Melissa was up at six to start the pies.
Theoretically, scheduling the meal for the evening meant she didn't have to get up so early. Didn't have to spend all day in the kitchen, not like she'd used to back when Gary insisted everything be done exactly like his mom always had, from the cornbread stuffing and pimento-stuffed olives that always wound up dried out and uneaten in their lonely crystal dish, down to the gilt-edged china they'd had to scrape together to finish buying off their wedding registry. But she'd been too exhausted last night after her twelve-hour shift to even think about pie, and her oven was notoriously flaky any time she tried to overload it. So. Here she was, staring up at her ceiling, trying to will herself up and out into the morning chill before the alarm went off for the second time.
Yeah, that didn't happen.
John groaned when the shrill beep sounded again. Melissa slapped her hand down on the alarm, making sure to hit the off button this time instead of the snooze. She rolled fully onto her side and stuck a leg out of from under the blankets—but before she fully committed to getting her ass in motion, John wrapped his arm around her waist and pulled her in close.
"It's still dark," he grumbled into her shoulder. "You really have to be up already?"
"I need to get the pies started before I finish cleaning," she said, but she found his hand and threaded their fingers together, reveling in the way his palm snugged up warm and affectionate against her abdomen. "I didn't have a chance to do anything last night because somebody talked me into coming to bed instead."
"Because you were dead on your feet." He kissed her shoulder. "And the place is spotless. If anything's left to take care of, the boys can do it. Don't you dare let them talk their way out of helping."
It was so easy for him to say, but Melissa couldn't help thinking of the dust over the mantel that Scott never remembered, no matter how many times he said sure, Mom, right after I vacuum, or the way Stiles always got caught up telling stories, hands and feet dancing with his enthusiasm, instead of putting anything away.
"You're seriously telling me you need twelve hours," John said, sounding like he was ready to call the whole thing off if her answer was yes. "You do remember that there's no way in hell I'll be able to be back here before five-thirty, right?"
"I know." She stilled her hand as she realized she'd unconsciously started playing with the base of his ring finger, where the skin still sat smooth and pale, but more importantly, bare. She let go and rolled back into him, looking over her shoulder so she could see his face. "I just want everything to go well. Or at least as well as it can, considering...."
"Considering disaster follows our kids around like a dog with a toddler eating an ice cream cone?"
Melissa snorted at the image. "God, it really, really does."
John shifted so she could roll fully onto her back. He was smiling wryly, the laugh lines around his eyes drawing up in the way that always made her heart skip. "It'll be fine," he said, with more certainty than was probably prudent. "It's just food. I wish you wouldn't stress yourself out about it."
"I'm not stressing about it," she said. John rolled his eyes and she smacked him in the chest with the back of her hand. "Stop it. You look like Stiles when you do that."
His mouth set in a line. "Normally I'd take that as a compliment, but—"
"But it's really not a turn on for me," she said, laughing at the way his face screwed itself tight. Melissa drew him down for a soft kiss, then sought out the clock over his shoulder. Maybe she didn't need an entire twelve hours. They hadn't had a morning off together in almost a month, and it was so warm under the blankets, his arms so comfortable.
"What are you thinking?" he asked softly, lips pressed close to her cheek.
"I'm thinking another forty-five minutes won't ruin anything," she said, smiling when he did. She was more than ready for him to slip a hand under her nightgown, for him to kiss her slow and with intent, especially since she could feel him hard against her thigh. Instead, he simply tucked his head more comfortably against her shoulder and sighed.
"I missed this," he murmured sleepily.
"Yeah, me too," she said, not bothering to wonder if he meant mornings in bed with her, or just being snuggled up close to somebody. Both were just as true for her as they probably were for him.
A trio of pies were cooling on her kitchen counter. The dough for the rolls was tucked into a warm corner of the kitchen to rise, the green bean casserole Scott loved was in the oven, and she had hours before she needed to get the turkey roasting. Plenty of time to get some laundry going and go over the house one final time.
Instead, Melissa found herself staring at the extra cans of pumpkin in her cupboard. She'd stocked up at the beginning of November, back when it was on sale. Back before Stiles, fidgeting and nervous, had come to her one evening while she was on break at the hospital, asking if she could maybe, possibly, make a pineapple pie for Thanksgiving. Pineapple, of all things. She almost asked him if he was joking, but she'd seen the way his gaze flitted around the room, the way he'd peeked up at her under those baby-fine eyelashes, and agreed without asking why. He'd handed over a recipe he'd printed off the internet and thanked her profusely.
The pineapple was cooling alongside the pair of pumpkin right now, smelling better than she'd ever imagined it would. But its presence meant that she had an overabundance of canned pumpkin. It wasn't like it would spoil, but....
Before she could talk herself out of it, Melissa picked up the phone and dialed a number she'd had memorized for twenty years. Someone picked up on the other end, but for a few seconds all she heard were a child's joyful screams and the clash and clang of metal pans being shuffled around.
"Anna?" she called down the line. "Bad time?"
"Melissa! Sorry, chica, just pulling the rolls out of the oven." Her sister's voice was as warm and full of life as it had always been, and for some reason Melissa's eyes misted even as the tense line across her shoulders eased up. "What's up, baby? Panicking already?"
"I'm not panicking!" she protested, then huffed when Anna laughed. "I don't panic. Nurses don't panic, remember?"
"Not about blood," Anna said knowingly.
Melissa laughed. "Fine. We all know I'm not the greatest when it comes to the whole domestic goddess thing. Which is why I was wondering if you had the recipe for mama's pumpkin soup close by."
"Oh, pushing boundaries on the first big T-day, hmm? I like."
"I'm not—" Melissa sighed, because as usual, Anna had managed to both get under her skin and get her off track in less than a minute. "The recipe, Anna?"
Anna laughed. "All right, all right," she said, and Melissa could hear the sounds of her moving through the narrow kitchen, cabinet doors opening and closing again, a heavy folder full of handwritten recipes thunking down on a formica countertop. "You know you're going to have to pack that new brood up one of these days and bring them down here. Doesn't even have to be a holiday."
"Easier said than done," Melissa muttered. It wasn't that she didn't want everyone to meet Anna and Carlos and the kids, but just thinking about what pack dynamics would come into play and whether werewolf or hunter territory issues in L.A. would be a big political mess gave her a headache every time it came up. "The same goes for you, you know. Is Patty walking yet?"
"Oh, honey. She went straight from pulling herself up to running a couple weeks ago. You should see Amy trying to keep her out of everything. I keep telling her if it's not gonna break or go down the chute, just leave her to it, but you remember what it's like, being a new mom."
"Like it was yesterday." Melissa groaned. "How am I old enough to be a great aunt?"
Anna snorted. "Don't complain to me, chica. I'm the grandmama in this situation. Although I have a feeling you're not going to be that far behind me."
"Don't even think it," Melissa said, frowning up at the ceiling like the power of her glare could turn Scott back into the innocent little boy he was not that long ago. "We've got enough to worry about as it is right now."
Anna didn't say anything for a few seconds. "Something I should know about?" she asked, voice serious.
"Oh! No!" Melissa tried to laugh off Anna's concern, but it sounded strangled to her own ears. Maybe one of these days, if they ever got into the same room again, she'd sit her sister down with Scott and make him spill it all. Until then.... "No, I promise it's just me being overprotective mom. He's only twenty, Anna."
"Almost twenty-one, if I remember right," she said mildly. "Anyway. I found the recipe. You ready?"
"Go for it." Melissa mentally rifled through her cupboard as she jotted everything down. Her hand was cramping by the time Anna rattled to a close.
Melissa sighed. "Yeah, thanks."
"Don't sound so happy about it."
"It's just that I forgot there was chorizo in it." It definitely wasn't something she kept on hand. Maybe she could send Scott out later, but even if she did, Stiles was likely to throw a fit at the presence of sausage in his father's soup, holiday cheat day or not.
She definitely wouldn't be telling him about the cream.
"You could leave it out?" Anna said, tentatively enough that Melissa laughed.
"I'll figure it out," she said. "Thanks, sis. I'll let you get back to it before you have a mutiny on your hands."
"Pfft," Anna said. "They want it faster, they can help. You just call if you need anything else, okay?"
"I will," Melissa promised, then hung up after murmured goodbyes. She looked down at the paper in her hand. Potatoes...she had extra potatoes, she was sure, beyond the small bag she'd bought to make mashed. The question was how many eyes were going to be staring back at her when she dug them out of the bottom of the pantry. She checked the freezer instead, hoping maybe Scott had picked up some breakfast sausage at some point in the past. It wouldn't be the same as good chorizo, but maybe she could season it up a little while she cooked it.
"You're being ridiculous," she told herself when the search came up empty. She opened the refrigerator door anyway. She picked up the carton of cream and shook it, pleased that it was still full. When she set it back down, her arm brushed against the turkey.
"Oh, no," she said, staring at the huge bird taking up half of her top shelf. She sucked in a breath and rapped her knuckles against the breast.
They clacked solidly.
"Oh, no, no, no," she said, shaking her head as she turned it so the instructions were facing her. "You promised me. You promised."
"Promised what?" Scott asked. Melissa nearly hit her head on the freezer door as she jerked to standing. "That we'd help? I'm here."
"Hey, baby." She blew out a breath and tried to smile. Judging by the look on his face, she wasn't too successful.
"Nothing's wrong, other than the damn turkey's still frozen." She turned back to pull it out of the fridge, but before she'd gotten it half off the shelf, Scott was there, lifting it easily. "I had it, but thanks."
"No problem." The turkey clattered as he set it down on the counter, and Melissa sighed again. "So what are you going to do? Just let it sit out?"
She shrugged. "I don't know. You're not supposed to because of salmonella, and I'm not sure if it'll thaw fast enough that way, anyway. Maybe I'll try the microwave."
Melissa followed Scott's gaze to the microwave—and yeah, that clearly wasn't an option, either, not with a fifteen-pound turkey. "Okay, then. Countertop it is."
Scott squeezed her arm. "Give me a minute, okay?"
She waved him off, and then he was gone, racing out the door so fast she'd barely seen him go. Werewolf speed, maybe, but most of her was pretty sure he'd been just as quick when he was five years old. She scrubbed her hand over her face and decided not to think about the damn bird right now. But it was another reason to go ahead with the soup. She could feed everyone in stages if she had to, like one of those fancy meals on the cooking shows she sometimes watched on her days off.
"You can do this," she told herself firmly, and then went to brave the potatoes.
There was definitely a crazy eye situation going on. Worse, almost all of the potatoes were shriveled beyond usable, some turned black and oily. Melissa was surprised Scott hadn't complained about the smell, but then again, his heightened senses hadn't ever had much impact on the state of his bedroom, either.
The sound of heavy footsteps clattering down the stairs announced his presence this time. "Okay, so Google really does have all the answers."
Melissa dumped the bag of potatoes in the trash. "Please tell me that means there's good news."
Scott smiled. "They say you can thaw it in cold water."
"I knew that," she said, because many a frozen chicken breast had spent time in her sink. "Why didn't I think of that?"
"Because you're trying to do a million things at once?" Scott sighed. "There's bad news, though. It said it'll take like six hours to thaw that way."
"Okay, no, that is not an option." Melissa covered her face with her hands. She was not going to cry, and she was not going to get angry at John for talking her into that extra forty-five minutes. It wouldn't have made any difference if she'd been up at six, anyway, considering she hadn't discovered the turkey until now.
"It's okay, Mom," Scott said, gently drawing her hands down and holding them in his own. "It also says it's okay to cook it frozen. It'll just take fifty percent longer."
"Fifty percent," she said stupidly, her brain rejecting the meaning behind those words. She squeezed Scott's hands, then slipped away so she could stare down at the cooking-time chart on the plastic wrap. "Okay, here's what we're going to do. We dunk this sucker in warm water for an hour, then I'll go ahead and start it. That should give me just enough time to get the rolls done beforehand. We can reheat them just before everyone gets here."
"Sounds like a plan," Scott said, plugging the sink and turning on the water. Melissa frowned and went to the bathroom to wash her hands, wishing for the millionth time she hadn't let Gary convince her that putting in a double sink was more work than it was worth. One of these days she was going to take herself down to one of those big do-it-yourself stores on her day off and find out how to do it herself. She could afford it, she was sure, now that John's 'rent' was taking a big chunk out of the mortgage every month.
"Okay," Scott said as she checked on the dough. It looked close enough to doubled in volume, ready to punch down and shape into rolls. "Turkey's chillin'. Or whatever's the reverse of chilling. What next?"
Melissa stretched up on her tiptoes to pull the roll pan out of the cabinet over the stove. Scott was right there, lifting the three cake pans on top out of her way before they had a chance to slide out onto the floor.
"Thanks," she said. "And let's see. I need you to bring the leaves up and get them into the table, though you probably want to wait until Stiles gets here to do that. The extra chairs need to come up, too. Oh, but you should vacuum before that. And dust before you vacuum."
"The mantel, too, I know. Is that everything?"
Melissa bit her lip. "Is there any chance you could run to the grocery store?"
Scott's eyebrows scrunched. "Is anything going to be open?"
"One or two will be. I'm sure Google will tell you."
"Okay," Scott said, pulling out his phone. "What do you need? Stiles just texted to let me know he's on his way. I can just have him stop somewhere."
Melissa shook her head. "For chorizo?"
"Oh." Scott put his phone away. "I'll go now. Just chorizo?"
"Potatoes, too. Just get a bag. I don't care what kind."
"Okay. Call me if you need anything else." He took a step towards the door, then turned around and wrapped his arms around her. "Happy Thanksgiving, Mom."
Melissa had to swallow twice before she could say it back to him. Then he was gone, zipping out of the house like he was going to run all the way to the store on all fours.
She had cold, gelatinous turkey juice halfway up her forearms when she heard the front door open and close again. "Scott?" she called out.
"Just me," Stiles yelled back, but he didn't come into the kitchen. The vacuum started up a few seconds later, and Melissa let out a deep sigh of relief as one more thing got checked off her list. She finished prying out the sack of still-frozen turkey innards, dropping it into the sink before turning on the faucet with her elbow. She soaped up good, rinsed, dried off, and then poured a huge pile of salt into her palm.
"Cover me," she said, tilting the turkey so the butt end was more accessible. "I'm going back in."
"Yeah, I'm not sure I should be here for this conversation," Scott said.
Melissa jumped, sending the turkey skidding away from her hands. "You've gotten far too sneaky since you became a werewolf, you know that?"
"Yeah, probably," Scott said, setting a pair of heavily laden grocery sacks down on the counter. "But at least it makes it easier to get sausage past Stiles."
Melissa snorted and held out a hand, palm up. "Salt me."
"Yes, ma'am," Scott said, grinning as he poured the salt, making a production of it as he raised and lowered the container near her hand like it was some fancy bottle of liquor. It was enough to finish the turkey, and with Scott's help she got it into the pan and then in the oven. By the time she was washed up and ready to move on to the next task, Scott had the contents of the first grocery sack out onto the countertop.
"What's this?" she asked, picking up the cool, plastic-wrapped slab of meat. "A turkey breast?"
"Yeah," Scott said. "I thought, you know. Just in case the big one doesn't get done in time."
Melissa nodded. "Well, it certainly won't fill anybody up, but we'll have plenty of other food for that. Good thinking, kid."
Scott smiled, but there was something in the way he looked at her. Something speculative, like he'd just realized she was a puzzle he could figure out.
"What?" she asked.
Scott shook his head. "It's nothing, really. Just. You've started calling me that more lately."
"Calling you what?" Melissa frowned, thinking back to her words. "Kid? It's too immature, isn't it? You're a grown man now, though I can hardly believe it. I'll try to be better about it if you want me to."
"No." Scott smiled. "No, it's okay, Mom. I like whatever you call me, as long as it's not 'dumbass.'"
Melissa snorted. "Yeah, well, you've gotten better at not deserving that. See that you keep it up."
"I will. But. Um." Scott bit his lip in that way that meant he knew he had to 'fess up, but really didn't want to. He stuck his hand into the second grocery sack. "Just remember it's only an idea, okay?"
Melissa opened her mouth, but immediately shut it again when Scott pulled the jar out of the bag. "Mole paste? You want turkey mole for Thanksgiving?"
Scott shrugged. "It's been forever since you made it. And I thought if you were breaking out the chorizo...."
"That's for the pumpkin soup," she said, like that somehow rebutted Scott's logic. Or his sweet brown eyes. Melissa sighed. "You know nobody else will eat it, right? It'll make getting the extra turkey kinda pointless."
"I think you'll be surprised. I know Allison likes mole, and I think most of the others will at least try it." Scott pressed the jar into her hand. "Not everybody's like Dad, you know."
"Oh, sweetie. I know." She set her free hand on the back of his head and drew him down for a hug. "And I'd make it just for you, anyway."
Scott squeezed her tight. "Besides. There's more for us if they don't like it."
Melissa laughed. "That's thinking."
"Um," Stiles said. Melissa took a step back from Scott, turning towards where Stiles was leaning against the doorway. "I finished the vacuuming and dusting. Got the mantel, too. What's next?"
She was positive he'd done the dusting after he'd vacuumed, but her heart swelled anyway. "Come here," she said, holding out an arm.
Stiles hesitated, gaze darting to Scott, but after a moment he stepped forward obediently, letting her pull him into a hug. This was an old-is-new-again thing for them; she used to have as many cuddles and kisses for Stiles as she did for Scott, back when they were small enough to run to her for every scraped knee and bruised elbow. When Janie had gotten sick, though, Stiles blew hot and cold with affection, sometimes wanting to burrow into Melissa's side, other times staring at her with resentful, angry eyes, until she finally gave up trying.
"Thank you," she said into his shoulder. Stiles responded with a quick squeeze, then let her go. She gave him a friendly smack on the chest. "Now. Take Scott and get the table set up. Try not to break anything in the process."
"That lamp attacked me, I swear to God," Stiles said, holding up both hands as he back towards the door.
"Sure it did, buddy," Scott said, brushing past Melissa to follow him out. "Just like that time the sleeping bag attacked you in the back yard."
"I know you don't believe me, but there was something alive in there," Stiles said before they stepped out of sight.
Melissa shook her head and looked down at the jar in her hand. Well. She had just enough time to get the turkey breast going in the crockpot if she started it now.
Five p.m. and the damn pop-up button on the damn turkey was nestled down tighter than Scott on a Saturday morning during Christmas break. She had at least an hour before anyone got here, so there wasn't any real reason to panic yet.
The pan of stuffing still needed to bake. And the rolls needed to be warmed. And the green bean casserole currently sitting in the refrigerator had to be reheated before it was ready to be served. That, at least, could go in the microwave, although the fried onion topping would get soggy instead of nicely crisped.
Melissa sighed and rubbed at her lower back. She was used to being on her feet for long stretches of time, but somehow nothing ever got to her like hours spent in the kitchen. The sink was full, bowls and cutting boards mocking her with the impression that she'd accomplished something, that she was anywhere close to being done.
"Hey, Mom," Scott said, rushing by with his best tie fluttering from his hand. "Have you seen my dress shoes?"
"In the laundry room," she said, trailing after him as he dashed down the hall. "Where you left them full of mud last time you wore them."
"Shit!" Scott swore—a moment before he picked them up and saw that they were almost as good as new, as they should be after she'd spent an hour getting them cleaned up and polished. He turned a sheepish smile at her, but it didn't last long before he was dropping his shoes to the floor and shoving his feet into them.
Melissa leaned against the doorframe, crossing her arms over her chest. "You're going awfully fancy for tonight. I don't remember mentioning a dress code when I invited everybody."
Scott shrugged before he turned his collar up and slung the tie around his neck. "Yeah, well. I thought I'd try to look nice, you know? Since it's the first big thing we've done as...you know."
You know. The problem was none of them really knew what to call it. Family, she supposed, though it was more complicated than that. Pack was the word that lurked everywhere, though it wasn't an entirely comfortable one, either. Not yet.
Melissa tugged at the knot Scott had managed to tie more or less competently. "Yeah, I know," she said. "I guess I need to go put a little more effort in, myself."
Scott rolled his eyes. "Please, Mom. You look terrific."
Melissa snorted. "Now that is a total lie, but one I can live with." She brushed her hands over his shoulders, then down the line of his upper arms, smoothing out the fine white cotton. "God, look at you. Such a man."
Normally Scott would huff and roll his eyes, let out a protesting Mooooom, but this time he just looked down at his hands and fiddled with his cuffs. "You really think so?" he asked, peering up at her in a way that totally made her want to tell him no, he was still her little boy and always would be.
"I really do," she said instead. She tugged his hand away from his cuff. "Now stop acting so nervous. Like John keeps saying, it's just a meal. There's not going to be anybody there who hasn't seen us at our worst."
"Yeah," he said softly, like he didn't quite believe her. "Hey, listen, Mom. If you need anything before I get back, can you call Stiles instead?"
Melissa blinked. "Yeah, I guess. Any particular reason?"
Scott shrugged. "Just, you know Chris. He'll get all weird and say I shouldn't have bothered to come pick them up if I was going to be rushing all over the place, and then Allison'll get annoyed, and it'll be awkward."
That did sound exactly like Chris Argent. "Whatever makes you happy."
"Thanks." Scott flashed her a smile, then leaned in and bussed her on the cheek. They were both acting sentimental today; Melissa guessed it wasn't that surprising, since they hadn't tried to have a real family Thanksgiving since before the divorce.
Melissa followed Scott out to the living room, waving as he slipped out the front door. Then she turned slowly, surveying the boys' work. Nothing looked out of place. She wasn't the white glove kind of martinette she got the impression that Allison's mother had been, but Melissa liked her home to feel clean. Too many years as a nurse, she supposed, all too aware of where germs and allergens could linger if you didn't keep on top of things.
She moved on to the dining room. The boys had been even better in here, not just getting the extra leaves into the table and bringing in chairs, but setting it as well. Melissa smoothed out a fold in the table cloth that had gone unnoticed, then nudged the knife in front of her into line with its paired spoon.
It was good enough.
Melissa started towards the stairs, debating whether she had time to take a shower and do her hair before her guests arrived, when her phone rang.
"You are just a stupid telemarketer," she told it, but John's name was already visible, flashing across the screen before she lifted the phone to her ear. "Please tell me you were missing my voice so much that you had to call on your way home."
John chuckled softly. "The first part's true, anyway."
Melissa sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.
"I'm so sorry," John said, and he really did sound that way, with a generous helping of guilt on top. "We got called in on a domestic. The guy's in custody, but the wife and kids are a mess."
John sighed. "Not enough to have to go to the hospital, thank goodness, but I want to get them settled in at the shelter while she's motivated. I don't think I'll be too late, but you never know with these things."
"Of course." Melissa smiled despite the situation; John's good looks weren't the only reason she'd fallen for him. "I told you, I understand. Who do you think's there when they do end up at the hospital?"
"I know, I know." John huffed, the sound hurricane-loud in her ear. "It's just I've missed so many damn dinners. I thought maybe this one time wouldn't be too much to ask from the universe."
"There will be other Thanksgivings," she told him firmly. "Now go on. We both have things to do, and I plan on seeing you before bed tonight."
"A lot sooner than that, if I have my way." John sighed again. "Thanks, Melissa. For everything."
Melissa snorted. "You might want to wait on the thanks until you've tasted the food."
"Uh-huh, whatever. I'll see you later. And don't let Stiles run you ragged, no matter what brilliant idea he comes up with."
"I never do," she said, and hung up with a quick goodbye.
She was in the middle of draining the potatoes, thinking about how the steam rising up in her face was the closest she'd gotten to a trip to the spa in a very long time, when the front door opened and closed.
"Hey, Mom!" Scott called. "We're here!"
"Good to know!" she called back, jerking the pan back and forth to drain off the last few drips. "Make sure you take their coats!"
"I am!" Scott yelled. "Hey, can you come out here for a second?"
"In a minute!" Melissa shoved the huge pot back onto one of the cool burners on the stove, then shook the weight of too many potatoes out of her wrists. Scott's appetite had slowed some in the past six months, but the potato weevil had nothing on young male werewolves when it came to endangering the species.
"All right, I'm here," she said as she stepped into the living room. Chris Argent was already ensconced in the worn recliner that had become John's favorite. Scott and Allison were standing, or hovering, actually, halfway between the couch and the hall.
The light sparking off Allison's finger was what drew her eye.
"What is that?" Melissa shrieked. She took three quick steps forward and grabbed for Allison's hand.
Allison jerked back before she could make contact.
"Mom," Scott hissed.
"Sorry," she said, pressing her own hand to the pounding under her sternum. "Sorry, I just— Scott, what the hell?"
"It's okay," Allison said, holding her hand out for Melissa to see. The diamond was small, but more than a decorative chip. "You just startled me. Reflexes kicked in."
"You mean your training kicked in," Chris said proudly, not sounding at all surprised by the ring on his daughter's hand.
"Would somebody please let me in on what the heck is going on?" Melissa snapped. "You're what, engaged now?"
"Not exactly?" Scott said. "It's more like...a promise that we will be engaged."
"A promise ring," Melissa said slowly, eyebrow lifting of its own accord. "Like one of those 'we're not going to have sex until we're married' rings?"
"Um," Scott said, blushing.
"I didn't think so," Melissa said.
"It's an engagement ring," Allison said, and Scott's whole face did the same thing it did when he was five years old and had just been told he could have dessert if he ate his peas first. "What? Everyone knows that's what it is."
"Yeah," Scott said, "but—"
"Oh, my God," Melissa said, groping for her own throat as she stared at Allison. "Are you pregnant? Is that why?"
"No!" Allison yelped. "No, of course not. Totally not pregnant, I swear."
"Mom, why would you even go there?" Scott whined. "We're in love. We want to get married someday. Why can't you be happy for us? For me?"
"Oh, baby." Melissa stepped forwards and pulled him into a hug. After a second she opened an arm, waving her hand at Allison until she joined them. "I am, I really am. It was just a shock, that's all. And, okay, I was talking to Anna this morning—"
"Mom," Scott groaned. "You know she always puts stupid ideas in your head."
"They're not stupid. Just...a little premature," she said, because now she could picture it, Scott grinning down at the black-haired bundle cradled in his arms. She squeezed both Scott and Allison and then stepped back. She brushed at her eyes, then turned towards Chris, setting her hands on her hips. "And what, you're totally calm about all this?"
Chris's smile was wide and far too toothy to be comfortable. "You're telling me you didn't see it coming years ago?"
"Yes, but, in the future! Years and years in the future!" Melissa sighed as Scott gave her a sheepish look. She held up a hand. "I know. It's your life. I'm just going to need a bit to get over the shock."
The doorbell rang. Melissa sped to the door, grateful for the breather. Her hand shook as she reached for the doorknob. Her hands never shook; she was a nurse, damn it. A little emotional turmoil wasn't going to get the better of her.
Stiles and Derek stood side by side on her doorstep, Isaac crowded in behind them. Melissa fully intended to step back and welcome them inside, but somehow her hand rose up so she could shake her finger in Stiles' face.
"You," she said. "You knew all about this, didn't you?"
Stiles didn't even try to play dumb, a wide grin crossing his face. "She said yes, didn't she? What am I saying, of course she did!" He took a quick step forwards, forcing Melissa to retreat, and rushed past her into the house. Isaac did the same, somehow managing to get around both Derek and Melissa in the space of a blink.
"Hello, Melissa," Derek said, lips quirking up slightly as he proffered the foil-wrapped dish in his hands. "Thanks for having us."
A quick peek under the foil revealed a nice-looking stuffing. "You are my new favorite," she said as she took it out of his hands. It was hot, too, like he'd pulled it out of the oven right before the trip in the car. "You hear that, Scott? Derek is my new favorite."
Derek snorted. "He says he's not worried. That you'll be back on his side as soon as there are babies."
"Which better be years in the future," Melissa called over her shoulder. She took a step back and waved Derek in.
She paused for a moment, looking in on the living room. So many men. Melissa briefly considered grabbing Allison, drawing her into the kitchen so the two of them didn't feel quite so outnumbered, but Allison wasn't a cook. She didn't like talking about new recipes, or sticking her finger in the cookie dough for a quick taste. Scott had told Melissa once that Victoria, despite her über-tough image, had been as Martha Stewart as could be when it came to her family's meals.
Melissa went on into the kitchen without saying anything.
She tucked the dish full of stuffing on the back corner of the stovetop, near where the oven vented, in hopes that it'd stay warm enough there that she wouldn't have to reheat it. Then she turned around—and nearly crashed into Derek.
"Sorry," he said, hands coming up protectively. "I thought maybe you could use a hand."
"Bless you," she said sincerely. "Can you get one of the others to start filling the drinks? Then if you'd mash the potatoes, I'll set an extra piece of pie aside for you."
"You don't need to do that," he said, smiling. Then, more quietly, "Isaac."
Melissa blinked at him, confused for a second until she realized he'd been giving an order. Or possibly it was just a request; she still didn't quite understand the way things worked in the pack, especially given Scott's constantly changing opinions on the matter. Derek nodded a second later, and then Isaac was striding into the kitchen, headed straight for the ice in the freezer.
"Where's your potato masher?" Derek asked.
Melissa pointed to the utensil jar on the counter. She watched him start on the potatoes, then decided she'd better get the milk out.
"Heyyyyy," Stiles said, wandering in after she'd poured a generous splash into the pan. He plastered himself against Derek's back, arms sneaking around his chest. It didn't seem to slow Derek's progress any. "You know what you need, baby?"
"You to keep your fingers to yourself?" Derek said, slapping Stiles' hand away from the potatoes.
"Like you'd ever ask for that. No, I was thinking an apron, actually. One with ruffles around the edge."
Melissa rolled her eyes. She took a steadying breath, then opened the oven door.
The little popper was still in.
"You are such a liar," she told it. She stabbed a meat thermometer deep into the breast, crossing her fingers while she waited for the dial to climb.
Stiles peeked over her shoulder. "I'm pretty sure it's not gonna go any higher."
"Right," Melissa said, shoving the turkey back into the oven. "I guess we're starting with the soup."
There was an awkward moment of silence after Melissa sat down. She glanced left to right, at all the faces staring back at her, and realized they were waiting, unsure if she planned to say grace. The words were there, right on her tongue, imprinted by years of childhood repetition, but she hadn't voiced them in decades and wasn't sure if she wanted to start now.
Chris cleared his throat. "Well. This smells delicious. I, for one, am grateful to our lovely hostess for having us this evening."
"Hear, hear," Scott said, and Stiles dinged his fork against his water glass.
"Thank you," Melissa said. "Now go on, dig in. It's meant to be eaten warm!"
Despite her own words, Melissa waited, watching the others' reactions. Scott, of course, dug right in, slurping up quick spoonfuls. Isaac was hesitant, but after the first few bites he seemed to eat happily enough. The Argents surprised her, starting to eat with no wariness at all.
Stiles was staring down at his lap.
"Are you texting?" she asked sharply.
"Um," he said, head shooting up. "No, of course not! That'd be totally—" He squeaked, and a suspicious smirk crossed Derek's lips right before he brought his left hand back into sight. "I was just checking in with Dad, okay? I wanted to know if there was any chance he'd make it before dessert."
Stiles drooped. "Another hour, at least."
"Oh." Melissa forced a smile onto her face. "Well, at least the turkey should be done by then."
Scott snorted. Stiles smiled, though it looked tired, worn down by too many years pulling it out for the same reason. Before Melissa could even try to think of something reassuring to say, Scott, Derek, and Isaac's heads snapped up like they were choreographed.
"What?" Chris barked, and then the doorbell rang.
"It's Erica," Derek said, standing. "And Boyd."
"Trouble?" Chris asked, which was when Melissa decided to go get the door before they could descend into a round of werewolf versus hunter posturing.
Sure enough, Erica Reyes and her boyfriend were standing on her stoop, hands in their ever-present jackets, shoulders slumped. If it was trouble of the supernatural kind they'd come here with, it wasn't one nipping at their heels, threatening the end of Beacon Hills as she knew it.
"Mrs. McCall," Boyd said politely, and Erica even mustered up a smile.
"Erica, Boyd," Melissa said. "What can I do for you?"
They glanced at each other. Boyd nodded, and Erica turned back to Melissa. "We, um. I mean I had a fight with my dad over.... Well it was stupid, but Boyd's parents are out of town and normally we'd just go over to Derek's but—"
"We're not asking for food," Boyd said. "If you don't want us here, it's fine, we'll just go back to my place."
"Not asking for food," Melissa said, rolling her eyes. "It's Thanksgiving. Of course you can have food. Come on in."
They still hesitated, gazes dancing up and over her shoulder, and that's when she realized she had a trio of men standing behind her—Derek, Chris, and her own son.
"Shoo," she said, setting a hand on Scott's shoulder and giving him a little shove. She would have liked to repeat the gesture on Chris, maybe with more oomph, but after another probing look aimed at Erica and Boyd, he slunk back down the hall, Derek on his heels.
"Come on," Melissa said again, closing the door once Boyd slipped by her. "John's going to be a while, so one of you can have his spot. I'm sure I can find another chair somewhere."
"You don't have to go to any trouble," Erica protested, but she followed Melissa back into the dining room and sat down in the office chair that someone had fetched from Scott's bedroom. There wasn't much space at the other end of the table for both Erica and Boyd, but they didn't seem to mind, crowding in close together like there was velcro on their sleeves.
Allison brought in a pair of filled soup bowls, serving first Erica, then Boyd, as practiced as if she'd spent a lifetime waitressing. A look passed between the three of them that Melissa couldn't decipher, and then Allison sat back down. They continued eating, Melissa joining in this time, until she noticed Erica was simply rolling her spoon through the bowl.
"It's okay if you don't like it," Melissa said. "I made it on a whim, anyway. There's plenty of other food coming."
"No, it's good!" Erica gave her a half-hearted smile. "I'm just not all that hungry."
Derek stiffened. It was a subtle thing, one that Melissa couldn't have attributed to any particular part of his body, but just like a hunting dog going on point, it was enough to draw the attention of everyone at the table. Everyone except for Stiles, who had his head down, slurping away at his soup.
His right hand, though, was resting gently on top of Derek's hand, thumb slowly tracing circles over the tense arch of his fist.
"It's nothing, Derek," Erica said. "I swear it. Just a stupid family fight, okay? It's just that I'm still pissed off, and I can't eat when I'm pissed."
"Shut up," Erica said. "PMS is totally different."
"Amen to that," Melissa said, and like rain breaking from the clouds, the tension in the room snapped. The kids all laughed, Chris's lips curled up, and even Derek relaxed enough to roll his eyes. She stood up, circling the table so she could clasp Erica on the shoulder. "Since you're not hungry, why don't you come help me with the rest of the meal?"
"Sure," Erica said, slipping out of her chair easily and following Melissa towards the kitchen.
"Scott," Stiles hissed before Melissa was quite out of earshot. "Is there sausage in this soup?"
The turkey— Melissa wasn't even thinking about the turkey at this point. She and the turkey were no longer on speaking terms. Their relationship was on the rocks, headed for a very messy break up, and Melissa had a feeling she wasn't going to be getting much of an alimony check.
Not that that was anything new.
"Do I smell mole?" Erica asked.
"You do indeed," Melissa said, lifting the lid of the crockpot. Savory-sweet steam rolled out, sending her stomach rumbling. "And I guess it's what we're having for dinner."
"I love mole," Erica said, leaning in close. "I am totally on board with that plan."
Melissa hmmed. "It doesn't exactly go with the rest of the meal. I have a ton of mashed potatoes and no gravy."
Erica opened the oven, tilting her head to peer inside. "There's plenty of juices in the pan. Why don't we just pour some out and make it up now? I mean, you have to cook it anyway, right? It doesn't matter if the turkey's done or not."
"Huh. I guess we could do that." Melissa got a saucepan out for the gravy, then stared forlornly at the heavy turkey. "I guess we should take it out of the pan first. I always hate this part."
"You got something to set it on?"
Melissa found a spare aluminum foil roaster, like the one the turkey was cooking in, and found a few inches of empty counter to set it on. The hardest part was going to be getting the turkey out without dropping it or spattering the juices everywhere.
"I've got a couple of meat forks around here somewhere—"
"Don't bother," Erica said—and flashed her claws out. She jabbed them into the turkey, one hand for each breast, and lifted the whole thing up. She tilted it until the juices finished draining, then transferred it over to the counter in one quick, easy move.
"That is one heck of a manicure, girl."
Erica laughed. "Yeah. It's hell on emery boards, though."
Melissa chuckled as she transferred the drippings to the saucepan. She'd been taken aback, the first few times she'd run into Erica after she'd become a werewolf. It hadn't been the clothes or her aggressive sexuality, but rather the way the sweet girl she'd known from too many hospital visits, the one with the dry, deprecating sense of humor, was nowhere to be seen. But after being kidnapped by the alpha pack, some of that edge had worn away, leaving a blend of vulnerable and confident that suited her far better than the hard-as-werewolf-nails armor she'd put on.
Erica got the turkey back into the oven. While Melissa got the gravy going, she watched Erica, pondering the hollows under the eyes and the way her confidence seemed to be in hiding tonight.
"Can you take over stirring this?" Melissa finally asked.
She hadn't planned on running the dishwasher yet, but she stuffed it full of mixing bowls and even some of the pots and pans, then started the cycle. The thing was a monster. It still washed the dishes as well as it had fifteen years ago, which was a miracle, but it was damn loud. Loud enough to give werewolf ears fits, it Scott's complaints were anything to go by. The way Erica's nose wrinkled seemed to confirm her hypothesis.
"All right," Melissa said, stepping in close to Erica and keeping her voice low. "Talk to me. I didn't think your dad was around much anymore."
Erica shrugged. "He's not. But sometimes he likes to show up for holidays. Pretend it's like the good old days, you know?"
Melissa grunted. "Jackass."
"Yeah." Erica's gaze was locked on the gravy. "Usually I'm like whatever, and just blow the place if he gets to be too much. But Boyd was there, and my mom was acting like it was so great that we were all getting along. Like a real family. I tried, I really did, but then he started laying into Boyd, bitching about his name and his parents and what we thought we were doing dating, and I just couldn't take it anymore."
Erica whacked the whisk against the edge of the saucepan. "Derek and them, they all get freaked out because they think he's like Isaac's dad was. Please. Like I couldn't handle him if he tried to smack me around."
"Somebody doesn't have to hit you to be abusive," Melissa said softly. "Believe me, I know."
Erica stopped stirring. Her gaze slid over to Melissa. "Yeah?"
"Let's just say my ex-husband was a very negative person." Melissa took the whisk back from Erica and started grinding down the flour lumps. "It took me far too long to figure out that I couldn't change who he was. That the only solution was to get Scott and myself away from him."
"Yeah, well, I'm pretty much always away from him," Erica said. "He's not really a problem anymore."
"That's good," Melissa said mildly. "But you know you can always talk to me, right? Even if it's not about something he just did."
"Yeah," Erica said, smiling. "I know. Thanks."
"Okay, then." Melissa flipped the burner off. "I think it's about time we get some food on the table."
On the first pass, it looked like there was more than enough of the turkey mole to go around, but after the first few tentative bites, it disappeared quickly, along with the mashed potatoes and gravy and Derek's (God-awful, please don't let him ask her if she liked it) oyster stuffing. They managed to put a pretty fair dent in the rest of the side dishes as well, and it wasn't that long before Melissa was standing to clear the table.
"Sit down, Mom," Scott said, popping up from his seat like a prairie dog. Stiles floundered upwards a second later. "We've got this."
"Well, I'm not going to fight you for the privilege," Melissa said, shooing her hand at him. It was chaos for a few minutes, Scott and Stiles removing plates with not nearly as much finesse as Allison had shown earlier. Melissa waited until the clinking of silver against china had died down, then leaned towards Allison.
Towards her future daughter-in-law. God.
"Now that I've returned to my right mind," Melissa said, winking. "Do you think I could get another look at the ring?"
Allison flushed. "Of course," she said, extending her hand.
"White gold?" Melissa asked, looking up to see Allison's nod. The diamond was square cut, and other than the color of the gold, it could have been the twin to Melissa's own engagement ring, all those years ago. "It's beautiful."
"I like it," Allison said, smiling in the direction of the kitchen. "It's simple and classy."
"Allison likes simple things," Chris said, smiling over his water glass.
Melissa shot him a look, and he winked. She rolled her eyes and let it go, turning back to Allison. "So, do you two have a plan, or...?"
"We only ever talked about hypotheticals," Allison said. "But yeah. We both want to finish up with college first. Probably the June after graduation."
"Oh! That sounds perfectly reasonable," Melissa said, breathing out some of the tension she'd been carrying since their announcement.
"Mmm hmm," Chris said. "They're just going to live in sin for a few years before they make it official."
"Dad!" Allison squawked.
Chris held up a protesting hand. "What? I'm just joking. You know I don't mean anything by it, honey. Right?"
"Um, I'm just going to see if Scott and Stiles need any help," Isaac said, ducking out the door even as Stiles emerged with a stack of dessert plates in his hands.
Stiles jabbed a plate down right in front of Chris, hard enough that Melissa normally would have snapped at him for it, and then Scott and Isaac arrived with the pies and silver.
"Ooh, look, pie," Stiles said pointedly. "Yay, pie. Pie for everybody."
"I hope nobody's picky," Melissa said. "I just went with pumpkin and—"
"Is that pineapple pie?" Chris asked, his voice cracking.
Melissa looked over to him sharply. "Yes. Is that a problem?"
"No, no. I love pineapple pie." His smile looked more brittle than eggshells. He set his crumpled napkin down on his plate, then slowly stood up, moving with the same careful, measured motions as a patient taking those first awful steps post-surgery. "If you'll excuse me, I'm just going to grab a little air. Freshen up my appetite."
Everyone went dead silent until the sound of the front door closing reached them. Then Melissa leaned forwards, like that could negate the entire length of the table between them, and hissed at Stiles. "What the hell did you do?"
He held up both hands. "I didn't do anything, I swear to God." His gaze flitted to Allison. "I just, uh, maybe didn't think things through all the way."
"Why does that not surprise me," Melissa muttered.
"It's okay," Allison said. Her smile wavered, but it stayed present, determined. "He'll be okay. It was a surprise, that's all. My mom used to make a pineapple pie every Thanksgiving."
Melissa groaned. "I am so sorry."
"No, really," Allison said, reaching over to grip Melissa's hand. "It's good. I, uh, kinda hate pumpkin a lot. And it's a good memory, you know?" She looked over to Stiles. "I understand."
Stiles nodded back at her. His face said everything, his eyes brimming with all those years of yearning for what he once had, the knowledge of what that had to be like for Allison, his own desire to give to her what he could.
Melissa sighed. The damn kid usually had his heart in the right place. It was just his brain that took him and everyone else along with him down wrong-way streets.
"Can I try some pineapple?" Scott asked.
"I've got it," Allison said, smiling at him as she scooped a piece onto his plate, then one onto her own. "Melissa?"
"Oh, absolutely," she said, holding out her plate. "The cook has to sample her own work, after all."
"Well, I think you're crazy, Allison," Erica said, though she smiled, clearly joking. "Pumpkin pie is the food of the gods. I could eat a whole pie myself."
"I thought you weren't all that hungry," Boyd said pointedly as he snagged the edge of the pie tin with an extended claw and proceeded to play mock tug-of-war with her.
Melissa hoped to God it stayed mock. The last thing she needed was a werewolf strength-enhanced food fight with her good china and crystal involved. She almost said something, but then she noticed Derek quietly slipping out of his seat and head towards the kitchen. He caught her looking at him and paused.
"I'm full," he said, awkwardly blunt as he jerked his thumb in the direction of the kitchen. "I was going to start on the dishes."
"You don't—" she started to say, but then his eyebrows did a complicated dance that had Melissa looking over to where Allison was taking very precise bites of her pie. "Oh! I mean. You don't have to worry about the roasting pans. I never bother."
Derek nodded once, then disappeared around the corner. Melissa suppressed a sigh and stuffed a forkful of pineapple pie into her mouth.
She almost missed John slipping back into the house.
Erica and Boyd had already left, and after a full ten minutes of awkward thank-you-for-dinner-we'll-host-next-time exchanges, Scott was finally ushering the Argents to the car. Melissa turned her back on the door before it was closed, debating whether she needed to get into the kitchen and supervise whatever Stiles, Derek, and Isaac were doing, or if she could just retreat to her bedroom and hide for a while.
"I just heard some very interesting news outside."
Melissa didn't jump, but only because she was too worn out to react. She turned around, taking in John's curiously arched eyebrow and the fact that he'd already taken off his jacket, before she stepped forward and buried her face against his neck.
"Hey," he said, bringing his arms up to hold her in a tight, comforting embrace, the kind of hug she used to hate herself for craving whenever her day went to shit. "You okay?"
Melissa sighed into his chest. "I'm fine. Great, actually. Tonight was only about half the disaster I thought it'd wind up being."
John smoothed his hand over her hair. "I'm so sorry I wasn't here."
"I'm not going to lie and say I didn't miss you." Melissa pulled back, away from the burnt-coffee and sweaty polyester smell of his uniform. John looked fantastic in his browns, but she didn't like cuddling up to them all that much, especially when he still had his gun and all his hardware on. "But you're here now. That's all I care about."
"Um, Mrs. McCall?" Isaac called softly. Melissa turned around, warmed when John didn't let go of her completely. "How do we know when the turkey's supposed to be done?"
"God damn it to hell and back!" she yelped, breaking free of John's embrace and charging towards the kitchen. Isaac's eyes got impossibly wide before he scooted to the side, out of her way.
The freakin' bird was sitting on top of the stove, skin crisped a deep, golden brown. The legs sagged away from the body of the turkey, cooked so tender they could be pulled free with a quick tug.
The stupid button still hadn't popped up.
"It looks good to me," John said, one hand resting on her shoulder. "Hell, it smells fantastic."
"The dark meat should be fine," she said, grabbing a knife from the block. "The breast is probably dry as a bone."
It didn't look too bad when she cut into it, but it was still hot, the steam masking how much of the juice had been cooked out. A quick bite confirmed her suspicions.
"It might be a little dry," John said, mouth clicking and smacking as he worked on the hunk he'd shoved into his mouth. "Just needs some gravy."
"Uh. We've got a little gravy," Stiles said, holding out the pan she'd made it up in. There was a small puddle at the bottom, a few streaks on the sides. "Not that you need it."
"Believe me, kid, if I'm going to eat this, I need it." He swiped another hunk of turkey through the gravy, smiling at Stiles as he stuffed his mouth. Stiles rolled his eyes dramatically and set the pan back on the stove.
"There's some mole sauce left," Derek said. "All the turkey breast is gone, though."
"Mole?" John said, taking the plastic container of sauce from Derek, holding it up to his nose for a cautious sniff. He looked over to Melissa. "This is the stuff that has chocolate in it, right?"
Melissa smiled tightly. "This version does. Mole poblano. It doesn't actually taste like chocolate, though."
"I've had it a few times. Years back." His smile was fond as he looked down at the sauce. "There was a restaurant over on 6th and Elm. Just a hole in the wall, run by a real nice family."
"I remember that place!" Stiles said. "Is that what Mom used to get? I always thought it was burnt gravy."
John snorted. "That's because we knew better than to tell you it had chocolate in it. You'd have demanded to have it, then cried all the way home because it didn't taste like Hershey's."
"Oh, yay, Stiles stories." Stiles' eyes flicked between John and her, like he expected John to suddenly pull out the album of baby pictures. "I think that's the signal for us to get going."
"What?" John said, setting the container of sauce aside untouched. "It's not that late yet! I thought we could watch a game, at least. I know it's not the same as watching it live, but—"
"I know, Dad, I'm sorry." Stiles shrugged. "But I kinda promised Scott I'd take him and Allison out for drinks if she said yes, and well...."
John groaned. "Don't tell me that stuff, Stiles. Almost twenty-one is not the same as twenty-one in the eyes of the law."
"It's just an expression, Dad. No alcohol, I swear." Stiles snorted. "It's not like Scott can get drunk, anyway, no matter how hard he tries."
"Not helping your case," Derek said, looping an arm across Stiles' shoulders. He nodded at John. "There will be no alcohol involved, I promise."
John sighed. "You sure those two don't want to have the rest of the night to themselves? They just got engaged, after all. That's the kind of thing you want to celebrate a certain—"
"Okay!" Melissa broke in hastily. "Can I send any of this turkey with you boys? It'll be good for sandwiches, if you put enough mayonnaise on it."
"Leftover turkey sandwiches are the best part of Thanksgiving," Isaac said, eyes soft and angelically wide, so Melissa picked up the knife and set to slicing most of the turkey off the bone.
John sighed as the front door closed, a whole day's worth of frustration let out in one breath. "I never should have rented out the damn house."
"What?" Melissa said, heart jerking like a cardiac patient's.
John waved his hand at the door. "He's always doing that. Taking off to Derek's instead of staying here, when he knows very well they're both welcome."
Melissa rolled her eyes. "And how comfortable were you having sex in your parents' house while they were sleeping in the next room, hmm?"
"Aw, Christ, Melissa."
"Oh, don't give me that. You were the one who brought up Scott and Allison celebrating earlier." She rubbed at the achy curve of her lower back and sighed. "Stiles made things a little awkward at dinner, for Allison and Chris and Derek, and Scott didn't say anything to me about going out for drinks. I think maybe it was an excuse to get them out of here."
"Of course he did, and of course it was." John pushed her hand aside, replacing hers with his own, digging his thumb into the tense muscles. "I tell you, he's just not comfortable here. For all the time he spent over here when he and Scott were kids, you'd think he'd feel at home."
Melissa shrugged. "But it's not his childhood home. Not any more than I'm his mother."
"I know." John rubbed his hand briskly over her back, then stepped away. "Which is why I should have kept the house open. Just as a bolt hole, if nothing else."
"A bolt hole," Melissa repeated slowly.
"For Stiles!" John rubbed at the bridge of his nose. "Not for me, for Stiles. Damn it. You know I didn't mean it that way."
"I know." She did. She hadn't questioned John's desire to be here since the day he'd moved in. The long day was getting to both of them, though, and John hadn't eaten dinner yet. She caught his hand. "Come on. I think the wolves left enough scraps to put together a whole plate."
Even with the boys' help, the kitchen was still less than pristine. Melissa made herself ignore the mess, pulling the leftovers out of the fridge instead. She hesitated for a moment, but went ahead and poured mole over all of the turkey she plated up for him. John had said he'd had it before, after all.
"What, no stuffing?"
Melissa shook her head. "I never got a chance to bake it. I should get it into the oven now, but the way today's gone, I'd forget about it and burn the house down."
"We definitely don't want that." His brow wrinkled. "I could have sworn I saw Derek put some stuffing in the fridge."
Melissa whimpered. "Of course he did." At John's raised eyebrow, she added, "He made it. It's full of oysters."
"Really? I love oyster dressing. Stiles must have told him."
Melissa wrinkled her nose. "I can't stand oysters. Not when they're cooked. How about you hold off on trying it until lunch tomorrow?"
John's eyebrows climbed. "All right. Any particular reason?"
"Yeah, because I don't have to kiss your stinky mouth while you're at work."
John laughed. "I can live with that, but only if you give me an up-front payment."
"So demanding," Melissa said, clasping her hands around the back of his neck as she smiled up at him. He rubbed his nose against hers, then kissed her softly. Melissa hummed in the back of her throat and pressed in again. They kissed until the microwave dinged, and even then they were slow to part.
They sat down at the small kitchen table where they usually took their meals, Melissa kicking off her shoes with a groan of pleasure. John snorted. "So dinner didn't go that well?"
Melissa shook her head. "Other than the turkey being a disaster and a few awkward moments, it was fine." She watched as John scooped up a huge pile of mashed potatoes. "You know, I don't think you need to worry about the house. I think it's just that Stiles is in love, and wanting to spend as much time as possible with his boyfriend while he's back from college."
"Yeah, I know," John said, nudging his fork through the pile of corn kernels. "I just don't like that he's fallen into making excuses again. I can't help but think it's got something to do with me moving in here."
Melissa swallowed as John's fork skipped over the mole-covered turkey again. "So what are you saying? It's my fault Stiles has a lying habit?"
"What? Of course not! It's my fault, although I'll be damned if I know where I went wrong." John dropped his fork onto his plate and sat back, brow wrinkled as he stared at her. "Why would you even think that's what I was implying?"
"Oh, I don't know. Maybe because all you've been able to talk about since you got home is how much you regret moving in here?"
"I never said that! What the hell, Melissa?"
"I'm sorry." She pressed her palm to her forehead, trying to calm herself, but the words boiled over anyway. "I'm tired. My back hurts. I've been cooking all day, I managed to fuck up the turkey, I had to put up with Chris Argent looking down his nose at me all evening, my son just got engaged way too young—which you don't seem to give a crap about—and God damn it, could you at least try the mole!"
He gaped at her. "Okay. I realize you're stressed out. But if it's all right with you, I need a few moments to work myself up to eating my wife's favorite dish!"
Melissa swallowed. Her eyes prickled, and she shoved herself up out of her chair and away from the table.
"Sorry," she croaked. She wasn't sure what had the stronger hold on her throat, the guilt at triggering his grief, or the way he'd said my wife like Janie was just in the next room and he was just hanging around until it was time for them to go home. "I'm sorry, I should have realized when you said earlier. Let me get you something else."
John stood up, catching her wrist and gently drawing her to him until he could set his hand on her waist. His muscles tightened, like he was trying to pull her in for a hug, but she held back, too prickly for that kind of closeness right now.
"I don't need something different," he said, taking a step back. He let his hand drag over her arm, though, until their fingers were loosely tangled together. "I'm sorry, okay? I think we're both tired and stressed and butting heads over nothing."
Melissa bit her lip, then shook her head. "Not nothing. God. Do you realize this is the second time tonight I've managed to do that? Apparently pineapple pie was Victoria Argent's speciality."
John groaned. "That's what Stiles had his hand in?"
Melissa nodded. "He was trying to do something sweet for Allison."
"Yeah, that sounds like him." John sighed, tugging on her hand. "Don't worry about it, okay? It's my issue, not yours. It was such a habit for years after Janie died for me to shut down on anything that reminded me of her, but it's kinda hard to live life that way."
"I like it when you decide to live life," she said, giving him a tentative smile.
"Yeah, me too." He returned the smile, then tipped his head to the side in that I'm the sheriff and I sense a mystery way he had. "You wanna tell me what's going on? Is it just Scott and Allison?"
"I don't know." Melissa dropped his hand and turned around, but that just left her staring at his plate. She blew out a breath. "Am I stupid for being upset about it? Chris says we've seen it coming for years, and that's true, but, Jesus. They're still so young."
John sighed. "That they are. But honestly, I think that after everything they've been through together, their relationship is about as solid as it can get before they make that leap."
"That doesn't guarantee their marriage will work."
"No, it doesn't." John set his hands on her shoulders. He didn't say anything else for a long minute. The ticking of the clock was loud, the hollow thunk thunk thunk of the damn apple-shaped clock over the doorway that she'd never gotten around to replacing after Gary moved out. John's fingers tightened, drawing her in so her back rested against his chest, close enough that she felt comforted, but not so close she couldn't breathe. "How old were you when you got married?"
Melissa let out a choking laugh. "Twenty-one."
"I know I'm projecting my own issues on them." Melissa spun around to face him. "That doesn't mean I'm crazy. I thought I'd dated Gary long enough to know everything about him, but I didn't know anything. I didn't know he'd pick at the way I cleaned the house, or hate everything I cooked." She took a gasping breath, then finally gave voice to the truth that had eaten at her since the day she'd figured it out. "I didn't know he'd hate me because Scott looks like me, not him."
John's jaw clenched. He broke her gaze, staring over her shoulder while he breathed harshly through his nose. "He's a bastard. You know that, right? He's a bastard, and I'd love nothing more than to shove my fist down his fucking throat."
Melissa shook her head, chuckling darkly. "Get in line."
"Hey," John said, looking back to her with softer eyes. "For what it's worth, I think Scott and Allison will be okay. Scott has to muddle his way through things sometimes, but he adores Allison. He's going to do everything he can to make that relationship work."
Melissa nodded. "I know he will. But how's Allison going to feel when she's pregnant with a werewolf baby? The thing she's been taught to hate? To hunt and kill?"
John stepped back, hand coming up to rub at his mouth like he was tasting bile.
"Victoria killed herself rather than live life as a werewolf. Are they going to tell their kid that?" Melissa shook her head. "Are they gonna let Grandpa Chris dandle his grandbaby on his knee while he talks shop with Allison?"
John sat down hard. Melissa brushed at her eyes, clearing away the few furious tears that had escaped, then walked over to the counter and started working on stripping the rest of the meat off the bones. She heard John sigh, heard the chair creak, but she kept working. This, at least, she could do.
"This is pretty good," John said. Melissa turned around. He lifted another forkful of turkey and mole to his mouth, chewed and licked his lips. He raised an eyebrow as he looked over at Melissa. "Could use some salt, though."
Melissa snorted. John grinned back at her. It was his constant complaint whenever he ate anything that had to pass the Stiles standard. She nodded at the cabinet that had the salt shaker. "Too bad that's something you can't fix."
John chuckled and got up to get the salt. She watched him eat a few more bites before she turned back to the turkey. She didn't know why she'd gotten so worked up about the mole; John was nothing like Gary. He wasn't picky, but even if he hadn't liked it, she knew it wouldn't have been because he wasn't willing to try weird foreign food.
"I think you should talk to Scott about it," John said thoughtfully. "He won't want to hear it, but at least get it out in the open. At least that way you'll know he's considered it."
Melissa shook her head. "He'll think I'm attacking Allison. Or that I don't trust him to make his own decisions."
"Talk to Allison, then. She won't like it any better, but if you explain how Gary made you feel, what he put on Scott, then maybe she'll take a good, hard look at the future."
Melissa dropped the turkey carcass into the trashcan, then washed her hands while she thought. She had a feeling that this was one of those interfering-parent things that she should pull back on. On the other hand, she could picture that baby so easily, the one with Scott's big eyes and Allison's perky nose.
"From what Scott's said, Chris has given him a hard time about Allison more times than he can count," Melissa mused. "I have a long way to go with Allison to balance that out."
John snorted. "I love it when you get devious."
Melissa raised an eyebrow. "Is that so, Sheriff?"
"Mmm hmm." John's lips twitched upwards, more amused than naughty, but her pulse jittered anyway. They hadn't been together long enough for the prospect of sex to not get her body zinging with anticipation. "Brings out all my investigative instincts."
"Well," she said, heading to the refrigerator, "don't pull out the handcuffs just yet. There's still pie."
John came up behind her as she was reaching in for the pumpkin, hand skimming over her hip as he pressed a kiss to her neck. "Dessert does sound good."
She chuckled, bumping her ass back into his crotch as she bent forward. "Just give me a sec— Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" She grabbed the chilled aluminum mixing bowl and spun around, almost knocking into John. "I forgot the whipped cream!"
John peered down into the bowl. "You actually made whipped cream? Jeez, Melissa."
"It's not hard," she said. She blew out a breath. "Not that it makes any difference. I can't believe I forgot it. I guess— The boys brought the pie out, and then there was that whole business with Chris, and then I ate the pineapple instead of the pumpkin—it just totally slipped my mind."
"Breathe," John said, cupping her shoulders. "It's okay. I'm sure everybody enjoyed their pie just fine without it."
"That's not the point," she said. She shoved the bowl into his hand and turned back to the fridge, grabbing the pie and carrying it over to the table. "This was our first real holiday together, you and me and the kids. I just wanted it to go perfectly, but instead it was one disaster after another."
John set the bowl on the table next to the pie. "As much as I hate to say it, that's pretty much what our lives are. If you're looking for perfect—"
"No," she said, because she wasn't going to let John go down his own guilt-paved road all over again. "No, I know. I guess I just thought if I tried hard enough, I could make it happen."
John smiled softly. "You're like Stiles, that way. Look. I don't ever want you to think I'm comparing you to Janie—"
"It's okay," Melissa said, grabbing his hand. "Don't think you can't talk to me about her. Ever."
John rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand. "It's still hard for me, a lot of the time. But you make it easier."
Tears welled up then, unexpected and unwelcome. She tried to blink them away, not wanting John to think she was upset at him, upset about the fact that he had a past, especially when she obviously had a whole barrelful of issues of her own. "I'm glad," she whispered. "What were you going to say about her?"
John sighed. "Just. When we first got married, we tried— Or I guess I should say she tried, because I wasn't around any more back then than I am now. Anyway, she tried to do the whole big holiday thing, just like this, for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter. It wore her down, especially after Stiles was born. And we decided it was more important to just have a meal together, whether it was turkey or meatloaf or frozen pizza."
Melissa smiled. "So that's why Stiles didn't have a favorite dish when I asked?"
"Yeah." John pressed a kiss to her thumb. "I just want you to know that I'm happy with whatever you want to do in the future. If it's a big turkey dinner, fine. If you want to go all-out Mexican feast, I'm more than happy with that. But don't stress yourself out for my sake. Or hell, for Stiles' sake. We've both learned it's the people we love that's what's important."
She leaned into him, tucking her head against his shoulder. "You are impossibly sweet." Then she slapped him on the chest. "But you couldn't have said that before I drove myself crazy?"
"Sorry," John said, and she could hear the wince in his voice. "I didn't want to rain on your parade."
Melissa sighed and raised her head. "I was pretty dead set on it being as big as Macy's, wasn't I?"
"I figured that was why you invited Chris. Needed enough hot air to blow up all those balloons."
Melissa tried to give him a disapproving glare, but she couldn't hold a straight face. A snort burst up out of her, and then she was off to the races, braying with slightly hysterical, too tired laughter. John held her through it, his own chuckles rumbling through his chest.
"I can't believe I got so worked up about everything," Melissa said, rocking her forehead against his. "Chris was right. I've known for ages that Scott and Allison were headed this way. But somehow it was still a shock."
"I think that's one of those parental rights," John said. He kissed her forehead and pulled back, eyebrow arched and lips quirked as he looked down at her. "And just think. You'll be able to share your hard-earned wisdom with me when Derek finally works up his nerve and pops the question."
Melissa grinned. "You don't think Stiles will get impatient and do it first?"
"Nah," John said. "I know my son. He can be as patient as the Buddha himself, if that's what Derek needs him to be."
"Maybe Derek will need Stiles to do the asking," Melissa said, because while Derek had come a long way from the hurt, angry young man he'd been, she still saw that look in his eyes sometimes, the one that said he didn't dare believe what he had now was real. She poked John in the shoulder. "Maybe we should bet on it."
John snorted. "I've got a better idea. What do you say we put the pie away, and take ourselves and that bowl of whipped cream upstairs?"
"Mmm," Melissa said, her her body surging with heat in parts at his suggestion, first her back and groin, then her whole front. Even the backs of her knees prickled with the first damp burst of sweat. She leaned in close so she could whisper in his ear. "As long as you promise to wash the sheets."
John pulled back far enough that she could see his grin. "That, my dear, is what Stiles would call a no-brainer."
Melissa put the pie away.