On Thanksgiving Day, the Thibodeaux family gathers—courtesy of my gram’s married name. Aunt Cass, Dari’s mom, and her father Drew are here. So is Uncle Clemens, the eldest, with his wife, and my older cousin, Kenya. Gigi’s oldest daughter, Corine, has made it, too, which is a relief. She has always been the mediator between her two younger, bickering sisters.Aunt Corine’s son, Ryan, accompanies her. Even Gigi’s younger sister and her husband have made the trip.
Finally, the last to arrive is my birth mother, Charlotte. Ever since she wouldn’t give me a straight answer about believing me, I’ve been referring to her as Charlotte. She no longer gets the privilege of me calling her Mama. Her arm is laced through her significant other, Regan, and my older sister is by their side. One big happy family—in hindsight.
Grandma Thibodeaux is thrilled to have everyone together. When Cassandra sneers at Charlotte in greeting, an uneasy feeling washes over me. A storm is brewing—its shape forming in Aunt Cass’ eyes. There has been bad karma between them, and I have no clue why their beef started. Dari and I glance at each other quickly, picking up on the tidal waves. For Gigi’s sake, I hope that for this evening, they can let bygones be bygones.
Gigi’s formal dining room has an elegant vibe. Dari and I put in a lot of work cleaning and decorating. The aroma of fried turkey, dressing, and candied yams fills the air. I introduce my daughter to my extended family. Gigi hasn’t shared the specifics of who her father is, and for that, I’m grateful. For now, I’d rather ease into it. I’ve only recently taken the first step with pressing charges.
I put Justice down for a nap, turn on the baby monitor, and take a seat next to Dari. Our mama’s may be at odds, but she’s my best friend. My cousin, Kenya, plops down on my other side.
Everyone begins passing around the food, stuffing their plates. I scan the room, swallowing the mothball in my throat. There are bound to be fireworks. Aunt Cass is still shooting daggers at Charlotte. Dari’s dad, Drew, is oblivious to the tension, or he’s choosing to ignore it. Dari smirks. Kenya eyes them skeptically. Regan hasn’t looked up once since he sat down—he finds the food on his plate more interesting. My other cousin, Ryan, licks his lips at the meal in front of him. Tanya glances over herself, snapping a selfie in her phone.
Clearing her throat, Gigi asks, “Who would like to say grace?”
“Clemens can say it,” Charlotte bellows. “He’s the oldest.”
“Very well,” Uncle Clemens replies. “Let’s bow our heads.”
He says a beautiful prayer, and then everyone starts to dig in. For a while, all that can be heard is the clinking of utensils.
Breaking the sound of mouths chewing, Charlotte exhales. “Now is as good a time as any to share my wonderful news.” Everyone’s heads snap to attention. Charlotte lifts her ring finger, revealing her gorgeous diamond engagement ring and announces, “Regan and I got married last week in Las Vegas. It’s official.”
Gigi’s eyes widen. Obviously, this is news to her. Kenya’s jaw drops, and Dari makes a garbled sound. Aunt Cass glowers at Charlotte and Regan. The table grows as quiet as a church in Hades. They have been engaged for months, and I don’t have any ill-will toward Regan. I’m just kind of shocked they still went through with tying the knot with everything going on. Regan will soon have confirmation that Justice is, indeed, his granddaughter.
Their marriage makes Justin and me official stepsiblings. Things between us will be even more complicated. I wonder if Justin knew about the matrimony and felt it was our parents’ place to spring the news.
Finally, Aunt Cass breaks the silence. “Are we supposed to congratulate you?”
Charlotte scrunches her nose. “You’ll never change. Still jealous, holding grudges until your grave.”
Regan’s Adam’s apple bobs. He looks seconds from bolting for the door.
“No, you’ve just always thought you were better than me,” Aunt Cass snaps.
“Your words, not mine.”
“Please, don’t start, you two,” Aunt Corine chastises them.
“Let’s respect our mother’s home,” their older brother, Clemens, chimes in.
Okay, what is this about?
Dari’s eyes dart to mine. I shrug, with nothing to offer. Their rivalry is propelling to the forefront of the evening’s festivities. Tanya places her cell down, now all in the mix with her brow knitted.
“Sorry, Mama. I meant no disrespect toward you,” Aunt Cass apologizes to Gigi.
“You can’t help yourself,” Charlotte sneers.
Aunt Cass’ head jerks backward. “Like you can talk. You’re a backstabbing whore, who cheated with my finance.”
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