This season of giving has turned into a period of reflection for me, and I can’t help but wonder if I’ve given enough this year. Have I devoted myself to this dream career I claim to love or become the best writer I can be? The sad truth is that I failed on all accounts. I intended to put out seven full-length novels in 2017 and completed only two, then supplemented with two novellas. I’m proud of every story, but it wasn’t enough. Not for me, not for you, and not for all those characters who are waiting (not so patiently) for their turn.
As I battled health issues and personal crisis, I watched interest in my work decline drastically and found myself stuck in a pity loop that crippled my creativity. Struggling to find the words, I let myself be distracted by things that didn’t further this career, and that has affected every part of my life. I won’t make grand resolutions or bore you with the things that are impacting me personally, but know that I recognized my shortfalls and am already working to correct them.
Thank you for being the absolute best readers an author could want, for putting up with my less than stellar year, and for continuing to love my guys. Without further nonsense from me, here’s this year’s two-part Thanksgiving scene.
Part 1 – Thanksgiving Eve
“Uncle Jacky!” The two words were infused with so much excitement that Jacky couldn’t help feeling a twinge of guilt.
He was still in service when Tommy was born, and their first introduction was through pictures. Marie sent them weekly, without fail, even though he never responded, and when he got out, she expected him to be the dependable brother of her youth. More than that, she needed him to be Tommy’s uncle and Jacky failed more often than not.
It had taken time, and the continued support of friends who refused to give up, all so he could be here today to watch his nephew earn his green belt in Martial Arts. As often as he disappointed them, Jacky didn’t know why Tommy was still so happy to see him or why Marie kept sending the invitations, but he was grateful.
“Hey, little man.” Jacky knelt just in time to catch the whipcord lean body hurtling in his direction and sighed when Tommy clutched him around the neck. It was amazing how such a little thing could hold on so tightly, but Jacky would never complain. Tommy just wanted him there and, beyond all the shit that kept him away, Jacky wanted it too.
“I knew you’d come!” At nine, his voice could still pitch high, and Jacky fought not to wince as it rang in his ear. “Mama said you might have to work, but I told her you’d be here.”
“How did you know?” Jacky tried to tease, but he knew Marie was only trying to save her son from disappointment and he was pretty sure Tommy was aware. As young as he was, the kid was smart enough to know how many times Jacky flaked. Jacky knew it was only a matter of time before Tommy realized that “work” was just a polite way of saying that his uncle was too fucked in the head to do the right thing.
“I dreamt it.” Tommy looked back at his mother who was hovering just out of earshot and lowered his voice. “Mama says they aren’t real, but you always come when I dream about you. So, I’m going to try harder to dream about you every night.”
Before Jacky could say anything, Tommy’s instructor called the class to order, and his nephew was racing back to line up. Floundering under the weight of wishes he couldn’t fulfill, Jacky resisted the urge to jump up and do some racing of his own. Right out the door. Then Tommy looked back and grinned so broadly that Jacky couldn’t.
Wobbling to his feet, he forced himself to meet Marie’s concerned stare directly and tried to smile. “Hey.”
Rolling her eyes at his lame-ass greeting, Marie closed the distance and hugged him just as tightly as Tommy had. If his return embrace was awkward, she was too happy to complain. Jacky knew how unfair that was. They should be angry that he couldn’t give more instead of fawning over the pittance he scrounged out.
“You came alone?” That too was unfair. She lived two-hours north, but sometimes it feels like the far ends of the earth.
The sad truth was that he’d been to the darkest pits this world had to offer and now couldn’t drive out of his ten-block safety zone without falling apart. The first few times hadn’t been horrible, but instead of getting better, each trip became more daunting until it became impossible. No one knew just how bad it had gotten until he called Saul to rescue him from a gas station only two exits from their house. Muscles spasming dangerously, he barely managed to pull off the highway before he killed himself or someone else.
He hadn’t driven alone since and despite his co-pilots offer, he wouldn’t let anyone sit outside so he could pretend to be better than he was.
“Javier’s next door buying something we probably don’t need for Thanksgiving tomorrow.”
Marie didn’t look surprised or upset. She just smiled and accepted. “He knows he can come in, right? Tommy would love to see him too.”
“He will.” Jacky was sure of it, just as he was sure Javier made the detour into the little boutique just to give them a few minutes alone. The shop might be right up his alley with hand painted housewares, but they didn’t need anything. Especially, anything with a turkey on it.
With a teasing smile, she hooked her arm through his and led them over to the chairs she had claimed. Three, because she knew. “Does Saul know he comes with you so that he can go into that store?”
Jacky just smiled, not bothering to correct her. The store was a nice bonus, but that was not why Javier was riding shotgun. The once-terrified man had come so far and being the strong one was a validation of that hard work. At the same time, having Saul trust him to keep Javier safe was a boost all its own. Jacky wouldn’t crumble with Javier counting on him, not if Saul asked.
Thankfully, the ceremony began, and they were able to focus on Tommy instead of him. The kid looked like his father, a man devoted to his family and his job as a firefighter. When Allan couldn’t attend one of his son’s events, his reasons were valid, and Tommy knew his father was a hero. Jacky couldn’t have asked for more for his sister, though he was sure Allan wished she had a more reliable brother.
So focused on his nephew and his own shortcomings, Jacky didn’t hear anyone approach until the gentle brush of a hand on his shoulder made him look over. Javier knew better than to startle him and his friend stood perfectly still until he was sure Jacky recognized him. It was a consideration Jacky would have hated if he weren’t so fucking grateful.
Though it was barely half a second, they both breathed a sigh of relief when Javier slipped into the saved chair and tucked three overflowing bags on the floor between his feet. With a reassuring smile, he patted Jacky’s clenched fist and whispered, “You’re okay.”
Wanting so badly to believe, Jacky looked over just as Tommy stepped forward proudly. Back and arms perfectly straight, he bowed respectfully before assuming the proper stance. As the instructor paced him through the examination, Tommy executed each move with careful precision, and Jacky felt his chest swell with pride.
Maybe he needed a co-pilot. Maybe he sucked as a brother and an uncle. But at this moment, because he had the best family in the world—both blood and chosen—he was able to see his nephew kill this exam and level up. When they wrapped that green belt around his tiny waist, Jacky swore he saw those shoulders straighten a little more and felt himself mirror the move.
“Yes, I am okay.” Great, even. Grateful and blessed enough to ask, “Is there still room at the table for three more?”
“Funny you should ask.” Javier’s eyes practically twinkled when he pointed to the bags at his feet. “Wait until you see the new dinnerware set I bought.”
“One set?” Jacky didn’t believe that for a second.
Shrugging unapologetically, Javier corrected, “Enough to serve our entire family and three new ones we can’t wait to welcome to the table.”
Every year, they reminded him to invite Marie and her family to Thanksgiving dinner, and he’d chickened out every time. Knowing she would jump at the chance to spend the holiday together, Jacky couldn’t explain why he was afraid. They all loved him, worried about him, and wanted only the best for him.
What could go wrong?
When he looked over at Marie, determined to ask before his nerves took over, Jacky saw her smiling at them tremulously. Without him having to utter a word, she whispered, “We’d love to come. Just tell us what time.”
Jacky knew she probably already had her meal planned out, maybe even had some of it prepared in advance. She would have worked hard to make it perfect, and Allan wasn’t available to consult, but she was willing to jump all over the invitation anyway. Elated and nervous, he could only stare and wonder what he’d done until Javier nudged him.
“Noon.” The word exploded from him and sounded too loud in the small space. “Right, Javi? Everyone starts showing up at noon. Maybe they should come a little earlier. Parking’s always a nightmare, and I’d hate for them to have to park blocks away.” As he babbled, both Javier and Marie smiled broadly.
Tommy saved him from further embarrassment by rushing over at that exact moment to show off his belt. Javier made all the appropriate noises, and Marie told him about Thanksgiving, and Jacky didn’t think he’d ever seen them look happier than they did right then.
He’d done that.
He’d made Tommy and Marie happy.