His One and Only

By: Theodora Taylor

Sam shook her head, a glum expression overtaking her usually sunny face. “I wish it was only as bad as we didn’t get the grant. They made a point of saying our application was exceptional and we would have gotten the grant, but unfortunately, they lost funding for it, so they’re no longer able to offer it.”

Josie fell back in her chair, more than a little disappointed. Sadly, funds for social service grants were being cut all over the place, even as demands for those services were going up.

“But maybe…” Sam flipped through the application literature inside the folder, but then her shoulders sank a couple of pages in. “Shoot, has that stupid restriction, too.”

Josie’s heart sank. She didn’t need a translation to understand what that meant. This grant also required whoever Sam hired with the funds it provided be in possession of a bachelor degree, which Josie didn’t have because she had oh-so-stupidly followed her former husband to Atlanta during what was supposed to be her senior year of college as opposed to finishing up at University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Back then, it had finally felt like she was achieving her dream of leaving Alabama behind, but now her lack of degree had come back to bite her in the worst way. She’d been looking for work ever since moving back to Birmingham, and hadn’t been able to find any. Even the lowliest office jobs seemed to want a college degree these days, and the twelve year gap on her resume didn’t help either. Not for the first time, she cursed herself for letting Wayne convince her not to get a job after they got married. And she wondered once again how she could have been so stupid.

Sam let the folder drop out of her hand. “Okay, back to the internet. There’s got to be something out there.”

But Josie stopped what she could tell was going to become one of Sam’s pep talks with a weary raised hand. “No, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to start applying for those other grants you passed up in order to get me in here.”

“No,” Sam said.

“Yes,” Josie insisted. “I never should have let you put all your eggs in this basket in the first place. You really do need another intake worker and new mattresses for the beds and all the other stuff we listed in our application.”

“But you’re the best intake worker we’ve had since starting this place! There’s nobody better than you. I can’t just let them take you away from us,” Sam said.

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!”