More Holiday Excerpts from the Serpentine Series: Thanksgivings from Hell, #2

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turkey day

Yesterday I brought you the entire Thanksgiving chapter from Serpentine Walls. Today it’s Aidan’s turn in an account from Aidan’s Journey of a typical Thanksgiving at the Emery home. There’s not much happiness in Aidan’s household, but there’s a lot of putting on a show. Here is Aidan in his first year at college, getting to know the glamorous Professor R and starting to substitute Rodney’s accepting presence for the love he never gets at home.

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I started frequenting Rodney’s office even more after that. Little by little, I told him about my family situation. He told me about his parents, who were elderly and living in London, and how he worried about them. It felt soothing to talk to Rodney. He had a way of not reacting to my outgoingness that allowed me to relax and be myself in his presence. It was like being a child who was finally being given unconditional love. I soaked it up.

Besides, Rodney was fascinating. His mother was Pakistani and his father was English, and he had an interesting life story. He’d traveled the world and he spoke four languages, three of them fluently. I wasn’t a stranger to international people, having grown up in DC and with the father I had, but Charlottesville was a good ol’ boys Southern town. Rodney was the opposite of a good ol’ boy—cultured and erudite. He seemed gorgeously exotic to me.

When I went home for Thanksgiving that year, I kept thinking about him. Before I left, I’d told him I was going for one of Father’s “command performances.” Thanksgiving was a big deal in our home. My parents hired caterers for the occasion and had people in to clean and decorate the house for days before the main event. At two o’clock sharp, the guests started to arrive. My paternal grandparents were it for relatives, as both my parents were only children. But Father made sure to fill the table with VIPs from the political world, as well as prominent businesspeople and lobbyists.

Everyone stood, drinking too much and nibbling on the canapés the servers passed around. I usually got stuck talking with my grandparents, who were stiff and unfriendly. At least Daphne was there. Daphne and Mother were work colleagues before Mother got married, and had been friends ever since.

Daphne loves me like a second Mom. I love her too. She kicks ass and has been a true friend to Mother, standing by her through everything that’s gone down. I don’t think Mother would be alive today were it not for Daphne’s friendship.

“How’s Mother doing?” was the first thing I said to Daphne that day. I knew she’d level with me, unlike Mother herself, who didn’t want to bother me with her troubles.

“Not great.” When she saw me grimace, she patted my arm. “It’s gonna be okay. She’s better than she was a few weeks ago, and I think her new psychiatrist is ace.”

“Who’s that?”

“Dr. Pinney. She’s much better than that guy Theo was making her see.” She picked up a canapé and offered it to me. “Don’t worry, kiddo, I’ll look after Ceci. Now, tell me about you, you hunk. I can’t believe how handsome you’ve gotten!”

Daphne wasn’t the only one who thought so. That year, several women who’d never paid me any attention during past Thanksgivings came up to talk with me. Reveling in this new experience of being a sex object, I flirted with them shamelessly, not caring what Father thought. I needn’t have worried. When I looked over at him, he gave me an approving nod. I should have known Father would regard success with women as a positive thing—like father, like son.

After everyone was thoroughly sloshed, dinner was announced. Father sat at the head of the table in our formal dining room, making toasts and doling out the turkey, while Mother pasted on an adoring smile. I noticed her hands shaking as she clutched her wine glass. She wasn’t supposed to drink because it triggered her depression, but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I played the role of the handsome, accomplished son, although Father tried to gloss over my acting activities and focus on… what? I almost laughed as I saw him wracking his brain, trying to come up with something else to brag about. He fell back on my singing and announced I had a solo for the University Singers winter concert. Everyone smiled politely and moved on to other topics.

I was glad to get back to school—and to Rodney, whispered my inner romantic. I sought him out almost as soon as Lee and I slung our bags onto our dorm beds. Lee wanted to meet friends at The Cellar, the student hangout. I told him I’d be by later, and went in search of Rodney. It was Sunday afternoon, but I dropped by his office just in case. I walked down the corridor of an otherwise-deserted Bryan Hall and was rewarded when I heard his voice.

The door to his office opened as I approached and Rodney ushered out a student, his hand on the guy’s shoulder. There was an intimacy in their body language I didn’t want to think about. I’d noticed the guy before, hanging out on the Lawn and in Cabell Hall. He was a fourth year, and handsome, of course. I stood, caught and embarrassed, cursing myself for my stupidity.

When Rodney saw me, he dropped his hand from the guy’s shoulder, offering me a smile. “Aidan, hello. How was your Thanksgiving?”

“Good. Um, you’re busy, I’ll come back.”

“No, no, Grant and I were just finishing up our meeting.”

Grant shot Rodney a dirty look, as far as I could tell, but said, “Yeah, sure. See you later, Rodney.”

“Thank you, Grant.” Rodney watched Grant brush past me and stalk down the hall. Then he indicated his door with a welcoming gesture. “Come in.”

“I’m sorry if I was interrupting something.” I shuffled in, expecting Rodney to be annoyed, the way Father would have been if he’d been interrupted in one of his important meetings. But Rodney acted cordial as he closed his door after us.

“Not at all, Aidan. I’m always happy to see you. Now, sit down and tell me all about your Thanksgiving. How was the command performance?”

Touched that Rodney had remembered my phrase, I sat on his couch and launched into a recount of the day, trying to make it as entertaining and humorous as possible.

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