TWO WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS

IT COULDN’T be that difficult. People had been doing it for centuries. Longer, even. Man had probably started roasting turkeys over the fire as soon as someone realized the ugly buggers were edible.

Not that the pristinely wrapped turkeys in front of him bore any resemblance to the sort of turkeys he was used to seeing. These weren’t crispy-skinned and steaming, with drumsticks and wings held aloft with string, ready-to-be-carved turkeys. They were vaguely ovoid-shaped and covered in bright yellow netting that didn’t look the slightest bit appetizing.

Did he need a turkey with a timer in it? How would that even work? Wasn’t that what a meat thermometer was for?

Carson paced in front of the display. What size did he need? They seemed to range from big to enormous, and they’d always gotten two of the enormous ones at home. But had they come from the grocery store? He didn’t remember. Turkeys always just appeared in his parents’ refrigerator a few days before Thanksgiving and Christmas. Now that he was thinking about it, none of the turkeys had ever had the weird netting stuff on them. Did that mean he was in the wrong place? Where else could you buy a turkey?

Carson sighed and fidgeted with the phone in his hand. He could solve this easily by calling his mom. One little phone call and he’d know exactly what size to get and what to do with it. But then she’d be worried about him spending Christmas Day alone, and that was the whole reason for being in the turkey aisle in the first place.

Moving a few days after Thanksgiving had been a stupid idea. Now he was stuck all the way across the country, too new in his job to take time off to go home to celebrate with his family like he usually did. And his mother was leaking anxiety all over her e-mails and Skypes, even though Carson could tell she was trying hard not to.

He was a grown man, for God’s sake. Why did it matter if he was spending a holiday alone eating a Hungry-Man dinner? Sure, it wasn’t ideal, but he’d been in Chicago less than a month. He didn’t have any friends to speak of, and all of his family was on the West Coast. He expected he’d have a few rough times, and this was just one of them.

But she’d been so happy when he’d told her he had plans for Christmas. He’d hedged and avoided outright lying when she asked who they were with, making noncommittal sounds as she made assumptions about coworkers and neighbors and all these friends she seemed to think he was making. In reality, his plans involved Netflix and something he could microwave. But then she’d started sending him recipes and Pinterest boards about holiday decorations, and it had all spiraled out of control.

It was tempting to just snatch a picture off the Internet and send her that, but she was surprisingly computer literate these days, and there was a not insignificant chance he’d be found out.

So here he was, standing in front of a daunting display of turkeys in Safeway because his mother had made him promise he’d send her a picture of the turkey he was making.

Damn it all.