Fiction Outtake: Cranberries (The Early Days)


Patterson didn’t mind that they’d left early. The after-dinner entertainment had been the same for years now: the men gathered around the television, the women in the kitchen, cleaning up and gossiping, the kids who were too young to do either dispersing to the basement or another round of football in the yard.

Mitchell, for all his love of baseball, loathed watching football. And Trevor’s lewd comments about the sport had been immediately unwelcome.

Frankly, Patterson had been glad to have an excuse to leave. He wasn’t much of a football lover, himself, and family togetherness had its limits when there was so much in your life you couldn’t discuss.

He pulled the Bronco into its spot on the side of the driveway and sat for a moment. Trevor, in the back seat, had gotten awfully quiet. Too quiet.

Mitchell, beside him, hopped out of the Bronco like he didn’t have a care in the world. Like leaving early wasn’t a big deal. To the boy, it probably hadn’t been. Spending the day with the family had been okay at first, with the annual flag football game and the cousins to catch up with. But if you kept Mitchell away from his guitar too long, he started to get twitchy. Once that happened, the cousins decided he was weird. Adding Trevor to the mix hadn’t helped, but leaving that one at home had never crossed Patterson’s mind. Trevor was part of the family now, no matter how hard he worked at reminding them all that he wasn’t.

Trevor followed Mitchell out of the Bronco, but didn’t wait by the back door with the younger boy. Instead, Trevor stared at the sky.

“Did you ever wonder,” he said to Patterson, his face turned upward.

“I wondered what’s bothering you tonight.”

Trevor shoved his hands into the pockets of the leather vest he’d consented to wear over his denim jacket. He hunched his shoulders.

Patterson had a few guesses. But it was best if the boy talked without prompts.

Suddenly, the hands were out of the pockets, the shoulders were down, and the boy had spun to face his guardian. “Do you have any fucking clue what it’s like to watch that table get cleared and hear everyone laugh that everyone forgot about the cranberries and this and that and everything else? Do you have any fucking clue how lucky you are to even have a fucking family?”

“Yes,” Patterson said. “And not just because this is a holiday of gratitude, either.”

Mitchell wandered closer, but stayed safely behind Trevor.

“Do you know what my Thanksgivings used to be like?” Trevor went on, his face turning red in the starlight. “Do you know what we’d have for dinner?”

“No,” Patterson said. “Tell me.”

Trevor just shook his head, like the words wouldn’t come. Mitchell sat down in the grass and folded his legs Indian-style. He began playing with his shoelaces.

Trevor pulled his cigarettes out of the chest pocket of the denim jacket. “Some years, it was us sitting around the table, watching him drink a bottle of JD. One year, he beat Mom with the bird she’d brought home and then made her cook it and stood there while we ate it. I puked it back up about an hour later.” He snorted. “And don’t forget the year there was no food because Mom couldn’t get a hold of his paycheck and he stole hers and drank ’em both.”

Mitchell shook his head and visibly swallowed. Patterson just listened. He’d been witness to scenes like this, although not at the Wolff household. It didn’t matter; the tragedy was still the same. The fact that he’d been able to make a difference in this young man’s life couldn’t even begin to make up for the families he hadn’t been able to help so directly.

“Happy fucking birthday, Trevor,” Trevor said, sniffing hard and rubbing at his eyes with the sleeve of his denim jacket. “They usually forgot. And there’s the Voss family,” he said, gesturing expansively, “with a birthday cake and apologies for being a week late.”

Patterson looked at Mitchell; he felt the boy watching him. He’d managed to shelter Mitchell from the worst of Trevor’s stories; this couldn’t be easy.

Mitchell was imploring his father to make it stop. To help him know what to say or do.

Patterson pursed his lips and gave the barest shake to his head.

“And all that fucking food that everyone forgot to eat,” Trevor said.

“We didn’t forget,” Mitchell said. “No one likes the cranberries. So Aunt Paula leaves ’em on the table because we’re supposed to have cranberries. She’s probably shoving them back in the container she uses every year, and she’ll throw it in the freezer until next year. They’ll make it to the table, probably still frozen, and then when we clear, everyone will joke about forgetting to eat them when the truth is, no one wants ’em.”

“Think that’s funny?” Trevor whirled and bent over to look at Mitchell, who shrugged.

“I think cranberries are okay,” Mitchell said.

Patterson had to bite his lip to keep from smiling.

Trevor cocked his head, considering.

Mitchell started pulling at the grass.

“So you’re saying I’m a cranberry?” Trevor asked at last.

Mitchell made a sound sort of like one of Trevor’s indignant snorts. “No,” the boy said. “You’re an ass who’s keeping me from my guitar. C’mon. Let’s go make music.”

Patterson moved to unlock the front door, wondering if a parent could be more proud of his son. It wasn’t likely.



  1. Thomma Lyn

    November 30, 2008 12:00 am

    Oh Susan, this brought a tear to my eye. Just wonderful. I love Patterson’s voice. He’s wise and caring, and what a life-saving foundation of friendship and love the Voss family extended to Trevor.BR/BR/Brotherly love, fatherly love, the inestimable impact of constancy and support — what a touching piece. BR/BR/Give Trev a big hug from me.

  2. angel

    November 30, 2008 2:14 am

    I liked that one!

  3. Robin

    November 30, 2008 3:15 am

    Stories like this break my heart. I used to know a Trevor, and often wonder what happened to him.

  4. Shelley Munro

    December 1, 2008 5:55 am

    I loved this one, Susan. It brought a lump to my throat. 🙂

  5. Bob-kat

    December 1, 2008 1:15 pm

    It certainly explains a lot about Trevor. How lucky he was to find Patterson and Mitchell. Really touching.

  6. Toni

    December 1, 2008 1:40 pm

    This was great!

  7. robroy

    December 1, 2008 5:51 pm

    I really liked it.

  8. Jennifer

    December 2, 2008 1:54 am

    I like how these pieces stand alone but are also part of a larger back story. I’m learning more about the characters all the time. And I really liked this one, too.


    December 2, 2008 2:12 am


  10. Julia Smith

    December 2, 2008 12:59 pm

    A heart-squisher.

  11. Rhonda Leigh Jones

    December 3, 2008 4:42 pm

    Thanks for stopping by! Lots of blog moving going on. I’m seriously considering keeping a backup just in case something like this happens again, lol!

    Oh, and I would LOVE some promo. That would be awesomeness in a jar.


  12. Frederika Mirtshe

    December 9, 2008 8:36 am

    Hey!. I think you could also make more of it through a bigger exposure about “Fiction Outtake: Cranberries (The Early Days)”. Perhaps you can have some my dog ate chocolate cake.

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