Sure, it was expensive to fly Michael back and forth, especially so close to winter break, but there was no way James would allow his son to celebrate Thanksgiving alone. He and Betty pulled out all the stops, buying the biggest turkey in the market, inviting the Quentin family to join them, even buying a new American flag to hang from the pole.
James folded their old, faded flag and put it in a trunk in the attic. He knew you weren’t supposed to throw them away, but he wasn’t sure what you were supposed to do with them when they got too old, so he kept nearly twenty years of flags in this one trunk. He liked having a box full of America in the attic. Maybe one day he would make a quilt of them, or something.
As he came downstairs, dusting his hands, Betty was hanging up the phone.
“Dear,” she said, her forehead creasing. “Did you invite the Quentins?”
“Yes, I told you I’d take care of it.”
“Ah.” She nibbled her lip. “Hm. Well, okay.”
“That was Michael. He’s bringing his new girlfriend to Thanksgiving. Bought a ticket and everything.”
James and Betty exchanged long glances. The kitchen was still, the only sound the kettle hissing on the stove.
“I can uninvite them.”
“Well, what then? We can’t have Susie Q. and a new girl in the same room,” James said. “Michael would get eaten alive.”
“Yes, well…I’m sure they’ll understand. I’ll call Julie and tell her not to tell Suzie Q.”
Betty dialed the Quentins’ number. James sunk into a seat at the table and picked at a thread on the table cloth. A new girl, then, just three months into college? James wasn’t sure what to think. He liked Suzie Q., a lot. What if the new girl thought his family was strange? What if she was from New York? What if she didn’t like them? He was nervous, he realized. Suzie Q. he could deal with, she’d been around for ages, but a new girl…
“All set,” Betty said and hung up. The kettle whined; she took it off the heat and began making tea. “That’s a relief. She completely understood.”
“Good,” James said, then made an excuse and left. He needed to think about this new girl business. He went out the back door and sauntered to the field, letting the cool air blow through his lengthening, graying beard. The grain was all cut and sold, and the ground was nearly barren in preparation for winter. His son would be home tonight, for the first time in months. With a new girl.
The wind blew. He missed his amber waves of grain. The new flag fluttered prettily. It was a bit larger than the last one and waved with more majesty.
Their old house, dented in the center and covered in dust and leaves. Windows patched with duct tape. The porch, the rocking chair. James tilted his head up, up, up, imagining the high buildings in the city and trying to remember how high he had to look to see the top. His little house was so small.
Would she laugh at the flag? Would she laugh at the field? Would she laugh at the chicken coop? Would she wear all black, would she have tattoos, would she speak funny and think their voices were ridiculous?
Would Michael laugh with her?