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The Green Family Football game took place on a chilly, clear afternoon that year.

It had rained earlier in the week, and the ground in the backyard was still slightly spongy. Nevertheless, the entire Green family had assembled in excitement on one side of the lawn. The Hawkins family had arrived moments before, and had gone inside the house to deposit their contribution to the Thanksgiving meal that was to follow the game.

The Greens were all dressed for the occasion, but aside from their green shirts, they were in various stages of readiness. Eric was leading stretches, which some members of the family were following. Jake was excitedly explaining all the strategies he'd planned for this year's game to Heather, who was half-listening with a smile, as she fixed Shelby's broken shoelace. Mary had joined in the stretching, but continued to describe to her niece and nephew the commotion that had occurred on Main Street last week when Sean Henthorn had attempted to ride the bike he'd fixed in the rain.

“So when he heard the noise, Dale came running out of the store, and I was afraid he was going to have an aneurysm right there; but then Sean crashed into a tree and fell off the bike,” she said as she stretched an arm across her chest.

“He was okay, right?” asked Fiona as she reached for her toes, though she had caught the tone in her aunt's voice and was smiling.

“Oh yeah. I think Sean's always had a hard head. He just got up and looked around at everyone staring at him, and said 'What?'”

There were giggles around the group, but Eric cleared his throat. “Everyone really concentrating on stretching? If you don't, that's when people get hurt.”

Quickly, Mary hid a smile and the kids threw themselves into the warm-up.

“No, no one's getting hurt this year,” said Gail, glancing meaningfully at certain members of her family as she came back outside, followed by Darcy, Allison, and Robert Hawkins.

“Great, you guys are ready,” said Jake.

The Hawkins family stepped across the lawn and towards the stretching Greens.

“Mr. Hawkins, you're on our team!” said Shelby. “And we're going to win!”

An amused glance flashed quickly between Robert and Darcy Hawkins, noticed perhaps only by Allison. “So this is a long tradition, I take it?” asked Hawkins, still smiling.

“Well, most years Dad and Uncle Stanley picked teams, and we were all mixed up. But last year, Dr. Kenchy came for Thanksgiving, and Sean Henthorn, so they played with the Richmonds and we played against them,” explained Fiona. “Except Aunt Mary, so the teams were even. And they beat us.”

“But this is the year of Team Green, huh?” asked Darcy.

There were a few emphatic nods, and a few subtly raised eyebrows.

“It'll be a fun game, anyway,” said Heather before anyone else from her team could begin proclaiming an early victory again. “So, any news from Sam?”

The three Hawkinses launched into an update about their one missing family member--telling about how well he was doing, setting up the art show--the somewhat disastrous cranberries he'd been making, and of Alison's plans to make the trip out to Maine to see the opening.

The chatter was interrupted suddenly by a new set of arrivals in the Green's backyard. Everyone fell silent and turned to look. At the edge of the lawn, the Richmond family stood, five figures with five tall shadows falling across the grass. Each stood looking at their rivals, squinting in the late afternoon sun. They were impressive in their football jerseys, hockey sweaters, and polo shirts, a sea of red against the hazy blue sky.

The Greens were quiet as they took in the sight of their formidable opponents. Jake grinned slyly. Johnny squinted back at them. Gail shook her head. Mary waved. Mimi waved back with a grin.

As the old rivals faced each other, the three Hawkinses exchanged glances. Had anyone else been watching, they might have perceived the amusement that passed between them. After a few moments passed, Darcy broke the silence. “Uh, Jake?”

Jake broke eye contact with Stanley to turn towards her. “Oh, right. Teams. You two are with them,” he said, glancing at Darcy and Allison and motioning towards the Richmonds. “And Hawkins, you're with us.”

“Uh, Jake, aren't we going to say 'hi' first?” asked Gail, her eyebrows raised.

Jake seemed to think it wouldn't fit the spirit of the stare-down he'd been in a few seconds earlier. “We've got to huddle-”

“Come on, Jake,” said Heather, quickly starting across the lawn. Mary followed closely, pulling Johnny along with her, and the other children ran over to exchange hugs with Stanley, Mimi and their family.

“Go shake hands, Jake,” said Gail as Eric and the Hawkinses also went to greet the new arrivals.

Feigning a look of innocence as though he'd intended on doing that all along, Jake stepped over to the mob of people on the edge of the lawn. He stepped around Heather chatting with Ben and Tessa, Darcy and Hawkins exchanging greetings with Mimi, and Fiona, Clark, and Johnny debating something, to get to Stanley, who had lifted Shelby off the ground in a hug.

“Happy Thanksgiving, Stanley,” said Jake, offering his hand.

“Jake! Happy Thanksgiving!” said Stanley with a grin, still holding Shelby in one arm as he shook Jake's hand.

Jake smiled and nodded, and then put on a more business-like face. “Same terms we talked last week?”

Stanley affected a similar serious expression as Shelby slid out of his grasp. “We play for an hour, losers do the dishes.”

They shook hands once more. “Okay, team,” said Stanley, and as the Richmonds stepped towards their captain, Jake's own family moved back over towards their side of the field.

“Hey, wait a second,” said Stanley, stopping. Both teams stopped and turned to look at each other once more. “There are more of you than there are of us,” he said, glancing at each of the Green team members in turn. “Why do you have two more players?”

His family looked around at each other, but Jake had an answer ready. “We picked teams last week. We agreed, we get Hawkins and you get the rest of the family.”

“Why would you agree to uneven teams?” Mimi asked quickly.

“Ah, I'm afraid they were even. Sam couldn't make it home this year,” said Hawkins apologetically.

“So then, you should just play on our team,” she said matter-of-factly.

Hawkins seemed to think this was fair, but Jake held out a hand. “Wait, we get Hawkins. We decided teams last week. It's not our fault Sam isn't home.”

“Uh, Jake-” whispered Heather, who had appeared at his side. “Is this really-”

“We already had one less than you, and Sam was a strong addition to our team. You have to give us someone,” interrupted Stanley.

Jake nearly groaned. “You already have strong players. You've got Clark the quarterback, and you've got one of my best deputies. I've got an eight-year-old.”

“Hey!” began Shelby, but the adults were too engrossed in debate.

“What are you afraid of Jake? Think we'll beat you again if we have even numbers?” asked Stanley with a chuckle.

“Hardly,” said Jake, attempting a cocky smile. He and Stanley still stared at each other, and now other members of the families stood facing off as well. Darcy and Robert Hawkins, standing with their assigned teams, watched patiently.

As Jake opened his mouth to make another point, Mary stepped forward. “Okay guys, this is ridiculous. I'll just go play on their team again and it'll be even.” She continued walking, but Jake stepped out and held a hand up. “You can't join them,” he said incredulously.

She turned back to their family, and was greeted with a series of scandalized faces. “We want you on our team, Aunt Mary!” exclaimed Fiona, as Andrew said “We're all supposed to play together this year!” Johnny appeared too shocked at his mother's traitorous intentions to speak. From her vantage point on the edge of the porch, Gail couldn't help but chuckle.

Turning his back so the Richmonds couldn't observe so closely, Jake said through clenched teeth, “This is our year to beat the Richmonds. Team Green's year. It won't be a great victory if team Richmond has a Green on it.”

Evidently, Stanley had heard, because he called out, “Hey, we don't need a Green on our team! You know what? Keep your team. We can still beat you. Same deal, and losers do the dishes.”

“Okay, deal,” said Jake, trying not to smile. Once more, he stepped forward to shake Stanley's hand, retreating quickly so he could chuckle to himself. He hadn't expected a member of his own family to volunteer themselves, but Mary's offer had distracted everyone and his team had kept Hawkins. As the Greens and Robert Hawkins gathered on their side of the lawn, Jake leaned in and whispered to Mary, “Hey, if for some reason we actually do lose, you can be exempt from doing dishes.”

Grinning at her puzzled look, he motioned his team to huddle. He grinned as Heather slipped her arm across his shoulders, and on his other side, his nephew squished in beside him.

“Alright, guys. I know we haven't beaten them yet, and I know they'll try to intimidate us with their tall jokes and their Jericho Marauders shirts-”

“Well, you did tell them to wear red,” said Heather.

“Didn't you suggest team colours?” asked Eric, glancing over Shelby's head at her.

“Stanley and Mimi picked red. Anyway, we can win this, even though they're dressed in official Jericho high football gear and playing Deputy Hawkins. We have a Hawkins too,” said Jake, smiling across the huddle at Hawkins, who looked only slightly out-of-place bent over in between Fiona and Andrew. “We're all together, we're going to play a strong, united game, and-”

“They're using sign language!” exclaimed Shelby, her arms still wrapped around Heather and Eric to keep her balance as she leaned out of the huddle and craned her neck at the Richmonds. “So we can't hear what they're doing, probably.”

“Never mind,” whispered Heather, gently pulling Shelby back into the circle.

“As I was saying, we can take them on, we just have to have a good plan. So, I'm going to give each of you someone to cover out there. That way, hopefully we can match our skills with theirs. We've got to put our strongest players on the biggest threats,” continued Jake.

“I can cover Clark,” said Johnny hopefully at Jake's right.

Fiona gave a derisive laugh, which she quickly masked as a cough. Johnny leaned across Mary to glare at her, whispering through clenched teeth, “Oh right, we should put you on Clark instead. He'll probably hand you the ball and let you take your time. You can crawl to the finish line if you want.” She narrowed her eyes. Mary silently tightened her grip on both kids' shoulders and pulled them back into the circle.

“Clark is the toughest to beat,” said Jake, somewhat apologetically as he glanced down at his nephew. “So we need our toughest player on him. That's you, Hawkins.”

“Me, huh?” asked Hawkins calmly. “You sure, Jake?”

“Sure? What's a fifteen-year-old boy compared with criminal masterminds, huh?”

“If you say so,” said Hawkins with a hint of skepticism.

“Who are you going to cover, Dad?” asked Andrew.

“I'm covering Stanley. Next threat - Allison.”

“I can cover her,” piped up Johnny.

“Good,” said Jake. “And Andrew, you cover her too.”

“Okay,” said Andrew cheerfully.

“Now, Mimi. She was quite the thorn in our side last year. I need someone who can take her out. Heather, Mary. One of you,” said Jake, glancing to his wife and then his sister-in-law. Each looked as though she were about to protest. “Don't let her scare you. She's taller and she plays dirty, but you can take her. Tall people aren't that hard to take on, you just hit them where they're vulnerable-”

“I am not 'hitting' Mimi,” said Mary.

“And I'm not either. This is a touch football game,” Heather emphasized.

“I didn't mean literally,” groaned Jake. “Come on, one of you has to take her.”

The women glanced at each other. Heather raised her eyebrows. Mary shrugged. “I guess I can,” she said.

“Wait, you were ready to join her team. Heather should do it,” suggested Eric.

Mary rolled her eyes and laughed. “Fine,” she assented, and Heather nodded.

“And that leaves...Darcy for you,” said Jake.

Hawkins chuckled under his breath. “What?” asked Jake.

“Oh, you might want to carefully consider who you put on Darcy, that's all,” he said.

“Meaning?” asked Mary.

“Oh, no offense Mary. I'm just saying, Dee learned football from her father. He coached triple A. You might want to think about it.”

Mary appeared to be considering, but Jake just smiled. “Okay, well I think we're fine with Mary. Eric, you take Ben. He's gotten big all of a sudden and you know how they like to use him to play on our feelings. Speaking of which, Tessa-”

“I can cover Tessa, Dad,” said Shelby confidently.

“Good. You and Fiona, cover her together.” He glanced over at his eldest, to see if she understood his look. She nodded; she would cover Tessa and try to keep Shelby from getting hurt too.

“Okay Daddy!” said Shelby, flashing a smile at her sister. “We'll get her, right Fi?”

“Yeah, we'll stop her, Shelby,” said Fiona.

“Okay, so does everyone know what they're doing?” asked Jake.

Around the circle, heads nodded.

“Who's going to win this year?”

“Team Green!” shouted most of the group.

“Everyone, have fun, play hard,” he said.

“And everyone be good,” piped up Heather, playfully tapping a hand to his chest.

He leaned towards her, smiling. “I always am,” he murmured, reaching across her back.

“Dad!” exclaimed Shelby suddenly from Heather's other side, an accusatory look on her face.

“Okay, let's save it for the game, come on,” said Heather quickly as she suppressed a giggle. “Hands in the middle.”

They quickly piled their hands on top of each other in the centre of the circle, Hawkins placing his slowly on top. “'Green' on three,” said Jake.

The Richmonds and their new teammates had been standing calmly observing the Green huddle finish arguing amongst themselves. They watched their friends do the customary “Green!” break, and waited patiently for the Greens to assemble in position on the field.

As Gail walked across the lawn to hand the ball to Eric for the kickoff, Stanley quickly signed two words to Mimi. She signed them to Clark, who signed them to Tessa, who passed the message along to Ben. Darcy and Allison watched, understanding the sign and nodding acknowledgement when it was passed on to them. In their huddle, the Richmonds had explained that while they used other signs to signal each other during the game, and, Stanley was forced to admit, to confuse and annoy their opponents, their pre-game sign was always the same two words. Mimi turned back to Stanley, and repeated the sign, mouthing “Good luck.”

“Alright, Everyone,” said Gail, standing in the middle of the field. “You know the rules. I love you all so no injuries, please. Let's have a good game!” She raised a whistle to her lips, and blew. The ball flew from the Greens' end to the Richmonds'. The Green Thanksgiving football game had begun.






The blue in the sky had the intensity of early evening. The chill in the air intermingled with the smells of woodsmoke and Thanksgiving dinner. The people stretched out in the chairs and leaning against the railing on the back porch murmured and laughed softly, a cheerful exhaustion having fallen over most of them. Gail Green, from her comfortable chair in the midst of the gathering, wondered if she had ever before packed this many people onto the porch. The folding chairs she'd reminded Jake and Heather to set up earlier were all in use now, with some of their guests seated on the steps or on the floor. Gail could feel Tessa leaned against the back of her chair, and Shelby had settled herself at her grandmother's feet, both listening and joining in enthusiastically as Stanley recapped the highlights of this year's football game.

“You guys shouldn't feel too bad, after all, Clark just comes from a line of football players, and as for this lady, I hear she does too,” said Stanley, motioning to Darcy, who couldn't help but smile in spite of herself as the children exclaimed and the adults nodded.

“You even got your own husband out, I'm impressed,” said Stanley.

Darcy and Hawkins exchanged rueful smiles, and Darcy reached over to pat Hawkins on the knee. “Well, I wouldn't expect him to let me win either,” she said. “All part of the game, right?”

“What was your favourite part of the game, Mrs. Hawkins?” asked Tessa. “Was it when you scored the touchdown?”

“I guess that's a highlight,” she answered with a chuckle. “I was impressed with your touchdown, Mimi.”

Mimi was evidently a little impressed with herself. “Well, I was lucky Jake was nice enough to throw the ball to me.”

This was met with a round of chuckles from the Richmond team and groans from the Greens.

“Sorry, guys, I think that one was meant for me,” said Heather, though from the way she laughed, it was hard to tell if she was really sorry.

“It's okay, Mom,” said Fiona, who was squished between her mother and Mary on the bench. “Aunt Mimi was in front of you. I don't know how you could have reached. And Aunt Mary, it was really cool when you almost got a touchdown.”

Mary smiled. “Yeah, well, almost.” She raised her eyebrows over at Mimi, who shrugged apologetically.

“Sorry, all part of the game, right?” Mimi said, exchanging a knowing glance with Darcy.

“Hey, it was a nice save, Mimi. Not quite as impressive as Johnny and Fiona's valiant efforts,” said Mary, to which almost everyone on the porch laughed, and Fiona, who now sported mud down the front of her green hoodie, beamed. Johnny, who was equally muddy, didn't look quite so pleased.

“Uncle Stanley, you're supposed to stop running when people tag you in touch football,” he said, looking at his uncle with an air of accusation.

“Yeah, if people tag you, not grab you by the ankles,” said Stanley. “I figured, two kids attached to my legs, nothing new, I'll just keep going.”

“Well, I have to admit, I was impressed,” said Hawkins. “That you made it to the end zone, dragging these two, and that you two held on the whole way.”

“The referee was not so impressed,” said Gail, but she smiled too. “So, what was everyone's favourite part of the game?”

“I liked how Allison tagged everyone out. I bet you could catch anyone!” said Ben from the porch steps.

“Well, she is from a line of football players,” said Tessa. “But you were really good Allison, we were lucky to have you on our team.” Allison smiled and thanked the twins, looking just a little embarrassed as all eyes were on her.

“We were lucky to have Mr. Hawkins,” said Heather quickly, and Fiona dutifully nodded. “That fake-out was pretty awesome.”

“Yeah, we totally fooled you guys,” said Johnny. “You were all watching Dad run, then Mr. Hawkins just raced up the field.”

“Too bad, Mrs. Hawkins was faster,” said Shelby, in such a doleful tone everyone on the porch, including both Mr. And Mrs. Hawkins, burst into laughter. “My favourite part,” continued Shelby, “was when I caught the ball!”

Johnny nearly reminded her she'd dropped it a second later, but his grandmother caught his eye before he could open his mouth. “I never caught it before!” she added.

“And you had another first on your team this year- my man Andrew,” said Clark, smiling from his seat on the floor in front of the bench. “Pretty awesome play, sneaking right by Dad and Tessa.” Andrew beamed.

“I bet he's happy he didn't have to do the dishes,” said Johnny, folding his arms over his knees.

“I'm happy I got a touchdown,” said Andrew, letting out a contented sigh as he leaned back against the porch railing.

“You should be, buddy, especially since it was the only touchdown for team Green this year,” said Stanley, leaning across Mimi to pat Andrew on the shoulder. “Maybe there's hope for you yet.”

“I should hope so,” came Eric's voice, and everyone turned to see him standing in the doorway. “Three to one, not the worst loss a Green team has ever endured.”

“How are the dishes going?” asked Mary sympathetically.

Eric let out a deep sigh. “Almost done. We got the big pots and pans done a lot faster without the kids 'helping'.”

Heather glanced around. “Is he still in there? He said he'd be out in a minute-”

“Don't worry about it, Heather, he's probably just trying to avoid the game recap. Doesn't want us to see him cry,” chuckled Stanley, and a few other people sniggered.

Heather wore a slightly pained smile. Gail gave her a reassuring grimace. “He'll be out soon enough, and you already did your share of dishes. Really, sweetheart, don't worry. I remember one time, Jake spent part of Thanksgiving up in his bedroom, and we all went on our walk without him. We knew he'd come along when he was ready.”

“I remember that,” said Eric with a grin. “Remember how mad Kara was, that he was taking so long?”

“I don't know, I think she was mad that she'd lost the game,” said Gail. “Kara was always a bit like that, always wanting to join in the game, and not understanding why other people weren't as into it.”

“Like the time at the picnic, right?” asked Fiona.

“You mean, the Green family reunion?” asked Gail.

Fiona nodded, leaning her head against Heather's shoulder. She knew the story, but many of the others present hadn't heard it before, so Gail leaned forward in her seat.

“Well, Johnston's niece Kara was a little younger than Eric, and one year, when we had the Green family reunion up at Cedar Lake, there was supposed to be a water balloon toss. The kids were filling up water balloons, and I guess Jake and his cousin David had been making themselves a stockpile.” She glanced over at Eric, who was grinning. Since the next part concerned him, he continued the story.

“Kara came and told me Jake and David were 'hogging the water tap' and she convinced me to take her to another one, so we took off, with our bucket and bag of balloons. I didn't think to bring a map or ask anyone for directions. We wandered around until we found another water tap, and filled our whole bucket with water balloons. Only trouble was, when we finished, I couldn't remember how to get back to the picnic site. I was so mad at Kara, she'd just had to fill those balloons, and she'd guilted me into taking her in the first place. She didn't care either, she thought I should have known the way back, and she couldn't carry the bucket herself, I had to carry it the whole time we wandered around.”

Gail jumped in again. “When we realized they were missing, everyone got worried. If it had been anyone else, especially Jake, we would have thought he was just off wandering around, but Eric- everyone wondered why he hadn't asked permission to go.”

“How un-Eric,” said Mimi in a voice that made everyone else laugh and Eric grimace. Mary gave him an endearing smile.

“Johnston, though, he said he could guess just how it'd happened. Kara had gotten a notion into her head, and Eric, being always a gentleman, had offered to help her. He went off looking for them, and brought them back within twenty minutes. I remember, he came walking along the path, all matter-of-factly, a bucket of water balloons in one hand, holding Eric's hand with his other, and Kara on his shoulders. Caroline rushed over, all relieved,” said Gail with a chuckle. “But I never doubted he'd bring them back.”

People around the porch were smiling, but no one laughed in this moment. Gail looked slowly from one member of her family to another. Eric glanced down at his damp sleeves, and let out a sigh.

“Uncle Eric, do you want to sit down?” asked Fiona. She squished right up against Heather, but Eric still couldn't fit into the space between his niece and Mary. Finally, Fiona slid off the bench and Clark moved over to make room for her on the floor. Eric leaned against Mary, who put an arm around him.

“So I guess the lesson we all learned from that story is-” began Stanley, pausing for a dramatic effect. “-don't rely on Eric for a sense of direction.”

Eric smiled grudgingly as the porch erupted in laughter once more. “Or bring a map,” chimed in Clark.

“I don't know that you should be talking, hon,” came his mother's voice across the porch. “Remember the infamous Fourth of July picnic?”

“Yes,” said Clark, slightly pink but smiling in spite of himself. “But we weren't lost.” He glanced quickly to Fiona, who nodded emphatically.

“We planned it all out, the day before. We packed everything we'd need to go on our camp out,” she said. “Clark made the sandwiches, because he was old enough to use a butter knife. I brought the campfire songs notebook. And Johnny was in charge of fishing gear.”

Fiona and Clark caught each others' sideways glances and laughed themselves now. “When we finally picked our camping spot, Johnny pulled out a container of worms he'd dug up. He thought we were all set.” Fiona giggled again, and her cousin flashed her an irritated look.

“Meanwhile of course, no one knew where you were, everyone was ready to put a search party together,” said Gail, with just a hint of a reprimand in her voice, though she was on the verge of laughter herself.

“Mimi was afraid you'd been eaten by coyotes or kidnapped by pissed off refugees or something,” said Stanley.

“No I wasn't,” she said, playfully swatting Stanley's head. “But I was very concerned that our darling children were lost.”

“We weren't lost,” protested Johnny, to further chuckles across the porch. “We would have stayed there overnight. If Deputy Taylor hadn't found us.”

Shelby had vacated her seat on the floor and come to stand by her mother. “You really thought you could use worms? To go fishing? In the middle of the field?”

“Hey, give him a break, Shelby. He was five,” said Clark.

“And, we weren't lost. We knew where we were the whole time,” repeated Fiona.

“Maybe you guys should start leading the neighbourhood walk, then,” piped up Stanley. “Wouldn't want Eric to get us lost this year.”

“It's Uncle Eric's job!” exclaimed Shelby, promptly turning to seat herself between Heather and Eric. Though smaller than her sister, she couldn't squeeze in between her mother and uncle either, and slid down onto Fiona and Clark, shrieking.

“And on that note, maybe it's time for the walk to start,” said Gail, rising from her chair.

Tessa quickly came around from behind the chair, and Andrew stood from his, chattering excitedly to the Hawkinses and explaining the neighbourhood tour tradition. Stanley made a show out of offering his arm to Mimi and helping her out of her chair.

“But what about Daddy?” asked Shelby quickly, still half standing, half leaning between Fiona and Clark. “We can't start without him.”

Gail was about to say something, but Heather reached out and laid a hand on Shelby's head. “Daddy'll be out soon. He won't mind if we start without him. Sometimes he just likes to take his time.”

She looked like she might protest, but Stanley, standing over her, was already saying, “What seems to be the trouble, little lady? You wouldn't want a bucking bronco to ride along the trail, would you?”

“Stanley, would you watch your back!” Mimi was protesting, but Stanley was already hoisting Shelby into the air.

The family assembled on the lawn. Eric was summoned to the front of the group, and he introduced the start of the neighbourhood tour in a solemn voice, to cheers and sniggers from his audience. He turned and began walking, pointing out sites of interest as he crossed the lawn. Andrew, Johnny, and Tessa followed eagerly by his side, asking questions and interjecting their own observations. Robert and Darcy Hawkins came next, arm in arm, and though they were looking ahead at their tour guide, it was hard to tell if they were really listening to his speech. Allison followed, laughing and fielding questions from either side as Fiona and Clark speculated about Sam, his art show, and what Allison would do in Maine. Mary and Mimi walked behind them, already engrossed in their own conversation, though Mimi turned periodically to throw Stanley a disapproving look. Stanley was oblivious, cheerfully chattering with Ben, who walked alongside him, and Shelby, who, with her arms around his neck, giggled and exclaimed from her unprecedented height as Stanley carried her on his back.

Gail had entered into the conversation with them, recalling with Stanley the first time Bonnie had tried to make the stuffing as a surprise for her big brother, but she turned to glance back at the house. Heather still stood on the last porch step, holding her arms around herself in the evening air.

“Coming, sweetheart?” asked Gail.

Heather smiled slowly, before shaking her head. “I think I'll wait for him.”

“You could be waiting a while,” said Gail.

She nodded. “We'll be okay.”

Gail nodded, and followed the group, smiling as Ben began to describe to her his own attempts at deciphering Grandma Richmond's stuffing recipe.

Heather watched them go, sighing as she breathed in the wood-smoke air. She stepped back up to the porch, a grin on her face now. “They're gone now.”

Jake stepped uncertainly around the back door, which he'd been holding open. Seeing that she was the only one left, he let out a smile too. He came over to the edge of the porch, wrapping an arm across her shoulders and kissing her ear. She turned towards him and let her hands rest on his chest, and they slowly leaned into a kiss. “Fun game this year, huh?” she whispered breathlessly, leaning her head against his chest. She shivered, and he slid his arms down from her shoulders to wrap them around her. “Ah, I've seen better,” he whispered into her hair. Heather laughed and they broke apart. She stepped onto the lawn, and he followed only to the last step of the porch. He stood with his hands in his pockets, looking up at the sky. “Nice night,” he said. She murmured her agreement.

He sat down on the steps, resting his hands on his knees. She looked up herself for a moment longer, and then turned back to him. “Ready to go for a walk?”

He reached out for one of her hands. The second he closed her hand in both of his, he tried to pull her towards the porch. “Why don't we just enjoy the night?” She allowed him to pull her towards him, but she stopped in front of him, holding her arm out as he continued to hold on, and not sitting on the step beside him.

“We can enjoy the night. Probably better if we go out and really see it,” she said, gently tugging his arm herself now. He resisted at first, but finally allowed her to pull him to his feet.

“You know, that football just tired me out. I'm not as young as I used to be,” protested Jake. “It might just do me in to hear Stanley brag about his touchdown one more-”

“We won't be able to hear Stanley,” said Heather.

Jake stopped protesting. “You're not suggesting-”

She grinned. “No one said we had to catch up with them to go for a walk tonight.”

He look scandalized for a moment, but the corners of his mouth tugged into a smile. “I can live with that.”

“Oh, you can live with that?” she said in a teasing voice. “Okay.”

He slipped his hand into hers. They crossed the lawn, their fingers interlaced between them and their heads close together. Their gentle banter, and laughter as they recalled Thanksgiving walks of the past, mixed with the other sounds in the evening air as night descended on Jericho.

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