She's very determined ... Evelyn Carnahan, that is. Never takes no for an answer. That's why it's difficult to say no to her.
"I'll make you dinner for Thanksgiving." The plans she's making inside her head shine out through her eyes and in the way she's smiling. She's beautiful ... and this is going to end up messy. Of course, this is nothing new ... not that long ago since we met, after all, and she was trouble then.
"You don't have to, Evelyn. That's not even possible. Finding a turkey in Cairo? Maybe. Everything else? Uh-uh." This isn’t something she has to do. She just wants to. There’s no way to talk her out of this, is there? Why is it such a big deal, anyway?
"I don't have to make you a traditional Thanksgiving, darling. I'll make ... other things."
Ow. There's the familiar stab of pain ... why is it that she always seems to cause a headache? No, that's not the best way to put that. Trying to argue with someone who won't budge is what causes the headache, not the person herself.
"Yes, and can you actually cook?"
She just gives this look, you know the one -- 'Rick O'Connell, that's beside the point,' it says. Very loudly.
"I'm going to try, for you, because I know you miss it."
And that's that. Well, could be fun. We’ll see.
Alex bangs his heels against the cupboard doors under the counter he's sitting on. Evie hums to herself, her attention on the card in front of her, reading glasses perched on the end of her nose. She's holding her hands clear of herself and the pink-splattered card. She says, "Be a dear, and do stop doing that, Alex." Her voice is void of any actual investment of stopping his behavior -- she's concentrating too hard to put 'disciplinary mother' on.
"Why?" he asks.
"You're breaking my concentration, that's why."
"Why are you cooking anyway, Mom? Usually Dad cooks."
" 'Usually' is a rather broad definition," she notes, absently. "Because," she lifts her head and looks over the edge of her glasses, "this is a special occasion and I always make this one thing for your father, you should know that. I've been making this since you were still small and smearing this particular dish on your face."
"Yes," comes a voice from the door to the kitchen, "and it's the only thing she gets right -- most of the time." Evie and Alex both turn to look. Alex says, "Dad!" just as Evie says, "Rick!" in the same delighted tone.
Alex drops down from the counter, landing with bent legs, and springing right back up and rushing at Rick. "Whoa, there," says Rick, holding out a hand to stop his son in his tracks. Alex rocks back a little after stopping, looking disappointed.
Rick says, "Chin up. I just need to hand this turkey off, okay?" He swings a bag forward he'd had slung over his shoulder by drawstrings and holds it out until Evie's taken it.
"Dear God, Rick, you'd think we were feeding more than five people, that is, if Jonathan brings more than just his bon vivant self." She turns to put the bag down on the counter, hefting it up. It lands with a dull smack.
"All right, buddy, I'm all yours," Rick says, and bends down to pick up Alex, who suffers it for all of five seconds, before pushing away and kicking to be put down. "You're going to help me with that bird, right?"
Evie smiles. "Better you two, than me."
"You can cook, Evelyn," Rick says.
Evie leaves the turkey, still keeping her hands clear, and reaches herself up to place a kiss on his cheek. "If you can call it cooking. Your faith in my abilities is as astounding as ever."
Rick holds up one finger, opening his mouth. He then pauses, considering. He nods, and waggles his finger. "Maybe just in this one area. You did buy extra cranberries, right?"
"I learn from my mistakes, O'Connell."
Rick nods, lips pursed. "Oh, using the last name again now, are you? You remember that first Thanksgiving when you almost bur -- "
"Oh, just be quiet, and get started on that bird. I have this cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes to make if you want your Thanksgiving to happen at all."
Alex asks, "What about your first Thanksgiving?"
Rick opens his mouth, but closes it again and shakes his head. He says, "You know who'll be happy to tell you? Your Uncle Jon. You can ask him all the woolly details when he gets here. Now, wash up, we're going to clean out that bird."
"You got it, Dad."
Watching her cook is almost as terrifying as fighting things -- undead things -- that can dislocate their jaws while roaring at you ... and there's a whole lot of wrong with that sentence, but that's beside the point. Almost as terrifying.
"Do you need any help, Evelyn? I can help."
"No, thank you. I'm handling it."
It doesn't look that way from here, but if that's the way you want it. "All right."
There's a difference between cooking and making food for survival. What Evelyn's doing -- there's no words for that. But it is ... fun? Fascinating? A train wreck?
"Are you just going to watch my dear sister? Because that's just a tad creepy." Ah, Jonathan Carnahan. Not a surprise that he’s checking in on Evelyn, here at the doorway to their kitchen. He has a tendency to show up when least expected. Probably not used to the fact that his baby sister’s suitor isn’t going away anytime soon.
"Buzz off, Jonathan."
"Not a chance. If you're going to watch, so am I." Just a little defiant there, aren’t you? Can’t really blame you for it.
Evelyn says, "Neither of you are going to watch." She has her hands on her hips. Oh, that spells trouble. "Get out, before I push you both out," she goes on, "you're making me nervous."
Jonathan doesn't give. "Oh, come on, old mum, can't we just -- "
"No. Both of you, out. If I make a complete muddle of this, I want to do it on my own."
It seems unfair to interrupt, but there's nothing for it. There’s something very wrong with the pot she left on the stove. "Uh, Evelyn, is that supposed to be smoking?"
What comes streaming out of her mouth in response to that ... well, it's enough to make a man feel proud. All that is what she's picked up from interaction with a certain unsavory character -- and that's not her brother, thank you very much.
Who looks very shocked, right now. Sorry, dear Jonathan.
"Mom! Dad! Uncle Jon's here!" Alex turns from the door, letting Jonathan in past him. He shuts the door as Jonathan starts to unwind his scarf from his neck, using one hand. He holds out the other to Alex, showing him what he's holding.
"Here, I brought some wine for your Mum and Dad." He bends down, gives Alex a conspiratorial wink, and says, "If you can keep it a secret, I'll let you have a sip."
Alex rolls his eyes. "I'm six, Uncle Jon. And it tastes horrible. No, thanks."
Jonathan straightens up, eyes narrowing. "How would you know?"
Rick says, "Your mom let you taste it, didn't she?" He sounds completely unsurprised. Alex and Jonathan both swivel to look at Rick, who walks further into the room. Both Jonathan and Alex's eyes are wide. Jonathan makes a motion to conceal the bottle of wine behind his back, and stops when he realizes it's uncalled for. Rick continues, without seeming to notice, "Stop trying to corrupt my son, would you? He has too many liberties as it is."
Jonathan says, "I'd say you were wrong, my good son, but the only other chap I know that has as smart a mouth as Alex is you, O'Connell. So, I guess ... so far he's turning out all right." He shrugs out of the greatcoat he's wearing and tosses it at a nearby armchair.
Alex says, "Mom says I'm spirited."
Rick says, his tone forbidding, but the little smile he can't seem to tuck away gives the lie to it, "Yes, and persistent and commanding, and you never take no for an answer, do you?"
Jonathan imitates the easy landing of his coat by dropping into another chair with the same floppy grace. He says, "Sounds like another person I know. He's got all the worst features of you and Evie alike, God bless you both."
"Don't we know it." Rick nods, solemn-faced.
"How long until we eat the roasted fowl, pray tell?" asks Jonathan, swinging the bottle of wine back and forth, its neck now held in too loose-looking of a grasp of his fingertips to end well. Rick nabs it out of Jonathan's hand with a swift move.
"I'll take that," he says. "In about an hour. Try not to get into trouble."
Alex and Jonathan answer in unison, "Who, me?"
Rick gives them a stern look, and an upraised index finger. "There will be consequences."
"All right, all right," Jonathan answers, waving a dismissal, and leans back in the chair, putting his arm along the back.
Alex looks down, nodding his head, mollified. "Yes, Dad."
Rick turns his back on them, and starts to leave, but turns again to give them another stern look.
Jonathan looks away and whistles, tapping his fingers on the back of the chair. Alex smiles, as innocent as a cherub.
"Did she tell you what she was making?"
There's a smell of smoke and the taste of burning dung in the air. It's not as bad as it sounds. You can get used to it. Add to that various sounds, children playing crack-the-whip, and shouting passers-by, and you have yourself a typical evening in Cairo.
Jonathan looks up, at nothing. Obviously, he's trying to remember. One of those children runs right past us, almost clipping him. He jumps back out of the way.
“Jonathan.” Get back on task, will you?
"Oh, yeah, yeah. Ta'amiya. Maybe koshari."
All right. Those are familiar. "Let's start with that, then."
"Don't forget to get bread. It's not proper to eat without the bread."
That's too good to pass up. "And you're all about being proper, eh, Jonathan?"
And that earns just about what's to be expected -- a stiff glare. That's one thing he has in common with his sister.
"Don't start, my good son. We're the ones out shopping the restaurants, all to celebrate a holiday that we, that is, Evie and I, don't even observe!"
Thanks, Jonathan, way to make a fellow feel like a heel. Nice to have confirmation this is a bad idea.
"I didn't ask her to! She came up with this idea on her own! She probably feels bad enough that everything she was making is now a complete mess, anyway."
"Well, never let it be said she doesn't care about you, though God knows why." Jonathan Carnahan, ladies and gentlemen, always one with a cutting comment.
"Cripes!" exclaims Alex, into the silence that had fallen after Rick had left.
Jonathan swivels his head from side to side, looking for the cause of the sudden exclamation. "What? What is it? And should you be using language like that?"
Alex cringes. "Don’t tell Dad. It’s a bad habit. I can’t help myself. Anyway, I almost forgot! Dad said you needed to tell me about his first Thanksgiving with you guys."
Jonathan scrunches up his features, into a disbelieving, almost disgusted reaction that bares his teeth, making him look just a tad horsey. "Whatever for?” he says, almost whining, “that's more your mum's story."
Alex shrugs. "Mom and Dad are too busy, I guess," he says.
Jonathan sits up straight and then leans forward and pokes at Alex's chest with his first finger. "Tell you what, old chap, I'll tell you while we're eating, because I'm sure your mum and dad will want in on this story."
Alex pushes Jonathan's hand away and whines, "Aw, I hate waiting."
"You have projects you've been doing, right? Why don't you show me those?"
"All right. Come on, Uncle Jon!" Alex ‘s voice is eager, as he grabs Jonathan's hand and pulls his arm, "I'll show you what happens when you leave a coin in toothpaste for too long."
"Oof," Jonathan says and pushes himself out of the chair.
"Cut it out, Uncle Jon, you're not that old."
"I've done things that have made me prematurely old, I'll have you know." He rolls his shoulders back, causing vertebrae to crack.
"Yeah, like what?"
He looks up, in thought, makes a 'tsk' sound, then shakes his head. "I don't think your parents want you to know. Ask them later."
Jonathan's tone is more challenge than curiosity, after our trip to rescue our dinner in the only way we knew how, when he says, "So what are you thankful for, O'Connell?" He reaches for one of the bowls full of the food we’d bought, not as full as they were when we’d helped Evie set it out, still steaming. The smell of the koshari still hangs in the air, vinegar mixing with the smell of fried onions.
The answer is simple, but there's a whole lot more bound up in it than is possible to express. Sitting here, in their company ... it’s still hard to believe. "You guys -- and being alive."
"Can't argue with you there. What about you, Evie?"
She looks as though she’s considering it, then she says, "Good memories and making new ones." She's not looking at Jonathan, though. No; he's not the one she's giving her attention to.
There's another thing to be grateful for -- a girl who knows what you've been through, knows that you don't remember much before the orphanage, except for scattered bits here and there. It's hard to look away from her smile. Jonathan keeps chattering, but every word sounds like nonsense, until --
"O'Connell! When you're done wool-gathering, would you mind passing that pitcher here?"
Wool-gathering, huh? He's pointing at the water we'd set out to fill our cups. "Here you are, Jonathan, don't mind me. You were saying?"
"I was just asking Evie here -- though I'm not quite sure she heard me; she's too busy staring at you -- if she'd mind taking a look at something I found. A manuscript of some sort, quite old. Try to keep up."
"Jonathan! There's no need to be condescending."
"You two are going to keep me busy watching your backs, aren't you? Not that I mind."
This is something a man could get used to -- this feeling of being part of something. There's no turkey on the table or cranberry sauce, but who needs that? There are other things more valuable, more worthy of being thankful for.
"So there we were, O'Conn -- sorry -- your dad and I, standing at the door to the kitchen, and there's great billows of black smoke, I mean, just mounds of the stuff, so we could barely see. And your dad asks your mum if she's all right, and there's this tiny voice that comes through the smoke, and all she says is -- "
Evie's voice is cheerfully bright, as she interrupts Jonathan -- "And all I said was that I'd no idea one could burn oil down to a black puddle."
"What were you trying to make, Mom?"
"Oh. What's that?"
"Well, it means a small tasty thing." Alex wrinkles his nose, confused, and Evie smiles. She continues, "Basically, a fried dough ball made with dried chickpeas. I turned each and every one of them into rocks." She makes a face, an almost perfect mirror to Alex's.
Rick reaches for his wine glass, saying, "It was the first time I'd ever heard your mother swear." He took a sip, smiling around the edge of the glass.
Alex's eyebrows go up so high they disappear under the fringe of hair over his forehead. "Mom, swearing?"
Jonathan nods, sagely. "She turned the air blue."
"I'll have you know, Alex, I learned every one of those words from your father."
"Not from me; you must be mistaken, Evelyn."
"I'm not mistaken."
"It couldn't be me."
"Now you're just trying to wind m -- "
"Anyway," Jonathan breaks in, "we then convinced her to just give up and let us go buy some food to eat. That was your mum's first attempt at making your dad feel at home, right, Evie?" Jonathan casts a querying glance, his eyebrows up, at his sister, who nods.
"Oh," Alex says.
Rick reaches across the corner of the table to take Evie's hand in his. She smiles at him for a long moment.
Jonathan pretends to shudder, and says, "Now we've made them soppy."
Evie turns a glare on her brother, letting go of Rick's hand. "All right!" she says, voice brisk. "Let's get the table cleared and then we can go to the drawing room and wait until our stomachs are empty enough for dessert. Alex, help me."
"Aw, Mom, do I have to?"
"The answer is yes, young man. Start with your plate." She picks up her own and starts up from the table, only to stop as Rick touches her arm and leans in to kiss her cheek.
He says, voice quiet, "Thank you for the cranberry sauce. It's just like I remember it."
"I'm glad," she says, and gives him a quick peck of her lips on his, and then smiles when he tries to chase for more. "Later," she says, and winks at him.
It takes a while to notice, thanks to Jonathan's incessant talking, but Evie slips away after dinner. She's out in the garden behind the house, a tiny place. In the daylight, it's prettier. All the flowers are closed now, though the moonlight makes the plants look a different kind of pretty, like a fairy land. Evie's sitting on the bench against the enclosing wall. There's enough room beside her to sit. Jonathan's not going to bother us out here.
She's quiet for a long time. That's okay. Quiet is good. We're like that for a long time. It's hard not to jump, when she says, "I'm sorry, Rick."
"It wasn't exactly the celebration I planned. I wanted to make you something memorable."
"It was memorable. Ow.” It's not a powerful slap on the shoulder, but it still stings a little, just enough to make her point. Try number two, then, at this reassuring thing. “You can always try again. I won't make fun of you. Cross my heart.”
'”That's very comforting. What will you do if I mess it up again?”
“Well, practice makes perfect. I promise I'll stick around to rescue you from burning grease and blistered fingers."
"How very gallant of you." Oh, but her smile. It's enough to turn a man's insides to mush.
Evie bends at the waist, resting her hand on top of Rick's head for just a second. He looks over his shoulder. She's behind him, the sofa back between them. She rests her elbows there beside his head. She's looking past him, at the other side of the room, past the table at the center of the arrangement of furniture. She says, motioning with her head, "They're done for, aren't they?"
Rick nods. "I'd say so."
Across the room, in separate, very large, armchairs, Jonathan and Alex are fast asleep. Alex is curled up sideways, shoes still on. Jonathan is just slumped far down in the chair, feet planted firmly on the floor and knees far apart. His head is lolled off to one side, at an awkward angle.
Rick says, high disbelief in his voice, "Is your brother drooling?"
"Probably. Let's not disturb them."
"It's funny how they wear each other out."
"I think it has more to do with the food, actually. Come here." Rick twists in place and pulls Evie over the back of the couch straight into his lap.
She looks up at him through her eyelashes, a mischievous smile at odds with her demure gaze. "Oh, well," she says, "I guess I'll just have to, then."
Rick closes the very little distance between them and gives Evie a lingering kiss. She smiles when he lifts his head, and touches his cheek.
"Happy Thanksgiving, darling," she says. "You are happy, right?"
"Now, that's a question. Let me think about it." He pauses, pretending to think. Evie rolls her eyes. "Of course. Of course I'm happy. There's you, and Alex, and your brother, who at least had the good sense not to bring anyone to this family gathering. That's a lot to be thankful for."
"Yes, he did, bless him. I was just checking."
He rests his forehead on hers. He says, tone serious, "It's not ever going to change, Evie. Ever."
"Good to know. Now, we were in the middle of something, weren't we, darling?"
"Hmm, yes, we were ... honey."