Miranda studied Duncan’s map and directions as she ate breakfast the next morning. She searched through her wardrobe for the right clothes to wear. Her family dressed up for Thanksgiving dinner. She chose a midi-length brown cotton skirt and a cream-colored blouse. She brushed her brown hair into a pony tail and fastened it with a gold clasp. A pair of low-heeled shoes completed her outfit. Casual, but nice. She twirled, then put on her coat. Slightly out of breath and with rosy cheeks, she arrived at The Shepherd’s Kitchen at eleven.
“Miranda, you’re here!” Duncan shouted from across the dining room.
Miranda waved, the heat rising in her face when she realized the room had quieted, and people stared at her. Duncan maneuvered his power chair between tables and chairs and arrived in front of her with a big grin.
He must have been a heart-throb when he was young, with that smile and those blue eyes, she thought. “Hi, Duncan, I made it.” She shrugged out of her coat.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come.”
She shook her head. “Me, either.” She crouched down so she looked directly into his eyes. “Duncan, this means a lot to me. I can’t be with my family, but, because of you, I don’t have to be alone today.” She stood and wiped a stray tear with her fingers. She smiled. “Okay, I’m ready to celebrate. Where am I needed?”
He chuckled. “Celebrate, eh? We’ll put your right to work. You may hang your coat over there.” He pointed to an alcove near the kitchen. “We’ll get you an apron, and I’ll introduce you to the other volunteers.”
The faces of the men, women, and children who came through the food line swam in her mind. What were their stories, what had brought them here for Thanksgiving? Illness? Unemployment? Broken relationships? Death of a loved one? Homelessness? She didn’t know, but she tried her best to treat them with a smile and respect.
By six o’clock the food ran out. Miranda, tired but happy, helped wash up the pots and pans, then struggled through the back door with bags of garbage for the dumpster.
She went to get her coat. Duncan smiled at her from across the dining room as he talked with a young man. Duncan had introduced him earlier, but she couldn’t remember his name. As she lifted her coat from the hook, she dropped it. She bent to pick it up.
A hand reached down. “Allow me,” said a masculine voice.
Miranda straightened and looked into a warm smile and blue eyes, like a younger Duncan. His slightly tousled blonde hair gave him a boyish look.
“Th-thank you,” she said. Warmth spread throughout her body.
He held out her quilted purple coat, and she put her arms in the sleeves. A shiver passed through her as his hands settled the coat on her shoulders. She tried to swallow a yawn and giggled. “I guess I’m tired.”
He nodded. “Aren’t we all? Nate MacAllister.” he held out his hand.
“Oh,” she said,shaking hands with him, “are you related to Duncan?”
“He’s my grandpa.” Nate noticed her sparkling hazel eyes, a sprinkling of nearly invisible freckles across the bridge of her nose, and the blush on her cheeks. Grandpa had given him the perfect opportunity to become better acquainted with her.
Her eyes examined his features. “You look like him.”
“A good thing, I hope.”
“Very.” Miranda bit her lip, her face red. She fumbled with the zipper on her coat.
Nate grinned. He got the compliment he was fishing for. “Grandpa said I should walk you home. He said a young lady shouldn’t be out after dark without an escort.” Not that Nate minded walking her home.
Miranda gazed at Duncan, who smiled and winked. “Hmm,” she said softly and waved. She looked back at Nate. “I’m not usually out late, and I walk where there are people. But it would be nice to have company. Let me say goodnight to Duncan first.”
They crossed the room to where Duncan talked with a couple of the volunteers. They returned to the kitchen, and Duncan turned his chair to face Miranda and Nate.
“Thank you for inviting me to help, Duncan. This has been a special day for me. I thought I’d be spending Thanksgiving alone.”
“Miranda.” He looked very pleased. “I hope you’re not tired out. Thought you might need a escort home. I owe you one for helping me shop yesterday.” He grinned at Nate.
Grandpa is playing matchmaker, Nate thought. I wonder if Miranda has figured it out.
Miranda hid a yawn with her hand. “It’s a good tired. I’d like to do it again.”
“Come back next week,” Duncan said, “and talk to the director.” He looked at Nate. “I’ll wait here for you and finish cleaning up.”
“Okay, Grandpa,” said Nate, patting the old man’s shoulder.
Miranda kissed Duncan’s cheek. He squeezed her hand.
The chilly outdoor air made her shiver and pull her coat closer. Her breath and Nate’s came out in foggy puffs. Nate walked beside her, his hands in his pockets. A few cars passed by, and other couples and families strolled along Main Street. Christmas lights twinkled like stars.
“I miss the stars,” she said. “I can’t see them because of the city lights.” she looked up at the sky. A pale sliver of moon shone overhead.
Nate smiled at her. “Have you been living here long?”
“How did you meet Grandpa?”
“He asked me to get something for him from the top shelf at Greene’s Grocery yesterday.”
He nodded. “You didn’t go home for the holiday?”
She bit her lip and shook her head. “No, my father died six months ago, and my sisters went away with their families.”
“I’m sorry. Thanksgiving and Christmas are times to be with family.”
She shrugged. “Going home would have been fun, but I don’t regret helping at the food mission. And meeting your grandfather.” She stopped before adding, “And you, Nate.”
“Grandpa is special. I come every year to help him at Shepherd’s. My family wants him to spend Thanksgiving with them, but he says he’s just continuing a tradition he and Grandma started years ago. My dad and aunts and uncles all helped out when they lived here.”
“Oh,” she said. “So you don’t live in the city.” She couldn’t explain the deep disappointment she felt. Although she had just met him, Nate already filled a previously empty spot labeled “friend.” And maybe the hope for something more.