A meeting at Alva’s
Brenda was right. Joellen did like Alva. She came right over to their table.
“How you doin’, girl? Look atchoo,” she trilled. The two women embraced, Alva rubbing Brenda’s back in a motherly soothe. “Whatchoo up to?”
“I’m working, you know,” Brenda told her. “And things are good.”
“I see that, I do,” Alva patted Brenda’s back. Brenda slid into the booth bench and Alva slid next to her, facing Joellen. “And who be this? Not your sister?”
“Yes,” Brenda said. “This is Joellen. My little sister.”
“With the two children, lives in, where was it, North Carolina?” Alva asked, looking at Joellen, smiling and nodding, trying to remember exactly.
“That’s right,” said Joellen. “We came up to visit. With my kids. They’re back at Brenda’s. Playing video games or watching a DVD or something. They have a school break this week so we thought we’d come up,” Joellen’s voice trailed off, uncertain how much to reveal, feeling uncomfortable about what they were about to request of someone she didn’t even know.
But Alva, already sensing some trouble, leaned forward with a comforting look on her face, as if to say, come on and tell momma all about it, as was her great gift. The women talked, as women do, about troubles and men and children. Alva told stories about the people she knew and the people who had come through her life and gone out of it again. Raoul came from the kitchen and made his rounds, stopping at every table and joking with the diners, asking them how they liked their dinner, warning of the cold that was coming, telling tales of great fights he had seen and bouts he had won. Finally he arrived at their table.
“Watchoo gonna bring these ladies for some dessert, Raoul?” Alva teased him. “I know this one’s got a sweet tooth for some pie,” she pointed to Brenda and chuckled. “I remember you ate most every type of pie we ever did have in here.”
Brenda nodded. “Raoul makes the best pumpkin pie I ever had,” she said, looking up at the big man standing at their table.
“You come by for Thanksgiving then,” he said to her. “I’ll show you what pumpkin pie is.”
“Here now,” Alva said, “that’s right. You come for Thanksgiving with them children of yours. Just two days away now. We’ll fix you up some fine dinner. Do it every year.” She leaned across the table to Joellen and said in a soft voice, almost a whisper, “And you come by my place after witchyour things and you can visit with me for awhile. Give your mean ole sister a rest now. We got a fine apartment just right for you and the kids. And I would consider it an honor to be your stopping off place for just as long as you want.”
So it was settled. The next day Brenda led Joellen and Jamie and Noreen to Alva’s house and helped them move in. The children were sullen at first. Then they met Marv and his dog Bugs, named because of his floppy ears. Marv asked if they would take him for his walk and off they went, Bugs tugging at the leash with Noreen holding on and Jamie keeping Bugs from pulling her onto the street.
“Do you think they’ll be all right?” Joellen asked nervously. “This is their first time in the city.”
“Bugs’ll bring them back around. He’s got his walking routine down to the penny,” Marv said. “He knows this neighborhood better than any human. And Jamie looks like a smart boy. Don’t you worry.”