More Than a Turkey for Thanksgiving

I don’t want to treat Thanksgiving worse than I did Halloween, so here’s a short story to celebrate our day of thanks, too. Hope you enjoy it as much as Lux did.

The Works

(a Thanksgiving story from Lux)

by

Judi Lynn

Thanksgiving was fast approaching, and Keon and I had volunteered to serve a Thanksgiving meal at the community center his brother worked at, but we were doing it on the Tuesday before the holiday, because as always, my hunky chef had to work on actual turkey day.  Restaurants did a booming business then, and his was no exception.

The same people who’d contributed food to the center last year agreed to do it again.  That meant hams and turkeys filled its large refrigerators, and items were piled on its counter tops.  The center served free lunches every day, and usually seventy-five or eighty people went through its line.  Some of them came to the cooking classes on Thursdays, but only one winner was drawn to take home the food made during the class, so that crowd was thinner.  For Thanksgiving, though, it was easy to serve over one hundred people.

The Catholic church’s soup kitchen downtown was older and more established.  It often served three hundred people a day, but Tyson and Abraham’s center was farther away on Broadway and newer.  It wasn’t as big either, so the crowds were smaller.  We could still use extra help to make the big meal, though, so Abraham had put out the word he needed volunteers.

On the Monday before the meal, Keon and I drove his white work van to the center to start prep work.  We wanted to make as much of the food ahead as possible.  Keon didn’t work on Mondays, so we had plenty of time.  I was sautéing diced celery and onions to make dressing when a thin, young woman I’d never seen before, with short brown hair, knocked on the kitchen door.  When I opened it to invite her in, she glanced at Keon and asked, “Is this the person I talk to about volunteering to cook here?” 

I shook my head.  “Wait here, and I’ll get Abraham.  He’s the director.”  I knew that he and Tyson were circulating around the dining room, stopping to chat with the people there.  I went to get him.  When he stepped into the kitchen, I almost bumped into him, he stopped so abruptly.

I squeezed past him to see what was the matter.  Staring, he asked, “Libby?  I thought you’d joined the army.”

 She looked as caught off guard as he did.  She nodded.  “Right out of high school.  Meant to make a career of it until this happened.”  She nodded to her left leg and raised the hem of her jeans.  A metal pole was attached to a fake foot.

“Lord.  When did that happen?”

“Two years ago.  Ended my days as a cook at the mess hall.  Cost me time in physical therapy, too.  Now I get a monthly government check, but money’s tight.  I tried working a desk job, but it’s not for me.  I want to get back in a kitchen.”  She studied him.  They were almost the same height, an inch shorter than my five six, and both of them thin.  “What about you, Abe?  How long have you worked here?”

No one else called him Abe.  He preferred his full name of Abraham, but he smiled when she used the nickname.  “Started here two years after college.  I like it.”

“You always did want to help people.”

He nodded, then turned to us.  “Libby and I went through middle school together, then she went to one high school, and I went to a different one.  We lost track of each other.”

She grimaced.  “I lost track of everyone, didn’t have any free time back then.  Went to school and then to my job.  My folks needed the money.”

“What brought you back to Summit City?”  He moved farther into the room, letting the door close behind him.  “Your parents moved away after you joined the military.”

“My grandpa.  I took care of him until he died.”  She looked around the kitchen at all of the supplies.  “I was hoping that if I helped cook the Thanksgiving meal, you might give me good references to find a job.”

“You don’t need to volunteer to get a reference from me.  Anything for you, Libby.”

Her cheeks colored, and she ran a hand through her short hair.  “Thanks, but I’d like to help out anyway.  Do you still need someone?”

Abraham nodded.  “You’ll be working with them, Lux and Keon.  Keon’s a chef, so he might be picky.”

She frowned.  “Are you two together?”

We got that a lot.  I have fair skin and long, wavy copper hair.  Keon’s eyes and skin are the color of milk chocolate—delicious.

I nodded.  “We live together.  We’ve been friends for forever.”

“Is that why you’re brave enough to cook with him?  Is he picky?

Keon laughed at that.  “At my restaurant maybe.  Not here.  I brought recipes for everything we’re making.  They’re scaled for big amounts, but if you cooked in a mess hall, you’re used to that.  You up for green bean casserole?  Can you start today?”

“I can start right now.”  She took off her coat and hung it on a hook by the door, rolled up her sleeves, and washed her hands.  Her gaze didn’t quite meet Abraham’s when she said, “It was nice to see you again.”

It was his turn to glance away, looking awkward.  “Same here.”  He started to leave, then hesitated.  “If you need anything now that you’re back in town, let me know.  I’m glad you’re here.”  Then he scooted out the door before she could respond.

As we cooked together, I asked, “Were you two an item before you went to separate schools?”

Keon tsked and shook his head at me.  He was making the brine for the turkeys.  “Libby just met us.  You’re not allowed to get personal right away.”

Libby grinned.  “I was in the military, remember?  The guys didn’t tiptoe around anything.”  Her expression took on a faraway look.  “Abe and I had huge crushes on each other, but we were just kids.  And I was dirt poor.  He was bound for college, and I signed up for the army to get some training and make some money.”

I could feel a small smile tug at my lips, and Keon gave me a look.  It said Don’t Play Matchmaker.  He was no fun.  But I had helped to bring Pete, our detective friend, and his sister, Gabbie, together.  All it had taken was a small nudge.  And that’s all I’d do this time.  He rolled his eyes.  He knew my looks as well as I knew his. 

We spent a long time cooking together, and the more I got to know Libby, the more I liked her.  When we’d prepped everything we could and were getting ready to leave, I said, “It’s too bad the center can’t hire a part-time cook to make the free lunches it passes out.  The meals would be a lot better.”

Libby covered the cranberry sauce she’d made and put it in the refrigerator.  “Where do the meals come from now?”

“Tyson makes them from whatever he can get at the food bank, but he’s no chef.  Not even a cook.  The meals are pretty basic.”

She pursed her lips, thinking.  “Maybe I can talk to Abe and plan out some meals if he gives me ideas what ingredients they usually get.”

“That would be nice.” 

Keon raised an eyebrow.  When we finished cleaning the kitchen, and Libby left, he shook a finger at me.  “You’re weaving your web, Spider Lady.”

With a smile, I reached for my heavy jacket.  “I hope so.  Now I need to talk to Abraham a minute, then we can leave.”

Sighing, he tossed his jacket over his shoulder.  “I’ll hang out with Tyson till you get back.”  The Johnson brothers were pretty tight.  They enjoyed each other.

I went in search of Abraham.  I found him in his office.  “I was thinking,” I said when he looked up.  “You got a large donation for the center at Halloween, and if you had a part-time cook, you could serve a lot better meals than you do now.”

“How so?”

“Good cooks can take the same ingredients but think of a dozen different ways to use them.” 

He narrowed his eyes at me.  “You’re trying to tell me to hire Libby, aren’t you?  But maybe she needs full-time work instead of part-time.”

“Maybe, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.  Just something to think about.”  And I started to the door.  “See you tomorrow.”

We’d have to be there early in the morning to get everything in the ovens and roasters to cook fully.

###

Libby walked into the kitchen on Tuesday a few minutes after we did, and we all got busy.  By the time it was one p.m., Tyson had the tables ready, Abraham had the beverage table set up, and we had a row of tables laden with food.  When the regulars got in line, Tyson stood behind one table to dish up, Libby behind another, Keon behind the meat to carve it, and I was at the dessert table.  Abraham manned the drinks. 

People came back for seconds and thirds.  The side dishes disappeared, and so did the desserts, but we had plenty of leftover meat.  When it was finally time to tear down the tables and put things back to normal, Libby went to Abraham.

“If we cut the leftover meat off the bones, we can use it to make more dishes.  Is that all right?”

“That’s a great idea.  I’ll help.”  As he started into the kitchen with her, he said, “A donor gave a large check to the center at Halloween.  I was thinking that hiring a part-time cook might be a good use for it.”

She turned to him.  “Would you consider me?  I’d like to start working part-time to see how my leg holds out before committing to a fulltime job.”

“That would be perfect.  It would work for both of us.”  He turned to Tyson.  “You wouldn’t mind giving up the cooking part of your job, would you?  Then you could spend more time tutoring and planning activities.”

“I’m no cook and know it.  I can help more people if I’m not stuck in the kitchen.”

Abraham grinned from ear to ear, and when he turned back to Libby, their gazes locked.  “When can you start?”

“Tomorrow?  Maybe I can stay a while today to talk to you about menus.”

Keon cleared his throat to get their attention.  “Does that mean you’re finished with us today?  Can you take care of the rest on your own?”

“We’ll be fine.”  Libby didn’t look away from Abraham.

“I’ll help in the main room, see if everyone’s doing all right.”  Tyson followed us out the door.  His dark eyes glittered with humor.  “Three’s a crowd in there, don’t you think?”

I walked with a lilt in my step, I was so happy.  “They’re going to make a great team.”

“Yeah, they got a lot more for Thanksgiving than just food,” he said.  “I’m betting they got the works.”

I liked that phrase.  The works.  The full meal deal.  Everything they wanted and more.  And both of them deserved it. 

Keon wrapped an arm around my waist as we walked to his van.  “You aren’t allowed to volunteer anywhere on Valentine’s Day.  Who knows what might happen?”

I leaned into him.  “We got the works, too, when you moved in with me.  I hope they’re as happy as we are.”

“Looks like they will be.  We all have a lot to be thankful for this year.”

True.  With Cook, one of my favorite people in the whole world, moving to Summit City when the lease on her apartment ran out, things were only going to get better.

November in Muddy River

October and Halloween are always fun, but November and Thanksgiving make me think of all of my blessings and the things that I’m grateful for. And November makes me think about family. In Muddy River, friends are often almost like family, so Hester and Raven invite Birch and her new coven to their house for the holiday. And they get a special surprise.


A Thanksgiving To Remember
(Muddy River short story)
By
Judi Lynn
 
 
Something was scratching at our back door.  I straightened from rolling out pie dough to glance around the kitchen.  Claws was sprawled across the wooden floor near the archway to the living room, and Blackie, Raven’s hellhound, was stretched in front of the oven.  I swear, that hound was always under foot, especially when Raven and I were cooking together.
The noise finally made Claws curious enough that he rolled to his feet to investigate.  Sniffing, he turned to me and a low noise rumbled in his throat, telling me to open the door.
Grumbling, I wiped the flour off my hands onto my apron and went to see who…or what…was there.  Raven stopped wrestling the turkey into a cooler filled with brine and came to stand behind me.  I didn’t need protection.  Whatever it was couldn’t be an enemy or it wouldn’t have gotten by my wards.  I pulled the door wide and stared in surprise.  A mother cat—gray with a white chin and a patch of white on her stomach—gazed in at us along with a dozen kittens of all varieties, one an orange tabby, another a tiger with dark gray stripes, a calico, and even one that looked Siamese.  What the Hecate was going on?
When I stared in surprise, my ocelot raised his paw and pressed on the storm door to open it, inviting them inside.  With a flip of her tail, the mother cat strode past us and headed straight to the living room, where she and her kittens curled on the rug by the fireplace. I turned to Raven, too shocked to speak.  He looked as surprised as I felt and shrugged.  “They must have come for a reason.”
A stiff breeze pulled at the storm door and I yanked it shut, closing the door as I returned to our wooden table.  Claws padded past us and went to lie with the cats.  I blinked.  “I don’t get it.  Familiars all get along, but these cats don’t belong to anybody.  They’re strays.  And the kittens are too young to be any protection for anybody.”
My fire demon’s lips curled.  “Maybe Hecate sent them here to grow up safely.”
I couldn’t stop a grimace.  “Thirteen cats.  We’re going to kill ourselves tripping over something furry.”
He laughed.  “We’ve survived worse than kittens.  I think we’ll manage, but we’ll have to buy big bags of dry cat food.  If they want any meat, their mom will have to teach them to hunt.”
I watched the way Claws kept a close eye on them and shook my head.  “My familiar’s besotted.  He’ll probably catch food to bring to them.”  And I’d never have believed it, but I’d never seen Claws so protective before.  Even Blackie wandered into the living room to lie with them and tolerated the kittens climbing all over him.
Raven went back to tinkering with the turkey.  “Birch and her coven are coming to celebrate Thanksgiving with us tomorrow.  Thirteen girls, thirteen cats . . .”
“I thought of that, but kittens?  No one gets a kitten as a familiar when they come into their power.”
He shrugged.  “Times are changing.  Demons never get familiars, period, but Blackie decided to stay with us.”
“With you.  He chose you.”
“And now we’re one big, happy family.”  Raven chuckled as a kitten swatted at the hound’s ear.
I pressed a hand to the bag filled with herbs and magic that always dangled from the leather cord around my neck.  Hecate, help me.  First, she’d sent Blackie to Raven, and now she sent us kittens?  I already trained young witches.  Was I supposed to be a nursery for familiars now, too?
I huffed out my frustration and got busy baking pies again. 
My coven and I always celebrated Yule Eve together, but they celebrated with their own families on Thanksgiving, so this year, I’d invited Birch and her new young coven to our house for the holiday.  Birch’s parents had retired from Muddy River and left her to run their shop so they could move away.  And her coven was finally full.  She had twelve young witches who’d joined.  Most of them had graduated from my school of magic, and they were all talented, but not very powerful yet.  That would take time.
Mates were always invited, too, so Lir would be coming with Birch.  Most of the other girls were still single, living with their parents.  I expected eighteen people at our house tomorrow.  When I’d first moved into the old, yellow Victorian, I’d knocked down the wall between the kitchen and dining room, so that I had a big enough area to seat my coven and their families.  Now, all I had to do was cook enough food.
After I slid two pumpkin, a pecan, and a pear pie into the oven, I started on two pumpkin rolls—Raven’s favorites.  He loved to help me cover the sponge cakes with a cream filling and roll them up.  Then I started making the dressing while he cut diamond shapes into the ham to stud it with cloves.  We worked all day, preparing the rest of the side dishes, and by the time we’d done all the prep work we could, we reheated leftover chili for supper.
As usual, Blackie came to sit beside Raven and beg.  Claws wasn’t partial to people food, and the cats didn’t show any interest either, but a hellhound was just a big, overgrown dog, and Blackie whimpered for treats.  I shook my head and went to the pantry, returning with a ham bone.  Lots better than feeding a hound something spicy.
Blackie took it into the living room to gnaw on in front of the fireplace.  When I looked again, a dozen kittens lined up to chew on it, too. 
After dinner, we carried wine into the living room and tried to read.  Kittens crawled up and down us and jumped at our books, knocking them out of our hands, until my patience was gone.
“Enough.”  I shooed them all away, then called for a protective bubble to circle Raven and me.  Then we could read in peace.  I put another shield over the opening to the kitchen so that no one nibbled on any of the food we’d prepared.  And after we climbed the stairs to bed, I closed our bedroom door, locking them outside.
When we opened the door in the morning, the rejoicing was downright comical.  Everyone wanted attention.  The kittens tugged at our pajama pants, begging to be petted.  Blackie and Claws wanted outside.  When I opened the kitchen door for them, everyone followed them through the backyard to the river bank at the back of our property, looking for breakfast.
I shook my head, watching them hunt.  There was no breeze today, so the temperature felt almost mild.  “Nothing will be open today, but we’ll have to drive to town tomorrow to buy food for them.”
We got busy, loading things into the oven for the big meal.  Birch and her coven were coming at two.  We drank coffee, then sipped wine while we worked.  Birch and Lir were the first to arrive.  Lir stopped in the arch to the kitchen and sniffed the air. 
“It smells good in here.”  The aroma of roasting turkey mingled with the onions and spices I’d added to the roasted vegetables.  The mulled cider and wine added a fruity note.
Birch hung her jacket on one of the hooks by the back door and went to ladle some of the cider into a glass mug I’d put on the counter.  She frowned, glancing around the kitchen.  “Where’s Claws?  He always comes to greet me.”
I nodded to the river.  “He’s hunting with his new friends.”
“New friends?  You mean Blackie?” 
But before I could answer her, there was a quick knock at the door, and more people streamed into the kitchen.  We were lining up to fill our plates, buffet style, when Claws scratched at the door.
“Prepare yourselves,” I warned, letting him inside.  He was followed by the mother cat, sleek and white with green eyes.  She stalked directly to Birch, and I realized she was a perfect match for Birch’s white-blond hair and emerald eyes.  The kittens followed in single file, and each went directly to a girl with the same coloring they had.  The Siamese went to Alizon with her straight, sandy-colored hair and dark eyes.  A tawny kitten with blue eyes chose Opal with her creamy complexion and pale baby blues.  The orange tabby meowed for Allegra–with wild, carrot-orange, curls–to pick it up.  And the tiger cat sat on Selma’s shoe, claiming her with her streaked, highlighted dark hair and light brown eyes.
Raven shook his head.  “Hester sent kittens who were color coordinated for each girl.”
I smiled.  Familiars chose their owners, not the other way around.  But these kittens were handpicked by Hecate for the witches they’d bond with.  Even their powers matched.  These girls had a long way to go to reach their full magic, and the kittens would nurture them and grow with them.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Birch reached for the mother cat and pressed her to her chest, hugging her close.  “I was beginning to think I’d never get a familiar.  This is the best Thanksgiving ever.”
Laughter and purrs filled the kitchen.  Claws came to sit beside me, and Blackie nuzzled against Raven’s leg.  I let out a long, contented breath.  Hecate meant for this new coven to prosper.  Joy surged through me, and I pressed my hand to my pouch and whispered a thank you.
Raven wrapped his arm around my waist, joining in the blessings.  Then he laughed and called, “Time to eat!  There’s plenty of food for everyone, even familiars.”
Blackie raised his ears and hurried to Raven’s seat at the table.  Each person filled their plate, and a cat sat next to each of us, waiting for tidbits of our feast.  As I looked around the room, I knew this would be a Thanksgiving to remember.  One of the special ones.  Food and friends and blessings.  What more could a witch want?
 
 

A Little Late

My grandson Tyler recently got engaged.  We love Emily, the girl he asked to marry him.  She comes from a big extended family, though, and they all get together for Thanksgiving.  Our family these days is dinky.  My daughter Robyn lives in Florida with her husband.  Our grandson Nate’s in the marines in San Diego.  John’s brother lives in Oakland.  When we get together, it’s my two sisters, my cousin, and my daughter Holly.  And she’s a nurse.  She had to work this Thanksgiving, so we decided what the heck?  Why not have our Thanksgiving late?  So Tyler and Emily are coming home late tomorrow afternoon.  Holly’s coming early on Sunday.  We’re all going to celebrate then.

Ty and Emily already did the traditional meal–twice.  Holly’s hospital put on the works for the doctors and nurses who had to work.  And we had a friend over for turkey, brussel sprouts, and cranberry sauce, so everyone’s had enough of the usual feast.  To change it up, we decided to make chicken cordon bleu instead.  Mary will still bring her cheesy potatoes and Patty makes the green bean casserole.  I’m going to try Geoffrey Zakarian’s Hawaiian roll stuffing, a big salad (no Romaine, darn it!) to keep it light, and a pumpkin roll.  Ty always expects one of those.

It’s been so low-key this year, it’s nice.  When we all sit down on Sunday, your Thanksgivings will already be over, and I hope they were wonderful.  But I thought shifting our days around might bother me.  I worried I’d wake up on Thursday and miss the bustle.  I didn’t.  For this year, being flexible was nice.

Once you’re back on schedule, happy writing!

Wasted Time

We had one of our nicest, happiest Thanksgivings ever.  Nate couldn’t be with us–he’s a marine near San Diego–and we missed him, but the rest of us were here.  We’re a small group, and we were all in the mood to see each other.  Truth be told, though, I think some of the joy came from us being older, a little more mellow.

Age has some benefits.  Comments that once made tempers rise aren’t worth getting hot and bothered over.  Some of them have even become punch lines and jokes that we hear and roll our eyes.  I went overboard on the food because my daughter, the traveling nurse, might be out of town for Christmas or Thanksgiving next year.  I aimed for abundance, so made a turkey roulade and a whole turkey, so that we’d have plenty of leftovers–but not nearly as much as I expected.  We were all in the mood to overindulge.  People stayed longer than usual and conversation flowed the entire time.  A wonderful celebration of things that make us happy.  And lots and lots of fond memories.

After everyone left, I thought of Keith Urban’s song:  All That Wasted Time.  I bought his latest CD and love every song on it.  I listen to it when I cook and clean, but every time I listen to Wasted Time, it makes me think of all the time I spent alone, perfectly happy, daydreaming when I was a kid.  The line that catches me is “Ain’t it funny how the best days of my life was all that wasted time.”  Kids today are so busy.  So are their parents and everyone else.  But when I was growing up, kids had lazy summers.  At least, I did.  And I loved it.

When I talk to my friends, we’re all trying to cram too many things into our days.  How many words did we get written?  How many chores did we cross off our lists?  We have goals and we want to meet them, and we’re busy.  That’s good.  It keeps us motivated.  But I’m starting to make time for doing nothing or goofing off or seeing friends.  Life is all about balance, and I’m not going to feel guilty when I turn off my computer and relax or play from now on.

Thanksgiving was the perfect time to eat, yak, and be merry–to enjoy “all that wasted time.”   I hope yours was as nice as mine.  And on Monday?  It’s back to work, but hopefully with a little more balance.

Webpage:  (I’m up to chapter 8 on LUCAS):  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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