The next few days were a frenzy for Bethany on the job and in her personal life. She moved a decorated Iraqi War veteran into VA housing. She tried transitioning an older woman with schizophrenia into a shelter but at the last minute, the woman freaked out, cursed Bethany and a fire hydrant, then ran away with everything she owned stuffed inside a backpack dangling off her shoulder. Bethany let it go and resolved to find her the next day.
As for Bethany’s personal life. All holy hell broke loose when she:
- Broke up with Alex, returned the engagement ring and left him a blubbering mess.
- Told her parents about the breakup and then informed them she was not coming to Christmas dinner because she was attending a Christmas dinner in a homeless encampment, and no, it wasn’t part of her job.
Bethany’s parents flew into a rage and threatened to disinherit her. She said go ahead, just leave everything to a good cause.
Christmas was three days away and Ethan had been incredibly busy in the run-up to the celebration. The encampment twinkled with lights in the evenings. He set up towering fake tree and the residents decorated it with old ornaments left out on the sidewalks by local homeowners. He scrounged up phone cards for some of the residents to call their families. He supplied Christmas cards with stamped envelopes and mailed them. He helped dig the barbecue pit for the Butterball. He laid in more firewood. He rigged a canopy over the grill in case it rained. He broke up a domestic squabble and talked the cops into giving a miscreant yet another chance. He told the miscreant that if screwed up again and brought the cops to the encampment, he was towing his wrecked teardrop trailer out and dumping it in front of the police station. He administered a dose of naloxone and saved a man from overdosing on fentanyl. He took a sick dog to the vet. He also wrapped up about a hundred tins of pipe tobacco, a gift from one of his lawn mowing clients who had to give up the habit after a heart attack. He planned giving away the tins to the smokers in the encampment.
Bethany and Ethan met for coffee again and she got straight to the point: how can I help you get into housing? Isn’t it time you move on from the encampment? You don’t belong there. You have a lot to offer.
Ethan let Bethany opine. Then he said, “I have nowhere else to go. I’m already offering help and helping people.”
Intensity flared across the table. Intensity on multiple Hallmark levels.
She wanted to kiss him—bad. He wanted to kiss her—worse. They both knew it but held back. Let the fire kindle a bit longer before dousing it with gasoline.
The kiss was coming soon enough. So was Christmas. Bethany imagined tacking up some secret mistletoe in the encampment and steering Ethan toward it. Then he’d have to kiss her! Characters always did that sort of sly traditional thing in Hallmark Christmas movies.
“Look,” said Bethany. “I can get you a job where I work. They have plenty positions to fill, for cleanup, errands, all sorts of things. A little over minimum wage.”
She was on a roll. She kept rolling. “You can park your van in my driveway until you find housing.”
“Is that your way of asking me to move in?” said Ethan, grinning.
Bethany laughed. “Sort of. Just roommates.” The garage has its own separate bathroom and shower.”
“I’ll think about it.”
“Okay, I’m bringing pizza to the camp later today. You can tell me then.”
“That’s pretty quick. I may need a few days.”
“Tell me on Christmas and say ‘yes’ like in one of those Hallmark movies.”
Ethan didn’t know what to say. He’d never seen one.
Several hours later, Bethany brought five large cheese pizzas to the encampment, She hollered, “Pizza for the campers! Come and get it!”
They came and got it.
Ethan sauntered over. Bethany gave him a slice, took one herself and they ate standing up.
“I wanna see your van,” said Bethany.
“You do?” said Ethan. “It’s not much, but it’s home.”
Bethany was struck by his use of the word ‘home.’ Maybe it was one in a way most can’t understand, including her.
They walked to the van. Ethan slid open the side door and Bethany poked her head inside.
It looked like a disheveled college dorm room! She loved her disheveled college dorm room! How much space did you really need to live in?
“It’s pretty cramped in there,” said Ethan.
“I was thinking cozy,” said Bethany.
She was on the verge of yanking him inside and slamming the door, but, well, she was on the clock and trying to act like a caseworker.
As for him, he was on the verge of pushing her inside and slamming the door, but well, he reeked like a pigsty and had to mow a lawn in half an hour.
They said their goodbyes and Bethany drove away. Ethan watched the whole way.