“Is anyone allergic to pumpkin?” Miri called from the kitchen.
“Pumpkin?” Axel asked, looking up from his Town and Country. “Is that even an allergy?”
“Anything can be an allergy. Like how I’m allergic to you,” Timber quipped to Axel.
Miri laughed as the grown men knocked each other to the floor, tussling as Canaan shouted over their grunts. Hollers of “100 points! 100 points to the redhead!” floated from the living room to the kitchen.
“You’re the redhead!” Timber yelled to Canaan out of the struggle. “You don’t get points, ya noob!”
Kinnie sat cross-legged on the kitchen counter, eating chocolate chips straight out of the bag.
“So is anyone allergic to pumpkin?” she asked through a mouthful of chocolate.
“We’ll find out,” Miriam sighed, sliding the pie into the already hot oven. “Do you like cranberry sauce?”
“Dunno. Never had it. What’s it’s like?”
“Hey,” Miri shouted over the noise. “Hey! Someone explain cranberry sauce to Kinnie!”
The fighting stopped as the boys slowly untangled themselves, staring off into space.
“It’s like…jelly,” Axel started. “But smoother. And it tastes like…”
“Christmas,” Canaan interjected. “Sour Christmas.”
Kinnie laughed loudly, eyes drifting to the ceiling. “Sour Christmas?”
Miri took Kinnie’s hands in hers, guiding her off the countertop and into the living room. Axel took over, wrapping his arm around Kinnie’s waist. “Well, not really sour Christmas. That makes it sound bad.”
“Yeah it does,” Miri laughed too, jogging back to the kitchen. “Try harder, Canaan.”
“It is sour! It’s like sour Christmas!”
“Stop,” Axel laughed, lowering Kinnie on the couch beside him. “Just stop.”
“Turkey should be done in like thirty minutes I think. It’s pretty brownish and it’s been in there for a million years.”
Canaan whooped, throwing his hands up into the air.
“Turkey is my favorite thing in the whole world! Except for playtime and my mom.” He sprinted to Miri to give her a quick kiss.
Miri gave him a quick squeeze before asking, “Does anyone want to start with the game?”
“Game? Ooh, what game? I love games. Is it a board game cuz I’m really good at those. Also, I’m really competitive so maybe we shouldn’t play anything with fake money.” Timber quietly pursed his lips as he looked from person to person.
“It’s not a board game, Timber. Do you remember the Donohoughs?”
“Which one was that?”
“Umm Rhonda and Kyle, I think. They gave you a bike for Christmas?”
“Yeah…I don’t remember that. How old was I?”
“Six or so. You were going through the phase of only being called Jackson Malone. No one knew why.”
“Yep, no idea.”
“Okay, well anyway, they did this thing at Thanksgiving where they’d have everyone say something they’re thankful for and I thought we should do that too. You know?” Miri sank onto the arm of the faded green armchair. Picking at a torn spot on the back, Miri quietly stated, “We have so much. Don’t you think we should?”
Kinnie piped up, “I’m thankful we aren’t playing a board game. Especially not a board game with fake money.”
Timber swatted Kinnie in the leg, causing her to squeal. “I’m thankful this one is just now joined the family. I don’t know how we could have handled her and Axel before now.”
Axel spoke loudly over the laughter. “I’m thankful for the Wilkersons.”
All laughing stopped.
Quietly Miri stated, “Not the Wilkersons. You must be thinking of someone else.”
“No, I mean it.” Axel’s voice was harsh. “I’m thankful for the Wilkersons.”
“The Wilkersons?” Canaan looked from one person to another. “Who are they?”
No one spoke for long long moments. Miri stared hard at Axel. He stared hard at the floor.
“The Wilkersons were our first foster family,” Miri finally began. “You hadn’t been born yet. Me and Axel and Timber—that’s where we met. The Wilkersons had seven foster kids and lived in a three room walk-up in the middle of Chinatown. After a few months, Child Protection Services stepped in and broke up the family. We got sent to the Walkers a few towns over and we never saw those other kids again. After the Walkers, it was the Mathesons, then Mrs. Smith, then we got you, Canaan. Axel—why the Wilkersons?”
“The Wilkersons were the worst,” he laughed uneasily, pulling Kinnie closer to him. “We were always so scared of them. Remember? Of making them angry or not getting dinner or getting locked in our room. The Wilkersons were the worst, but we happened because of them. If they hadn’t been so bad, we probably wouldn’t have talked to each other. We probably never would have found that haunted stairwell up to the roof and we definitely never would have promised to stick together. I had never felt like I did toward you guys. Miri, for the first time ever, I felt like I could protect something. And Timber—you were my brother, man. You are my brother. I never had anything like that. We were a team and for the first time ever—I had people. If it weren’t for the Wilkersons, we would have been split up twelve years ago like all those other kids. So yeah—I’m thankful for the Wilkersons.” Kinnie tipped her head back to Axel, and they kissed, resting forehead upon forehead for a few quiet moments.
Canaan crawled up into the armchair, hand tapping Miri’s leg.
“I’m thankful for you,” Canaan whispered in her ear as Timber and Axel spoke in hushed tones. With a quiet “I love you,” he left a quick kiss on her cheek.
“I love you too, my baby boy.”
“Mom’s thankful for me!” Canaan yelled at the others. “Mom’s thankful for me and no one else!”
“Of course she’s thankful for you,” Timber snorted. “She didn’t have to have you.”
“She didn’t have to have me, but she chose me and that’s the most important part, right Mom? That’s what you always say, right Mom?” Canaan looked up at Miri and bending low, Miri kissed his small redhead.
“That is what’s most important. We all chose each other—always and always.”
“You chose me too.” Kinnie’s small voice rose from the couch. Sinking comfortably back into Axel’s arms, she twined her fingers with his. “All of you. You chose me and I’m thankful for you. Blind orphans don’t get much love, but here? I feel all of it. Usefulness, love.” She leaned her head against Axel with a breathy laugh and Axel kissed her curly head. “With you guys, I feel everything. I know everything. I even know what cranberry sauce tastes like.”
In unison, everyone laughed, “Sour Christmas.”
The kitchen timer beeped loudly, making everyone jump then burst out laughing.
“Turkey!” Canaan shouted, covering his ears. “Turkey! It’s turkey time!” Dashing to the kitchen, he turned off the timer, peering into the small oven. “Turkey is my favorite thing in the whole world,” he announced, smiling up widely to his mom.
“This.” Miri looked out to the living room and back at her small red-headed foster boy. “This is my favorite thing in the whole world.”