Sam had always felt like the odd one out when he attended his wife's family dinners. Not that her family wasn't welcoming or loving towards him. no, they were the exact opposite. His mother-in-law always made sure he got seconds, maybe even thirds on all of his favorite dishes. His-father-in-law always made sure to ask him about last night's game before he asked his own sons about it. His wife's brothers and sister treated him like one of their own, a firm member of the Vaugn family.
No, he felt left out because he was never going to be the same as any of the amazing people in the room with him. Looking up at him from their plates anytime he spoke, because he never did have much to say. Always letting him speak his mind or give his opinion, although they always interrupted each other. They respected him in the way that he alone needed.
"Sam? Would you like some more mashed potatoes?" His mother-in-law asked, wooden spoon already in her hand to deliver him thirds. She was a kind woman, with brown eyes and a bright smile that just begged you to hang on to her every word.
"Oh, no thank you." He murmured, returning the look of adoration. His wife liked to tease him about how he might have well as married her mother, but it wasn't like that at all.
Growing up, Sam had been shuffled from foster home to foster home. He was an only child with two addicts for parents. There were no family dinners in his future. Until he met Alexa his freshman year of college at Auburn University. With her, he got to meet the family of his dreams. The only people to ever care about how he was doing, not what he was doing.
Sometimes he envied his wife for growing up with the perfect, cookie cutter family. A mother who bagged her children's lunch, who always picked them up from school on time. A father who worked a nice, comfortable job. They had two purebred golden retrievers and all of their children got cars for their sixteenth birthdays. They had the classic white picket fence and the wooden swing-set that you had to put together yourself. Family vacations were taken every summer and every spring break. His mother-in-law baked an apple pie every Saturday morning.
Sam's wife got to believe in Santa, the tooth fairy, and the Easter bunny. She got to believe in herself.
Sam didn't have that. He had fear and pain. Restless nights where foster parents crept into his bedroom or starved him for misbehaving. He never had parents or siblings that argued with him.
But here, at the weekly Sunday night dinners, Sam couldn't help but feel at home. Every time one of his brother-in-laws ruffled his hair or got into a wrestling match with the other, he couldn't help but feel that pull to join them. Every time his sister-in-law came home talking about a child that was in the same position he had once been in himself, he couldn't help but feel the spread of love feeding his entire body.
This was the family he had never gotten as a kid and boy was he upset that he was missing out. The happiness and love expressed between these people every Sunday brought him out of the dark hole he had put himself in. These family dinners were the only example he had of a healthy, loving family.
Every Sunday dinner brought along a sense of stable security.
Tom and Kyle were twins who were born about two years before Sam's wife. They had played football from the time they learned how to throw a ball. Now, they coached college football at the University of Alabama.
Selina, Alexa's younger sister by three years, worked as a social worker for abused and neglected kids. She had always been a very caring and sensitive woman.
"No way, man! We're gonna destroy Tennessee!" Tom yelped, fork pointed in Kyle's direction.
"Not if we use your crappy play!" Kyle retorted, rolling his eyes. "If we go through with what you want to do, none of our players will score a touchdown!"
Throughout the dinner, it always seemed that Tom and Kyle were constantly bickering about work or who won a game or what they should do for summer vacation. Their wives always shook their heads and smiled secretly at each other. Selina's boyfriend was a lot like me. He enjoyed observing the family's normal routine with wide eyes and closed lips. However, you could tell he desperately wanted to join in.
Eventually, Sam's father-in-law would rope him and Sam into the antics which always made Sam feel right at home.
After dinner, the group of them would squeeze into the theater room and watch the news while letting their stomachs settle. His mother-in-law, Jess, would slip in a comment about how she was waiting on grandchildren and time was ticking. Everyone would laugh and gaze at their spouses with a sly sparkle in their eye. Tom, or maybe it was Kyle, would always guffaw and sit up to look at his mother.
"Oh, trust me mom. We've been trying!"
The room would erupt into laughter, all of them squished together on the extra large couch. If you were to witness the event, you would not be able to tell where one person started and one ended.
Alexa's head would be rested against Sam's shoulder, her nose skimming his jawline. "I love you." She would whisper, eyes fluttering closed. He would return her claim and the two would end up asleep on the couch.
It was the small things like this that made Sam grateful for this family and their dinners. Grateful that they had welcomed him in, a broken, angry nineteen year old. Grateful that they made him into the man he was now.
Family dinners at his in-laws house was the only place he felt truly at home.