DISCLAIMER: This my own original work and may not be reproduced electronically or posted at another site without my written permission. You may print the story for your own use but the title and copyright must remain on the printout.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Diane is my beta reader and the one who applies the cattle prod to my Muse. Bug her here or myself here. © 2006
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Story Idea by Golden_Ruhl
Sherry took a bite of her sandwich as they ate outside and did a little people watching.
"So what did you do?" she asked wide-eyed.
"What else could I do? I called the cops then my insurance agent. He wasn't happy in the least. I bet my premiums will go sky high now," Maggie grumbled as she tossed her empty soda can into the trash barrel.
"No kidding. At least the cop didn't toss you in jail for calling him a jerk-off."
"Damn it, Sherry, they took a fucking hour and a half to get there! I was lucky no one mugged me while I stood there waiting!"
"I know, I know, but you have got to learn to control your temper. How many times have you gotten in trouble because you mouthed off to someone? Hmm?" Sherry asked, nudging Maggie with her shoulder. Her friend sighed.
"I'll try to keep my cool. Right now I had better find a clunker to drive until I finish this story. If I lost another car my agent will have me hung up by my fingernails," Maggie chuckled.
Taking a page from her prey she paid someone to watch her junker car. Maggie had decided to do a little snooping. She donned some grubby clothing and a threadbare coat she had picked up at Goodwill. A knit cap covered her head and gloves with the fingertips cut off kept her hands semi-warm in the cooling fall weather. It was time to go into the shelter and learn what she could.
She opened the door and took in the smell of cleaner and dirty bodies. Just inside was a desk behind an opening in the wall. The old musty building looked shabby and worn. Paint was chipping off the walls and the tile floor was grungy from too many years of wear.
"Can I help you?" A woman's voice asked. Maggie turned around. She was in a shelter, what else would the woman ask? Maggie bit her tongue and resisted the urge to say she was just looking around. The heavyset woman took her silence as meekness.
"How about a meal? Lunch was just served an hour ago but there's some leftovers."
Maggie nodded. She had to appear homeless so she went along with her suggestion. She was asked to sit at a long table with old folding metal chairs. She sat down and waited silently. A few people milled about, talking softly. Too bad she couldn't just walk up to them and ask questions.
"Here you go. It isn't much but we'll be serving dinner in about three hours. Do you need a place to stay for the night?" the woman asked kindly.
"No, thanks, I have a small place to stay for now," Maggie answered, not quite ready to go that far in her investigation. Heaven knew what kind of critters were in those mattresses.
"Okay. I'll let you eat in peace. Perhaps later we can chat?" she asked kindly. Maggie nodded and picked up the cheap metal fork. The food looked hot at least even if it looked like school cafeteria food. The meal consisted of green beans, whipped potatoes, chicken with gravy, and a couple of rolls. She began eating and although plain, the food was tasty. She dug in with gusto and soon was wiping what little remained on the tray with her rolls.
"Looks like you were hungry," the volunteer commented a few minutes later. She sat down across from Maggie. "My name is Karen. What's yours?"
"Um, Margaret." She didn't add anything and remained silent.
"Well, Margaret. I think this is your first time here?" the woman raised her brows to silently ask Maggie to verify her assumption. The reporter nodded and the woman continued. "We don't ask for ID or have people to fill out forms. The city doesn't support us in any way so we don't see the need to do everything in triplicate. We offer food and beds and help people get back on their feet if we can. We're not a religious organization either. We just help where we can. If you choose to come here again we have a few rules. No alcohol or drugs are allowed. If you smoke, do it outside before we lock the doors at 10 PM. Anyone starting a fight or caught stealing is shown the door. Do you have any questions Margaret?"
Maggie thought out what she wanted to ask. She had to be careful what she asked. "Um, You don't ask personal questions here?"
Karen chuckled. "No. Everyone has their own story but they only share it if they want to. We just hope that people who come here will try to find work and get off the streets. The city-ran shelters are also overfilled and we can't support people forever. It's important people try to help themselves."
"You're a volunteer?"
"Yup, all of us are."
"You must get a lot of donations to run this place," Maggie commented.
"Some. We do get a little from the food banks and we have a couple of small businesses that give a little every year. But we're lucky to have a patron who helps us a lot."
"The redheaded woman?" Maggie asked without thinking. The woman's look became guarded.
"What do you know of her?"
"I saw her come in a few times is all. Can't miss that bright red hair."
"Just like I can't miss that expensive perfume you wear Ms. Garrett," a voice said coldly from behind her.
The reporter silently mouthed 'oh shit' and turned around. Aqua green eyes were burning like lasers into her own. "You just can't let a dead horse lay, can you Ms. Garrett? How long have you been following me?"
"You know her?" Karen asked.
"Yes, she's a reporter who doesn't like taking no for an answer. Throw her out and keep her out," Nessa ordered.
"Jesus on a dashboard! You say I'm closed minded? I'm trying my best to understand, even going around dressed like this and driving a piece of crap car. Why won't you give me a chance? You give all the people who come here a chance," Maggie complained. Nessa stepped back, surprised.
"You're right, I do, but you owe this shelter as well. You ate food intended for the homeless so you need to repay it." Nessa held up her hand to silence Maggie's protest. "Not with money but with your time. Be here tomorrow morning. You can spend the day as a volunteer." The heiress saw Maggie about to argue and stepped closer so Karen wouldn't hear her. The reporter's eyes were riveted to Nessa's full lips.
"Or, if you wish to further annoy me, I could always contact my attorney and have a protection order issued. I might take great pleasure in seeing you behind bars every time you come near me," Nessa threatened.
Maggie knew she was beaten. "Tomorrow will be fine," she growled and left the building.
Karen chuckled. "I don't know what you told her but she looked torn between choking you or kissing you into submission. Better be careful Nessa, you have a firebrand on your hands," the volunteer smirked.
The reporter arrived at the shelter at 8 A.M. and shivered from the morning chill as she exited her car. The street seemed fairly quiet in spite of it being rush hour for most of the city. Maggie tugged on the door and found it unlocked. Karen and another woman were speaking softly behind the counter but Nessa wasn't in sight. Maggie pushed down the disappointment she felt and greeted the volunteers.
She found herself assigned to several duties including helping prepare meals and cleaning up the shelter. After cleaning after the noon meal, Karen approached her for a new task.
"We have several people who have trouble filling out forms. We'd like you to help them fill them in and explain how to word things on job applications," the woman requested. The reporter figured the women wanted her to use her language skills to aid them. She agreed and found herself helping seven people fill in forms for most of the afternoon.
She was surprised by the lack of writing and reading skills. Most of the jobs applied for were menial tasks such as fast food and dishwashing. The pitiful amount those types of jobs paid wouldn't even cover the cost of food for herself yet these people would be expected to support themselves on it. It gave her a new appreciation for her own education.
One of the women asked another question about her form and Maggie bent over to peer at the blank the woman had trouble with. She explained what was needed and straightened up. An odd feeling trickled along her nape and she turned around. Nessa stood there, watching her, a slight smile on her lush lips. She nodded as their eyes met before turning away and headed for the office. Maggie felt an odd pleasure tingle inside and she returned to her task in a happier mood.
"How is she doing?" Nessa asked of Karen.
"Fine. She hasn't fussed much except when we had her mopping up after a few of the drunks. She turned a bit green but did it anyway. Maybe you can get her to volunteer more often?" the woman teased.
"Ha! I think we convinced her this wasn't some glamorous job or story to bother with at this point. She'll leave here tonight and won't look back."
It was Karen's turn to laugh. "Dream on Nessa! She's half smitten with you and a little encouragement from you and you'd have a very willing helper."
Nessa scoffed. "She's only interested in a story to get a promotion, nothing more. You're imagining things." Nessa picked up a stack of papers, trying to look unruffled by her friend's remark. The volunteer wasn't fooled. The red-haired woman looked scared.
Karen sighed. Nessa was so damned wary of romantic relationships. A wealthy woman couldn't accept people at face value very often without getting hurt. Too many had tried to get close to Nessa and her money. The woman wasn't going to let anyone hurt her again.
"If you say so, Nessa, if you say so," Karen murmured as she left the office.
Nessa opened the electric gate and started driving through when she spotted the dark-haired reporter standing at the curb. She cleared the gate and stopped. Maggie bent down and peered into the window once it scrolled down.
"What are you doing here?" Nessa asked curtly.
Maggie shrugged and gave her a soft grin. "Wondered if you'd give me a ride to the shelter today since you were going that way anyway."
The redhead glanced up the street and spotted the reporter's car. "Your car ran well enough to get you here so there isn't any reason to not drive yourself," she grumbled.
"Sure there is. Why should both of us pay people to watch our cars? I'll tell you what, I'll donate the money I usually give to the bum I have watch the car and the money I save in gas to the shelter. Tack on that I'll help out during the time you're there and you have a sweet deal. What do you say?"
The wealthy woman glared at Maggie whose eyes were smugly sparkling at her in amusement.
"You are truly trying my patience Ms. Garrett. Get in," she ordered and rolled the window back up. Maggie slid into the passenger seat with a satisfied grin.
When they arrived at the shelter Karen gave a quirky grin towards Nessa, who ignored it. She also managed to ignore Maggie for the entire time she was there. When she was ready to leave in the late afternoon she merely shook her keys towards the reporter to let her know she was leaving. Maggie grabbed her coat and followed after the departing woman.
Nessa didn't say a word while she drove. She kept her eyes forward and made no attempt to socialize with Maggie, who was now feeling hurt.
"Okay, so what bug got up your ass?" Maggie finally bit out, tired of the cold shoulder treatment.
"You will kindly keep your vocabulary civil when you speak to me Ms. Garrett. I don't tolerate vulgarity from anyone, much less a pushy reporter who can't take no for an answer."
"Well, isn't that too bad Ms. High and Mighty. You're so used to people jumping when you snap your fingers and issue orders, aren't you? Is that why you sponsor the shelter? So they can grovel in gratitude and stroke your ego?" Maggie threw up her hands like an ancient priest praying to the gods. "All hail Nessa O'Shea, queen and goddess among mortals!" she intoned.
The car came to a violent halt and the brakes squealed in protest. "Get out!" the redhead ordered angrily.
"Fine." Maggie opened the door and slammed the car door shut behind her and barely removing her hand before the car peeled rubber as it drove away.
The reporter was too angry to hail a cab. She walked the four miles back to Nessa's estate. She was tired and chilled when she reached her car. A man stood next to it.
"Margaret Garrett?" the man asked. Maggie nodded.
The man handed her an envelope. "You've been served." He strolled away and got into his own vehicle.
"Well, that was fast," Maggie mumbled as she got into her car.
It took several days for Maggie to get past her anger. She stewed over what had happened for quite a while and had to admit she half deserved what happened. She sighed. The reporter sat at the bench across from her workplace and barely touched her lunch. She missed Nessa. It was a hard thing to admit. Sure, she was attracted to the woman but what good would it do to keep thinking about her? The protection order kept her from even calling her on the phone. She let out another loud sigh and tossed the half-eaten sandwich into the bin.
Something caught her eye. Turning her head she spotted a woman dressed in a flowing gown who was staring at her. That wasn't unusual in itself. Maggie knew she was attractive, but this woman Maggie blinked. The woman was gone as though she had never been there at all. What the hell?
The dark-haired reporter stood up and looked around. Where did she go? Not seeing her, Maggie could only shake her head. Maybe she was imagining things. She had barely slept since the argument with Nessa. Remembering the redhead once more sent a longing to see her through her.
"Speak to Karen," a voice whispered in her ear. Maggie spun around but no one was there. "I'm fucking losing it," the reporter grumbled and headed back to work.
Two days later Maggie found herself shaking as she opened the door into the shelter. Entering the building had been included in the writ but she needed to talk to Karen and the phone didn't seem right.
The other volunteer spotted her first. "What are you doing here? You want to get arrested?" Joan asked in shock.
"Please, I just want to speak to Karen. I'm not here to cause any trouble, I promise."
The woman sighed and told her to wait in the office while she fetched Karen. Maggie thanked her and went into the tiny office.
The heavyset woman entered the room and shook her head. "You had better make it fast before word gets to Nessa," she warned.
"I don't know if I can make this fast." Maggie pulled off her knit cap and leaned back into the chair.
"You had better. Nessa has been in a foul mood all week. Every car she owns is in the shop and every troublemaker out to make a name for their self politically has been fighting her, trying to close this shelter. She doesn't need any more headaches right now."
"I don't want to cause her trouble Karen," Maggie said softly.
The older woman looked at the reporter. Her dark eyes shone with misery. She felt her tension leave and asked what she could do to help her.
"I need to see her, Karen," she held up the writ, "but this thing is between us and I can't talk to her."
"And why do you want to see her Maggie? Be honest."
Maggie didn't look away, she couldn't. Karen was Nessa's friend and would protect her. Anything less than the truth would get her arrested.
"I miss her Karen, I miss her. Somehow she got under my skin and I can't think about anything else. I want to see her."
"She said you were obsessed with her and about writing an article about her."
Karen sighed. Maggie didn't understand. "Maggie, let me be honest with you. As long as you work as a reporter you haven't got a snowball's chance in hell with her. Just forget about her and move on," Karen told her bluntly.
Maggie sat there silently, miserable. "I can't forget her," she whispered and walked out of the office.
Nessa turned and smiled at the entrepreneur who had been helpful in past fundraisers. It's nice to see you again Jason. How's your family?" she asked politely. She listened as he spoke but something caught her eye. Her eyes turned until they rested on Maggie Garrett, who arrived at the formal fundraiser, dressed in black jeans and a man's dress shirt. The young woman approached her but her bodyguard Charles stepped between them.
"You've been ordered to stay away from her," his deep voice rumbled.
"I just want to give her this," Maggie told him softly. The man took it from her hand as he nodded to a plain clothed policeman. Maggie was quietly escorted from the gallery and arrested.
Charles handed the white envelope to his employer. She didn't open it but stuffed it into her evening bag. It wasn't until she had a moment to get away from the crowd and entered the empty powder room that she opened it. Inside it contained a photo copy sheet of her resignation at the magazine. On the bottom of the paper were the simple words, 'I miss you'. Nessa stared at it for a long time then folded it carefully and placed it into her bag. She had some thinking to do.
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