The putrid odor slapped her in the face before she even rounded the corner. An arm appeared out of nowhere and gripped her elbow. Instinctively, Stacia pulled away.
“Do you have a dollar to spare, Miss? Some change maybe?” Sad, bloodshot eyes implored her, saying more than the woman’s words alone.
Stacia was smart enough to leave her purse at home but she dug through her coat pocket and pulled out a crumpled five dollar bill.
“Bless you, Miss.” This time, the woman kept her arm to herself. She disappeared as quickly as she came.
Stacia pulled her jacket tighter. Her eyes darted, cautiously taking in her surroundings. A vagrant lay motionless in a nearby doorway, legs curled up in fetal position. A malnourished stray cat hissed from somewhere in the shadows.
Oh, why had she come?
Stacia turned her attention toward the massive brown dumpster down the alley. The smell of days-old chicken and dirty diapers invaded her senses and she covered her nose and mouth with her hand. A lone figure stepped from behind the trash bin and hoisted herself up over the side. Stacia watched as the woman landed with a thud on top of the garbage.
Stacia’s breath caught. There was no doubt in her mind; it was Mel.
The reason she had come.
Tentatively, Stacia stepped around the side of the building. Thankfully, she had worn tennis shoes and could approach, unnoticed. Mel seemed too preoccupied with her current task to notice her anyway.
“M-Mel?” Her own voice seemed to echo through the vacant alleyway. For one brief moment, Mel hesitated. She then resumed her trash picking without looking up.
“Please, Mel. Look at me.” Stacia’s heart pounded as she willed her sister to respond.
Slowly, deliberately, Mel turned and looked. Recognition flashed in her eyes, then was gone.
“Go away. Leave me be.”
“Come with me, Mel. You don’t belong here. The past is the past. It’s time to come home.”
For several agonizing moments, Mel said nothing. Then, abruptly, she aimed a cold, hard gaze into Stacia’s eyes. “I don’t think Daddy would agree with you. He hates me.”
“You’re wrong, Mel. Here ---." Stacia pulled a piece of paper from her pocket and stretched out her hand. "He asked me to give you this.” When her sister made no move to take it, Stacia set it down on top of the pile.
Mel grabbed the note with filthy hands and opened it. She stared at it, then threw it on the ground and looked away. “I can’t---read it. My eyes….”
Stacia picked up the note and read with a soft, yet steady, voice.
“To my dearest Melanie,
For nine years I’ve been waiting. Every morning and every evening, I sit by the window and watch for my daughter to come home.
Does that surprise you?
Contrary to what you might think, I was never angry with you. Yes, I was disappointed and hurt, but never angry. The money you took from me has been replenished, ten-fold. But you, my dearest daughter, can never be replaced.
I grieve for you each day. When Stacia told me where you were, I was deeply troubled. You are not meant to live on the streets, hunting for food, separated from your family. You are supposed to be here – living the abundant life I so want to give you.
Please. Come home. Your debt has been paid in full. I simply want to love you.
Waiting with anticipation and open arms,
Stacia had never seen her sister cry until that moment. The tears flowed freely and Mel climbed out of the dumpster and into her sister’s arms.
The Father watched from above and smiled. First for the child who was on her way home, then for the one who was leading her there.
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