Callie-

As we walk up to Haley's front door, I can't help but feel waves of embarrassment. I mean, we never really had our own Thanksgivings, and we wouldn't even do it this year if it weren't that Baylee was pregnant with Matt's kid. Aunt Maureen didn't even want to come, but she has a soft spot for Matt, just like my mother did. Maybe she still does. Ugh. Let's not think about my mother.

I don't personally mind, though, except for bringing my aunt. I'm afraid she will gripe all day and be a pain. Maybe she will behave herself. I hope she will. The Thompsons are nice people. Mr. Thompson works really hard to support four daughters and a soon to be grandchild. I don't want my aunt to make things harder for him. After all, it is his daughter that's pregnant because of my brother.

"Daddy, they're here!" It's little Kaylee, who is probably around nine, now. Haley hasn't ever told me. "You can come in," she says, smiling.

"Thanks, Kaylee," I say, smiling at her. She waits until we're in before closing the door and heading off to the kitchen. As an offering, my aunt made a few loaves of various holiday breads that my family has recipes of going back to the late 1800's, though updated and revised over the years.

When we're in the kitchen, Baylee is the first to great us. "Matt!" She goes to my brother, throwing her arms around him and kissing him. He kisses back, of course, and holds her at her waist. When they detach themselves, Matt lowers himself to Baylee's belly and kisses it. "I am so glad you guys could make it," Baylee says, taking Matt's hand in hers.

"The pleasure is all ours," Aunt Maureen says, though it's not convincing to me.

Baylee buys it, though, and so she smiles and leads Matt and Aunt Maureen over to the living room where Jaelee sits and Kaylee has rejoined. Out of nowhere, Mr. Thompson emerges and greets my aunt and brother happily, though it is slightly an awkward arrangement. After he makes sure everyone is settled, he comes back to the kitchen, finding me. "Oh, Callie! I wondered where you were." He actually gives me a hug, seeing as Haley and I have become pretty close. "Did Haley disappear?"

I shrug. "I haven't seen her, yet."

"Oh, well, she will be up in her room then. You can go on up, I don't think she will mind. Tell her that Santa isn't too far away."

I don't understand what this means, but I smile and thank Mr. Thompson, heading out of the kitchen and on to Haley's room. And indeed, she is there, lying on her bed. I knock twice on the door frame, which makes her jump. She whirls around, her hair curlier than normal, which gives her a look that makes me think 'damsel in distress'. She seems uptight, but when she sees me, that feeling goes away.

"Wow, I am oblivious," she groans as she flops back into her pillows. I can't help but grin as I enter her room and sit on her bed next to her. "Did you know I was this hopeless?"

I frown, but laugh. "Totally hopeless."

She grins before sitting up again, looking at me with eyes that are warmer than usual. I couldn't understand it, but Haley looked so much… Older? No, not older. Feminine? No, she was always pretty feminine. I couldn't place what was different.

"I can't stop thinking about him, now," she says, her eyes doing a little dance in the light. "And not in the usual way. My thoughts have escalated!" She throws her hands up in defeat, sighing heavily. "All because Jay asked us to go on that date with him and Samantha. Now I can't stop thinking about Blake like that."

Sexy. That was the word. When it hits me, I'm almost embarrassed, but then I realize there is a whole side of Haley that is being opened up. It's the passionate side that must run in her blood, because her sister sure has a lot to spare. She must have closed it off since her parent's divorce, but now? It was running wildly through her, and it was hard not to notice.

"How much have you thoughts escalated?" I say, almost in a teasing way.

"Well, let's just say it's not innocent first kisses," she says, almost guiltily. "I blame my sister," she says, snapping back from a place she had drifted off to. "I think her hormones are messing with me, too."

I can't help but laugh, and when I laugh, Haley breaks into a fit of giggles. I wasn't used to this side of Haley. She was also so calm, reserved, and cautious. She was smart and focused, and now, she just seemed all over the place. Normally, that would annoy me, but seeing her and Blake together makes this a soothing aspect. There's few times where I think people need to be together, but Haley and Blake were a case of that. Whether it would last was a whole other story, but at the moment, they just seemed too right. Maybe it was just the teenaged girl inside me saying that, but regardless, this seemed to be a clear exception.

"Oh, your dad wanted me to tell you that Santa is almost here."

Haley gives a scream of shock and grabs my hand, pulling me with her downstairs and into the living room. After staring at the television for a moment, she sighs, content, and turns to my aunt and brother. "Hi, I'm Haley. I was up in my room. I'm Baylee's younger sister and Callie's friend." She reaches out a hand to shake with my aunt, who barely returns the gesture. Matt gives a wave to Haley, already knowing her, but being polite anyway.

Once her polite obligations are through, she pulls me to the couch, sitting next to her sister and my brother, and sighs happily. "Can't miss Santa," she says, her face bright like a little child's.

"Sorry, but I don't get it," I say at last, not sure what is going on.

"It's the parade," she says as if this means something. When she sees my vacant look, her eyes get wide. "You know, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade? Every year it's on television." When I shrug, she gasps. "Have you never seen the parade?"

I shake my head. "I didn't even hear about it until now."

Haley spazzes out before she collects herself again. "It's tradition. First, we watch the parade, then the dog show. Then it's Miracle on 34th Street. And then it's dinner after the movie. Every year, we do it."

"Oh," I say, feeling like I have been deprived of some huge cultural event. I refrain from shooting a glance at my aunt, but I feel myself grumble about it on the inside. "So, where exactly does Santa come into play?"

"He always brings up the end of the parade," Baylee says happily.

"Christmas can't come until Santa comes in the parade," Kaylee says, her face dead serious.

"Oh. I didn't know," I say, almost feeling awkward.

Haley wraps an arm around me. "Don't you worry, you know now."

And indeed, Santa comes, which sends Kaylee into hysterics. Then, like Haley promised, the dog show comes on and we watch it all go until, at the very end, a lovely golden retriever wins the thing. And, right on cue, Miracle on 34th Street starts playing. I knew there was a movie from when I was a kid, but this is a black and white version. I have never seen either of them, so I am pretty absorbed into the movie. I can't help but smile, the message of the movie moving.

My family wasn't ever really big on religion, especially after Dad died. Religion was actually his thing, and it died with him. The one thing I held on to was the hope and faith that there was a God, somewhere, somehow, and there was a way I could be with my dad again. I didn't have faith in a lot of things, but I had faith that there was such a place. But in this movie, it was faith in so many little things that just was so moving. Sometimes, faith runs low, and that's when the world grows dark. Dad always would say that, and I promised him I would never lose faith. Sometimes, I wasn't running on much, but I never let go.

The movie ends, leaving about twenty minutes until dinner is ready. The smell of turkey, mashed potatoes, and other heavenly scents fill the whole house, and for the first time, I feel like I am really home. Like I'm in a family.

When we gather in the kitchen at last, the counters are covered with dishes filled with food. There's easily enough food here to feed twenty people, but I don't complain. I haven't had a good meal like this in years. I planned on eating as much as I could.

Before we serve, Mr. Thompson insists on saying grace, which is something we never did except for when my father was alive. I'm not sure what to think, but Haley takes my hand in hers, Jaelee my other. So, without thinking, I bow my head, like it was something I did every day.

"Our kind and gracious Father, we thank you for this bounty before us and pray that it may nourish us and strengthen us. We are especially grateful on this day for our family, friends, and other loved ones. Father, we pray for health and strength for those we love, and help to all those who need it. May thy presence be with all, especially on this day of thanks.

"We humbly pray for the safety of the newest addition to our two families. We pray that he or she may be strong and healthy. We thank thee for all of thy gifts and for this opportunity to bring our two families together. Father, we love thee and say these things in the name of Christ, our Lord, Amen."

"Amen," we all murmur, just seconds before the excitement erupts. People rush for plates and for dishes that are their favorites. Despite the presence of hunger, I'm left frozen next to Haley, who seems frozen as well. After a while, she squeezes my hand, which reminds me it's still in hers. "You okay?"

I smile, and it's genuine. "Yeah, I'm fine." She senses there is more to this little moment, but she decides to let me come to her to tell it. I prefer it that way, anyway, seeing as my aunt is eyeing me curiously. I smile, releasing Haley's hand. "Let's eat."

It's impossible to get everything I want on one plate. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, fresh cooked vegetables with a honey glaze, Aunt Maureen's bread, homemade applesauce and cranberry sauce, sweet rolls, and a cheesy dish that looks like mashed potatoes, but is made up of cauliflower instead. It's all there, begging to be eaten, and I try my best to get as much of it on my plate as possible.

Everyone else seems to have the same idea. Even Aunt Maureen seems pretty thrilled. At the end of the day, it was a dinner she didn't have to cook, and a good one at that. How Mr. Thompson managed to make all of this, I will never know, but I won't question it. The food is fabulous. I watch as everyone eats, seeing the contentment on everyone's face. It really drew us together, and let's face it. There is no shame in overeating at Thanksgiving.

Haley and I finish first and dive in for seconds, careful to get the things we weren't able to fit on our plates last time first. By the time we finish our third plate, we're about bursting with food, but very content. Even little Kaylee managed a second plate, which makes us giggle because she was very proud of that fact.

After dinner, Mr. Thompson offers a movie, to set apart dessert and dinner. Aunt Maureen seems content with the idea. Kaylee and Jaelee pick out It's a Wonderful Life, saying that it was another tradition. They said it always meant Christmas was on the way, and it was always watched on Thanksgiving weekend.

Haley and I sprawl out on the floor, very content and warm and full. Baylee and Matt are cuddling on the couch, occasionally making little comments to each other or at Baylee's belly. Aunt Maureen sits in one of the recliner chairs, her eyes hanging drowsily. Jaelee and Kaylee curl up on the other couch, completely zoned in to the movie.

About halfway through, Mr. Thompson joins us, after he finishes packing up and putting away the leftovers. It's blissful, this moment, being with family and friends. In many ways, we were two broken families, being united into one. Not in marriage, but in new life. We were family, in a way. There was an expectation for distance, which made me feel sure this was going to be a great thing. There was no fear in losing this.

As the movie ends, I can't help but think of my father. Between the movie and the prayer and all of the things about Thanksgiving, he is heavy on my mind. Haley must sense this, though I don't know how she does it. She sits up, her warm brown eyes meeting mine. "What's up, Callie girl?"

I sit up, sighing. "I've just been thinking about my dad."

Surprisingly, Haley's face doesn't go sad. In fact, it seems to glow when she hears this. "That's really special, Callie. It means he is still with you. You still have that special place in your heart for him, and even though he isn't here physically, he is still a part of your life, and you're thankful for that."

I hadn't thought about it that way. The prayer, the movies, the feelings… It did feel like he was here.

My mind flashes back to the Thanksgiving before he died. It was our last. I hadn't thought about it, but now, it was there, like I recalled it every day. It was also the first time Grandma had not remembered my name right away, and at the time, I believed it meant she didn't love me. I had gone outside, escaping the smell of the turkey and all that comes with it. It was a few hours before he found me, hiding between two rose bushes. "Callie, what are you doing in there?"

I remember looking away from him, stubborn about being upset. I was determined that he would not console me. "Grandma doesn't love me. I don't want to be in there."

Even though I didn't want him to, my dad reached in and pulled me out and into his arms. I don't bother to protest, knowing he'd win. I never really could fight against him. He was my favorite person in the world. "Callie, your grandma loves you so much. You have no idea how much so. It's very sad, but she is sick. This sickness makes it hard to remember things. I know it's hard, but she is trying. You mean a lot to her."

When he put it like that, I couldn't be mad anymore. I let down my guard and let my worry show. "Will Grandma leave us, Daddy?"

He pulled me in close. "Someday, she will pass away. But the people we love never really leave us."

I remember looking up at him, into his bright eyes that were my keepsake of him. "What do you mean, Daddy?"

"Well, when people come into our lives, our hearts make a place for them. It's a part where we keep our feeling and memories of them. Those places are permanent, and so when someone moves away or passes on, it's really just their bodies that are gone. So long as you live, the place where they lived inside you lives on, too. They live on through you, so long as you let their place in your heart live.

"Sometimes, people kill off those places in their heart. Sometimes, they can bring it back after a long time, but usually, once it dies, it never comes back. That's why it is so important to have faith, Callie. Have faith that the people you love are always with you, even if it's just in that special place in your heart. You will never, ever truly be alone."

I could hear these words now, needing them now more than ever. There were times when something would happen, and I swear, it was like my dad was there with me again. I protected his special place in my heart. I never wanted that part to die. Sometimes I feel that I am serving a higher purpose by being alive, just to keep my father's life alive. Maybe, someday, I will understand why.

I let my attention focus back in on Haley. I give her a smile, probably more hopeful than anyone I have given in a long time. "Thank you," I say, feeling my heart warm up.

Haley returns my smile and says, "Any time, Callie. I'm glad I could be of help."

We're interrupted by Kaylee screaming about pie, which gets everyone up and into the kitchen. Again, Mr. Thompson has outdone himself with dessert. I can't help but smile when I see pie upon pie upon pie. "Alright," Mr. Thompson calls, a smile on his face. "We have two pies of each kind, so feel free to indulge." My eyes widen at the sound of these words. Two pies. Of each kind. I feel the sugar rush coming already.

"We have ourselves pumpkin, pecan, cherry, apple, and the Thompson's famous chocolate raspberry pie. So, help yourselves!"

It's chaos. Pie chaos. I can't help but laugh over the meltdown we all have. Which pie do we want? Me and Haley decide to share our plates, so I pick my two favorite, pecan and apple, while Haley gets cherry and pumpkin. She insists that we each have our own slice of chocolate raspberry, which I know will be the death of me, but I do it anyway.

Matt and Baylee follow suit with our idea, and Kaylee, Jaelee, and Mr. Thompson engage as well. Aunt Maureen isn't much of a pumpkin woman, and she has a nut allergy, so she goes with a nice slice of the chocolate raspberry, wanting to see why it was so 'famous.'

The plan seems to work well for all of us. It's hard to get through three slices of pie, but somehow, we manage it. My taste buds don't want me to stop, but my stomach starts pleading hallway through my second slice. I made it deal with the rest, but I know I'll regret it in a while, when the bloated feeling truly sets in.

We sit and chat for a while until Kaylee practically falls asleep at the table. It's not until then that we realize it's close to midnight. Mr. Thompson sends Baylee to go get Kaylee ready for bed, since she can't seem to stay up much longer, and Jaelee goes up to get to bed as well. We're about to say goodbyes when Mr. Thompson starts pulling out containers of leftovers. For us.

"Oh, Mr. Thompson, you really don't have to," Aunt Maureen says, almost embarrassed.

"Nonsense," he says, stacking containers together. "Oh, and we have to send you home with some pies."

He tries to send us home with the untouched pies, but we insist on the ones already eaten from. He gives in and lets us wrap them up and add to the pile. Aunt Maureen has Matt help Mr. Thompson take all the food out to the car before letting any of us say goodbye.

I don't pay attention to anyone else once I have said goodbye to everyone but Haley. There's a strange nudging at my heart, telling me that I ought to talk to her about something I haven't talked to anyone about. Ever. I won't even let myself think about it, if I can. But something about talking to her tonight has made a change within me, and since she is the closest thing to a sister I have, it only seems right.

I decide not to bring it up just yet, though, but I give her a big hug. "Thank you so much," I say while I'm still squeezing her.

"No problem, Callie." We break apart, smiling. "If we don't hang out this weekend, I will see you Monday."

I can't help but smile. "Sounds great."