I adjust the freshly baked pumpkin cheesecake, turkey, and trimmings on the table.
“Are you doing all this again? You’re making the rest of us look bad, Jeannine.” Shirley shakes her head.
“Everyone deserves a traditional Thanksgiving treat. Besides, isn’t it our job, as nurses, to make them feel at home?”
“Maybe, but there’s a big difference between a Thanksgiving treat and a feast, please tell me we get some this year.” Shirley wipes the corner of her mouth. “You’re smelling up the whole building. This is torture!”
“Everyone will get the leftovers, tomorrow.” I laugh and shoo her from the room. “This is for Carly and Brandon.” I move two chairs into place. “They deserve this.” Taking a deep breath, I force myself to swallow.
I glance a final time around the room and whisper a prayer. “Maybe this year will make the difference.”
I pad silently down the hall past Mr. Florence’s room, and hold my breath as I pass Mrs. Jones’s. I don’t feel like listening to those two as they complain about their grandchildren’s choices tonight.
At the end of the corridor I straighten my shirt and tap on her door.
Carly’s round, soft, blue eyes widen at the sight of me. “Who are you?”
“Hi, Ms. Stanberry.” I smile and wait for her to open the door a little wider. “I’m Jeannine.”
“Where am I?” She looks down the hall.
“You’re at the Danburry Residence. Did you just wake up?”
Her long brown hair is mussed and tumbles in ringlets over her shoulders. “I think so. What is Danburry Residency?” She pauses, her eyes searching my face. “Are you okay?”
I force my smile into my eyes. “Yes. Why don’t I tell you about it while we get you ready for dinner?”
She steps back and allows me into her room.
I rub her shoulder as she looks around as if for the first time. “Would you like me to brush your hair?”
She nods and I guide her to the modest vanity.
“Danburry is—” My courage fails as I meet her gaze, telling her she lives in an assisted living facility is always terrible, she’s only 26, “sort of like an extended stay hotel.”
“Are my parents here?”
I shake my head. Looking at the slight crow’s feet around her eyes, I wonder what she thinks of them. Do they confuse her idea of being only fifteen?
“Where are they?”
I put down the brush and begin to fix her makeup. “Do you know you have a date tonight?
He’s really looking forward to meeting you.”
Her shoulders straighten. “I do?”
“He’s very handsome, quite sweet, and really smart. I think you’ll like him.” As she looks at her makeup, I pick out her outfit. “I’ll be back to get you in five minutes.”
As I close her door, Brandon opens his. “I thought I heard you.”
“Are you ready for your date?”
He nods and adjusts his tie.
“Do you want some help—”
“I can make it.” He swings his crutches into the hall and follows them. One leg of his pants swings uselessly.
He stands patiently as I pin it back for him.
“How are your hands today?”
“Better, but don’t ask me to carve the turkey.”
I walk a pace behind him. “I heard you remembered something about your wreck.”
He nods. “It was a blue SUV that hit us.”
I hurry past him and open the door to the dining area. “Anything else?”
As he sets down he pinches the bridge of his nose.
“Is your head hurting again?”
“I’ll be fine. How is Carly?”
“She’s fine. She might be a little nervous—”
He sighs. “What else is new?”
“But she’ll calm down.”
“Has she remembered anything?” His gentle brown eyes beg me to say yes.
My silence answers him.
“Tonight would be our fifth wedding anniversary. Did you know that?”
“I do.” I fill his water glass.
“This looks wonderful.” His stomach growls. “Is that—”
“Carly’s mother’s cheesecake recipe? Yes sir, it is.”
He inhales. “That stuffing smells like my mom’s.”
“Thank you for doing all of this,” Brandon says, smoothing his hair. “Do you think I can give her the locket tonight?”
“Brandon, I don’t—”
“Please. It’s been five years since the crash. Maybe the locket might help her remember me.”
I shake my head. “How is something she’d never seen before supposed to help her?”
His fists clench and his mouth falls open without an answer. “I was supposed to give it to her the night of the crash, it was a gift meant for our wedding night. Please…”
“If she remembers you,” I run a hand over my face, “then you can. Are you ready to see Carly?”
I practically run as I lead her to the dining room. “Carly,” I say, pulling out her chair, “this is Brandon.”
He pushes a piece of folded paper toward her.
As she reads it, I carve the turkey and dish mashed sweet potatoes onto their plates.
After a moment, they’re both giggling.
“Are you two actually going to talk, or just pass notes all night?” I wink at Carly as she blushes.
“We can talk, if you’d like.” Brandon says, smiling at her.
“This meal is wonderful,” Carly says. “It makes me feel so at home.”
“Then all my work was worth it.” I pat her shoulder. My heart sings as I listen to them laugh throughout their meal.
As they finish they both reach for the water pitcher and Brandon’s shirt sleeve lifts revealing his scars.
Carly’s eyes widen. “What happened to you?”
Brandon doesn’t pull back as her fingers trace the marks. “Our—My car was hit by a drunken driver. I don’t remember anything, but my mom told me the other car had caught on fire and I tried to save them.”
“Did they survive?” she says.
He shrugs. “I wish I remembered. I was told the police never found the other driver.”
Closing my eyes, I swallow the lump in my throat. Every time he tells this story, it’s as if I can feel the flames wrapping me in their embrace again.
This story was inspired by When Readers Write’s, Blah Buster topic of ‘Traditions.‘ To read the follow-up character interview, click here.