it. What Jillian was really saying was that Henry had become stubborn and difficult to manage ever since he'd met and married her. No longer would he allow their constant interference in his life. The boy had become a man and had decided to make his own decisions. Their lack of control bothered them down deep. They were certain that Henry couldn’t make the right decision without their input.
But suddenly the room had grown uncomfortably quiet. And Allison brought her thoughts back to the present when Egan shoved the big black pan back into the vintage oven and slammed the door shut. She was surprised that Jake's voice was softer, less accusing than before, when he spoke.
“Yes, you’re right, dear. We should be giving thanks today,” he said to his wife. “and remembering our blessings. By the way, the house looks great, Allison,” Jake said in an obvious attempt to smooth things over. “You and Henry have certainly worked hard.”
“We have. Thanks,” Allison said, eyes on Jillian who'd strode to the mantel on the far side of the room. The nosey woman was studying Allison’s antique kitchen collectibles--old milk bottles, depression glass plates, wooden cookie cutters from Germany, and an array of hand-held mixers and other such things that Henry had laughingly termed “junk.” She turned to face Allison when she spoke, having a wicked gleam in her eyes.
“Yes, the house looks great, Allison. I know that you and Henry have gone to a lot of work to make the place a home. It’s just too bad that you haven’t been able to clean much now that you’ve started working full-time on your novel.” She took an antique medicine bottle from the mantel and nonchalantly wiped at a tiny speck of dust.
Allison had to bite back her tongue. Oh, but it was so difficult to do so. She had slaved endlessly to make the house and everything within it spic and span. She'd dusted everything and polished the hardwood floors until they held the gleam of ice. But such remarks were typical fare from Jillian. She always seasoned her compliments with a carefully attached putdown. The woman just wouldn’t say anything that was genuinely nice, and the smiling Jake had probably missed it. He always missed it. Just like Henry always had.
Thank God the doorbell rang, giving her an escape.
“Yes, well, if you’ll excuse me,” Allison said, making a hasty retreat.
Her heart was beating fast as she welcomed in her cousin Phil and his mousy wife Melody. Of all the people she hated in the world, Phil, perhaps, could be ranked alongside Jillian. The giant redhead, who stood smiling down at her had taken her downstairs to the dark basement when she was a child. “Want to know what married couples do?” he’d asked her. Thus had begun her shocking prelude into sexuality.
“Want to know what special treat Melody made?” he was asking now.
“What?” she said, shaking her head as the terrifying memories flooded her weary and distraught mind.
“Take off that lid and show her, Melody.”
Take off your clothes and I’ll show you, Allison.
Melody removed the lid to reveal a scrumptious cherry pie, the sugary syrup of which had boiled onto the crust and begged to be tasted.
“Oh my,” said Allison, “it looks so good that it's sinful to so much as look at--much less to touch and taste. Yet it’s so pure and perfect as well. It almost seems a shame to ruin it.”
Phil gave her a huge, maniacal grin. “You asked for it especially, Allison,” he said, “And there’s more where that came from.”
“What?” she shook her head, expression
”There are more pies in the car. I’ll bring them in a little later. Melody also made an apple and some pumpkin pies.” As he spoke, his eyes seemed to be permanently fixed on the bit of exposed cleavage at the dip of her low-cut dress. Suddenly she felt bile rise in her throat.
“Fantastic,” she said. “It wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a piece of pumpkin pie. Now would it?”
“No way, Allison,” he winked. “Happy Thanksgiving, cous,” he said as he suddenly leapt forward and tugged Allison into his arms for a slobbery kiss and hug. She drew back, repulsed, but he didn't seem to notice her displeasure. He had never seemed to notice how much she hated his touch--or perhaps he didn't care.
His wife said nothing; she looked disgusted.
She'd always been insanely jealous of Allison. Even now, she was murderously
raking Allison from head to toe, taking in the short red velvet dress with utter
Allison had grown used to this reaction from Melody over the years. Still, Melody's jealously never failed to amaze her as the woman never seemed concerned about her own appearance. Here she was, glaring at Allison who was dressed to high heaven, yet Melody could do the same if she chose. It wasn’t that Melody was homely, far from it, but she presented herself in a slovenly, unattractive way. Why didn’t she style the stringy brown hair that hung to her shoulders? Why didn’t she occasionally dress in something more fashionable than worn jeans and sweatshirts? Why didn’t she don a bit of make-up or jewelry? It's amazing what a bit of mascara and blush could do. Maybe if she did those things, she’d have less cause to be jealous of Allison.
In truth, Allison didn’t care what Melody thought about her anyway. Not anymore. She'd chosen the velvet dress for it’s beauty and festive quality. She no longer wanted or needed anyone’s approval.
This newfound mode of self-confidence on her mind, Allison managed another smile as she took the proffered pan. “Happy Thanksgiving to both of you. I’m so glad you could join us this year. Take off your coats, and make yourselves comfortable. Jillian and Jake have already arrived.”
As they removed their coats, Allison took the pie into the dining room. She was about to sit it on the buffet but Jillian snatched it from her trembling hands, looking under the lid. “I’ll just heat this up…”
“That’s really not necessary, Jillian. I think it’s fine. Just sit it on the buffet, please.”
“But it will be cold by the time the others get here, and Jake likes his cherry pie warm. It’s no problem. I’ll just put it in the oven for a minute or two.”
But. There was always a “but” with Jillian. I can never be right, thought Allison. And who in the world expected to have their pie warm on Thanksgiving?
“Also," said Jillian, "I added a little more sage to the dressing. It tasted a little bland. I know you’re not the most experienced cook in the world, Allison, but you do want to impress the guests today.”
Giving a long sigh, Allison said nothing. She just looked disgusted and left the room.
Someone else was at the door.
Before she'd managed a quick escape, however, she encountered Phil and Melody who'd just entered the informal parlor. While Melody seated herself comfortably on the brocade sofa, Phil stood before the pocket doors. Allison hoped to ignore the two as she headed to the hall, but Phil managed to pinch her hard on the rear as she passed him.
Red-faced, she paused and opened her mouth, about to give him a fiery piece of her mind, but her lips snapped shut. Control, she reminded herself. She needed self-control. Today, of all days.
Besides, the doorbell rang again….and again…and again, in rapid succession. The latest guest lacked the quality that she was so desperately trying to maintain. Self control!
Summoning a smile as the doorbell rang again, Allison simply winked at Phil and headed into the hall.
Before she could throw back the heavy oak door, the doorbell rang again, setting nerves that were already frayed on fire. Allison knew that the newcomer had to be her mother.
The woman had no reserve, no patience at all!
As flamboyant as ever, Jocelyn stood on the porch, her face painted like a cheap Christmas ornament in shades of bright red and blue, while her flaming hair, freshly dyed, was partially hidden beneath a wide-brimmed hat. Her black leather coat was open down the front, and the shape of her suave body and long legs were clearly revealed thanks to the clinging black dress she'd somehow shoved herself into. She had what you’d call the perfect body to go with the perfect face…actually, what was once the perfect body and perfect face. Her mother failed to realize that she had lost her looks many years ago and now had more wrinkles than a Chinese sharpai. Though nearly sixty, Jocelyn still tried to dress like a teenaged fashion model.
“Where were you? I’ve been waiting here forever,” she said as the door was opened. No, “Hello!” No, “Happy Thanksgiving!” No, “You look nice!” No, “You shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble” No hugs! No kiss!
Just, “Where were you?” Typical. Absolutely typical.
“I was busy in the kitchen. Please, come in and take off your coat.”
With a sensuous sway of her hips, Jocelyn entered the hall, shoving a heavy box into Allison’s arms before removing her coat…which she also crammed into Allison’s overburdened arms. Then, without another word, Jocelyn, sashayed to the large, gilded mirror so that she could study her reflection.
As Allison struggled, arms full to bursting, Jocelyn said: “How do I look?”
Well, actually, mother, you look like some kind of has-been street whore.
“Wonderful,” Allison said as she flung the coat on the hall tree. Thanks to the heavy box, she still felt as though she was about fall through the floor.
But she nearly forgot the box when Jocelyn’s eyes fell upon her. Scanning Allison’s form as critically as Jillian and with as much disgust as Melody, Jocelyn shook her head slowly, clicking her lips. Like Jillian, Jocelyn had never had a nice thing to say about her. Allison couldn’t recall a single time in her entire thirty-three years that her mother had given her a compliment. In fact, Jocelyn seemed to thrive on criticizing and humiliating Allison, especially before others. Jocelyn was certainly not the kind, caring, and loving mother that was on the Hallmark commercials. Far from it. She had never held or comforted Allison. She had never given of herself or offered anything even remotely close to loving motherly advice. Jocelyn had always been more concerned about herself than anything or anyone else in the world.
“Let me give you a little piece of advice, darling. You’re much too heavy for that dress. You’d do well to shelve it until you slim down a tad.”
That was exactly what Allison needed to hear. Her house was a mess, she had too many cats, her cooking was bad, she couldn’t excite her husband, and now she was fat as well. Worse, her cousin still yearned to take her to the dark basement. She was so weary of it—all of it. These people who called themselves “family” all hated each other, yet, merely out of tradition, they got together at Thanksgiving and Christmas only to succeed in making each other miserable.
“Thanks for the advice, mother. I think you look nice too,” Allison said with a little more bite than she'd intended. She was quickly losing her self-control and her temper, but her mother didn’t seem to notice. Jocelyn merely shook her head again and headed to the parlor, looking for someone else to impress with her shocking wit and beauty. And Allison knew what would transpire once Jocelyn encountered Jake. Every year, the two began a contest of sorts to see who could outdo the other.
Sitting the heavy box on the floor, Allison opened the flaps and peeked inside, but she couldn’t see the object because it was enclosed in a thick, plastic layer of padding. She pulled the serrated tabs at the sides and peeled back the protective covering. Then she gasped with shock and outrage when she saw the ice statue. Three feet tall, it had been carved into the image of an elegant Victorian woman...all decked out in the fluff and finery of yesterday and with a parasol in her hand. Allison might have thought it beautiful...even lovely....
Only...it bore her mother's face.
Disgusted, she closed the box, knowing that the statue of her mother was supposed to be the centerpiece for the thanksgiving table. As she pondered the matter, her frown gave way to a smile; for she realized that the statue was appropriate. Her mother was the ice-maiden after all. The thought struck Allison funny for some reason, and she let a long roll of hysterical laughter escape, glad that she was alone in the hallway. If anyone saw or heard her, they'd surely think she'd gone mad.
Self-control, she told herself again, but another peal of laughter rang out and she knew that she needed some time alone in order to get a grip on herself.
But there was no time. Someone was at the door.
Taking a deep breath, then another, she opened the door slowly to see Patty--sweet, smiling Patty. She had been Allison’s best friend since the two had been pig-tailed elementary students. Patty had even been the Maid of Honor at Allison’s wedding.
Looking at the warm, smiling face now, Allison almost wished she didn’t know the truth about her best friend…wished that she could confide in her like she used to do so that she could get the horrible, horrible anxiety and frustration she was feeling out of her system. Patty had always had the uncanny ability to make her feel better.
But that had changed when Allison learned that Patty was screwing Henry--had probably been doing so for many years. Patty didn’t know that Allison knew that tidbit.
A couple of weeks ago, she'd seen them together when she'd come home early from an out-of-town writers’ conference. Neither Henry nor Patty had known that she was there, but she had clearly seen what they were doing from where she stood at the bedroom doorway...what they were doing in her bedroom...her bed.
She’d quietly spun and tiptoed from the house and returned home later, pretending that she was none the wiser.
And here was Patty now, throwing her arms around Allison as if she were happy to see her. It made Allison sick how someone could stab a friend in the back and then smile to their face.
But she didn’t want Patty to know her feelings. Not yet.
“Patty, I’m so glad you could make it,” Allison said, hands on Patty’s shoulders. I knew you were having trouble getting off of work today and--”
“A strange wind must have blown in. My boss changed as suddenly as Scrooge and decided to be nice. Maybe the spirit of Thanksgiving Past visited him last night,” Patty said and Allison managed a chuckle before her dark eyes found the foil-covered tray in Patty’s hands.
“Did you…did you actually bring them?”
Patty smiled humbly but pride unmistakably sparkled in her slate gray eyes. “Of course. Since you were nice enough to host the feast, I thought it the least I could do.”
Patty pulled back the foil as she spoke to reveal the Swedish daggers that had been so masterfully prepared and arranged. Each little seasoned shrimp had a long, sharp plastic sword in its back. Allison thought that if they’d been dealt with as harshly as she had, the sharp end of the blade would be in their hearts as well as their backs.
“They're perfect. They look absolutely delicious. I can’t wait to taste one. Oh, and you even made your own special sauce.”
Patty recovered the tray. “Yes I did. But oh, no. You have to wait. I know you Allison Brock. You’ll eat the whole tray before it gets to the kitchen.”
The two laughed.
“By the way, you look, wonderful, Allison.”
“That dress really suites you. It compliments your coloring and shows off your ‘assets’ as well.” Patty gave her a mischievous grin. "You must tell me where you bought it. I’ll have to get one. Then we could dress alike the way we used to when we were teenagers. Remember that?”
“How can I forget?”
And how can I forget seeing you with my husband? He was the one person on this earth that I'd thought truly loved me. The one thing, of all things, in this stinking world that I thought was mine. Ah, yes, but you like to possess that which belongs to me.
“I’m sure we drove our parents nuts in our insistence on dressing alike," said Allison. Actually it was always you who wanted to dress like me. "But, now, it’s no problem. I ordered this from a upper crust mail order catalogue. I’m sure that you could still get one since it came from the Fall-winter lineup. I’ll give it to you later tonight.”
“Great. Only it’s too bad that I can’t find a date to wear it for.”
Ah, but I’m sure that Henry will think you look great in it the next time you join him.
“Come on, you’ve never had any problem along that avenue.”
“Well, things change once you hit thirty. The good men are getting harder and harder to find. You're lucky that you have a good man. But I’m being rude. I know you’re busy with the dinner. I brought some candied yams too that I left in the car. I’ll need to heat them up. If you want me to, I can lend a hand in the kitchen.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate that, but I think Egan has things under control.”
“Ah, yes, the very young and hot Egan. Lord, but he makes Arnold Schwarzenegger look puny. I wonder where he got all of that wonderful flesh. Quite an employee you found there, Allison. Believe me, I’m sure I can find some way to assist him.”
“I’m sure Egan will be delighted,” Allison said, taking Patty’s coat.
“All joking aside, is there anything I can do?”
Sure, fall over and die.
“No. Just make sure Jillian hasn’t taken over the kitchen, and send Egan out to collect the yams.”
Patty smiled and nodded. “That I’ll do,” she said before she moved toward the pocket doors.
And Allison watched her saunter away. She didn’t have to show her the way to the kitchen. Patty knew it well—but she knew the way to the bedroom even better.
Taking a deep breath and trying to quiet her warring emotions, Allison was about to return to the dining room to make sure that everything was in order when the doorbell rang again.
Groaning, she threw back the door, feeling a tension headache coming on.
The latest arrival was her Uncle Teddy. Only this Teddy wasn’t sweet, cute, and cuddly!
The burly man, who easily stood six feet six, had never abused her, but he had abused his ten-year old son. She had seen the welts on the boy’s back and legs; she had seen the bruises and knew about the numerous broken bones, which were always chucked up to a sporting accident, a fall, or some such nonsense. And she'd called the authorities on numerous occasions to report the incidents, but somehow, Teddy had always got off the hook, convincing the authorities with his suave smile and easy-going way that the injuries were the result of the boy’s carelessness. He was at a friend's house this Thanksgiving, and Allison thought that it was a sad thing when a child preferred being somewhere else to being with family on the holidays.
Ah, she knew the feeling well!
Gritting her teeth, she found it, perhaps, more difficult to greet him with a smile than any of the others.
“Hello, to you, Allison. Why you look stunning. I brought the homemade cranberry sauce you wanted,” he said, indicating the bowl under his arm.
“Great.” Like you it’s cold and dark and never had a warm or beating heart. And it’s as red as the welts I’ve seen on your son. “Just take it into the kitchen. I believe that everyone’s here now, and dinner should be ready shortly.”
“Excellent. I’m starving, and I know that you always lay out one hell of a spread.”
“I’m sure not to disappoint this time,” Allison said as she closed the door behind him.
Then she was about to retrieve the ice statue, when Teddy stilled her hand.
“Allow me to do that. The box looks heavy. Just take the cranberries, please.”
Allison took the bowl, and he snatched the statue up with his massive hands. Strong hands. Powerful hands. Hands that could inflict a great amount of damage, and did so on a regular basis.
Oh, yes, he was the perfect gentleman in every way. Yet when he was home, he had beat the hell out of his kid and his wife as well. Poor dainty Helen had suffered his abuse for years, and then she'd died suddenly last year…the cause of death undetermined. But Allison knew the truth. Of course she did. Helen had had enough. She had been about to take the boy and leave Teddy permanently, and Teddy just wouldn’t let her do so.
As he held the statue in one arm and held out the other for her to take, she was again reminded of his amazing charm. He always managed to trick everyone into believing that such a “good person” couldn't do such wicked deeds—everyone but her.
Filled with a sudden bout of grief that was seasoned with disgust, Allison, nevertheless, hid her sadness behind an adoring feminine mask as she and Teddy strolled to the kitchen. While she checked on the turkey, which still needed a few minutes to cook, Teddy greeted Jillian and Patty who stood around the table. She thought that the two were probably driving poor Egan crazy by intruding on his territory.
But the thought quickly left her, and she nearly dropped the basting wand when she heard Jillian remark that the statue was: “The loveliest thing I’ve ever seen!”
She felt nauseous. Definitely sick to her stomach. How was she ever going to get through the remainder of this evening?
By being an excellent hostess…the way your mother trained you to be, she told herself as she closed the oven. Jocelyn hadn’t taught her much, but she had at least taught her that.
“Come,” Allison said, tossing the oven mitt on the table, “Let’s go into the parlor and be sociable while the turkey finishes browning. Egan can handle things here!”
For once she received no argument from Jillian and the four joined the others in the spacious and cozy parlor, which had been done in the deepest shades of mauve and scarlet with the slightest bit of forest green. The latter must have been a color Jake could appreciate. Unsurprisingly, he was going on and on about all the “important” people he knew, boasting about how much money so and so had…and hinting at how much money he had as well. He'd always defined someone’s value by their net worth.
But Jocelyn wasn’t about to let him take the spotlight. She chimed in with tales of her own about how horrific her week had been when she’d, among other things, hired a new maid who could barely speak English. According to Jocelyn, the other occupants of the room had “no idea,” how bad her woes were. No matter what anyone had, Jocelyn always had it bigger, better, or worse. And everyone who knew her also knew that it was unwise to get her started on her many imagined illnesses.
But as Jocelyn’s sad story ended, it was Jake’s turn again. He told a story about how he had had to go into a “negro” bar on business and how “embarrassed” and “nervous” he’d been. Oh, good Lord, thought Allison. I guess old Jake was afraid that the color might soil his lily-white skin, and, oh my, maybe then he wouldn’t fit in with the rest of his buddies at the local country club.
A tragedy to be sure. I Guess he’d have to finally get rid of those bright plaid banana and gaudy green golf pants that make him look like the town fool!
Jake ended the first part of his story by telling a crude racial joke, and everyone, except Allison, managed a fake laugh when he extolled the punch line. But then he returned to his bar story, and told everyone how his mission had been successful, and someone, she wasn’t sure who, because by then she was half-asleep by that time, told him that it was great that he had at least accomplished his task.
She didn’t wake-up until she heard her name.
“Oh, speaking of a success story, “ said Patty, “I believe that Allison has one to share.”
Everyone was looking at her with interest. And though it appeared that she didn’t know what Patty was talking about, she knew very well. Only this was a bit of personal information that she was none too inclined to share with this bunch. She’d confided in Patty weeks ago when she’d still counted her among her friends—before she’d known about Patty’s affair with Henry.
“Really, Patty. There isn’t time. I should be checking on that turkey again.”
“Come on. The turkey can wait a couple of minutes. Tell us,” said Phil, who was seated in a wingback chair before the fire.
“Yeah, tell us, Allison,” Teddy piped in, who was sitting on the floor, Indian style.
Jocelyn merely rolled her eyes. Annoyed. She was always annoyed when Allison accomplished something and quick to let Allison know that she could have done it herself. All of her life, it had been difficult for Allison to succeed, because Jocelyn always told her that she wouldn’t amount to anything. Allison had thought this was true for a long time.
But not anymore.
“Okay, okay. It looks like I’m getting a book published. I don’t have a contract yet, and nothing’s definite. But the publisher is eagerly awaiting the last chapter of my suspense novel. I think it’s a go.”
Jillian was the first to react. “That’s wonderful.” She gave Allison another perfumed hug that nearly made Allison gag. “We’re so proud of you, dear. I know you’ve been writing these many years with nothing to show for it, and we both know how these deals usually don’t pan out in the end. It's good to hear some good news this time.”
Allison wondered if anyone noticed Jillian’s carefully disguised cut-down. Then she wondered if anyone cared if they had?
Jocelyn simply rolled her eyes again.
“What’s the name of the book?” asked Teddy.
“It’s called ‘The Last Feast of--’”
“Well, I hope you’re careful about the spelling,” Jocelyn interrupted. “You were always bad at spelling. It was quite an embarrassment for me when you were a child. You wrote a letter to your grandmother in Des Moines and called yourself a ‘candy striper,’ instead of a ‘candy stripper.’ I could have died.”
The whole room laughed and still Jocelyn continued.
“And if I were you, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high, you know how badly your cousin Aaron failed at trying to get a book published. It nearly put him in the insane asylum.”
“Oh, nonsense,” said Patty ever the true friend, at least to Allison’s face, “I’m sure that Allison did very well. I’ve always thought that she's a talented writer, and I always knew she’d go far if she tried.”
Jocelyn rolled her eyes a third time. She wasn't about to take second stage to anyone. She was about to lay on a heavy assault to cut Allison down in size. And Allison knew that it was time to change the subject before the conversation got even nastier.
“If you’ll excuse me, everyone. That turkey’s probably ready.”
“I’ll help you,” said Patty.
Allison didn’t argue. It rarely did any good. And she and Patty returned to the kitchen to find Egan carving the steaming turkey. Jillian, of course, followed, and, once there, bossed them all around like the manager of a fast-food restaurant. Forget that it was Allison’s house. Allison’s kitchen.
Despite her interference, they somehow managed to get everything heated, and ready, and the table looked fabulous when the great feast was laid upon it. The setting could have been a page from a Martha Stewart Magazine. Only the best silver and china was used, and Allison had sat out crystal goblets full of fine sauterne wine. The lights from the chandelier overhead seemed to make the ruby liquid sparkle as if it were tinged with star shine. And despite her earlier misgivings, Allison looked upon the dining room with pride. As the guests were seated at the long table, she knew that they were pleasantly surprised as well.
“You’ve certainly put yourself out, Allison. The food looks delicious,” said Phil, taking a seat to the left of Allison. She noticed that Jake took the seat at the opposite end of the table as if he were the man of the house.
“Oh, yes, I can’t wait to dig in,” said Patty.
“And I can’t wait either,” said Allison. “I’ve been planning this meal for a long time.”
“And it shall be well worth it,” said Teddy from the far end.
“Yes, well worth it, Teddy. But before we begin, I’d like to propose a toast.”
The glasses were held high.
“No wait,” came a voice from the side of the room. The lights suddenly went dim, only the candles on the table and buffet illuminated the room until Egan entered slowly, carrying a big birthday cake topped with what seemed like a zillion sparkling candles.
Allison’s heart rejoiced.
This was the best surprise she'd received all day. She had no idea that Egan...only Egan it appeared...had remembered that it was her birthday.
“What’s this?” Jillian asked.
“It’s Allison’s birthday cake,” Egan said coolly.
Jillian feigned embarrassment. “Oh my, with all the excitement of the holidays and all, I’ve forgotten again. Allison. I’m so sorry, my dear. We’ll get together and celebrate as soon as possible!”
All the others, excluding Jocelyn, made similar apologies. Ever since she was a child, Allison had thought it strange how they all seemed to forget her birthday every year...yet it had been on the exact same day since the day she was born!
She really didn’t mind so much that they always forgot it, but she hated hearing the lame excuses…and the “We’ll get together and celebrate it as soon as possible” lies. All these promises never materialized and again, another year would come along with more empty promises. If empty promises were tangible things, she'd own a mountain by now.
Only Jocelyn failed to make excuses. She simply didn’t care, and made no bones about trying to prove otherwise.
“Egan, thank you so much,” Allison said, her voice a near whisper, eyes sparkling. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”
For a second she closed her eyes and expelled a long sigh. She had inadvertently quoted one of Jocelyn’s lines. “Actually, Egan, you do know how much this means to me. Thank you.”
Egan smiled and patted her on the hand, and she stood to blow out the candles, then everyone clapped. Egan sat the cake on the buffet with the other desserts. He gave her a single knowing grin before he returned to the kitchen.
When the room fell quiet, she held up her glass again. “Okay, lets get back to where we left off. A toast.”
Everyone held their glass high.
“To all that has passed before us and to all that will come no more. Here and forever after, may good tidings come to the door.”
Everyone smiled, clanging the glasses together. Then they drank thirstily. The wine was so fine, so good; it was like drinking a bit of liquid heaven. It was so good that a sip wasn’t enough. Most of the guests drained their glasses in a single gulp and could have stood more.
But the succulent feast was spread out before them, and the food was just as enticing. Knives and forks lifted. Everyone was eager to begin--but Allison struck her glass with a fork, the ring resounding through the room and stilling eager hands. All eyes were upon her.
“Before we begin. There’s something else I’d like to say. Something I’d like to say to each one of you. I’ll start with you Jillian and Jake, since you were the first guests I received tonight. I hate both of you. You’ve made my life miserable ever since I married your son. You are the most arrogant, domineering, artificial and hateful people that I’ve ever had the misfortune to meet. All you care about is money and appearances.”
There was a gasp from the table. It seemed to settle over the room like a heavy fog and gave everyone pause. Even Jillian and Jake, who normally had a lot to say about everything, were too stunned to speak.
“And as for you, Patty. I know you’ve been screwing my husband behind my back, and I can’t tell you how much I despise you for it. You were supposed to be my friend, but you stabbed me in the back as remorselessly and as deeply as you did the little shrimp Hors D'oeuvres that you’ve graced this feast with.”
Outraged, Patty struggled to speak. “That’s--that's not true, Allison--I--”
“I saw you, darling,” Allison said in a sticky sweet voice that sounded very much like her mother’s. "And Phil,” she smiled as she spoke. “I’d cut off your dick if I could...as a matter of fact, I intend to later, and after I do, I’ll stuff it down your throat the way you used to stuff it down mine when I was a little girl..”
“Have you gone mad?” asked Jillian suddenly finding her tongue, but Allison ignored her.
“Your damn right she has, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to listen to another word of this,” Teddy erupted. “I’m outta here.”
“Oh, yes, I’m mad--I’m completely insane, and it’s all because of my loving, caring family. And what about you, Teddy? We all know that you beat your child. You think I don’t know why he’s always black and blue? But alas, I assure you that he will suffer no more, and surely, he won’t die like Helen did. I’ve put a considerable amount of money into a trust fund for him, an advance I received for my novel, and a little extra that Henry and I had set aside as well, and I assure you that he’ll get the best care possible after you’re gone. Not that you really care about his welfare!”
“What are you talking about, you crazy bitch?” Teddy yelled.
“Allison, that’s enough,” Jocelyn said, eyes reflecting her shock. “You behave yourself this instant. Have you forgotten your manners? You’re embarrassing everyone and making quite a spectacle of yourself.”
“Spare me the lecture, mother. Were you the kind and loving person I always wished you were, I might actually listen to you. I might see you as something other than a brainless, heartless department store mannequin, whose only ambition is looking good. But now, I assure you, it’s way too late for you to give me motherly advice.”
“What are you talking about?” Phil was trying to rise from his chair, but he just couldn’t make it, his face was turning blue. He struggled to loosen his collar.
“You just don’t get it do you? I’ve killed you. All of you,” Allison said joyously. “You’re all dead. Even you, Melody. Now, maybe you can envy the demons in hell but you’ll never look at me like I’m nothing but a slut again.”
Patty screamed piteously. “My stomach hurts.”
There was another scream, another groan, another curse, but soon each of the people seated at the table fell into their plates, from the cyanide that Allison had put in the wine.
She remained in her seat, watching them struggle, watching them take their last breath, loving every minute, every second of it. She had waited the whole day…the whole week…the whole month for this.
She had waited all of her life!
And after she was sure that each of the guests were dead, she rang a silver bell and Egan returned to the room, carrying an untainted bottle of wine and two glasses. He filled two glasses, handing one to her, and as he stood beside her, she called a toast again. “To a Thanksgiving, and a birthday, to always remember. May the holidays be filled with love and peace, and most of all, silence, from here on.”
Egan smiled as his glass met hers. He knocked Phil out of his seat, and claimed it for himself. And together, he and Allison, finally, picked up knife and fork to have the best Thanksgiving meal either had ever had.
Only after they'd fully engorged themselves, did Allison strip off her dress and put it on Patty’s cold body. "That should heat things up a bit," she said. Henry would like it all right...and Patty would be joining him in the garden tonight—as would the others. It was such a blessing that winter had arrived late this year, and the ground hadn’t frozen. As for the remainder of the night, well, after a personal celebration with Egan in the bedroom, she intended to return to that shocking suspense novel she was writing. Finally, she had the perfect ending, and, even better, it looked like the worst of her critics were finally silent.
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