"The name is Brone, you will address me as sir. I've looked over your file, you'll need a lot of work."
"I have a file already?" she asked unknowingly.
"Yes. You have a file and in the future you will speak only when spoken to, is that clear?"
"Yes sir." She gulped back the tears, she would not cry in front of him no matter how scared she was, not knowing what lay ahead.
Brone moved behind the desk and came back with a clipboard handing it to Blackie. "This is your task sheet and here's a pen. You are to check off your tasks as you complete them and then return the sheet back here."
Looking over the sheet and then up at Brone she asked. "If I may sir?" He nodded a yes. "I have to do tasks?"
"Well what do you think Malone, that I'm going to do it for you? My job is a lot different from Vivienne's, I have a higher case load and a compressed schedule, and I don't have time to make you tea." He gave her a stern look and then pointed towards the door.
Blackie turned on her heels and went out the door; upon exiting she found she was outside in an alley behind the townhouse. Reading off the sheet she was instructed to take the black van to an address marked on the page. She looked around and parked behind her was the black van, the keys were inside already and at this point she wasn't about to question anything. Not even to ponder how the van suddenly appeared when she knew it wasn't there a moment ago.
Finding the address she pulled the van up to the building. The sign out front said "All Souls Shelter". She went inside to find a few people getting tables set up for dinner. A young dark haired man approached her and extended his hand.
"Hi, I'm Jacob. You must be here to drop off the order I gather?"
Perplexed Blackie answered yes, that she had assumed she was and that the van was parked outside. Jacob told her to drive it around the back through the alley and pull up next to the door. He told her she could start to bring things inside and would be shown where to put them.
After finding the right door she pulled up, got out and opened the back doors of the van, it was loaded with boxes and bags filled with all sorts of food items. Blackie never bothered to look in the van when she got in but assumed it was empty. The door to the building swung open and a man appeared with a younger person in tow, she assumed the man was a cook as he wore a dirty apron.
"This is Katie, she'll be helping you unload, make sure she does her share of the work. You can take everything right into the pantry."
So her helper was a girl, it was hard to tell from her clothes, she wore pants that seemed too big, an old ratty sweater covered a dark shirt and she wore a black knit hat pulled down almost over her eyes. As she grabbed two bags of food and walked through the door Blackie noticed she didn't have any socks on and her worn out shoes were only half laced. It was obvious the girl was homeless and she probably helped out here to earn her meals and shelter. It had been a particularly chilly day and Blackie tried to imagine how hard it must have been living on the streets at this time of the year. Grabbing a crate of vegetables she followed Katie into the doorway and found the pantry. As she set down the crate she noticed several people in the kitchen area preparing for the crowd that would be there later to eat. Despite the amount of work that needed to be done, the group seemed to be in good spirits and was singing Christmas carols to make the time go by quicker.
Back outside Blackie made an attempt to talk to her silent helper. She stuck out her hand, "Kate right? I'm Blackie, nice to meet you."
The girl glanced at the extended hand, her eyes never looking up as she then grabbed a sack of potatoes and slung them over her shoulder quietly muttering, "Katie."
"My apologies Katie." Blackie said to the girl's back as she went on her way inside, then she sighed realizing that this girl was not going to be overly friendly. They emptied the van in silence and seeing how it was a cold day, the cook that met her earlier at the door offered her a cup of hot coffee.
Setting the cup down in front of her at a small counter he gave her a warm smile. "This should keep you warm as your moving about today, I'm sure you're going to be busy today of all days."
Blackie had no clue as to what she had in store for her today of all days, whatever that meant, she didn't give it a second thought as she watched Katie put away the some of the deliveries. As she was reaching up to one of the higher shelves Blackie noticed the poor girl was skin and bones. Unable to get a good look at her face it was hard to tell how old the girl really was, whatever her age, she didn't look like someone who should be out in the streets. How does one reach this point in their lives, thought Blackie, how does it get this bad?
"I see you have everything unloaded, good." The voice was Jacob's, he put his hand on Blackie's shoulder and handed her an envelope. "Go to the next address on your clipboard, give them this envelope and they'll give you the baked goods order. You can take your helper with you. See you in a little while, don't be too late, we still have plenty to do here." He turned around and walked back into the kitchen before Blackie could say anything. Katie stood there solemn faced, she nodded her head towards the door to let the blonde know she was ready to go, as if she was used to this routine.
"Do you wanna grab your coat?" asked Blackie as she finished the last of her coffee.
Katie stared down at the floor to hide her embarrassment. "Nah, I'm good, let's just go."
When they got into the van, Blackie turned on the engine and cranked the heat up; she looked over her check sheet to find the address, made a mark after her first finished task and opened the center console to put the clipboard inside. When she opened it up there was a pack of cigarettes and matches inside. Thank fuck for small miracles. She packed them against her hand a few times, ripped open the top and pulled one out, then she offered the pack to Katie. "Smoke?"
"Fuck yes." Katie took one out of the pack and bent down to get a light from the match Blackie had already lit and held out for her. "Thanks." She took a long drag and slouched back into the seat. Blackie blew out the match, tossed it into the ashtray and put the van in gear; they pulled out of the alley heading toward the main streets. Reaching over she turned on the radio; nothing but cheery Christmas music and a sermon from some overly hyped-up evangelist was all she could find.
"You wanna hear Christmas carols or have your soul saved for just a few dollars?" she asked Katie.
"Neither, I don't do Christmas and I don't do God." The girl muttered as she stared out the side window.
"Well, I see we have two things in common, smoking and cynicism."
The girl let out a small laugh, which made Blackie relax a little, she doubted that the girl had any real conversation in a while and thought she would make a go of it, what else did she have to lose?
"If it makes you feel any better, I have the same opinions on Christmas and God that you do, I could get by without either one."
Katie opened the window and flicked her cigarette butt outside, then rolled it up quickly to keep the heat from escaping the van. "It just another day and another deity. Nothing changes, everyone is all cheery and nice, you eat a lot, maybe get a gift or two but the next day everything picks up right where it left off. The world isn't any better than it was 364 days earlier."
"Damn, it's like hearing my words coming out of somebody else's mouth." She glanced over at Katie who was staring ahead biting her nails." Sorry about the name thing before, you look more like a Kate."
"You think? What's with Blackie, I doubt it has to do with your hair?"
"It was given to me by a friend, I only wear black." She grinned widely, she then added." How did you end up on the streets?"
"How did you end up a delivery girl?" she snapped back.
"Fair enough, honestly? I had no choice."
"Me either." The girl sighed.
They had reached the address of a bakery across town from the shelter, Blackie gave the owner the envelope and the two girls began load the van with breads, rolls, cookies and pies. Back inside the van the girl rubbed her arms to keep warm as she waited for the heat to start up again, checking off her task list Blackie couldn't help but notice how thin and sickly the girl looked. She took off the big jacket she had on and pushed it in the girl's direction.
"Here, throw this on, I'm sweating to death in it anyway."
Katie took the jacket without speaking and slid it on over her thin shoulders, it still held the blonde's body heat and for the first time in a long time, she felt human again.
They drove back to the shelter in silence except for the sound of one or the other inhaling a cigarette. Once they arrived, they quickly unloaded the van and found themselves in the midst of a conundrum. Some of the volunteers that were to come to help in the kitchen had trouble when their bus broke down and they weren't sure when they would arrive. Dinner couldn't be late, there was too much to do and too many people were depending on them. The two girls were immediately enlisted to potato peeling duty. Katie hung up the jacket and grabbed them both an apron, before they knew it they were up to their elbows in potato peels.
Eight 20lb sacks later they were finished, wrinkled fingertips, dirty aprons, sore muscles and all. While the potatoes cooked, they worked on cutting the pies, placing the breads and rolls in baskets, then they helped to arrange the tables. Jacob called Blackie over to the side to go over some more paperwork she would need to take with her on her next run; she took this time to ask about Katie.
"What do you know about her? Does she have family or someone who would take her in?"
Jacob looked at Blackie with a smile, "Why, you going to adopt her? Actually I don't know much about her except she's a very talented artist. She made all the centerpieces."
She took a closer notice of the centerpieces made of intricately cut pieces of colored paper, folded and sculpted into an abstract floral arrangement. They were simplistically beautiful and they would make the girl quite a bit of money if she were to sell them. She would have to use her connections to see what she could do for the girl, she would even talk to Portia.
Jacob could tell by the look on the blonde's face that she was impressed. "Beautiful, aren't they? You have to go and check out the drawing she did that's hanging in my office. She didn't want to part with it, but I offered her a job and the promise that when she got back on her feet, she could have it back if she let me keep it here where it wouldn't be destroyed." He then handed Blackie a list of names and addresses. "Before you do that, you two need to make these last deliveries before it gets too late. The cook has them all ready for you, they just need to get to their destination and I know it may be hard, but limit your time at each place, there's still much to be done here."
She took the list from Jacob reluctantly; she wanted to see the drawing more. Katie was arranging some cookies on platters in the kitchen when Blackie found her. "Okay Tonto, we ride again." They took off their aprons and the blonde handed the girl her jacket using the excuse that she couldn't drive in it, as it was too bulky. Back in the van they snuck a quick cigarette before going to the first of many destinations. They were delivering Christmas dinners to people who couldn't get out to the shelter many of whom were elderly or infirmed. Blackie and Katie would each take a handful of dinners, being that they were in the same building, then meet back at the van.
Knocking on the door of one apartment, Blackie was greeted by an older woman. She let the girl inside, stepping away and then putting her cane aside, sat on a chair near the window.
"I like to look out the window, especially today when it starts to get dark and all the lights from the decorations are lit, so many pretty colors. I was too tired to put my little tree out this year, besides, it's only me, and I enjoy seeing other peoples trees." The woman spoke, almost to herself.
"I put your dinners on your table ma'am, is that alright?"
"Yes dear, that's fine. Like I said, it's just me anyway, has been for too many years. I'm sure you can't wait to get home to your family."
"I don't have any family but I don't really celebrate the holidays either." Blackie almost wished she hadn't said that, looking around the small apartment she could see the walls adorned with pictures and postcards from around the world. "Did you go to all these places?"
The woman turned her head and looked at the walls with a small sad smile. "No dear, they are all the places where I wanted to go when I was younger, now this is the only way I can go there. I look at the pictures and imagine myself there."
"I understand, I was going to travel Europe with my brother one day." Touching a picture of the canals in Venice, she imagined her and Daniel floating in a gondola, she could almost hear his laughter echoing off the ancient walls across the water.
"You still have time dear."
"No, I don't. My brother died a few years ago, so there's no point in going now."
The woman let out a small laugh. "Your brother's dead not you dear. He's gone on to someplace without you, don't sit around and mourn your own life while you're still living it, I learned that one too late. Life carries on when nothing else matters, I see it from this window everyday."
Blackie turned and looked at the woman, that could very well be her one day, alone in her own world experiencing other's lives from behind a window. Finding joy in some old pictures stuck to the wall lamenting a life that could have happened. "Can I ask you your name ma'am?"
"Mary. Yes, that sounds about right, its Mary."
"Mary where's your little tree?"
The woman pointed to a door next to the entrance. "It's in that closet, in a small box already decorated. Not sure if it will still light up."
Blackie opened the closet and found the box. She carefully opened it and pulled the small tree out, it was decorated with small origami ornaments and had a single strand of white twinkle lights. Moving a small table in front of the window, she found an outlet and plugged the tree in to find the lights worked and the little tree brightened the room with its glow.
"There you go Mary, you can share your tree with the rest of the world too. In fact I would dare say that your tree is probably the most beautiful one I've seen so far. I bet you made the ornaments yourself, am I right?"
The old woman's face lit up, her eyes welled with tears as she smiled. "Yes dear, I made them years ago, before my fingers became too stiff to fold the paper. I would give them out as gifts to friends for luck." She reached over to the tree, her hands a little shaky and removed a small paper crane from the branches. "This one is for you dear. I want this crane to remind you that you have wings and that as long as you have them, you can fly anywhere." She handed the ornament to Blackie.
"I...I don't know what to say Mary." The blonde stuttered, trying to hold back the tears. "Thank you."
"No dear, thank you for making an old woman's Christmas special and allowing me one more chance to carry on my tradition." The old woman put her arms up for Blackie to bend down for an embrace. "Merry Christmas Mary Katherine."
Hugging the woman back gave Blackie a new feeling of hope and as much as she wanted to stay, she knew she was running late. "Merry Christmas to you Mary, I wish I could stay, but I have more deliveries to make." She gave Mary a kiss on the cheek and turned to give her a little wave, holding up her ornament with a big smile before she walked out the door.
Katie was already on her second cigarette as she watched Blackie climb back in the van. She regarded the blonde girl as she gently placed the ornament on the dashboard. Blackie wiped a tear from her eye and muttered. "She insisted I get a little something for being so nice." Looking up at the building she could see the glow in Mary's window from the little tree.
"It's cool." was all Katie said smiling to herself.
They finished the last of their deliveries and headed back to the shelter. People were already lining up at the door for dinner. Checking over her task sheet Blackie found she had completed all but one, the last one she found perplexing. "Reveal the truth." She shrugged her shoulders and went inside the shelter.
When she got inside the door, Katie was standing there with the jacket in her hands. "Here, thanks."
"Keep it, I don't need it." Taking the weight off her feet at a small table in the kitchen Blackie stared at the paper crane she had cupped in her hands. It almost blew away as Katie threw the coat on the table in front of her.
"I don't need your pity or your coat." The girl stormed out of the room leaving Blackie alone with the staff staring at her and went out in to the dining hall. Before she could get up to chase after Katie, Jacob came over and handed her another envelope.
"Oh come on, not another delivery! I'm dragging as is from all the running around today not to mention peeling a billion potatoes."
"No delivery, it's your pay. You did a great job today. Christmas Eve is our biggest day here and you helped quite a bit, thank you."
"What do you mean Christmas Eve, that's still two weeks away?" she looked at him like he had three heads.
"You must really be tired. Today is Christmas Eve. Why don't you stay and have something to eat, if you need, I have some aspirin in my office in the top drawer of my desk."
"What the fuck is going on here?" Blackie thought to herself. "I must have really lost it, how did I lose two weeks in one day? How long was I with Vivienne?" She then remembered the drawing in Jacob's office and she had to go see it.
The door to the small office was opened and she walked in, her eyes scanned the walls until she closed the door and there behind her was the drawing. She slapped her hand over her mouth to keep from crying out loud. It was her drawing; it was the drawing she was working on for the painting, Daniel's head was staring out at her from the top of Marco's body, a dying angel with his crumbled wings laying beneath him.
"That bitch, she stole my drawing, she had to, how the fuck could she have it if she didn't steal it? I don't remember finishing it, I didn't even have that idea until yesterday but that's my signature." Blackie ran out of the office, she had to find Katie and make her explain how she got the drawing. Her eyes scanned across the tables through a sea of faces until she spotted Katie going into the ladies room. She pushed her way through the aisles past the poor and the dirty homeless people, men, women and children, all faceless and nameless. The only one she focused on was Katie.
Katie was washing her face in the sink, she wasn't going to let anyone see her cry and she was going to let anyone pity her ever again. She had been alone this long and she wasn't about to take charity, she would show them, all of them, that she didn't need them anymore. The shadows of her past weren't going to haunt her anymore.
The door to the ladies room flew open making Katie jump, she backed up against the wall when she saw the look of rage on Blackie's face.
"You bitch, where did you get it? You stole it from me didn't you? What were you going to do, sell it as your own?"
Katie was confused by the accusation. "What are you talking about, your stupid jacket? I told you I didn't want it."
"I'm not talking about the damn jacket, I'm talking about the drawing, the one in Jacob's office! The one you stole from me."