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American Holiday Drama

“You don’t hate me,” my older brother smiled slyly. “You admire me.”

With that, he slapped down the queen of spades on top of the pile of cards, adding another 13 points to my score. It was the third hand in a row he’d gleefully beaten me.

Roy was only half right. I admired him; it was true. But I hated him with a fury that only a marginalized younger brother can muster. 

“It’s your turn to shuffle,” my father said, handing me the deck, adding points with his sharp pencil to my already disappointing tally on his scoring sheet. He spoke in his typically dismissive tone. As if his having to remind me of my duties—even the shuffling of cards—was a tedious chore. Why should I have to remind you of even the simplest of tasks?

“Try to deal them evenly,” Roy smugly added, taking a long pull off his beer. Even in our 40’s, Roy loved to dredge up the past. Stick fingers in eyes. Pour salt in wounds. 

But Roy was right. I had not been the most coordinated child. 

“I was six years old, Roy,” I shot back, embarrassed that I took Roy’s bait—yet again—regretting them, even as the words came out of my mouth. “So what if I couldn’t shuffle? So what if I couldn’t deal as good as you? You want to let that go?” I added lamely, but Roy grinned. He enjoyed this game better. 

“You eventually figured out how,” Wayne conceded, always the peacemaker. It seemed to be our middle brother’s job to smooth rough waters. “Roy, I remember when you first learned how to shuffle . . .” Wayne riffled the playing cards, fanning them out in a disorderly array. 

I laughed.   

“Are you ladies going to play cards or yammer all day? Your mother said the turkey’s on at 4:00,” my father said, grabbing the television remote to intermittently click between the football game, the Weather Channel, and cable news. He checked the score and grunted. I knew better than to say anything. 

“Pass three cards to the right,” Roy said, reminding us of the rules we had known since childhood. My father looked at him with immense satisfaction as Roy favored my father in both looks and mannerisms. The heir to the throne. 

My mother was more partial to me, her baby boy, the only one with her blue eyes. In our youth, she had checked Roy on his tyrannical treatment of his younger brothers. Roy resented this, resented her, doubling down on his imitation of our father, belittling her when the occasion presented itself. 

When I was very young, I asked my mother why Roy hated me so much. She tried to explain how family members don’t really hate each other. She also noted that Roy had been born prematurely and had been colicky as a baby. When he first learned to walk, he would occasionally fall. Then he would yell and hit the floor for being in his way. 

As for Wayne? Neither mother nor father seemed particularly interested in the bookish middle son. In high school, I’d overheard my father ask Roy if Wayne was queer, not understanding Wayne’s gentle nature. Wayne did let the world take advantage of him, passively accepting whatever he did or did not receive. At present, all the world offered him was a hell beast of an ex-wife and two disaffected middle schoolers, who readily believed the lies their mother told them. Still, Wayne was dutifully good natured, emulating my mother who artfully navigated my father’s and Roy’s dark moods. 

“What is this garbage?” My father angrily arranged the cards in his hand. On some level, he blamed me, as I had dealt. He slapped down his three cards, one at a time, an indictment against all disappointing sons. 

To my knowledge, as oafish as Roy was, our father seemed to excuse his youthful indiscretions. Shoplifting. Vandalism. The incident with the Gallagher girl. Wayne he wholly ignored. As for me? It had always seemed his paternal affection for me dangled just out of reach. If I had been accepted to a better college. If I had married a prettier wife. If I had looked anything like him, instead of favoring my mother so much. I had no idea how to please the man. 

“No dirt on the first hand,” Roy said, unnecessarily reminding us of the longstanding tradition. House rules. 

“Yeah, we get it,” I muttered. Looking at my cards, wondering if the hearts broke evenly, I plotted my strategy. If the hearts were equally distributed among my brothers and father, I could shoot the moon. If not, I was going to lose, humiliating myself even further. But I desperately needed the 26-point advantage if I was going to walk out of this house with some dignity. 

By the fourth round, my ruse was discovered.

“Baby boy here is trying to shoot the moon!” Roy laughed, as if that were a remote possibility. “I hope you counted cards,” he advised, bluffing in his obnoxious way. Roy loved to make others feel he had the better of them.

Roy’s superiority vanished in short order with each hand that I won. 

“You misplayed the ace, Roy,” my father lightly chastised him. Roy cursed under his breath, and I stared him down, effortlessly playing card after card, winning hand after hand. 

“You are one lucky son of a bitch,” Roy threw his last card down.

“And you are one stupid son of a bitch,” I shot back. “We’ll just chalk it up to your brain development as a child. Being a preemie must have really cost you over the years,” I added, viciously.

Something palpable changed in the room. 

“Son—” my father said in a low voice. It was a warning shot. But I was too emboldened by my win to take much heed.

“You should have stayed in utero all 40 weeks, Roy. It would’ve cooked up those brains of yours a bit more,” I laughed. No one else did.

Roy looked at my father, whose mouth had narrowed into a thin line. Without speaking, both of them stood up, tucked in their folding chairs, and walked to the dining room. 

Wayne sighed audibly, picking up the abandoned decks of cards and wrapping rubber bands around them for next time. If there were a next time.

“What? What's wrong, Wayne?” I asked irritably. 

“Roy wasn’t premature,” he said quietly. 

“Mom said he was a honeymoon baby born two months early,” I said, repeating what I now learned had been the often-told lie.

“Roy wasn’t premature,” he said again before joining the others in the dining room.

I sat alone at the card table. I picked up my father’s scoring sheet for our annual game of Hearts and saw that, indeed, the hearts had not broken evenly.

November 26, 2020 03:26

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39 comments

I loved this story, you wrote it so creatively yet so beautiful! :)

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Deidra Lovegren
22:24 Nov 27, 2020

Tis the season for the FUN in DYSFUNCTIONAL families :)

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Haha!! LOL 😂

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Laura Clark
11:06 Nov 29, 2020

Ooh, love the reveal at the end. Premarital sex for the couple or hastily covered up affair? Either way, tut tut and ouch for poor Roy (who is a tool). Really enjoyed this, as always.

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Deidra Lovegren
12:57 Nov 29, 2020

Roy is an entire toolbox. 🔧 🔨 🪛

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Scout Tahoe
20:27 Nov 27, 2020

Serious, for sure, but as someone who can’t even shuffle a deck of cards, pretty funny. I can connect with the characters and that’s what I like about this. My aunt told me that if I couldn’t shuffle a deck of cards they’d have to throw me out of the family when I was a child. It still haunts me. Anyways, it’s so good. The themes here are balanced. That’s a talent of yours and I’m so jealous. Keep it up, D.

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Deidra Lovegren
21:07 Nov 27, 2020

Thanks, Scout! I was (and am) a NON SHUFFLER OF CARDS. I even bought one of those stupid machines that do it for me, to the endless ridicule of my ambidextrous family. I do have five siblings, whom I love and loathe. So this wasn't much of a stretch :)

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Scout Tahoe
21:24 Nov 27, 2020

Five? Wow, I have two. And they’re still a handful. Love and loathe, the same. :) I want a machine!

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Tom .
05:00 Nov 26, 2020

You have a was missing... When I very young I love how the family secret passed the youngest by because his mother told him a little white lie to help him feel better about himself. It used to be a much bigger thing. I had a couple of cousins and aunties that out of nowhere quickly got married to spare some family blushes. It is a clever premise. Well done. PS. Great title

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Deidra Lovegren
05:12 Nov 26, 2020

Awesome proofreading — thanks for the catch!

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Ray Dyer
03:54 Dec 02, 2020

Oh, nice job showing how thin-skinned the biggest bullies can be. And nice job not resorting to violence to show it. At a family gathering like this one, that is SO the way it would have played out. And then the poor narrator is the one who feels guilty for ruining his bully brother and bully father's Thanksgiving. Okay, maybe I'm projecting just a little bit, there... Great story, Deirdra - instantly relatable characters behaving just the way they could be expected to, even when it becomes uncomfortable to experience. Nice job using ...

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Deidra Lovegren
15:14 Dec 02, 2020

Look at you throwing in card-playing allusions in your comments: "a hand to play" --> Pro Level. Little brothers always feel less than, usually resorting to humor (or dark humor) to get the attention they crave. No wonder most of them became priests in the Middle Ages. I think we can all agree that older brothers are jerks. Just straight up JERKS. And rightly so, having to co-parent and be responsible for their siblings. And the poor middle children -- Christ figures, all. Birth order. The start of neuroticism :)

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Ray Dyer
19:22 Dec 02, 2020

You just made me think - When I was in college, the concept of "Virgin - Mother - Crone" was becoming popular. Today's version of that is becoming "Priest - Christ - JERK" I think there's an awesome non-fiction zeitgeist in that idea!!!

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Deidra Lovegren
20:23 Dec 02, 2020

Makes more sense than rock-paper-scissors

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K M Hasling
01:45 Mar 04, 2021

Thanks for the follow friend! I saw the first lines of this one and picked it at random to read and this was great. You really brought the characters to life. I can relate to the family hearts playing as well, as shooting the moon.... gosh that brings back memories. I'm thankful mine are good ones, but this was so real as another perspective. Thanks!

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Deidra Lovegren
02:12 Mar 04, 2021

Your bio is fantastic 😎 I’m off to read some of your stuff 🍸

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17:33 Dec 04, 2020

Strange and mysterious... The ending was a little peculiar, but I like it.

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Deidra Lovegren
20:10 Dec 04, 2020

Family life is peculiar. :)

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22:17 Dec 04, 2020

Indeed it is.

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Kate Winchester
03:13 Nov 30, 2020

This was a very clever take on the prompt. I love playing Hearts, so I could relate to being stuck with the Queen of spades lol. I also really liked the twist at the end.

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Deidra Lovegren
14:40 Nov 30, 2020

Hearts is the greatest game. I was playing this game a lot over the holiday. Amazing how much rage is brought out by a simple game. :)

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Kate Winchester
18:07 Nov 30, 2020

Haha that’s so true.

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13:39 Nov 29, 2020

Interesting read. Kinda reminded me of a game between the southern gals! 🤣🤣

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Deidra Lovegren
16:25 Nov 29, 2020

Looking forward to a story or two from the O'Brien's :)

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Katina Foster
06:09 Dec 11, 2020

Ok, so... have you ever read Hearts in Atlantis? I love the Hearts game parallels in your story. You are so talented at slipping in double meanings, word play and symbolism in your stories. And it feels so effortless when you do it that it catches me off guard every time. I really enjoyed how you weaved in the open secret of Roy not being a premie at the end. It felt very fitting that the youngest was the last one to put two and two together. Great work, as always 💛

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Deidra Lovegren
19:11 Dec 11, 2020

I need a good book for the holiday — I will check Hearts in Atlantis. ❤️ Thanks for your continued support. Love you Kanas City!!

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Tvisha Yerra
03:30 Dec 01, 2020

🕴️

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Deidra Lovegren
17:14 Dec 01, 2020

?

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Tvisha Yerra
00:11 Dec 04, 2020

🍅

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Dorian Gray 📖
19:22 Nov 30, 2020

This was a great story!! You told it in such a creative way!! Could you read my stories of the Malefice storyline?

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Deidra Lovegren
23:17 Nov 30, 2020

Sure :)

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Dorian Gray 📖
23:18 Nov 30, 2020

Thanks!!

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Deidra Lovegren
23:22 Nov 30, 2020

Is Malefice going to be your novel?

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Dorian Gray 📖
23:23 Nov 30, 2020

I am hoping to create a storyline around it, maybe a variation on it, but yeah one of them.

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Dorian Gray 📖
23:25 Nov 30, 2020

I'm also going to make one that's just literary fiction and not genre fiction.

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Zilla Babbitt
16:22 Nov 26, 2020

Ooh, that ending. Nice reveal. As someone who loves card games but isn't very good at them, this resonated with me :). I like how this is kind of a nuclear family. They play card games all together, they tease each other, somewhat meanly but never too seriously, they try to cover up premarital sex. This causes drama that we all know and love as a consumer-based society. I think we've come to respect the nuclear family a little bit, or think that they're boring in stories and movies. You take that idea and give it a spin. I enjoyed this a lot...

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Deidra Lovegren
16:31 Nov 26, 2020

Happy Thanksgiving 🦃🍁🍽 to all the Babbitts!! If I expanded this, I’d explore Wayne who is far more interesting than his shallow older brother. I hate Roy — no backstory or compassion for him! 😠 (which seems uncharitable on this day of giving thanks...) Poor mom is probably drinking the cooking sherry or carrying on a torrid affair with the postman. Either way, family is family. Thanks ZB ❤️

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Zilla Babbitt
17:44 Nov 26, 2020

Great sequel idea, the mom and the postman. And Wayne too :)

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Deidra Lovegren
16:41 Nov 26, 2020

I attempted to fix the awkward construction 🚧 Thanks for taking time to help me improve. Your generosity is always so welcomed and appreciated 😃

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