A/N: Endless thanks to my uber-beta, Eowyn77. You know you're awesome! ;)
Disclaimer: I own nothing, while Stephenie Meyer owns all.
For two years straight, she came every month without fail, her sleek, polished SUV always packed to the gills with bags of clothes. Today was no exception. It was the second Thursday—I knew she'd come.
On this drizzly, overcast morning, like so many here in Port Angeles, I watched the familiar vehicle pull into the parking lot.
"She's just some yuppie soccer mom trying to score Brownie points with her yuppie friends."
I turned my head and stared at my co-worker, Janet, as she took another pull on her cigarette. Her shrewd blue eyes narrowed as the beautiful woman climbed out of the cabin and walked to the trunk.
My hunch was that Janet was jealous of their obvious difference in wealth. Working at a shelter for battered women and their children didn't exactly afford one all life's luxuries, but you never took this job for the money.
"Please," I sighed, rolling my eyes. "It's Mrs. Cullen. You know she's not like that."
We desperately needed her contributions; there were so many women and children to help. It was easy to get discouraged and lose hope when a new face showed up on our doorstep. Yet press on we must—and did. Some of the other workers often made snide comments about her, too, but I kept my mouth shut. This woman was far too compassionate and devoted to our cause to only be fulfilling some kind of social circle obligation. And whatever her reason, who were we to bite the hand that fed?
Our smoke break was about over, and there was obvious work to do, so I extinguished my cigarette in the ashtray. "See you inside," I called over my shoulder, stepping out from beneath the awning, while Janet put out her own cigarette.
The drizzle was coming down harder now with fat, wet plops against the ground. I shielded my face with my hand and hurried over to our extremely generous benefactor. Her back was to me as she started pulling out several near-bursting plastic bags.
"Here, let me give you a hand with those, Mrs. Cullen," I spoke from a few feet away so as not to startle her. It was just a habit I'd picked up working around the people I did.
She turned swiftly at the sound of my voice. "Oh, thank you! You're always so helpful, Maria. And please, do call me Esme." She grinned at me, and I couldn't help but smile back. Bending down, she gracefully lifted a bulging sack off the concrete and placed it in my arms. I staggered a bit from the weight.
She must work out a lot. My eyes judged her slender frame. One thing was for sure: yuppie soccer mom or not, she certainly didn't worry about getting her perfect caramel-colored hair or her expensive clothes wet in the rain. I liked that about her; she wasn't some namby-pamby.
Hoisting a sack over each of her shoulders, we walked back towards the donation drop-off door. I reached it first and held it open for her then followed inside. We set the bags down on the counter and repeated the trip to get the rest. Six bags of clothing in all!
It had been a painfully slow month so far as contributions went, but my heart skipped hopefully as I started opening the sacks and organizing the contents. Usually—well, always—Mrs. Cullen's items were pre-separated by size and type. It was still my job to check for our records, and to make an itemized receipt for the donors.
"Goodness!" I whistled in amazement. "We usually don't see donations this large until Christmas. This is wonderful! We just took in a new family, a mom and three kids, and...well, this is just going to help so much." Tears blurred my vision.
A small hand briefly touched my arm in comfort. I looked up at Mrs. Cullen. Her honey-colored eyes were wide and kind.
"I'm just happy to help, Maria," she whispered sincerely. She lowered her gaze to the shirt in her hands and continued quietly, "At one time in my life, I wasn't so very different from the women here. My spirit had been broken, and life held no joy save for the hope I had in my child's future. He was the only thing I had to cling to in the darkness."
I had seen this look hundreds of times before. Each one broke my heart. This was the look I was fighting to eradicate from the world: the hollow agony of an innocent soul defeated through another's hatred. Sadly, I knew that it could happen to anyone, anywhere...even to a happy soccer mom like Mrs. Cullen. What fragments of her shattered life floated to the surface now?
I bit my tongue—it was never my position to request that kind of information. Those pieces of a person's soul could only be offered by their owner. I had no right to press her. Still, as I watched her lips tremble with the memories, her pain moved me. Doing what little I could, I reached out to pat her hand consolingly. It was quite cool—must have been from the chill of the rain. You know what they say, though: cold hands, warm heart; and when it came to Mrs. Cullen, truer words were never spoken.
My touch brought her eyes back up to mine. In those brief moments, something had changed. Her expression still overflowed with an ancient sadness, but now it also shone with a brightness that only came from triumph, from having crossed through the storm to the other side of the rainbow. It only made her all the more beautiful.
Clearing her throat, she said, "Forgive me. I only meant to express my appreciation for what you do here, not just with meeting these families' physical needs, but emotionally and mentally. I like to think that I would have benefited much from such hospitality as well."
"Sometimes, all it takes to get us through is someone who loves us just as we come to them," I agreed, still in awe of the understated strength that emanated from the woman in front me.
Her answering smile was blinding with its conviction and love. "Yes, that person gives us a new life."
With a silent prayer, I thanked whoever it was that she was thinking about, who had been around in time to save her soul and set it soaring again. That was the only thing that mattered: Mrs. Cullen had found her second chance.