It was a bit mild today, compared to yesterday, he mused as he walked briskly down the sidewalk. He was making his annual visit to the homeless youth shelter. As he was approaching the nondescript building, he noticed a young woman sitting on the steps. She wasn’t wearing a coat. Instinctively, he thought of the coats he was going to donate to the shelter. There had to be one that would fit her.
He went over to her and she watched him warily. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “I won’t hurt you. It’s cold and you’re not wearing a coat. I’m on my way to the shelter to drop off some coats and clothes. I think I have a coat here which I could give you. ” He set down the bags and searched through one with the coats. He spotted the black coat with the hood and took it out. He handed it to her. “Try this on,” he suggested.
At first she hesitated and then she took it from him, stood up and put it on. It fit perfectly. “Thank you,” she said as she pushed her cold hands deep in the pockets.
He smiled. “You’re welcome,” he said. Then, he held out his hand. “I’m Jake. What’s your name?”
She took his hand. It felt small and cold in his. “Daisy.”
“Daisy, could I take you to the coffee shop down the street for a hot chocolate and sandwiches?”
Again, she hesitated but he sounded so kind and she was very hungry. She nodded and came down the steps.
“Wait here,” he said. “I’ll just go and drop off these things and I’ll meet you back here.” He hurried off and five minutes later he was back. She was still there. Relieved, he started down the sidewalk and she fell into step with him. They didn’t speak. There was plenty of time for that, he thought to himself. She looked to be in her mid-twenties. Homelessness among the youth was nothing new here in the city but it still troubled him whenever he encountered one of them in the street.
The coffee shop was buzzing as usual but they managed to find a table at the back in a corner. He helped her off with her coat and then removed his. It was nice and warm inside. Daisy looked around. He studied her. There were so many questions he wanted to ask her but he had to go slow. “You should try the hot chocolate topped with whipped cream,” he said, breaking the silence. She looked at him. What beautiful eyes she had.
“Why are you being so kind to me?” she asked. “What’s in it for you?”
He wasn’t offended at all by her questions. “I have no ulterior motive. I just want to help you. What I get out of it is knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life.”
His answer seemed to satisfy her. Just then the waitress came and took their orders. As he suggested, she ordered the hot chocolate with whip cream along with a turkey sandwich. When the hot chocolate came, she took a sip and licked her lips. She looked over at him, her eyes shining. He smiled. “It’s very good, isn’t it?”
She nodded and smiled for the first time. What a lovely smile she had. It made his heart skip a beat. They ate while in the background voices mingled with Christmas music. “Do you usually donate to homeless shelters?” she asked.
“Yes. I collect donations from my church at Christmas time and drop them off the week before Christmas Day.”
“What church do you go to?”
He told her. “We had our Christmas concert last Saturday evening. Afterwards, we gathered in the hall downstairs and had treats.”
“Sounds nice,” she said, a bit wistful. “I used to go to church but stopped after I ended up on the streets.”
“Daisy, how did you end up on the streets?” he asked gently.
“I lost my job and couldn’t afford to pay my rent.”
“How long have you been homeless?”
“About three months.”
“What about family?”
“My mother died when I was ten and my father died a couple of years ago. I don’t have any brothers or sisters.”
“Do you have other relatives you can go to for help?”
“What about a homeless shelter?”
She shook her head at once. “I have heard a lot of terrible things about shelters, that they are dangerous places, full of drugs and drug dealers, that people will steal your shoes, and there are bedbugs and body lice. I would rather take my chances on the street. I just have to find a different place each night and be careful.”
“Daisy, you can’t remain on the streets. It’s cold and it isn’t safe.”
She shrugged. “It’s all I have. I have no where else to go.”
He thought about it for a moment and then he heard himself say, “You have another option.”
She stared at him. “Another option?”
“Yes. You can stay with me until you find a job and a flat of your own.”
“You want me to stay with you?”
“Yes. Just until you get back on your feet. It’s better than sleeping on the streets.”
She mulled it over. “Are you sure?”
“Yes. You’ll have a room all to yourself.”
She thought about it some more and then she said, “All right.”
“Good. After we leave here, I have one more stop to make and then we go home.” He believed that he was doing the right thing but he doubted that Siobahn would agree. Speaking of Siobahn, she was supposed to be popping by his flat tomorrow evening. He would definitely have to make new arrangements.
Daisy and he talked about other things. He learned that she was twenty-four and had graduated from a two-year college with an Associate degree. She had been working at a computer firm when she got laid off. Job hunting had been horrendous and unsuccessful. She soon got behind in her rent and was evicted. During the time she was homeless, she read the job ads to see what was available. There were charitable places where she was able to shower and get free toiletries. “Things could have been worse, but somehow, I managed to survive.”
“I think we can thank God for that,” Jake said as he helped her on with the coat before putting his on. “He has been watching over you all this time.” They walked out of the warm place and into the biting cold. The temperature seemed to have plummeted within a short space of time. Taking her by the elbow, he hustled her to his car which was parked in the parking lot of the shelter. He opened the door and she got in. He slid in behind the wheel and after he started the engine, he turned on the heat. It felt good to be in the warm car and she settled against the leather seat and gazed out of the window as they left her life on the streets behind.
He turned on the radio so that she could listen to the Christmas carols. He stopped at the grocery store and came back with two bags which he put in the trunk. Fifteen minutes later, they were riding up in the lift to his flat. She took one of the bags from him so that he could unlock the door. After she stepped inside and he locked the door, the light in the foyer was turned on. He took the bag from her and set the bags on the ground. He helped her off with her coat.
“Where’s the bathroom?” she asked after removing her boots. She kept on the socks.
“Let me show you,” he offered. He led her through the living-room and into the hallway. He opened the second door on the left and switched on the light. “Here you go.”
“Thank you.” She smiled at him shyly before she went inside and closed the door behind her.
While she was in there, he hung up the coats and busied himself with going the electric fireplace going, packing away the groceries and making sure the bedroom was in order. He was in the living-room when she joined him. “I’m going to put up the Christmas tree now. Would you like to help me?”
She smiled, nodding. He went and got the boxes and he set up the tree. It was a tall, white Christmas tree. She stared at it because she had never seen one like it before. It looked like its branches were covered in snow. It was beautiful. She helped him to string the red and silver ornaments on the tree. Then, he reached up and stuck the star at the time. Both of them stepped back to admire their handiwork. “Now, for the lights.” He switched off the foyer light and the lamp in the living-room and plugged in the tree. It lit up and so did her face. “Only the presents are missing,” he said. “I will take care of that during the week. Make yourself comfortable while I put on some music.”
She sat down on the sofa and looked around her. It was a warm and stylishly decorated room, very masculine and very modern. It needed a female touch. She could imagine putting a poinsettia on top of the mantle-piece to give that area a little color and a vase of flowers on the center table. “You have a beautiful place,” she remarked when he sat down beside her. “It’s so warm and cozy.”
“Thank you. It’s like a sanctuary for me.” It felt different and nice having her there.
She seemed relaxed and began to ask him questions about himself. They talked until it was time to go to bed. “I put a pajama shirt on the bed for you.”
“Thank you. I used to have my own clothes when I first went on the streets but they got stolen when I was in the shelter. All I have are the ones I’m wearing and in my carry on bag. They don’t smell because I went to a laundromat where homeless people get to wash their clothes for free.”
“I have a washer and dryer here which you are more than welcome to use.”
She got up from the sofa and went into the bedroom and changed into the pajama shirt. It reached just above her knees. She went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. When she went to the living-room to say goodnight to him, she was surprised to see him spreading a blanket on the sofa. She frowned. “What are you doing?” she asked.
“I’m sleeping on the sofa.”
She shook her head, protesting, “I can’t ask you to sleep on the sofa while I sleep in your room.”
He smiled. “You didn’t ask and I insist. You will sleep in there and I will sleep out here. I hope you have a good night’s sleep. Goodnight, Daisy.”
“Goodnight, Jake.” She turned and walked back to the room, closing the door quietly behind her.
Alone, he pulled back the blanket and lay down on the sofa. He wore a tee shirt and a pajama pants. It felt strange sleeping out here but he didn’t mind at all. He thought about Daisy and how thankful he was that he was able to help her. She didn’t have to spend another night on the streets. She had a roof over her head and a warm bed to sleep in. Yes, God had been good to her. He closed his eyes and thanked Him.
The next morning he woke up to the smell of breakfast and he sat up, rubbing his eyes. He glanced at the clock over the mantle-piece. It was half-past eight. His guest was an early riser. Usually, he would be in bed until ten on a Saturday morning. He sat up and stretched. Throwing off the blanket, he got up from the sofa. As he was folding it up and straightening the cushions, Daisy came into the room. She had already had a bath and was dressed. She smiled at him. “Good morning. Breakfast is ready.”
“Good morning. Did you sleep well?”
She nodded. “I slept like a baby. How about you?”
“I had a good sleep too. I’ll go and take my shower now and join you. Thanks for making breakfast.”
“It was the least I could do considering what you have done for me.”
He took up the blanket and went into the bedroom. The bed was neatly made and the pajama shirt was folded and lying at the end. He put the blanket away in the cupboard, got himself underwear and clothes before heading into the bathroom. After brushing his teeth, he took a quick, hot shower. She had just finished putting the plates on the table when he went into the dining-room. Breakfast consisted of broccoli and cheese omelet with tea, orange juice with slices of oranges, strawberries and blueberries. The omelet smelled and looked delicious. He couldn’t wait to bite into it but he said a prayer first.
Over breakfast, they discussed what they were going to do during the day and decided that they would go to the shopping mall. After breakfast, Daisy washed the dishes and then got ready to go on the road. “Thank you for breakfast,” Jake said to her as they his place. “I enjoyed it very much.”
She smiled. “I’m happy you did. While I’m staying with you, I’d like to cook for you.”
That sounded good to him. It had been a while since a woman cooked for him. The last one to do that was his mother when he had come down with the flu a couple of years ago. It was really nice having breakfast with Daisy this morning. She seemed to have settled in very nicely. They spent the morning at the mall and then they went to an Italian restaurant for lunch. Afterwards, they drove around the city, stopping to look at the Christmas displays in the store windows before spending a while at the skating rink to watch others skating. The sun was setting by the time they returned to his place. They spent the evening watching Christmas movies while eating the delicious stew chicken she made.
The following day he went to church while she remained at the apartment, making lunch and doing the laundry. It felt good to be useful again. When Jake got home, lunch was ready and waiting on the table for him. During the week, while he was at work, she searched the Internet for job openings and sent in her resume which she had updated, using Jake’s address as he had advised her to do.
After applying to tons of jobs, she finally got one response. She had an interview but didn’t want to say anything to Jake as yet. After he left for the office on the Wednesday, she got dressed in the suit he bought for her. She planned on paying him back for it as soon as she could. It looked rather nice on her. She pulled her hair back in a bun and wore no make up except lip gloss. She called for a taxi and left, her heart racing.
The interview went very well and she was hopeful. A week passed before she got the call informing her that she had gotten the job. She was so excited that she couldn’t wait to tell Jake. When she heard the key turn in the lock, she rushed to greet him, her heart racing and her eyes sparkling. They were going to celebrate tonight with a candlelight dinner. The door opened and she stopped short when she found herself staring at a tall, slender blonde who looked just as surprised to see her. She went in and closed the door behind her. She looked Daisy up and down. “Who are you? And what are you doing in Jake’s apartment?”
“I’m Daisy. And Jake is letting me stay here until I can get back on my feet. Who are you?”
“I’m Siobahn, his girlfriend. I see he forgot to mention that to you. How long have you been staying here?”
“A couple of weeks. I had no place to go so Jake brought me here.”
Siobahn rolled her eyes. “I should have known. Do you think you are the first charity case? I’ve warned him about taking in strays. Why don’t you do yourself a favor and find somewhere else to stay?”
Daisy could feel the tears pricking at the backs of her eyes but she willed herself to keep them in check. “I will pack my things and leave,” she said quietly. She turned and went into the kitchen first to put the dinner in the oven. She didn’t want Siobahn to see it. She doubted that the woman knew her way about a kitchen. It was hard to believe that Jake could be in a relationship with someone like that. Then, she went into the bedroom and packed her things in her bag. She found stationary in the top drawer beside the bed and wrote Jake a note which she hid in his bedroom slippers.
Siobahn was reclining on the sofa when Daisy went back into the living-room. She got to her feet at once and followed her to the door. “Don’t even think about coming back here again,” she told her before shutting the door in her face. Daisy stood there for several minutes, trembling. The tears came then. It hurt that she wasn’t going to see Jake. Siobahn would be waiting for him instead of her. Turning blindly, she hurried to the elevator. As the doors closed behind her, she felt as if they were closing a chapter in her life that she never wanted to end.
It was after seven when Jake let himself into the apartment. He was late because he had made a stop. He felt in breast pocket of his jacket to make sure it was there. Tired, he removed his coat and hung it in the closet. The light was on in the living-room and he could hear the television. Daisy. How he looked forward to seeing her every evening after a long and busy day at the office. Eager to see her, he strode into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Siobahn lying on the sofa. She sat up when she saw him. “Hi Jake,” she said, “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“Where’s Daisy?” he asked. He went into the kitchen, then the bedroom and the other rooms but there wasn’t any sign of Daisy. He strode back into the living-room. “Where’s Daisy?” he demanded, his face glowering.
Siobahn got up from the sofa and went over to him. She tried to put her arms around his neck but he pushed her away. Her expression changed. “You mean your little stray? I sent her packing. She had no business being here with you.”
His hands tightened into fists as he tried to control his temper. “I’m going to look for her and when I come back, don’t let me find you still here.”
“But, I’m your girlfriend, you should be concentrating on me instead of that—that vagabond.”
“You and I are through, Siobahn.” He took her by the arm and escorted her to the front door.
“But—But,” she sputtered, her face red.
At the door, he let her arm go and held out his hand. “My spare key,” he said.
She pressed it into his palm and was about to say something when he closed the door.
He leaned against the door for several minutes, his mind whirling. Where could Daisy be? He hurried over to the closet and grabbed his coat. In a flash he was out of the apartment and heading down to the garage. He drove to the place by the shelter where he first saw her but she wasn’t there. He searched all of the areas close by, including the coffee shop but no sign of her. He spent a long time searching for her until tired and heartbroken, he returned home.
He was hungry but didn’t feel like eating. He went into the bedroom and undressed. He sat on the bed and pushed his feet in his bedroom slippers. He felt something in the left slipper and took his foot out. He picked it up and saw what looked like a piece of paper shoved in it. He pulled it out and unfolded it. It was a note from Daisy. He read it, his heart thudding.
Please don’t worry about me. I will be all right, thanks to God and thanks to you. I have the money you have given me and the coat. I cannot tell you how much the coat means to me. Whenever I wear it, I think about you and how good and kind you were to me. I will always cherish it and will never part with it. I hope that I will see you again–just to thank you in person for opening your home to me–a stranger whom you saw and had compassion for.
Meeting you reminded me of God’s love for me. During the three months on the street, He kept me safe and sustained me and just when the money I had ran out, you walked into my life. I thank God for you and I will always remember the time we have spent together. It was hard for me to leave but it was something I believed I had to do. Please take care of yourself. You are wonderful man with a big and beautiful heart. I love you. God bless you.
He closed his eyes. “Oh, Daisy,” he groaned. How he longed for her to be there with him right at that moment. The apartment felt so empty without her. It felt cold and dismal. He ran trembling fingers through his hair as he tried to imagine how he was get through the next few minutes without her. He heard the front door close. His eyes flew open. His first thought was that it was Siobahn but then he remembered that he had taken the key back from her. Unless she had made a copy of the spare key…He sprang up from the bed and raced into the living-room, stopping short when he saw Daisy coming toward him.
“I had to come back,” she murmured. “I went all the way to the subway. I watched the trains come and go. I had no idea where I was going and then I decided to come back. I had to come back and tell you that I got a job. It’s not the sort of news I wanted write in a note. I wanted to see your face when I told you.”
He quickly closed the distance between them and she was in his arms. “Oh, Daisy,” he moaned, his eyes darkening on her face. “I was out of my mind with worry.”
“Did you see my note?”
“I saw it after I went looking for you.”
“Was Siobhan here when you came?”
“Yes. She told me what happened before I threw her out. It’s over between her and me, Daisy.”
“I’m glad to hear that. She wasn’t right for you.”
“No, but you are, Daisy. You belong here with me. I love you.”
She put her arms around his neck. “I love you too and this is where I want to be.”
“Welcome home, Daisy,” he murmured before he kissed her.