John James gripped the carving knife firmly in his hand and took a deep breath. It should have been a good year. Business was booming, his children were behaving themselves, Sophia was still beautiful, and to the outside world, John James remained the powerful, cool, confident man he had always been. But in reality, he was completely changed. No longer the assertive head of the household, John James barely spoke to anyone in the family save for Granny. The events of exactly one year ago had broken something in him, and now he spent his time locked in his office with a bottle of scotch and a glazed look in his eyes. He ran a finger along the cool steel of the knife and fought the urge to drag it across his own flesh instead of that of the tender, juicy turkey.
“Shall we say what we’re thankful for?” Sophia’s voice cut melodically into John James’ dark thoughts, and he turned abruptly toward his wife, and nodded silently. Placing her hands on the table in front of her, Sophia looked expectantly around the table. Sophia had changed as well, although her transformation was much easier to notice. Hair piled on top of her head, bright red lipstick, pearl necklace and matching earrings adorning her slender neck and head held high. She seemed to have sapped the confidence that John James had lost, and the family wasn’t surprised at all when she gently tugged the knife out of her husband’s hands and placed it back on the platter.
“I’ll go first.” Her eyes lingered briefly on the deadened look in her husband’s eyes before she smiled and continued, “I want to thank all of you, specifically, for the support you’ve given John and I in the past year. We can’t tell you how appreciative we are. Every family goes through difficult phases, and we are very blessed to be the heads of such an understanding and caring one. So,” she paused and looked around the table deliberately, “thank you.”
Tanya fought the urge to roll her eyes as she listened to Sophia’s proclamation. Every chance she got these days, Sophia asserted herself as the matriarch – she and John thought this, she and John had this or that responsibility as the heads of the Harwood house. It was more than slightly pathetic, given that she had no real power at all. A desperate attempt to create a legacy for her daughter, Amy. Tanya folded her hands in her lap and stole a sideways look at Granny, her lips twisting into a smile at the almost comical look of disgust on the old woman’s face.
Victoria sat almost as silently as her brother next to Tanya, her wide red lips and lidded eyes as heavily painted as ever but her face unusually subdued. She almost hadn’t come, and if it wasn’t for one particular family member’s entreaty, she probably wouldn’t have. The memory of the previous year was fresh in her mind and she was more than a little nervous, especially given some of the current tensions. But her curiosity was also strongly piqued, and so there she sat, curtains of hair falling over her shoulders, fingers twisting around the stem of her wineglass, waiting for something to happen.
“And of course,” Sophia continued a little too fast, “welcome to our guest.” The whole family shifted their gazes to the man, who acknowledged Sophia with a smile and small nod of the head. He was handsome, relatively young, and had an ironic glint in his eye. Who is the man? Please return to the top of this episode to vote on what happens next!