Revenge of the Nerd Ch. 55byrpsuch©
Sunny hustled by me to the door.
“Joanne, Ben, so nice to finally meet you.”
Sam and Jeff had wandered toward the front hall. Harri was coming in from the living room. Sandy and Louis were coming down the stairs.
Everybody saw my father stiffen up when Sunny said, “Ben.”
Sunny stiffened momentarily herself but quickly recovered.
“I hope the traffic wasn’t bad with so many people traveling. Here, let me take your coats.”
“I’ll get them, Mom,” said Jeff, friendly and cheerful, too cheerful.
“It’s lovely to see you again Joanne, Eh-Ben-E-Zer.”
He broke up the syllables differently from the way it should be pronounced so he could emphasize the “Ben.” Jeff wanted to remove all doubt as to how Dad had gotten his new name.
That was not just my conclusion. Serious surprise registered on the faces of every member of his family. It sounded mean-spirited to them, a side of Jeff they had never seen.
They hadn’t heard the argument behind the soundproof door. Neither had I, but I knew it was bad.
Sandy took it the worst. She had thought he could do no wrong, yet here he was doing wrong. Never again would she be able to answer a charge against him with, “Not Jeff; he couldn’t do that,” with complete conviction. She was uncharacteristically quiet the rest of the night.
The highlight of the evening was giving thanks before we ate. Every member of Jeff’s family gave thanks for “Ashley.”
We went around the table clockwise starting with Sunny. She told us she had cut her list down to the most important things, which she went through.
Then, “For my last two, I want to say how thankful I am that Louis was rushed to the hospital so quickly after his heart attack and got the care that has allowed him to start to recover so quickly.
“Thanks to Jeff for strong-arming the hospital staff to let us know what was going on and to use his company’s new stent.
“I’m especially thankful for our Ashley who sat with the family while we waited; did everything she could to help and comfort us as if she had always been a member of this family. Ashley would be a blessing to this family even if she didn’t have her relationship with Jeff.”
In my father’s eyes I caught a flash of surprise. My Mother looked like she couldn’t decide whether to risk pride.
“Oh, and I’m thankful we have the opportunity to share Thanksgiving with the Fines. You must be very proud.”
Sunny touched Louis' arm and he began. He ran through his list and ended with, “I’m thankful to have Ashley in my life. She’s been helpful and supportive. She feels like a daughter to me. I consider her my friend as well.”
As usual, despite trying to cut it short, she took the most time. She, too, closed with me.
“Ashley, you’re amazing. I never would have, never could have come up with the Wagon Train trip. If I’d looked through a thousand possibilities, I couldn’t have come up with anything better for myself,” she paused, looked to her left, “and Sam. It was the most thoughtful gift I ever got.
“When she showed up at the hospital, she put herself forever in my heart. And asking me to help her design her ring, ah, such a wonderful child.”
Was this scripted? It still wasn’t clear when Sam brought me up at the end of his thanks.
“I’d have been surprised if Ashley hadn’t been at the hospital. I met her a year ago. We had a chance to visit while Jeff was working on the gumbo. But the care she took getting us the Wagon Train, the way she found out about us so she could match us up with the gift, told me all I needed to know about her.
“Ashley, I hope to have you at our Thanksgiving table as long as we live.”
Mom’s look had been evolving and she seemed to be tearing up. I would probably have broken down by this time, but my father’s impassive look toned down the emotion.
“If everybody on the earth could have my family,” said Jeff, “there would be no poverty, no war and no crime.
“I, in particular, have been blessed with so many gifts it seems unfair for one person to get them. I hope I can live up to the responsibility that comes with it.
“Then, on top of all that, I get Ashley. I don’t want to start talking about how wonderful she is, because I’m getting hungry and I want to eat tonight.
“If anyone has a better life than this, he can keep it. This is the one I want.
“I want to say one last thing for the benefit of the Fines. I don’t know if it’s completely clear what we’re doing here. The only rule is that you speak from your heart. If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, you don’t say anything.
“So, for example, everything we’ve said about Ashley is not for her benefit, but our own.”
There was no challenge in his tone, just sincerity.
How many words was that? It was like the freaking Gettysburg Address. I’m not sure it even took forty five seconds.
Even my father seemed to be thinking about what Jeff said. How do you follow that? From your heart, I guess, though I might toss in a little spin for my parents.
“I’m the lucky one. I’ve added six new best friends. I’ve become a new person and I’m delighted with the changes. I owe much of that to Jeff. He has no idea how amazing he is.
“He tells me that about myself all the time, and maybe I give it some credence only because Jeff says it, but he is unique.
“In some ways he kind of knows it, and in some ways he hasn’t a clue. That’s one of the things I love most about him. He just thinks that’s how people are supposed to be. And he’s that way too, so what’s the big deal?”
I looked at him. He blushed. Nobody could mistake the look.
“It is a big deal. Maybe someday you’ll understand, but it’s okay if you don’t.
“I’m getting hungry too, so I’ll make this short.
“I appreciate the gifts I’ve been blessed with, too. I haven’t made the best use of them, but I plan to.
“I’m thankful for a home where I never had to want for anything and where I got the background to let me become whatever I wanted to be. I’m thankful my parents got to meet all of you to learn why I think so highly of you. And I’m thankful they’ve taken an important role in our wedding.”
Okay, I broke the rule. It would have been true with slightly different wording, but I couldn’t have put the pressure on my parents so effectively if I’d added “because I want something from them“ here and there or “except they didn’t show me they loved me or even cared about me“ to “never having to want for anything.”
“I’m going to add to this trend where cutting it short really means cutting it short.” Sandy smiled at Harri as she spoke.
“First, about my family: what Jeff said. About the gifts I’ve been blessed with: what Jeff said.
“Speaking of Jeff, I want to single him out. I couldn’t construct a better brother in my mind. I’ve seen the brothers other people have. Some are pretty good. But Jeff’s a freak. It’s unnatural to be that nice and that supportive to your sister. I’ve missed out on the teasing, taunting, abuse, belittling, tattling, all the sibling rivalry. Despite everything he’s deprived me of, I’m so thankful for Jeff.
“But he’s not a sister. I never had one, until recently. She’s been a friend. She’s been available to talk to about things she’s already experienced.
“She was the one who thought to bring me up early for Jeff’s graduation. What other girlfriend would do that?
“She’s been a mentor. That lousy brother of mine never gave me a single makeup tip. Even if she didn’t make him so happy, Ashley would be a blessing in my life.”
I was on the edge of losing it. It wasn’t that I felt I didn’t deserve all this praise. That’s what I felt when they started.
It wasn’t praise; it was love. I was being overwhelmed with it. It was frightening, exhilarating.
Then it was my Mother’s turn. Her voice caught in her throat.
“I’m thankful I came here tonight. I don’t think I appreciated Ashley properly before I saw her through your eyes. I’m grateful I had the opportunity.”
I started to cry and shake. I turned to Jeff and his arms were around me.
“She’s happy,” he said.
I settled down.
That had been courageous. Dad might see it as disloyal to him in front of the enemy. At the moment, though, she seemed satisfied with herself.
“It’s been a revelation to me as well,” said Ebenezer Jerome Fine, with apparent sincerity.
He was well practiced and unless you suspected him from the start or had seen him many times you would be taken in. His demeanor was correct, his voice appropriately modulated. His body language spoke sincerity. His eyes did not.
“Ashley has always been precious to me. Tonight I realized just how special she is.” Blah, blah, blah.
With that we started to eat. It wasn’t long before Mom looked toward Sunny and Harri and said, “This turkey is so moist and delicious. Which of you ladies is responsible for this?”
Sunny’s face lit up. She turned and nodded to Sam.
“My dad,” she said. “Sam always cooks our turkey. He has to because he won’t tell me how he spices it up to taste like this.”
“It’s fabulous, Sam,” said Mom.
“Thank you,” he said.
Moments later she said, “The sweet potato is heavenly. You, Sam?”
“No,” he said.
She looked questioningly at Sunny and Harri. They shook their heads.
“That would be me,” said Jeff. “And they’re yams. Sweet potatoes are that sickly yellow inside. Yams are a robust orange. I call this Peared Yams.”
“Another one who won’t give up his secrets,” said Sunny. “He won’t tell us what he does with the pears.”
My father had a look of disdain. How unmanly to be doing the cooking for Thanksgiving. That was woman’s work, servants work, actually.
He quickly lost the look. It didn’t fit his game plan. I noticed he ate with relish.
By the end of the evening there was some rapport between my Mother and Sunny. Mom even seemed taken with Sam and Harri.
Between my father and the Goldbergs there was pretense.
Despite this, Sunny had managed to craft a deal on the engagement announcement in the Exponent. Jeff had obviously filled her in on what he had told my parents.
I was beginning to share Jeff’s concern that my father would try something to break us apart. Jeff didn’t ease my concerns after I kissed him goodnight before heading home.
Again he refused to tell me anything about his cloistered encounter with Dad.