Charotte clung to her purse as she entered the Community House. Inside, she frowned at a stain on the rug and revolted at the smell of dinginess. Walking down the dim hall, she passed a one of the single mothers who lived here and stole a glance at her. The woman looked quite capable of working. Charlotte didn't understand what all the fuss was about-except maybe laziness.
She came to apartment nine and knocked. A young woman opened the door and smiled. She looked exhausted and unkempt.
"I'm Charlotte Hays." She forced a smile.
The girl's face brightened in a way that startled Charlotte.
"Please come in. I have some water on for tea."
Charlotte bit her lip. "I'm sorry, darling. I really can't now. Have to go. My book club is meeting at Starbucks."
The girl nodded, her smile fading. "I understand."
Charlotte pried her purse open, fingering through the receipts in her pocketbook, then slipping the thousand dollars out of her pocketbook. She shoved the money at the girl. "Here you go. Nice to meet you." Charlotte started to turn away.
"Don't you want to see her?" the girl said.
Charlotte stiffened. "What?"
"Okay, but I'm in a rush." Charlotte checked her watch.
The girl got her infant. "Her name is Mary."
"Isn't she a darling," Charlotte said. She glanced down the hall and appraised a few items of trash on the dank rug. What a way to come into the world. What a place. She turned back to the infant. She couldn't have been nine weeks old, but her blue eyes met Charlotte's and her little lips curled up in a smile. She reached out toward Charlotte with her little hand and her tiny little fingers.
"I've got to go," Charlotte said. "Big rush."
"Okay, but thank you so much," the girl said. "You don't know what this means to us." She wiped her free hand across her cheek. "We've been praying that God would meet all our needs and you're showing up here is a miracle."
"A what? I mean, I'm glad I could help."
The girl reached out and took hold of Charlotte's arm. "It's so wonderful what you've done for us." She sniffed. "She's only twelve weeks old and everybody says I need to get a job and put her in daycare, but she's only been out of the hospital two days. Somebody's gotta love her. At least now I'll be able to spend a couple of weeks with her before I --"
"Of course." Charlotte gently pulled her arm away and started down the hall. As she left the building, her cell phone rang.
"Did you do it?" Julia said.
"Oh, boy. I can hardly wait to see the look on Victoria's face. When you told me you were going to outdo her, I thought, Charlotte give away a thousand dollars? No way. Not even to one-up Victoria. Whatever you do, don't tell her before I get there."
Charlotte hesitated. "I'm not going."
"I've had a change in plans."
"Are you kidding. I've been itching to shut up that hypocrite and her bragging. Every week she's dropping her little comments about giving a hundred here and a hundred there. Like she's Miss Society Woman or something. You'll show her that she's cheap trash compared to you."
"Oh, shut up, Vickie."
"I'm not coming and you won't say a word about this."
"This was your idea, wasn't it?"
"Don't tell anyone, ever."
"Okay, fine. But I don't see why you're mad at me."
"I have to go."
"You're acting strange, Charlotte."
Charlotte went back inside. She knocked on the girl's door. The girl looked at her with such love that Charlotte felt unworthy to be there.
"I'm sorry. I didn't get your name."
"I'm sorry, Lisa. I haven't been thinking straight. I want you to relax and not have to worry about looking for a job. I'm going to give you a thousand dollars a month for the next six months so you can be with your baby. In the mean time, I'll find you some kind of domestic work that you can do and still keep your daughter close by."
Tears ran down her face. "But you don't even know me."
"Of course I do, darling. You and your daughter deserve it. If it's not too late, I'll come in for that cup of tea, after all."
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