The Thanksgiving dinner spread was to be magnificent. Luc and Suzi Olivier had spared no expense this year, especially not since their daughter Kayla and her husband Brent Smythe were coming over from Seattle for the holiday. It was the year in which they spent Thanksgiving week with her family and so the Olivier household had expanded to put them and their three children up. Ken had offered his new home, but parts of the upstairs, including the bathroom, were still being renovated, so Kayla had opted for her parents’ house.
In addition to the Smythes, Ken had prevailed on his family to invite the Millers over and they had gratefully accepted, all eight of them. Michelle joined the party, much to her friend Vicki’s chagrin.
Ken finally arrived at quarter after four to find Brent’s minivan sandwiched between his dad’s Buick and the Millers’ Dodge Ram van. There was no more room for his Jeep on the driveway, so he pulled up over the lawn and bounced along to the place that had once been occupied by his dad’s old Land Rover. He shut off the engine, grabbed the store-bought pie off of the passenger seat and hurried around to the back door. His mother greeted him with a quick hug.
“Hey, Ken, what took you so long?” she asked.
“Guy wanted a last-minute estimate. Had to drive all the way over to Blue Hill. Didn’t even have time to go home.”
“Which explains why the pie isn’t homemade,” Suzi teased.
“Sorry.” He shrugged out of his blue work jacket.
“Well, hurry on in, they’re all waiting for you,” she smiled at him and winked. By “they’re all” he knew she meant one person in particular. And tonight was the night. He fingered a little box in his left pocket as he left the kitchen for the living room. The place was packed, even though Jude and Ishmael Miller had taken the older Smythe kids upstairs to play games on Luc’s computer. Kayla was off to one side with Michelle, deep in conversation, while Brent was chatting with Stu Miller and Luc. Carolyn Miller was holding Kayla’s youngest on her lap and reading a book to the little girl in the way that only she could. The two oldest Miller girls, both now in their late teens, bustled past him with plates and cutlery to set the table, while the middle kids were lounging on the couch, eyes glazed over, watching the football game. Ken stood there, drinking in the peace. This was what he had always loved: family together. Perhaps next year he would be here with his own?
“Ken!” His father was the first to notice him.
“It’s about time you finally got here, bro,” Brent put in. “I’ve been starving.
“Bet you skipped lunch again to prepare for this,” Ken said with the ghost of a smile.
“Oh, not just lunch. I’ve been fasting for two days. Nobody does stuffing like your mom.” That brought a good laugh from everyone. Ken looked over to where Michelle was sitting, caught her eye and winked. She smiled back. His sister made a comment that he couldn’t hear and the dark-haired girl blushed.
“Well, let’s get to the table then,” Luc announced.
“Gilead!” Pa Miller called to his eldest son. The boy looked back over the top of the couch and grunted, “Huh?”
“Will you please call the kids down? We’re about to eat.”
“But, Dad, it’s the third quarter!” Gilead exclaimed.
“We’ll catch the recap later. Now go!”
The boy grumbled, pushed himself up, and ran upstairs to get his little brothers. Brent followed him, and a few minutes later he was back, one of his children on his shoulders, the other under his arm, both giggling. They spread out around the table. Luc sat at the head with Suzi at his right and Kayla at his left. Ken sat next to his mother and on the other side of him was Michelle. The youngest Smythe, Lydia, sat between her mom and dad, while the older two, Jordan and Eowyn sat following Brent, next to Ishmael and Jude. Carolyn Miller was next to Michelle, then her husband and then Esther, their eldest, Fran, their second and the twins, Gilead and Hannah.
Luc asked the blessing and then it was a free-for all on the massive amounts of food. Brent stood when everyone was finished.
“Now, you know my family tradition – old Scottish tradition – that at every feast we have a time for making toasts. Since some of you may be new to this, I’ll begin.” He raised his glass of ginger ale and, affecting a thick Scottish burr, began to recite a traditional blessing on his host and hostess. He was followed by Luc who, favoring his mother’s side, recited a French poem. To the surprise of all, Pa Miller made the next toast to his lovely foster daughter.
“No fair,” Ken whispered to his mother. “That was my line.” Suzi laughed. Down the table Fran recited the priestly blessing from Deuteronomy, which she’d done every Thanksgiving from the time she was in first grade.
“You still can’t get Gilead to do it?” Michelle asked Ma Miller.
“No, he says that he’s not that good at memorizing.”
“You said it.”
“What about you, Ken?” Luc prompted. “Don’t you have a toast?” The young man blushed.
“It’ll have to wait, Dad,” he said.
“Very well,” the head of the house exclaimed, raising his hands. “Time for a break, walks, whatever. Desert will be served when we’re ready for it.” At this Pa Miller leaned forward to catch Ken’s eye and when he did he gave a quick wink. The blond man nodded.
“Let’s go for a walk,” he said to Michelle.
“Sure,” she replied, “I’ll just get my coat.” And she hurried off to do so.
They wandered off across the back yard and into the woods adjoining their property. Their neighbors, who owned the land, had given them permission to hike through them at any time. They were silent at first, listening to the rustle of the leaves beneath their feet. Ken glanced at Michelle and smiled to himself. More than ever she reminded him of the mermaid he’d fished out of the sea more just a bit over two years earlier. He gently reached out and took her hand into his own. She looked over, smiled and gave his a little squeeze.
“It’s been a while since you’ve done that,” she remarked.
“Hm,” was his reply. They walked a little farther.
“I guess this means we’re getting more serious,” she said after a while.
“Mm-hm.” He smiled at her in her deep burgundy winter coat. She’d tucked her dark hair around her neck, supplementing the scarf she wore.
“I’ve been wondering,” he began after another long pause, “when were you planning to return to Germany?”
“Oh, maybe not for a while yet,” she sighed. “I’m enjoying it too much here,” she looked up at him and squeezed his hand again, “with you.” His heart suddenly warmed at her affirmation of his feelings. He’d known it all along, known that this moment would come.
At that point they stepped out of the woods onto the rocky shore. The sea drummed a steady rhythm on the low boulders that lay in the water. It was relatively calm now, the storms having passed. Ken felt it was much like his heart. He stopped and turned to her.
“Michelle,” he began, “how would you like to live in your old house again?”
“What?” The question caught her off guard.
“Well, I painted the living room ivory.” At that she laughed.
“You painted it ivory?”
“I thought you might like it.” He looked into her shining eyes, glimmering pools of verdant light.
“I take it you’re leading up to something?” She paused playfully. “Were you planning on selling it to me?”
“No. I was only thinking of giving it to you.” Her brow furrowed.
“That’s a mighty big gift, Ken,” she told him. “What’s the catch?”
“That I get to live there, too.”
“What?” She looked at him, incredulous. His free hand slipped into the pocket with the box. And he pushed the question out.
“Will you marry me, Michelle?” It didn’t seem to register at first, then he caught the light dawning in her eyes. It rapidly spread from them to her face as the smile broadened, red cheeks shining with the cold and delight, her teeth sparkling. Then her arms were around his neck and she pressed herself against him.
“Oh, yes, darling! I will!” she breathed; and she drew back to look at him. Now his hands rested loosely around her waist. He paused, bent and kissed her lips for the first time ever. She returned the kiss with vigor. When they broke he brought up the box and flipped it open with one hand.
“For you,” he said, presenting her with a thin red-gold band set with an emerald.
“No diamond?” she asked playfully.
“No. You, my dear, only deserve an emerald. It’s like your eyes and, to me, infinitely more precious than any diamond could be.” For the first time since she’d seen him again as a teen had he switched to his slow, rich speech without the usual effort. Perhaps it was this moment that changed him. She pulled off her left glove and let him slip the ring on, then gave him another kiss.
“Will you do something for me, then?”
“Anything, dear,” he told her, then amended, “within reason.”
“I would like you to call me Michi.” She gently hissed the ch at the back of her throat as the Germans are wont to do.
“Mickey,” he tried to intone.
“Mishy?” She laughed at that.
“Okay, that will do.” She touched his nose and giggled. “I should have known you wouldn’t be able to pronounce it right.”
“I always stank at foreign languages,” he admitted. “Never could fake any accent.”
“You’re right.” She looked at him, eyes glimmering with the last rays of the sun peeking over the trees. “The only other person who ever called me Mishy was my dad.”
“Oh.” Suddenly he felt very insignificant, wondering if he’d done right.
“It’s amazing that the two men that I really loved would use the same name for me.” No, he now knew it was all right, that she had meant it as a compliment. He bent to kiss her again, then gently released her from his embrace. They slowly headed back towards the house, arm-in-arm.
“How are we going to tell the Millers?” she asked after they’d gone a short way.
“They already know,” he said. She stopped, stepped away, turned and looked at him, aghast.
“I asked your foster dad for your hand in marriage two days ago,” he admitted. When she shook her head, he held out his hands and protested lamely, “It’s the right thing to do. Tradition.”
“You asked him first?” she demanded. “What if I’d said no?”
“You wouldn’t.” His satisfaction was evident in his voice. Michelle found herself torn between anger and laughter. She glared at him then melted into a chuckle that built into a full-throated, good-humored laugh.
“You knew I’d say ‘yes.’” She was shaking her head and then she was in his arms again. “Oh, Ken, what would I do without you? You bring me so much joy.”
“And you me,” he told her and then kissed her again. “Let’s go tell everyone.”
“I bet they all know by now,” she told him.
She was right. As soon as they stepped back into the house there was a loud hooray from the group. Stu had quickly appraised the rest of the gathering of Ken’s intentions after the two had left. The younger Miller kids and the Smythe children were then strategically kept occupied in the living room between the television and a board game, while the older ones and the adults quickly cleaned up the table, resetting it with a large cake that Suzi and Kayla had baked earlier that day while Ken was at work.
“I have an announcement to make,” Ken began when they had come in and put their coats away. “I have asked Michelle for her hand in marriage.”
“And what did she say?” Brent asked, bouncing little Lydia on his lap.
“I said yes,” Michelle replied, then leaned over and whispered in Ken’s ear, “Mishy!” He smiled.
“Congratulations!” There was quite some well-wishing. The women inspected the engagement ring, which even Ken’s mother hadn’t seen. Brent passed his daughter on to Esther and drew out a bottle of good Scottish single malt whiskey.
“I thought this might be good for this occasion,” he remarked, cracking open the bottle. Ken made a bit of a face, but allowed himself to have just a little poured into a tumbler.
“Here’s to the happy couple,” Brent intoned, raising his glass. “May their love grow deep, their lives grow long and may God bless them with the abundant riches of His grace.” And with that he tossed back the shot. The other men followed suit.
“You’re driving, dear,” Pa Miller said to his wife. Cake was shared out and the rest of the evening passed in a lovely glow of songs and stories. Ken split his time between keeping the fireplace going, sitting with Michelle and playing several different game with the younger kids. He was in rare form that evening and had them all rolling on the floor at his jokes.
He’ll make a wonderful father, Michelle thought to herself as she watched them, holding little Lydia on her lap. At the same time Ken was thinking how natural it looked for her to hold the child. How many should they have? Two? Maybe Three? Six was definitely too many.
It was very late when the Millers finally departed and Michelle and Ken finally got a bit of privacy in front of the fireplace. She nestled into the sofa next to him, her dark hair spilling over her white turtleneck. He was relaxed in his black BL&G polo shirt and jeans, stockinged feet stretched out in front of the fire.
“This is the way it should be,” he whispered to her. She nodded.
“When shall we do it?” she asked.
“Have the wedding?”
“I was thinking sometime end of January,” he told her after a moment. “Two months should be enough to plan everything.”
“May.” Her voice was adamant.
“But, Mishy, that’s six months away!” he exclaimed. “I really don’t want to wait that long.”
“Neither do I,” she replied, sitting up enough so she could see his eyes, “but I’ve always dreamed of having my wedding in May and since I only plan to get married once, I want to do it right the first time.”
“Outdoors?” he asked.
“Maybe.” She snuggled back down.
“Can’t we do it in April?” he pleaded after a moment. “It’s a month less to wait.”
“Kenner!” She sighed playfully.
“May it is. The beginning.”
“All right.” She looked up at him again. “Ken, this isn’t just my wedding. It’s our wedding. And anything you want goes, too.”
“Well, I want January, but I’m not going to get it.” He chuckled to himself. “I have some ideas about weddings that you may or may not like.”
“Like what?” And he told her. She was thoughtful for a long moment, then looked at him.
“That might just work, don’t you think?” she said.
“Well, let’s see what the folks say. They’ve got a lot invested in this, too.”
“I’ll take advice from Ma and Pa and your parents, but it’s our wedding and we’ll be planning what it’s like.”
“Amen,” he agreed.