“Why do the television shows always show a happy family around a dinner table for Thanksgiving?” Dakota’s dark mindset fought against the happy images she saw flashing across her t.v. “Why can’t anyone see the darkness?” How she hated the holidays. “Nobody considers the orphan; not while they are kids or adults.” She turned off the television and gave it one last bitter glare before leaving her apartment for work.
Half of her office was out for Thanksgiving. That was fine with Dakota; there was nobody there to bother her. The lonely years with no family had built up the sludge inside her heart. Dakota’s heart, it felt black and hard now. She had long forgotten any light it once held. All she had ever known was loneliness. Her years in the orphanage had been torture. Her bright red hair, chubby body, and pale complexion had made her the source of ridicule for every other angry, lonely child. Holidays had been especially cruel. The other children would ridicule her on Thanksgiving when they would get the one delicious meal everyone looked forward to every year. Often the bigger kids would overturn her tray of food and tell her she was too fat to eat.
She showed all of them. Dakota left that awful place and put herself through college. Along the way, her body had bloomed. Now she had curves instead of rolls, and her once stringy orange hair had filled into to luscious red locks. A smile snuck past her tight lips. She allowed herself a small giggle inside. Dakota loved the attention she got now. Her looks that had once been a source of pain now were a source of power. How many free meals and drinks had she gained because of them? This power belonged to her. No longer the outcast, Dakota made sure she was now the prettiest and smartest person in the room. Yet, her heart had only darkened.
Nobody truly loved her. Dakota could not blame them. She did her best to ignore the darkness of her heart, but sometimes the loneliness would overtake her. She would attempt to wade through the sludge inside and find hope, but it always took more effort than she could muster.
“Good morning, Dakota. It looks like we are some of the chosen few to work this week. Do you have any plans for Thanksgiving?” Gavin leaned against Dakota’s six-foot cube wall.
“Great, why can’t I be left alone?” Dakota’s mind groused within. She attempted a half smile and responded, “Good morning, Gavin. No. I prefer to be alone for Thanksgiving, that’s how I like it.” Dakota turned back to her computer screen. She hoped her hint was not too subtle.
“I know what you mean. Don’t you just get tired of all the Norman Rockwell garbage people try to push?”
“Why is this guy so dense?” Dakota kept her thought to herself. She responded without turning around. “Yes. I prefer to use the quiet office to catch up on my work.” He had to get the hint now.
Gavin continued, undeterred by Dakota’s subtle hints. “I know what you mean. I hate this time of year. My work is my one bright spot.
My parents were killed when I was five years old. Neither of them had extended family that Child Services could find. The state put me in an orphanage. The kids there hated me because I had parents, and they never had any. There is nothing about this time of year I want to remember. ” Gavin hesitated. He realized he was oversharing. “I’m sorry, I’m sharing too much. I should probably get back to work.”
Dakota spun her chair to face Gavin. “No, wait!” Why was she stopping him? “I mean, I was an orphan too. You’re the first one I’ve met since I left the orphanage.” Dakota wanted to stop herself, but maybe he could understand. What did she have to lose? Why not try just this one time? “I didn’t have any parents, but I was hated too. I was made fun of because nobody liked a fat ugly redheaded girl.”
Gavin laughed, “I’m sorry, I’m not laughing about that. I feel your pain, I do, but an ugly redheaded girl. You!? I’m sorry, I can’t picture that.”
Dakota wanted to be angry at him for laughing, but something about it made her feel better. “Trust me; I had a very long lonely childhood. I promised myself I would get out of that place one day, and when I did, I would show everyone how wrong they were about me.”
Gavin looked into Dakota’s eyes and gave a warm understanding smile. “Well, I would say mission accomplished. I’m sorry if I’m prying, but why are you still alone? I would think men would be forming a line out your door to have Thanksgiving dinner with you.”
Dakota crossed her legs, leaned back, and clasped her hands together. “I suppose they would if I let them. I went out with a few men. They were very successful and handsome, but they were all the same. We would begin to share our stories and out would come the pity. I don’t want a man who pities me; I want a man who loves me. After a while, I gave up. I don’t think that man exists.”
Gavin allowed himself to sit down in the guest chair in her cube. “I know what you mean. Every time a woman hears about my childhood she holds my hand and tells me how sorry she is. I don’t want somebody who is sorry. I want someone who appreciates how much I value relationships.”
Dakota did not know what was happening. Inside she felt like a light was cracking into her heart. The sludge attempted to absorb its glow, but she was not going to let it have control. “Gavin, I have an idea. Why don’t we go out for dinner on Thursday? I know of a restaurant that’s open. To be honest, it would be good talking with somebody who understands.”
Gavin leaned forward. His piercing blue eyes felt like they could see right into her heart, and he was not afraid of what he found. Gavin smiled, “I would love that.”
Dakota liked that he was going to let her dictate the terms. Not because he felt sorry for her, but because he understood. “Good, I’ll send you an email with my address. Pick me up at 11:30 am. Oh, and wear a suit, this place is not cheap.”
“That sounds perfect. We should get back to our tasks I suppose.” Gavin stood to leave.
“Feel free to drop by my cube anytime. I’m not that busy.” Dakota could not stop the flirtatious look that crept past her hardened green eyes.
Gavin looked over his shoulder. “Me either. I’m sure we will talk more.”
Dakota turned back to her computer and smiled. Maybe this year she would have a happy Thanksgiving for the first time.