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Chapter 31

Kristin loved Thanksgiving. It was her favorite American holiday since her exchange student days in Tallahassee with the Sanders family.

Allan could carve a mean turkey. Claire made pumpkin and mince pies. Their relatives lived close by and always brought the same side dishes. Sweet potatoes, cranberries, molded salad and a funny casserole of green beans and mushroom soup with French fried onions on top. It was the same every year. Nobody tried to be different.

There was nothing like this holiday in Norway. So, Thanksgiving was at Kristin’s house every year, with Anders, Berit, Ron, Jackson and the odd single person or couple who wanted to join them. She had a small cottage, but it always felt cozy when filled with the smell of roasting turkey. Anders and Berit made the table decorations and gave everyone a homemade pilgrim or Indian hat.

This year Kristin invited Skip and his wife, Karen. She had met Karen at a Guardian Ad Litem function and liked her immediately. When she learned that they didn’t have children, she included them in the Thanksgiving gathering.

She had invited Joseph, too, but he begged off, claiming holiday work hours. He was working full time now in the undercover internet sting, trying to catch pedophiles.

“These sickos take advantage of holidays like Thanksgiving, when adults are distracted and kids have more time on the Internet. It’s one of our biggest bust days of the year. You think those little girls at the malls on Friday are all shopping for clothes or Christmas presents?”

Kristin wondered why he didn’t sound disappointed. Who would choose that kind of a job over a turkey dinner with friends? She especially wanted to cook for him as thanks for the One Direction concert at the amphitheater. They’d had such fun trying to blend into a younger crowd, sipping beer and dancing in the aisles to the raucous music. She enjoyed him. He made her feel alive and not so serious. But she could tell he still cared for Mary.

“You’re surrounded by love, Judge Dahlen,” Karen Walters said after dinner, helping her load the dishwasher. “Skip tells me about the tough decisions you make in court, and how you seem to really love the kids. We don’t have any of our own, but sometimes I think Skip has hundreds because of his work in court.”

Kristin gave Karen a little hug. “You know we have a few husband-wife guardians who work the cases together. Why don’t you talk to Skip about that? I have a feeling you would add a lot to the team.”

“I may do that,” Karen said. “Skip can’t stop talking about the kids. Especially what they might be doing today, on Thanksgiving.”

“Yes,” Kristin sighed. “I’m wondering what some of those kids are doing today, too.”

Robby was not happy. He had been here for about a month. It was his first Thanksgiving away from his grandmother. She was invited to come for a family Thanksgiving dinner, but she was feeling bad and couldn’t make the two-hour drive to his program.

The turkey tasted dried out, the gravy was lumpy and the pumpkin pie slices were skimpy. I guess it’s a lot better than jail or a juvenile prison, he thought. I hope they think I’m cooperating, because I am trying my best. I just want to go home.

“Hey, Robby,” one of the counselors said. “How about a little pickup basketball after dinner? There are just enough boys here not on family leave to make up two teams. I’ll be the coach of your team. How about it? You want to play?”

Robby knew that many of the kids had gone home for the long weekend. He forgot that the staff had to stay to take care of the ones left behind. He felt sorry for them, too.

He scarfed down the last of his pie. “Sure. You can count on me for a few baskets.”

Jordan savored the holiday with her foster mom. Although Aunt Erin and Luke had tried, they hadn’t convinced the judge to order her to spend Thanksgiving with them. Her foster mom had a family of her own and they all came over for Thanksgiving, along with a few other foster kids, now grown, who dropped in from college or wherever to say hello. It was one of the best days of the year, Jordan thought.

She’d been asked to help make the pies this year. Last night, she stayed up late peeling apples, mixing pumpkin filling and spooning jars of mincemeat into bowls. Her foster momma was kind to her, buying pre-packaged pie crust. So Thanksgiving morning, before the turkey went into the oven, the two of them worked together, filling pie crusts and getting them into the oven before the turkey. Jordan loved the smell of apple, pumpkin and mincemeat mixed together, filling the room. She was so happy. She felt a little guilty about Aunt Erin and hoped she didn’t have to work at the restaurant.

A few hours later, Jordan moved in close as the turkey was being carved. She knew what she wanted. The wishbone. As she and her foster mom hugged each other, Jordan knew what they both wished for.

Mikayla paced up and down her street, looking for Germaine. He had promised to be there half an hour ago. Some Thanksgiving, she thought. True, she didn’t have school, and that was a relief. But her momma had passed out on the sofa while watching some dumb football game no one cared about, and the TV turkey dinners she had chosen for them were still in the freezer.

Momma was giving her a whole bunch of freedom lately. She didn’t ask where Mikayla was going. She didn’t look like she cared. Mikayla knew she was taking those pills again. All she had to do was look at her asleep on the sofa, and she knew. Pills that Germaine provided.

Where was Germaine? Mikayla knew he had other girls like her that he used for his his “clientele,” as he called them. They had a holiday today, too. Maybe he was just too busy for her. Maybe she should play hard to get. How do you do that when you need a man so much, for so many things? If he came to pick her up, she’d tell him about her momma and that she was hungry. He’d take her to a cafeteria for a real turkey dinner, she bet.

She continued to pace up and down the street.

Mary’s obligation was to make her famous tiramisu. Nobody but Italians ate tiramisu on Thanksgiving, but for the Visconti family it was as much a tradition as pumpkin pie. She carried it into Nonna’s house, looking for space in the refrigerator.

Wow, there’s enough in here to feed the whole juvenile detention center. She thought of Mikayla and Jordan, and especially Robby in his program. What was he doing today? She hoped his grandmother had been able to visit him for the family dinner the program served. He wouldn’t have experienced that in a juvenile prison or adult jail. It’s not home, but still better than incarceration.

Mary watched her mother baste the turkey, and then glanced at her watch. Raphael was due any moment. This should be interesting. Another experience introducing a date to her family. Raphael was more than her date, he was her lover. Perhaps her aunt, a nun visiting from Italy, would provide a distraction.

The doorbell rang. Nonna beat her to it, opening the door. Over her shoulder Mary could see Raphael smiling wide in a white button down shirt and dress slacks. He was holding a large bouquet of sunflowers, Nonna’s favorite.

“You must be Raphael,” she said.

“And you must be the lovely Mrs. Visconti.”

She turned and winked at Mary, giving her the ‘this is the one’ kind of look.

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