She'd been on the road so much lately; she'd only gotten back yesterday from a two-week stint in San Diego. She was tired—like, in-her-bones tired. She just needed some sleep, and she'd be done with this weird maudlin mood. Honestly. She'd missed holidays before, if not Thanksgiving, and she could do it again. Her annual performance reviews always made mention of her reliability. She was a team player. A respected leader. Those adjectives accreted. She had worked hard for those adjectives. Someday, she would make partner because of those adjectives.
Argh! Cara wanted to scream at the way her mother trailed off performatively, her back still turned as she tended her oats. "You just what?" Which refrain was Mom going to pull out? I just don't know how you'll ever have time to meet someone when you're working so hard. I just don't know how they can expect people to work that hard and also have families. I just, I just, I just...
"Honestly, I'd never even heard of Eldovia before last week," her dad said good-naturedly, setting down his copy of the Post. As was his endearing way, he was oblivious to the undercurrents swirling around Cara and her mother—or maybe he chose to ignore them.
Either way, she was grateful for the reset. "I don't think a lot of people have." And that included the partners at CZT, aka "that company," before they'd been invited to bid on the job. Cara had heard of Eldovia, but only because she had memorized every country and its capital for the seventh-grade geography bee, back when she was in a particularly aggressive education-is-the-way-out-of- poverty phase. "It's tiny. It doesn't do much." Except make luxury watches, and her parents were not luxury watch-type people. The small Alpine nation didn't even make that many watches anymore. Hence the big, lucrative contract. And the Thanksgiving trip.
Cara's mom set a bowl of oatmeal in front of her dad, her eyes shiny. Damn it. Cara didn't want to miss Thanksgiving any more than her mother wanted her to. She didn't want to spend her flight cramming—though she knew this file, she hadn't been heavily involved in the day-to-day details of the project in the last couple weeks because Brad had been ramping up for the trip.
Cara told herself Thanksgiving was just a day. Like the Post-it was just a piece of paper. The sentiment attached to Thanksgiving wasn't unique to the fourth Thursday in November.
A tear escaped the corner of her mom's eye.
Fucking Brad. On her good days, Cara thought of Brad as a management challenge. He existed, she told herself, to remind her of her Mr. Spock maxim. Change is the essential process of all existence.
Cara had no role in hiring Brad, even though he reported to her. He'd been parachuted in to Cara's manufacturing operations team by one of the partners, who was friends with Brad's dad. Cara was forever having to adapt to Brad's low-key bullshittery. But that was okay, because that meant she was forever adapting. The summer intern complains about Brad aggressively complimenting her outfits all the time? Have a conversation with Brad about it and rewrite the team's sexual harassment policy. Brad breaks his goddamn hip at age twenty-eight because he drunkenly falls off a rooftop patio in the Hamptons? Cara's off to Eldovia for Thanksgiving.
"We'll FaceTime on Thursday," she told her parents. "We'll FaceTime constantly. And I'll be back for Christmas." Barely, but she would make it. She was scheduled to fly out of Eldovia the morning of Christmas Eve, and with the time change working in her favor, she'd be home in time to cook dinner.
"I'm gonna miss you, lassie," her dad said as he stood and wrapped her in his arms. She let him hold her for longer than she normally would have, thanking her lucky stars that Patrick Delaney had chosen to claim her as his own. When she broke the hug, she avoided eye contact with both parents. "When I make partner, I won't have to travel so much." Partnership. The brass ring. The dream she'd had since her first day of work at CZT as a twenty-year-old intern. Once that happened, she would stop having to do Thanksgiving duty when someone fell off a freaking roof. She could be more selective about which projects she got personally involved in, and choose where, when, and how much she traveled. You paid enough dues, you stopped having to prove yourself.
That was the plan anyway, and she'd come too far not to stick to the plan.
"And when do you think you're going to make partner?" her mom asked.
Cara huffed a short, frustrated sigh. They had talked about this many times, and the answer hadn't changed. "Hopefully by the time I'm forty." No one had ever made partner younger than that. Her mother knew that, which meant her question had been a loaded one, a windup to what she really wanted to say.