Growing up, my family never had a great Thanksgiving. For us, those fateful Thursdays in November weren’t times of reunions and lavish dinners. They were times of sadness. Just another lonely holiday for the Burch family.

Then again, we never had a chance. My mother died during childbirth when she had me. I honestly believe my father Sam always resented me for it. Somehow, I think his warped mind even blamed me.

We all lived in Colquitt, Georgia. It was a quiet little town. There was just me, daddy, and my older brother Brandon. Brandon was three years older than me and, like myself, was also a pale Ginger. We were equally scrawny and vulnerable.

My family was middle-class, but it certainly didn’t feel like it… after all, dad hardly ever spent time with me and Brandon. He never complimented us. Never encouraged us.

Every night, dad would get home from the mill well after ten. He’d spend those extra hours not working overtime, but downing beer over at Moby Dick’s Bar & Grill.

At just ten years old, Brandon did all he could to take care of me. But we were young. Our suppers were nothing more than whatever frozen T.V. dinners we could find. But we still bonded. We’d watch cartoons together, play board games. He’d even help me with my homework. Brandon was mature for his age. Ultimately, he became the parent neither one of us ever had.

When we were together, the house became our sanctuary from daddy and the outside world. We also had all those framed pictures of mama hanging on the walls. They made us feel safe. Like she was always watching over us.

But in these circumstances, we didn’t have a chance. Kids couldn’t watch kids. With no mother and essentially no father, the Burch family was destined to end in tragedy.

Especially once daddy came home. That’s when our imaginary playland turned into a real-life horror. Sam was an abusive alcoholic. By the time he got home, his buzz would’ve turned into a bitter rage. And the brunt of his anger went toward Brandon. Not because daddy didn’t wanna hurt me, but because Brandon made sure he didn’t. He stood up to Sam. Along with his maturity, Brandon protected me with the passion of a caring mother.

On those horrible, long nights, daddy would take Brandon to the bedroom with him. I’d be left there on the couch. Alone in our dark living room. Trapped in this modest house that always felt darker and colder than it ever should’ve been.

I looked toward mama’s pictures for support. For comfort. But with her gone, she couldn’t console me. Only Brandon could.

Maybe I was too young to suffer from daddy’s wrath. But unfortunately for Brandon, he was old enough to understand our abuse and mistreatment. And he was old enough to endure it.

I never asked Brandon what went on behind those closed doors. But even as a child, I had a sinking feeling that I really didn’t wanna know.

During one of daddy’s drunken Thanksgivings, Brandon had finally had enough. Daddy had forced me out of the kitchen and made me watch T.V. He told me to just focus on Scooby-Doo. Don’t worry about him or Brandon. And whatever I did, don’t go in the kitchen. He told me Brandon was gonna be punished for being a bad boy.

Just thinking of those words now sends chills down my spine… not to mention they were the last words daddy ever said to me.

To this day, I still don’t really know how it all went down. I have no idea how my ten-year-old redheaded brother grabbed the knife and stabbed Sam over fifteen times in the face and neck. Or why Brandon was found naked. Caught red-handed holding that bloodied knife. His nude body covered in so much blood, his hair had turned into an even darker red.

In the kitchen, the police found daddy’s slaughtered, naked corpse desecrated beyond belief. Daddy with his penis severed. His ass literally shredded to pieces.

Needless to say, our T.V. dinner “feast” had gone untouched. With so much blood on it, our food looked like it had been covered in a thick crimson sauce.

And I was right where I was told I needed to be. In the living room. My young eyes glued to the Scooby-Doo marathon. I had been too scared to dare peep into the kitchen. And looking back, maybe I saved myself from further trauma by doing so.

They took Brandon away, and I was sent to live with my mom’s sister in Tallahassee. I should’ve been there all along. Aunt Sue had a gorgeous home. And unlike dad, she wasn’t a miserable alcoholic. She had life and compassion. And she cared about me. Not to mention she actually celebrated holidays. She made them fun. And yes, those Thanksgivings with her were glorious. The polar opposite of the Hell Sam had put Brandon and I through.

My years with Aunt Sue became the soothing shelter from the stifling storm that was life with Sam. She helped me through everything. She was there for me for my graduation from FSU and my marriage to Randy. She was there for me when I went from being Victoria Burch to Victoria Flowers, lead paralegal at Radica Inc.

I was successful, yeah. But I wouldn’t have made it this far without Aunt Sue. I wouldn’t have become this confident or ambitious. I wouldn’t have met Randy. I wouldn’t have my handsome six-year-old son Lee or beautiful three-year-old daughter Anne. I wouldn’t have my life as it is now.

I’d gone from being a mistreated little girl in Colquitt, Georgia to a pretty and wealthy upper-middle-class mother in Florida’s state capital. A path that’d make the Hallmark Movie company drool. But deep down, I knew I wouldn’t have made it this far without Brandon. Both with his support growing up… and with the way he freed us through brutal violence.

Over the years, I did my best to reach out to Brandon. I’d go see him in Jacksonville when I could. He’d even call me sometimes. But our conversations were always stilted and awkward. Nothing organic like it was when we were kids. Then again, I suppose that’s normal. Nonetheless, I still loved him. And I knew he was getting the best treatment he could. I made damn sure of that. From what I understood, he was doing pretty well. The doctors just said he suffered outbursts and fits of rage from time to time due to the trauma Sam had inflicted upon him. But overall, he was doing much better.

One of these days, I figured Brandon would come back to see me when his mind was clear. When he was ready to leave Jacksonville Mental Health Center. Then we’d be a happy family again. And for the first time in his life, he’d get to celebrate all those holidays with me.

For now, I had this year’s Thanksgiving to worry about. I always made sure us Flowers did it big. Countless decorations, an excellent home-cooked dinner. Pilgrim and turkey figurines everywhere. Pumpkins on the front porch. Lee’s Thanksgiving-themed school crafts stuck on our fridge. This was gonna be a holiday Lee and Anne could always look back on with fondness.

I suppose I had extra motivation due to my miserable upbringing with Sam. My festive motivation about the only nice thing that asshole ever passed on to me. That and the red hair, I guess…

On Thanksgiving morning, me and Anne were cooking in the kitchen. I’d been prepping since around seven A.M. Like a band getting ready for a sell-out crowd. Only this crowd was so much more important: my family. As in, me, Randy,and the kids. Yeah, there’d be no in-laws or nothing like that coming over. But the stress was still all too real. The Flowers Family Thanksgiving had to be a success. If I was a freak about it, so be it. It was Thanksgiving, Goddammit.

I had the food arranged on the long counter. The dressing, the corn, the beans. And yes, a huge uncooked turkey.

At three years old, Anne was little more than a cheerleader for me. Albeit an adorable one. She had Randy’s dark hair and my attitude. A little baby fat that didn’t keep her from looking any less cute.

Like much of our items in this new house, I had plenty of great appliances to aid me in this festive feast. Besides, I liked having Anne as my right-hand man anyway. This was the same type of kitchen bonding Aunt Sue and I had done all those years.

Pushing through the swinging doors leading into the dining room, Randy and Lee entered the kitchen. Randy was dressed in a thin jacket and shorts. I couldn’t blame him since this would be yet another warm Thanksgiving. With those cheekbones and combed-over hair though, he was definitely rocking a classy D.I.L.F. look. Then again, he was a paralegal like me. He knew how to rock that professional-yet-smoking-hot appearance. But behind the superficial shit, he was still so caring and understanding. He’d even gone with me to visit Brandon a few times.

“Hey, how it’s going, babe?” he asked.

“We’re on track for noon,” I said.

“Just in time for kickoff.”

We exchanged a quick kiss.

I looked over to see Lee and Anne staring at all the food in wonderment. Like they were at DisneyWorld all over again.

Hell, the turkey hadn’t even been cooked yet and they were already drooling. Then again, the damn thing looked to be the size of them. Jesus, was I cooking a pterodactyl?

“Just a few more hours,” I told them.

Lee looked at me with his bright eyes. He had my Ginger hair. And yes, Randy’s laid-back demeanor. “Can we have some candy?”

“Yeah!” Anne shouted.

Grinning, Randy rubbed Lee’s hair. “Let’s get that pumpkin pie first!”

“Yay, pumpkin pie!” Anne yelled. Overexcited, she ran laps around the kitchen. Thank God, I hadn’t given her candy yet…

“Okay,” Lee said to Randy.

“You’re just going to the gas station, right?” I asked my husband.

Randy smiled. “Yeah, I’ll be quick.” He gave me a kiss. “I love you.”

As he turned toward Lee, I snuck in a quick slap on Randy’s firm ass. I couldn’t resist. “I love you too,” I told him.

I leaned down and gave Lee a kiss on the head. “I’ll have dinner ready soon, okay.”

“The turkey too?” he asked.

“I promise.”

Full of joy, he kissed my cheek. “I love you, mama!”

“I love you too.”

Wrapping his arm around Lee, Randy led him off toward the living room. “Bye, baby,” Randy said to me.

“Okay,” I said.

I saw Anne run into one of Randy’s legs during her frenetic jog. I couldn’t help but smile.

Chuckling, Randy gave Anne a kiss before letting her continue on.

Anne picked up right where she left off. Her mouth the roaring engine. Her feet the ferocious tires. The kitchen her racetrack.

Thanksgiving morning… you can’t beat it. Until Christmas, that is.

Thirty minutes later, I had the turkey in the oven. I was now off kitchen patrol.

Together in the living room, Anne and I watched a Scooby-Doo marathon. A hallway loomed right behind us. As did a flawless staircase.

The show didn’t resurrect any traumatic memories for me. Given how clean my house was and how huge our flatscreen was compared to Sam’s bulky piece of shit, the comparisons between the past and now ended with a cartoon dog. My life was at a new place. And Anne’s early years were gonna be reflective of how Aunt Sue raised me. Not how my dirtbag father did.

As Anne stayed enraptured by Scoob and the gang, I kept checking my phone. Randy wasn’t replying to my texts…

Restless, I looked over at the nearby front door. I was hoping to see Lee and Randy stagger in at any second… but they never did.

Anne’s laughter drew my attention back to her. I stood up off the couch and caressed her shoulder. “I’m gonna go check the turkey. Just wait right here, Anne.”

Like an addict, Anne’s eyes stayed glued to the screen. “Okay.” Her hand rummaged through the bag of Dum Dum lollipops lying at her side. She wasn’t going anywhere.

Clutching my phone, I walked into the kitchen. The turkey was still cooking to perfection.

I got ready to call Randy and see what was taking him so long. Right before I could mash the call button, a steady knock distracted me.

Startled, I looked toward the doorway leading into the living room. More knocking from the front door echoed toward me.

“Someone’s at the door, mommy!” I heard Anne yell.

“I’ll get it!” I replied.

As another knock rapped on the wooden door, I walked through the living room. Right past Anne and Scooby-Doo.

Stopping near the door, I looked out a window. I saw our driveway. The eloquent neighborhood running right behind it.

But on my front porch stood a man I hadn’t seen in months. A man I hadn’t seen on Thanksgiving Day in over twenty years.

Brandon. His frame was more slender than ever. His hair redder than ever. In all those years, he still looked the same… just taller. Handsome but haggard by all the stress of an abusive father and a long stay in a mental hospital. But still, he looked nice… even in his ragged jean jacket and ugly khakis.

I could tell he was fidgeting not from our non-existent cool weather but from understandable nerves. He was avoiding eye contact with the door and windows… as if he could tell I was looking right at him.

“Who is that, mommy?” I heard Anne ask.

Caught off guard, I looked back at her. “Uh, just someone mommy knows.”

My eyes drifted back to the front door. At first, I hesitated. Then I realized this would be our first holiday together. I mean this was my older brother home for the holidays.

His next calm knock startled me from my thoughts and worries. My emotions won the internal debate.

I took a deep breath and opened the door.

Outside, Brandon greeted me with an awkward smile. But he wasn’t forcing it like he did at Jacksonville. There was bittersweet emotion in his expression. “Hey, sis,” Brandon said in his typical dry tone.

“Oh my God…” I said. Smiling, I gave him a big hug.

Gentle, he hugged me back. Awkward as always. “How are you.”

“God, I don’t believe it!” I leaned back and just looked at his grin. His bright eyes. Brandon Burch was here in the flesh. Back with me. And fuck, he was skinnier than ever. Like a skeleton with a red wig. “When’d you get out?”

Like a gawky teenager, Brandon shrugged his shoulders. “Yesterday. They said I was good to go.” His smile grew even wider. “So I figured, why not come here and see you on Thanksgiving.”

“It’s a Thanksgiving miracle,” I teased.

Brandon chuckled.

Struggling with my conflicted emotions, I paused for a moment. “Listen, Brandon, I’m sorry I didn’t see you last month-”

Brandon gave a dismissive wave. “No. I understand.”

“I got busy with the kids, the Culkin case-”

With a soft touch, Brandon caressed my shoulder. “It’s okay, sis.” He smiled. “You’ve got your own life to worry about. I understand.”

“Thanks.”

Taking a step back, Brandon motioned toward the neighborhood. “But I’m sorry for dropping by like this.”

“No, it’s fine.”

“If you want me to go, I can,” Brandon said. “Aunt Sue said she’d take care of me-”

Chuckling, I grabbed his arm. “No, that’s ridiculous! It’s Thanksgiving, man.”

“You sure?”

“Yes!” Emphatic, I led Brandon inside. “Come on. We’ve got plenty of food.”

“Sweet.”

Inside, Brandon was awestruck by the picture-perfect house. With the hospital walls and doctors removed, our bond felt stronger than ever. Like we were children again. We joked and reminisced. Maybe having Scooby-Doo on helped.

Brandon and Anne hit it off as well. She even gave him a Dum Dum. Brandon hadn’t lost his ability to relate to children. Even when dad took his innocence, no one could ever take away Brandon’s youthful spirit.

We left Anne back in the living room. In her Scooby-Doo vortex. In the kitchen, Brandon and I managed to catch up on old times. Aside from the occasional stutter or restless tics, Brandon looked comfortable. The most comfortable I’d ever seen him.

I think he was more excited than anything to have Thanksgiving dinner with us. It’d be the first time he’d ever have a feast with people he loved, he told me.

Given how well Brandon and Randy got along, I knew Randy wouldn’t mind. Shit, the way Brandon helped me prepare the food, I wouldn’t mind if Brandon stayed here for a few more months. Nothing like a little extra help around the house.

Working together, we placed all the plates and silverware on the dining room table.

“Yeah, I’d help them with the food sometimes,” Brandon said about his stay in Jacksonville.

“Oh, really?” I said.

“Yeah.” He straightened out one of the plates. His perfectionist tendencies would probably never go away, I figured. Obsessive tendencies…

“I never wanted to eat it though,” Brandon said with a smile. “It was nothing like this. I ain’t ever smelt food that smelled this good.”

I chuckled. “Well, you know how Aunt Sue is. I like to think she taught me well.”

“Oh, for sure.” With careful precision, he laid down the last knife. He nodded toward the kitchen. “I couldn’t help but notice that turkey though. He’s fucking huge.”

Grinning, I put down another bowl. “I got the biggest one I could find.”

“Man!” Brandon exclaimed. “That’s like one of them Christmas Carol turkeys.”

Laughing, I started to lead him back toward the kitchen.

“I always wanted to have one of those!” Brandon added.

In the kitchen, Brandon walked over to the oven. “This is what I always wanted, you know.”

Amused, I watched him steal another peek at the turkey. He was worse than the kids. Or a hangry Randy for that matter.

“A Thanksgiving with just me and you,” Randy went on. He closed the oven lid and grinned at me. “Like the dinner we should’ve always had.”

I nodded. “I know.” Uneasy, I watched Brandon stop right in front of me. Lost in my reflections, I struggled to get my words out. “I’m sorry,” I finally said. “I’m sorry about what happened. About dad…” My eyes looked to the floor.

Calm, Brandon ran his hand along my arm. “Hey, sis.”

I looked into his bright eyes.

“We’re here now. Alright. That’s all that matters.”

“Yeah.” Fighting off the melancholy, I looked over at the food. They were the delicious delicacies me nor Brandon ever got to enjoy in our youth. Such luxury Brandon hadn’t experienced his entire life.

“Let’s enjoy the now, sis.” Brandon caressed my cheek, making me look at his warm smile.

Like an avalanche, my nostalgia swept over me. “I love you,” I said to Brandon. Without hesitation, I gave him a hug. A genuine, heartfelt hug.

I could feel Brandon’s arms frozen in place, but I didn’t care. I figured he was confused… not used to the affection.

“I love you too,” I heard him say in a dry mumble. That monotone he’d had since childhood.

As if my love had melted his stoic awkwardness, I felt Brandon’s hands collide against my back, completing our warm embrace.

“I’m just glad you’re home,” I said to him.

He squeezed my back. A little tighter than I expected. “I am too,” he muttered.

His grip only tightened, but I could still breathe. But I couldn’t break free of his grasp even if I’d wanted to.

“This is our Thanksgiving, sis,” Brandon mumbled. His voice dryer than a bored juvenile delinquent’s.

Regardless of his odd behavior, I didn’t panic. He was my brother, after all.

“Mama!” Anne yelled from the living room.

Like he was struck by a taser, Brandon let go and took a startled step back.

Playing off the weird encounter, I looked toward the doorway. “Are you okay, Anne?”

“Come here, mama!” Anne called to me.

“I better go see,” I said to Brandon.

He let out a nervous chuckle.

I faced him. “You wanna watch T.V. with us?”

With compulsive ferocity, he shrugged me off. “Naw.” He looked at all the food. “I can actually just watch the turkey if you want.”

I gave him a confused look. “You sure?”

“Yeah, positive.” Like a confident top chef, he walked over toward the oven. “I’ll take care of everything.”

“Mom!” Anne hollered in her most obnoxious pleading voice yet. Like a sugar-fueled kid you’d hear screaming in the audience for a children’s show. That’s my girl…

Pulled away by Anne’s demands, I stumbled toward the living room. “Alright, thank you, Brandon!”

Brandon leaned in toward the oven. “No problem…”

“Mama, come here!” Anne yelled.

“I’m coming!” I responded.

There was no emergency in the living room. Just a concerned three-year-old who’d forgotten her mama was less than fifty feet away. I comforted Anne on the couch. With a little help from Scooby-Doo and candy, of course.

We watched a few episodes of the marathon. All the while, I kept hearing movement in the kitchen. I figured Brandon was fine. I gave him a holler here and there, but he kept responding he was okay. Maybe I was being naive, but I trusted him… fuck it, I was kinda tired too. I’d been doing Thanksgiving shit all month long. Randy never helped much in the kitchen. Needless to say, the kids didn’t either. I guess it was kinda nice having an assistant chef for once. Even one who’d just been released from a mental hospital.

I texted Randy: Where are you?

A few minutes went by and I still hadn’t gotten a reply.

Trying to calm my lingering anxiety, I looked over at Anne. Her eyes were all on the cartoon. A lollipop in her small hand. Not a care in the world on her face. I was never that tranquil at her age. That innocent. Brandon and I never were.

“Dinner’s ready!” Brandon yelled from the kitchen.

Like his voice was the snap of a hypnotist’s fingers, Anne leaped off the couch and ran toward the kitchen. So excited she left Scooby and the Dum Dums all behind.

Chuckling, I followed after her. “That was quick.”

“Yeah,” I heard Brandon say.

My phone vibrated. Propelled by hope, I stopped and checked it.

The unsaved number dashed my hopes quicker than that queasy feeling you get when you drank too much. All I could tell was it was a Florida number. But I knew it wasn’t Randy. Dejected, I rejected the call. Were telemarketers really calling on Thanksgiving now?

“You ready?” I heard Brandon tease Anne.

“Yeah!” Anne squealed with enthusiasm.

Nervous, I looked over at the T.V. The game was about to start at any second. As was dinner. Wouldn’t Randy had called by now if he was running late? Or at least respond to my texts.

“Victoria!” Brandon said from the kitchen.

“Mommy!” Anne shouted with glee.

Their chorus drew me away from the living room. A temporary distraction for my restless unease. I entered the kitchen and walked past the closed oven.

The dining room was set up perfectly. There was all the dressing and veggies. The mashed potatoes. Sweet tea. And positioned like a shrine at the center of the table was the large turkey. Brandon had done a great job…

Impressed, I stared at the meal. “Wow.”

Brandon pulled out a chair for me. One right next to Anne.

“Thank you,” I said.

“No problem, sis,” he replied as I took my seat.

I looked over at Anne’s wide grin. She was so cute… and ready to eat.

A few feet away from us, Brandon sat at one end of the table. “So hopefully, the turkey’s done,” he said.

Grinning, I looked at the turkey. Somehow, it looked even bigger than I remembered. Did it grow while in the oven? Of course, the gravy only made it look all the more appetizing. “Yeah, I’d say so.”

My phone buzzed, startling me from the salivating sights.

“I left it in there a little longer than you wanted,” Brandon said.

I checked my phone. A voicemail from that same number awaited me. If it was Randy, he would’ve just texted me, I figured. He knew I don’t answer weirdass numbers…

“One of the tricks I learned back at the hospital,” Brandon went on.

In a state of confused silence, I faced him.

Like he was the therapist, Brandon gave me a worried look. “What’s wrong, Victoria?”

“Nothing,” I said in an unconvincing tone.

Even Anne was looking right at me. I saw the confusion in her young eyes. “Are you gonna eat, mama?”

I didn’t even answer my own daughter. My eyes drifted over to all the food. Here it was Thanksgiving. A holiday I’d been prepping for. A holiday that was gonna be enshrined in the Flowers family memory banks forever. And yet I felt weird. Uncomfortable. Brandon was here. But everything was so incomplete without Randy and Lee.

“Are you okay?” Brandon asked me, concerned.

Doing my best to downplay my unease, I looked over at Brandon. “Yeah, I’m fine. I just haven’t heard anything from Randy.”

“Oh, I’m sure he’s fine.”

“But they’ve been gone all morning.”

Nonchalant, Brandon slid a bowl of mashed potatoes over toward the excited Anne. “Maybe he’s gonna surprise you.”

“Maybe…” I contemplated the idea. I suppose Lee may have talked him into getting a Christmas tree.

Like she was digging into treasure, Anne started dumping the potatoes all over her plate.

Trying to reassure me, Brandon flashed me a smile. “After all, it’s Thanksgiving.”

I forced a smirk. “Yeah, you’re probably right.” I slid my phone back in my pocket.

The food distracted my gaze for the time being. I’m sure Randy and Lee wouldn’t object to me partaking in the meal without them. After all, Brandon was here.

The three of us began eating. Anne never complained. Not that she had time since she was shoveling so much food down her mouth. I tried to get her to slow down, but Brandon convinced me to not worry about it.

“Just let her enjoy it,” he’d joke. “Thanksgiving only comes once a year.”

Brandon had a point. Maybe I should just fucking relax and enjoy the food. At some point, Lee and Randy would come dragging their asses in. Then together, all of us would enjoy the night. Our first Thanksgiving with Brandon… my family finally reunited.

Soon enough, we moved on to the turkey. I was gonna let Brandon have the honors of cutting it and taking the first piece. After all, he’d worked pretty hard setting the table and making sure the bird didn’t explode in the oven. But he insisted, I do it.

The turkey was tough to cut into. After a few hard slices, I finally managed to get a couple of large cuts. And it was delicious. The best turkey I’d ever had in fact. For all the shit this meat gets (and rightfully so), I’d never had it any juicier or tastier. Sure, the sauce and dressing helped. But the meat wasn’t dry. The turkey had a natural flavor. An exotic tinge of something else… the whole thing was like really soft steak.

With eager delight, both Brandon and Anne dug into their cuts.

“You like it?” Brandon asked me. Judging by his shit-eating grin, I knew he’d seen how much I was enjoying it. I must’ve looked like a kid eating their first chocolate bar. All the gravy on my face like smeared chocolate.

I swallowed a piece. “Mmm-hmm. It’s excellent.”

“Good, good,” Brandon said. He took another bite. He damn sure chewed it with relish. “Delicious.”

Enjoying the good mood, I exchanged smiles with Anne.

With the sudden gesture of a spoon tapping a wine glass, I heard Brandon throw his silverware onto his plate. The shrill screeching noise made me and Anne look right at him.

“Such a great dinner,” Brandon said to me, his dry tone sounding more sardonic than chill. He locked his bright eyes with me. “It’s a shame we never got to have these with dad.”

Suspicious, I kept my gaze on him. Brandon’s smile was sly… and just as calculating as his tone. “I know,” I replied, keeping my voice steady.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Anne grab another piece of turkey.

“Of course, we know the real reason why,” Brandon said. A cold smirk crossed his lips. “I mean it’s no wonder we never celebrated it together. You know. Just me, you, and dad.”

“What are you talking about, Brandon?” I asked in a soft tone. I didn’t know where this was going so I avoided being too confrontational. Plus, I knew what Brandon was capable of…

A scowl overtook Brandon’s smile. “All those years, he never hurt you. You never knew the things he did. The shit he did to me!”

For a moment, I thought tears were gonna flow from Brandon’s eyes but they never did. Instead, his harsh glare remained in place. Then I realized Brandon no longer had the emotional capabilities to even shed a single tear. God knows, he’d forgotten how to give a hug. Teardrops had become as foreign as affection to him. Like Sam had ultimately made Brandon in his image: a soulless being.

Like a bitter royal, Brandon sat back in his seat. “You just let him do those things to me! You didn’t care.”

“Brandon, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t do anything!” I pleaded. “I couldn’t stop him!”

“That’s bullshit!”

Concerned, I looked over at my daughter. She’d stopped eating. Always a sign she was scared. Anne just stared at me with frightened, wide eyes. And unlike Brandon, she was on the verge of tears.

I grabbed her shoulder in a soothing grip. “It’s okay, sweetie,” I said, doing my best to disguise my own fear.

Brandon slammed his fist on the table. The sheer force rattled all the dishes like an earthquake had struck. “No, it’s not!” he yelled.

Helpless, Anne began to cry.

I wrapped my arm around her and kissed her forehead. “It’s okay.”

With irate energy, Brandon pointed at Anne. “You wanna know what your mama did, huh!”

“Brandon, stop it!” I yelled.

Like a psychotic preacher, Brandon leaned in even closer. He was less than a foot away from us. And oh so close to Anne.

“She let our father fuck me!” Brandon yelled.

Horrified, I gripped my arms tighter around my precious Anne. “Oh God…” I said in anguish.

Brandon cackled. Not a joyous chuckle, but a guttural laugh from a jaded and cynical soul. “Yeah, that’s fucking right! She didn’t try to stop him either!” He hit the table many times in furious succession. “She let him fucking rape me!” he screamed.

“Stop it, Brandon!” I pleaded.

“She didn’t give a shit about me!” Brandon went on. There was no tears or cathartic release for him. Just this brutal rant. Sweat drenched his face, his glowering eyes sliced us like colorful blades. “She let him rape me every night! Every fucking night!”

“I couldn’t do anything!” I yelled at Brandon. “I couldn’t fight him!” Like Anne, I too couldn’t keep the teardrops from sliding down my face.

“Bullshit!” Brandon hurled back at me.

Behind the tears, I glared at him. “I couldn’t, Brandon! You know that! I was too young! I didn’t know what to do!”

Full of rage, Brandon slapped the table once more. I felt the hit shake the entire table. I thought he’d even broken it… one more hit and he surely would’ve.

“No!” Brandon shouted. “You killed me!”

“No,” I said. “Brandon, please.”

“You killed everything I had!” Brandon went on. He snatched the knife off his plate. “Now I’m gonna do to you what you did to me!”

Terrified, I watched Brandon stand up. “Put that down, Brandon!” I yelled. “Brandon, please!”

Brandon pointed the knife at us. “I’m taking her away!” He marked Anne with the sharp blade. “Just like I got daddy!”

I heard Anne’s terrified cries. They were shrill and helpless. No sound a parent would ever want to hear.

Acting on motherly instinct, I cradled Anne against me. “No!” I yelled at Brandon. “Goddammit, listen to me, Brandon! We didn’t do anything to you!”

In a vicious taunt, Brandon waved the knife back-and-forth. “But you didn’t do enough, sis!” He pointed the weapon at Anne.

My daughter’s tormented screams ravaged my soul. They were a torturous soundtrack.

“Now I’m gonna kill her like I killed dad!” Brandon continued. “I’m gonna slaughter her like a Goddamn turkey!”

“Brandon-” I started.

Brandon’s horrifying war cry interrupted me. Like a mad killer, like the boy everyone found in Sam’s kitchen over twenty years ago, he raised the knife and came charging toward us.

Acting fast, I pushed the table forward.

The wooden edge battered Brandon in the balls.

Yelling, he cringed in pain and staggered back.

“Stay right here, baby,” I commanded Anne. I gave her a kiss on her pretty head before grabbing my plate and rushing toward Brandon.

Holding his crotch, Brandon glared at me.

Before he could raise the knife, I smashed the plate over his head.

Brandon fell back against the wall. The knife slipped from his grasp. “Fuck!” he yelled.

Disoriented, he hit the floor. Gravy from the plate covered his face like make-up.

I picked up the knife.

“What are you gonna do, huh!” Brandon hurled at me. He sat up, his intense eyes focused on me. “You gonna kill me! You’ve already done that, sis!”

Breathing heavy, I looked over at Anne. She had her eyes closed and her hands over her ears, shielding herself from the horrors before her. Much like I did at her age when I buried my horror in those cartoons.

“Victoria!” Brandon cried out with wild rage.

Turning, I saw him lunge up and run toward me. His movements fueled by uncontrollable anger.

Like a reflex, I raised the knife, sinking the blade straight into my brother’s heart. The final time I’d ever hurt him.

Brandon collapsed in my arms. Like hot water, I could feel his warm blood pouring over my hands and clothes. But I still held on to him for dear life.

Behind dying eyes, Brandon faced me. Redness seeped from his mouth. Blood redder than our hair.

He never once shed a tear. Even while I wept before him.

“I’m sorry, Brandon,” I said with sympathetic softness.

Brandon’s blank expression never changed. “Happy Thanksgiving, sis,” he struggled to say. “Enjoy… the turkey…” He flashed me a quick smile.

Comforting Brandon in his last moments, I returned a weak smile. The least I could do considering he was my older brother. The same brother who’d taken care of me all those years.

I watched Brandon die in my arms. His bright eyes remained forever open. His mouth still agape. But his body was completely still.

Still crying, I gave him one final kiss on the forehead. Then I laid him out on the dining room floor.

Like my past, my clothes and skin were drenched in my brother’s blood.

Morose, I looked down at Brandon’s corpse.

“Mommy,” I heard Anne say to me in a timid voice.

I looked over to see Anne standing right beside me. Her tear-filled eyes stared up at me. She looked as helpless as I did that Thanksgiving Sam was killed. The day my family was forever torn apart.

“I love you, sweetie,” I told Anne. With a firm touch, I hugged her close. “I love you.”

The swinging doors burst open with ferocity.

“Victoria!” a voice yelled at me.

Startled, me and Anne saw Randy stagger in. He was no longer my classy, handsome husband. Instead, he had cuts and bruises all over him. His breaths heavy, his steps weak. Blood doused his dark hair and leaked all the way down his face.

“Oh my God, Randy!” I yelled. Clinging to Anne’s hand, I ran over and helped Randy lean against the table. I saw pieces of duct tape still stuck to his wrists. Spots where he’d been bound-and-gagged. “What happened!”

“What’s wrong, daddy!” Anne said through tears.

“It’s your brother,” Randy said to me between breaths. “He attacked me…”

“Oh God!” Horrified, I looked back at Brandon’s corpse.

“I got a phone call,” Randy went on. He grabbed my shoulder, making me face him. “Listen, the hospital called. They said he broke out…”

“No,” I said in terror. In my mind, I realized that had to be the number. The one that left me the voicemail.

“They were trying to warn us,” Randy continued. “They got cops everywhere looking for him.”

I snatched my husband’s arm. “Where’s Lee!” I demanded.

“I don’t know!” Randy replied.

“What do you mean?”

Nervous, Randy’s eyes scanned the room. In desperate search of our son. “He took him from me then he threw me in the trunk.”

“What! No!” I grabbed Randy by the shoulders. Even hearing Anne’s agonizing screams and sobs, I kept my focus on Randy. My panicked focus. “What happened! Where is he, Randy!”

“Your brother took him! He took him somewhere!”

“Where!” With the desperate despair of a helpless mother, I let go of Randy and looked all around the dining room. “I didn’t see him. He didn’t have him.”

Randy looked toward the table. I didn’t hear another word from him. Aside from Anne’s crying, I heard nothing. As if all life had left the dining room.

Facing Randy, I saw his horrified eyes looking on at the table. “Randy!”

But he said nothing. I realized his face was now a disturbing shade of white. His mouth quivered but nothing came out. And tears poured from his eyes. Gallons of them.

I followed his petrified gaze. And I saw what had disturbed my husband… I saw what would forever haunt me.

The turkey now leaked blood. More blood than such a bird could ever hold. Like blood seeping through the bottom of the door, the crimson all poured out in droves beneath the turkey. In an endless red stream.

Tears fell from my eyes. “No…” I said. I grabbed Anne and pulled her in close. I had to guard her. Especially since she was the only child I had left…

Enjoy… the turkey…

My brother’s final words were more than an attempt at dark humor. They described the terrifying memento he’d left behind. The fulfillment of his twisted legacy. I realized his revenge was never about killing me or Anne. He wanted his Flowers doppelganger. The older brother: Lee.

With the “turkey” now half-eaten, I saw it for what it really was: a thoroughly cooked human torso. The torso of a young child. My son. Not even the gravy could hide the soft fleshy skin at this point. Not to mention the scattered bits of red hair masquerading as seasoning.