Monday, April 20, 2020

Part 2: Dinner at Miss Irene's

The story thus far: The virus has hit Pleasant Glen. Julie, worried about the health of 90-year-old love birds Miss Irene and Big George, plots with J.J. to convince them to stay safely at home. Miss Irene and Big George plot to make Julie and J.J. think they've convinced them to stay at home. A family dinner has been called ….

Before the pandemic (B.P.), it had been a challenge for everyone to clear their schedule for Miss Irene’s once-a-week, mandatory family dinners. (Julie became an honorary family member the moment she moved into the apartment above Miss Irene’s garage.) Everyone – particularly Trey, who was a senior at Pleasant Glen High School – had been busy with meetings, classes, concerts, sporting events and work (Pleasant Glen Cycles and Motors was open until 8 p.m. on Thursdays). When they did gather together, the dinner table was abuzz with gossip and stories about their daily adventures.

After social distancing and stay-at-home recommendations, they found their social calendars empty. “The boys” all moved to Miss Irene's sprawling Victorian home, making it easier for her to fret and cluck over them. The once-a-week, mandatory family dinners became nightly, by-necessity family dinners. Between the lack of outside contact and Miss Irene's “no virus talk at the table” rule, conversation dwindled.

Even so, it was quieter than usual around the table that night. Each person was lost in their own thoughts, weighed down by secrets and schemes none of them were used to keeping from the others.

Julie wondered how angry Miss Irene and Big George would be when she and J.J. asked them to curtail their already limited outside contact even more.

Big George wondered if Miss Irene, who he affectionately called “my little bull in a china shop,” knew the meaning of the word “subtle.”

J.J. wondered how he could keep the “new” used car he was buying Trey for graduation a secret if they were together all the time.

Trey wondered how he could avoid letting his father know he knew about the “new” used car he was getting for graduation if they were together all the time.

Miss Irene wondered if Big George would think her “Naughty Nurse” costume was in bad taste given the current circumstances. What about the “Frisky Firefighter” costume? 

Unable to bear the silence any longer, Julie cleared her throat and gave J.J. “A Look of Some Importance,” complete with eyebrow wiggles and head nods, telepathically urging him to start the conversation.

J.J., who had been a single father for nearly 16 years, was unused to reading female nonverbal cues and mistook this for the “please pass the salt” look. A swift kick to the shin and some more emphatic head nodding from Julie brought him up to speed.

“Uh, Dad? Miss Irene? . . . Julie has something she wants to tell you.”

Julie gave in to the inevitable. “Well, you see . . . the thing is . . . .”

“You are absolutely right,” Miss Irene interrupted, her need to control the situation trumping her desire to let Julie think she was in charge. “The support system in Pleasant Glen is in a shambles. I've already been in contact with the food pantry, hospital and Meals-On-Wheels. We have our work cut out for us.

“Big George and I will set up a command center here in my home office. I'm sorry, but that will leave all the outside work to you kids. Julie, since your party planning business is on hold, you will be our pickup and delivery girl. J.J., you can provide backup when things are slow at the shop. And Trey, you're going to help your granddad with remote repairs by phone. Think of it as an experiment in  telemechanics.”

Trey, J.J. and Julie stared at Miss Irene in stunned silence.

“Very subtle, dear,” Big George said with a wink.

Miss Irene colored slightly. “That is, if it's ok with you kids.” They nodded slowly, still trying to process their marching orders.

“Alright then, let's get to work! J.J., I need you to set up a card table in my office for your dad. He can be my receptionist when he's not working on repairs.”

Big George helped Julie and Trey clear the dishes from the table, but hung back as they slipped through the kitchen door, whispering furiously. As he passed Miss Irene, Big George stopped and planted a kiss on the top of her fluffy cloud of white hair.

“Does this mean I get to wear the sexy secretary costume?” he asked.

Miss Irene grinned. Maybe there was an up-side to this pandemic after all, she thought.

To be continued...

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