Focus (Page 41)

I was glad to be making myself useful. Hailey and Owen were out getting a few things at the store with their dad. I’d stayed back to help in the kitchen.

I found a saucepan, the cranberries, and some sugar, and went to work.

“I’m sure this isn’t easy for you.” Jan paused from cutting up vegetables.

I was sure that she wasn’t talking about making cranberries. “What part?”

“Any of it. Hailey told me you were upset about missing Thanksgiving with your mother.”

“I am, but I’ll find a way to see her over the holiday break, hopefully.”

“I’m sure she’s missing you, too.”

I just smiled and turned back to the stove.

Loud voices interrupted us as Hailey, Owen, and their father burst into the kitchen. “The store was a zoo. We’re not going out again.” Timothy paused in his rant to give his wife a kiss on the cheek.

Jan smacked him playfully with a dish towel. “That’s good, because I can use you in here.”

I finished up the cranberries. “Do you want me to wait for them to cool?”

“No, that’s okay. Why don’t you kids go relax. Thanks for the help, Allie.” I’m pretty sure Jan felt bad accepting my help at all.

“It was no trouble.”

It had actually been nice. I’d started to really appreciate the little things. I loved when I could forget about the craziness that was my life.

***

I’d never set a table for such a large number of people before. Compared to many Thanksgivings, it was small. Hailey’s extended family lived a few hours away and did Thanksgiving with her grandparents. Still, most of the Thanksgivings of my childhood were just Mom, my grandparents, and I.

“Happy Thanksgiving, babe.” Levi wrapped his arms around me from behind. I put down the last of the plates and turned to look at him. He’d slowly but surely started calling me babe again.

He’d stayed away from it ever since I screamed at him for calling me baby—too many bad memories. I decided the shortened babe form didn’t bother me as much.

“Happy Thanksgiving.” Levi looked great in a blue collared shirt and khaki slacks. We hadn’t planned it, but we practically matched. I was wearing a blue sweater that was the same shade as his shirt.

He leaned down and kissed me lightly on the lips. I closed my eyes for a second, opening them to see Robert standing directly behind Levi with a grin.

“Oh, hello, Robert.”

“Nice to see you, Allison.”

I looked around for Helen, but she must have gone right into the kitchen to help Jan.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” I said awkwardly.

“Maybe next year the two of you will host Thanksgiving?”

“Uh, maybe.” I might have been able to make cranberry sauce, but any Thanksgiving I hosted would probably have to be ordered in.

“I should make sure they don’t need help in the kitchen.” I slipped out of Levi’s arms and out of the room.

“Hi, Allie.” Helen greeted me warmly. As I expected, she was in the kitchen trying to help Jan.

“Hi, Helen.”

To Jan’s credit, she wasn’t showing any of the nerves.

We’d just sat down to eat when the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it.” Hailey got up and went out to the front hall. I heard a muffled conversation, and then she walked back in, followed by Jared. He carried a bottle of wine.

“Is it too late to join you?”

“Of course not, Jared. You’re always welcome here.” Jan busied herself setting another place at the table. Jared took a seat next to Owen.

“How nice of you to join us.” Robert turned his attention to Jared.

“Dad decided he didn’t want to celebrate this year, but I didn’t agree.”

“He’s taking Bryant’s disloyalty hard.” Robert took a sip of his wine. “That’s to be expected.”

“Of course he is. The perfect son did the unforgiveable. Now he’s just left with me.”

It was weird hearing Jared talk about himself so negatively. I wondered if he’d been drinking.

“You’ll make him proud.” Robert kept a stony expression, but behind his eyes I thought there was something else. I think he really cared about Jared.

Dinner was pleasant enough. I ate far too much and was more than happy to take a walk when Levi suggested it. We walked the few blocks to Audubon Park. After a few months in New Orleans, I’d decided the park was my favorite escape. In some ways, it was like an oasis in the city.

“I need to ask you something.” Levi grabbed my hand, holding it tightly in his as we walked under the live oaks.

“Should I be worried?”

“No. It’s a good thing.”

I pulled my left sleeve down as far as it could go. It was probably sixty degrees, but I was cold. Levi got the hint, and put an arm around me. “I need to go on a business trip in a few weeks, and I want you to come with me.”

“A business trip?” I stopped in front of one of the ponds.

“Yes. It’s a few hours away, and it would be great if you could come. I promise we’ll have fun.”

“What happens if I say no?”

“Honestly? My dad will probably want to talk to you.”

“Are you ever going to tell him?” I sat down on a bench watching some ducks play around in the water.

“There’s no reason to. We’re back together.”

I turned to him. “Levi…”

“Just say you’ll come.”

“Is it at least someplace cool?”

“Define cool?”

I sighed. “Oh no.”

“So you’ll come?”

“Do I have a choice?”

He grinned. “No.”

I’m sure I could have kept arguing, but the truth was, the thought of a few days away with Levi didn’t sound nearly as bad as it might have a month before. “As long as I don’t have to miss class.”

“You won’t.”

“Okay.”

He tightened his arms around me. “It’s going to be fun.”

“We’ll see about that.” I wasn’t quite sure what I was agreeing to, but at least it would be a change of scenery.

“Can I ask you a question now?” Something had been bugging me since I talked to my dad.

He got up and pulled me to my feet so we could continue walking. “You can ask me anything.”

“Remember how my dad was having all those business problems?”