Holiday Excerpts from the Serpentine Series: Thanksgivings from Hell, #1
Happy Holidays! I thought you might enjoy a few excerpts from the Serpentine Series novels about the holidays. Neither Pete nor Aidan have happy holidays in their books. In Serpentine Walls, Pete’s are unhappy because his parents have just split up. Aidan’s Journey shows that Aidan always has unhappy holidays, poor guy, until he finally breaks away and is living a happy life in New York at the end of the book.
Today’s excerpt is the entire Thanksgiving scene from Serpentine Walls.
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“When do we eat?” Nate stuck his finger into the dish of mashed potatoes sitting on the stove.
“Outta there!” Missy cried, slapping at his hand. “Not ’til two.”
“Two? I’m starving, dude!”
“Eat an apple. Or some yogurt,” Mom said, leaning into the oven to baste the turkey. “Have you finished setting the table?”
“Meaning not at all,” Missy said. “I swear, Nate, you’re such a slug.”
“Jeez, would ya get off my back for once?”
“I’ll do it.” Pete walked out to the dining room, happy to escape the kitchen and his bickering siblings. He could still hear them, though.
“Nate should, the lazy slob!” Missy complained loudly.
“Hey! Stop with the insults!”
“I will when you raise a finger to help out around here.”
“Stop it, both of you!” His mother’s voice was tinged with weariness.
Pete stuck his head into the kitchen and said, “Nate, come here.”
Nate slouched into the dining room, muttering, “She started it.”
“Over here.” Pete yanked open the silverware drawer at the top of the sideboard. “Grab some forks and knives and go to town.” He picked up a stack of plates.
“I mean it.” Nate scowled as he got a handful of silverware. “She’s been on my fucking case all day, man. All week.”
“Yeah.” Pete started to set the table. “So, how’s school?”
“Okay.” Nate slammed the silverware down next to each plate, still looking like a thundercloud.
“Senior year, man,” Pete continued, hoping to divert him from his upset with Missy. “Have you been applying to colleges?”
“Just Nova and Mason.”
“Really? Why not U.Va. or Tech? Your grades should be good enough.”
“Too expensive, now that Mom and Dad—” Nate frowned. “Whatever.”
“What? Fuck, man, that’s just wrong. Dad should be able to pay.”
“He told me not to count on it.”
“Jesus!” Pete bit back the bitter words he wanted to spew about Dad and took a deep breath. “You should apply anyway. What about a basketball scholarship?”
“Not good enough for that. I already tried.”
“Oh. Well, apply to the ones you want to go to, is what I say. We can worry about the money later.”
“Worry about what money?” Missy had come in with a bunch of cloth napkins, and she placed them on the table.
Pete was about to answer when Mom entered carrying some glasses. “Nothing. Forget it.” He took the glasses and asked her, “When are Austin and Rob getting here?”
“Two o’clock. Thanks for setting the table, kids. The food’s under control, so I think I’m going to go lie down for a while.”
The three of them watched as she walked down the hallway to her bedroom and shut the door behind her.
“This is officially the most fucked-up Thanksgiving ever,” Missy said with a scowl.
“Really? What about the time you threw up on Great-aunt Hazel’s shoes?” Pete smirked at her, pulling one of her red curls.
“Or the time Uncle Andy got drunk and smashed Rob’s science project when he fell on top of it?” Nate added.
“True.” Missy quirked a sad smile. “I guess it’s a good thing it’s just us this year.”
“I guess.” Pete thought about Aunt Barb praying over them before they ate, head bowed piously.
“So, what were you guys talking about? What money?”
“For Nate’s college. Have you heard that Dad won’t pay for anything but local?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard. That’s what comes of being the last of five kids. They couldn’t afford for me to go where I wanted either.”
Pete stared at her. “Well, shit, I never knew that. I thought you wanted to go to Mason.”
“No big deal. Like I said, it’s good I went there, given all the crap that’s happened this year.”
“I’m gonna shoot some hoops,” Nate announced and was out of the room before either of them could say a word.
Missy heaved a sigh.
“Want some wine?” Pete asked.
“Yeah, sure. Let’s go raid Dad’s wine collection.”
“He didn’t take his precious wine along with everything else?” Pete followed Missy into the kitchen, where she opened the door to the walk-in pantry.
“Voila.” She gestured to a wooden holder containing a large number of wine bottles stacked on their sides. “Don’t ask me why he didn’t take ’em. Maybe Mallory doesn’t like wine.”
Pete leaned over and grabbed a few bottles at random, getting a vivid memory of Dad at dinner, making a big production out of opening the wine and instructing them on “bouquet” and “nose” in that booming voice of his. It was fucking weird not having him around.
“What should we have? Red or white?” He inspected the label of the bottle in his right hand. “French Bordeaux, 1996. Wow. Let’s have this.”
“Yeah, okay. It must be good if it’s that old, right?”
Pete was opening the wine when voices drifted in from the living room. A moment later, Rob and his wife, Jennifer, walked in, bearing wrapped bowls of food. “Well, brother Pete! I was beginning to forget what you look like, it’s been so long.”
Stifling a retort about Rob missing the garage sale, Pete inclined his head at him and Jennifer. “Hey.”
“You guys look fancy,” Missy said.
It was true. Compared to the rest of them, they were dressed up. Rob wore a suit jacket, button-down shirt, and a sharply pressed pair of slacks, while Jennifer had on a nice dress and a fancy sweater with beads on the shoulders that sparkled in the kitchen light as she removed the Saran wrap from the salad bowl.
Maybe they went to church this morning, mused Pete. Did churches even have Thanksgiving Day services? Rob was so zealous about everyone he knew being saved that he probably took every opportunity he could to pray for their salvation.
“Wine? So early?” Rob bent over to get a closer look at the label. “Hey, is this from Dad’s collection?”
“So what if it is?” Pete asked.
“I don’t think Dad would like you drinking his wine.”
Pete narrowed his eyes at Rob, a flash of anger running through him, wondering when he had turned into such a tightass. “I don’t really care what Dad thinks. But you can call him in Puerto Vallarta if you’re so worried about it.”
“Don’t be a dick,” Rob said, flushing red.
“Dad’s the dick—so get off my back.”
“Rob.” Jennifer raised her eyebrows at him, her manicured fingernails tapping the sides of the salad bowl. Everything about her was perfectly in place, her hair curling around her shoulders just so, and Pete got a sudden urge to smash something.
When Missy and Jennifer started talking about the food and Rob went to stand beside his wife, putting his arm around her waist, Pete poured himself a large glass of the Bordeaux and left the kitchen for the downstairs rec room. After watching the football game for several minutes, he gave up on TV and went into his bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
He twirled around aimlessly on his desk chair as he sipped the wine. It wasn’t bad, but he couldn’t tell the difference between this 1996 stuff and the wine he got at Trader Joe’s. Dad would be quite disappointed in him. Yawning, he moved to his bed, setting the wineglass on his bedside table, and picked up his guitar. After playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” he was attempting “Maybe I’m Amazed” when he heard a soft knock on his door.
The door opened, and Austin stood there, wineglass in one hand, the bottle of Bordeaux in the other. Pete smiled.
“It’s my bro, the wine stealer,” Austin said with a smirk as he walked over and topped off Pete’s glass. His brown hair was tied back in a ponytail, he had on jeans and a black T-shirt under a cool leather jacket, and Pete was really fucking glad to see him. “Here.” He picked up Pete’s glass and held it out to him. “Help me kill this bottle so we can open another.”
“Don’t let Rob hear you say that.”
“He already did.”
Pete chuckled. They saluted each other with their glasses and drank.
“Shove over.” Austin joined him on the bed, resting against the headboard and stretching out his legs with a grunt. “This is gonna be one strange Thanksgiving.”
“You got that right. Hey, congrats on the election.”
“Thanks. I’m happy it’s over and I can have a life again.”
“And a job.”
“Yeah, that too. Wanna smoke?” Austin produced a joint from the pocket of his leather jacket.
But before Austin could light it, Missy bellowed down the stairs. “Austin! Pete! Get your butts up here. We need some help.”
“Later, then,” Austin said, pocketing the joint. “How’s Mom?” he added as they got off the bed.
“Yeah. Jesus, what a mess.”
They came into the kitchen, where a huge turkey, brown and fragrant, sat in a pan on the counter.
“Smells awesome,” Pete said.
Mom nodded. “I’m letting you two carve it while Missy and I get the rest of the food on the table.”
Mom and Missy left the kitchen with bowls of green beans and mashed potatoes, while Pete and Austin looked at each other and then at the turkey.
“Ever carved a turkey?” Pete asked, regarding it doubtfully.
“No. Dad always did it.” They eyed the turkey some more. “Crap.” Austin ran a hand over his forehead. “Guess it won’t carve itself.”
“Well, how hard can it be? Where’s that electric carving knife that Dad used to use?” Pete started rummaging through the cabinets.
“We can always use this.” Austin pulled a large butcher knife out of the knife block and aimed it at Pete with a flourish. “En garde.”
“Don’t point that thing at me!” Pete grabbed a wooden spoon out of a drawer and raised it in defense, laughing.
Nate loped in and, ignoring them, reached over, pulled a strip of meat off the turkey, and popped it into his mouth. “Mm. Hurry up, guys, I’m starving.”
“Get outta here!” Pete whacked him on the butt with the spoon.
“Hey!” Nate grabbed a dish towel and snapped it at Pete’s face.
“What’s going on?” Mom’s appearance put a halt to their antics. “We need that turkey carved. Everything else is ready.”
“Where’s the electric carving knife?” Pete asked. “I can’t find it.”
“I… I don’t remember where Dad kept it.” Pete hated the pained look on Mom’s face.
“No problem,” Austin said quickly. “We’ll handle it.” He started hacking at the turkey with the butcher knife.
Missy walked in. “That’s not how you’re supposed to do it!” she cried, voice shrill. “Stop, before you ruin the whole thing!”
“Excuse me.” Rob stood in the doorway, the electric carving knife in his hand. “Dad gave this to me this summer. Now, if you’ll get out of the way, I’ll carve the turkey.” He didn’t bother to hide his smug expression as he walked calmly over to the counter and inserted the plug into the outlet.
Jennifer, who had come in behind him, turned to Mom and asked, “Laura, do you want the turkey to go on this platter?”
Pete dropped the wooden spoon on the counter. “Well, I guess you got it covered.” He went over to the pantry and took out two more bottles of wine. “Who wants some of this excellent wine?”
Rob frowned and started the electric knife while Missy and Austin held up their glasses.
“Can I have some?” Nate asked.
“Do you think that’s wise?” Rob asked, raising his voice to be heard over the racket made by the knife as he sawed through the turkey breast.
“Mom?” Nate looked at her imploringly.
“Sure you can.” Mom took down two more wineglasses from the cupboard and set them in front of Pete, who was uncorking the bottles. “I’ll have a glass too. Rob? Jennifer? Would you like some?”
They exchanged a look. “No, thank you,” Jennifer said.
Pete filled the glasses in silence, while the kitchen reverberated with the whine of the carving knife.
And there you have it. As Austin says later, “family tension so thick you could cut it with an electric carving knife.”
Tomorrow: Aidan’s typical “family command performance” Thanksgiving with his politician father and depressive mother.
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