This isn’t truly a Story Cubes Challenge entry because my cubes are at home, but I woke up this morning with some Thanksgiving football plot bunnies hopping madly in my head. If you’re not from Massachusetts, the annual high school Thanksgiving Day rivalry game is hotly contested and a huge town tradition for most schools. Exeter is no different. If you’ve read Thrown Out, this is set the Thanksgiving before.
Thanksgiving Day, 2000
Dan pulled on his coat and left his apartment, shivering a little as the cold air hit his face. He pulled his good gloves from the pockets as he walked across the lawn to the house. The kitchen door was open, and Mom and Maggie were already cooking.
“Brie,” he called, and heard feet thumping down the front stairs.
“Morning to you, too,” Maggie said, sticking her tongue out.
“Yeah, yeah.” Just Dan grinned and hugged his sister. “Morning, Mom.” He called again, “Brie, I thought you had to be there at nine?”
His sister skidded into the kitchen dressed in layer upon layer. “Just let me grab my instrument.” She took the clarinet case from its spot in the living room, then slipped her feet into shoes and grabbed her uniform bag from the back of the kitchen door. “OK, I’m ready.”
Dan shook his head and led the way outside. He swung the truck through the small town’s streets to get to the high school. “Can I park back behind the band room, or will they make me move it?”
Briana rolled her eyes. “There are going to be cars everywhere.”
“Don’t look at me – I always parked down by the locker rooms at the other end of the school.”
Briana shook her head. “Don’t forget, you promised to watch the halftime show.”
“I won’t forget.” He tugged on the braid that hung down her back. “Go on, or you’ll be late.” He parked his pickup and waited to make sure his little sister could manage everything before walking over to the football field.
There were already big lines an hour before kickoff for the annual rivalry game with Maynardville, and he waited patiently, chatting with friends and people in town while he waited in line. It wasn’t until he got in and was walking around the track that he spotted Evan and Liz near the concession stand.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” His cousin reached up to hug him, then Dan high-fived his best friend.
“You guys are still coming over for dinner, right?” he asked.
Liz nodded. “Gram and Ma were going over early to help your mom with dinner, and I made a pie last night.”
“Two pies, but we had part of the other one for breakfast.” Evan grinned. “You bringing anybody today?”
Dan shook his head. “Who would I bring?”
“What about that guy you were seeing?” Liz asked.
Dan flushed. “Yeah, he wasn’t exactly a ‘bring to Thanksgiving dinner’ guy. And I stopped seeing him a couple of weeks ago.”
Liz reached over and hugged him. “You’ll find somebody, Danny,” she said.
He smiled at the old nickname. “Thanks.”
“So is anybody bringing somebody new to dinner tonight?” Evan asked.
“Mom and Dad don’t want us to bring somebody unless it’s serious,” Dan said. “So other than you guys and Eric, it’s just the family. Bridget was making some noises about us meeting the guy she’s seeing, but I think he’s coming by tonight after his family’s dinner.”
“Just as well,” Evan said. But he didn’t explain until they were walking around the track, down past the stands toward the grassy area beyond the endzone where the middle school kids tossed around a football.
When they were standing away from everybody, Dan turned to his friends. “OK, what’s up?”
Liz grinned. “We have a big favor to ask you, and we wanted to do it before we tell everybody else our news today.”
Evan wrapped his arm around her shoulders. “And we know it’s a lot to ask, so we understand if you say no.”
Dan looked at them, both wearing big grins. “So what’s the-” He stopped. “Wait, are you…?”
Liz nodded. “In May. You’re the first person we’ve told.”
Dan’s eyes widened. “Even your parents?”
“We didn’t want to tell my family until we sorted out this one question,” Evan said. He looked at Dan. “Would you be willing to be the baby’s godfather?”
“Me?” Dan stared. “Not your brother?”
“We want our kid to have godparents who are good role models,” Evan retorted.
“Good point.” Dan thought about it. “I’d be honored.”
Liz wrapped him up in another hug, and Dan had to laugh. “Does this make me Uncle Dan?”
“Like you were ever going to be anything else,” she said as she let him go.
“We must be getting close to kickoff,” Evan said. “I hear the band.”
Dan heard the drums in the distance, and looked around. “They’re going to march right through here – we should find a better place to watch.”
They wandered back toward the stands, and when there was a seat on the end of the extra bleachers brought over from the soccer field, Liz took it, sighing with relief as she sat.
“I’m going to see where my dad and the others are,” Dan said after a few minutes. He headed off, glad to be moving again. He hadn’t sat in the stands for a Thanksgiving game since he was old enough to walk around with his friends, and it felt weird to stand still that long. He saw his family up next to the band section, and Brie in one of the first few rows of the band, the long black band coat over her uniform.
Dan stopped to chat with people he knew – which seemed like pretty much everybody – even as he kept an eye and ear on the game. Maynardville was out to an early lead as the Exeter Eagles struggled to move the ball downfield. Dan walked the track, stopping to talk to Mark Davies, the quarterback he’d graduated with.
Mark, the bartender at Corcoran’s Pub, carried his toddler son on one hip. “The way they’re playing, we might as well be back out there,” he said.
Dan laughed. “You’re going to have to wait a few years until Teddy’s old enough to play.” The two-year-old cheered and clapped as Exeter completed a pass for a first down, and Dan held out his hand to get a high-five from him. “See, he already knows what good football looks like.”
They spent a few minutes catching up before Dan continued on. But most of the EHS grads he saw were his sister’s classmates, or else had little kids in tow. Dan stopped at the concession stand to get a cup of coffee, warming his hands on the foam cup. He walked over to the rope lining the field and watched the game, cheering the Eagles’ rare successes.
“Morning, Dan.” Riordan Boyle walked up, a tweed cap covering his gray hair. “We could use you out there today.”
“I had my turn,” Dan said. “These guys have got to get better before next season.”
They chatted for a few minutes before talk turned to Thanksgiving dinner.
“I stuffed the turkey this morning and it’s in Becca’s oven right now,” Riordan said. “She’s keeping an eye on it so I could come down for the game.”
“You’re not going to one of your sisters’ houses?” Dan looked at the older man, who shook his head.
“This is a rough week for Becca – her sister died right before Thanksgiving, nine years ago now. She distracts herself by inviting over the arts students who don’t have family nearby, and I’d rather spend the day with her.” Riordan shrugged. “She’s my family, at least as far as I’m concerned.”
“Why didn’t you two-” Dan cut himself off. “Sorry, none of my business.”
Riordan smiled. “What we have works for us,” he said. “I would think you could understand that we don’t need to be married.”
Dan looked across the field, seeing Mark and Teddy, thinking of Evan and Liz. “Yeah, well, my options are a little more limited.” He turned back to Riordan.
The lawyer hesitated. “We’re not eating until later, close to four. You’re welcome to come by, join us for dessert.” He smiled. “You never know, you might meet some people you don’t know.”
Dan opened his mouth to automatically refuse when he actually thought about it. “I just might.”
After the sun had set that evening and the visitors had headed home, Dan found himself walking toward Becca’s neighborhood, a bottle of wine in hand.