With a heavy sigh, Lilia surveyed the dining room.
She should have suspected something was up when Vincent insisted they should renovate it right after they had finished with their bedroom. The house was large, almost a mansion, and every room needed some work. They had been scrubbing, painting, sanding, and staining almost since they had first moved in, and Lilia’s hands showed it. Her nails were ragged from where she had scrubbed paint and wood stain too harshly.
Lilia wished they could have hired someone, but buying their new home had depleted Vincent’s savings, while her own were less than they had once been. He had still found money to buy a dinner table and the six chairs that went with it, though. She had thought it was overkill – but then, he hadn’t told her he had this planned, not until just a few days earlier.
“Lilia, if you’re not going to help, can you at least get out of the way?”
Glaring, she stepped aside and allowed Vincent to enter the dining room. He was carrying a pile of plates topped by cutlery, and as she watched, he started setting the table. Lilia crossed her arms and leaned back against the doorjamb.
“Why five plates?” she said coldly. “It’s not like I’m going to eat.”
He threw a sly look toward her but continued to arrange the plates on the brand new tablecloth.
“You’re not even going to have some cranberry sauce?” he asked lightly, as though he hadn’t noticed how cranky she was. “I remember someone finishing the whole thing last year.”
Lilia huffed. “Last year, you made enough for two, not entire jars of the stuff.”
He finished and left the room again, presumably to get the rest of what he needed. He soon returned with glasses and a basket of bread rolls. He continued the conversation as though it hadn’t been interrupted.
“We’ve had guests for dinner before. This isn’t any different.”
She rolled her eyes at him, which was completely wasted since he had his back to her. “Honestly, Jordan?”
That, at least, brought his gaze toward her; he knew it was never a good sign when she called him by his last name.
“Having your friends over for tacos in front of the television does not equal having guests.”
“Well, we didn’t have the space for it before, did we?”
He finished setting the table, and Lilia bit the inside of her cheek rather than point out he had placed the knives on the wrong side of the plates. It wasn’t like she cared anyway.
Vincent planted himself in front of her, hands in his jean pockets, and rocked slightly on the balls of his feet.
“What is it?” he asked quietly, tilting his head as he scrutinized her. “I thought you were okay with my father being here, and with Don and Jeanie coming over.”
Lilia shrugged and looked away. She didn’t mind any of them being around. Not anymore. There had been tension in the past, but she had grown used to Vincent’s family and friends.
“If it’s not them, what is it?” Vincent insisted.
She sighed loudly again.
“It’s not…” She waved at the table with an impatient gesture. “This isn’t me. This… Thanksgiving thing. It’s not...”
She finished with an annoyed grunt and a shrug.
“We’ve had Thanksgiving dinners before,” he pointed out with a small frown. “You never said anything.”
“That was just us,” she muttered. “It wasn’t…”
How could she explain to him when she didn’t fully understand it herself?
It wasn’t the dinner part that bothered her. She had attended dinner parties before there even was a Thanksgiving, with tables and dishes infinitely more refined than what Vincent could cook – and he was a good cook.
What made her uneasy was that the Thanksgiving custom still felt alien to her. Even after decades of living in America, she still couldn’t think of it as her country. She would forever be an immigrant. No, it was worse than that. She couldn’t call any country as her own. France had started to change only a few years after she had become a vampire, and, for better or for worse, the republic it was nowadays was nothing like the monarchy of her childhood.
None of it had ever mattered before Vincent; her allegiance had been to her Sire, and she hadn’t worried about her place in this country – or even in the world.
But now that she was being thrown into such an iconic American custom, she found herself… apart. A stranger in a strange land. If she had simply felt different from their guests, it wouldn’t have mattered. But to feel separated from her Mate was an entirely different thing.
“Lilia, love. Look at me. What’s wrong?”
Vincent cupped her face in his hand. He looked worried now. She shook her head, although not hard enough for his hand to fall away.
“Nothing. I’m just being stupid.”
“If it bothers you that much,” he offered, “you don’t have to stay here. I mean, it’s too late for me to call off the dinner, but if you’d rather go out…”
She thought about it for a half second before shaking her head again. Leaving would not make her feel any better. Besides, this was their home. This was where she belonged.
“Can we… pretend it’s just a dinner?” she asked slowly. “Nothing special, just a ‘welcome in our home’ party?”
Vincent leaned closer to brush a kiss across her lips. “Anything you want,” he murmured. “And if you don’t want me to invite guests next year—”
She stopped him with a kiss of her own. “We’ll see,” she said quietly. “Ask me again next year.”
She wasn’t sure a year would make a difference, but maybe what she had missed, all those years, had been anchor points. She had found one in Vincent, and now a second one with their lair.
Maybe she finally had a home again.