“We actually have an unexpected guest this year.”
“Really?” You blink in surprise at Elena’s words.
It wasn’t that you weren’t expecting new people over for Thanksgiving dinner. Elena always invited anyone who was going to be alone for the holiday season. Last Christmas alone, she ended up with thirty people and had to set up another table to eat at, awkwardly shoved in the living room. Nate had grumbled the entire time about Elena adopting “holiday orphans”.
Since your family lived far away and you could never afford to head back home for the holidays, you had been coming to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner for a few years now. Yet Elena had never announced to you about any special guests coming for the holidays and your interest is peaked.
You are in the foyer of their house. Even from here, you can smell the food being cooked in the kitchen and your stomach grumbles.
“I assume all the usual suspects are here,” You go, “Sully, for example.”
“Oh yeah, he’s here. I had to kick him out onto the patio because he kept trying to smoke a cigar near the food,” Elena lowers her voice, “But Nate’s brother is here.”
“What?” You think you have misheard her somehow.
But she is shaking her head, “I know. Believe me, I know. He just got out of prison.”
“What?” You repeat.
Elena places her hand on the small of your back, guiding you into the house, mumbling quickly, “His name is Sam. He got stuck in prison in Panama or something after a job went wrong. He was there for fifteen years. He just got out.”
You are trying to absorb all this information as you are being steered towards the dining room. Nate has a brother? A brother who has been in jail for fifteen years? Out of all the years you have been coming by for the holidays, a brother has never been mentioned. If you are feeling this shocked, you cannot imagine how Elena and Nate must be feeling.
But your time for questions has already run out. You are standing in the dining room now. From here, you can see some people that are there every year – Elena’s usual band of friends and other stragglers who don’t want to deal with their families on Thanksgiving.
There is one man in the corner, clearly keeping to himself. He must be Nate’s brother although you struggle to see any sort of family resemblance between them. He looks a lot older than Nate. You suppose, however, that fifteen years in prison would age anyone. He is fiddling with a packet of cigarettes.
From the kitchen, you hear Nate exclaim in surprise and curse. This is followed by the sound of something dropping. Alarmed, Elena looks over.
“I need to make sure Nate doesn’t burn the house down,” She drops her voice back down to a whisper, “Can you do me a favor and just introduce yourself to Sam?”
Before you can say no, Elena has scurried off into the kitchen. After greeting everyone, you make you way to the back of the dining room where Sam is.
“Hey,” You say, terrible at introducing yourself to new people, “Elena said you were Nate’s brother.”
“That’s what I was told.” Sam quips, extending his hand.
You tell him your name as you shake his hand. His skin is hard and calloused, probably from years in prison doing god knows what. Even though his arms look strong enough to crack you in half, there is an uncertainty in his eyes as if the idea of hanging out for Thanksgiving dinner is not in his comfort zone.
An awkward silence lapses between the two of you. The only thing you can think of bringing up is his time in prison but why would he want to discuss that?
Your phone buzzes in the pocket of your jeans. You pull it out and glance down.
“Something important?” Sam asks you.
“No. Just a snapchat from my friend. She went out of state to visit family.” You remark.
Sam leans forward a little, looking curious, “Snapchat?”
You blink, realizing he must have no idea what you’re talking about. You shift so that you are standing next to him and show him your phone screen. You quickly explain the app to him but you can tell by the time you are finished, he is confounded.
“So, you take the photo and it just deletes? Why bother?”
“Well, look, you can add filters.” You say and hold the phone out in front of you.
This close to Sam you can smell the scent of cigarettes clinging to his clothes. Stubble is lining his jaw. He has bird tattoos on his neck and you idly wonder if he got them while in prison. Dragging your eyes away from his face, you start flicking through the filters.
“Why would I want to look like a deer? Or a dog?” He asks – his tone isn’t judging, mostly confused.
“Well, it’s silly and fun.”
“What’s that notification?” Sam points to the top of your phone screen.
“Oh, someone I follow posted an Instagram photo.”
His brow furrows, “A what?”
“You post pictures.”
“I thought you did that on Snapchat.”
“Well, Snapchat isn’t really a long-term thing.”
“And Instaway is?”
“It’s Instagram,” You correct, “And yeah. The picture stays up unless you delete it.”
“Why do we need so many things to take pictures on?” He asks you.
“I don’t know…” You trail off, wondering that yourself.
It is then that Nate sticks his head out of the kitchen, “Sam, come here and taste this.”
Sam glances at you, “Well, I should go see how badly Nathan fucked up his portion of the dinner.” He smiles at you before walking away.
As he leaves the room, you feel a twinge of sadness at seeing him go. Isn’t that odd? You only spoke to him for a little bit and most of it was explaining current apps yet you wanted to keep talking to him. Pushing those feelings aside, you turn back to the rest of the group to enjoy the evening.
Hours later, you are filled with food and regretting having seconds. Dinner had been the usual affair of Nate having somehow burning the stuffing and making it out of the box. That happened every year, without fail. Elena usually suggested just skipping to the boxed stuffing but Nate always said no, this was the year he was going to master homemade stuffing.
Even with the boxed stuffing, dinner was delicious. You offer to help clean up as Elena lectures Sully to smoke his cigar as Sully protests it is too cold.
To your secret pleasure, Sam also offers to help with the dishes. He had been mostly silent during dinner. Even though you tried to help yourself, you found yourself staring at him sometimes.
He really is good looking in a way you normally don’t fall for. You like the rugged look he has about him. It is different from previous men you have been attracted to. Even though he is in shape and speaks with ease, there is an uneasy air about him that you are drawn to. It reminds you of parties you have been dragged to – trying to fit in but wanting to be anywhere else.
“I can wash them.” He offers as you put the plates next to the sink.
“Are you sure? I don’t mind.”
Sam runs his fingers through his hair, “No, it’s cool. I got it.”
It isn’t lost on you that everyone has moved into the living room. Sam must be trying to avoid it. You know you should leave him alone but something makes you stay. Instead, you grab a dish towel.
“I’ll help dry them, at least.”
He looks as if he is going to protest but thinks better of it and shrugs. He starts to wash the dishes. You dry them. For a few minutes, the only noise is the muffled conversation from the living room. You glance at him from the corner of your eye. His lips are pursed and his shoulders are set with tension. This normalcy must be alarming to Sam.
Before you can stop yourself, you go, “This must be all pretty weird.”
His eyes dart up to yours before back to the plates, “Washing dishes? No, I think I got a handle on it.”
“No, I mean…sitting around the table at Thanksgiving. After getting out of prison.”
Sam stops washing the plate and tilts his face to look at yours. Have you gone too far? Sometimes you tend to ramble and say things better left unsaid. His eyes are unreadable and you break the stare first by looking down at the bowl you are drying.
“You know, it’s funny how no one today has mentioned prison. Everyone is thinking it. Everyone wants to ask about it. But instead they’ve all been tiptoeing around it like my place at the table is completely normal.”
“I don’t think they mean to do that. They probably just don’t want to upset you.”
“I know that,” He sighs and looks back down at the sink, “Yeah, it’s weird. Sitting around the table, talking about topics I’m so far behind in that I have no idea what is going on. Learning that people need multiple apps on smart phones to take photos with for some reason.”
At this you smile a little, “Hey, if my parents can figure out Instagram, you can.”
Sam, finally, returns the smile. His smile changes his face, lighting it up like the sun is poking through the clouds, “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
His smile makes you feel warm inside. Worried that you are blushing, you look away from him. The two of you wash the dishes in a comfortable silence from then on. When he finishes, he hands you the final plate.
“I think Nathan told them not to bring up prison,” Sam’s voice is low now and he is standing close to you, making your head feel light, “I think he worries it will upset me.”
“He’s just trying to be a good brother.” You reply, trying very hard not to stare at his jawline, or his stubble, or focus on the cigarette scent that you normally don’t like but for some reason you do on Sam.
Sam puts the final plate in the dish rack and rakes his fingers through his hair, “I know,” He forces a smile, “I’m going to go brave the cold and have a cigarette. You smoke?”
“I don’t think many people do now.” You reply.
He laughs, “Just more proof that I’m a relic.”
“I’ll come with you. You might see something outside that is brand new to you and it will scare you off. Has anyone explained the concept of cars to you?”
“You always insult people you just meet?” Sam asks over his shoulder as you leave the kitchen.
“Just the cute ones.” You say automatically without thinking.
He pauses at this and you tell yourself that you’re going to scare him off. He’s been in prison so long and is clearly uncomfortable in the current situation and here you are, flirting with him? What is wrong with you? You groan inwardly as Sam doesn’t reply, opening the sliding door and stepping outside.
It is freezing cold outside. Sully is on the other side of the patio, giving Nate a hard time about something judging by the look on his face. Sam doesn’t join them, however, and instead wanders off the patio to the side of the house.
You trail after him. He leans against the side of the house. You watch as he slips a cigarette out of the pack and flicks the lighter, lighting it up. Then he takes a drag off it before handing it to you.
“You sure you don’t want to start a terrible habit today?”
“Yeah, I’ll pass.” You say, relieved that he has broken the silence after you flirted with him.
He looks down at the cigarette. The tip is glowing against the sky which is framed by the setting sun, sending shoots of orange across the sky. The way the sun hits his skin highlights how tired he looks but also causing his skin to almost glow makes your heart skip a beat.
Sam is probably a bundle of unresolved issues. Any logical woman would sense this and run.
“What’s been the weirdest thing since you got out?” You ask.
Sam tilts his face away from you, exhaling smoke before replying, “Everything moves so quickly. But I have a hell of a time remembering if it was always that way or if it’s just because of how far technology has come. Everyone on their phones. Slang I don’t get. Not being able to smoke wherever I want. Dates…out of the question.”
“Why is that?”
“Are you serious?” He goes, putting the cigarette back in his mouth, “Who’d want to date an ex-con who can’t grasp Facebook? Apparently, 90-year-old people can understand Facebook and I can’t.”
“Yeah, but anyone judging you because you can’t understand Facebook probably isn’t someone you want to waste your time with anyway.” You point out.
The truth is that you are taken with Sam. He’s messy, yeah, but he’s hot, you can’t deny that. You like the way he speaks and how new the world is to him. It has been a while since a guy has gotten your attention like this. As he puffs on his cigarette, you throw caution to the wind.
“Why don’t we go out for coffee sometime?” You venture.
Surprised, he turns to look at you, “Me?”
“No, the magical talking turkey behind you.” You deadpan.
“Uh…why?” He finally goes.
“You’re asking me why I am asking you out?”
“Yeah, did you…hit your head or something? Or are you trying to toss a pity fuck my way?”
“Okay, first off, I don’t toss anyone a ‘pity fuck’. I just think I’d like to have a coffee with you. We can go to Starbucks. I can watch you be confounded by the menu.” You reply.
For a long second, Sam stares at you. You aren’t sure what he is thinking. Is he concerned about going out on a date after all these years? But he has already told you up front what life is like. He wouldn’t have to be worried about you judging him for it.
He must be thinking the same thing because he drops his cigarette and crushes it underneath his shoe, “Alright. Sure.”
You smile, “Okay. It’s a date.”
“First Thanksgiving and first date. Guess I still have it after all.”
He winks at you and walks past you, heading back to the house. You have butterflies in your stomach as you watch him leave.
Sam pauses and looks over his shoulder, “Are you coming? I haven’t had pumpkin pie in fifteen years and am about to eat the entire thing myself.”
You go after him and your fingers brush together. The touch is slight but makes your heart flutter.
Later, when Sam is on his fourth piece of pumpkin pie, he looks over at you and grins. You can feel it in your heart already, somehow – next Thanksgiving, you’ll both be here together, as a couple.
You return his smile.