Jacob woke up late on the day after the big party. It had been so long since he slept in a comfortable bed, under such warm blankets and with a full stomach, that he was reluctant to give it up just yet. There was fear that this was all just a dream and if he got out of bed it would dissipate like one of those desert mirages his friend Abe was always talking about.
He yawned and stretched as he stood up on the plush carpet and plodded from his room towards the the kitchen. Experience told him that he could probably still snag a bite from there as the staff would be settling in for their own morning meal as they re-heated what wasn't eaten by the family.
Jacob's father was aware that the cook always made far more than the household could eat at each meal. It was all part of an unspoken agreement, and the staff worked with a much better attitude on full bellies. Jacob frowned, though, as this line of thought led him to the inevitable picture of how things would change once his brother, Joshua, took over as head of the family.
Still yawning, and rubbing sleep from his eyes, Jacob nearly walked right over his brother on the way to the kitchen. Joshua was not amused and gave Jacob the long and steady stare that stated more clearly than words ever could that Jacob's life had just been measured and found wanting.
“I see that a few years away hasn't changed your sleeping habits, brother.”
“These past few years have taught me to sleep when I can, even if I'm not tired; eat when there's food, even if I'm not hungry; and drink if there's water, even if I do not thirst. I no longer take those things for granted.”
“All the more reason to be up on time.”
“I think I find myself preferring the company in the kitchen, brother.”
Joshua reacted as though he'd just been slapped and Jacob winced at his hasty words.
“You better hurry then. Even the help will be finished eating soon.”
Jacob ducked his head and scooted off to the kitchen. His father walked into the room, just as he was finishing up his meal.
“I see some things never change,” the old man laughed, giving Jacob a huge embrace. The bad mood from the encounter with Joshua evaporated away, just like those desert mirages.“
“Father, I was just about to come looking for you.”
“And I, you. I decided to check the kitchen first. I may be old, but some things you never forget.” The old man chuckled.
Jacob studied his father, waiting for him to speak first. He didn't have to wait long – the old man hated silence as much as he hated any other kind of drought.
“It was a pretty good party last night, for being thrown together at the last minute, eh?”
“It was, father. But I wish you hadn't gone to all the trouble. I really didn't intend for my return to be such a celebration. I don't believe it did much for helping me to smooth things over with Joshua.”
Immediately the old man's mood darkened. “That is what I need to speak with you about. I know my enthusiasm at your return may have been misleading about your role here, but...”
“No need to worry, father,” Jacob cut him off. “I know how it has to be. You gave me my share of the inheritance when I left. You cannot give me anything else, without stealing from Joshua. I'm not back to make any claims. I simply hope you'll let me work for you. I want to marry and raise a family around the most decent people I've ever known. I didn't realize until I left how special it is here. I've seen how the world works; how it chews you up and then spits you back out.”
Jacob's father gave him a long look similar to the one Joshua gave him earlier, but the elderly man did not see what used to be there. He saw the new Jacob.
“It seems a lack of food has made you wiser, my son.”
“Sometimes when you stretch, you grow.”
“Indeed,” came a voice from the doorway. Startled, they both turned to see Joshua standing there. “Maybe I could use some stretching.”
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