"Oh my God! How could anyone let themselves get that low?" The questions and comments bombarded Gloria as she pushed her shopping cart through the streets of downtown, headed for the nearest shelter still seven blocks away.
"I'll never make it at this rate," Gloria thought to herself each time her cart would get stuck in a crack on the near crumbling sidewalk. She jerked the cart and cursed under her breath the last time she asked a passerby for the time.
She knew she was too late and opted for cover from the night's chill in the abandoned building just around the next corner.
Gloria was a woman down on her luck. She once had a wonderful career, a family and a wonderful home, but the loss of her husband and children that fateful Christmas Eve left her in a depression no one could rescue her from. Her family tried to no avail. Her parents were aged and neither she nor her husband had any siblings.
She was on her way home from a business trip when they died in a horrific car accident. As she rode in the taxi, the driver had the radio on the traffic report. She heard about a fatal accident, which closed the interstate. The cab driver followed the detours, exited the freeway and followed the directions Gloria gave him to get her to her destination.
"Happy holidays miss," the driver said as he retrieved her bags from the trunk and waited for her to get inside safely. It was late, and darkness filled the interior of the condo, but concern wasn't an issue as she turned her key and opened the door. The thought of her husband putting the kids to bed early so they could have some quiet time together before the rush Christmas morning to open gifts was a welcomed one.
Gloria walked into the den and set her luggage down. It was then she realized that wasn't the case. On the counter that divided the kitchen from the den she found a note that read, "Hi honey, took the kids to see Santa one last time. Stopping for pizza and will be home around seven. Love Alan." It was well after seven o'clock when she arrived and then the concerns set in.
She called his cell, but got the voicemail and left a message. "I'm worried about you. Call me when you get this," she said and ended the call.
The moment that call ended another came in. "Alan?" she answered.
The silence on the other end worried her. "Alan is that you?" she said, concern laced her voice now.
"Is this Mrs. Patterson?" a male voice startled her.
"Yes it is. Who's this?"
"This is officer Stillwater from the Michigan State Police. I'm sorry to inform you there has been an accident."
Gloria's heart sank as she listened to the officer tell her what to do next. That one single phone call sent her life plunging into darkness and depression. A semi- truck broadsided her husband's vehicle as he pulled out of the restaurant parking lot, killing all passengers instantly. Images of her husband Alan and her children, six-year old Alicia and eight-year old Alan, Jr. mangled in the minivan flooded her mind. The pain was unbearable.
Gloria's fall wasn't sudden, but within the two years since the death of her family she'd gone from an advertising executive to a homeless woman on the streets of this major city. Once living in a luxury condo to sleeping in a shelter if she arrived on time, and if she didn't, sleeping beneath a sheet of cardboard she'd salvaged from a department store garbage receptacle.
She couldn't see herself in any other light. She'd lost all touch of her previous existence as a glamorous wife and doting mother. Her chestnut hair, once vibrant and shimmering even in subdued light is now grimy and matted. Her green eyes that once sparkled warmly when she laughed are now cold, lifeless.
She now stands hunched over her cart; her once full lips - the color of fresh strawberries - are cracked and dried from the harsh elements of her life outdoors. Her clothes and shoes worn and ragged as if she just pulled them from the dumpster. This is Gloria's life now - a despicable sight in the eyes of some, but a human being suffering, in the eyes of others.
Within the days that followed the news concerning the accident, Gloria lost the will to survive in the life she once knew with her family. With the support of her parents and in-laws as well as the members of her church, she managed to get through the funeral. In the weeks that followed, friends and co-workers visited Gloria, but eventually she refused to answer the door.
She had stopped eating, surviving on coffee and crackers, just enough to get by. She couldn't force herself to get out of bed in the morning and eventually lost her job. Without a job the money she and her husband had saved was spent quickly just paying what few bills she managed to pay. She soon found herself bankrupt and the mortgage company foreclosed on her condo.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but if you had children living with you there would be more I could do for you," the agent said in an insincere tone as he handed her the eviction papers.
At this point Gloria was in such a deep depression, the thought of fighting to keep her home and file for bankruptcy never entered her mind. Her only words to the agent that stood before her were, "You bastard! If I had my children here with me I wouldn't be in this situation. I would give anything to have them back with me, but they are dead and my husband, their father died with them two years ago."
When those words rolled off Gloria's lips she fell to the floor, doing the only thing she'd been able to do in the past two years, sob. She cried for hours and then it was as if she knew she had no other choice as she pulled herself up, walked to her room and grabbed her duffle bag from the closet. She tossed in some clothes and undergarments.
She walked to her dresser and grabbed the photo of her family and placed it in between her clothing to keep it safe. She grabbed a few personal items from the bathroom and before she walked out of the front door she placed her keys on the counter. In a daze, she left everything else behind and just began walking.
"Oh dear, the city should do more to help people like that," a passer by whispered to her husband as they walked to the theater. "It's the day before Thanksgiving, no one should have to live like that," the woman continued, but didn't do anything to help the homeless lady.
"This is better than nothing, I guess," Gloria sighed as she huddled beneath her cardboard and searched her pockets for crumbs of food.
Gloria never begged for handouts, she couldn't bring herself to that, but if someone offered her food she would accept it graciously. After she had eaten the last bit of food found in her pockets, she would settle into a somewhat comfortable slump and in her nightly prayers ask God to keep her safe one more night and tell her family she loved them. After a while she'd doze off to sleep.
The need to protect what little she had accumulated over the years forced Gloria to sleep light as she guarded her possessions.
Tonight, cardboard protected her from the blustery, late November wind and below freezing temperature, but not the rodents that invaded her shopping cart. Gloria was awakened to sounds of scratching and chewing right beside her head. "Get out of there you bastards!" she shouted and swatted at the side of her cart to scare off the pesky rodents.
Sleep didn't come easy for Gloria. This would be the fourth Thanksgiving she'd spend without her family. Her dreams were filled with happier times, times spent with her family; birthdays, vacations, holidays; all just painful memories for her now.
As she finally settled in the corner, she belatedly allowed sleep to claim her as heavy eyelids resolved one more day of life. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and she hoped she'd at least be able to get a shower and a warm meal at the shelter.
Gloria awoke to the sun shining in through the broken windows above her and the cheerful sounds of the annual Thanksgiving Day Parade on the next block. She yawned and stretched then slowly rose to her feet. She gathered up her cardboard and placed it neatly in her cart.
The sunlight that shone through the windows was pleasant. Gloria stood there for a moment and drank in the warmth as she prepared herself for yet another blistery day outside in the elements. She took one last look around then headed back out to the street. As she rounded the corner on her way to the shelter, she encountered Belle, another woman who was also on her way to the shelter.
Belle didn't have near the upbringing that Gloria had of fancy schools and a master's degree in advertising, but she always tried to better herself. She married when she was young and became a stay at home mom to her 6 children, while her husband worked to support the family. She'd been on the street for 6 years, and those who knew her said she was a genuine person who made friends quickly.
Her husband and daughter were shot in a carjacking attempt gone badly and four of her sons were killed in the war. Her one surviving son wasn't much help to her. He chose a life of drugs and crime and walked out on her many years ago. Without the support of her husband Belle had no other choice but to try and survive on the streets.
After being evicted for non-payment of rent over a six-month duration, Belle no longer had a roof over her head. She attempted several times to get a job but without an address, or an education past high school hope for her was dismal. Who would hire a woman of her age and lack of formal education; not to mention pay enough so she could to support herself?
Even though Belle's misfortune led her to life on the streets she never stopped trying to better herself. She spoke with elegance and carried herself well. She was a proud woman and with that attitude she often tried to spread encouragement to those around her.
She was often found reading to youngsters or telling stories she'd made up. To the homeless on the streets Belle was known as a genuine person who would give the coat off her back to help another more destitute than herself.
"Happy Thanksgiving, Gloria," Belle said in her usual chipper tone.
"Thanks, same to you, Belle," Gloria replied grimly, keeping the afterthought to herself, "What's so damn happy about it?"
"Did you know the shelter's opening early today?"
"I heard something about that," Gloria replied in her usual melancholic tone as the women continued to walk down the sidewalk in the direction of the shelter.
"If we get there early enough, we might even be able to grab a hot shower!"
"That would be nice, Belle. But I'd bet the shelter's full and the people already there get first dibs."
As they rounded the next corner, Gloria's heart sank. The line for the shelter went halfway around the building. She'd never seen this many people in line before and wondered where they all came from. The shelter allowed men and women with or without children, but those in line were mostly women with children.
She and Belle took their places at the end of the line and Gloria sent up a silent prayer that they'd be able to get in to at least get a shower. That is one of the luxuries she missed most. As time passed, the heartache Gloria once felt with the loss of her family had lessened. Yes, she missed them terribly, but her goal now was to survive day-to-day life.
Gloria didn't recognize the man from the shelter as he rounded the corner talking to the homeless in the long line. As he spoke to them he jotted things down on a paper attached to the clipboard he carried. Gloria had visited this shelter previously, but never noticed this particular man before today. "I wonder if he's volunteering because of the holiday?" she thought to herself as he neared.
He approached Belle and Gloria and smiled warmly at them before introducing himself. "Good morning, ladies and Happy Thanksgiving. My name is Jonathan. I am helping out here today. I was asked to get a head count because the shelter only has so many beds. When that count is reached I must unfortunately turn the rest of the people away. But I have good news for the two of you. There are three spots left and if you would be so kind as to inform those who come behind you that we are now down to one cot I would greatly appreciate it so I can get things set up inside."
While they stood in line awaiting entrance to the cold but safe building, a young woman staggered up along with three small children; the youngest child was in her arms and barely a year old if that. Gloria and Belle felt the guilt sink into them. "I don't know about you Belle, but I just can't take a bed knowing there is a small child who might have to sleep on the street tonight because I wouldn't give up my night of comfort and a hot meal," Gloria said as she turned to speak to the woman behind her.
"The gentleman said there were only three spots left when we arrived and..." she paused to look at Belle who gave her that "I guess you are right" look then returned to the woman behind her and continued. "We can't take a bed away from a child so we will give you our spots. If the man comes back tell him we will look elsewhere for shelter tonight."
The woman, taken aback by the kindness of Gloria and Belle was speechless, but the look in her tired eyes said it all. She was eternally grateful as a tear fell down her cheek and she nestled her child closer.
As Gloria and Belle stepped out of line, the man with the clipboard returned. "Happy Thanksgiving, sir," Belle said. "My friend and I were hoping we'd be able to get a shower and a meal, but we couldn't find it in our hearts to take spots that children so desperately needed. We gave ours to that woman there," pointing to the woman with the children huddled close.
"Well, I don't know about the shower," the man started then glanced down at the paper on his clipboard, "But as far as I can tell from my list, if you hurry you should be able to get a meal and a cot for the night at the Lutheran church up the street. Do you mind if I ask your names?"
"My name is Belle Martin," Belle replied. "This is my friend Gloria -- um --"
"Patterson. Gloria Patterson," Gloria replied. "Nice to meet you."
"I'll call there and tell them how generous you ladies were and ask if they can save two beds for you. When you get there tell them Jonathan sent you."
"Thank you Jonathan," Belle replied and Gloria smiled as they turned and headed up the street toward the church.
As before, Belle and Gloria encountered the same situation, however this time there weren't any children in line. Gloria took a place at the end of the line and Belle walked to the front door. "Excuse me sir, the man at the shelter down the street told us to tell you Jonathan sent us. My friend and I need a warm place to rest, a meal and hopefully a hot shower."
Just as Belle finished speaking the man's cell phone rang, it was Jonathan. After the man ended the call and returned his phone to the holder on his belt he looked up and smiled. "You must be Gl..." he started. Belle interrupted his words, "No, I'm Belle. Gloria is my friend," she said as she waved Gloria to the front of the line.
Gloria couldn't get her mind off Jonathan. He stood only a few inches taller than her; she suspected probably around six foot one. He had collar length jet black hair and dark brown eyes. She found his eyes particularly difficult to look away from, the morning sunlight hit them just right and she could swear she saw flecks of gold glittering against the dark brown of his irises.
"What's wrong with me? A man like that could never possibly be interested in me," Gloria thought to herself, a small smile gracing her dry, chapped lips as she thought of Jonathan.
Even with the large parka he wore, Gloria could tell he was well toned. The coat was unzipped, revealing a thin t-shirt beneath that did nothing to hide the rippling muscles of his broad chest.
She felt the heat of embarrassment rise in her cheeks when she realized how he invaded her mind when Belle's voice brought her back to reality. "I'm sorry, I must have been daydreaming," she said breathless and quiet after her run to the front of the line. "Happy Thanksgiving," she added, saying those words to someone for the first time since her family was taken from her.
"Welcome to Trinity Lutheran Church. My name is Pastor George. I'll be checking you in today." The tall but gruff man directed Gloria and Belle where to put their things to keep them secure during their stay at the church. He then showed them the sleeping area and the showers. The basement of the church housed the basketball court for the school and the homeless residents were allowed to use the showers there. A glimmer of hope returned to Gloria when she saw the large shower area.
After the tour of the basement, Pastor George extended his welcome by offering a hot cup of coffee and an area set up for relaxation and conversation. Couches and chairs lined the perimeter of the area and there was a small colored television set off in one corner. Books and magazines set in the opposite. Gloria and Belle opted for a shower before taking Pastor George up on his offer of relaxing with the other homeless.
Gloria found a private room off the main sleeping area. She asked Pastor George if it was okay to use the room and with permission granted, she quickly retrieved her cart. She closed the door behind her after pulling the cart into the room. It only consisted of a table, chair and sofa, but Gloria was happy to have even just a small bit of privacy.
She reached into her shopping cart and pulled out the duffel bag with the logo of the advertising agency where she formerly worked emblazoned across the side, which she had taken when she left her condo. She pulled at the rusted zipper of the old, worn bag, cursing its stubbornness, then gave one good yank, hearing the teeth of the zipper finally give way allowing her access to its contents.
The items she had originally taken from her condo had been replaced by items that Gloria has acquired during her time on the streets -- a clean pair of jeans, a new, unopened man's pocket t-shirt, shampoo, deodorant and a toothbrush. She pulled out the shampoo and the toothbrush and placed them on the table next to the chair she was standing in front of. She pulled out the jeans and t-shirt then zipped up the bag. She picked up the shampoo and toothbrush after she'd removed her coat and shoes then headed for the women's shower area.
There was a small changing area and Gloria found a spot there and began removing her clothing. She heard Belle's voice behind her as she removed her jeans.
"If we don't hurry, we won't get a good spot in line for dinner, Gloria! Come on!" Belle said as she pulled Gloria to her feet.
"Will you let me finish undressing?" Gloria replied, tripping slightly on her jeans that were half on and half off. "I want to wash my clothes while we shower," she added, gathering up the grungy clothes she'd just removed.
"Hurry up!" Belle shouted over her shoulder as she disappeared around the corner.
As the hot, steamy water cascaded down her tired, aching body, Gloria's thoughts turned to her family. She felt a sob rising in her throat and she struggled to hold it back. Gloria finished her shower and tried to block out all thoughts of that horrible night almost four years ago. She turned off the water and slowly made her way back to the changing area, grabbing a towel off the rack just outside the shower area.
She draped her wet clothes over the bench while she dressed in the clean pair of jeans and t-shirt then gathered up the wet clothes and took them to the small room where her cart was. She draped the clothes over the side of the cart to dry, exited the room and found Belle waiting impatiently for her just outside the door.
"Oh the food looks and smells wonderful!" Belle said with excitement as she and Gloria stood in line for their meal in the cold basement of the church on this blustery Thanksgiving Day.
The line of people went around several long folding tables. The tables were covered with white plastic covers to give a festive appearance. Food from many ethnic backgrounds was set out for the boarders. As Gloria's eyes panned she asked Belle what certain dishes were.
"It's just easier if I start at one end and tell you what everything is," Belle replied, as she started at the end closest to them. "These are collard greens, it's sort of like spinach; a little bitter and more firm. This here is called tabouli; it's a Middle Eastern vegetarian salad. I'm not sure what this is but it looks Chinese," she added looking at a dish with rice and baby corncobs.
Belle finished telling Gloria the remainder of foods on the table including the traditional foods of turkey, stuffing, cranberries and green bean casserole. The dessert table was filled with an assortment of pies pre-sliced and placed on small paper plates.
Gloria took some food, hardly enough to cover her plate. She didn't want to appear greedy. Belle on the other hand took advantage of the feast before her and piled her plate with a serving of just about everything on the table. The two women walked to their cots and ate quietly while the others sat at long tables at the far end of the gymnasium.
Before Belle began to eat she said a prayer of thanks, "God, we thank you for this food, for this safe place to rest and all the kind people who donated and volunteered here today. Also God, thank you for sending us Jonathan, an angel who rescued my friend and me," after she finished she bowed her head and said a silent prayer, "God, please protect my friend Gloria and give her a life again, something to live for."
Gloria sat and ate quietly and while she ate she thought about the things she had to be thankful for. When she finished eating she collected her trash and took it over to the garbage can at the end of the table then returned to her cot. She said good night to Belle and then curled up on her cot, pulling the wool blanket snugly around her neck then closed her eyes. It didn't take her long to fall asleep after the hot meal. It was only about seven-thirty when Gloria had lay down. She was exhausted. """""
"Excuse me Pastor George, can you tell me where I might find Gloria and Belle; the two women I sent here earlier today?" Jonathan asked when Pastor George greeted him at the door.
"Ah yes! I remember those kind ladies, son. They are bedded in the corner opposite the women's showers. That's a mighty large package you have there and it smells divine," the pastor said as Jonathan smiled and began his search for Gloria and Belle.
"Hello Jonathan," Belle said with a slight yawn, feeling the effect of the food she'd eaten just a short time ago.
"Could you tell me where Gloria is? I didn't see her yet."
"She's over there on her cot, but I do believe she's already asleep, Jonathan. Is there something I can help you with?" Belle asked sitting in the overstuffed chair holding a magazine and pointing to the direction of Gloria's cot.
"Well we had an over abundance of food at the shelter and I thought you two would possibly enjoy a late night snack or hold on to it for tomorrow," he said as he showed her the bag.
"That's awfully kind of you, thanks Jonathan," she said as she reached for the bag and headed to her cot. "I will share this with her when she wakes," Belle added as she secured the bag to the leg of Gloria's bed and covered it with the extra blanket available.
"Okay then, you sleep well tonight and remember if you need anything you know how to find me," Jonathan said quietly as not to wake Gloria.
Jonathan said his good byes to Pastor George and headed out the front door as Belle walked back to her chair to finish reading her magazine.
Gloria wondered as she dreamt, "That voice sounds so close, as if I could touch him for real." Her dream was of Jonathan. He had come to visit her at the shelter after she had finished eating.
"Excuse me, Ms. Patterson. You have a visitor," Pastor George said and when he stepped aside Jonathan stood behind him. "I have things to tend to now so if you'll excuse me," the pastor said then disappeared into the darkness of the room.
The room was different than she had seen when she arrived with her friend Belle. When she sat up on the edge of her cot and glanced around the room she didn't see Belle, as a matter of fact, the room was almost empty except for an elderly gentleman in the far corner of the dark room near the door.
"Do you remember me?" Jonathan asked. His voice was deep and sexy. His open parka still revealed that thin shirt that hardly hid his muscular chest. Gloria could, even in the darkness, see the glow of gold in his brown eyes that sparkled as he gazed at her face.
"You look nice this evening, Gloria," he added as he sat beside her on the cot.
Gloria didn't budge, even though she thought it strange that he would be so bold as to sit directly on her cot. She enjoyed the warmth that radiated from his thighs.
"What are you doing here, Jonathan?" she asked.
Jonathan stood, removed his parka and in that deep sexy voice of his said, "I heard there wasn't any dessert for tonight's feast here and I wanted you to have the best Thanksgiving feast you've ever had. This is your lucky night dear, I'm your dessert!" he said excitedly as he removed his parka.
Gloria nervously looked at the floor quickly. It had been years since a man had undressed in front of her and then it was her husband, not a total stranger. And to her, Jonathan was still considered a stranger. When she glanced back up, Jonathan stood before her practically naked. Just his blue satin boxers remained.
Gloria's eyes blinked several times, as if she was dreaming. She closed them tight and opened them only to find him still standing in front of her with his hand reaching for hers.
"Come with me, beautiful. It's time for your dessert!"
Jonathan led her to the small room between the gymnasium and the showers. The same room she used earlier to have some privacy. Only this time when Jonathan opened the door there was a bed and flames from the candlelight danced upon the walls. The bed was huge and covered with satin sheets and a down comforter.
The comforter was tossed off the bed as soon as Jonathan closed the door behind them, "We won't be needing this tonight, baby," he whispered in her ear as he pulled her close to him, kissing the back of her neck and down her shoulders.
Gloria was in heaven. It had been years since she'd felt the warmth of a man, the love of a man; even the wetness between her thighs. She pressed her backside against him and a soft moan escaped her lips as Jonathan continued his pleasurable assault.
"Gloria, my beautiful Gloria!" Jonathan whispered in a ragged breath in between kisses and nibbles on her neck and shoulders.
Swaying gently, he moved her toward the bed and when Gloria glanced up she saw her reflection in the mirror that covered the entire wall, from the floor to the ceiling. She stared in disbelief as Jonathan described what he loves about her.
"Your hair is so soft and sexy. I love the way it shimmers in the candlelight. Your eyes, oh that sparkle, it lights up your whole face when you smile. Your skin, so soft and firm and those lips — the color of ripe red strawberries in the summer sun. I've longed to kiss those lips from the first moment I saw you today. God you are so beautiful. Come, follow me."
Gloria looked into the mirror as Jonathan lay her down on the soft mattress. Her figure and features were the same as before she married her husband. Her breasts were firm and round, her waist trim and her hips flared just enough to give her a toned, feminine look.
As she lay back against the coolness of the satin sheet, she felt the warmth of Jonathan's lips against hers. The combination made her shiver with delight and she parted her moist lips, inviting Jonathan to take the kiss deeper; which he did.
She felt his tongue graze the corners of her lips before plunging into her mouth. Gloria felt light headed at the sensations Jonathan was stirring within her. She reached for the hem of her shirt only to have Jonathan push her hands away to complete the task himself.
He broke the kiss and brought her shirt over her head, tossing it to the side while his hands roamed over the soft curves of her waist and stomach. She arched into him in response when she felt his thumb graze across one nipple through the thin material of her bra.
"So soft, so beautiful," he whispered before his lips captured hers in another heated kiss.
Gloria felt his fingers brush lightly against her skin as he pulled her closer to him, unfastening her bra and tossing it to the side with her shirt. Their eyes locked and Gloria saw the heat of his desire in his hungry gaze. She placed her hands on his shoulders and pulled him into her, finding his lips with a passion she didn't think she possessed any longer.
Their bodies were pressed intimately together as he tore his lips from hers and kissed along her neck, down her chest to the valley between her breasts. She felt the heat of his mouth close around one nipple and tangled her fingers in his hair, holding him to her.
Jonathan released his lips from one nipple and kissed along her skin to find the other and capture it between his lips, nibbling and sucking softly, hearing her whimper his name.
He made his way back up her body to her waiting lips, claiming them in another lustful kiss. He held her close and rolled to his back, taking her with him. Gloria straddled his waist, her hands roaming over the hard plains of his chest before she worked her way down to the waistband of his boxers.
She hooked her fingers in the waistband and brought them slowly down his long, muscled legs. Tossing them to the side with one hand, her other found his rock hard shaft and she began stroking him slowly.
"I'll have my desert now, Jonathan," she whispered as she leaned in and lapped up the clear droplets of pre-cum that had oozed from the tip of his throbbing erection.
"God yes," he breathed in reply. Through the fog of his arousal he was unable to form anything more coherent.
She heard him draw in a harsh breath as her lips encased the head of his cock, her tongue swirling around to the underside. He thrust his hips to push himself further into her mouth and she willingly accepted his offer.
Her hand covered the part of his shaft that she couldn't take into her mouth and she began stroking slowly, matching the movements of her mouth.
Gloria moved her other hand beneath him, squeezing his ass cheek softly. When her index finger grazed the opening of his anus, his hips began to move in rhythm with her mouth, causing her finger to push slightly inside the tight opening.
She heard him let out a deep grunt and felt his body tense. His cock became even harder in her mouth as she enjoyed her feast and within just a few minutes his orgasm exploded from the tip, his thick, hot liquid flowing easily down her throat.
She felt his body relax and as she finished milking his cock with her mouth, she slowly released her lips. He reached for her, pulling her up the length of his body and placing a tender but passionate kiss on her lips as she settled against him, her legs still straddling his waist.
"A perfect ending to the day," she breathed, resting her head on his shoulder, sighing contently as sleep claimed her.
"Happy Thanksgiving," he replied, still breathless himself. He kissed her forehead and pulled her closer before joining her in slumber.
Gloria awoke to the sound of bells. "This is the wake up call Gloria, it's time to get going," Belle said as she nudged Gloria's arm gently.
When Gloria was awake and sitting on the edge of her cot Belle handed her the gift bag from Jonathan. "What's this?" she asked taking the bag from Belle and feeling the outside with her hands.
"Jonathan paid us a visit last night, but you were sound asleep and he hated to wake you. He said there were leftovers from the shelter last night and thought we could use the extra food."
"That was nice of him. I'll have to thank him for this as soon as we get out of here," Gloria replied as she folded her blanket and placed it neatly at the foot of the cot along with the pillow.
"Someone's mighty chipper this morning," Belle commented, wondering what had come over her friend during the night. She was no longer this timid quiet woman. It seemed as though there was even a slight sparkle in her eyes when she looked at Belle.
"I thanked Jonathan last night and today I'm headed to see an old friend by the river. You're welcome to join me if you'd like Gloria," Belle said as she gathered her belongings as well as part of the food Jonathan had left for them.
"No thanks. I must go thank Jonathan before I do anything else. I'm sure I'll see you around Belle," Gloria said as she stood from the cot and hugged her friend then headed to the front door to get her shopping cart from the storage area before heading out the door.
Gloria and Belle walked single file, following the line of people exiting the basement of the church. Once outside Gloria called out to Belle one last time, "Thanks for spending Thanksgiving with me my friend." Then she turned quickly and headed in the opposite direction of Belle.
"Hello? Is anybody here?" Gloria called out into the emptiness of the shelter where she'd met Jonathan. No answer. She called out a second time a little louder, "Hello?"
"The shelter doesn't open until five o'clock tonight," a gruff voice answered her call.
"Excuse me. I'm looking for Jonathan. Is he here?"
"Sorry lady. He was just volunteering last night to help us out. Can I help you with something?" An elderly man asked as he shuffled to the door.
"Oh — um — no thank you. If you happen to see him can you tell him Gloria said thank you for the food," she said as the brightness in her voice slowly faded and she returned to her cart on the sidewalk.
She knew that if she wanted to attract Jonathan's attention, she'd have to make changes in her life, but she didn't know where to begin. Without having an address, she couldn't send out resumés to find a job.
After she left the shelter, she turned and headed toward the river, hoping she could catch up with Belle. As she situated her things in her shopping cart, she heard a voice behind her.
"Mrs. Patterson? Gloria Patterson? Is that really you? Oh my God! I hardly recognized you. What on earth are you doing out here?" A woman standing beside a van full of canned goods asked in astonishment.
"Do I know you?" Gloria asked, not recognizing the woman at first.
"Yes you know me dear. My husband is — um — was one of your biggest clients, Mr. Albert Cleveland and I'm Victoria Sharpe-Cleveland. Do you remember now? I know it seems like forever since we last spoke."
The woman gave strict instructions to her driver to unload the van and meet her up the street at the coffee shop when he was finished. "Yes, Mrs. Cleveland," he answered as he began unloading box after box of canned goods and clothing unto a dolly and wheeled it into the shelter Gloria had just exited.
"Come dear, you must be freezing out here. You are going to catch a horrible cold out in this weather in those worn out shoes," Victoria said to Gloria as she took her arm and headed to the coffee shop on the next block.
The two women took a seat in a booth in the corner of the small shop and after Victoria ordered for them both the questions began. Gloria answered as best she could remember.
"I'm sure you heard about Alan and the children," Gloria started and continued from there and how she ended up on the streets.
"Oh you poor dear. Well, I can't get your job back. Mr. Cleveland passed last summer and I heard the agency sold out to a bigger company, however, I am in need of a housekeeper," Victoria explained.
Gloria looked at her with a familiarity in her eyes, remembering the house vividly. Victoria smiled warmly and continued, "Yes, I am still in that huge house by the lake and I can't take care of it all by myself any longer, it's just too much," she said.
"Mrs. Cleveland, I - I can't --"
Victoria raised her hand to silence Gloria's protest, "Please call me Victoria and I don't want to hear another word about it, you're coming with me young lady. You can stay at my house. I have plenty of room if you remember."
When the driver finished unloading the boxes he drove to the coffee shop and waited for the women to finish their beverages. Before Gloria got into the van she pulled her shopping cart filled with personal things and began to place the items into the van.
"Oh you won't need those things any longer dear," Victoria said as she tried to pull the cart away from the van.
"No! Wait! There's something I need to get from there," Gloria said as she rifled through the items to find her duffle bag. She pulled the bag out and grabbed the broken picture frame that held the weather beaten photo of her husband and children. Gloria pressed the frame against her chest and said, "I must take this with me."
The driver helped Gloria and Victoria into the van then directly to the Cleveland Estate.
Once inside, Victoria showed Gloria to her room then gave her a tour of the house. Gloria had been there once before but that had been many years ago. As they toured Victoria explained what Gloria's duties would be and which rooms to clean and which to leave alone.
"This is my son's room. You don't have to clean this; he's only here on holidays. He wasn't here yesterday because he had another obligation to tend to, but you'll meet him at Christmas."
Gloria seemed to fit right in with her new surroundings and time passed quickly. Before she knew it Christmas was just a couple days away. Victoria asked her to polish the silver and shine the crystal for the festive dinner for her family.
"I know you have no where else to go and I would love it if you would join my family for Christmas dinner this year, dear."
Gloria didn't know what to say. She was so grateful for Victoria rescuing her from the streets, yet she longed for Jonathan. She had hoped to return to the shelter on Christmas Day to see if he was there, but she hated to ask permission to leave her duties, there was still so much to do in preparation of the celebration.
Feeling she had no other choice she accepted the invitation to spend the holiday with Victoria's family. The big day came and family members began arriving quite early in the day. Gloria was running herself ragged making sure everything was perfect. "Stop right there young lady!" Victoria shouted in a friendly tone, yet still startling Gloria.