Daniel had a Thanksgiving tradition.
He spent the day at work. The store wasn’t open on Thanksgiving, but he always volunteered to go in and get ready for the Black Friday sale.
He liked being in the store alone, straightening the floor and storeroom, playing music over the store’s speakers as loud as he wanted. He even liked being able to go into work in jeans instead of his usual khakis.
His willingness to work the holiday also endeared him to his co-workers, who got to spend the day with their families. At least he liked to believe it endeared him.
After work he’d get a turkey sandwich, which he ordered with cranberry sauce only on Thanksgiving, and walked over to Greenbelt Park to eat.
The park was quiet on Thanksgiving so he enjoyed a picnic table to himself.
Later in the evening, Daniel went to the movies. A lot of great movies were released for the holiday weekend so he’d usually attend both the early and late show, creating his own double feature.
Daniel knew that his tradition would strike some people as lonely, but he relished his day.
When he was growing up, Thanksgiving had been a sad occasion.
His mother had always longed for the type of holiday she saw in Lifetime movies. She’d cook a big turkey and set the table with her best dishes and linens.
But with only Daniel, his mother and their neighbor, Mrs. Delano, around the table, the party fell short of her expectations. She’d retire to her bedroom, depressed and disappointed, right after the apple pie was served, leaving Daniel to wrap the leftovers in tinfoil and do the dishes.
Even as she grew sicker, Daniel’s mother insisted on a big Thanksgiving meal, even if she wasn’t able to eat it.
Under her direction, Daniel learned how to baste a turkey and marshmallow a yam.
After years of forced Thanksgivings, he was pleased to just be able to eat his turkey sandwich in the sunshine and contemplate which blockbuster movies he wanted to see.
But this year, Daniel’s Thanksgiving tradition was foiled.
When his new friends at the Fiery Embrace of Christ’s Love Ministry heard that he was going to be alone for the holiday, they were adamant that he join them.
“There is no good reason for you to eat a turkey sandwich alone in a park when we’re having the entire congregation over to our house for dinner,” Sally told him.
Her husband agreed. “There’s always room for one more!”
Even Pastor Sebastian encouraged him to join them, claiming both God and man preferred a full house to a single high card.
So instead of unwrapping a deli sandwich at his favorite picnic table under the palms, Daniel found himself walking up Roger and Sally’s driveway carrying a casserole dish full of green bean casserole, made from his mother’s recipe.
Roger was standing in the driveway in a bright yellow apron that read “Gobble ‘Til You Wobble.” Beside him was a giant silver pot sitting on a propane burner. Smoke was pouring out of the pot.
“Happy Thanksgiving!” Roger waived an oven-mitted hand at Daniel.
Daniel approached Roger and the smoking pot cautiously. “What are you doing, Roger?”
“I’m deep frying the turkey. Don’t you tell me that you’ve never had deep fried turkey before.”
Daniel took a step backwards as hot oil spit out of the pot. “I can’t say that I have.”
Roger thumped Daniel on the back with his oven mitt. “Well, you are in for a treat! Go drop that dish off in the kitchen and come back. I’ll show you all the finer points of frying up your bird.”
Daniel left Roger happily poking in the pot with a pair of long tongs.
The house was small, but well cared for. Inside the tiny, bright yellow kitchen, Sally was pulling a pan of rolls out of the oven. Gretchen sat the table folding napkins into intricate shapes.
She held one up when Daniel entered. “Look, it’s a cross!” She grinned at him.
The napkin didn’t resemble a cross to Daniel, but he nodded encouragingly.
Sally took the casserole dish from his hands. “Oh, I love green bean casserole!” She slid it into the oven. “We’ll just get it nice and hot while we dish everything up.”
A loud cry erupted from the other room and Daniel glanced through the doorway. Sebastian and the members of the ministry’s band, The Flaming Disciples, were gathered on a red checkered couch, watching a football game on a giant television.
Sally gave Daniel a gentle shove. “Go on in and join them.”
“But Roger asked me to go back out and help him.” Daniel gestured toward the driveway.
“Oh, he just wants to prove that he’s a master deep fryer. He’s fine out there alone with his turkey.” Sally went back to the stove to check the potatoes.
Daniel inched into the living room and leaned against the wall, his hands in his pockets. He felt even more alone in the crowded house than he did in the store or in the park and he wondered how long before he could leave without insulting his hosts.
Just then, Pastor Sebastian noticed him and waved him over to the couch. “Daniel, come sit with us!”
The small couch already held the minister; Seamus, the band’s drummer; his young girlfriend, Meg, and his son, Todd. Daniel couldn’t see how another person would fit.
He shook his head. “I’m fine right here, Pastor. Thanks.”
“Nonsense. We’ve got plenty of room.” Sebastian raised his eyebrows at the band members and indicated for them to make a space for Daniel with a hand gesture.
Todd slid to the floor in front of the couch and Meg climbed onto Seamus’s lap, leaving the middle cushion open for Daniel.
As Daniel sandwiched himself between the pastor and the drummer, Sebastian reached over and patted his knee. “See, I told you we have enough room for you.”