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.
(a Thanksgiving story from Lux)
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.”
“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.