Ava plopped herself in Junior’s lap and stuck her tiny hands, triangles of string weaving in and out of her fingers, in his face. Junior let out a dramatic “oof.”
_ You’ve gotten bigger in just a coupla weeks!
– Mommy says I’m a weed. Look what I made.
– That right there is the best “Bow” I’ve ever seen. Don’t think these stubby old hands could do one that good.
– Yeah. Your sign’s still broke.
– It adds character.
– What’s character?
– You’re a character. Did you make that “Bow” yourself?
– Mommy showed me.
– Your mom’s a pretty good teacher, kiddo.
Lena slid into the seat across from Junior and Ava. She looked up at the thumbtacked article. Junior smiled.
– Saw you on TV the other day. We all watched it.
– What? You did great. Hey, up close, can you tell that whatshisname’s got a toupeé?
Junior smacked his hand against the table and smiled. Lena cleared her throat.
– Mommy. My comic book.
Lena produced a rolled-up comic book, Whiz!Bam!Pow! Comics #7 from her purse. It was pristine, perfect. She handed it to Ava.
– Reprint. Had to engage in international diplomacy to get the original out of her hands.
– Everyone has a talent.
– I suck at apologies.
– Come again?
– You know. Last time. I was such a-
Lena’s phone rang. She glanced down at the number and at Rob’s name: she had ignored the twenty-three previous calls and twenty-one messages. She ignored the twenty-fourth.
– You’re popular.
– With Maury Povich. Look, last time, I was such a –
– Happens to all of us.
– No, really. I really was a –
– So where’s it now?
– The funny book.
– Where it needs to be. Where she wanted it to go.
– Ah. She managed to do both, huh? Help someone and help him. In the end I mean? Gotta hand it to her.
– Look –
Ava put her string-woven hands to the table.
– MOMMY. Pancakes!
– You didn’t come back just for those, did ya kiddo? Because I know someone who really misses you.
Junior produced Triceratops from his apron pocket.
– Triceratops! Rahr!
She clutched the beast. She sat it at the corner of the open comic book.
– What do you say, Ava?
– Thank you.
Lena reached into her purse and pulled out a checkbook.
– What’s your name?
– What? Why?
– All this money in your back room and she gave it to me.
Junior stared at the check. The counter jockies stared at Junior, chewing, waiting.
– I can’t.
– Sure you can.
– Nope. Can’t.
– Come on. What’s your name?
– Look, she didn’t hoard it for herself either. She waited until she found the right person. I told you, she was a good judge of character. She got it right this time. Make it out to a savings account to the kiddo. She reminds me of her. Let me help her.
– But this place. You could, you know…
– Nah. Been good to me. It’s home.
The three of them sat silent for a moment, awash in dull green light. Lena closed the checkbook. Ava looked up from Triceratops. The sign blinked and buzzed.
– Mommy, Triceratops says you should buy him a new sign that says all the words.
End Book Three.