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Rescue Me! - 1. Chapter 1

Chapter 1: A new door opens.
The door banged open – again – letting in a blast of bitingly frigid January air. It was snowing out, the wind was blowing, and it wasn’t fit for man or beast. Yet the door kept opening and closing, opening and closing, as more and more people filtered into the Shelter. It was warm in the Shelter – not just the warmth from the heaters, but warm with the staff’s concern for each person. It was warm and rich with the smells drifting out of the tiny kitchen from the soup bubbling away in the large pots on the dilapidated old stove. It was warmed by the tentative relationships between the regulars who came in from the cold during the day. Montreal was a terrible place in the winter for those without homes or warmth. The door kept opening and closing.
John looked up, noticing yet another person coming in, seeing them and not seeing them at the same time as he continued to stir soup. The figure was bundled up with an assortment of clothes, so heavily covered that he couldn’t tell if it was male or female. Wool cap pulled down over the ears, scarf wrapped around the face, only a pair of startlingly blue eyes visible under frost covered lashes, hands jammed deep into pockets, the layered bundle of clothes moved over to an old, battered table in the corner and sat down, hunched over as if seeking warmth and comfort – and maybe safety. Newcomers usually gravitated to the corner tables. They felt safer with their backs to the wall, able to see everyone else in the room. John made a mental note to himself to go over and chat with the person at some point. Newcomers were usually a little frightened and confused about the Shelter. He turned back to stirring the soup.
It was almost lunchtime, and the Shelter grew more crowded. John began to ready the kitchen. He set out the stacks of bowls, the assorted collection of spoons. His assistant began to ready the baskets of bread and fruit, one to a table. It would be a simple meal; they were all simple meals. Soup, bread and fruit for each person, as much as they could eat until it was all gone. Sometimes they had cheese, or even more rarely, meat to go with the bread. Very occasionally, they had jam. It was enough to keep them alive, even if it wouldn’t win any culinary prizes. John tried to vary the soups – one day it would be a rich vegetable broth, another a beef stew, another some sort of chicken soup, whatever he could scrounge up to put into the soup. He stayed away from fish because some people were allergic. He didn’t want anyone getting sick at the Shelter; they needed to feel safe here.
“OK, everyone, you know the drill. Line up and come get your soup. Mike will put out a basket of bread and fruit for each table. If you want a second bowl of soup, you can come up after everyone has had their first. No shoving, there’s enough for everyone.”
Every day he said the same thing, praying inside that the soup would hold out. He hadn’t run out yet, but it had come really close sometimes. It was a matter of faith for him; God would provide. This whole ministry was a matter of faith. He had a tiny budget, yet every day something would come in the door. Some days it was meat, others vegetables. He never knew what, or who, would come walking through the doors of the Shelter.
The people came up to the serving door of the kitchen, ready to receive their bowl of soup of the day. He looked into each of their faces, smiling, chatting with each if he knew them, trying for a connection, however fleeting. Some smiled back. Some mumbled. Some looked down, averting their eyes. Men, women, young, old, each was different, and each had a story, a reason for being here. There was a banker who’d had a break-down one day and walked away from everything. This one was an aged prostitute who couldn’t “work” any more. That one was a drug addict who lived from fix to fix. Yet another was a Ph.D. in some sort of abstract math who just couldn’t take the stress anymore. He knew them, had listened to their stories as one by one they sat down with him and came to trust him. For some it had taken years of soup and warmth before they began talking, others talked right away. He never knew which it was going to be.
A hand reached out for a bowl, and he noticed it. It was a lovely hand, beautiful beneath the grime; he looked up and saw those lovely blue eyes that had caught his attention a few moments earlier. Now he could see it was a young man -- or an older boy -- hard to tell. Beautiful eyes, beautiful face, staring back into his own eyes with a tentative smile curving his lips as he responded to John’s own smile. John caught himself staring, shaking himself imperceptibly.
“Hi there! Welcome to the Shelter! I’m John. Not sure I’ve met you before…”
“I’m Jeremy. No, this is my first time,” a soft, hesitant light baritone voice responded.
“Well, welcome! Here’s the soup and a spoon. Napkins are over there and Mike will bring around a basket of bread and fruit to each table. When everyone has been served, you can come back and get a second bowl as long as the soup lasts. I’ll try to get over to you and chat after lunch. Take your time.”
Jeremy smiled back gently and then let his eyes drift down, taking the bowl of soup and the spoon, and moving on. John looked after him for a moment, and then turned to the next person in line. The line moved on, until there was a lull as each person sat at a table and ate hungrily.
Mike moved among them, making sure that the baskets of bread and fruit were kept full, and that everyone had a chance to get some. He joked with the people who tried to sneak bread or fruit into their pockets. They could take a little extra to tide them over for the rest of the day, but any large-scale hoarding was gently discouraged. Heads began to come up from their intense gaze at their soup bowls. They looked around to see if anyone was still in line, and then began to get up for their second bowl. The first bowl intensity was over now, their hunger pangs quieter. Their bellies were warm, and they could begin to look at each other with a little more friendliness – and a little less desperation. The first one got up and came back to John for seconds, the others followed. John got busy refilling bowls, handing out crackers, chatting with them again, noticing them a bit more this time. He had more time now, too, their first urgency stilled that allowed him to interact a bit more, to notice a bit more. He saw Jeremy get up and get back in line. He looked at him more closely. Jeremy had left his coat back at his seat with his hat and scarf. John could see a young man, slender with long arms and legs, long fingers that curled around the soup bowl as he held it up for John to refill. Jeremy paused as John looked at him.
“Thank you,” he said, gently, actually looking John in the eyes now.
“You’re welcome, Jeremy. There’s more if you’re hungry.” John wasn’t sure, but he sensed that this beautiful young man could use more food, that he needed something more. His eyes lingered on Jeremy as he walked away, gracefully threading his way through the tables until he got to his chair. He sat down, and quickly glanced up at John. He smiled before looking back down at his soup bowl.
John finished the big pot of soup, filling up everyone’s bowl and actually having enough left over for Mike and himself. He took a bowl and spoon and went over to Jeremy.
“Can I sit down with you?”
“Sure, I guess so.”
John sat, arranged his stuff on the table and began to eat.
“It’s good to sit down for a few minutes and relax. I like getting a chance to taste my own soup. It’s not bad today, even if I do say so myself.” He slurped the soup appreciatively, enjoying the taste and the warmth. Even with the heaters going full blast, the winter wind could chill you every time the door opened and closed. He carefully buttered some bread and took a bite, chewing and enjoying, trying to give Jeremy some space to talk. Jeremy snuck glances at him, looking up through his longish, slightly unkempt dirty blond hair. He didn’t say anything, just looked. John waited, knowing that he couldn’t force things. Jeremy would talk when he was ready, and not before.
“Do you make the same soup every day?”
“No. I kind of vary it according to what I get in. Sometimes it’s chicken, like today, sometimes beef or pork or whatever. I don’t usually know until the morning what I’m going to make that day. If I’m lucky I can get it started the evening before. Did you like it?”
“Oh yes. It’s really good. Probably the best soup I’ve had in a long time. My mother used to…” his voice trailed off, his eyes drifted down again and he took a deep breath. He fell silent.
“Glad you liked it, Jeremy. I try to please. Do you cook?”
“Well, I worked in a restaurant once – doing the dishes. That’s about as close as I got. Sometimes they’d let me clean vegetables and cut them up. I don’t really know how to cook, I just open cans and kind of throw them together.”
“You know, if you want, you could help me clean vegetables for tomorrow. That way I can get a head start on tomorrow’s soup. That’s only if you want, you understand.” John didn’t want to frighten him away, but something was pulling at him with this young man.
“OK. I guess I could help – if you show me what you want me to do.”
John smiled, really pleased. What was going on? Of course he tried to help everyone, but there was just something about this kid …
“Let me get back into the kitchen and see what I can scrounge up. Why don’t you hang up your coat over there in the corner? That way you can keep an eye on it. Sometimes things walk away, so if you’ve got anything really special in the coat, you’d better put it in your pocket. Or, we could put it in my office. That’s safe.”
“No, that’s OK. There’s nothing special in the coat. I’ll just go hang it up in the corner.”
Jeremy got up and stuck his hat and scarf in the coat sleeve. He went and hung it up where John had pointed and came back, still somewhat hesitant, his movements graceful as he moved around the large room. Mike waved and smiled at them as he left for the day, his volunteer duties finished.
“See ya tomorrow, Mike. Jeremy, come on back here with me. We’ll just get you washed up a bit and then I’ll get you an apron.”
John took him into the kitchen and showed him the sink. Jeremy washed up; John watching to see that did a good job. John got out one of the big aprons and put it over Jeremy’s head, going around the back to tie it, his hands just grazing Jeremy’s hips, feeling the boniness underneath. John pulled out a big bag of carrots, another of potatoes, and then a third of onions, slapping them up on the counter. He gave John a vegetable peeler and pointed him towards the vegetables.
“Jeremy, why don’t you get started with the carrots and then the potatoes? I’ll start on the onions.”
He pulled out a good knife, used a sharpening steel to hone it and got started. They worked in silence, peeling, slicing and dicing. Jeremy took the pot that John had given him and filled it with some water. He put the peelings into a large container under the sink, and the newly peeled potatoes into the pot filled with water. John sliced the two ends off the onions, and then cut them in half, setting them aside to finish later. Jeremy made quick work of his vegetables, and then started peeling the skin off the onion halves. John finished the first part of his prep work and put his knife down.
“Jeremy, are you comfortable with a good sharp knife?”
“Yes.” Jeremy was a man of few words.
“OK. Here’s one you can use. We just want everything cut into bite size pieces, and then we’ll start cooking them.”
They set to work, cutting away silently. It was a companionable silence. They seemed comfortable with each other. Each worked well, efficiently. Occasionally an elbow would rub up against another arm or a side. They didn’t move away from each other, though they occasionally grinned as their arms touched. John reached down for a large roasting pan and set it on the counter. He turned around and turned on the oven.
“Let’s put the vegetables in this pan and then we’ll start roasting them in the oven. It’ll give a good taste to tomorrow’s soup.”
He began scooping the onions into the pan. Jeremy added the carrots and then began to cut up the potatoes that he’d peeled earlier. As the pan filled up, John began to mix all the vegetables together to get an even distribution. He reached over to the shelf and started to drizzle olive oil over the vegetables, and then sprinkled them with a good helping of salt, pepper and dried garlic. He put the large roasting pan into the oven and turned away, wiping his hands on his apron.
“Let’s go out and have some coffee and sit down.”
They took their aprons off, left the kitchen and got some coffee. They went back to the table where they had eaten lunch and sat down.
“Thanks for your help. That really made it go much faster.”
“You’re welcome.”
“You know your way around a kitchen. It looks like they had you do a lot of prep work where you worked before.”
“Yea. I enjoyed it, so they let me do a lot of it. I like working in a kitchen.”
“Have you ever thought of learning how to really cook, maybe become a chef?” John just couldn’t help himself. He was a do-gooder at heart, always wanting to help people and see them succeed.
“Well, I don’t do so good in school.”
“Oh?”
“Yea, I have problems.” Jeremy paused, and then continued very quietly, “And, sometimes, I get sick and have to go to the hospital.” He looked down at his hands, studying his coffee cup carefully.
“Is that why you aren’t working at the restaurant any longer?”
Jeremy looked up quickly, startled by John’s guess. Then his eyes fell back down.
“Yea.”
“Do you want to tell me about it?”
“No.”
“OK, you don’t have to, but if you want to talk about it, then I’m here.” John paused a bit, looking down at his very interesting coffee cup, then he looked up and took a breath, “Jeremy, can I ask you another question?”
“Yea.”
“Do you have a place to sleep tonight?”
“Yea.” He paused now, then, “I share an apartment with some friends, so I sleep there.” He began twisting his hands around the coffee cup. “I should probably go back there now.”
“OK, Jeremy. I really enjoyed your help in the kitchen. Will you come back tomorrow and see how it tastes? If you have time, you can help me prepare the next day’s soup, too.”
“Yea. I’ll come back. Thanks for the soup today.” Jeremy got up. He carefully picked up his coffee cup and put it back on the Dutch door into the kitchen. Then he got dressed, taking his cap out and pulling it down over his ears, wrapping the scarf twice around his face, and then pulling on his heavy winter coat. John watched silently as he dressed, noticing when his shirt rode up as he put on his coat, catching a glimpse of the hint of a treasure trail. He nursed his coffee as Jeremy got ready to go back out into the cold. Jeremy walked towards the door. There, he paused for a minute and turned.
“Thanks for the soup. I’ll see you tomorrow. Good night.”
John waved as Jeremy pulled open the door. A blast of cold air came in; it was dark out, the darkness came early to Montreal in the winter. He kept looking at the door after it closed, not sure what he was looking for.

Copyright © 2011 MontrealOrmolu; All Rights Reserved.

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So sad to think there are too many people like Jeremy, no real place to sleep in and not enough food to eat. John seems like a very nice man, friendly and caring.

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John has a good heart and obviously cares enough about the people to get to know them. From their varied backgrounds we see that anyone can fall on hard times, it's all too easy to fall through the cracks. We should count our blessings every day and always be mindful of those less fortunate. Good start to what looks to be a heartwarming story.

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