Make It Count by J A Heron ©2015
“Would you pass me my cufflinks please darling,” I ask my wife. I’m all dressed up, apart from my cufflinks and dinner jacket, ready to party with my work colleagues. It’s that time of year - party season. The season of over indulgence, presents, so much sparkle, one could be blinded by the dazzle of tinsel and baubles. It’s not my favourite time of year, but I like to make an appearance, like a good boss should. Every year I host a lavish Christmas party for all my staff and board members. With no expense spared, we lay on enough champagne to sink a battleship. There’s beluga caviar, smoked salmon and so much other food that we could feed a small country. With two days until Christmas day, I’m in an excitable mood and ready to party.
“Here you are baby.” My wife - Celine, hands me my platinum cufflinks with diamonds set in them. “I hope you’re not planning on getting drunk again this year. You know how I hate it when you get so drunk you can’t stand up.”
“No, dear,” I placate her as she walks away to finish getting ready. “Chance would be a fine thing,” I whisper under my breath as not to upset her with my comment.
A few minutes later she steps out of our built in wardrobe. “How do I look?” She asks me.
“You look sensational,” I tell her, standing up to embrace her.
“Please don’t,” she admonishes. “Do you know how much time and effort it’s taken to look like this? Please don’t ruin it by trying to hug me.”
“Yes, dear,” I say, feeling dejected. We’ve been married for twenty-two years and trust me when I say the novelty has well and truly worn off. We were happy once upon a time, but now, we both know that our love life is diminishing… fast.
Certain aspects of our marriage remain true, like her ability to spend money like it’s going out of fashion. She likes to go on endless shopping spree’s, have lunch and dinner dates with her high society friends and she insists that we go on luxurious and extravagant holidays twice a year. I don’t begrudge her anything, but sometimes I wish she could go at least one day without spending money, my money. It’s because of me that she has these things, it’s because of me that she has friends who are at the top of the food chain, in societal terms anyhow. We both came from nothing. I have worked my ass off to have a successful media company, she’s just flitted through life without a care in the world. Sometimes I despise her and resent her for the things she does, I especially can’t be around her when she’s having one of her many gatherings of so many snobbish cows I want to poke my own eyes out with a red hot poker. No… I’m not bitter at all, I think to myself, then release a small chuckle at my own thoughts. I love her, I always have, but to be honest, I’m starting to think that our marriage has run its course. I’ve been thinking about the ‘D’ word for a while now and I’m quite happy to be on my own, work hard and find something worthwhile and meaningful to my life. I’m quite happy to give her some of my estate and then we can part ways. I know she’s never going to change. I have aspirations, I see myself doing good, doing something worthwhile for people who are struggling to survive in some way. When I’ve mentioned this to Celine in the past, she’d screw up her nose, letting me know that she’s displeased with my ideas.
One day, perhaps.
“Ben!” Celine bellows. “Martin has just arrived, it’s time to go.” She announces the arrival of my driver. I am more than ready to leave. At least I won’t have to spend the night in just the company of Celine. I will have other people to talk to, people who actually like talking to me. I’m thankful for that small mercy.
I step out of my Bentley. At least I haven’t lost my gentlemanly instincts. I reach out, offering Celine some support as she vacates the car. “Thank you darling,” she utters, flicking her long chestnut brown hair over her shoulder, revealing her bare skin. She’s wearing a strapless red dress; the hem skims the floor, hiding her shoes that cost me a fortune. Her whole outfit cost me an arm and a leg, just like all the jewels in her ears, around her neck and on her fingers. I try to push the resentment aside; I’m determined to have a little fun tonight, even if my wife counts how many drinks I consume.
“Spare change?” I hear a voice say as I’m leading Celine inside the luxury hotel. I look down to see a homeless person sitting on the cold, hard floor. My heart instantly aches for the woman sitting with her back against the wall of the brown stone building. Something deep inside my mind recognises the voice, but I’m not able to dwell on it for long, because my wife tugs on my arm, pulling me inside.
Celine storms up to the concierge, pulling me along with her. “Excuse me! There is a tramp outside and she’s making the place look very untidy.” I scowl at Celine. That’s a dreadful thing to say. Even he’s a little taken aback by her flippant comment.
“Celine!” I bark sharply.
“Yes!” She says with her hand on her hip and a hint of sarcasm in her tone. Her eyes stare into mine, making me feel small, I feel my balls shrink too. I really need to grow a backbone to stand up to her. Tonight and in this hotel is neither the time, nor the place. I do intend on having words with Celine, as soon as we’re alone. The last thing I want to do is cause a scene in the middle of a company function, especially not a Christmas one. My glad tidings and good cheer disappeared the moment my wife behaved like a snob. I’m not really feeling the Christmas spirit, so I intend to drink it instead. I don’t give a shit what she thinks.
As we enter the conference suite, we’re immediately handed a glass of bubbly, I take a long swig, almost emptying the glass in one mouthful. I don’t miss the ‘tut’ from beside me – I guess Celine has started counting already. There is a strong smell in the air of cinnamon and other spices from warmed mince pies and various other festive treats. There is a huge array of food on the buffet tables. It smells like Christmas. We’ve really gone to town on the Christmas tree and decorations too. Festive music is being played by a DJ. He may as well have just stuck a compact disc on repeat, playing every song from a Christmas compilation album. I would have preferred a live band, but everyone insisted on a DJ to provide the entertainment.
I take some joy and delight in seeing some people singing and dancing on the dance floor already, moving like they’ve had one too many glasses of champagne and it’s not even 10pm yet. My staff and colleagues are having a great time, which makes me feel happy inside. Our Christmas parties never fail, everyone comes each year and even new employees thank me for a great party.
I walk around the room, thankfully by myself as Celine has found some people to bore with her mindless chatter. I shake hands with board members, receive kisses on the cheek from some of the ladies and I even get propositioned for a kiss under the mistletoe, which I accept. Celine won’t even bat an eyelid at my public display with other women, she’ll just tut again and say I’m being uncouth. I struggle to pinpoint the time and date my wife turned into an insufferable snob, it must have been a while back, because I can’t even remember. I’m determined to enjoy this evening, it has cost me a lot of money, like it does every year, but it’s worth every penny to reward my employees for a job well done throughout the year.
Christmas seems to bring out the best in people, they smile a lot more through the festive season and some like to do at least one good deed for someone less fortunate than themselves. Unless your name is Celine Lawson, my wife, the selfish bitch.
I shake my head, ridding the thoughts of that cow and her egotistical disposition. She’s not by my side to ruin my night, thankfully, but she’s still my wife, ruining my life.
I don’t usually dance in public, I think the last time I danced was our first dance the day Celine and I got married. It was a happy day, what the hell went wrong? I shake my head again, then walk towards the dance floor. “Yes!” A few party goers shout out. “He’s actually dancing.” I hear someone say. I smile and begin strutting my stuff, but I’m pretty sure I’m an embarrassment. This is my rendition of ‘dad dancing’. But who cares? It’s Christmas.
Classic Christmas songs being played are causing everyone to dance like maniacs; I don’t think I’ve laughed as hard as I have tonight for a very long time.
By the end of the evening, the room is in chaos and there is enough food left over to feed an entire army. Many people are still singing Christmas songs, acapella as the DJ has already started to pack up his equipment. The hotel staff begin ushering people out of the room, keen to be finishing work for the evening so that they can go home. “Martin is on his way, darling,” Celine says in that annoying (put on) voice. It makes me cringe.
We say a few last minute goodbyes and wish everyone a ‘Merry Christmas’, then we leave.
I step outside; the cold December wind hits my face, making me shudder. I close the buttons on my long black wool coat, then pull on my gloves and tie my scarf around my neck. When I look down, the girl who was there at the beginning of the evening is back. She’s wrapped up in a dirty sleeping bag. It looks like she’s asleep, but I’m not so sure. How easy is it to sleep on the cold busy streets in minus temperatures? I’ve never had to find out and I hope I never do. I find myself staring at her for a moment or two, just watching and unable to stop myself. “Where is Martin?” I hear Celine say impatiently, but I’m not paying attention, I’m transfixed on the bedraggled looking woman sitting like a statue on the pavement.
I walk over, then crouch down on my haunches. “Hello,” I say looking for any sign that she’s awake, or alive.
“Oh my God. Is she still here? We should write a poor review for this hotel. How they allow vermin to litter up this fine establishment is beyond me.” I ignore the comment from the poisonous bitch who’s standing beside me, looking down at this poor girl like she’s shit on her shoe. There’s no reaction from the girl, I start to worry. I reach out to feel a pulse, it’s there, but very weak. I take off my jacket and wrap it around her shoulders, if my suspicions are correct, I’d say she’s suffering from hypothermia and perhaps malnutrition too, judging by the size of her. I immediately pull out my phone and call 999.
“Go inside if you’re cold,” I bark at Celine. She looks dumbfounded at me, but turns on her expensive heels and struts back into the hotel.
While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I call Martin. “You have the rest of the evening off,” I tell him.
“Yes, sir, if you’re sure?”
“Perfectly.” I end the call. The next thing I do shocks even me. I instruct the concierge to watch the girl who’s still motionless. I walk into the hotel and find Celine sitting in a red velvet chair close to the reception desk.
I walk up the pretty girl and book a single room. “How long is your stay?” She asks me.
“Indefinitely,” I tell her. “Charge anything she wants to this credit card,” I pass her my plastic and wait while she processes my request.
“Thank you, sir,” the lady says. I nod.
When I reach Celine, she’s passing the time by fiddling with her fake fingernails. “You have a room. I will ask Martin to bring you some clothes and your other shit tomorrow. You’re not welcome in my home and I will be filing for divorce as soon as my Lawyer's office is open in the new year. Don’t call, don’t email, in fact, don’t bother contacting me again… ever!” I see the tears in her eyes, but after all the shit I’ve put up with from her, I feel that this is the right time to cut ties and move on. Tonight was the last straw. Her compassion for other people is non-existent and her love for me is no more. I’m not blind, I can see perfectly clear, I can see that she’s only with me because of my money. I will not cower to her crocodile tears. “You’re on your own!”
When I look towards the exit, I see the blue flashing lights, so I know the ambulance has arrived. I walk away from my wife without a second glance. I’m prepared to go through a messy divorce, I’m prepared for the backlash that ending our marriage will bring.
When I get outside, the girl has been moved from the ground and into the back of the ambulance. I’m pleased to see that she’s receiving medical attention there. Two paramedics are attending to her. I stand outside, looking into to the brightly lit space. The girl still has her head down, which makes me worry even more, it seems as though she’s not responded at all. “May I come to the hospital with her?” I ask, not bothered which one of them answers me.
“Do you know her?” I’m asked by the female paramedic.
“I found her,” I tell them. “That’s my jacket,” I say, pointing to the black jacket that’s been removed from around her shoulders, it’s been replaced by a warm woolly blanket. My jacket is now lying on the stretcher beside the girl.
“You’d best get in here then,” the lady paramedic gestures for me to enter the ambulance.
In the hospital, I am told to wait in the waiting room and that someone will be with me soon. When I enter the small room, I notice a coffee machine. I’m pretty sure that it will taste disgusting, but I just need something to warm me up. I have my jacket back on, but I can still feel winter seeping into my bones. Just as I predicted, the coffee tastes like last weeks wash up water, but I’m thankful for something warming me up. People come and go, they sit and wait, then they leave. More people arrive, then they leave. I’m starting to get impatient, I just want to know how that girl is doing. I feel the dread in the pit of my stomach. I recall her looking so frail and lifeless; it sends a chill through my body.
I think about Celine; she’s probably not given me or the girl a second thought and if I know her as well as I think I do, she’s probably up to her eyeballs in bubbles and eating her way through the room service menu.
A couple of hours later, a doctor dressed in a white coat over green scrubs enters the room. The look on his face tells me all I need to know.
Christmas Day is quiet, very quiet. I enjoy a meal for two, but I’m enjoying the company of Martin instead of my wife. She’s called a few times, apologising, but I know my wife. She’s not really sorry for behaving like a snob that cost the life of a young girl, the young girl I once knew, she’s sorry because she’s having to spend Christmas alone in a hotel room. At least I have Martin’s company.
I later found out that the girl we found on the city streets was Michaela Adams. I knew her once upon a time, back in school and she was my very first crush. We weren’t close, in fact, we hardly knew each other. I just fancied her from a distance, she didn’t even know who I was back then. She had no clue that I existed. After school, I lost touch with most people, I especially had no clue what happened to Michaela. Even after her death, we don’t know how or why she ended up on the streets. It’s a complete mystery.
I have an idea, so I run through my plans with Martin. His eyes light up when I explain what I have in mind. “What do you think?” I ask him. “Do you think I’m crazy?”
“I think it’s a wonderful idea Mr. Lawson,” he smiles at me. At first I think he’s just agreeing with me, because I’m his boss, but then I realise he’s really thrilled with my plans.
Although it’s Christmas Day and I won’t be able to put many plans into action, I can at least write some notes, calculate some costings and make a few phone calls.
Today is the day Michaela Adams death will not have been in vain.
Six months later
“Do we have a date for the Manchester site yet?” I ask Stuart, my head of resources.
“Yes, sir. Fourth of September,” he says with a wide smile.
“Good, let’s go ahead.” I say with happiness. “I have an appointment with Mary at the London site now,” I say throwing on my jacket and walking towards the lifts. “Keep me updated with progress.”
“Of course, sir.” I notice his wide smile one last time as the lift doors close. It gives me a warm flurry of satisfaction.
When I pull up outside the London site, I’m greeted by a very happy looking Mary. “How are we doing today?” I ask her.
“We have three spare beds, but everyone has been fed, watered and given clean clothes,” she says happily.
“Great job,” I reply, then follow her inside. When we reach the kitchen I stop for a moment. “And how is she getting on?” I ask.
“She’s working really hard,” Mary says with a mischievous look in her eye.
I walk towards the familiar figure standing at the kitchen sink, she’s washing up with her own hands. “Hello,” I say in her ear, making her jump.
“You scared the crap out of me,” she says, spinning round and slapping my chest with a hard slap.
“Hello Celine,” I say, then kiss her cheek.
For the last six months, the plans I made with Martin are now in full effect. We’ve opened a homeless shelter. We have twenty beds, a huge dining room and a laundry room. This is a place where vulnerable people can come and stay, it’s somewhere safe and warm where they can have a decent meal and a place to sleep. The London site is the first, the Manchester site will be next to open in September and I plan on opening more in every major city in the UK over the next ten years. It’s slow, it’s expensive, but it’s so worth it. I have hired CEO to take care of my media business and truth be told, he’s doing a better job than I ever did.
Celine has seen the error of her ways, and is even helping out. She cooks, she cleans and she prepares meals. We are working on getting our marriage back on track, but she’s aware that my first priority are the shelters. She has been remorseful in the way she treated Michaela, and we both know that if we’d checked on her sooner, she might still be alive today. Celine feels responsible for her death, but I’ve told her many times that we’re both to blame for passing her by when she needed help. We both turned the other cheek, when we could have helped in the first place. It’s a dreadful feeling, but we are at least trying to make up for the mistake we made.
I employ managers to oversee the day to day running of the shelter in London, with plans to hire more staff when we open the new shelters. We have so many volunteers I cannot count them all, they’re all extremely generous in giving up their time to help others. I am truly humbled.
With all that has happened over the last six months, I can honestly say that I am incredibly proud of not only myself, but the amazing people who give up their time and energy to help out on this project. I’m even proud of Celine.
The long term plans of this shelter are to not only provide warmth, food and clothing, but I also have careers advisors, benefits advisors and valuable information on how to get vulnerable people off the streets and into paid employment and their own homes.
We have only helped a few people so far, but that number is rising every day. We do as much as we can, we help as many people as we can, but sadly not everyone wants to be helped and sometimes we have to turn people away. That is the heartbreaking truth. We have applied to become a registered charity, but my money has kick started this worthwhile project. Everyone involved is hoping and keeping their fingers crossed that we will be known as ‘The Michaela Adams Foundation’. The dedication to Michaela sits proudly on the wall, a small plaque with a brass front plate reminds me and all the staff why we do this. It reminds us all that if we can at least save one life, then we’ve done some good in the world. It reminds us that even though there are atrocities every day, here and abroad that we can make a difference to a stranger’s life.
But our intentions are clear; we are at least trying to make that difference.
We’re trying to ‘Make It Count’.