When I Think of Home, I Think of a Place
Storm had long ago decided not to call anyone to come pick her up on the day she was released. No, she needed to make this journey back into society the same way she left it three years ago, by herself! Besides, the one thing she didn’t want or need was pity from anyone, especially Skylar.
The smell on the prison bus was a familiar one. Although it had been three years since she was last on one, it was just as she remembered: funky and stale with a mixture of recognizable scents, like cheap perfume, cigarettes, body funk—life and death. But all that didn’t matter now. She was on her way out of this cage.
There were only ten people on the bus including her, but Storm chose a seat in the back by herself. She didn’t know any of the other girls getting released anyway. None of them were from her cellblock. Besides she needed this time to think about all she had to do when she got home. Home. Do I even have a home anymore?
Storm had plans and they were already in motion. First, she needed to find a job. Sidney, Skylar’s man, had assured her there would be a job at the club for her if she wanted to work there. She had never met Sidney, but felt she knew a little about him. He was usually the one who accepted her collect calls from the prison. Over the years, they had had lengthy conversations. Skylar was usually too busy, or not there when the calls came through, and when the two sisters did manage to speak on the phone, they seemed like strangers. Storm heard that Skylar had turned Morrison’s, the family restaurant, into some type of nightclub. Things are going to be real different back home.Chapter Two
Get Here if You Can
So, do yourself a favor and stop by Legends for an unforgettable evening of sheer entertainment, dancing, and the finest in southern cuisine.” A tear formed in Skylar’s eyes as she read aloud the ending of the review that Philadelphia Magazine had given her very popular nightspot. She had worked her ass off this past year trying to make Legends the number one spot for entertainment in the Philadelphia club scene. The two-storey burgundy- and amber-colored brick building almost appeared out of place, nestled among a string of neatly adjoined row homes and positioned proudly on a corner in the working-class community. The fact that Philadelphia magazine had done a feature story and review on an African American business was a rare accomplishment—and rarer still, it was a positive review. But there it was, in black-and-white—a glowing review and profile ranking Legends number one.
Although Legends catered to an affluent, sophisticated crowd, its atmosphere was elegant, not bourgeois. Everyone felt at home here. Exquisite artwork by such noted artists as Jacob Lawrence, Romare Bearden, and Annie Lee adorned the walls. There was also a special rich royal blue tribute wall where eight-by-ten black-and-white portraits of legendary black entertainers of yesteryear, like Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Sidney Poitier, and Dorothy Dandridge, hung in gold-colored picture frames. It was a conversation piece among the guests dining and dancing the night away. So much so, Skylar was planning to add to it and highlight legendary artists of today, like Whitney Houston, Beyoncé, Usher, Mary J. Blige, and Sade.
Looking at all she had accomplished, her mind went back to when she was a child. Dutch had been head chef at Morrison’s, and people came from far and wide to savor his food. As it became more successful, everyone encouraged him to expand. But he always politely declined, convinced that the restaurant would lose the down-home family feel that he and Lady had dreamed of and created, even if it meant periodically that there were lines of people outside waiting for seats. After a difficult pregnancy, Lady lost her life during childbirth, and Dutch doted on his two baby girls from the start—they were the only family he had left aside from his regular customers—showering Skylar and Storm with more love and attention than any father could ever give his daughters. And now he was gone.
Roebuck Cicero Morrison, a retired navy man, worked as a short-order cook during his time in the service. He opened Morrison’s Family Restaurant back in 1979 after marrying his longtime high school sweetheart, Barbara Evans. From the moment they laid eyes on each other in Spanish class at Ben Franklin High in Philly, there was no doubt they would be together forever. When Dutch enlisted in the Navy, Barbara enrolled at Cheyney University and promised to wait for him. Dutch called Barbara the love of his life and she reciprocated the feelings. Because they were complete opposites, no one really expected their romance to last, and some even passed it off as puppy love. He was laid-back, quiet, and gentle. She was eccentric, controlling, and what some deemed “a little off.” But none of this bothered Dutch, not even Barbara’s decision to change their names—especially his, because she couldn’t for the life of her understand why someone would name their child Roebuck. She became Lady and he became Dutch. Together they purchased the building at 1625 South Street during a period of aggressive gentrification in South Philly.
Skylar’s tears of joy over the review now turned into tears of sadness for her father. How she wished he had lived long enough to see her follow in his footsteps and become so successful in this business. When he decided to retire, his goal was to sell the place, but when she approached him with the idea of keeping it in the family by allowing her to open up a nightclub, he didn’t hesitate to say anything but “Yes!” Hence, Legends was born. Thank God for Sidney, her fiancé and best friend. She couldn’t imagine the past few years without him. And yet she still felt lonely at times. Not because Storm had been incarcerated for the past three years—they were never close anyway.
But so much for loneliness, for now Skylar had a business to run. She had not become so successful sitting on her butt. So she gathered herself together and prepared for the night’s opening. Glancing at her watch she wondered where Nettie was. Nettie was never late.
Nettie was Legends’ main bartender. But she was much more than that to Skylar. Day-to-day operations would not move as smoothly without the no-nonsense, outspoken, take-no-shit Nettie Flowers. Standing a little under five foot two and weighing about one hundred and five pounds, she was curvy, youthful, and sexy. One wouldn’t have guessed that Nettie was in her late forties. Nettie looked good. A night never went by when some unsuspecting fool who came into the club didn’t try and holla at her. Stopping them dead in their tracks, she never had a problem letting them know her weakness was young Puerto Rican women. Especially ones who dressed like stone-cold dudes and walked like they were carrying ten-inch dicks. The thought of it made Skylar chuckle to herself.
“Hey, baby, I’m sorry I’m late,” Nettie said, rushing past Skylar directly to the bar to make sure it was set up right for the evening.
“Hi, Nettie,” said Skylar, who sensed that she was upset. “What’s the matter?”
“Nothing!” Nettie snapped.
“Is it June?” Skylar asked. June was Nettie’s partner of two years.
Slamming down the wet cloth that she used to wipe the bar down with, she looked at Skylar and rolled her eyes. “What else could it be?” Nettie hissed. “I swear I’ma leave her ass in a minute. She got on my one good last nerve today.”
“What happened this time, Nettie? Come on over. Let’s sit down and talk about it.” Skylar moved over one seat at the table, making room for Nettie next to her.
“Girl, I ain’t got no time for that. I’m late as it is. We open in less than an hour and you know my station is always set up by now!”
“It’s okay, Nettie. Take a few minutes. Here, come over and sit down.”
Checking her watch first, Nettie sat down next to Skylar.
“We’ve been having a problem in the apartment with the cable. So for the last few days the cable company had been sending this guy over to try and figure out what it was. Well, today he finally realized that the root of the problem was the wiring in our bedroom. So we were in the room and because it was the same brotha had been dispatched for the last three days, well, we started conversing. Just talking shit, you know, like, ‘Where you from? How long you been living in Philly?’ A real nice, respectable brotha. And he had just finished telling me this joke when June came home from lunch. She walked in and heard all this laughter in our bedroom and started trippin’. Asking what was so funny and why was he in the bedroom and shit like that.”
Skylar started to laugh.
“The shit ain’t funny, Skylar!” Nettie glared at her.
“I’m sorry, Nettie,” Skylar apologized. “But you two go at it all the time! Why was she so jealous?”
“I don’t know!” Nettie shouted. “If I even look at a dude, the bitch’s eyes cross! I’m like, ‘Baby, if I wanted a man, I’d be with a man. I’m gay. I like women—but right now, you acting like a little girl!’ I told her, ‘If you’re so damn insecure about a dick, then why don’t you get your ass a penile implant?’ ”
“No you didn’t, Nettie.” Skylar couldn’t contain her laughter.
“I sure did! I’m tired of this shit. I’m forty-seven years old and I’m taking this kind of shit from some twenty-five-year-old. Fuck that. So she started packing up some of her shit and told me she was going out. Like that shit was gonna phase me. I was like ‘Okay, well you just leave my keys on the kitchen table.’ ” Nettie crossed her arms and leaned back in the chair.
“Nettie, tell me you didn’t say that.” Skylar probed for more.
“You want me to lie to you? I said it and I meant it. She then got smart and said the reason I wanted her to leave the keys was because I wanted to give them to my ‘cable man.’ ”
“You two ought to stop.”
“So you know I had to fan the fires, girl.” Nettie started to laugh. “I was like, ‘Naw, he already got a set. I’ll just put yours aside for the mailman.’ ” Nettie and Skylar laughed hysterically.
“Well, where did she go?” Skylar asked.
“The hell if I know! And do I look like I care? She’ll bring her fat ass back home crying like a little bitch in a day or so.” Nettie rolled her eyes and continued her rant. “These young bulls are something. They want to be the man so much. Talking ’bout how they can put a bitch’s back out during sex, that it’s so good. But when things don’t go their way, they start whimpering like some spoiled pampered child! That’s what I get for dealing with somebody that damn young. The next one I mess with is going to be old, settled, and on SSI.”
Skylar and Nettie shouted their laughter together, nearly doubled over in stitches.
“It seems like yesterday when June and her brother came in here for lunch. I remembered thinking, What a cute teddy bear of a guy, with the prettiest smile,” Skylar said. “It took me a while to notice that he was a she.”
“Aw hell, girl, I clocked that shit when she walked in here.” Nettie said matter-of-factly.
“Really? How?” Skylar quizzed.
“Gaydar, girl!” Nettie said. They laughed so much that Nettie almost completely forgot the mood she was in when she came into the club, that was, until her phone started to ring—with an Alicia Keys ringtone. June. Nettie frowned.
“See, there she goes now! Blowing up my damn phone.” Nettie rolled her eyes and dismissed the call with a wave of her hand. “Let her ass sit over there and look at her ugly-ass momma!”
“What?” Nettie shouted. “Makes me sick! I’m too old for this shit, Skylar. Besides, I’m at work. I need to get ready for work.” The phone continued to ring and Nettie continued to ignore it.
“Answer the phone, Nettie. The girl probably wants to apologize,” Skylar pleaded through a series of chuckles and snickers.
Her plea fell on deaf ears as Nettie started to get up and go toward the bar. “Well, that’s what voice mail is for!” Nettie sneered. After the ringing stopped, Nettie changed the subject. “Hey, did you see the article in Philadelphia magazine?” she beamed.
“Yes I did, girl! And tomorrow they’re running a piece on the Channel 3 midday news, right?”
“Well you deserve all the success you get, baby. You’ve worked very hard to make this place what it is. Your daddy would’ve been so proud. I know I am.” Nettie gave her a motherly embrace.
The mention of Dutch brought tears to Skylar’s eyes. “You think so, Nettie?” Nettie assured her that not only would Dutch be proud, but that she felt his spirit around all the time, so she knew that he was looking after her. “No disrespect, Skylar, but your father was a ‘one-of-a-kind nigga.’ Let me just say that!”
Normally Skylar would have barked at anyone referencing her father as a nigger, but she knew that this was just the way Nettie talked.
“He supported me when I was at my lowest. Broke as a three-legged table.” Nettie let out a hearty laugh, prompting Skylar to do the same. “Seems like yesterday that I came into Morrison’s and asked your daddy for a hot meal.” Just the thought of that dark time in her life made Nettie shake her head in disbelief. Skylar, careful not to interrupt, took Nettie’s hands in hers. “I was practically on the streets. Correction—I was on the street. I knew I had no business coming into an establishment like Morrison’s. Let’s just say my reputation preceded itself. Nobody wanted to be bothered with me around here. Girl, I was like The Scarlet Letter.”
Ever since she was a child, Skylar had heard rumors about Nettie. But it never bothered her if they were true or not because, as far as she was concerned, Nettie was as near to any mother she had ever known. And she always felt a loving closeness to her.
“None of what was said about me bothered your daddy,” Nettie said. “Even if most of the shit niggas was saying about me was true anyway. After he helped me get back on my feet, I asked him why he did it. And he looked at me and said, ‘Nettie, every one of God’s children deserves a second chance. And no matter what you may feel, you are one of God’s children.’ ” Tearing up, Nettie used one of the table napkins to wipe her eyes. “I don’t know where it came from, but somehow deep inside I believed him. Your daddy helped me and didn’t expect nothing from me for it either. And I wasn’t used to shit like that. Niggas been wanting shit from me since I was a child. Dutch was just a giving spirit.” Nettie smiled and turned to Skylar. “And you’re the same way, Skylar. You always helping people. Shit, you helped me, too.”
“What you talking about, Nettie? All that you do around here for us? Please!”
Excerpted from In My Sister's House by Donald Welch. Copyright © 2010 by Donald Welch. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.