I Am Thankful
Soccer and basketball seasons coincided. Both sports at Eau Boueuse were having their best seasons ever. Cherie directed the action on the girls' soccer team while Scott turned in a phenomenal display of athletic ability on the court for the boys' basketball team as center; and with Scott's nagging the coach, Darren got the chance to show how good he could be as a guard. The old coach thought he played a great deal like his eldest brother years before.
As often as possible, Scott and Darren watched Cherie and Lydia play soccer. Lydia did not play much, which bothered Darren until she told him she didn't care. She missed practice a lot because she was a ballerina, not a soccer player. Darren commented, "That's why your legs are so sexy. You have dancer's legs."
Just as Scott and Darren caught soccer games as often as possible, Cherie and Lydia caught basketball games. The girls dragged their fathers with them frequently, and Parker often came with them because he was still suspicious of Scott, not to mention Darren.
On one occasion, Parker found himself sitting between his father and Derrick McAlpin who was actually cordial to his old rival.
"Good team this year, huh, Reynolds? That Ball kid is awesome."
"Yeah. They are good. Your brother has come on strong."
"Scott's been a good influence on him."
"Where's your dad? Does he ever come to watch Darren?"
"No. That's my job."
"Because I love Darren, and he doesn't."
"That's a shame."
"I'm thankful for it."
His brow knit in confusion, Parker sat back a moment and stared at the man who had once dated the woman Parker married. "Strange response. Speaking of thankful, my baby sister has invited young Mr. Ball to Thanksgiving dinner at my house. I'm surprised he's not at your place since his dad has to work."
Derrick shrugged. "The old man is actually taking Mom on a Caribbean cruise. It'll just be Darren and me. We'll probably sleep all day."
Derrick leaned away from the man he had once exchanged blows with and gave the most puzzled look he could muster. "Why?"
"Why not?" Parker turned so he could look Derrick in the eye. "Are you really so prejudiced that you can't share a meal with a black man or a gay man? Besides, Darren would give his right arm to sit at the same table with my cousin without having to sneak a moment."
"How did you know about that?"
"I'm a cop. I know things."
"Reynolds, Dad can never know. He'd kill Darren."
"You know though. You don't disapprove?"
"Lydia is a sweet girl. Outwardly, I can't approve. As long as Danté McAlpin exits, I can't. Maybe he'll fall overboard and get eaten by sharks."
"That's strong sentiment." Parker's squinted frown changed to wide-eyed shock.
Derrick shrugged. "He taught me to hate. I guess he just never realized I would hate him."
"Well, he'll be gone next week. Join us for Thanksgiving. I won't tell your daddy, but it sounds like you could use a friend."
Derrick gave Parker a dubious look. "Don't you mean I could use a cop?"
"A friend who happens to be a cop. You could kill two birds with one stone."
"Are you serious, Reynolds?"
"Yeah. Let's bury the hatchet. Just don't grab my wife's boobs."
Derrick McAlpin laughed. "All right. I accept. What should I bring?"
"BYOB. The food is taken care of. We eat around six, but come for football."
As Parker conversed with an old enemy, Raiford Reynolds watched the basketball game with interest. Scott was good, too good to be seventeen. As something struck a chord, he murmured, "Georgia!"
Ray jerked Parker's arm and whispered, "Scott Baldwin, center for Georgia."
"Ball. Doesn't he remind you of Baldwin? We watched him play. I lost twenty bucks to you because of him. Put hair on the kid. Hell! He looked twelve in the face when he was at Georgia."
"Daddy, you're grasping now. What would that do to this team? That would be serious cheating. Why don't you grill him at Thanksgiving dinner? You can keep an eye on the McAlpin boys, too. I invited them, and Derrick accepted."
"You're kidding." Ray looked around his son as Derrick stood and cheered when Darren made a good play.
"Nope." Parker looked up then back at his father. "Something is tearing his heart out. He's grasping at straws, too."
Parker and Sheen Reynolds hosted their first Reynolds-Gautier Thanksgiving Day feast. Parker and Sheena were much less organized about seating than either Larkin or Neely would have been. Parker borrowed tables and folding chairs from the police station and set up outdoors. He told the guests to sit where they pleased. In addition to the normal horde, three new bodies were added, Scott Ball and Derrick and Darren McAlpin.
Parker rose to make the traditional speech, toast, and prayer. "Wow! Daddy, Uncle Raif, Papaw, Grandpa Walter, how have you done this all these years? It's scary to stand up here in front of all these people. So, I'll start with this: I'm thankful for my examples. I hope I've learned a lot from you. Second, I'm thankful for the perfect weather, so we can dine outside. My house isn't as big as y'alls'. Of course, I'm thankful for my family and friends, old and new and soon to be. He nodded at a very pregnant Kim. I'm thankful for redemption. Most of you here know what I mean, but there might be a few who don't."
Parker let his gaze sweep the guests. "When I first came here, I was a scared little boy. Larkin—Momma—shared the message of salvation with me after knowing me less than twenty-four hours. I didn't totally understand, but I just prayed and told God I wanted Him to live in me the way He did in Larkin. He did. He came into my heart and forgave me and redeemed me.
"I'm not perfect. I'm a very sinful person. At that time, I was a thug, a criminal. But I learned that I can never be perfect. That's why Jesus came and lived a perfect sinless life for me. I learned that to be redeemed required the blood of a sacrifice. That's why Jesus offered Himself and shed His blood to cover my transgressions. That's why He descended into Hell to take my punishment. But He rose again and ascended into Heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to guide me. He will one day return to take those who believe back to Heaven with Him. I learned that to be one of those people all I had to do was to trust in His life and work and death and to ask Him to come and live in my spirit. I learned that He would do that for anyone who asked—no matter how evil or vile; no matter what age, race, or gender; no matter how early or late in life. Therefore, I am thankful to be one of them."
Parker raised his glass. "Now a toast: To being redeemed."
Parker bowed his head. "Father, I'm thankful to be your child. I'm thankful for all those present today. Touch each heart as you touched mine. I'm thankful to live in a country where I can openly be thankful. Bless us now to go forward in assurance of your love, and bless this food and all those who prepared it. Let us never forget to be thankful. Amen.
"Eat! And, then, basketball in the driveway."
During the prayer, Derrick McAlpin found Darren's hand under the table. Darren opened one eye and looked at Derrick who had silent tears on his face. Darren squeezed Derrick's hand. Nothing else needed to be said. That simple touch said, "I am thankful for you."
On his other side, Darren felt Lydia's hand slip into his. Darren's heart was full of thanksgiving, and for the first time, he felt truly loved.
Across the table, Cherie Reynolds found Scott Ball's hand. Scott felt nauseous. How can I possibly feel like this for this little girl? he chided himself. Yet, he was thankful she was there.
As guests left, Derrick shook his host's hand. "Thank you. I never understood what was different about you. I think I do now. Thank you." Derrick blinked hard not to cry in front of Parker.
Parker put a hand on Derrick's shoulder. "Real men cry."
Derrick nodded and put his arm around Darren. "Let's go home after I speak to Scott."
"Scott!" Derrick called as Scott Ball started to slip on his helmet.
"Yeah? Please, no meeting tonight."
"No." Derrick got close enough so no one else could hear. "Delete all this pictures of Kyle."
"Just do it."
The next morning Kyle LaFontaine opened his front door to hang the Christmas wreath. A small envelope lay on his porch. He picked it up and opened it. A handwritten note inside read:
All the pictures have been deleted. I'm sorry. There will be no more. Forgive me. I was a fool, a now redeemed fool, but a fool who cannot let others know I deleted the pictures. Please, say nothing.
Kyle smiled knowingly before he tore the note to shreds.
A few miles away, Patrick Gautier opened his door to start Christmas decoration as well. He found a box. When he opened it, there were a dozen copies of the video of Jenna and a note inside:
This is all of them. I swear. Please forgive me, but don't tell anyone you have these. It will get me killed. Although redeemed, I really do not wish to be a blood sacrifice. Just burn them.
Patrick was thankful to have them, and without a word to anyone, he dropped the entire box into the fire that blazed in the fireplace.