His One and Only(5)

By: Theodora Taylor

Josie appreciated Sam’s loyalty, but… “It’s not about me. You can get by without me, but I’ve seen the finances, Sam. You’ve only got another few months to keep this place open, three tops if we don’t get an infusion of cash. And you definitely can’t keep it going with only one official intake worker. You should just hire somebody with a degree.”

But Sam shook her head. “We can figure this out. I know there’s a way to figure this out.”

And they went back and forth like that, both too loyal to back down from their positions. By the time, they finally reached an agreement—to let Josie continue applying for grants until they could come up with a better solution—it was lunchtime. Josie scarfed down the sandwich she’d brought from home and spent the rest of the day calling around to other shelters to see if they could take their surplus residents, helping three of their temporary residents navigate Section 8, explaining to three different irate husbands that their wives weren’t at the center (even though they were), and barely making a dent in the never-ending stream of paperwork for the state.

Yet at the end of her shift, she walked out of Ruth’s House feeling satisfied and complete, even if she hadn’t earned a dime that day. However, that feeling of accomplishment wasn’t enough to keep her warm when she walked into her icebox of a trailer. Or provide her with decent food. It hit her again how bad her predicament was as she ate crackers and cold, congealed soup out of a can.

And though she put on a long-sleeved shirt, two sweaters, and a couple pairs of socks, that feeling of accomplishment wasn’t enough to stop her from shivering or keep the gnawing hunger at bay as she fell asleep...

Only to be woken up a few hours later by the sound of a ringing phone. She came awake with a jolt and it took her a few moments to realize that the old-fashioned ringing was emanating from the trailer’s landline.

Apparently, they hadn’t shut off the phone service yet.

“Hello?” she said tentatively. “This is Josie Simmons—I mean Witherspoon. Josie Witherspoon.”

The one thing Josie managed to do before leaving Atlanta was get her last name changed back to her maiden one. The prospect of continuing through life with Wayne’s last name had been even less appealing than spending a few extra days in a city that held nothing but bad memories for her.

“Josie? Josie? Is that you, dear?” came a genteel voice down the line, one Josie recognized despite having not heard it in the year since her mama’s funeral.

“Mrs. Prescott?” she said, more than a little surprised to hear from her mother’s old employer. “Yes, it’s me.”

“Oh, thank goodness. I wasn’t sure anyone would be at this old number. At least not anyone who knew you. I can’t believe I managed to reach you on the first try!”

“Well, you got me. How are you, ma’am?” Her mother was dead, but Josie still couldn’t keep the deference out of her voice when talking to Kitty Prescott. That was how thoroughly Loretta had trained her.

“Not well, I’m afraid,” Mrs. Prescott answered. “Beau Jr.’s had a nasty accident, and he’s coming home to Alabama. But I’m on an around-the-world cruise. As a matter of fact, we’re about to dock in Madagascar. So I won’t be able to get back to the States to take care of him any time soon.”

Josie shook her head, still confused. From what she had seen growing up, even if Kitty Prescott hadn’t been on the other side of the globe, she wouldn’t have been the one taking care of her son. That had been Loretta’s job since the day they’d moved in with the Prescott family when Beau was four years old, and Josie was two.

One of Josie’s first memories had been her mama explaining to her how yes, Beau was with them almost 24/7, but no, he wasn’t a really, really light-skinned black person related to them by blood. “He be with us, but he be a Prescott down to the bone. You see that clear when he grow up,” her mother had said with bitterness in her voice.

And she had been right. Everything had come easily to the Prescott’s golden boy: looks, accolades, money, and an almost preternatural athletic ability. And one day, Beau morphed from the fun boy she’d grown up with and eventually come to secretly love into a total prick.

But Josie’s mama had trained her well. She managed to say to Kitty in her politest voice: “I’m sorry to hear Beau’s doing so poorly. Please send him my best wishes, ma’am.”

“Oh, we need you to do more than that, dear,” Mrs. Prescott answered. “You see this accident of Beau’s has left him temporarily disabled.”