“T-bird… I don’t know if I can do this,” Zeke stopped in front of the restaurant. He gripped her hand tightly, his own hand sweaty.
“What do you mean? My parents already love you,” Tina said. She took note of the way he bit his lip and furrowed his brow. She couldn’t think of any reason why he would be nervous. Her parents had known Zeke as long as Tina had known Zeke. He had slept at her house before, albeit on one of Gene’s sleepovers, but still.
“Yeah, but this is different, doll. It’s the first time your parents are meeting me as your boyfriend. That’s a big thing! And it’s Thanksgiving dinner,” Zeke said. He looked like he was ready to pass out, “Oh god. What if they think I’m not good enough for you? Am I?! I don’t know what I would do if I lost you. You’re my best friend and I really, really like you—”
“Zeke,” Tina let go of his hand to grip his shoulders. They stood face-to-face, not breaking eye contact. “You are good enough for me. In fact, you are better than good enough. My family loves you and so do I.”
Zeke stared at her.
Tina moved her hands down to hold his hands, “What?”
“You kinda said ‘I love you’,” Zeke smiled softly.
Tina’s mouth formed an O, “Well, I do.”
Zeke grinned, his face lighting up and all of his previous anxiety melting away, “I love you too, pretty lady.”
Tina couldn’t hide her smile and she couldn’t help herself. She leaned in and kissed Zeke softly.
“Alright,” Tina said, “Let’s go inside.” She unlocked the door to the house and they went up the stairs. When they entered the apartment, she could see some of Zeke’s worry come back to him. She took his hand and gave him a smile that she hoped was comforting. It must have worked because he smiled back.
“Tina! Finally. Dad wants to eat now. He thinks the turkey is getting cold,” Gene greeted them. He noticed Zeke and grinned playfully, “Ah, young love.”
“Gene… you’re younger than me,” Tina said.
“Never mind that,” Gene stuck his tongue out at her, “There are mashed potatoes with my name on them!”
Zeke laughed and walked with Tina to the kitchen. Linda saw them first and screamed Oh my god!
“Linda, we knew Zeke was coming,” Bob said, bringing dishes from the counter to the table.
“I know, but it’s so cute to see them together! Aw, look Bobby, they’re holding hands,” Linda hugged them both and sat them at the table, “Tina was gone for a long time when she went to pick you up. You weren’t doing anything, were you?”
“Mom!” Tina covered her face, quickly growing red.
“Nah, Mrs. B. We was just talkin’ and walkin’,” Zeke replied, giving a large smile.
Gene sat next to Zeke and immediately began scooping mashed potatoes into his own plate.
“Gene!” Linda scolded, “At least wait for everyone to sit down. Wait, where is Louise?”
“Right here,” Louise said from the doorway. She had a murderous look on her face and—oh shit— she was holding a knife.
“Uh, Louise please put the knife down,” Bob said, carefully taking the knife from her. He set it next to the turkey, probably to use to cut the turkey later.
“Zeke, listen buddy, I know we’ve had our differences and our few moments of friendliness, but I swear to god and satan and anyone listening, that I will hunt you down, torture you and kill you slowly and painfully if you ever hurt Tina,” Louise said. She grabbed the knife again, brandishing it dangerously.
“Oh holy crap,” Bob sighed, and took the knife from Louise again.
“Uh, Louise, I appreciate the gesture and the sentiment, thank you, but that was a little… um….” Tina trailed off.
“Don’t you worry, Lil’ Belcher. I will never hurt T-bird, ever. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I did,” Zeke said. He held Tina’s hand under the table.
Bob cut the turkey and began to pass the other dishes around. Once everyone was settled and had food, conversation settled over them.
“So, Zeke, Tina has told us a lot about you two. I mean, I knew you were a big softy but I didn’t know you were that much of a softy,” Linda laughed.
“ Mom! ” Tina groaned.
“Oh my god, I know right?” Gene groaned too, but for very different reasons than Tina, “She has not shut up about you since she started liking you!”
“Gene!” Tina’s face was red. She covered her face again.
Zeke chuckled, “Well, I’m glad to hear it. I guess that means she must really like me, ha ha.”
“Of course I do,” Tina said quietly to him, hoping her family wouldn’t be able to hear; she has been embarrassed enough tonight.
“You two are adorable,” Bob said, “Anyway, Gene, why don’t you tell us about the school play you’re starring in? What’s that about?”
Gene launched into a very long explanation about the Winter musical. Apparently, it was an adaptation of the stage musical adaptation of the film Newsies, and it was exactly like Newsies, except instead of the cowboy dude and the writer girl or that nerdy guy’s sister, it was the cowboy dude and the nerdy guy who get together (as per Gene’s suggestion).
Tina wasn’t listening. Okay, she was a little, because it was kind of interesting (Gene was playing the lead’s love interest, after all). But mostly, she was focusing on Zeke’s hand in hers. They weren’t doing anything weird, just holding hands. She shouldn’t be as happy as she was right now, but the inherent cliche and lovely thought of holding hands under the table was too much for her to take.
She rubbed the thumb over Zeke’s and smiled softly. She really, really loved this boy. She didn’t care that she was a freshman in college. She didn’t care that she was eighteen and young and naive. If she knew one thing in the world, it was that she was completely, utterly, stupidly in love with Zeke, and that it was the best thing she ever did. She wouldn’t mind spending the rest of her life with him.
She remembered in middle school, they didn’t really spend a lot of time together. They became friends by the end, but she mostly ignored him in favor of Jimmy Jr. Which, now that she thinks about it, was very stupid. Jimmy Jr led her on and played with her feelings. He never took her seriously.
In high school, Tina and Zeke became a lot closer. Jimmy Jr and Tina had dated for about two weeks before he broke up with her. That was the final straw for Tina. She told him that she didn’t want to play this game anymore, and that was that.
Zeke and Tina began hanging out together to study, because they were in most of each other’s classes, or just talk. But they quickly became friends.
In Junior year, Tina realized that she had a crush on Zeke. Usually she was so in-tune with her romantic feelings, so this surprised her. She definitely recognized something between them, like the way he would always hold back on something when saying goodbye, or the way he would find any reason to touch her: high fives, light slaps on the back, sweaty hugs after winning a football game, etc.
Something changed during Senior year. They grew even closer, became each other’s best friend. They’d kissed a couple times. They hadn’t even realized that they were doing all the things dating people do until Zeke asked her to the Senior prom.
They both decided to go to the local community college. Neither of them were ready to leave Seymour’s Bay.
It was a good decision.
“Earth to Tina!” Louise waved a fork in her face.
Tina blinked and made a rude face at Louise.
“Ooh, I think we should take a break before dessert,” Linda said, “I’m stuffed. Ha, like turkey, get it?” She laughed at her own joke and patted her stomach. “Hmm, let’s watch a movie before dessert. What’s a good Thanksgiving movie?”
“Charlie Brown!” Gene said.
“Ah, what the hell, yeah. Charlie Brown Thanksgiving!” Louise pumped her fists.
“All right!” Linda cheered. She got up to go put the movie in the DVD player. Gene and Louise followed her.
Bob began stacking plates and setting them in the sink.
“I can clean up Mr. B. I am a guest, after all. It’s only polite,” Zeke offered.
Bob looked surprised. He wiped his hands on the dish towel and shrugged, “Sure, if you want. Uh, thank you. I really appreciate it.”
“No problemo, Mr. B!” Zeke shot up and filled the sink with warm, soapy water.
Once they were alone, Tina went behind Zeke and wrapped her arms around him, taking her glasses off and resting her head on his back. She sighed softly, content.
Zeke chuckled, and she felt the vibrations. “What ‘chu doing, T-bird? Not that I don’t like it, because I do.”
“I know we already had the first ‘I love you’ today, and that’s probably too much, but I have to say it again. I love you,” Tina said, her voice muffled from Zeke’s back.
“Aw, I’m blushing. I love you too, darlin’,” Zeke said. She could hear a smile in his voice.
“I love you,” She said again, because even though it was probably too much, it didn’t feel like nearly enough.
“I love you,” Zeke said, patting one of her hands that were wrapped around him and resting on his rib cage. His hand was kind of wet from the dishes, but that was more than okay because she loved him, she loved him, she loved him, god she loved him so much .
“Wait. I should probably be helping too,” Tina said and let him go, but not before giving him a soft kiss on the back of his neck. She put leftovers in tupperware containers, thinking about how good they would be for breakfast tomorrow.
She put the leftovers in the fridge and helped Zeke with the dishes.
The two of them were blissfully unaware that the whole family was spying on them, because of course they were. The Charlie Brown movie was playing on the TV, completely ignored.
When they were finished, Tina took Zeke to the living room and they sat on the floor. Both of them were fine with sitting on the floor, because it was surprisingly comfortable and every other seat was taken.
After the movie, dessert was forgotten because everyone was tired (except for Gene and Louise, who snuck into the kitchen in the middle of the night and ate almost half of the pie). Bob and Linda went to their room to sleep. Gene and Louise were currently in their rooms.
“So, uh. I better go home now,” Zeke said, “Thank you for havin’ me over, T-bird.”
“Wait,” Tina said, “You can sleep over tonight. I mean… it’s probably raining out. Or snowing. And it’s dark out. Which means it’s hard to see.”
Zeke snorted, “How convenient that it’s snowing and raining right now.”
“Yeah,” Tina agreed, and led him to her room.
It wasn’t snowing or raining.