A Bobcats Friends-giving
It’s Thanksgiving time, and most of the Bobcats are far from family during the holiday season, with no time to fly home for the holiday. Cassie is fortunate enough to have her father’s side within easy reach, but knows not everyone is so lucky. Her fiancé included. So she organizes a Friendsgiving…a way for friends to get together to celebrate the holiday and add in a little cheer.
But celebrating the holiday isn’t the only thing she has on her mind…
Cassie scooted the vase on the front entry table six inches to the left, then five inches to the right. The cranberries that hung from the sticks in the vase shuddered with each nudge, as if silently laughing at her anal retentiveness.
Trey walked up, shaking his head. With one arm, he wrapped around Cassie and pulled her back against his chest. He pressed a kiss to her neck, then nudged her chin up until she was looking at their reflection in the entry way mirror. “Babe, you’ve gotta let it go. These are our friends. It’s no big deal. They’ve been over here hundreds of times.”
“For beer and pizza,” she said, battling back a twinge of annoyance. He’d been riding her the whole time about not getting too worked up over the gathering. But it was the only Thanksgiving some of these guys were getting. Of course she was going to plan and worry. “I just want everyone to enjoy themselves.”
“They will, because they’re friends.” The doorbell rang, and he grinned at her and nudged her to the front door. “Let’s get started.”
She opened the door to find Josiah Walker standing on the front step, alongside Stephen Harrison and his girlfriend Mags. “Happy Friendsgiving!” they yelled in unison, grinning like idiots.
“Wow,” Trey said dryly. “That was…something else.”
Mags walked in and gave Cassie a one-armed hug, holding a baking dish in the other arm. “Cute dress. Love the heels.”
“Thanks. Let’s take this to the kitchen and let the guys do…whatever they’re going to do,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“So,” Stephen said, hands in the pockets of his jeans.
“So,” Josiah responded as well, rocking back and forth, arms crossed over the chest of his simple navy sweater.
“Shut up,” was all Trey said.
“But you look so cute!” Stephen said with a grin. “Look at you, all fancy schmancy to have friends over for dinner.
Trey rolled his eyes. He could take the heat. He’d worn the suit and tie to please Cassie. He’d walk through fire to make her smile, so a suit was a small price to pay.
He tugged a little at the collar. Didn’t make the outfit any more comfortable, unfortunately.
“We brought tea.” Stephen nodded to the car. “Wasn’t sure if you’d have anything other than water for me.”
That comment made Trey shake his head. “Don’t be an asshole. We’ve got tea and lemonade. We wouldn’t forget about you.”
“A failure to plan, and all that. Don’t eat the potatoes,” he added on a murmur. “Mags made them, and she cut them with cauliflower. She’s taken this ‘healthy eating’ thing a little too far, if you ask me.”
Both Trey and Josiah grimaced. “Who does that?” Josiah asked. “Who ruins perfectly good potatoes like that?”
“Mags,” was all Stephen said, but he said it with a smile.
Mags followed Cassie into the kitchen. “Who else is coming? You mentioned planning for a dozen, but when I considered that a dozen might include several Bobcats, I made enough for two dozen.”
“Good idea.” Cassie laughed and pointed where she could set down the two dishes of mashed potatoes-slash-cauliflower. “Aileen and Killian—his son is with his ex—Matt Peterson is coming, Michael Lambert, a few other players you probably won’t recognize, and my sisters.”
“Anya flew home for Thanksgiving, actually. It’s a tradition that her mom, dad and stepmom all get together and do the holiday as a unit. Kinda cool, since most divorced parents can’t be in the same zip code without getting all ragey about things.”
“That’s definitely cool. I was looking forward to picking her brain about Black Friday shopping though,” Mags said with a wry smile. “She keeps me from looking like an idiot. You, apparently, don’t need help though. Seriously, you’re adorable. I feel so underdressed.” She looked down at her cardigan sweater, dark jeans and ballet flats. “Stephen said casual, but he’s a guy so I should have texted you.”
“This is just me setting the scene in my mind.” Cassie winced, then shrank a few inches across the kitchen island. “I have to admit, I didn’t consider how hanging out in heels for a few hours would work. Sitting down should be fine. This whole greeting-at-the-door part and trips to the kitchen…not working.”
“Nobody will care if you go barefoot,” Mags started, but Cassie’s eyes flashed with determination. Mags knew that look. Nothing was going to sway her.
“This is the only Thanksgiving some of these guys get. I want everything to be…” She sighed. “Perfect. That’s unrealistic, but true.” The doorbell rang again, and Cassie put on her polite smile. “Hostess time!”
Ten minutes later, Cassie was about ready to give up when the doorbell rang one more time. Please be who I think it is, please, please, please…
“April!” Cassie flung open the door wide and gathered the woman into her arms. “I’m so glad you could make it!”
“Uh, hi, Cassie.” April gave her an odd look when Cassie pulled back. They weren’t really that close, but were friendly enough in the office.
April was a social media manager for the Bobcats organization, and the exact person Cassie had in mind for some meddling. With her Asian-American features and short, dramatic dark bob of hair, plus her jeans, riding boots and long cream sweater, she was exotic and traditional all at the same time.
“We’re about to sit down. Come on in.” Cassie took the bottle of wine April offered and walked arm in arm with her to the family room. The dining room hadn’t had enough space, so they’d moved the table, plus a rental covered in a table cloth, to the more open, spacious family room so everyone could dine in one spot. “Everyone, April is here!”
A few people said hello, though not everyone had met her before. Back office folks didn’t always meet the players. “April works social media, so I happen to see her a lot.”
“Mostly when something has turned into a SNAFU,” April put in, to a round of laughter.
“April, I have you sitting here.” Cassie patted the seat next to Barry, her direct supervisor from work. Barry, thank God, had taken her advice on what to wear and was looking the best she’d ever seen him.
“Hi Barry.” April smiled easily and sat beside him. Barry, for his part, nodded, then looked back down at his empty plate.
Cassie barely contained a growl of frustration. Barry, come on, man. She sat beside Trey at the head of the table and, catching Barry’s eye, gave him the go on motion.
He stared at her, confused for a moment, then shrugged and reached for his water glass.
“Hopeless,” she muttered into her hands.
Trey gave her an odd look, but she just smiled and said, “Ready to say grace?”
The fourth time in as many minutes Cassie had mentioned Barry or April at work in the conversation, Trey knew something was up. After she finished her story about a particular Twitter feed problem on the website Barry had heroically solved, Trey squeezed her hand and pulled her in close. “What’s going on?”
She glared at him, but just stood and said, “I think it’s time for the bird. Trey, can you help me bring it out?”
He stood, shooting his friends a look that said, You owe me, and followed her into the kitchen. “Okay, you wanna give me the real deal here?”
“I’m trying to play matchmaker,” she said, sounding like she would rather be chewing dirt than admitting it. “But clearly, neither of them are the least bit interested in it.”
“So, give it some time.” When she glared, he kissed her nose. “I love you. And I love that you want to see your friends happy. Just don’t push it, ‘kay?”
Cassie’s face scrunched up in a mutinous line, but she sighed. “Fine. Now, carry the bird, and I’ll get a few of those lugs in here to carry the sides.” She stared at the casserole dish with the mashed potatoes. “This could get…interesting.”
Barry tugged at the collar of his shirt. Why Cassie had forced him to bring his three nicest shirts to work the day before and pick one out for him to wear today, he’d never know. She normally thought his graphic shirts were funny. She wore nerdy t-shirts, too. Why wasn’t that good enough for this?
“You look nice today,” April said, sitting beside him. She smiled slightly and took a sip of water. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear a shirt like that before.”
Thank you, Cassandra. “Yeah, uh, normally, you know, at work, and it’s just easier, because…” English. For God’s sake, speak English to the lady!
“Casual, I know. It’s nice to dress up sometimes though.” She smoothed down the front of her sweater, and Barry fought not to stare an extra second at the way the material clung to her curves. “Not that I did dress up. Now I’m regretting the missed opportunity.”
“Anytime you wanna get dressed up, let me know,” he breathed, then flushed. Wrong. So wrong. Wrong thing to say.
But April just chuckled and said, “I’ll do that,” before taking a sip of her water.
Cassie settled back down in her seat, beaming at the table. They had every side imaginable, mostly thanks to the crew, and the turkey looked amazing. For the first time, she honestly felt like she was doing this whole grown up thing right. Which was an amusing thought, given she lived with her fiancé and had a full time job and a whole life.
But something about seeing the holiday table she put together herself just hit it home
“Okay everyone, Trey’s going to say grace, then we’ll dig in!” she called out. They stopped, and Stephen snickered.
“Let’s hear the grace, Owens.”
Trey shot his middle finger at Stephen before she could grab his hand. “He started it,” Trey mumbled, then sighed heavily and bowed his head. “Dear Lord, thank you for giving everyone this time to get together, even though it’s not technically on Thanksgiving. Our fellowship is what makes the time special, not the date.”
Cassie felt her eyes sting, and she squeezed them tight before reaching for Trey’s hand under the table. He clasped it tight and gave it a good pulse.
“And maybe it’s wrong to ask, but either way, if you can work it out, we’d really appreciate a win against the Patriots next weekend.”
“Amen!” shouted seven other male voices, and her two sisters.
Cassie bit back a sigh at that, then considered it close enough. “Okay, smartypants, cut the bird.”
Trey’s grin said it all. This part, he was looking forward to. The second he jammed the fork in, though, she saw something akin to fear slide into his eyes.
“What?” she whispered.
But he determinedly picked up the carving knife and started carving. And carving. And carving. “Uh, Cass?”
“Yeah?” Smile still plastered on, she took a quick peek around the table. Everyone sat quietly, expectantly, waiting.
“It’s hard as a rock.”
“Did you cook it too long? Or not long enough?”
“Try another area,” she suggested. So this explained why her mother always got pre-cooked turkey for their meal.
He sliced in, then grimaced. “This side’s not even remotely done.”
“I…I don’t…how…” Face flushed with embarrassment, she turned to her guests. “Uh, we’re getting an error 504 on the turkey, so—”
Barry snorted out a laugh, but tried to cover it with a cough. Mellie giggled. Irene groaned and let her head drop back to stare up at the ceiling. Everyone else started looking anywhere but toward the head of the table.
“That’s okay,” April said quickly. “We can just…have a meal of sides. There’s plenty here, and the sides are sometimes the best part, right?”
Everyone quickly began nodding in agreement and passing dishes around.
Cassie looked at Trey, who was smiling. “What? Please don’t make fun of me.”
“I’m not making fun, babe. It’s just…it figures.” He shrugged one shoulder. “It wouldn’t be a good holiday get together without a good story, right? You could always say you planned it.”
She glared at the bird. “Sure. We’ll go with that.”
Trey watched, a little wary, as the bottle of wine passed by Stephen. But he took it and passed it on without so much as a hesitation. Mags was sitting beside him, so Trey hadn’t worried too much. But still, Stephen was his best friend, and had made way too much progress to backslide. He was going to keep an eye out.
Everyone had begun passing the dishes around, chattering across the table and down either side, when it happened. And it made the rock solid turkey entre look like a big fat nothing.
Right as Mellie reached for the cranberry sauce, Irene dropped the bowl of salad. The greens flew across the table, which was messy enough. But the heavy wooden bowl landed directly on the bowl Mellie had pulled toward her. The spoon, covered in the deep purple sauce, catapulted across the table and landed directly on the chest of April, the social media manager.
She jumped back in surprise, causing her chair to tip precariously on two legs. It was Barry’s quick movement—which shocked even Trey—that kept her from falling flat on her back with the chair. But her leg caught the table as she fought for balance, and everyone’s drinks shook. Several tipped over onto plates, into serving dishes, or just over the table itself.
As Barry helped April to right herself, Mellie rushed over to help. Cassie bolted into the kitchen, presumably to get something to mop up the mess. Several guys stood from their chairs and started picking up glasses to salvage what they could. Mags began picking up the ruined lettuce, when one of the leaves that had been hovering over a votive candle caught flame. “Ouch!”
Josiah grabbed a still-full water glass and tossed it over the flaming salad while Stephen looked at Mags’ singed fingers.
And through all the chaos, Trey could hear Irene’s voice sweetly asking, “Did anyone know these potatoes were full of cauliflower?”
“I’m mortified.” Cassie buried her face in Trey’s chest. If she could have evaporated, she would have. “This is seriously the worst. What made me think I could do this?”
“It’s not the end of the world, Cass.” Trey rubbed at her back, but he wasn’t putting a dent in her bad mood.
“We can’t even eat the sides. There’s no food in the house because I was making room in the fridge and pantry for all the Thanksgiving stuff, April is covered in cranberry sauce, nobody’s been fed, and I didn’t even see any sparks between…well.” That had definitely been a waste of time, which sucked, because Barry was such a good guy, and April was so nice.
“Sorry guys.” Mags walked past them with a washcloth and something else in her hand. “I’m just going to head to your laundry room and see if I can work some magic on April’s sweater here. Do you mind?” But she was already gone, probably because she knew nobody would care. They had a pretty open door policy with close friends.
Trey chuckled. “At least we have a resident stain expert here. Hmm. If she has April’s shirt, I wonder what April’s wearing.”
“I’d call you a pig, but I’m curious myself.” Drying under her eyes, Cassie took a few steps out to look into the family room…
And nearly swallowed her tongue when she saw April sitting on the couch beside Barry. She was wearing his button down shirt, and he wore just the t-shirt he’d had on under the shirt she’d begged him to wear.
His t-shirt said, You’ve read my shirt. That’s enough social interaction today.
“Oh, man,” she groaned. “No, not that shirt.”
“You have that shirt in blue,” he reminded her not-so-helpfully.
Trey propped his chin on her head and whispered, “Just watch a second.”
As they waited, April leaned in closer to read his shirt, then leaned back and laughed. Barry said something else that had her laughing again, this time with her hand on his forearm.
“Oh, that’s good,” Cassie breathed.
“Just wait for it,” Trey murmured, kissing below her ear. Cassie craned her neck so he had better access.
Barry said something else, and April leaned over, then scooted a few inches toward him to hear better.
“Bingo.” Cassie looked back at Trey and grinned. Then the doorbell rang. “What? Who’s that? Everyone’s here.”
Trey gave her a guilty look. “I might have had a bit of a deal going with Pizza Dan’s. They promised to have a few pizzas ready to go at the drop of a hat if I promised to pay extra. So…pizza’s here.”
She turned in Trey’s arms, looping her own around his neck. “Didn’t think I could pull it off, did you?”
“Let’s just say,” Trey said slowly, “I thought having a backup was a good idea. Just some game day strategy.”
She let that sink in a moment. “Not even mad. Now, go pay for the pizzas. I’ll get everyone back to the table.”
“Love you,” he said, kissing her. “Happy Friendsgiving.”