Rio wasted no time grabbing his fork and digging in. Around him, everyone else picked up their forks and joined in.
Sonja elbowed her daughter and sent her a stern glare. "Thank you, dear. It's my mother's recipe." She reached across the table and patted Rachel's hand. "I taught Rachel how to make the turkey and stuffing this year!"
The rest of the meal passed in relative peace, with small talk and family stories interwoven.
The table was cleared in short order, leaving family and friends free to mingle and catch up with each other.
Her nephew, Rio, ambled over and plopped down next to her. "Whatcha doing?" he asked, peeking over to stare at the screen.
Rose tilted the screen so he could see it better. "I'm playing Angry Llamas," she told him, flicking the screen with her finger.
Rio laughed, watching the llamas catapult across the screen. "That's silly!" he exclaimed.
Shaye scowled. How the hell had he gotten stuck in a conversation with this harpy?!
"Johnny!" Sonja cried, holding her arms open wide. "You made it!"
Keely scoffed. "Only 2 hours ago!" she said snidely, folding her arms across her chest.
Sonja shot her daughter another glare. "Sit down," she said, fussing over him. "I'll warm you up a plate!"
Johnny shook his head, heading over to give Rachel and Rose hugs. "Thanks, Sonja. But I ate on the road. I'll take a plate home with me, though!" he called over his shoulder. "Hey, Sis. How ya doing?" he asked.
Rachel hugged him back. "Good. We didn't think you were going to make it!"
Johnny scowled. "I almost didn't. Work, you know." He glanced around the room. "Where's Tweedledum?"
Rachel slugged his arm.
"Hey! How much longer before we can eat?" Leo complained, glancing at the turkey on the table. His stomach grumbled.
Daryl checked his watch. "Not long. Maritza's on her way," he said.
"Aw, Lover Boy's girl can't let you have even a day to yourself?" Edith Gardiner asked teasingly. "Does she still let you wear your big boy pants?"
Leo chuckled at his friend's expense. "Yeah, I bet she carries your danglies around in her purse!" he laughed, elbowing Daryl.
Edith scoffed, adding in a bitter-tinged voice, "And to think, you said that I was too needy when we were dating!"
"Guys, you said you were going to be nice! Maritza's not needy or controlling." He paused to slug Leo in the shoulder. "And I still have full possession of my "dangly bits."
Edith shrugged nonchalantly, avoiding eye contact.
"Hi!" Maritza said brightly when she came in. "Happy Feast Day!" she said. "I brought salad from our garden!" she added, holding her plate up.
Daryl turned at the sound of her voice and smiled, then followed behind her as she set the plate down on the table.
"Hey sweetie," he said, pressing a quick kiss to her lips, ignoring the cat calls from his crew. "I missed you. I'm glad you could make it."
Maritza blushed prettily. "I wouldn't miss it," she told him, embarrassed by all the attention.
Daryl clapped his hands and turned to his friends. "Alright! Dig in!" he announced.
Maritza was quiet throughout the meal, laughing at the off-color jokes and risque bantering that bounced around the table.
"...And so then the guy looks up and says, 'Holy Plumbbob, my pants are on fire!'" Leo finished with a hearty laugh, slapping his knee. "You remember that one?" he asked no one in particular.
Edith elbowed Daryl. "Remember last year in the middle of the Feast Day when the bell rang. You stuffed the rest of the food in your mouth and hauled ass to the door!" she said with a laugh.
"Hey! It's not every day I get to eat turkey and stuffing!" he said, closing his eyes and rubbing his belly. "And cranberry sauce!"
Edith's laughter slowly stilled and she gazed at Daryl with naked longing. "Guess that's another things that's going to change now," she said quietly.
The rest of the table grew quiet.
The tension around the table was palatable. Maritza glanced around. "I don't get it. What's going to change?" she asked nervously.
Daryl shook his head slightly, opening his mouth to speak, but Edith beat him to it. "Didn't he tell you? He's been transferred to Appaloosa Plains?"
Maritza's fork clattered on the plate when she dropped it. Moving? she thought dumbly.
Daryl jumped up from his chair and threw his napkin down. "Thanks a lot, Big Mouth," he snapped angrily.
"What?!" Edith shouted at him. "She deserves to know!" And if it split them up in the meantime, then bully for her.
Maritza glanced up at her boyfriend. "Daryl?" she asked shakily.
Daryl reached down and grabbed her hand, pulling her into the office with one last dark glare cast over his shoulder towards Edith.
"I didn't want you to find out this way," Daryl said, sitting down across from Maritza. "I just got it finalized the other day. I was going to tell you..." he finished lamely.
Maritza clasped her shaking hands together in her lap. "You're... moving?" she asked in a small voice.
"Christ, Mari. I'm sorry you found out like this," he said, feeling helpless. "This isn't how I'd planned it!" His train of thoughts derailed when he heard Maritza sniffle, quickly lifting her hand to swipe at her eyes.
Oh Christ. He'd made her cry! This wasn't going at all like he'd planned!
"I'm okay!" she said through the tears, sniffling once again. "I just.. I wasn't expecting..." she trailed off, burying her head in hand.
"Mari, listen, sweetie," he said, his heart pounding in his chest.
Maritza gasped when Daryl reached over and pulled her into his lap. Tenderly, he stroked her cheek and rested his forehead against hers. "I want you to go with me," he told her. "I want you to marry me. I was planning a romantic dinner..." he said, trailing off, anxiously waiting for her reply.
Maritza blinked. "You want me to marry you?" she asked with surprise.
He nodded. "I love you, Maritza."
When put like that, there was really no other choice for Maritza to make! "Yes!" she told him, pulling his head down for a kiss.
Johnny casually leaned against the porch railing closest to Haley. "So how are you doing?" he asked.
He wasn't sure who made the first move, but Haley was finally in his arms.
Haley gasped as Johnny kissed her, slipping his tongue along hers. She pressed her body against him as he stroked his hands up and down her back.
He groaned when he felt her fingers slip along the back of his head to thread through his hair. "God, Haley. I knew it would be like this," he managed to rasp. "I knew it!" His hands twined in her silken hair.
Bridgeport. Johnny opened his eyes and gazed at Haley. He would carry this image of her with him until the day that he died. Eyes closed, cheeks flushed... just waiting for him to kiss her again.
He couldn't do this. He had responsibilities...
Haley blinked as she felt Johnny step away from her. "What is it? What's wrong?" she asked.
"What?!" Haley was still reeling from their embrace. "Why?" she asked with a shaky voice. What did I do wrong? she longed to ask.
He hung his head, rubbing the back of his neck. "I... I kinda had a girlfriend..."
She shook her head, helplessly confused. "Had?" she asked. If the relationship was past tense, why did it even matter... unless he still loved her..
"It's complicated," he said with a sigh. "She was kinda pissed at me..." He held his hands out in supplication. "I need to make things right with her first..."
Johnny reached for her, attempting to turn her back to face him. She didn't budge, shaking his hand off her shoulder. "It's not like that, Haley," he said desperately, then stopped mid-sentence. What was he doing trying to convince Haley to start something with him. He'd chosen his path and she couldn't be anywhere near it...
Haley scoffed. As though she had guys knocking on her door for that honor! It was just a stupid dream.