Only One for Lunch:
The Christmas holidays! It was busy, really busy and Charles was happy about that, the extra help, the plethora of shoppers, the bustle. It was his element. He walked slowly through the restaurant, and a number of people nodded at him. Some of them were those who worked here at the store and always had a kind word for the 'big boss', Mr Ward; some were acquaintances. Charles certainly had a smile for everyone.
He was perpetually upbeat and pleasant, even to those whom he didn't really like. It was a remembered mantra from his saintly Mom: "It never costs you a thing to smile at people, even if they don't suit you."
Charles remembered that and practiced it. The Christmas season also seemed to put everyone in a better mood that day.
He sat down in one of the booths and immediately a waitress came to him.
"Mr. Ward," she said. "Nice to see you today."
"Thank you, Judy," he responded. "How are you today?"
"Fine, thank you for asking," she said.
"And those lovely twins?" he asked next with a smile on his face. "Growing?"
"Like weeds!" she said.
"Photos to show?" he asked next.
"In my purse. If you don't mind, I'll get them and show them," she said, beaming at him.
"Make my day!' he said.
"Thank you, Mr. Ward," Judy said.
He ordered a caesar salad and a cup of coffee. It was his usual, when he came here for lunch.
The large department store, the biggest in the chain that he'd inherited from his Mom, Dad and Uncle Ken, had both a diner like restaurant and also a one star, upscale one. He made it a habit to stop in for lunch or even dinner at each of them periodically.
It can also be said that his well honed mind, which he'd inherited with the stores from the folks, helped him to keep in mind the names and situations of the people who worked for him.
Sitting in a booth across from him, he noticed a little girl, probably about 7 or 8 years old, he surmised, and a lovely young lady, he assumed it was her mother.
That assumption was proven, when he heard the little girl say: "This is so exciting, Momma! I like wishlooking! It's so much fun."
The young woman smiled at the little girl and said: "Yes, it is, honey, and when Mommie gets herself a job, we're going to really go shopping."
The little girl clapped her hands and said: "Oh, I like that, Momma. It'll be so exciting."
Just then the little girl was served a grilled cheese sandwich and a glass of milk.
The little girl asked: "Momma, aren't you going to have any lunch?"
"Sweetie," the young woman said, "Momma's really not hungry. You go ahead and enjoy your lunch."
"Thank you, Momma," the little girl said, picking up a part of the sandwich and eating it.
It was then that Charlie got up. He left a tip for Judy, and encountered her on the way out of the restaurant.
"Judy," he said.
"Yes, Mr Ward," she responded.
"The woman in the booth across from me with the little girl,"
"Yes," Judy said, "That's Stella Regis, a friend of mine, and her little girl is Melody."
"What's the story with them, do you know?" he asked.
"Hard times," Judy said. "Husband left and apparently faded into the woodwork. I saw them coming in and my suspicions were simply confirmed, when Stella told me that it would be lunch only for Melody. It is a kind of treat for the little girl, I believe."
"Yes," he said, "They're talking about wishlooking."
"Yes, it used to be called window shopping but these days it's called wishlooking."
"Okay, Judy, please do me a favor," he said.
"Yes, sir!" she answered.
He gave her, from his wallet, a $50 and said, "Please give this to Stella from me. You don't need to mention where it came from. She should at least have lunch."
"Aren't you the nice one!" Judy said.
Then he changed tracks and said: "What about those photos?"
Judy hurried off and returned in a few minutes with the photos of her twins.
"They're gorgeous!" he said, "Like their Mom!"
"Growing fantastically!" she said, grinning at him.
"Please let me give you this for their piggy banks!" he said, handing her another two $20 bills."
Now Judy had tears in her eyes, as she thanked him.
He left and she went down to the booth where Stella and Melody were sitting.
"Hey, girl!" Stella said to Judy.
Judy bent down and said very softly: "The man who was sitting across from you is Mr Ward, Charles Ward, the big boss here at CDWard's. He asked me to give you this for your lunch."
Judy passed to Stella the $50 bill and Stella gasped.
"What is it, Momma?" Melody asked.
"The man, the one who was sitting across from us, has given us money to pay for our lunches," Stella said to Melody.
Then Stella turned and thanked Judy.
"No," Judy said, holding up a hand. "You need to thank the big boss!"
"Oh, can I?" Stella asked.
"Yes," Judy said, happy to be squealing on the boss, "Take the elevator to the 7th floor. It's where he hangs out, when he's not prowling the store."
"And acting like an angel!" Stella said.
"Got that right!" Judy said, and then: "What'll it be for lunch? And Mr W has already tipped me for your lunch too."
"He's grand!" Stella said, "And you said the 7th floor?"
"Yes," Judy said, moving away to put in Stella's lunch order.
A SPECIAL HUG:
They were finished with their lunches and walking in the direction of the elevators.
"Momma," Melody asked, "Why did that man leave the money for us?"
"Well," Stella answered, "He must be a really nice man. I think that we need to go and say a 'thank you' to him. Don't you?"
"Yes, Momma," Melody said, smiling, "I agree that we should."
"We'll keep the balance of this money for another day," Stella said, "Things have got to get better soon; I hope."
"I'm sure they will," Melody said with great faith.
They came to the bank of elevators and went in and pushed the button for the 7th floor. On the sign by the buttons it said 'Administration'.
"I guess that's where we need to go," Stella said.
"Yes, Momma," Melody agreed.
The elevator let them off in a kind of a lobby, where a young woman was sitting and typing.
"Yes, can I help you?" the young woman asked.
"Well, ... um..." Stella began, when Melody spoke up: "We're here to see the nice Mr Ward, who bought our lunch."
The young woman behind the desk, Cindy, smiled at that. She knew that it was a typical gesture that Mr W had made with people.
She spoke into the intercom: "Mr. W, a young woman and a little girl here to see you. Say that you bought their lunch and want to say thank you."
Melody Regis was a demonstrative little girl. She loved hugs and loved to be able to give hugs.
So that, once Charles Ward came out of his office, before he knew what was happening, the little girl had him in her clutches and was hugging him.
"You're so nice!" Melody proclaimed, so that all in the area could hear what she had to say.
He got over his shock and said: "Thank you, and you are very, very pretty! It's such a treat to get a hug from a pretty little girl!"
"Give my Momma a hug too," Melody said, "She's pretty too!"
"Well," he answered, "She certainly is!"
"I'm Melody and that's my Momma Stella!" Melody said next.
And then he had Stella in his arms for her copy of the hug.
Stella was saying softly to him: "Thank you for the gift. I'm afraid that we had money only enough for Melody to eat."
She looked up at him and the look on his face gave her a kind of a courage that she might not otherwise have.
Just then the young woman at the reception desk got up and said: "Melody, I have something in the next room that I'd like to show you. Can we?"
"Momma?" Melody asked.
"Yes, sweetie," Stella said, "Go with her, Mr Ward and I will be right here."
Melody went hand in hand with the young reception gal into the break room, where there were some sweets to be had.
Charles sat then and gave all of his attention to Stella. With Melody not in the room, Stella's face now showed the worry that was part of her every day life.
"I know it sounds empty-headed," she began, "I mean to go out to lunch, when there is so little money available but things have been so bad. I mean, my husband, Melody's Dad has simply run away. No trace of him anywhere and there is precious little money left. I am having trouble getting a job to get us on our feet. But Melody needed the treat so we've been out 'wishlooking'."
"Yes," he said, "Wishlooking! Judy at the restaurant was telling me about 'wishlooking'. And from the sound of it, Melody was certainly enjoying her 'wishlooking' adventure."
"Yes, and you've made it so nice with your kindness, and the money!" Stella said, beginning to sob.
Charles gave her his handkerchief then, and she went on: "I intend to pay you back; I promise that. As soon as we are straightened out!"
"Hush with that!" he said, holding up a hand. "'A kindness given is a kindness that is always returned immediately, '" he said. "It's what my Momma always taught me."
They sat in silence for a few minutes and then he said to her: "But there must be more."
EXPLANATIONS AND A PLAN:
"Oh," she went on, "Money is almost gone; it's rationed and after I pay the rent, which is coming up, we're going to be in trouble." She was on the verge of tears again then.
"Okay," he said softly, "Tell me about yourself."
.... There is more of this story ...