tagNon-EroticAn Angel's Wish

An Angel's Wish

byTara_Neale©

Keisha Jackson rearranged the few brightly wrapped presents in the trunk of her old SUV to make way for her daughter's wheelchair. How could something so small be so bulky and heavy? "How was choir practice tonight, my sweet angel?" she asked as she worked to get it in around the presents that she had picked from the charity while Breanne was at church.

Ironically, the one associated with the U S Marine Corps. Breanne's father had been a Marine, but since they never married, since he never knew that the friend and girl next door that had given him her virginity before he shipped out on what became his final tour, was carrying his baby; their daughter was not entitled to any benefits.

She half listened as Breanne rattled off about who had done what and how wonderful it had been. She tried very hard to focus, but was more soothed just by the sound of her child's voice after a long hard day than she was the specifics of what she said.

Keisha worked part-time as a secretary, not even an administrative assistant, just a plain old secretary, in a doctor's office. The good part was that her hours allowed her to be there full-time for her child, which was important since Bree had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was eighteen months.

Of course, they received some help for her daughter's disability every month. But from the moment she found out she was having a baby, well into her pregnancy, Keisha had been determined not to become a stereotype of the black teenage mother.

Even when her father, the pastor of the local Pentecostal church had kicked her out, she had refused to go on welfare. Though she had been forced to accept charity from friends and other relatives back then, she had worked to repay them all over the past ten years.

Not that Keisha minded any of that. A mother did what she had to do. She inhaled and plastered on the smile she saved for those really rough days as she slammed the door closed and walked around to the driver's side.

Looking over at the young beauty, whose smile reminded her of the only man she had ever loved, she asked the question that had plagued her all day, the one she could no longer put off, "So what do you want for Christmas this year, baby?"

Though she knew that whatever she could afford would not be as nice as the toys that had been donated, the off-brand tablet or even the new coat that was such a blessing this time of year, Keisha made it a priority to buy her daughter something just from her each year. No matter what her bank balance said.

Her angel smiled and shook her head, "You don't have to Mommy. Just being together is the most important thing of all."

She fought back tears at the child's wisdom. At moments like this she sometimes wondered if her daughter's condition was not a mixed blessing. When other little girls her age were demanding grown up clothes, make-up and worried about their hair, her daughter had been through so much pain, so many tests and hospitalizations that she just seemed...like an old soul, she supposed.

But that only made her more determined to give her whatever she could, however she could. "No, angel, Mommy wants to give you something special this year." She forced the words out, "Whatever you want," and steeled herself for the answer.

"Do you mean that, Mommy?" and Keisha's heart beat faster. She supposed she could beg work for an advance though that would only make things tighter in the New Year.

But, yes, she meant it. "Of course, baby," she nodded as she brushed her fingers across her daughter's cheek.

"I want a Marine then, Mommy. One like Daddy was," she said with all the innocence of a child as her mother's heart stuttered to a complete standstill.

Did her child know what she was saying? Did she? "A Marine? I don't understand, Bree. Santa doesn't bring people for Christmas." She inhaled deeply and fought back the pain that always came when she spoke of Bryan to their child. "And you know, no matter what that silly Christmas movie says, he doesn't bring little girls new Daddies either."

Her daughter shook her head and her thick braids with the Christmas ribbons bobbed on the ends. "No, Mommy, I know that. I'm not a little girl anymore, silly." Her daughter reached across the console between their seats and took her hand as she explained, "I saw this bill board the other day, Mommy. Do you know that every day twenty-two soldiers like Daddy kill themselves? That there are over sixty thousand homeless Veterans?"

Keisha's throat tightened even more as she fought back tears. Would this special angel never stop amazing her? "No, baby, I didn't know any of that." Sometimes she got so caught up in her daily struggles, she forgot to realize how lucky they were. Even just their tiny one-bedroom apartment and food on the table were more than many people had this time of year.

"So you want to make a donation to a charity in your father's name? Or did you want to take blankets and stuff to a shelter?" She stopped shy of suggesting they spend Christmas Eve working in one of the dozens of soup kitchens that were scattered around Atlanta. The logistics of Breanne's wheelchair would just be more trouble than help in that situation.

Her daughter shook her head and those ribbons danced again, "No, Mommy, anyone can do that. I want to bring one home. A homeless Veteran, another Marine like Daddy, if we can find one."

Keisha's mind exploded, but her daughter continued merrily along, "He could take a hot shower. We could throw his clothes in the washer and dryer, maybe even buy him some new-old ones from the second hand store where we get ours. Then he can have Christmas dinner with us. And if he will, maybe he could even come to church with us and hear me sing the special song I am doing for Daddy."

"That's what I want for Christmas, Mommy. What I really want," her little girl glowed from within with the innocence of youth and the best intentions in the world.

Keisha inhaled deeply as she turned and gripped the steering wheel. It sounded so simple when the child said it like that. It would be far cheaper than what she had thought to pay for a present. The extra money could be carried over into the New Year, the tiniest bit of a cushion, something they rarely had.

But still, she knew that what the child asked was anything but that simple. Bringing a stranger, a homeless man, into their home. The what-ifs and nightmare scenarios that only a mother could dream up assailed her fertile imagination.

Despite those statistics that she had no doubt were accurate, Breanne had a special talent when it came to remembering such things, the truth was that the homeless issue was not that simple, not cut and dried. There were so many other factors, especially when it came to Veterans. What about PTSD? If a Vet was living on the street, he was almost certain to have such problems. Was it even safe to consider such a thing?

She closed her eyes. She had quit praying to any god the day that her father kicked her out of the house at seven months pregnant, calling her a whore and a Jezebel. Telling her that her baby, the only thing that she had left of the man that had been her friend, like the big brother she had never had and her soul mate, was a sin and an abomination. His words had turned her love for the god he supposedly served into a bitter cold hatred.

And though she allowed her daughter to attend church with their neighbour, even going so far as to chauffer her to and from the choir practice she loved, Keisha never went in with her unless like on Christmas Eve, her daughter was performing.

No, when she closed her eyes, it was not a god to whom she prayed and sought counsel. It was him. Bryan. Sometimes if she tried real hard, she could almost hear his voice. Sometimes it was the high and sweet Southern twang of that ten year old little boy that had run off the bullies on the playground when she was just a first grader. Other times it was the deep and soothing caress of the lover that had held her just that one night. But either way, it always brought her the comfort and wisdom she sought.

And this time was no different... "What can it really hurt, Key-key?"

She opened her eyes and looked up as she always did. This time the North star blazed in the sky as if in confirmation of those words. Hell, if she was not still so angry at her father's god, she might have even compared it to that star which led the wise men to the babe all those thousands of years ago...if you believed such drivel.

She turned back to their daughter and gently tugged the braid that was closest to her. She could see the pleading in those deep brown eyes. Breanne's eyes too were so much like his. Keisha had never felt safer than when Bryan looked at her with those eyes. And though it was very different, her little girl gave her that same sense of belonging, rightness, just being. No, there was no way she could deny such a selfless request.

"Okay, Bree, we will try. It may not be as easy as you think, but we can give it a go." She smiled, as his words sprang from her lips, "What can it really hurt?"

****

Travis Baker shook his head and questioned himself once more. 'What the hell was he doing out here?' Panhandling. Begging. It was something that he generally avoided. It was degrading. Humiliating.

The cardboard sign with the American flag drawn on it that he had tucked beneath his arm was not even his own. One of the old timers, G.I. Joe, as everyone had nicknamed the black man in his sixties who had done three tours of duty in Vietnam, had pleaded with him to do it...just this once. It was Christmas Eve and all kinds of 'good people' were just looking for someone to help. Especially a Vet with an American flag sign.

It had taken Joe all morning to convince him. What the old man did not know was that Trav had no intention of accepting charity from those 'good people.' He might be screwed in the head but he was not that pathetic. Not yet. And he never would be. He would take another option before it came to that.

No, he had survived for three years on the streets by foraging and living off the land. He would not have lowered himself to this, except for Joe. The man needed a new sleeping bag. Trav had even seen the one he wanted to get the old guy at a second hand store for only ten dollars.

Ten dollars? His throat got tight at the thought. What was ten fucking dollars? He used to throw that away on lunch at Milly's Diner. A twelve pack cost about that unless it was on sale. Ten dollars would have barely moved the needle on the gas tank of his truck. But now...it might as well have been a million dollars.

Not that he minded usually. Unlike most of the guys out here, he had steadfastly avoided self-medicating his pain with alcohol and drugs. Everything else he could usually garner from trash cans. It was shocking all the stuff that people threw away. Shocking and shameful.

He could easily feed himself and usually a couple others from the dumpsters outside a fancy restaurant he knew. They ate for free what cost other people close to a hundred dollars. He sighed...why would anyone spend that kind of money on a meal? The shit was not even that good. Trav usually only went there if he could not garner a cold pizza or two from the take-out place a couple of blocks away.

Clothes and blankets of course were a bit harder to come by in central Atlanta. But once a week or so he made a habit to take a stroll out to one of the suburbs before the recycling truck did its rounds.

The coat he wore now had been one of his recent finds. The leather had been torn underneath the arm, but that was no big deal. He had borrowed a needle and thread from another guy and within ten minutes it was serviceable. Not that his sewing would win any quilting contests but it got the job done. Out here he was as glad for skills like that which he had learned in scouts and from his Mama, as he was for the hunting and recon ones his Daddy and the Marines had taught him.

Things were tough on the streets, but he supposed no tougher than life anywhere else. He might have to put in a few hours every night scourging for food and whatever else he or his couple of buddies needed, but that was a far sight more honest work than all those suits he passed on his way back to their encampment in the concrete jungle beneath the overpass.

Of course, being hassled by the police was no pleasure. But when that happened they just packed up their few possessions and headed out. With so many miles of freeway it was easy to find a new place to squat and set up his tent. He would have actually preferred more of a Rambo existence deep in the woods and he did sometimes go that route when the noise, smell and crowds of the city got too much...like now.

This time, he just could not. He felt responsible for Joe and his other friend Steve, a former Ranger, who like him had seen way too much shit over there to just go back to the life they had led before. Especially after what happened to Darren.

Breathe. Travis had to actually force himself to pull air into his lungs just when he thought about the man. It was still too painful. Another friend lost. Another of his fucking failures. There were so many. Too many.

If he kept thinking like this, he would let Old Joe down too. He would turn back and lose his one chance to get that sleeping bag for his friend for Christmas. He figured that with some luck there was an outside shot that he might 'earn' just enough in the next couple of hours to do the one thing he wanted most this year...save one friend at least.

Trav had just spotted the ideal place, any empty doorway near a big office building. People would soon be coming and going for their final lunch hour before the holiday, many of them even leaving work early to be with family.

He shook his head as he hoped like hell this was worth it. That the sleeping bag was still available and that ten dollars was not too much to ask for a Christmas miracle.

He was just about to cross the street and was in a hurry before someone else took such prime 'begging' real estate when he saw the woman. She could not even be thirty, but her face was scrunched in a deep frown that aged her as she struggled to pull a wheelchair from the back of an SUV that must have been at least a decade old.

Trav thought at first she was talking to herself until he noticed a slight movement in the back seat. Then he noticed the little angel. She was tiny, probably no more than five. Her dark skin glistened in the dull afternoon sunshine as she smiled and nodded her head at whatever the woman had said. Her braids bobbed and glittery pink ribbons glinted in the light.

He shook his head and turned in the other direction as he caught sight of one of the teenage girls from their encampment slipping into the spot he had coveted. Oh well, she would probably have more luck than someone like him. People just did not feel all that charitable towards grown men, whom they believed should 'just get a job.' Not that it was that easy. Not in this economy.

Not even for Vets like him. Especially for them...it seemed that the country he loved and had defended, that had taken so many of his friends' lives, seemed it was quick to forget all of that.

He would find somewhere else later. Maybe just forget the whole fucking thing, he thought as he approached the woman, who was still struggling at the back of her car. "Here, let me help you with that," he said with as close to a smile as he could muster. Those muscles in his face were tight and hurt a bit as he forced them into the unfamiliar movement.

****

Keisha's first reaction was to draw back from the dishevelled stranger. Especially a man of his size. He had to be over six feet tall. The worn leather bomber jacket that had seen much better days was stretched tight across broad shoulders, too tight as if the coat had been made for someone else. She sighed, obviously it had been as it dawned on her. This man was one of the homeless that they had come seeking this day.

Where she might have avoided someone like him any other time, she forced a smile. Even if the man was not what they sought perhaps he could point them in the right direction. The sooner they found someone and got back to their apartment, the happier she would be.

Keisha had spent the last couple of days vacillating between being thankful that Breanne's wish had been so inexpensive and counting the few dollars that she could carry over into the New Year as a result and trying to convince the child to abandon her errand of seasonal folly. But her beloved angel was immovable. She wanted a homeless Marine for Christmas as silly as that sounded.

She forced a smile and turned towards the man, "Thank you. I would appreciate that." She moved out of the way and allowed him to lift her daughter's chair from the back of her vehicle with an ease that was beyond her.

She busied herself assembling it and almost missed as he started to move on. "Wait," she exclaimed in a bit too shrill a voice. She inhaled a calming breath and forced another smile as she started again, "I know this is going to sound completely insane, but perhaps you could help us with an errand we are on today."

The man stared at her sceptically as she forced the rest of the story out, "We are trying to find a homeless man. A Veteran. A Marine is preferable." She rambled incoherently.

He shook his head that was covered in a dusty black knit cap so that she could not tell the color of his hair, "What's his name?" he mumbled as he took a step backwards as if to turn and run if she did not give the right answer.

She shook her head and giggled nervously, "No, you misunderstood." Keisha tried to organize her thoughts, but realized how completely insane this must sound to him, "The one thing my daughter wants for Christmas this year is to help out a homeless Veteran...in honor of her father."

"I know that may sound completely insane, but she's a little kid who has been through a hell of a lot. And if I can give her what she wants this year and it helps someone else out too, then what's the harm?" She pushed the words past the lump in her throat and fought back tears.

The man looked across the partition at her daughter, who had turned in her seat and was beaming one of those smiles that put everyone at ease. He nodded, "Yes, ma'am. I think that's a right fine idea too, little lady," his smile to her child was more genuine though his eyes were still sad, but kind. "And I just might have the man for you."

Keisha returned his smile and pushed the chair to the door as she opened it, "Did you hear that, Angel? The nice man says he might know someone for you."

Bree practically jumped into her arms as she propelled her tiny body forward with all her limited strength. "I'm so excited, Mommy." She lifted the child into her wheelchair and secured the belt about her waist before turning back to the man, "So lead on, I guess."

****

Travis frowned at the woman's words. It had seemed such a brilliant idea to begin with. Hook them up with G.I. Joe. The old man got some help and the little girl got her Christmas wish. But now he had his doubts. A woman and a crippled child seemed harmless enough, but still he could not just lead them to the old man without knowing a bit more about their plans.

He cleared his throat, "Excuse me, ma'am, I don't want to seem rude or ungrateful, but what exactly did you have in mind?"

It was the little girl though that answered, "We want to take him home with us. He can take a shower and we will wash his clothes. We thought we could even stop and get him some others at the second hand store. Then we will eat Christmas dinner together. Maybe he can even come and listen to me sing my solo at church tonight." She prattled on as he looked from her to her mother.

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byTara_Neale© 82 comments/ 74908 views/ 60 favorites

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