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Through the Woods

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Ann realizes a Southfork Thanksgiving was a terrible idea not when she has to buy a frozen turkey, but when she sticks her hand inside the turkey on Thanksgiving morning and pulls out a fistful of ice along with the bag of giblets.

"God damn it," she says, flinging the ice into the sink. She looks around for something to dry her hand, finds nothing, and settles for shaking the wet off. She's not sure why she bothers, though; she knows she has to shove her hand back in the freezing cavity and pull the rest of the ice out.

The back door slides open while she's staring at the twenty-pound bird, hoping it will defrost under her glare.

"Something wrong?" Sue Ellen asks, closing the door behind her.

"Turkey's frozen." Ann turns toward her and looks at the reusable grocery bag in Sue Ellen's hand, cautious and hopeful. "Please tell me you have everything."

Sue Ellen smiles as she sets the bag on the counter and begins to unpack. "Flour for the gravy." She holds up a small Tupperware container with at least twice the amount Ann asked for. "Onion and butter for the dressing." She sets them down, putting the stick of butter in front of the onion when it tries to roll away. "Candles for the table -- unfortunately, I already lit them once, so they do look a little worse for wear."

Ann shrugs. Slightly-used candles are not going to be what ruins her Thanksgiving table.

"And," Sue Ellen says, reaching back into the bag, "because you're my favorite sister-in-law, I found an open grocery store and got those little marshmallows for that disgusting sweet potato dish you like so much."

She pulls them out of the bag with a flourish, and a few brightly-colored marshmallows escape from their package.

Ann laughs at the look on Sue Ellen's face when she admits, "I may have eaten a few on the way here."

Ann holds out the hand that isn't covered in turkey viscera, and Sue Ellen pours some marshmallows into her palm. "My sweet potato casserole is not disgusting," she says, putting the entire handful in her mouth at once.

"It's pretty terrible, honey," Bobby says as he comes down the steps. He takes the marshmallows from Sue Ellen, but before he can fish any out of the package, Ann grabs the bag and uses it to smack him on the arm.

"It's my mother's recipe," she says.

He looks at Sue Ellen and scrunches up his nose. "Tastes more like something Judith would come up with," he says in a mock whisper, and Sue Ellen does a terrible job of suppressing a laugh.

"Don't you have some football you could be watching?" Ann asks. "Or do I need to put the both of you to work? Because I've got an onion that needs to be diced and sautéed and a partially-frozen turkey that needs to be thawed, and I wouldn't mind watching the game with John Ross while y'all took care of that."

Bobby and Sue Ellen trade glances, and Bobby says, "We should really go check on that score."

-

After the Cowboys kickoff, Ann taps Sue Ellen on the shoulder and nods toward the kitchen. Sue Ellen frowns, but follows her, and when they're as far away from Bobby and John Ross as they can get, Ann says, "I have... kind of a problem."

Sue Ellen tilts her head questioningly, and Ann takes a deep breath.

"Bobby's been talkin' about his mama's pecan pie ever since I decided we were going to do Thanksgiving."

Sue Ellen smiles, a faraway look in her eyes. "Miss Ellie's pecan pie was wonderful. She only made it on holidays, and--"

"I don't have the recipe," Ann says, and the disappointment on Sue Ellen's face is nothing compared to the disappointment she expects to see on Bobby's. She bites her lip and shifts her weight. "In fact, I don't have any of Miss Ellie's recipes. I -- I gave her cookbook to Pamela. Back when she and Christopher got married and we all thought she was Rebecca. And I was going to ask her to bring it when I invited her to dinner, but... but that didn't go so well, considering everything that's been goin' on with... well, with everything."

Sue Ellen presses her lips together and glances at the floor. "So what do you want me to do?"

"Tell me you have the recipe memorized."

Sue Ellen stares at her for a moment, blinks, and then laughs. It's the kind of laugh that couldn't possibly be held back, the kind of laugh that is the only reasonable response to a request as ludicrous and flat-out desperate as the one Ann just made, but Sue Ellen still follows it with, "I'm sorry. But you know--"

"I know," Ann says, and she almost smiles in spite of herself. There is a reason Miss Ellie's cookbook didn't end up in Sue Ellen's possession. "But I had to ask. And there is something else you can do."

"What's that?"

"Lie," Ann says flatly. She steps closer and lowers her voice. "Whatever I put on your plate after dinner, it is exactly how you remember Miss Ellie's pie, and you don't have any idea what's wrong with Bobby. Maybe his taste buds have changed. Maybe he's losin' his memory. But it could be my sweet potato casserole on your plate, and it will taste just like Miss Ellie's pecan pie to you."

"Or," Sue Ellen says thoughtfully, "you could just accidentally burn it."

Ann narrows her eyes. "And you could just accidentally read some seismics wrong and buy a few thousand acres of dry land."

 Sue Ellen winces. "All right," she says, "but between this and the marshmallows..."

"I owe you," Ann says with a nod. "Shopping, lunch, and a massage next week?"

Sue Ellen smiles. "I don't know how you did it, Ann, but this cranberry sauce tastes just like Miss Ellie's famous pecan pie."

-

Bobby is quiet all through dinner at their too-empty table, and when Ann sets a slice of pie in front of him, he doesn't even ask if it's his mama's recipe. He does eat it, though, which is more than Ann can say for herself -- the sight of Christopher's empty chair put a knot in her stomach that didn't leave any room for food.

"This pie is simply delicious, Ann," Sue Ellen says, in the formal tone she usually saves for complimenting hosts she doesn't know very well. She could be telling a lie just as easily as the truth, but Ann is glad she hasn't given up altogether on trying to make conversation. The meal would've been unbearable in total silence.

"Everything was," John Ross says, and that makes Ann smile. Not just because she knows he means it, but because he's trying, too. "And don't you worry about the dishes. Me and Uncle Bobby'll take care of 'em for you. Isn't that right, Uncle Bobby?"

Bobby looks up from his pie, and annoyance tightens the muscles around his eyes. It used to be Christopher who helped him with the dishes, the two of them complaining about it and ragging on John Ross's laziness all the while, and the muscles soften again when Bobby realizes John Ross is reaching out to him, not trying to unload his share of the work. "Sure is," he agrees, and he turns toward Sue Ellen, the corner of his mouth tugging back in a way that might be the start of a smile. "You know, Sue Ellen, you could learn a thing or two from your son."

Sue Ellen's eyebrows go up. "I could?"

"Well, I don't see you offering to help with the dishes."

"Or helping Ann with the cooking," John Ross says, angling his body toward his mother.

"Now, be fair," Bobby says to John Ross, and Ann shakes her head in amusement, but the sound of the back door opening distracts her from whatever comment Bobby has about Sue Ellen's lack of culinary skills.

"Anyone here?" Emma calls, and Ann gets up, taking the napkin off her lap and leaving it crumpled on the table as she walks away from Bobby, John Ross, and Sue Ellen, their voices starting to rise and overlap.

"Hi, sweetheart," Ann says as she walks into the kitchen. "Happy Thanksgiving. Are you hungry? Do you want some turkey or some pie?"

Emma shakes her hair back from her face. "Thanks," she says, "but I had some with Daddy and Grandmother." She bites her lip. "But... do you have any sweet potato casserole left? John Ross texted me a picture because he thinks the marshmallows you use are weird, but I love sweet potato casserole with the fruity marshmallows, and Daddy didn't make any this year."

Ann smiles, and for the first time since she laid out too few place settings at the dinner table, the tears she sniffs back aren't about family lost, but found.