Exclusive Thanksgiving Story
Happy Thanksgiving, American readers! And Happy last Thursday in November everyone else!
I initially started writing this story as a bonus ‘track’ for the paperback version of Danio’s Prelude. If you haven’t read that (or Soul Choice) yet, I strongly suggest you read Prelude before you read this story, as there are some major spoilers.
In fact, all four More than Magic Series books are on sale for 99 cents starting today through Cyber Monday!
Semester Aboard: Book 1 — Amazon — Smashwords
Snow Bound: Book 2 — Amazon — Smashwords
Soul Choice: Book 3 — Amazon — Smashwords
Anyway, I intended to release the paperback on Dani’s birthday (November 14) and thought that a Thanksgiving theme for the final story was appropriate. Life happens. I’m not done with the story and nowhere near ready to format and release the paperback.
I also don’t want to wait another year to release it. I figured since the first half of this story takes place the day before Thanksgiving, why not put it up on my blog as a little gift to you? So, here it is. This is the first half of the extra story that will be appearing in the paperback when it’s released.
I hope you enjoy it, Happy Thanksgiving!
The trek from the gate to baggage claim would have been a lot better if one of my legs hadn’t been asleep. I paused, trying to shake the pins and needles out, before jogging to catch up to my dad.
Rubbing at a knot in my neck, I muttered, “I wish I could just swim across the lake.”
He turned, giving me a look that plainly said he thought I was nuts. “You what?”
“Instead of having to fly.” I gestured around the airport. “It’d be nice to just swim.”
Laughing, he shook his head and resumed his brisk walk. “You are the strangest fire elemental, I swear.”
We waited for a few minutes at the baggage claim and, at last, Dad spotted his suitcase. He grabbed it off of the conveyor belt, just as I caught sight of mine on the other side, about to go back out of reach. I sprinted over to it and dragged it to safety. A familiar face caught my eye, as my father wound his way through the crowd toward my dad. They greeted each other, then stood there for a moment, obviously trying to decide whether or not to kiss. They ended up doing a really awkward looking bro-hug, complete with manly back thumping. My father won the who-carries-the-bag fight and slung it over one shoulder, before inclining his head in the direction of the exit.
I didn’t hear what Dad said, but I could guess easily enough. My father looked confused and then scanned the crowd. His eyes widened in surprise when they landed on me and he broke into a grin. I couldn’t resist smiling back. It was my first Thanksgiving in Michigan, and he hadn’t been expecting me.
“Hi, Dani!” I said with a grin, when I reached them.
“And what do you think you’re doing here?” he asked with a mock glare.
“Thanksgiving dinner, of course,” I answered with an innocent shrug.
He laughed and messed up my hair, before pulling me into a big hug. He grabbed my bag from me and led the way to the car.
As we walked, Dad leaned over to me. “Thanks for coming, Ember.” He whispered it, even though my father couldn’t understand Sadehic. “It means a lot to him.”
“It was my idea,” I reminded him. “Since neither of you idiots ever thought I’d rather be here, with both of you, than in Arizona alone.”
“With your grandparents whom you never see,” he corrected. “Not to mention your aunt.”
“I see them more than…” I just barely bit back the retort. Instead, I said, “I practically live with Aunt Callie.”
We made it to the parking area and piled into the car. Loud music started blaring. My father quickly turned it down with a sheepish grin.
“You’re going to make yourself deaf,” Dad said.
“Don’t even! My mother already has my tolerance tank running on empty; I can only handle so much!”
They both laughed. My father leaned over to the passenger side, initiating a kiss. Then, we were off through the parking lot.
“How was the flight?”
“Not bad,” I said.
“Nice and short,” Dad agreed. “How’s the Pelagos family?”
He was answered with a long-suffering chuckle. “I’ve decided that Brook’s size is inversely proportional to my brother’s level of sanity. And Ma is already trying to figure out how to celebrate the baby’s first Christmas. I’m pretty sure she forgot that Pike and I have a Name Day before then… Oh, and I told Ma that I’m your legal guardian now.” Dani’s eyes met mine in the rearview mirror. “She will probably hug you death. If I had known you were coming, I would’ve spared you.”
“I’ll try to be careful, Baba,” I told him.
I couldn’t see his expression, but thanks to the mirror, I could see a little ripple of bright blue cross his eyes, from my use of the Greek word for dad.
A weird, wailing cry emanated from the speakers.
“What are you listening to?” Dad asked.
“It’s the new Tenacious D album.”
“Huh. I assumed it was one of your silly musicals.”
“You are so weird.”
Dad looked at him indignantly. “Why am I weird? You’re the one listening to…” He gestured at the radio.
“Because you don’t like musicals.”
“You knew that when we started dating.” Dad crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat.
“I assumed that I’d find one you liked. Eventually. I refuse to believe that there isn’t a musical out there, somewhere, that you’d like.”
“You and your musicals,” Dad sighed, shaking his head.
“You and your… not musicals! It’s weird.”
“Why is that weird? Plenty of people don’t like musicals.”
I leaned into the front seat. “It’s weird that you don’t.”
My dad turned incredulously to me. “What?”
“Because liking musicals is like the number one gay stereotype. And you…” I grinned sheepishly. “You’re kind of the poster boy for gay stereotypes. So it’s weird because it’s the only ‘gay’ thing you don’t do.”
Dani threw back his head and guffawed. I flopped back into the backseat with a grin.
Dad smacked his arm. “You shut up, Danio. It’s weird you do enjoy musicals.”
“Were you paying attention to what we just established? That makes me perfectly normal, thank you.”
“No, because it’s the only gay thing that you do.”
Without even hesitating, Dani smoothly replied, “I do you. And since your kid thinks you’re a walking stereotype that should count for double.”
My dad made a small choking sound in response. I leaned forward again, this time to help him out.
“He meant it’s the only stereotypical thing you do.”
“It is not,” Dani protested. He thought for a moment and then said triumphantly, “I like brunch!”
“Only because you don’t wake up early enough to eat breakfast like a normal person,” Dad said.
“Okay, fine. I uh …”
Chuckling, Dad leaned back and propped his feet up on the dashboard. “Told you so.”
“Hang on, I’m thinking. Mm… oh! I gesture a lot with my hands when I talk!”
I caught his eye in the rearview mirror. “I’m pretty sure that’s Italians, not gays.”
Dani’s eyebrows flew up in shock, then narrowed at me. “I swear, I will leave you by the side of the 75, young lady!”
Dad cleared his throat. “Are you watching how fast you’re driving?”
The car noticeably slowed. “Of course. Hey, I drive fast. Is that a thing?”
“Gays drive fast?” Dad said skeptically. “No. No, that is not a thing. You’re still at one.”
A thought crossed my mind and, before I could stop myself, I blurted it out. “Did you know I thought you were straight for like, two weeks after I realized Uncle Charlie was gay?”
They both started laughing. Giggling along with them, I leaned back and turned my attention out the window. Who would have thought that just a few years later my uncle and his roommate would become my biological father and his boyfriend? Certainly not me. I grinned at my faint reflection. No, I realized, it hadn’t been a few years, it had been quite a bit longer. I was fourteen then… jeez, it had been twelve years.
My ‘mother’ and I had moved to New York when I was eight, just about a year after Uncle Charlie. We rented a small house, near where he lived with his roommate. A couple of years later, all four of us started renting a home together. I never once wondered why my uncle’s roommate moved in with us too. I suppose, looking back, that if I hadn’t liked Dani, I might have started to wonder why he had lived with Uncle Charlie for so long. But, I did like him, so I never wondered.
I’m not sure when I first realized what homosexuality actually was. I just sort of knew, even though it wasn’t until I was fourteen that it started to become more of a topic around school. All I know is that, one day, people were talking about some student who was gay at lunch and how they could tell he was. I went home that afternoon and suddenly was struck by the fact that Uncle Charlie totally fit their description of how a gay guy acted. His Arizona-twang was undeniably punctuated by a “gay lisp” and he walked “like a gay man” too. For the first time, I realized why he never mentioned a girlfriend. It made perfect sense.
I started keeping a close eye on him, trying to spot him doing something gay to prove my theory. I have no idea what I was actually expecting to see, but I started sneaking around quietly and trying to catch him unaware. Just a couple of days in, I saw him talking to Dani and briefly entertained the idea that Dani was gay too. I quickly dismissed it. Dani didn’t act the way a gay guy was supposed to. Since Uncle Charlie perfectly fit the stereotypes I had learned, I had no reason to think that they were wrong. I didn’t know any better.
Sometimes, I did wonder if Dani had always been like this or if fourteen years pretending to be straight in the Legion had changed him. I doubted I’d ever know. It certainly wasn’t something I’d ask him. His family hadn’t been much help either. Yia-yia said she had always known; she was his mother after all. But Uncle Pike said he had been completely blindsided when Dani came out to him. So, who knew?
I, for one, went another two weeks before I finally figured it out. Part of my strategy to catch Uncle Charlie had been to stop yelling hello when going to his house. It was on my way home from school and I usually went there instead of home, especially since my mother was working. I let myself in quietly and crept around, hoping to catch him. This time, I found Dani sleeping on the couch. That wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary, he usually took a nap when he worked nights. But Uncle Charlie was on the couch with him.
More specifically; Dani was using my uncle’s lap as a pillow. Uncle Charlie had a book in one hand, his other arm was draped over Dani and their fingers were tangled together. There was nothing platonic about it. That was when I knew that Dani was more than just my uncle’s roommate.
It wasn’t long before I started calling him Uncle Dani. It was natural to me. I had very few memories of my childhood in Arizona, with or without Charlie. Most of my memories of him were in New York, which meant Dani was there too. I knew him nearly as well as Uncle Charlie. They were both stunned the first time I did it, but I could tell they were pleased. And I was pretty happy. I had my mom and I had two great uncles. Who needed a dad?
We passed a sign for the city limits and I felt a little nervous knot in my stomach. I had no idea what to expect from Thanksgiving in Michigan. The holiday was my least favorite. I felt like the older I got, the more I hated it. It had actually all started around the time I found out my uncle was gay. The following year he asked if I’d mind if he spent Thanksgiving in Michigan with Dani and his family. It became tradition for him to alternate the holidays in Michigan and Arizona. I never asked why Dani didn’t come to Arizona. He was a water elemental; it made sense to me. But, as I got older and lost that innocent, child oblivion, Thanksgiving seemed to get worse and worse.
The entire day was a stressful, frantic mess. The kitchen was packed with fire elementals, which is just a recipe for disaster. Sooner or later someone had an opinion about the way someone else was cooking or took offense to what someone said and tempers flared. We always ate late and something was always forgotten. It was just a nightmare of bad tempers and melt-downs. I didn’t know why we bothered.
Uncle Charlie was given barn duty every year and never failed to find a way to spend the entire day out there. He would always claim he needed my help. Then, I’d escape the madness of the house and spend the day with the uncle I adored, grooming horses and talking. But, once he started spending Thanksgiving in another state, I ended up in the kitchen and hated every moment.
The chaos didn’t stop once the food was served. There were loud arguments, and quiet sulking, and my great-grandfather ranting about everything that everyone did he didn’t approve of. The older I got, the more they started trying to involve me. The entire meal was torture.
I missed my uncle whenever he was in Michigan, but as I grew more observant, I started realizing that there was a reason he hid in the barn when he was here. I had always known there was some sort of tension between him and my grandfather. I couldn’t identify it until one year, when Grandpa came into the barn, while I was reading in the hayloft, and they started arguing. Grandpa was pissed that my uncle had already decided to go to Michigan again next Thanksgiving. It quickly became clear that he wasn’t mad because Uncle Charlie was spending Thanksgiving away, but because he was spending it with another man. I knew my grandfather was a little homophobic, but I assumed he made an exception for his son. Apparently I was wrong. I listened, stunned, while they argued. At one point, Grandpa said something about how he hoped Uncle Charlie wasn’t letting ‘that man’ be a bad influence on me. I was so enraged, it took all of my will-power to not leave the hayloft and get into the middle of things. When it was over, Uncle Charlie packed and left before dinner started. It was four years before he went back for Thanksgiving. Grandma had a little pity party about how she had failed as a mother and my whole family spent dinner trying to comfort her.
That, at least, wouldn’t be an issue in Michigan. Yia-yia had embraced us as her own family. But, I really wasn’t looking forward to yet another chaotic Thanksgiving of fighting in the kitchen and gobbling down food, eager to escape the awkward dinner. I hoped it wouldn’t be like that here.
At last, we turned onto a familiar driveway. We rolled up past the boathouse and parked in front of the garage. I hopped out, stretching my legs, and grabbed my bag. I followed my fathers up to the house, burning with excitement and nervousness. Once inside, we kicked off our shoes in the entrance and moved into the living room.
“We’re back, Ma!” Dani yelled.
An excited squeal came from the kitchen and Amphitrite rushed out. Yia-yia was a fascinating conundrum of a woman. She was wearing yoga pants and a t-shirt, underneath a flowery, almost gaudy apron. Her hair, which was an extremely long, beautiful mix of blues, was bundled up under a kerchief. She looked like some insane clash of modern college girl, 50s housewife, and traditional Greek woman. She was also absolutely gorgeous; she was half-siren and it showed.
“Ah, my boys!” she cried. She planted two big kisses on Dani’s cheeks, as if she hadn’t just seen him a couple of hours ago, then grabbed my dad and pulled him into a big hug. She gave him several, wet-looking kisses on the cheeks, followed by another hug. “I’m so happy you’re here for Thanksgiving!”
“It’s great to see you, Miss Pelagos.”
Without hesitating, Yia-yia smacked him on the back of the head. “I am your mother now, silly boy! You call me Mama, yes?”
“Yes, of course. Sorry, Mama.”
“Better.” Then, she caught sight of me. Her eyes swirled with bright blue and she threw up her hands. “Ember!” she shrieked. She dove forward and caught me in a hug. “Oh! My granddaughter! Now, the entire family is here with me!”
“Hi, Yia-yia,” I gasped as she hugged me tightly.
She released me, whirled, and whacked Dani upside the head before he could dodge. “Why did you not tell me she was coming? What is wrong with you, paidi mou?”
“I didn’t know, Ma. It was a surprise.” Dani winced and rubbed the back of his head.
“We don’t have enough food! Theos mou! I must make a list! We must shop!” She sprinted into the kitchen.
Dani heaved a sigh and followed her. “Ma! We don’t have to go shopping. We have enough food to feed an army. Literally. Trust me on this.”
I followed and Yia-yia rounded on me the moment I was in the kitchen. “What is your favorite Thanksgiving food? I make it for you! Tell your Yia-yia what you will eat. You name anything, I will make it!”
“I’m fine with whatever you’re already making. Really.”
She looked like she didn’t believe me. “You are sure?”
I nodded. “Absolutely.”
My Uncle Pike walked in. He grinned when he saw me. “Hey kiddo, I thought I heard Ma screaming your name.” He hugged me and swiftly hissed into my ear. “Leave while you can, save yourself!”
His wink let me know he was kidding, but I felt another nervous twist in my stomach. It seemed like the kitchen chaos had already started. I hoped I was doing the right thing.
“Pike, I make a list.” Yia-yia held out a piece of paper. “More potatoes, go. And flour. The good flour, I give you money.” She started rummaging through her purse while Pike looked over the list.
“Didn’t I buy enough potatoes yesterday?” he asked.
“Don’t argue, child. To the store with you!” She thrust a twenty at him.
Yia-yia looked scandalized. “Of course now!” Dani started to chuckle. “Danio, go with him! Spend time with your brother!”
He groaned. “Why am I only Danio when you want something?”
She snapped a dish towel at him. “Don’t be smart mouth. Go! Before the store closes!”
I bit back a laugh of my own. As a water elemental, Yia-yia was perfectly capable of speaking in any dialect or voice she chose. Dani and Pike both used a fairly generic, American accent, with a subtle Michigander spark. If I didn’t know any better, I would never guess that English wasn’t their first language. Thanks to their ability to mimic, they spoke flawless English without even a hint of a foreign accent. They also both – although I hated to admit it – had sexy sounding tenors, which they claimed were their unaltered voices.
Yia-yia, on the other hand, spoke ‘Greeklish’. Her thick Greek accent and broken English sometimes made her hard to understand. She also usually pitched her voice to sound like a much older Greek woman than she was physically. She claimed that she was proud of being Greek and used the Greeklish as a way to stay in touch with her heritage. Dani said that his mother could speak perfect English if she was so inclined, not just mimicking an American accent, but grammar-wise as well. I wasn’t sure I believed him, I had never heard it.
Not certain if I wanted to be stuck in the kitchen alone during the Thanksgiving rush, I retreated into the living room. I heard voices and saw my dad vanishing around the corner upstairs with his suitcase. A moment later, Aunt Brook took his place. I watched her slowly make her way down the stairs. A wide, yet tired, smile crossed her face when she saw me.
“Hello, Ember! I’m so glad you could make it.”
“Hi, Aunt Brook. You look…” Gigantic. I hadn’t seen her since she was just a couple of months along. “Great!”
“Oh, please,” she laughed. She sat heavily on the couch and rested a hand on her massive stomach. “I look like a beached whale.”
“I think you look absolutely ravishing!” Dani called from the foyer. “I can hardly keep my eyes off of you.”
“Splashy,” Brook said with a wry grin. “Now I look enormous and like a man.”
Pike jogged over to give her a kiss goodbye. “Can I get you anything from the store, Brook-itsa?”
She hesitated, but clearly wanted something. Pike knew it too.
“What is it, zargana mou? I’ll get you whatever you want.”
“Done!” He hurried back to the front door, grabbing his coat. “We’ll be back!”
I joined my aunt on the couch. “When are you due?”
“December seventh,” she said. “Pike and Danio are rooting for her to come a day early and be born on their name day. We’ll see.”
Yia-yia bustled through, on her way to the stairs. “Brook, are you hungry? You tell your mother if you are hungry, yes?”
“Pike’s getting me sushi.”
“Sushi? We have food here! Oh, that boy. Why should I cook at all, if my children are always buying the take-out?” She continued upstairs muttering.
Trying to stifle a laugh, I turned back to Brook. “So, how are you feeling?”
She patted her belly with a smile. “Ready to be done.”
“Have you picked out a name for her?”
“We’ve got it narrowed down in English. We’re decided on her name in Panth.” Brook studied me for a moment and then leaned in my direction. “Want to know a secret?”
I eagerly nodded.
“We’re naming her after Danio. In Panth,” she said with a smile.
He was going to flip! “What does that sound like?”
Brook whistled and hummed in Panthalssish for a long time. It sounded more like a song than a name. Either way, it was beautiful. Instead of telling her that, I pulled a classic fire elemental problem and blurted, “That’s a long name!”
Before I could apologize, she laughed. “Panth is a wordy language.”
“It’s beautiful,” I said, hoping it would still sound sincere.
I was still thinking about the name and reminding myself to not tell Dani, so I was only half paying attention to a voice saying, “I put your suitcase up in your room for you, Ember.”
“Thanks, Uncle Charl—” I caught myself, “dad.”
He laughed and stopped by the couch, holding up a couple of throw pillows. “These were on the guest bed, so I grabbed them in case you wanted one, Brook.”
Without hesitating, Brook reached for one and stuffed it behind her back. “Oh, you are amazing! Give Pike some pointers, will you?”
Chuckling, he leaned against the arm of the couch and gently ruffled my hair. “I’ll see what I can do.”
A cell phone started ringing and Brook groaned. “Ugh, that’s mine.”
My dad leapt up. “Where is it?”
Sheepishly, Brook shrugged. “I don’t remember.”
The call was probably seconds from ending when my father found the phone – in a little basket for mail in the foyer – and dove for it.
“Hello?” He actually yanked the phone away from his head and I could hear the caller’s voice. “Whoa, whoa! Relax, Pike! She’s fine!”
Aunt Brook slapped herself on the forehead. “That man.”
Shaking his head, my dad crossed the living room back to us. “She misplaced her phone and I figured an unanswered call would just worry you more. Here she is.”
Brook smiled in thanks, as she took the phone. “Pike?” She rolled her eyes. “Honey, we’re both healthy, everything is normal, and I’m not due for two more weeks. Stop worrying. You’re worse than your mother.”
Biting back a laugh, I exchanged an amused look with my dad. If Pike was anything like Dani, comparisons to his mother were not considered complimentary.
“Oh, um… don’t they have some dinner box I love? Box C, I think… yes, that’s the one… no wasabi, at all. Not even in the box… I know I love wasabi, but thinking about the taste right now makes my stomach churn. None of it touches my food! Thanks… mm, hold on.” She turned her attention to us. “What do you want to order?”
I hadn’t been expecting sushi for dinner and was caught off guard. I liked it well enough, but didn’t get the chance to eat it often. “Do they have anything cooked and spicy?” I asked.
She relayed the question to her husband, then laughed. “Danio says he’ll find something for both of you.” Then, she let out a loud series of whistles. A moment later Yia-yia whistled back and Brook changed back to English. “She says you’re crazy for ordering sushi when there’s plenty of food here, but she said there’s some sashimi plate she likes… no, I will not ask her if she sees a comparison between this and her need for more potatoes… right, I love you too. Thanks for getting me sushi, my dear.” No sooner had she hung up, when her eyes widened in alarm. “I’m so sorry, I dictated dinner for everyone! I didn’t even think. I just…”
“Had a craving for sushi?” Dad supplied. “You’re pregnant, you have an excuse.”
“I just feel like I’ve been such a pain.”
With a dry chuckle, my dad said, “Don’t worry, you have nothing on a pregnant fire elemental.”
“I can’t even imagine,” she laughed.
“Were you there the entire time she was pregnant with me?” I asked. Calling her “mom” just didn’t seem right.
Dad looked surprised by the question and I considered retracting it. I rarely asked about her. It wasn’t that I was angry or even upset with her for leaving me; furies don’t make good parents. But, I wasn’t curious about her either. I had all the mother I needed in my Aunt Callie. I sometimes thought that being an accident should have bothered me more. It didn’t. I had never, not once, felt like I was treated like one. No matter who I thought they were – my mother and my uncle or my aunt and my father – I had never doubted how much they loved me.
His eyes dimmed and flickered. He wasn’t sure how to answer the question. After a moment, a shadow of guilt crossed his face and he whispered, “No.” He stood, turning to face the dying fire in the fireplace, and continued. “I spent a few months trying to convince myself that she was lying to… I don’t know. Maybe she had realized I was gay and was trying to keep me around longer or something. Then, after she started showing I knew it was true and… well, I freaked out a little. Okay, a lot. Your Grandpa is a very… traditional man. He probably would be more upset that I had gotten a girl pregnant without marrying her, than he is about who I am dating.” I could hear bitter sarcasm in his voice as he added, “And you know how happy he is about that.” He heaved a sigh and I wished I hadn’t asked. “Anyway, I sort of resigned myself to the idea that I was going to have to marry her, right around the start of her third trimester. So, I was there for all of that.” At last he turned back, as I watched his eyes brightened again and he smiled. “And, of course, I was there when you were born.”
“If my daughter,” Brook said softly, “is half as wonderful as yours turned out, I’ll be a happy mother.”
I don’t know which one of us blushed more.
Dad cleared his throat and practically sprinted to the fireplace. “Why don’t I stoke this back up?” He started to reach in which his bare hands, but then reached for the poker instead. Probably trying to add a bit of challenge to help distract him.
Watching fires was always soothing, and just a bit mesmerizing. I gazed into the flames as they grew, listening to the crackling and popping. When I was little I used to sit on the hearth, trying to hear Sadehic words in the sound. I realized that my mental image of young me was in the house in New York, where we had all lived together, even though I had long since grown out of the silly game by the time we moved there.
My dad leaned into my line of vision, reaching for a stray log, and I studied him. It must have been strange for non-magics to watch their parents age. His face was just how I had always remembered it. My Uncle Charlie. My dad.
Only four years, more like three and a half, had passed since they told me the truth. I had been stunned, but embraced it almost right away. I was still getting used to it though. Twenty-three years of saying Mom and Uncle Charlie was a hard habit to change. I had only just started getting used to saying Uncle Dani when suddenly he wasn’t my uncle anymore. I was already picking up Greek from him, so I thought it was only logical to call him Baba. I knew he’d like it and it wouldn’t be nearly as confusing as calling both of them Dad!
It was funny, I thought, rather than being angry about the truth, I was just mad they hadn’t told me sooner. After they explained why my Aunt Callie had taken my mother’s place, I couldn’t be upset. I understood why they had waited until I was “older” to tell me. They couldn’t risk a young fire elemental blurting it out. Everyone was told the same lie. Even Dani was told that I was Callie’s daughter for years. Even now, twenty-six years later, my grandparents would probably still erupt if they knew the truth. The less people who knew, the better. It decreased the risk that one of us would accidentally slip up in front of my grandparents.
My dad was convinced I’d hate him for not “being there”, but with the exception of one sole year, I had lived with or near him my entire life. He had always been there, as far as I was concerned.
I don’t think I ever went through a phase where I needed my father, back when I thought I didn’t have one. Aunt Callie was a wonderful mother and my dad, and later Dani, had been all the father I needed; even though I didn’t know how true that was. Once it was all flipped upside down, I realized that was fine too. I still had all three of them in my life, just in a different way than I thought.
When the fire was roaring, he rejoined us on the couch and the three of us sat in peaceful silence. Yia-yia came downstairs and I could hear her bustling around in the kitchen. My stomach was just starting to rumble when Dani and Pike got back. Yia-yia had impeccable timing and was out of the kitchen with plates and chopsticks before they had even kicked their boots off. Pike turned on the TV and found a Thanksgiving themed movie. We ate an informal dinner right there in the living room, sometimes talking, sometimes all quietly watching the movie.
All in all, it was a normal night visiting Yia-yia. I had only been to Michigan a few times, but it was always like this. Going out to eat or having leftovers in front of the TV; all very casual. It gave me hope that Thanksgiving Day would be equally relaxed, but I kept thinking of Arizona. Other visits there were fun too. Everyone was in a good mood, we went horseback riding, and I baked cookies with Grandma. Then, something about Thanksgiving turned everyone crazy. I hoped that, maybe, it wouldn’t happen here.
Brook was the first to go to bed. When she left, Yia-yia returned to the kitchen. I settled in on the couch with my dads and Uncle Pike to watch another movie. I didn’t last long, and neither did my dad. It had been a long day of travelling. It was quite a bit like a usual night at home. Dani was always the last to go to bed. It seemed like it was a family trait, because he and his brother were debating between finishing the movie or starting a video game and Yia-yia was still banging around in the kitchen, when Dad and I headed up to bed.
“Thanks again for coming, Ember,” he said, hugging me.
“I wanted to,” I laughed.
“Well, we’re both glad you’re here. See you in the morning, little spark.”
I quickly got ready for bed and climbed in. Yia-yia always provided more than enough blankets. I didn’t need them all to sleep comfortably, but I liked being snuggled beneath a heavy pile of them. I was tired enough to fall asleep, but my thoughts started running wild. I was still nervous about what Thanksgiving would hold. I hoped I wasn’t making a mistake.
For all of its chaos, and fighting, and the misery of Thanksgiving in Arizona, most of my other visits were pleasant. Nobody was frantically trying to get all of the dishes cooked and everyone seemed less stressed out. The atmosphere was so much less stressful and instead of forcing the family into the same room for the holidays, everyone just sort of mingled and did their own thing. That was how visiting Michigan always was. Granted, I had only come a few times, but it was always casual. Like tonight had been. We watched TV, got take-out or went out to eat, took walks, played games. It was just plain fun. I hoped that tomorrow would be the same way, but if Yia-yia was already trying to prepare food, I could only imagine how stressful tomorrow would be. And since Brook wasn’t exactly in shape to do much cooking, I had a feeling I’d end up in the kitchen.
And, deep down, I was a little worried about being the “new” member of the family. My dad had been joining them for Thanksgiving for over a decade now and Brook had been a part of it since, I didn’t even know. Forty years, at least, if my math was right. Going from niece to daughter surely complicated things. The first few times they had met me, I was introduced as Charlie’s niece. True, they had welcomed me into the family, even then. But, it had been less than a year since Dani and Charlie took the plunge and told the rest of the Pelagos family I was Charlie’s daughter.
Yia-yia had been beside herself to have a surprise granddaughter. But would her enthusiasm hold true at the Thanksgiving table? Pike and Brook had welcomed me with open arms too, but what if I was stealing the spotlight from their upcoming daughter? She’d be a real Pelagos. They had just barely had a year to get used to the idea what I was Dani’s ‘daughter’ and now I was crashing Thanksgiving.
And it sounded like Dani had just told Yia-yia that he had recently signed the papers that made him my legal guardian.
I felt a shiver and snuggled deeper, even though I wasn’t cold. One of their coworkers had died a few months ago and everyone at MES was shaken up. It sounded like the entire company was scrambling to make sure everything was in order to take care of their loved ones. One night, I overheard my dad whispering with Dani about what would happen to me if he died, since I was under thirty. If something happened to my dad, my aunt was my legal guardian, but when my dad died the truth would come out, and if my grandparents got involved… It sounded like neither of them was sure whether I’d want to live with my aunt or stay with Dani. And neither of them wanted to ask, because they were afraid of the answer. Idiots. I ended that discussion by saying of course I’d choose Dani, whether my grandparents wanted me to or not. From there, it was an easy decision to get some legal papers. And now, if something happened to Dani, I got survivor benefits from MES and the Legion. At least until he and dad got married anyway.
I considered, not for the first time, changing my name to Pelagos. Dani asked me a thousand times if I was sure I wanted him to be my legal guardian. In spite of insisting that I was sure, he was my father after all, I had a feeling he still wasn’t convinced about how I felt. If taking his name wouldn’t convince him, nothing would. I’d have to wait until I was thirty, to do it without adult permission. That wasn’t too long from now, I could wait. Ember Caldera Pelagos had a nice ring to it.
With that thought, I told my brain to shut up. I sat up and created a big ball of fire between my hands, burning off energy. I stared at it, trying to clear my thoughts, until I felt even more tired. At last, I was able to curl up and fall asleep.
Well, I hope you enjoyed your sneak peek! Once again, Happy Thanksgiving! Oh, and if you haven’t, be sure to sign up for my mailing list! Every month I’ll be including free books, writing updates, and sneak peeks! The next issue will include the first chapter of Wrought-Iron Roses!