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Brian's dining room table felt as comfortable that day as it had five years ago, when we'd done this same thing. Brian was standing up, a champagne glass filled with sparkling cider in his hand, the turkey in front of him, Leighanne to one side and Baylee on the other. Baylee was turned, staring up at him, a birthday party hat sat crooked on his head. Leighanne was holding up her flute of cider, too, her eyes sparkling. Rochelle and AJ were clutching each other's hands. Leighanne's sister and parents were clustered together, and I was sitting beside Baylee.

The table was covered with food. Cranberry sauce, stuffing, potatoes, carrots, green bean casserole. I hadn't seen so much food in four years. My mouth was watering, my stomach growling.

"Okay this sounds cheesy, but I want to do a toast before we start. Well, a toast and a prayer, I guess, kind of a remix version..." Brian smiled. He looked around the table, ending with his eyes on me. "Thanksgiving is about telling God thank you for the things you have, the things he's given you..." Brian tugged on the tie that Leighanne had affixed to his neck, loosening it up.

Leighanne made a face that he was undoing it. They'd worked for a while trying to get it on to begin with.

"This year," he said, "I have a lot to be thankful for."

Brian turned to Leighanne, "I have my beautiful wife, who's been by my side now for so many unbelievable years, who's stood by through thick and thin, and never given up on me... who's kept my heart in one piece, who's made me a better man." He looked to her parents, "And I've got the wonderful mother and father -inlaws, who are my family and the ones who gave my wife to me, whose hearts are gold and who I love."

Brian turned to look at Baylee. "I've got a wonderful thirteen year old, whose life I am so proud of, and who I love more than anything." He bent down and kissed Baylee on the forehead.

"Daa-aad, seriously," Baylee wiped Brian's kiss off his face, and Brian smirked.

"Happy Birthday, Baylee," he said.

"Thanks, Dad," Baylee said grudgingly, still put off by the kiss.

Brian looked between me and AJ, "And I've got my two best friends," he said, "Finally. Finally, my two best friends. After so many years apart, so many years of... wondering, of waiting... we're finally together again." He smiled.

"Never to be apart," AJ added, winking at me.

I smiled.

"We've got love," Brian continued, looking at Rochelle and AJ, as Rochelle snaked her arm around his waist. "And we've got joy," he looked at Baylee, who had snuck a peek over his shoulder at the row of gifts on a table behind him. "And we have faith and friendship," he looked at Leighanne and her parents. Then, Brian's eyes met mine, "And we have redemption and forgiveness."

A wave of warmth washed through me.

"So... with all that in mind..." Brian bowed his head, holding his flute aloft. We all imitated him. "Thank you God," Brian prayed, "For everything. In your name, amen."

"Ayyy-men," AJ said, downing the cider.

Brian smiled and picked up the carving knife to dig into the turkey.

It felt good to be home, even though I didn't know how it would all work out, how things would look in the morning. All I really knew was that I was happy to be there, and that I was finally on my way to getting my life back... whatever that took.

Funny enough, at that moment, I thought of Mally. I thought of her words, about how the fellas needed me and I needed the fellas.

As it turns out... she was absolutely right.

Chapter End Notes:
Note: If anyone is curious about what exactly inspired this story, two things did. One was the story of the prodigal son from the Bible. You know, the story where the son takes his share of the father's money and runs off and ends up homeless and stuff and finally crawls back to the father years later seeking nothing more than to be a hired help on the farm and finds out the father was waiting for him the whole time, just waiting to give him the forgiveness he didn't know he needed. The other thing that inspired this story, was a music video, set to a Jars of Clay song called "Surprise", which I believe was actually also inspired by the Prodigal Son story. If anyone is interested in checking out that video, it can be found on YouTube at this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxXlSa3rrck
I just figured I'd share that with you guys, since it was such a central part of making this story happen.