My family gathered around the illuminated table that steamed with the fresh smells of roasted turkey and a hint of garlic. This was the first Thanksgiving I had hosted in my new house which I had purchased this past summer after years of saving every penny. I let myself smile after hours of hard work in the kitchen with my mother preparing everything for the appearance of my sister and father. I like to stay humble, but I had to give myself this one moment of pride as my sisters face lit up as she walked through the door.
“Michael! Your house looks gorgeous! Look at this feast!” Rachel grinned and ran to give me a hug. I hugged her back, but pushed her quickly away.
“Ah, Rachel! I spilled gravy all over my apron! I don’t want that to spoil your dress!”
Rachel looked down at her maroon dress and bright tights, “Looks okay to me!”
A voice boomed from behind us, “Well Michael! Look at this! You changed the dining room a lot since I was last here over the summer!”
My heart skipped a beat as my father stepped into the room. His hair had turned grey and it seemed he was taking “movember” very seriously this year with his fluffy mustache upon his lips. It had been a difficult few years for the whole family due to the business going under. It took years, but my father and I were able to bring the business back. The tides were finally turning in favor of the Dorian family.
“Ah! Charles you have arrived!” called my mother from the kitchen.
“Come you guys! Sit down, please!” I pulled the chair out for my sister and took a moment to view my perfectly set table. I had spent hours studying the proper way of setting out china, organizing the silverware, and arranging the fall decorations.
“You did all this by yourself? You may have just put Grandma Dorian to shame!” my father chuckled as he took his seat.
“Well, Mom helped a little…though I came up with the decorations!”
My father smiled, “That’s my boy! I couldn’t run this business without you! Nothing ever seems too much of a challenge for you!” I beamed with pride once again, but little did I know this dinner was going to end different than I originally planned.
“Dad, why don’t you say grace?” I began and gestured towards him.
“Are you sure? Its your house, son?” my father replied despite already folding his hands in prayer.
“Just get on with it! I’m starved!” my sister groaned from the other side of the table.
“ Bless us, O Lord, and these, they gifts, which we are abou-“ There was a ring of the doorbell that interrupted the prayer.
“Did you invite Dan over?” I asked Rachel and frowned in confusion. She did not say she was bringing her boyfriend over.
“No! Dan had to go to Vermont this year with his mom’s side.”
“Well! Answer it Michael!” my mother nodded towards the door.
I slowly pushed my seat out and was still shaking my head, confused because no one else was invited. A silhouette of a tall figure stood in the decorative glass windows of the door. I could not yet make out the face. I grabbed the handle and turned which revealed a haggard young man. He was dressed in a worn-out navy suit and his hair was slicked back. The first thing I noticed was the strong dark circles under his eyes.
“B-Ben?” I asked and stood completely still. What was Ben doing here? It had been over seven years since anyone had heard from him. This man was my “big shot” brother who had spent his time traveling, gambling, partying, and sometimes doing his job as a mortgage broker. He had amassed a fortune quickly. The last I had heard was a rumor that my brother had been caught up in a mortgage fraud scheme. Evidently it must have been true. Why else would he now be at my doorstep?
Ben shuffled awkwardly then looked up into my face, “Hey Big Brother! Long time no talk huh?” He reached out to pat me on the back, but I took a huge step back. What was he thinking?
“What are you doing here?” I asked in a serious tone.
“Well, Its Thanksgiving Mikey! I wanted to see your new digs!” Ben began to take a step forward.
“No one has heard from you in seven years, Ben.”
Ben scratched the back of his neck and let out a nervous laugh. There was a crash from the dining room and a loud shuffling of feet towards the front door.
“Ben?!” my father called in a hopeful one.
Ben looked down at his feet, “Hiya Dad.”
“My son! You are here!” my father ran and took Ben into his arms and crushed him to his chest, “Come! Come inside! You must be hungry. Oh my boy! You have come back to us!”
My father just walked past me with Ben in tow like I no longer existed.
“Dad. Dad! This is my house!” I called after him, but it was drowned out by the screams of joy my mother let out. I trudged back into the dining room. What was there to celebrate? My fraudster of a brother returned home after a summer of jail time? My broke brother, who once held the world, now had to show up on my doorstep which I worked years to get? I stood in the corner of the dining room as my family doted over their prodigal son.
My father laughed heartily as he gave up his place at the table for his youngest son. My mother rushed to dish out a helping of mashed potatoes and turkey onto Ben’s plate. Even my sister smiled and reached out to him to ask how he was. I felt a pressure in my chest as all the built-up anger from years began to boil.
“Stop it all of you!” I yelled out and their stunned faces turned to face me, “Since when is everything okay now? Ben has been gone for seven years throwing money in everyone’s faces while we struggled after the business went down. Did he ever offer any support or help? No.”
“Now, Michael…”my mother began, but I quickly began to talk louder.
“Dad. You and I are the ones who rebuilt. We put hours in at the shop, attended seminars, and petitioned clients. He squandered the money you gifted him and committed fraud!” I could feel the heat rising to my face. Ben looked down at his plate, obviously ashamed. It looked like my mother was about to cry. My father opened his mouth about to speak, but Ben stood up.
“You are right brother. I didn’t do anything to help when I should have. I should have helped when I had the means to. I regret it. I regret all of it and for leaving this family. That is why I came here today,” he sighed, “I came here to say I am sorry. I am sorry for all of it. For lying to you and the world and for abandoning our family. I hope you can forgive me.” He sounded so sincere as he looked me in the eye.
I just glared back at my younger brother. He was the brother who was always the favorite, he always got away with things, and he never had to work for anything. Now he was asking forgiveness from me?
“There you said your piece, now leave my home.” I said coldly.
Ben nodded as if he accepted this decision and quickly walked out of the dining room. We waited in silence until I could hear the door close.
I aggressively pulled my chair out from the table and sat down. I began to pass out slices of turkey to each of our plates as if nothing happened. I refused to glance up because I could feel their stares on me.
“He is your brother,” My father broke the silence in his stern tone, “You will go after him and invite him back inside.”
“It’s my house Dad. I can invite who I wish when I host.” I did not look up afraid that I would break when I looked into my father’s eyes.
“That is not how you treat family,” My father responded.
I slammed the serving fork on the table and finally looked up at my father who stared at me with his fierce glare, “How can you just be overjoyed to see him again? Dad, he spent all your money on booze and gambling. He was in jail for fraud! If I ever did something like that, you’d kick me out of the house!”
“Your mother and I have been worried about your brother for so long. Now he shows up alive to finally see us, how can we not be overjoyed? He asked for forgiveness and, to me, that means something. He has learned and wants to do better. I would do the same for you if you came to me and apologized. You cannot ostracize him while he is trying to make it right. He has nothing left and you cannot leave family out high and dry,” My father continued to stare down at me.
I shifted uncomfortably, “He left us high and dry.”
“We all make mistakes. He needs family now.”
I bite my lip, maybe I had been a bit harsh. “Do you think he is still there?” My father nodded at me as if to encourage me to move out the door.
I sighed and stood up. I continued forward to the front door and took a deep breath. When I peered outside the door a car was still running in the driveway where my brother sat hunched over the steering wheel. I wrung my hands. Dad was probably right, as usual. I shuffled hesitantly to the car window and knocked on the glass. Ben jolted up towards the sound and I could tell from the streaks on his face that he had been crying. I had never seen my brother cry before. He rolled down the window slowly.
“Uh…” I raised my hand to scratch the back of my head, “Ben…I…I wanted to apologize for what I had said back there.”
Ben sniffled, “No, you’re right. I really don’t deserve the family I have. I made mistakes and this is what karma gives out.”
I stood in silence as Ben continued, “I thought I was better than all of you, but it was really you, Michael, who was the strongest and most successful of us all. I hope to be more like you in the future.”
“Ben…I…I don’t know what to say. It’s funny because I always wanted to be like you. Carefree and exploring the world!”
“Well, it’s a lonely lifestyle,” he responded and began to pick at his fingernail, “Everyone left me after I was caught. There was no one to bail me out or even write to me. All those things…they were just temporary. I had no one to turn to.”
I sighed, “You have us. I’m sorry Ben. I shouldn’t have said such terrible things and you are welcomed in my home anytime. Come back inside with us.”
“You mean it? Dad didn’t just make you come back out here?” Ben gave a sly smile.
I chuckled, “No I really mean it brother.” I opened the car door to let him out and gave him a pat on shoulder.
“I hope you did not make any of that Jell-O salad Grandma used to make… I still have nightmares about the way the vegetable pieces jiggled…” he gave a fake shiver and winked back at me.
“Dear god, I burned that recipe the day it was passed to me,” we both laughed and entered the house together to enjoy dinner with the family.