"No place cards?" Neal asked from the dining room where several tables had been pushed together to form an expansive table long enough to seat all the soon-to-be-arriving guests.
Elizabeth chuckled in the kitchen as she pulled out the last dish from the oven to place it amongst the already cooked and completed dishes.
Peter just shook his head with his lopsided smile as he placed the freshly carved turkey near the head of the table where it could be easily accessed by the person designated to sit at the end and pass around plates of turkey.
The smells of Thanksgiving dinner thickened the air. Amidst the warm promise of tenderly cooked meat and fresh vegetables was the sweet scent of candied nuts and fluffy cookies. The table was decorated beautifully with pattered tablecloth, crystal glasses and polished silver utensils, and lit candles lined down the middle of the tables.
"Sorry if our dinner isn't as sophisticated as others," Peter scoffed as he gently placed the turkey on the table.
"How are the guests supposed to know where to sit?" Neal asked, ambling towards the kitchen to help El lay out the trays and platters of steaming food.
Peter shrugged nonchalantly. "Everyone can sit where they want."
"And who's all coming?" Neal asked, getting a light slap on his hand from Elizabeth when his fingers strayed too close to the sweet potatoes coated with melted marshmallows.
"The whole family," El replied as she bustled back into the kitchen.
"And a few close friends."
"I see." Neal fiddled idly with a fork, suddenly uncomfortable and feeling slightly out of place.
"And no name cards are needed for the head," Peter added.
"Yeah. That's where the hosting family sits."
Peter nodded approvingly.
El brought out the last plate and then the table was done. All the food was out and the guests were surely seconds away. Sure enough, the doorbell rang and El gave Peter a quick kiss before darting excitedly to the front door to let in the first arrivals.
"So," Neal began hesitantly, stepping beside Peter as the older man stood by his chair at the head of the table. "Where should I sit?"
"That reminds me," Peter muttered as he fished in his pocket. He pulled out a small piece of paper and placed it reverently on the plate of the seat directly on the right of the head.
Neal tilted his head curiously at Peter but received no answer from the agent's easy smile. So he bent down to look at the paper. It had his name on it in Elizabeth's flowing letters. It was his very own place card, designating the spot shared at the head of the table as his.
He straightened quickly and look to Peter with surprise. "But this is the head." Peter nodded. "Where family sits."
"That's right," Peter nodded again.
"I don't understand," Neal said, voice low with uncertainty; blue eyes searching Peter's brown.
Peter placed a warm hand on Neal's shoulder. "This is where you sit," he said simply, pointing to Neal's seat, "Right here with me and Elizabeth." His finger pointed to the mentioned seats in order.
"Because you're family. You're our family."
And Thanksgiving dinner began, laughter filling the house and the food being passed all around. Every chair had been filled by The Burkes' family. And at the head was the family, the gracious hosts: Peter at the end, his wife on his left; his Neal on the right.
The three people that made one family.