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Theoretically Thanksgiving

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Theoretically, working on Thanksgiving Day is fine. Riley, having grown up in a household where Thanksgiving didn’t serve as much more than the day it became socially acceptable to listen to Christmas music and start decorating for Christmas, didn’t put much emphasis on the holiday.

Theoretically, working on Thanksgiving Day should have been more than fine because it meant her coworkers competing and making their best offers to get her to cover their shifts when she had the luck of being the one who happened to be scheduled off that day. One Dr. Jenna Johnson now owed her morning coffee for three shifts, Christmas, and three non-major-holiday shifts to be covered at Riley’s request.

In reality, working on Thanksgiving Day wound up being a pain in the ass. Riley had gone in for the start of her shift early Wednesday evening expecting a relatively calm twenty-four hours; what she got instead was a lot of turkey-fryer burn triage and an emergency appendectomy that has her trudging out of the hospital at ten instead of five. She was going to enjoy cashing in those favors.

The soft tone of her mom’s voice and her dad’s inability (or maybe just lack of motivation) to say more than grunts of acknowledgement let her know that they’d already started dozing on the couch; her parking-lot call to them is short and sweet. She makes the short drive home and throws a container of leftovers in the microwave, intentionally overheating them so that they’ll be at an edible temperature by the time she gets out of the shower.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she mutters to herself as she flops onto the couch to eat. She briefly contemplates finding something to watch on TV. She thinks better of it when she hazards a glance at the clock and realizes she’ll be asleep the moment she’s done eating.

Instead, she picks up her phone, intending to scroll idly through Twitter while she finishes eating. In doing so, she notices all the texts she’d missed earlier by being so focused on calling her parents.

Mom: Happy Thanksgiving, sweetheart! We miss you, but we are so proud of the work you’re doing today. I know there will be people who are THANKFUL for you there!

Jenna: Thanks again! Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Abby: Happy Thanksgiving!

Abby: I can’t believe you have to work. I guess you’re, like, almost done now, though. Or at least I hope so. Hope you’re having a good day!

Abby: Hi from John, too!

A selfie of the two of them with a turkey that’s way too large for two people and two open bottles of wine comes with the last picture.

Abby: I’m kinda worried cause I think you’ve been there for like 28 hours now?? Is that healthy???

Abby: are you still the one doing the surgery or should I be worried that you are in surgery now

Abby: I mean like having surgery

Abby: DID you know that if you stay at work until midnight it will be the first day we didn’t talk in two months 😱

Abby: mr. feathers and I are concerned

That one comes with a selfie of Abby pouting next to a very picked-over turkey, and Riley genuinely hopes she and John didn’t somehow manage to eat all of that.

Before Riley gets past the photo to read the next message (messages?), her phone rings, and it’s Abby calling.

“Well, hello,” Riley greets, feigning surprise.

“Riley! Hi!” Abby says gleefully.

Riley is now not-at-all concerned about the turkey, instead wondering how many more bottles of wine had made their way onto the table in addition to the two she’d seen. “I see you’re having a nice Thanksgiving,” she says playfully.

“Yeeaaahh,” Abby draws out, “it was. But John has a stupid book signing thingy or whatever tomorrow. Is that a thing? Who rushes out to get books signed on Black Friday?”

“People who want to gift signed books for Christmas?”

“Oh,” Abby responds, sounding like she hadn’t considered that. “Maybe.”

Riley laughs softly. “Just a guess,” she says, trying to fill the space so that she can take the last few bites of her dinner.

“How are you? I was worried.”

Riley can’t help but smile. “That’s cute,” she says around a mouthful of food. “I’m fine. There were just a lot of triage cases today and a last-minute surgery, so I got stuck there kind of late. It happens sometimes.”

“Not on Thanksgiving!” Abby insists. “That’s not fair.”

“Unfortunately, my patient’s appendix didn’t seem to have the holidays in mind.” She eats the last forkful of food and walks her dishes into the kitchen, haphazardly tossing them into the sink (those were future-Riley’s problem because she was absolutely not going to empty the dishwasher to make space for them now). She hears Abby shuffling around at the same time. “What are you guys doing?”

“John’s asleep,” Abby pouts. “I just got ready for bed because I’m eighty years old and also drunk and by myself.”

“Hey!” Riley laments. “I’m getting ready for bed now.”

“But youuuuu’re not drunk and by yourself. Or eighty. Are you? You look good.”

“You’re not eighty, either. And I am by myself! Just pretend I’m there.”

“I wish you were,” Abby whines.

Riley tries to imagine how she looks when she pouts. “You could have video-called me, you know. Then we could both pretend cause I’m actually alone and you’re...temporarily alone? You know what I-”

Abby hangs up abruptly, and Riley frowns at the phone’s beeping. As she tries to call back, Abby’s already calling again with video.

“It’s dark, but whatever,” Abby says, very faintly illuminated by a small lamp behind her.

“Oh, great. Now how am I going to discreetly brush my teeth without you knowing?” Riley complains half-heartedly.

“I don’t think you should hide brushing your teeth. It might be a problem if I thought you didn’t brush your teeth. Did I brush my teeth?” Abby muses. “Anyway. You should brush your teeth. Because I did.”

Riley rolls her eyes with a smirk as she walks into the bathroom and sets the phone down on the small shelf under the mirror. “I promise you have nothing to worry about when it comes to me brushing my teeth. Now you have to talk for a while because something tells me you’re in no condition to translate me talking around a toothbrush into English.”

And Abby does, telling Riley in great, somewhat-slurred detail about their day. John had driven over the day before, combining Thanksgiving at Abby’s with a book signing event also in Philadelphia the next day. They’d spent the day watching the Macy’s parade, making not one but two last-minute runs to the only store that was open, and cooking. Abby mentions very casually at the end of the recap, right when Riley finishes brushing her teeth and goes to rinse her mouth, that they’d already started drinking while they were prepping the turkey in the afternoon.

“Really? I couldn’t tell,” Riley says with a wink when she picks up the phone and leaves the bathroom again.

“Pfffft,” Abby dismisses. “I don’t sound that bad.”

“No, you don’t,” Riley says with a smile, switching off the light.

“Hey! I don’t see you anymore,” Abby complains petulantly.

Riley chuckles. “I know, I know, I just gotta turn the lamp on.”

“Better,” Abby says, beaming, once the light is on again. “And I’m not thaaaat drunk,” she defends again.

“And how about Mr. Feathers? He looks like he had a rough day.”

“Oh, the roughest. He looks to’ up from the flo’ up.”

Riley cackles. “He what?”

“You know, to’ up from the flo’ up. Like, torn up?”

Riley only laughs harder. “No, I know what it means, I just don’t think I’ve ever heard you say that.”

“Well, you know what they say,” Abby begins, pausing to adjust her pillow. “The truth comes out when you’re drunk. Maybe the real me is more hilarious.”

“And full of new phrases,” Riley quips. “It’s a whole new side of you. I’m learning a lot tonight.”

“A whole new meeeee,” Abby sings.

Riley is about ninety-five percent sure that was supposed to be to the tune of “A Whole New World.”

Abby shakes her head. “Please forget I just sang the Aladdin song.”

Riley smiles. “Consider it forgotten. But I liked it.”

“Then I’m sorry to disappoint you, ‘cause karaoke is not part of the secret-drunk-me.”

“Damn. I kinda liked that part of her.”

Abby looks pleasantly surprised. “What else do you like about her?”

Riley’s eyebrows fly up in surprise against her will. “I like that she was worried enough about me to send me a bunch of messages and call me.”

“Oh, she was super worried. Her friend John might have been annoyed.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yep.”

To Riley’s chagrin, Abby doesn’t elaborate. “Well, you didn’t have to be, but it’s very nice.”

“You look happy. I mean, just now when you said that.”

“Let’s just say it’s been a while since someone, besides my parents, thought much about my well-being and happiness.”

“People are stupid,” Abby mutters immediately. “I think about that all the time.”

“My well-being and happiness or people being stupid?”

Abby looks like she’s deep in thought. “You,” she finally says. “Anyway. Next year you should come to Philadelphia. Or I can come there! Whatever. Then I can think about your well-being...in person. Oh, I guess that’s not really thinking, that’s doing. No, caring about. That’s what I meant.”

Riley thinks she sees Abby cringe, so she pushes back the smile Abby’s awkwardness is bringing out. “That would be nice. What about John?”

“Noooo,” Abby responds adamantly. “I mean, he usually spends Thanksgiving with some guy or another. It just happened to work out that he had this work thing this year. Lucky me. So, next year, you can come home from doing surgery all day, and I’ll be there with Mr. Feathers’s cousin.”

“That...sounds amazing. Maybe not the cousin part, though. Giving it a name feels weird,” Riley muses. “But the you-being-here part. Definitely that.”

Abby lets out a soft hum of agreement. “I think so, too.”

“A year is really far away, though. I don’t work every day, you know.”

“Hm, true,” Abby agrees. “I don’t think I can come now, though.”

Riley chuckles. “Please don’t. I really like you alive and healthy.”

“Buuuut I’m gonna drive to Baltimore the moment I’m sober and you’re not performing surgical theater.”

Riley doesn’t dare tell Abby that the operating theater is a place and not a performance, especially considering how she feels like her heart currently has her throat in a vice grip. “Oh, really?” she manages.

“Mhm. You really like me, huh?”

Abby’s eyes drift close and Riley gulps. She’d chosen her words very carefully the first time, seeing as she didn’t exactly consider this the opportune moment to take a romantic gamble (which did suddenly feel like much less of a gamble, all things considered). “Alive and healthy, yup. No driving allowed.”

“No driving,” Abby mutters.

“Abby.”

“Hmm?”

“Hang up the phone and put it down. You’re falling asleep.”

“‘m not,” Abby defends with a pout (which is as cute as Riley had imagined).

“Come on, we can talk tomorrow. You don’t even have your eyes open anymore.”

“Mmk. If you promise.”

“I promise,” Riley agrees with a soft laugh. “Now go to sleep.”

“Okay. Missed you today.”

Riley doesn’t bother hiding her smile this time since Abby has her eyes closed anyway. “I miss you every day. Goodnight, Abby.”

“‘Night.”