This one's all fluff and cuteness.
Julie was downstairs helping her dad make stuffing and mashed potatoes on Thanksgiving when Reggie and Alex walked in through the wall. They had all checked with her in advance about whether it was okay for them to hang out in her house during the holiday. She could see in their eyes how much they missed their families on days like today so she had of course agreed, and also understood when Luke said he would show up a little late because he wanted to drop in on his family as well.
Having the boys around put her in a good mood all afternoon. Her dad noticed the difference but decided to just enjoy his daughter's positivity, rather than question it.
Together they went all out, and Carlos even helped make the salad, so they had some quality time all together. At least once Alex caught a plate that was about to fall on the floor, but thankfully Ray and Carlos weren't looking. Julie just gave him a wink and a smile.
Reggie meanwhile was constantly chattering away at Julie's dad, saying things like "I don't know, Ray, don't you think that needs more salt?" and "My mom made a casserole just like that! Except with all different ingredients…" Julie had to stifle her laughter.
The boys did manage to stay out of her way so that she wouldn't bump into them, now that she could touch them. Finally, about fifteen minutes before dinner, Luke appeared as well. Julie could see he had been crying, although he was holding it together. Alex and Reggie gave him a big hug, which made him smile, and Julie subtly gave his hand a squeeze to show that she was there for him, too.
When the table was set, Carlos, Ray, and Julie sat down to their meal, with an empty space left for Julie's mom as always. The three boys crowded into that space and completed the circle by holding hands with Julie and Carlos, although only Julie knew they were there and could feel them. She smiled at having somebody on that side again to hold her hand, and she was glad it was Luke. They said grace and dug into their food.
The boys just sat staring hungrily at the food, sad they couldn't taste any of it, but happy to be there and surrounded by people they had come to think of as family. The usual hubbub occurred as they talked about Julie's music, Carlos's soccer team, Ray's photography, and old family memories from previous Thanksgivings. Julie didn't mind the boys being there to hear those things. They deserved to see this part of her life, since she saw so much of theirs.
After dinner Carlos and Ray lay on the floor groaning, but Julie said, "I think I'm going to go for a short walk to burn some of these calories." Ray just nodded weakly at her.
She immediately headed to the studio and pulled the boys into a tight band hug. "I'm so glad I got to share Thanksgiving with you guys. You're as close to me as my family is now."
Alex blushed, Reggie grinned, and Luke said, "We feel the same way, Julie."
They considered rehearsing but Julie vetoed the idea because she felt so full. She decided to actually go for a walk around the neighborhood like she told her dad.
"Can I come along, Julie?" Luke asked. Reggie and Alex looked at each other and grinned.
"Yeah, of course, Luke," Julie said a little shyly.
They walked in silence for a few minutes before Julie broke the silence. "What were Thanksgivings like with your parents?"
Luke shrugged. "We did the whole extended family thing. I'd hang out with my cousins, my mom would nag me to eat vegetables, I'd pass out on the car ride home after all the food. Just the normal, all-American generic Thanksgiving."
"Do you miss it a lot?"
"I mean yeah. Definitely the food. But also the people. Family is that feeling of people who never abandon you and support you always and… I didn't always have that with my parents but some of my aunts and uncles were always there for me. And it's how I feel about the band for sure. I mean… in like a not totally family way. I don't mean I think about you like a sister…" Luke stammered as he started to ramble. They both blushed and looked away, but Luke found the courage to reach out and take her hand.
"This was the first Thanksgiving without my mom, and I was surprised it didn't hurt more," Julie remarked after a moment. "I think it's because you guys were there, filling in the gap, literally and figuratively."
They were almost back to her house at this point, and Luke pulled them to a stop in front of the gate to their house. "I always want to be able to do that for you Julie. I wish I could keep you from ever feeling sad again, about your mom or anything."
"Just keep being around, Luke. You do a pretty good job of making me happy just with that," she answered, grinning sheepishly. Impulsively, she leaned in and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
When she pulled back he was looking at her steadily, trying to gauge her feelings. He liked what he saw in her expression and leaned down to kiss her properly. He leaned back against the fence and pulled her against him, holding her close like he wanted to for as long as he possibly could.
Later, when she was lying in her bed, staring at the ceiling, Julie thought that this Thanksgiving had truly exceeded her expectations.
Happy Thanksgiving to my US readers! I probably won't add another chapter until next weekend FYI. I'll be skipping my mid-week update to do some cooking and cleaning.