Blake Hartman's first proper experience of November in Belfast hadn't exactly filled him with confidence for December. In contrast to the cold but bright fall days he was used to in Connecticut, Belfast seemed to count a November day as a good one if it happened to be dry. Or rather, if it didn't rain. There had probably been so much rain the day before that the ground and the leaves were still wet. And it was always overcast. No wonder everyone here hated Fall/Autumn.
Today, however, Blake's usual sense of homesickness was far, far worse. It was Thanksgiving and he was three thousand miles away from his mom, his grandparents, his cousins and his friends. It hadn't been helped by the dozens of cards he, his dad and his brother had received from home, with their friends photographed as a family to send out holiday good cheer.
His dad was at home right now organising a big Thanksgiving dinner for them, but it would be the first without their mother's cooking, the first without friends calling over, the first time they didn't sit down after a long day of watching the parade and playing tennis outside. It was the first Thanksgiving away from America and Blake hated it.
"Happy Thanksgiving, Captain America."
Blake closed his locker door to find Cameron Matthews leaning against the one next to it, smiling. Blake rolled his eyes, "Yeah, thanks."
"What's wrong?" Cameron asked. The mocking smile still hadn't left Cameron's lips. "Are you upset because you're American?"
"Could be worse," Blake shot back. "I could be Irish."
"I'm Northern..." Cameron stopped half-way through his tirade and conceded defeat. "Well-played."
"Seriously though, are you okay? I've never seen you moody before."
"I'm not moody," Blake said, swinging the door open from the boys' cloakroom to the corridor. "I'm just tired."
"Am I this annoying when I lie unconvincingly about being tired when I'm actually in a terrible mood?" Cameron asked, falling into step beside him.
"No. You're actually much worse."
"Are you homesick?" Cameron asked, more quietly.
They passed two of the popular girls in the year above; Mariella Thompson and Natasha Jenkins, both of whom said hello to Cameron but not Blake. "Yes," he answered, once they had gone. "I am. Today's a bad day. I'm fine, though."
Cameron looked at him sadly and made to put his hand on his shoulder before apparently changing his mind. His tone brightened and Blake noticed that the rhythm of the Malone kids, somehow a cross between a staccato and a drawl, was now much more pronounced. "Well, look on the bright side, if you hadn't left America, you totally wouldn't have met me and stuff. And how bad would that be?"
Blake laughed a little. "That's true. Thanks, Cameron."
"See you at lunch."
"You see, sweetie, I'm having a great day. Don't worry."
His mother's voice sounded far too cheery to be believable. "Mom, you're in Vermont. On your own."
"Honey, I'm with Grandpa and Grandma. I'm hardly on my own!"
"I miss you."
There was a definite crack in his mother's throat from the other end of the phone. "I miss you too, baby."
"I... I don't like it here, Mom. I'm so lonely... Sometimes. I'm just so lonely."
"I thought you were making friends?"
"Kind of. But not really. I don't know. I mean, yeah, I'm fine, I guess. But I... There's this one guy. He's great. Really, really great... but the others..."
"Yeah. I mean, just a guy," Blake said quickly. "He's just a guy."
"Right ... right. Well, that's good, sweetie. Stick with him."
"I will. I know."
"Mom... I'm sad here. A lot. I miss New Canaan. I miss you."
"I know. But, we'll see each other soon and think of all the great things you'll get to see and do, and all the life experiences you'd never get to have here. Dad says you're doing so well there and I know you're going to be just fine."
Blake bit his lip to prevent his mother hearing that he was crying. He hated himself when he was like this. It was never a good idea to say out loud the things that were bothering you most because, once you did, you ended up silently crying down the phone to your mother, whose whole day would be ruined if she realised her eldest child was standing in the hallway of a house three thousand miles away, sobbing.
"Dad says dinner's ready. I gotta go."
"Okay. Good. Go eat! I love you, Blake. More than anything."
"I love you too, Mom."
"Happy Thanksgiving, Mommy."
"Dear Lord, on this day when so many gather around the world to give thanks, we would like it, Lord, if You could accept our thanks for our family and for all the blessings You have showered upon us. We know that this has been a difficult year for us, Lord, but we just ask that these difficult times will make us more appreciative of everything that we have and that they brought us closer to You, Lord, and to each other. Amen."
Blake and Jack Hartman raised their heads, opened their eyes and said, "Amen," as their father concluded his prayer. Blake cast his eyes over the table and smiled. His father had done a great job. Everything looked amazing and he could tell by the relief evident all over Jack's face that his kid brother was as surprised and happy about this as he was.
His father raised his glass and smiled. "Boys, to our family."
"To our family."
"You boys make me very, very proud. And Mom too. Now, Blake help me with the turkey. This is usually Grandpa's job."