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Soul Food

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***

Jo’s father always sent her birthday presents the old-fashioned way (so old-fashioned, even Jo’s mom couldn’t remember a time when it was actually done) in a box, with a bow, delivered to her doorstep. No transporting his gifts for her, he said, he wasn’t taking the chance that scrambled molecules never made it. When Jo turned nine she started to wonder if scrambled molecules weren’t more accurate and more likely to deliver her present than some random guy hired by a private company to do this type of work. She’d never asked though, and a present had never gone amiss, so she supposed it didn’t matter if she liked it this way just a little bit better than waking up to something on the post-pad in their hallway.

On her thirteenth birthday, the box held a book clearly much older than she was. It said, “McCoy” in gilded lettering on the front. She ran her fingers over the letters and wished her birthday had fallen on a Tuesday or a Friday—the days her dad always called so long as he was in range. After a moment, she opened the book. Inside there was a message on the empty title page. It read,

Happy 13th, Baby Girl, I wish I were there. This book was your great-great grandma’s, and probably her mother’s before that. Best Southern home-cooking in the entire galaxy. I thought you were big enough to entrust it to this year. Love, your dad.

Jo turned the first page, and then the next, looking for the one recipe she knew her grandmother would have made over and over for her dad. Of all the things he loved in the world, he loved this dish the most. (Well, maybe right after Jo.)

*

Mom had to help, which made Jo feel bad, because she still remembered how quiet and sad her mom had been after all the shouting had ended and Dad was gone. Jo had expected her to feel better—she was always mad at him, after all—but it didn’t seem to help at all, not for months and months.

When she told her mom who it was for, though, her mom just tucked a piece of Jo’s hair behind her ear and said, “Well, he’s awful far from where he can get it done right. You’ll just have to make it extra good.”

Jo measured out the ingredients oh-so-carefully and poured them into the pan, while her mother got the stove to just the right temperature. She stood behind Jo and watched, helping her to know when it was just hot enough, before it burned.

When they put the final product in the oven, the house started to smell of sugar and pecans. Jo took a deep breath and said, “Maybe we should try it. Just, y’know, to make sure it tastes right.”

Jo’s mom laughed, but she didn’t disagree.

*

When the comms center buzzed on Friday, Jo answered it practically before the buzz could end. “Hi, dad.”

“Joanna McCoy,” he said, his mouth obviously full. “This pecan pie is better than when my momma used to make it.”

She rolled her eyes. “You’re such a liar.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You callin’ your daddy a liar, little bit?”

“Yes, sir,” she said, without an ounce of respect, but more than enough affection to make up for it.

“Maybe,” he admitted. “But not about this.” He forked up a big chunk and crammed it into his mouth. She kind of sort of believed him.