This story is by Kathi Laurino and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
It was Christmas time in New York City. There was a chill in the air to remind you that the snow was on its way. Laura bundled up as she exited Saks, happy that she was finally able to finish her holiday shopping early this season. As she walked down fifth Avenue, she heard a voice call out to her.
“Excuse me ma’am, could you spare five dollars and forty-nine cents for me, please?” He looked straight into her eyes as she turned her head to hear him.
Normally she would keep walking, but something about him told her to stop. He was not arrogant, his voice was calm, he was dressed decent for a homeless man, however shabby. “Well, five dollars and forty-nine cents is a pretty exact amount. What are you looking to buy?” She stared at him hard.
“A coffee and dinner. The shop up the block lets me in to eat a hot meal, only if I sit at the back table.” He looked down at his appearance and shrugged his shoulders before looking back at her. “They also charge me tax.” He rolled his eyes.
“It must not be much of a meal for that little amount?” she inquired.
“Hot soup and a cup of coffee.” He was content with that.
“That’s not much of a meal!” She kept her stare.
“With all due respect ma’am, unless you’re feeling generous, I can only have what I can scrape together. Some nights I don’t eat at all.” He felt ashamed.
“Well, that is not good young man.” Laura looked in her wallet to give him a few dollars and realized she only had credit cards, and a small weathered photo of her brother, from his time served in the military. She smiled to herself and nodded, as if to agree with her own thoughts. “I truly would like to help you out. If you stay right here, I will be back in fifteen minutes with a coffee for you? Would that be alright?” She was oddly drawn to his demeanor and hoped he would say yes, which he did.
Laura returned, as promised, with a hot beverage and a few questions.
“Thank you so much ma’am. I appreciate your kindness.” He was sincere.
She extended her arm and held out her hand, “My name is Laura.”
He smirked at her, stood up, shook her hand and said, “My name is Nick, pleasure to meet you.”
She felt good about wanting to help him out. He was respectful and clearly had proper manners. You don’t see that too often these days. “Okay, now that we’ve properly met, would you mind if I joined you?” she was already preparing herself to sit down next to Nick, regardless of his answer.
“Do you have a family?” she questioned.
“No. Both of my parents have already passed on. No siblings. Never married.” He answered abruptly.
“Do you mind if I ask why you are on the streets?” She needed to know, in a grandmother kind of way.
“I was in the military. When I was discharged, I took a gamble and lost everything. It’s hard getting back on my feet. I have been trying to get work, anywhere, but no one will hire me.” He seemed as if he drifted off for a moment.
“I’m so sorry to hear that. How long have you been homeless?” It was the only way to ask him.
“I’ve been at the shelter for about two years now, but it feels like a lifetime already.” he answered in a low voice.
“I had a feeling you weren’t out here too long. I felt it in my heart and heard it in your voice.” She replied. “If you don’t mind me saying, you remind me so much of my brother. We lost him ten years ago, and when you first spoke to me, I heard him, and I felt an odd comfort.” She began to feel melancholy.
“I’m sorry about your brother.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“It’s okay. He served his country, like you, and did us all proud.” Laura snapped out of her daze quickly and realized she needed to get home. “Now, this happens to be your lucky day. First, here is the specific amount you have asked for.” Laura took his hand and placed the money in his palm. “Tonight, go and get yourself that meal.” She curled his fingers around the money and held onto his hand for a moment.
“Thank you, Laura. You are not like most people.” He gave her a grateful half smile.
“Next, would you care to join me for a real meal tomorrow night?” She asked him as she was getting ready to go.
“You are too fancy to be in my company.” Nick answered.
Laura laughed, “Too fancy? I just sat on a city sidewalk with you. Clothes make a person look fancy. We are no different from each other.” She stated the obvious.
“You don’t even know me. Why would you…” he started.
“I want to know you. Everyone needs a friend. I’m not taking no for an answer.” She insisted and told him what time to be available the next day to be picked up from the shelter.
Laura and Nick’s first stop was a barber shop. A fresh haircut and a shave could make any man feel good. Their next stop was to a clothing store. Nick cleaned up nicely.
“This is great of you to do, thank you Laura, you didn’t have to, you know.” There was his grateful half smile again.
“I know. I wanted to.” She turned him towards the full-length mirror and said, “See, now you’re fancy too.” Nick just laughed. “Our last stop will be dinner, where we will sit at our own table.” Laura smirked at Nick as she hailed a taxi.
The ride was short. They pulled up to the Rosewood Inn, a high-rise apartment building, on the East side. They walked into the foyer and the doorman greeted Laura, “Good Evening, may I take your bags?” Laura smiled and politely declined his offer.
“Do you live here?” Nick asked.
“Yes, I do.” As they entered the elevator, and the door closed, Laura pushed the PH button.
“Penthouse? Where’s the elevator man?” He was joking.
“He has the evening off.”
Nick’s mind was all over the place. “May I ask you a question now?” He was now more than curious of Laura’s kindness.
“Of course, you may.” She had nothing to hide.
“As I have said before, you are a fancy woman. Why are you being so nice to me if you don’t even know me? I could be some crazy serial killer.” He nervously chuckled.
“Well, I wasn’t always fancy. I worked hard for many years to achieve what I have and at fifty-nine years old, I don’t just live in this building, I own it. I am Laura Rosewood.” She was rightfully proud of her legacy. “Maybe I don’t know you, but I know you are not going to kill me, you would have done it already. From that first moment, when you spoke to me, you reminded me of my brother. You said please, and there’s not many people who use the word ma’am these days. I see something in you, a respectful young man, a Veteran and you do not belong on the streets.” She was direct with her answers.
“Now, for dinner?” The elevator doors opened to the penthouse where they walked down a long corridor to the dining room. The view was beautiful. As they sat down to wait for Laura’s staff to serve them, she offered Nick an opportunity to turn his life around.
“I would like for you to get off the streets and start over again. You are way too young to have to live this way. I have a few apartments available in the building, and a small handful of job openings, if you’re interested?” She smiled once again.
“Laura that is nice of you, but I have no means to pay you rent right now.” He felt disappointed in himself.
“I know this, but if you’re employed by me, I don’t allow my employees to pay me any rent. It would be a great way for you to get back on your feet. It’s entirely your decision.”
“This is so unbelievable, Laura. Thank you so much, again, for everything. How will I ever repay you?” He was more than grateful for Laura’s generosity and kindness.
“Repay me? I wouldn’t hear of it. I believe that everything happens for a reason and I was meant to meet you yesterday, Nick.” It really was his lucky day.
“Laura, if you are serious about this, I would love the opportunity to start my life over. I promise I will not let you down.”
Laura poured two glasses of champagne and they made a toast to new beginnings and to fancy angels in disguise.