Sister Bryce pointed to a rolling cart with paper plates and sporks sealed in small ziplock bags with a napkin, salt, and pepper. âYou just give them what they ask for. Tonight weâre serving braised chicken, baked macaroni and cheese, black-eyed peas with brown rice, steamed broccoli and carrots, corn bread, and banana pudding for dessert.â
If Grace didnât have to work so hard at thirty to stay within the 120-pound zone so that she could still have some viable modeling options until her acting career kicked off, she would have hooked up a plate for herself.
âPlease start removing the lids,â said Sister Bryce. âI donât know where Sister Marva is, so Iâm going to wheel the paper plates and plasticware out and start opening the doors. You think you can handle it back here?â
Grace shook her head while tying the strings of her apron. She secured her hairnet, then did just as she had been instructed. Once the doors were opened, the room filled up almost immediately. Mothers plopped some of their young ones at the tables and directed them not to move. The elderly parked their canes and walkers at their tables, then lined up at the counter.
Graceâs heart ached at the sight of the small children who stood before her, shaking their plates, with their eyes fixed on every movement of her hand. She recalled how difficult it was for her to find a meal when she went off on her own. She gave every child who stepped in front of her three scoops of whatever they asked for.
âGrace, youâre too heavy-handed with that spoon. Just give the children one scoop, before we run out of food,â Sister Bryce said, reprimanding Grace as she reentered the kitchen. âSister Marvaâs here now, so letâs get this line moving.â
Grace tried her best not to give out more than the mandated single serving and to ignore Sister Marvaâs jabs for the rest of the evening. The line dissolved after an hour and a half. Then Sister Marva focused her attention on dumping out the gravy-lined pans. Each trip she made across the acid-washed tiles, Sister Marva huffed and rolled her eyes at Grace. Grace assumed that Sister Marvaâs huffing and puffing was supposed to serve as some sort of command for Grace to assist her. Instead, Grace followed Sister Bryceâs lead and took a seat on a banged-up metal stool. She leaned back and rested her elbows on the steel countertop behind her and tried to convince herself that she could handle this new life.
âYou all right?â Sister Bryce asked before she began taking a bite out of a hearty chicken thigh.
âYou never ask me if Iâm all right,â Sister Marva complained to Sister Bryceâs back while she stared at Grace. Her eyes were hard as stones.
Sister Bryce made a slight turn and responded to Sister Marvaâs accusation of favoritism. âI asked you if you were all right after you completed your first night of serving, just like Iâm asking her.â Sister Bryce maneuvered herself back around to face Grace. âSo, what do you think?â
Grace thought there was no way that she was going to make it another 364 days doing this. Tonight was almost as bad as the three months sheâd spent working at McDonaldâs. On her final day there sheâd dumped all the ingredients on the counters and the floor of the kitchen. The onions, the pickles, the tomatoes, and the shredded lettuce. She did not belong in any situation that required her to be hospitable to other human beings. It might have taken some time, but sheâd grown accustomed to the life sheâd created for herself, and most days she liked it. However, there was no way in the world she was going to admit to that in front of hawk eyes.
âSister Marva, go and check on the people. Make sure everyone has what they need, and donât forget to distribute the Bibles, tracts, and the churchâs schedule. Grace and I will take