Sandy stared across the table at Cal, her hands hugging a hot mug of cider. Janie’s Campus Coffee Shop was strangely quiet for a Tuesday evening, but many of the students had left town after final classes. “You’ve not said anything about your plans. When are you going home?”
A long moment passed before Cal answered, his gaze on the table. “I’m not.”
Her eyebrows shot upward. “Not going home for Thanksgiving? But why?”
Cal winced. He peered at her sideways and bit his bottom lip. “We’ve been dating what? Two months? I guess it’s time you know. My family life isn’t very pleasant. Holidays are especially bad.”
“What do you mean by ‘bad’?”
He stared into his mug. “Dad will be drunk.”
Sensing more, Sandy kept silent and sipped her cider. Her heart ached for Cal.
He finally looked up, expelling a heavy breath through pursed lips. “The moment I walk in, my mother will start criticizing and she won’t let up the whole weekend. I’ve decided to stay here.”
“What about your sister?”
The laugh he gave was clipped and vacant. “Kelly? We’re not close.”
“But what will you do here?”
Cal attempted a smile. “I can work on my racquetball swing. Maybe I’ll take in a live theater performance. Go bike the country roads. Things like that.”
Laying a gentle hand on his arm, Sandy met his gaze. “I understand not wanting to go home to . . . that setting. But alone on Thanksgiving? It’s just not right. Come home with me.”
“And have to explain why I’m not with my own family? No way. Look, I’ll keep myself busy. I really don’t mind being alone. That’s the way I’ve spent most of my life.” He forced a nonchalant shrug.
Though Sandy didn’t like the idea, she wouldn’t push Cal into something uncomfortable. That could end their budding romance before it had the chance to flower.
* * *
The next morning, Cal took Sandy to the station and stayed to watch her bus glide away. Then he returned to his dorm to grab his bicycle and hit the road.
Miles of brightly-lit houses whizzed by under an ominously leaden sky. In some of the windows, he glimpsed extended families already gathered. Smiling women prepared meals. Men watched TV or ignored the tube altogether, talking instead. Cousins and siblings ran laughing through yards, making up games. Soon they’d be driven inside by the increasing drizzle.
Riding along, Cal witnessed too much ‘normal’ family. By the time he returned to campus, his mood mimicked the weather. He wished he’d given Sandy’s offer more consideration.
A note was taped to his door: Meet me at Janie’s. Sandy
Skipping a shower, he changed into dry clothes. At the coffee shop, he found her reading a newspaper, an empty cup on the table. Cal dropped into a chair. “I know you boarded that bus.”
A tentative smile crossed Sandy’s lips. “I got off at the next stop.”
“But your family . . . Why?”
“I couldn’t do it, Cal. I couldn’t leave you here alone.”
His heart flip-flopped. “Thanks.” The depression waning, he grinned. “Any ideas what to do for five days?”
“Nothing past today. Janie’s making us lunch. And I’ve been scanning the entertainment listings. I’ll treat today. You can do tomorrow. Is that okay?” She tilted her head shyly.
“Sounds like fun.”
While they ate, Sandy kept him laughing with funny stories. Many included her childhood friend, Liz. Not once did she mention ‘Thanksgiving’ or ‘holiday’. Still, he noticed their simple lunch celebrated the season – turkey sandwiches, sweet potato chips and cranberry cookies.
The two movies Sandy chose were ordinary comedies. Afterward, they finished their day back at Janie’s, talking late into the evening over coffee.
Cal finally said, “I notice you’ve carefully kept holidays out of the conversation. Why?”
“Liz,” Sandy confided. “She has a family like yours. For that reason, she spends most holidays at my house. It became tradition to steer our talk to everyday events – because she needed it that way.”
In that moment, Cal’s affection for this sensitive woman burst into infinite love. With blurred vision, he squeezed her hands. “It’s not talking about holidays that depresses me. It’s the lack of them being special. Or peaceful and loving. But you’ve made today a joy. Tell you what! Let’s start some traditions of our own. Tomorrow I’m going to treat you to the most special Thanksgiving you’ve ever experienced.”
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