Imelda sighed after submitting the final draft of her latest novel; although she felt relieved and somewhat exhilarated, it also left her feeling a little antsy. Unsure of what to do next, she left her office where she’d spent several weeks cooped up editing and rewriting. While she was roaming around, entering each room, she was also mentally going over her options. A feeling of unease and a need to get out of the house was starting to overwhelm her. Going from one room to the next, she sighed once again as she remembered the enormous size of her home—a thought she had all too often resurfaced. ”Maybe I should sell this monster of a place. There are just too many rooms for Bernice and Me.” A wave of panic engulfed her at the thought. ”ugh, if only I could give it up.”
“I need to do something, though. Maybe I should go to Europe or find a beach in the Caribbean and hang out for a while.” Shrugging slightly as neither idea held any appeal, restlessness was threatening to overwhelm her, and she had to figure out something and soon. Visiting her older sister Claudia was out. They hadn’t spoken since their parent’s death. It had been six years now; when in her senior year of college Imelda’s parents died in a car accident. The sisters were never close, but the tension began in earnest after reading their will, and the family home was to be Imelda’s. Claudia was not left out, but that didn’t stop years of jealousy.
Luckily for Imelda, Bernice, the family housekeeper/nanny, stayed on after her parent’s death and was the one constant in her life. Bernice took on the household responsibilities, and after her parent’s death, became a kind of surrogate mother. At fifty, she was a formidable woman with short choppy brown hair. Although loving, Bernice was very stern and had become Imelda’s lifeline over the past few years.
Along with taking care of the house and bills, she made sure Imelda took care of herself. She took it upon herself to administer discipline when Imelda’s behavior was out of control or was neglectful with herself. Imelda adored Bernice and quickly fell in line when her bad habits were often pointed out to the detriment of her backside. Although she didn’t grow up with domestic discipline, in this relationship, it worked.
After Imelda’s parents’ deaths and the falling out with her sister, Imelda all but gave up and let depression win. She went from partying every night, drinking regularly, and doing drugs, locking herself in her room for days on end, oblivious to the outside world. Finally, when Bernice had enough, she stepped up and took control. That’s when Imelda had her first taste of discipline. After that, first-time Bernice began applying her with a steady dose of discipline and forcing structure back into Imelda’s life. A firm hand and, when warranted, her leather belt had Imelda coming around.
The dark brightened over time; she slowly came around and began writing. Bernice became her family and friend, there to provide support and guidance or even a firm hand. Whatever was needed, she knew she had someone hold her accountable and be there to love her. And because Bernice gave her the stability required, at age twenty-nine, Imelda was able to write and publish two best-selling novels. Writing became a great passion, a place where she could escape and find solitude, allowing everything around her to fade away. The only person ever able to penetrate the writers’ fog would be Bernice.
Today the need to get out of the house and celebrate was strong. She invited Bernice to lunch, but Bernice had a doctor’s appointment. She just couldn’t cancel. Wandering around the house a little more, she mumbled to herself. “I can’t stay home today. I’ll go crazy.” then it dawned on her. “Ah, Alfonso’s restaurant would be perfect.” The thought of an antipasto salad and a glass of chianti had her mouth-watering.
Anthony, the cities most coveted maitre d’, warmly smiled as he offered a greeting. ”Welcome, Miss Imelda; it’s nice to see you again. It’s been too long. I hope you’re doing well?”
Smiling back, she acknowledged his greeting just as warmly. “oh yes, very well, thank you. And you, Anthony, how have you been?” the light banter had him smiling as he seated her at her usual table and returned with a glass of her favorite chianti. While enjoying her wine, she admired the bustling street’s scenery and would glance out the window from time to time. The sun was shining, and the weather pleasant. It was a lovely day. Soon, her waiter placed an antipasto in front of her after admiring the beautiful salad Imelda dug in.
With her hunger satisfied, she was now relaxing with a second glass of wine when through the window, she spied a young mother-daughter hungrily eying the display of desserts. Noticing the less than clean appearance and the mother’s look of desperation, she was intrigued.
On impulse, Imelda set her glass down and walked outside, meeting up with the two. “Hello there, I’m celebrating today and wonder if you two would join me for dessert?”
Slightly startled by the stranger’s arrival, Diane, the 21-year-old mother, was struggling to respond. ”Oh, we couldn’t possibly intrude.” then motioning to their bedraggle appearance, added. ”And look at us, they would never let us inside.”
“Oh nonsense, you’d be my guests, of course, they would.” Imelda smiled, not willing to be turned down. Reaching her hand out to the little girl with huge bright eyes cowering behind her mother, she added. “Come on, Sweetheart, let’s pick out a dessert and order a big glass of milk. I need help celebrating.”
A tiny hand came up slowly, and a small voice asked. ”w-what, are you celebrating?”
Without missing a beat, Imelda said. “My new friends, sweetheart. Now let’s get inside before all the tasty desserts are gone.” Entering, she motioned over for Anthony to bring two more place settings. Without hesitation, the table readied, and they all had dessert menus. “How rude of me, I didn’t introduce myself. My name is Imelda Sala; I’m a writer. Now, who are you, two lovely ladies?”
Nervously, Diane introduced herself; she was suspicious of this woman, but she couldn’t turn down food right now. Times were tough, and they hadn’t eaten anything all day, and she had no prospects. “It is good to meet you. This little one is Daisy, my daughter, and I am Diane. Thank you for your kindness.”
Presenting her hand, Imelda first shook Diane’s petite hand in greeting then Daisys. “Well, I’m happy to meet you both, and I’m delighted you can celebrate with me. I hate to eat dessert alone.” picking up the menu, she asked. “Daisy, What is your favorite dessert? I like chocolate cake myself with a big glass of milk.”
Wide eyes smiling back, Daisy shook her head with enthusiasm. Imelda looked over to Diane for confirmation and received another smile and nod in return. ”Am I right? three chocolate cakes and three large glasses of milk.” ”While we are waiting, why don’t you tell me about yourselves?”
Much to Diane’s dismay, Daisy spoke up. ”We are down on our luck, and I’m hungry.”
Diane cringed at her daughter’s words even though she couldn’t deny it. ”Well, she is correct. We are going through some rough times. I’m sure things will turn around soon.”
Imelda was sympathetic, and for reasons she couldn’t understand herself, she wanted to help. ”So tell me about your rough patch. Maybe I can help.”
Before Diane could respond, Daisy announced as she was pushing her long, tangled, dirty blonde hair away from her face. “I don’t like sleeping outside. It’s cold and scary.”
Shocked, Imelda gasped. “What are you saying? Are you homeless?”
Diane, with an uncomfortable nod, quickly answered. “Unfortunately, yes, I lost my job a couple of weeks ago, then last week the room we rented. We tried a shelter, but they are scarier than the streets, so we’ve been camping out. It’s an adventure, right, Daisy?”
With eyes too big for her little body, Daisy looked up and said. ”Mommy, I don’t like adventures.” the sincerity of the reply was heartbreaking.
Imelda was astonished. This baby and her young mother were sleeping outside in the night, out in the open where they would be vulnerable and had no protection. Diane was practically a child herself. Already she felt a connection to this pair. She had no idea why she did, but feeling the need to protect them was so strong. Her mind scrambled for the best approach to help, and the strongest one was bringing them to her house. Bernice would probably skin her alive if she brought a stranger, let alone two, into their home.
She looked down at Daisy again and thought, ”ok, Bernice, I hope you’re not too upset because I’m about to do something crazy.” then aloud, she spoke so only Diane could hear. ”Listen, Diane, I think you and Daisy should come home with me. I have enough room, and it will give you time to figure out your next step. What do you think?”
Diane was at a loss for words, she knew the right thing to do would be to decline, but she was out of options. It wasn’t only about her. She had Daisy to consider, and she needed to get her off the streets. She wanted to accept, but she didn’t know how to take that first step or if this was right for them. Sitting there, looking confused wasn’t helping. Finally, all the questions she was thinking began spilling out. ”You don’t even know us. Why would you do that? I don’t understand.”
Daisy knew something important was happening, but she couldn’t quite grasp the significance. Her curious brown eyes kept darting between the two women trying to but not quite understanding.
Imelda continued. “Truthfully, I don’t know why. I feel this strange connection, and I would like to help. That is if you’ll let me. Why don’t we take this slow, come home with me tonight, and figure the rest out in the morning?”
Finally, understanding, Daisy spoke up with excitement. “Oh, mommy, please, please, can we? I don’t want an adventure anymore.”
Smiling down at her daughter Diane agreed. ”Alright, darling, we can go but just for tonight. We don’t want to overstay our welcome.”
Imelda was now more excited than she could ever remember being said. ”Good, now that that’s settled, let’s eat this delicious cake, then we can go home. When we finish, I’ll call my driver Marco and have him pick us up out front. Do you have all of your things with you?”
Entering the apartment, Imelda called out to Bernice, who stopped in her tracks when she saw their two bedraggled guests. “Imelda, what is going on? I wasn’t aware we were expecting company.” The implication was clear Bernice was not happy. Once again, Imelda’s impulsiveness had her worrying.
Quickly and trying not to show nerves, Imelda attempted an explanation, “Well Bernice, I met these lovely ladies while I was having lunch. We hit it off, so I invited them to stay over.” continuing as if this happened every day. “I’m going to show them to one of the guest rooms. They can freshen up with a warm bubble bath. While they are doing that maybe you can find them some fresh clothes. Better yet, I’ll have Marco run by Macy’s. Diane, what are your sizes?”
Diane tried declining the offer and was hushed by Bernice. ”Nonsense, give her your sizes. You will need something to wear while I wash your things. And while you two are in there, I’ll make you something to eat.”
Sizes in-hand, Imelda called the store and had several things ready for Marco to pick up. As she did that, Bernice escorted their two houseguests down the hall to the guest room. She showed them the attached bath and pointed out robes in the closet for them to use until their new things arrived. Bernice instructed Diane to put the dirty clothes in a basket right outside the door for her to wash. No arguments allowed.
Once Bernice left them alone, Diane sighed at their newfound fortune, she said to her daughter. ”If this is a dream, don’t wake me.”
With the seriousness of a four-year-old, Daisy said. ”No, mommy, you’re awake. It’s not a dream.”
Chuckling at the sincerity, Diane motioned to Daisy, ”Let’s go take a bubble bath. It will be so beautiful to be clean again.”
First in the tub was Daisy, she loved the bubbles, but the day’s events were catching up. Unable to keep from yawning or keep her little eyes open, Diane lifted her out of the tub and towel-dried her off with a soft fluffy towel. Diane pulled on an even more satiny robe that was miles too long, escorted her to the king-size bed. “Why don’t you lay down while I take my bath. This bed looks so comfortable.” tempted to lie down herself; Daisy wasn’t the only one exhausted. The last few weeks had been stressful, living in the street nearly unbearable.
Diane thoroughly enjoyed a nice long shower; she knew she would fall asleep if she took a bath. Tucking the belt tightly around the robe, she climbed in next to her baby girl. Within seconds she was also out. Marco arrived with three bags of brand new clothes. Bernice lightly knocked on the guest room door and, after getting no answer entered. Shaking her head at the sleeping girls, she laid out the new clothes on the dresser and quietly left the room, bringing her dirty clothes and towels.
Returning to the kitchen, she cornered Imelda. ”Ok young lady, please explain yourself. How did you happen to go off to lunch by yourself and come home with those two young girls?”
Shyly she looked at Bernice. “Well, um, I did have lunch by myself, and when I finished, I spotted those two looking in the window, practically drooling over the desserts. So, well, I invited them to join me. We had chocolate cake and milk, and after I found out they were living on the street, I couldn’t help inviting them home. Bernice, I know it’s crazy; I just felt a connection. Oh boy, just how much trouble am I in?”
Bernice just stood there, shaking her head, smiling. “To be honest, I think you did the right thing. You have a good heart. Now let me put this in the laundry and make some dinner. I feel those two girls in there are going to be hungry when they finally wake up.”
Imelda, overwhelmed, flung her arms tightly around Bernice. ”Oh, Bernice, you’re the best. I don’t know what I would ever do without you.”
Giving a squeeze back, Bernice said. ”You’re not so bad yourself. Sweetheart.”
Later that same afternoon, little feet came wandering into the kitchen. Bernice and Imelda both looked over when a shy Daisy stood looking from one to the other confused. Bernice was the first to speak.” Hi, honey, I bet you’re hungry. How about I fix you a plate?” reaching out her hand, she continued. ”Come sit over here by Imelda. Would you like a glass of milk?” A slight nod was the reply.
Shortly after Daisy’s plate was in front of her, Diane came rushing in slightly panicked, looking for her daughter. Upon seeing her content and eating, she let out a breath. “Hi mommy, look what I have. Chicken and vegetables, it’s yummy! I have milk too.”
Bernice spoke reassuringly after witnessing Diane go from anxious mom to calm mom. “Diane, why don’t you go change while I fix you a plate. I left some fresh clothes on the dresser in your room. If you look in the bathroom drawer, you’ll see a toothbrush and paste. As you can see, Daisy is ok, and Imelda will sit with her until you return. Go ahead, hurry along.”
”um sure I’ll be right back.” Diane retreated much calmer than when she came into the room, which got a smile from both older women.
Bernice had a plate filled and warming when Diane arrived back dressed in the first clean clothes she had on in over a week. Drawn to the inviting aroma of the food, she almost devoured an entire plate without thought. Upon realization, a blush flooded her cheeks, and she apologized. ”I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be so rude. I guess I was hungry, and I haven’t had food this good in a long time.”
Bernice spoke, ”Sweetheart, there is no need to apologize. That was the best compliment I could hear. Now can I get you anything else? Would you like more chicken or some coffee?”
Diane attempted to get up. ”I would love a cup of coffee, but I can get it. You’ve gone to so much trouble already.”
Sternly Bernice, “Oh no, you don’t, you sit back down, and I’ll get it.” after placing the coffee and cream on the table, she glanced over to Daisy, who was still in an oversized robe, and added. “Daisy, how about you and I see what kind of clothes Marco brought for you? While we are gone, your mommy and Imelda can chat.”
Once the pair left the room, Imelda was the first to go. ”So Diane, Let me tell you a little about myself, then you can share your story if you want. How does that sound?” Receiving a nod, she began, ”about six years ago, I lost my parents in an auto accident, soon after my sister and I got into an argument. To this day, we still don’t speak, which is a story for another time. Soon after all that, I pretty much gave up and turned into a wild woman, partying and acting crazy.” pausing for a sip of coffee.
“Luckily, I had Bernice. She put up with my antics for a while, and then when she finally had enough, she put an end to it. She became my rock and is now like a second mom to me. She is my housekeeper, and I strongly recommend you listen to her. If you choose to stay and I hope you do, you will see. Ok, now let’s hear about you?”
Diane wasn’t sure where to begin, so she started with high school. “Well, at the end of my sophomore year. I got pregnant; I could hide it for a while, but I began to show all too soon. When I told my parents, they kicked me out. The boy, um Daisy’s father, was no help. I stayed with friends, but after some time, I had to drop out of school and find work. Once I saved enough money, I moved here, and I got a job at the diner on 1st street. Then Daisy was born, I was lucky and had an elderly neighbor watch her, but eventually, she had to move in with her son. That’s when things started getting tough.”
Continuing, “See, I couldn’t leave her, and daycare wouldn’t take her when she was sick. I’d have to call in, and finally, after a few times, they let me go. That’s when we lost the room we were renting; I had nowhere else to stay and no family or friends to help. I was scared of bringing Daisy to the streets. But we didn’t have a choice; we tried a shelter, and it was so horrible that I counted every passing minute till morning.” Diane visibly shuddered at the memory.
Imelda sighed. ”Well, now you have a safe place, and hopefully, you will let Bernice and I help get you back on your feet.” just then, Daisy wondered in excitedly.
”Mommy, look at my new pajamas and bunny slippers.” she twirled awkwardly, ”Bernice is going to read me a story. Marco got me a bunny book. Look, mommy, look.” she squealed while holding up the prized book.
Tears threatening to fall, Diane managed to say. “Oh, baby, you look lovely. We are going to have to thank Marco, that was very thoughtful to bring you a bunny book.” Daisy agreed by vigorously shaking her head before retreating to the living room with Bernice. Just in time for Diane to lose her battle with tears. “oh Imelda, I don’t know where you came from, but I’ll never be able to thank you enough.”
After thinking all night and making notes, when Imelda made it to breakfast, she was ready to take on the world. Berniece knew Imelda and knew that look. Imelda was preparing to take care of her new charges; she probably had the next year planned. ”Ok, ladies, I have been making lists of what we need to do. We have a busy day ahead of us.” both Diane and Daisy looked up, slightly confused.
Daisy, although confused, was ready to help.”What’s a list? What do we need to do?”
Imelda said, ”Hmm, well, in this case, a list is a group of things we will need to take care of, like get you enrolled into preschool, pick up more clothes and some toys so we can play.”
Seriously Daisy asked, ”Can I help? I like toys. Do I have to go to school?”
Imelda was firm. ”Of course you do, and so does your mommy. School is fun, you will meet many children and make wonderful friends, and you will learn so much. I loved going to school when I was little.”
Diane spoke up, “I have to find a job. I can’t go to school. And I’m sorry, honey, but toys will have to wait. We don’t have any money.” this was not received well by anyone. Daisy pouted, Bernice scowled, and Imelda was sad.
Bernice spoke up, “Nonsense, work can wait. First, you need an education, and we can help with that. Secondly, toys are a necessary tool for a young child’s development. Third, we are here to help so you may get used to it.” then, in a tone that broker no doubts added. “I don’t want to hear any arguments from you. Is that clear?”
Chuckling, Imelda said, ”And that’s what I meant when I told you about Bernice. Scary, right?”
Diane held her tongue; she was uncomfortable accepting so much help. In the last five years, it was her making decisions; she hadn’t answered to anyone. Asking for help was never an option, so Diane didn’t have any experience. With this conversation and the loss of control, her coffee was now making her stomach turn. Quickly excusing herself, she made a beeline to her room.
Bernice worried she pushed too far, gave her a few minutes, then followed. Knocking softly on the door, she entered only after being invited. Diane was sitting on the side of the neatly made bed, looking lost and alone. Bernice sat quietly down beside her, taking hold of her hand, and said. “I’m sorry, sweetie. I didn’t mean to overwhelm you. We are just excited; it’s been only the two of us for so long. We got carried away, with the possibilities.” adding with confidence. “All that is still going to happen, but we should have given you time to absorb it all.”
Diane looked up into caring eyes, something she hasn’t seen in too many years, and burst into tears. Bernice didn’t hesitate to wrap loving arms tightly around, holding and rocking until Diane calmed. ”It’s ok you have us now. Take your time; we are a lot to get used to.” standing Bernice said. ”Why don’t you take a few minutes, wash your face, then come back out to the kitchen and finish your breakfast.”
Meekly Diane agreed. ”ok, I’ll be right there. Thanks, Bernice.”
Back in the kitchen, Imelda was reassuring Daisy using familiar terms. “Sometimes, it’s hard to accept when you’re no longer down on your luck. But she’ll get there, don’t worry. Everything is going to work out. I promise.”
Later that day, three exhausted girls came home to Bernice, their arms loaded with bags. “Did you leave anything at the store.” which got a confused response from Daisy.
”We left a lot of stuff at the store, Bernice.”
Bernice added with a chuckle, “Sit down; I’ll get you all a snack, then we’ll tackle those bags. How about some coffee and hot chocolate?” That produced a round of cheers and had Bernice smiling.
With everyone settling into a family-like living arrangement, the months flew by. As they did, Diane studied hard and struggled, barely passing her GED exam; Daisy loved preschool and was making friends. Imelda’s book was out, and she was preparing to go on tour. Summer was soon approaching, and tensions in the house were rising. Diane wanted to get a job and contribute, but Imelda was adamant about her attending college. ”Diane, you do not need to work; you need to go to school. Summer is coming, and Daisy will be out of school. You won’t have time to take care of Daisy, go to school, and work.”
Diane snapped back, ”I’m not going to college; I’m getting a job.”
Bernice butted into the debate. ”well, you better make it a standing job because if you don’t go to school, you won’t be able to sit.”
It startled that Bernice would be on Imelda’s side, even knowing that she needed to support Daisy. “You wouldn’t dare. I’m not some kid. I’m an adult with a child.”
Imelda responded, ”Yes, she would. Diane, we know you are not a kid, but you need an education. Then you can have a career and provide for yourself and Daisy. Without a degree, you are looking at making minimum wage. Is that really what you want?”
Stomping her foot in frustration, Diane lashed out before leaving the room. “You two are not being fair. I’m getting a job. I don’t care what you say.” once she entered her bedroom, she slammed the door hard, rattling the walls. Bernice couldn’t let slide that bit of defiance. Putting the dishtowel on the counter, she followed quickly behind. Imelda knew what was coming, but no way would she risk Bernice’s ire by interfering. She had been on that end of Bernice’s fury too many times to count.
Diane was lying across her bed when Bernice stormed in, heading directly toward her. “Young lady, you will not speak that way in this house!”
Receiving a muffled response, “Go away. Leave me alone.” A sharp slap landed just as the last syllable left her mouth. As the pain registered, she tried to scurry away, but firm hands pulled her back, lifting and depositing her face down over muscular thighs.
Her struggle increased until a stern voice scolded, ”Be still before I pull your pants down and spank you on the bare.”
As the horror of the situation sunk in, she realized it could get worse. ”Bernice, no, I’m sorry, please no. Please don’t do this.”
“Sweetheart, you have had too many chances. If this little attitude doesn’t stop, you’ll be in this position until it does. Be forewarned next time; it will be on the bare.” No sooner had Bernice finished her speech did her hand come thundering down. Swat after painful swat, Diane was in shock. She had never received a spanking before. It was humiliating, and it hurt. She swore to herself she would not cry, but as the swats continued and her bottom started to burn, tears threatened to escape.
“Please stop, it hurts, Bernice no more.” no reprieve came while swat after swat reigned down. The burning in her bottom intensified, and she just prayed for it to end. Diane was unable to hold the tears back and quickly broke into sobs. After a few more, especially hard swats, Bernice stopped the assault and began rubbing, easing the sting some. “I’m sorry, oh Bernice, I’m so sorry.”
Bernice carefully lifted Diane and, with ease, had her sit on her lap. She securely wrapped the now sorry little girl in a tight embrace, alternating between rocking and rubbing her back. She cooed. “It’s ok, baby; everything is going to work out.” pausing for a few minutes, then adding, “Now, are we done with the attitude? You know we love you, and we want what’s best for you and Daisy, Right?”
Diane continued sobbing into Bernice’s shoulder. She couldn’t remember ever feeling like this. It was such a different experience than any she could remember. As a child, her parent’s acceptance and love were always conditional. A muffled apology came out. “Bernice, I’m sorry, you and Imelda are probably getting tired of me.”
As shock registered at Diane’s words, was she hearing her correctly? Looking directly into her eyes, Bernice said. ”You honestly don’t know how much you mean to us. Before you arrived, this place was lonely, with Imelda writing all the time and me cleaning a house that wasn’t even dirty. You came into our lives, bringing purpose and joy. You and Daisy made this a home. We aren’t trying to hold you back; we only want the best for you. That’s why Imelda wants you to go to school. She wants you and Daisy to be happy and have endless opportunities.”
That speech filled Diane’s heart; nobody had ever made her feel wanted. Tears were now pouring down her cheeks. She tried to speak but couldn’t get past a hiccuping sob. Bernice grabbed a tissue and wiped away tears when she heard a soft knock on the bedroom door. Knowing it was Imelda, she said. “Come in, honey. Sit over here with us. I was explaining to Diane how much her being here means to us. That she and Daisy, being here, complete our family. I think she is starting to realize it.”
Imelda sat on the bed, reaching over. She took Diane’s limp body from Bernice. ”Oh, I’m sorry, baby, I thought you knew how much we love you. Bernice and I are so thrilled you are here. I hope you didn’t feel that I was trying to bully you.”
She was overwhelmed again by the beautiful moment and the realization that finally, she found a family. Diane continued crying but now into Imelda’s shirt. Bernice gave the two spaces to strengthen their bond as she left them alone. Diane slowly drifted to sleep, exhausted from the emotional day. Imelda, while still holding Diane, repositioned herself. Ready to stay the course, she leaned back against the headboard, making herself comfortable and holding on securely, allowing Diane to sleep peacefully and wake up on her own cocooned in her love.