Nick stood behind the counter at Martini’s Deli cutting onions into small pieces. He never wanted to look at another onion. His eyes watered and tears rolled down his cheeks. He still had twenty more onions to go. When he finished cutting the onions, he’d start cutting the green peppers, then the jalapeno peppers, then the habanero peppers.
He looked up at the wall clock, it was eight-thirty. Here he was alone, his girlfriend Cara was with her parents at her nonna’s house in Providence. He wouldn’t see Cara until he went to school on Monday. Nick made a deep sigh and kept on cutting onions.
The door opened, “Hey Nick, how’s it going?” said Buttons.
“It’s going okay,” said Nick.
Buttons took a seat on stool at the counter. “A bunch of us are going to the ten o’clock movie. Can you make it?” said Buttons.
“No. Tino will come by at ten and then I’ll have to clean up. I’ll be lucky to get out by eleven,” said Nick.
“What are friends for, Nick? I’ll hang out with you. After Tino leaves, I’ll help out and all we’ll miss is the coming attractions,” said Buttons.
“You can’t hang out without buying a sub. I’d get fired. I can’t afford to get fired,” said Nick.
“Make me a sub. What’s Tino to know. He’ll think I paid for it,” said Buttons.
Nick shook his head, “Buttons, I can’t do that, even for a friend. You know that.”
“Why not? Who’s it going to hurt. It’d be stealing,” said Nick.
Buttons wasn’t about to give up, “Let me put it this way. Suppose a starving person came in and asked you for a sub, would you give it to him?”
Nick put the knife down and leaned over the counter, “Buttons, I can’t sit and talk with you. You have to order or leave. It’s the way it has to be.”
“Some friend you are. Forget it,” said a suddenly angry Buttons. He walked to the door, then turned back to Nick. “If you can’t do me a small favor, forget about me being your friend. I’ll find another friend.”
Nick shrugged and watched Buttons leave. Buttons got into his car and drove off without waving at Nick.
Five minutes after Buttons left, a worker from the plant where his dad was laid off came into the deli. Nick knew him, it was Carl Pozzi. Nick said, “What can I do for you, Carl?”
Carl nodded, but didn’t say anything, he looked at the sub menu on the wall. Carl said, “It’s a tough decision. Maybe I want the pepperoni, provolone cheese, and hot peppers.”
“That’s a good choice,” said Nick.
“I didn’t say that was what I wanted. Maybe I’ll go with the friend eggplant, roasted peppers and mozzarella.”
Nick didn’t say anything. He waited.
“Okay, I made my decision. I’ll go with the veal parmesan with hot peppers and mozzarella.”
“Have it for you in a minute, Carl. Anything you want to drink to go with it?” said Nick.
“No, I’ll take it to go. Too bad about your dad. He would have been okay if he knew enough to keep his mouth shut, and not act stupid,” said Carl.
Nick’s back was turned to Carl as he made Carl’s sandwich. He stopped making the sandwich and turned around, “What do you mean?” Nick said.
“Your dad’s stupid. It happened last Friday. When our shift finished, the company put on a Christmas spread for us. There were sandwiches, cookies, cake, and coffee. It didn’t last long, maybe an hour. Your dad got a call on his cell, he stepped outside for a minute to take the call. I was looking out the window and saw him wave to the town bum, Johnny Balboni. Balboni’s fishing through the trash cans. Your dad finished his call and waved Balboni over. He said something to him. Balboni nodded. Your dad came in and picked up two sandwiches, a couple of cookies and cup of coffee and took it outside and gave it to the bum. I didn’t say nothing about it. But the supervisor saw him. He was angry. When your dad came back, the supervisor started hollering at him. Your dad turned and walked away. He didn’t care. You know what happened. He got laid off. It should have never happened, your dad had seniority.”
Nick was angry. Life was really unfair. You do something good and you get fired. It just wasn’t fair. At the same time, he felt a deep respect and pride for his father. His father didn’t mention it to the family. Nick made up his mind, he wouldn’t complain. He’d work hard to help support his family. If he had to go to college in town, he’d make the best of it.
Will Nick catch a break? Is the friendship between Nick and Buttons over? The Christmas story continues.