The energy at the dinner table was the oddest it had ever been. Drunk uncles and crazy aunts were easy to handle compared to the uncomfortable awkwardness. From my father in a Hugo Boss suit to the bellbottoms sitting right beside me. I looked across at my sister who was sipping carrot soup and avoiding eye contact with our new stepbrother. He was gobbling his turkey leg with bizarre buck teeth that poked out like daggers. One strap of his dirty blue bell-bottoms was hanging off. The mud from his boots was dirtying our expensive carpet, one quick move and the slobber hanging from his mouth would splash onto my Ralph Lauren shirt. I scooted my chair a little away from him to avoid smelling his stench.
"So, Richard!" My father exclaimed from the head of the table, breaking my attention on bell bottoms. "You should show Jimmy your video games."
Jimmy. The crude monster stepbrother to my left. He smiled with crooked teeth, gravy smudged all over his freckled face. "Let's just wait for dessert first," I laughed nervously.
"Ya play video games, Richard?" Annie, my father's new wife asked. Her strawberry hair was braided into two long pigtails that hung over her orange blouse.
"Jimmy ain't into video games, but he loves a good game of Squash Bally Ball!"
"Bless you," I said lowly.
"Squash ball?" My father asked.
"No, squash bally ball. It's a family tradition at the farm to play every thanksgiving. It's a special game created by our grandpa's when they first moved to the farm in the '60s," Annie jumped in her seat, probably dirtying the rug even more.
"Well, we should play tonight then."
"No!" My sister stood up from the table quickly and slammed her fist. The plates and cutlery vibrated as the room went silent. My sister, Alexia, was sixteen and going through her reckless phase. Oblivious to her discourteous tone, her facial expression showed nothing but disgust.
"Sis, what's wrong?" Stephanie, the youngest, asked.
"I can't do this. Kristina was going to have a small party tonight, and I'd rather be there than here with this red-neck, hillbilly circus!" She grabbed her Michael Kors purse and marched out of the dining room.
"Alexia! don't speak like that to your new mother and brother!" My father yelled as her footsteps got more silent.
"Oh don't worry, sugar, she's just a typical teenager," Annie rubbed his arm and tried to calm him down.
My father looked at me with rage soaring through his green eyes.. "Take Stephanie and go show Jimmy your video games!" He snapped, I winced at his shouting. Realizing his volume, my father calmed down a bit and said lowly, "me and Annie will prepare dessert."
"Yes father," I tapped Stephanie on the shoulder and excused myself. Jimmy followed me. He admired the crystal chandelier and wine closet on our way out. I looked down at the white rug that was surprisingly not covered with mud.
We walked down to the basement where my video games were, I didn't see Alexia on our way there. I assumed that she left to go to the party- an irresponsible action to leave your family on Thanksgiving if you ask me. Once we arrived at the game room, Jimmy gasped and ran to the tv.
"Ya got so many games!"
I rolled my eyes. "Just a few." I sat down on the leather couch as he ran his dirty fingers across the game cases.
"How do ya play?"
"You've never played video games? You're seventeen, like me- How have you never played?"
"Well on the farm we don' really get any wifi."
I sighed. "Which game do you want?"
He looked back and forth at the three rows of cases. Finally, choosing the only cowboy game I had. "Red dead redemption II?"
"That one! The guy on the cover looks cool."
I took out the CD and put it into my Xbox. I gave him a controller, Stephanie sat next to us and watched. I wasn't sure about letting him play with my games, let alone spend time with me. I taught him the controls which were like alien spaceship control panels to someone like him. Finally, he understood how to play and we set out on adventures. From fighting bad guys to riding horses, we had the best time just frolicking around pointlessly on the game map. As time passed, I began forgetting his terrible manners and started enjoying myself. Maybe he wasn't such a sloppy beast after all.
"How do we go after bounties!?"
"We have to go to the sheriff's office. Let's ride to the town," I turned his joystick and walked his character for him since he forgot how to walk in the game- again. We sat in silence for a moment, I decided to break it by apologizing. "Look, I'm sorry for Alexia. She was really rude."
"Ah it's okay, I'm used to it." Jimmy glanced at the floor with a sad expression. I sighed before he looked back up and gave me a small smile. "What's important is that ya keep being happy and being ya-self!"
"Yeah..." I sat there and pondered. If it were me, or any of my friends, they would've complained about Alexia for hours and plot to ruin her. But Jimmy was so down to earth and accepting of everyone. I started regretting the way I acted and how I treated him. My stomach gave me an odd feeling, a feeling of sorrow. "It's just- she really misses our mother. That's why she hasn't been nice to Annie and you."
"What did happen to your mother?"
"She had an affair and took off to London."
There was an awkward silence when, thankfully, it was broken by Annie calling us for dessert from the top of the stairs.
Jimmy jumped up from the couch. "We'll continue after, it's carrot cake for dessert and I don' wanna miss it!"
We explained our video game at the dinner table. My father finally started having fun once when he heard about our adventures as cowboys. Jimmy talked about how he'd never imagined such a fun free-roaming game could exist. Annie acted like a worried mother and asked about the violence in the game. Her opinion changed when she heard about our horses we cared for. The dinner started feeling like an actual family dinner, a feeling I haven't t had in a long time.
That's when Alexia came back.
We heard the front door slam with a loud bang that echoed through the halls, the way the wind echos across mountain tops. The click-clack of her heels ran down the white tile floors. We could tell she ran upstairs and to her room by the sound of her footprints climbing the stairs and another loud door slam from the second floor. The table went silent.
"Oh gosh," Annie said.
"Leave her be," I interrupted. "She needs to cool off for a bit. Something probably happened at the party."
"How do you know?" My father asked.
I lifted my phone. "She wrote on her Snapchat story 'no one snap' which means something went wrong."
My father sighed and shook his head. Jimmy ate his cake while we all stayed silent- the awkwardness came back. "Well at least you and Jimmy get along," Annie smiled.
I looked at Jimmy who wasn't as slobbery anymore. He gave me a wide grin. He was still unpleasant to look at but no longer hideous on the inside. Actually, he had never been hideous on the inside. After spending so much time with him and getting to know him, I had realized he was a great guy. Maybe I should've stayed open minded from the beginning...
"Oh!" Annie exclaimed and jumped up from her seat. "We should play squash bally ball!"
"You're right. What do we need to play?" My father asked.
"just a baseball bat and a baseball."
"Isn't that just regular baseball?"
The sun had already set once we stepped foot in the backyard. I walked down from our patio and strolled beside the closed pool. Jimmy was grazing the leaves of the weeping willow near the fence. I looked up at the stars and rethought all my decisions. What was I doing? Looking down on him. Why was I so mean? Was I the crude one all along?
"So the game is exactly like baseball," Annie walked up beside me with Stephanie and Father. "But if the striker hits the ball, they gotta aim for a certain direction. Depending on the direction they hit in, the person assigned to that direction has to race the striker. Who ever loses the race gets eliminated."
"I don't think this is a good game to play in a suit, I'll just be the referee," my father chuckled.
"Well we need at least five to play."
I looked at Stephanie, who looked back at me with the same intrigued expression. "I'm not getting her, I choose life!" I backed away with my hands up.
"I can't get her, she hates her father right now!" My father exclaimed.
"Okay, Steph will go," I pushed my little sister forward.
"Because you're a girl and you understand her."
"But I'm not a teenage girl!"
"Okay, I'll get her," Annie stepped forward. My father jumped in front of her and begged her not to go. He tried bargaining and told her Alexia would only hate her more. Annie continued to object and walked towards the house. My father finally gave up and let her go see my terrible sister.
We waited outside and talked for a few minutes, wondering what was happening inside the house- wondering if anyone had gotten hurt. Suddenly, Annie and Alexia came out of the house. I couldn't believe my eyes, my sister was smiling next to a "hillbilly" in cowboy boots- as she would say.
"Alexia?" I asked in confusion.
"It's whatever, I'll play or whatever. Just don't act weird about it," she scoffed.
I looked at Annie who was grinning happily. "I'm gonna be honest, I thought she would strangle you if you stepped a single foot in her room," I whispered to my stepmother.
"I found her at the kitchen table eating ice cream straight outta the box. She told me the guy she liked ain't like her back. And how he was acting mean to her at the party. I helped her get over that pig."
"That's a good way to bond."
We spent the rest of the night playing squash bally ball as our new family bonded. Alexia finally opened up to Jimmy, they got along perfectly. As the evening progressed, I realized how I had been wrong about Jimmy the entire time. It turned out our improper monster stepbrother was, surprisingly, a beautiful person.