An extra seat on Thanksgiving - a short story by Erin M. Wright
One thing everyone knew about the Johnson sisters was that they loved their father. Jade and Jada were basically twins, only 18 months apart from each other. Even though they were nearly twenty-one, a suitable age for a young woman to live on their own, they both decided it was best to stay in the basement of their childhood home where their parents still lived.
Octavia, their mother, owned New York City or so she said. Aside from running the most influential fashion brand, she was a formal model. Her long slender legs, petite frame, and cherub-like cheeks set her apart from most and her daughters were no different.
“Girls, let’s go. We’ve got to get to the Christmas shoot now,” called Octavia from the intercom.
It was Thanksgiving Day morning, the time when most people were up preparing for their first feast of the holiday season, but not Octavia or her daughters.
“Hurry up, Jade, you know mom is going to freak out if we keep her waiting any longer,” Jada reminded her older sister as she looked herself over in the mirror and tidied up her already perfect outfit.
“Who cares about Octavia and her stupid photoshoot. We take pictures for her damn brand every day. I’d rather stay home with Dad,” Jade hissed at her baby sister as smoothed her messy ponytail down and threw on her Dad’s old college hoodie.
Even though the sisters were close their personalities could not be more different. Jada, the youngest, always dreamt of taking over her mother’s company while Jade loathed everything about fashion. She was a scholar and honestly, the prettiest out of the two young women, but hated the attention. Octavia called them over the intercom once more and they both hurried up the stairs into the kitchen to greet their dad who was busy prepping for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Good morning baby girls. Smoothie for Jada and oatmeal for Jade?" their dad asked as he gave each of them a hug.
“I would rather take a bite of your bacon and grits, Dad," Jade announced loud enough for her mother to hear as she cascaded down the stairs.
“Jade Milan Johnson! You will not go to my photoshoot smelling like you just left Waffle House,” her mother threatened. “Anthony I don’t know why you insist on making that crap. You aren’t doing anything, but messing up their physique. One more meal like that and Jade can be a plus-size model."
Octavia’s words couldn’t be further from the truth, but she was a perfectionist and loved to throw her authority around even with her husband. Anthony shrugged off her rude comments, like he always did, and kissed his wife on the cheek – but not too hard, he knew not to jeopardize her appearance. The three women got their things and headed out of their iconic brownstone on to the streets of Harlem where their town car awaited.
Although the Johnson family could afford to live in a penthouse on Park Avenue, Anthony insisted they stay in Harlem, where he grew up. Octavia loathed living there because all of her friends and business associates were Upper East siders. Octavia always got what she wanted – except that.
“You know, you don’t have to talk to Dad like that. I’m sure he gets sick of you treating him like that. I know I’m sick of hearing it,” Jade scoffed while checking her emails.
“Can we not do this right now? I don’t want to argue today, its Thanksgiving. Dad is at home preparing our dinner and we’ve got a Christmas photoshoot! We should be merry,” Jada said trying to keep things calm between her mother and sister.
Octavia looked up from her blackberry at her youngest daughter, "Oh shut up, Jada, give it a rest. Don't you get tired of sucking up to me? I hate it, but at least your sister has her thoughts."
“What gives you the right to talk to her like that? You may have birthed us, but that’s about it. Between Dad and our nannies, you did nothing. You should be lucky Jada wants anything to do with you and your company," Jade hissed at her mother.
Octavia rolled her eyes and continued with her conversation on her phone. The two girls talked amongst one another until they arrived at the set. Once they got there the sisters went one way and their mother went the opposite to go check on the other models and shoots already going on.
“I can’t stand her smug face,” Jade said while the makeup artist begged her to stay still.
“I don’t know what you two hate each other so much,” Jada said as the styles carefully swooped her baby hairs around her temple.
“Do you see the way she treats Dad? She acts like he’s the help when in reality, he's the reason she has this company in the first place! She was a groupie – a poor groupie from the Bronx and struck gold when she was waitressing at one of Dad's favorite restaurants when he played for the Knicks. He could have had any girl, but he chose her and poured his heart and soul into their relationship, and for what? So she could treat him like a piece of shit after his accident. What a bitch!” Jade exploded.
Jade wasn’t completely wrong, and her sister knew it. Octavia did date quite a few NBA players when she was younger. When Anthony’s limo was struck by a drunk driver and shattered every bone in his left leg, he did invest his money into her dreams.
"I know, but Jade, Mom's just passionate about her work. She’s a perfectionist. That's all." Jada said trying to excuse her mother's horrid behavior toward their father.
“There is no way you treat someone you supposedly love the way she treats our father” Jade claimed.
Both girls went and had their pictures taken. Jade and Jada were naturals – they’d been modeling since they were five and six, so modeling was second nature. After finishing their shoots early, they said their goodbyes to their model friends, got dressed, and headed back to the Town car. They had just enough time to help their dad with the last few side dishes – mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, and their Dad's world-famous monkey bread. They both impatiently sat in the car waiting on their mother.
“Do you have the call-sheet, Jada? Mom is going to make us miss everything,” Jade anxiously asked.
“Yeah. Mom didn’t take any photos today, so I don’t know what could be holding her up. Maybe she had a last-minute meeting with the creative director or something,” Jada suggested.
“I saw him leave before we even wrapped our shoot! He was headed to D.C. to meet his boyfriend’s family, remember? That’s all he’s been talking about all week,” Jade reminded her sister.
By the look on Jade’s face, Jada knew that her sister had every intention of finding out exactly what their mother was up to and why she was being so inconsiderate toward them. Before Jada could think of an excuse for their mother, Jade was pulling her out of the black town car into the snow to search for dear Octavia. They ran all around the shoot and checked every trailer they could, but their mother was nowhere in sight. Jada suggested they take the town car home and tell her assistant to call their mother another one, but Jade disagreed.
“We are going to find her and drag her home with us. This is Dad’s favorite holiday and I’m not going to let her ruin it,” she said.
They bumped into Octavia’s assistant as they approached the last trailer. It was the president of the company’s trailer, their dad’s oldest friend and former teammate.
“Hi girls! Um, uh, your mom is just signing some last-minute paperwork for Mr. Harold. I can tell her you two were waiting. Go ahead and she will meet you at home, I know you don’t want to miss helping your dad,” the assistant stammered.
The two sisters were so close, they barely needed to communicate with one another. They both called bullshit on their mom’s assistant and rushed past her without a word. Jada began to knock on the door, but Jade brushed past her sister and pushed the door open.
“What the fuck, Jade?” Octavia screamed as she attempted to cover herself.
Jade took in the view of her mother straddled between her Dad’s best friend in a black lace slip. Jada caught a quick glimpse before her older sister grabbed her and drug her out of the trailer. Jada slammed the door behind them, and they rushed silently to the town car.
“What are we going to do? We have to tell Dad. I cannot believe her. How can she do that to him?” Jada rambled as they sat down in the car.
Jade was busy on her phone typing a mile a minute and ignoring her sister’s meltdown. The driver rolled up the privacy window and began driving down the snowy street. It was a gorgeous day. The streets were nearly empty, and the sun hit the mounds of snow on the sides of the street making them sparkle. Jada nudged her sister, demanding she responds to her.
“Jada, calm down. I’ve got it under control,” Jade said with a slight grin forming on her face.
“Oh no! Jade, what are you thinking? You can’t hurt her; Dad would never forgive us. He loves her no matter what. What are you going to do? I know that look,” Jada began spiraling again.
“Calm down little J-bug. The only thing that would devastate Octavia is a younger version of her pushing up on her man – well sideman. I’ve got just the girl. Remember when we went to fashion week in Milan last year and we met Chiara, the half Italian, half Black chick?” Jade asks with a dark scheming tone.
“Oh, yea! She is good-looking! I remember her leaving with some old investment banker during the after-party! Jade, you are a genius. Once she meets Harold, she will instantly want to get to know him more and mom will lose her shit to see her boyfriend going for a younger version of her.” Jade smiled as she realized their plan just may work.
Jade and Jada arrived just in time to help their father with the finishing touches to his thanksgiving feast. They set the table and made sure to strategically place the name tags around the table.
“Where is your mom? Dinner will be ready in a little bit and who is the extra place setting for?” their father asked.
“Um, our friend is in town for work and she didn’t have anywhere to go. She’s not from here, so we figured we should invite her,” Jada blurted out, she wasn’t very good at lying, especially to her father.
“Mom is on her way, her assistant said she and Harold had to go over a few things regarding paperwork for the shoot before coming over," Jade added in.
Anthony paused for a moment but then continued to place the food on the serving table. Jade and Jada both felt a little tension in the air after they mentioned their mother behind held up at work with their father's best friend.
Jade interrupted the awkward silence, “everything alright, Dad?”
Anthony cleared his throat and draped his signature warm-loving smile on his face, “yes, yes, everything is okay. That is the good thing about hiring your best friend to work for your wife’s company, you know she will be safe. The weather looks like it’s getting worse outside.”
Before either sister could respond the doorbell rang. Jada rushed to open the door for their surprise guest. Anthony and Jade stayed in the kitchen and Jade offered her father a drink, which he gladly accepted.
“Wow! Bellissima! Your home is gorgeous, Jada, with so many paintings and photos of your mother. It’s wonderful. I brought some wine for dinner," Chiara said in her magnificent Italian accent as she continued to take in the house as she handed her coat to Jada and took off her impeccable black Italian leather boots.
“We are glad you could make it! We wanted to introduce you to a family friend. We love him, he’s so kind and well-established. It’s the holidays and we just didn’t want him to feel alone. I think you’d like him,” Jada said in a convincing tone.
“You and your sister have impeccable timing, I just broke up with that investment guy. He had too much baggage for me," Chiara explained as she and Jada entered the living room. "Oh, wow he is more handsome than you explained, Jada!”
Chiara went to greet Anthony with an extremely warm welcome. Jade could tell her father was flattered by his now-rosy cheeks. Jade and Jada both smiled but quickly had to explain to Chiara her date had not arrived yet. The three of them walked to the living room to enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail in front of a roaring fire. The young women laughed and reminisced about their catwalks in Italy and France while Anthony leaned on the oversized bookshelf gazing out of the window at the snow that was beginning to cover the street. Jade noticed her father’s disposition, but before she could check on him the backdoor creaked open.
“Happy Thanksgiving family!” called a deep voice from the kitchen. It was Harold.
Anthony’s body let out a large sigh of relief. He walked over to greet his long-time friend and check on his wife, who was already handing her husband her fur coat to put up. Anthony grabbed her coat and placed a warm-loving his on her lips. Jade and Jada both squirmed but tried to remain as unfazed as possible.
“And to whom do I owe the pleasure of meeting such a beautiful young woman?” Harold asked as he flashed a smile.
Both Jade and Jada looked in the direction of their mother, who was fuming. Anthony made it back downstairs and announced to was time for dinner. Everyone took their seats and began eating. The dinner was wonderful. Jade and Jada accomplished pissing their mother off and pleasing their father. After dinner, Jada rolled out the liquor cart to the living room to prepare for yet another Johnson tradition. Each year they watched a Christmas movie while they enjoyed pumpkin and pecan pie in front of their gigantic white marble fireplace. Harold and Chiara snuggled up under a Hermes blanket on the love seat, giggling and whispering to one another. Jade was in her favorite spot in the house, on a bean bag next to the bookshelf.
"Mom and Dad, are you all coming? We are about to start the movie," Jada called into the kitchen.
“Go ahead and start, honey, your dad is almost finished making the homemade whipped cream. I’m helping,” Octavia answered. "The girls seem happy," she said as she turned to Anthony.
“Well, it’s their favorite holiday and their friend is in town,” Anthony replied to his wife without taking his eyes off of the bowl he was mixing.
“If you have a problem with me, Anthony, just say it,” she insisted as she swirled her red wine around her glass.
Anthony put the hand mixer down and focused his attention on his wife. Before speaking, he took a sip of his bourbon, “Your daughters aren’t stupid. Whatever vendetta you have against me needs to end. You know why they invited that girl here! You think having an affair with my best friend is going to change my mind about going public with the fashion brand?”
Octavia was now almost in tears, “I thought a scandal may ward off buyers and Harold gets me. You don’t anymore. You want to stay holed up in Harlem and buy up all the projects and invest in black-business, which is admirable, but my brand is luxurious – like me. I want the glitz and glam. I want to be able to hold galas at my home, but no one will step foot on this side of town!”
Anthony scoffed in disappointment at his wife’s warped perception of their lives. “This is why we are alienated from the rest of our family. At first, I thought it was because of our money, but it’s not. It’s you. We aren’t like those people. You didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in your mouth. My investments in black businesses are the reason you have your company. Don’t you want to be better than those stuffy-ass white folk? Don’t you want to help people where we came from? We have enough money to make our great-great-great grandkids extremely rich.”
“I know, but we don’t live like it and Harold does, he –” Octavia whined, but Anthony quickly cut her off.
“Harold is broke. He spent every last dime he made from the league on failed investments and women. I’ve been taking care of him for years because I felt bad for the guy. Now you've put his job and allowance in jeopardy with your so-called affair the both of you are having. Those diamond earrings you thought he bought you – I bought. He came to me raving about a 'sophisticated woman' he's been seeing who loves Harry Winston. I made him the president of the company so we’d have a predominately black company. He doesn’t want you. Look at him, he’s on to the next,” Anthony said pointing at Harold and Chiara whose lips were now locked together in a drunk passion-filled kiss.
“Look, I know I’ve done my fair share of cheating when I was playing, but I’ve changed. We went to therapy for God's sakes and since then I put you and our daughters first every day. So, it’s your choice now. We built this empire together, but remember it started with me. End this shit with Harold right now or you can both go with nothing - remember our prenup. You will lose your company because you are only the face of it. I love you, Octavia, but don’t you dare disrespect me ever again – especially in front of my girls. Now clean your face up and let’s go watch this movie. You've got a decision to make," Anthony calmly demanded, his words were cruel, but his delivery was calm and precise.
As he left the kitchen with a bowl of freshly made whipped cream, Octavia peered into the living room to see their daughters excitedly thank their dad for a wonderful day. She glanced at Harold who was in a trance by the young Chiara’s beauty. Octavia hopped on their onyx black island, downed the rest of her wine, and softly blotted the tears away from under her eyes.
She knew in her heart that she loved her husband, but between money and status, all of that got lost. It was as if she lost sight of everything that truly mattered to her. Octavia took a look around her flawless home. It was filled with crystal vases, two extremely expensive chandeliers, and artwork by the most exclusive painters around the world. She had everything she dreamed of and she almost threw it away for what? She asked herself.
She decided to write off her indiscretions as a mid-life crisis. She knew she was a fling to Harold and he probably wanted to stick it to Anthony one more time. He always was inferior to him, especially on the court. Octavia grabbed some lipstick from the top drawer and re-applied it to her perfectly plump lips, adjusted her breasts, refilled her wine glass, and walked toward the living room. She never had any intention of leaving Anthony, especially for Harold. Anthony watched her take a seat next to him and snuggle up under the fur cover.
She nestled her head on his neck and whispered, “I’m sorry. Let me make it up to you. Maybe it’s time we give the girls some room and get a chic studio apartment somewhere for just us.”
Anthony laughed, “that’s my girl. Sure, honey. Maybe we find you a place in Manhattan, I’ve got a friend who just developed property with floor-to-ceiling windows and an in-home concierge. You can see the entire city. What do you think?"
“You had me at Manhattan,” Octavia gushed and kissed her husband’s cheek.
Jade and Jada looked at their parents. They saw the spark they remembered when they were younger. It gave them a sense of relief and happiness. Jade smiled at her younger sister, who had come to snuggle up next to her as they watched their favorite movie.
“Looks like they are back to normal,” Jada said.
“Yeah. So now we can worry about ourselves. I think it’s time we both start dating and stop babysitting our parents. They need to figure their own shit out,” Jade suggested.
Both girls laughed at one another and began scrolling through their phones searching for potential bachelors. The sisters certainly turned this holiday around. Hopefully, the only surprises on the next holiday will be wrapped in a box with a massive bow tied to it.