Lili O’Day picked up the French knife and started chopping. Onion after onion after onion. Over and over again.
It was Christmas Eve, 2153.
Chef Slocum was planning to make, among other things, a French onion soup. So she was on chopping detail. But that’s what sous-chefs do.
Onion after onion after onion.
Her eyes teared, her arms ached.
Onion after onion after onion.
Chef walked in. He was a burly man, a little younger than her, from Idaho. He looked over what she was doing. “A little finer, please. What did your family used to make at Christmas?” he asked.
“Uh, what?” She had been working there for a good eight months. They had rarely spoken of anything beyond food. She hadn’t shared details of her personal life with him. Then again, she hadn’t shared those details with anyone on the NX-01.
“Christmas dinner! Surely you must have had some sort of a tradition!” he thundered. “Why, in Boise, we would make a pork loin for my father. And my mother – her family was Italian – so there was always a big lasagna. What about you? Any Irish traditions on, uh, on Callisto, was it?”
“Titan, sir, I’m from Titan.”
“You can call me Will, you know,” he said.
“Uh, yes, Che-, uh, Will.” She kept chopping.
“My mother’s parents were French, sir, uh, Will. We used to have coquilles St. Jacques grilled or baked, they were served in their shells with a cream sauce.”
“Leg of lamb,” she said, “uh, I need to concentrate so that I don’t accidentally slice off a finger.”
“Of course,” he said, and went over to the larder to take out the salt. He turned around and she was sobbing. “What’s the matter?!” He ran back to her.
“It’s these damned onions,” she said.
“That’s not just onions,” he took the French knife from her. “I know that onions have sulfur in them. And you get that in your eye and it makes your eyes tear. But this is more than that. What’s the matter?” She just looked at him. “I thought we were friends,” he said.
“You’re my boss.”
“I know,” Will said, “but that doesn’t mean you can’t – uh, you don’t think you can confide in me, right?”
“It’s nothing personal, sir. It’s that I don’t confide this to, to anyone.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” he said, and walked back to the larder.
Lili just stood there, and cried some more. “I didn’t mean to insult you,” she said, “it’s not that, please, please, don’t think that.” This time, she walked over to him. “Sir, uh, Will, I, uh, we didn’t have traditions for Christmas because my, because my parents died in a house fire when I was nine years old. If I hadn’t been visiting my mother’s parents, I would have died, too. It wasn’t even Christmas when it happened but it, uh, it doesn’t matter. Holidays just bring it out sometimes.”
He looked at her. “Have you told anyone else here about that?”
“No. I barely talk to anyone but you and Jennifer, my roommate.”
“Thank you for feeling you could tell me,” he said, “Can you, uh, do you need a break?”
“No, sir.” She said, “Let’s get everyone fed.”
He gave the French knife back to her and cursed himself for his insensitivity.