Giving Thanks

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~~~

“All right, everyone. I’ve got some bad news. So listen up.”

Tanya O’Brien sat in the spacious dining room of the Northern Indiana Food Bank. The full-time secretary of the organization, she sat with the other staff members and roughly twenty regular volunteers, waiting for the director to speak.

It was a late Monday evening, two weeks before Thanksgiving and her heart was heavy because though she already knew what he was going to say, it didn’t make the blow hurt any less.

The director of the NIFB, Brother Nicholas Caulfield, affectionately known in the community as Brother Nick, took a deep breath before continuing, a sad expression on his face.

“Now, everyone, you all know that donations have been down this year,” he said. “The economy has really taken its toll on our regular donors. We’re finding that the people and companies who used to donate to us, are now either in need of donations themselves or just don’t have the extra funds to send to us. As a result, our cash and food donations are now down over fifty percent.”

Tanya held her breath, knowing what was coming next.

“Therefore, if our donations aren’t up in the next two weeks,” he continued, “we’ll have to shut down indefinitely. Which means we’ll be shutting down before Thanksgiving Day, our busiest time of the year.”

A chorus of gasps and groans went up through the small crowd. The Northern Indiana Food Bank had been a saving grace for the past fifteen years. Located in South Bend, Indiana, they were responsible for providing food to six counties, which housed over fifty food pantries, emergency shelters, childcare centers, soup kitchens, senior centers and night shelters that directly served Northern Indiana’s homeless, unemployed and working poor.

Every day, year round, the NIFB provided hundreds of pounds of food to the various organizations. Most of the food pantries allowed residents to come in once a month to receive their allotment. In contrast, the counties’ shelters fed people daily, as did the soup kitchens and the senior and children’s centers. Additionally, on the major holidays, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, the NIFB itself also provided a citywide hot dinner to anyone in need. As a result, the NIFB went through a tremendous amount of food on a daily basis, and always needed donations.

However, this year, due to the challenging economy, the food bank was operating at below fifty percent of its usual inventory. And as more and more individuals and corporate entities drastically lowered or cancelled their donations altogether, while the number of people that needed their help rose just as dramatically, even that fifty percent figure was dwindling rapidly.

Tanya found that she really enjoyed working at the food bank, especially on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day. It warmed her heart to be able to help, but this year their circumstances were dire. Her deep brown eyes teared up as she continued to listen to Brother Nick.

“I do have a few ideas up my sleeve,” Brother Nick said, smiling. “For example, Joshua, the assistant director, and I will be doing several newspaper and TV interviews to advertise our cause. And here in the office, Deb and Tanya are going to keep making phone calls to local businesses to see if they can donate more to our program.”

Tanya nodded over at Deb Ross, the treasurer of the NIFB. For the past month, they’d been calling local companies to secure additional donations, but they weren’t making much progress.

“Anyway,” Brother Nick continued, “I just wanted to let you know what’s going on. And to ask you for your help. We really need a miracle this year, so I’m counting on all of you to help us stay open.”

Brother Nick spoke a few moments longer, then adjourned the meeting. Tanya gathered her belongings, put on her coat to protect herself against Indiana’s mid-November chill, and headed out to her car. But before she could reach the door, Brother Nick stopped her.

Standing a full six-feet-four inches to her five-feet even, he towered over her. However, his warm smile always put her at ease. He placed a large hand on her shoulder. “Tanya? If you can, come in early tomorrow morning and get started on those donor calls. Every little bit will help.”

“Sure, Brother Nick. I’ll come in an hour early and be in at about eight.”

“Thanks Tanya. And I know that you’ll be blessed for your assistance.”

Tanya frowned as she pulled her coat tighter, a sudden chill running through her that had nothing to do with the weather. What Brother Nick didn’t know is that she could afford to come in early, as she was single and lonely, not having anyone to occupy her time outside of work.

“I think we could all use a miracle this holiday season,” she muttered, even more downcast than before, and walked out the door.

~~~

First thing in the morning, Tanya opened up the main office, then went to the kitchen casino şirketleri to put on a pot of coffee. The men in the warehouse opened at nine am, so Tanya had a bit of peace and quiet before the other workers came in.

Since it was so early, no clients were due in yet, but there were still mounds of federal, state, county and city paperwork to finish, in addition to the donor calls that she and Deb had to make.

When the coffee was done, she went to grab a mug out of the cabinet and happened to glance out of the window at the far end of the kitchen. As she saw her reflection, she studied herself.

She loved her rich, cocoa-brown skin and her pleasant features. Her smile was bright and her mid-length dark hair looked great in her natural, voluminous curls. Also, her heart was as big as they came.

However, her twenty-eight years of age were slowly catching up with her. “When did I get old,” she wondered as she studied the tiny wrinkles near her eyes and her thickening figure. It seemed like she was just in college, now it was just about ten years later.

“I just wish I were able to finish school,” she said sadly, as unhappy memories threatened to consume her.

Sighing, she couldn’t afford to think those thoughts yet again, so she took a seat at her desk and got to work.

By the time Deb came in an hour later, Tanya had gotten through the first page of businesses, but with dismal results. By their lunch break, neither of them had had much luck. They received plenty of “No, not this year’s,” a handful of “maybe’s” and only one or two “yes’s”.

After lunch, as Tanya picked up the phone to dial yet again, she looked toward the ceiling. “We really need a miracle,” she said softly. Then she flashed on all of the lonely nights she’d been having lately. “And I really need a miracle,” she added.

The next business on her list was the local Kroger grocery store on East Ireland road. She dialed quickly, then waited. A young female voice answered and Tanya asked for the manager. When he came to the phone, she re-introduced herself and launched into her speech about the additional donations they needed for Thanksgiving.

Surprisingly, the manager, Rick Gonzalez, was helpful. He recommitted their prior support of the NIFB and was still impressed with their work, but there was one problem.

“Well, we’d love to help you with some additional donations, Ms. O’Brien,” he said, “but this holiday season, Kroger has instituted a new practice: All donation requests must now be processed through our national corporate office first. If you can hold, I’ll get you the number.”

Though she was a bit put off by the extra hurdles they’d now have to overcome, she was still hopeful. “Okay, Mr. Gonzalez. Thanks.”

He came back in an instant. “All right. The name of Kroger’s National Director for Corporate Giving is Ms. Christine Parker. She’s in New York City. Would you like for me to transfer you to her office?”

“Sure, and thank you.”

As she waited, a shiver ran through her. “Goodness! I used to know a Christine Parker. In fact, I had a huge crush on a Christine Parker back at U of M.” Then she laughed, embarrassed at her schoolgirl crush. “I mean, what are the odds?”

Just then, a soft, feminine voice came on the line. “Hi, this is Christine Parker for Kroger Corporate Giving. How may I help you?”

Oh my God, Tanya thought. That soft, sweet, yet husky voice? It couldn’t be…

The voice spoke again. “Hello?”

Suddenly shy, Tanya stuttered. “Um…I’m sorry. Hello. I’m calling from South Bend, Indiana.” Then she paused, vexed.

The voice was even more gentle than before. “Yes?”

Ugh. Get it together, Tanya, she thought.

She began again. “I’m sorry. I’m calling from South Bend, Indiana and I wanted to find out about your donation programs. Our local food bank would like to apply for assistance. I was recommended to call by Rick Gonzalez, the manager at the South Bend Kroger on East Ireland Road.” She waited expectantly.

“Sure. Just let me get some information first. Okay, what is the name of your organization?”

“The Northern Indiana Food Bank.”

“And the address and phone number?”

Tanya gave her the information.

“And tell me a little bit about your program, please?”

Tanya told her about all the great work they did in the community. That they had been actively supplying over fifty community food pantries and shelters for just over fifteen years, and how this year their program was in dire need of some additional donations.

Christine’s voice had a hopeful tinge to it. “Well, I need to have you fax me some information; namely, a company brochure, a formal request letter from your director on official letterhead, your tax information and your nonprofit 501(c)3 certification letter. Can you do all that for me?”

“Sure, sure I can. Give me your fax number.”

Christine gave her the number. “Oh yes,” she added. “What’s your name and number? I need a contact name for my paperwork.”

“Um…my name casino firmaları is Tanya O’Brien.”

There was a short pause.

“Tanya O’Brien?” Christine asked.

Then there was another pause.

“Tanya, your voice sounds so familiar! Did you happen to go to the University of Michigan? About, say, ten years ago? Like around ’98, ’99? And were you in the Black Student Union there?

Tanya’s heart nearly beat out of her chest. You mean Christine remembers me, she thought. Then she got it together, yet again.

“Yes. Yes, I was,” Tanya answered.

“Tanya! This is me, Christine! Christine from the BSU! Don’t you remember me?”

Tanya played it off. “Oh, Christine! Of course, I remember! I remember you! Christine Parker’s a common name, so I wasn’t sure it was you. How are you?”

Christine’s voice was tender. “I’m fine! And I’m just sorry we lost touch after you left school all those years ago. But it’s so good to talk to you now!”

Tanya nearly blushed at Christine’s enthusiasm. “It’s really good to talk to you too.”

“Now, normally I don’t do this,” Christine said, “but why don’t I make a trip down there to check out the food bank in person? For most donation requests, I usually just get all the information I need through email, fax and regular mail, but I’d love to see you again! Do you think we could we work that out?”

Tanya’s heart nearly stopped. “Sure.”

“Okay, I have some vacation time coming, and I need to use it before the end of the year. Now, since you’re in a tight spot and since there’s only a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, why don’t I come this week?”

“Sure.”

Then there was a slight pause, and Tanya thought she heard pages rustling. No doubt, Christine was flipping through her calendar.

“Okay,” Christine said. “Today’s Tuesday. Why don’t I come down there Friday morning and stay the weekend? How’s that sound?”

Tanya was dumbfounded. “Sure,” she repeated inanely.

“Well, it’s a date, then!”

Tanya shivered at the word ‘date,’ but she was determined to keep it together for the sake of the NIFB. “Thanks, Christine. I really appreciate it.”

“Now, unfortunately, I can’t promise anything because I have to get the okay from my boss first, but I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

“Sure,” Tanya said.

“So I have your number here and I’ll call you Thursday afternoon to finalize our plans. And then I’ll go ahead and check in with you on Friday when I’m on my way to the airport, okay?”

“Sure,” Tanya said for the umpteenth time. “That sounds great.”

They spoke for a minute longer, exchanged good-byes, then hung up. Afterward, Tanya sat at her desk, quiet for a long time. That was actually Christine Parker, she mused. She thought about the woman’s tight, trim body, soft hair and attractive features.

I wonder if she’s still single, Tanya thought absently.

Then, sure she was just engaging in wishful thinking, she dismissed the thoughts from her head, and went back to the next company name on her list.

~~~

That night, as soon as Tanya got home, she took a steaming-hot shower, put on a satin nightshirt, then went to fix a hot French vanilla cappuccino. Taking the mug into the living room, she collapsed on the couch in front of the TV.

However, the thoughts swirling in her head make her unable to concentrate on the screen. She clicked the TV off, lay back and reminisced about Christine.

They’d met freshman year when they both joined the Black Student Union at the University of Michigan. Focused and determined, they joined a collection of students bent on changing the world. With the help of their advisor, the students sponsored on-campus seminars, charitable events, high school outreach programs and other events that celebrated African-American history.

Throughout the year, though she dated a couple of guys, Tanya was more interested in girls, and had been for a long time. And she found that Christine was her number one crush.

At first, Christine was just another cute, sexy girl on campus. Tall and lean, with a warm caramel complexion and long, dark hair. But being in the BSU together gave Tanya a different look at the young woman. She came to realize that Christine had a sharp, analytical mind, a passion for knowledge and information, and a love for her community and humanity in general.

“I wonder how she’s doing,” Tanya wondered as she took a sip of the now-cooled liquid. Before she left school just after their freshman year ended, Tanya learned that Christine planned to major in Business Administration.

Once Tanya left campus, she and Christine lost contact. Tanya hadn’t given any of her friends or classmates her contact information, so she hadn’t heard from anyone since. It was truly a miracle that she’d found Christine all these years later.

Then Tanya frowned. Christine sounded so upbeat, so cheerful. “She must have somebody,” Tanya mused. “She’s probably married. Or at least dating. And probably nowhere near gay.”

Tanya looked güvenilir casino around her empty house, a three-bedroom brick home in South Bend. Her mom and younger brother also lived in South Bend, less than ten miles away; however, she still desired a romantic, intimate connection with a warm, caring woman. Unfortunately, she realized that the holidays were quickly closing in on her, and she had no prospects to speak of.

She’d dated over the years, had some intimate encounters, even. But nothing like the deep, all-encompassing love she wanted to share with someone who could know her deeply, totally.

“Maybe next year,” she sighed and settled in for the night.

~~~

“You have a very nice facility here,” Christine said just after Tanya showed her around the Northern Indiana Food Bank compound.

That Friday morning, Tanya had picked her up from the airport and, at Christine’s insistence, instead of taking her to her hotel room, had taken her right to the food bank. Tanya had given Christine a comprehensive tour of their facilities, then introduced her to a number of their staff and volunteers to give her a better picture of their organization.

“It looks like you’re doing a good thing here,” Christine said warmly.

“Yeah,” Tanya said as she led Christine back into her office. “We’re trying, but we have so much need, and not enough resources. It’s the kind of job that can be very rewarding, but very depressing at the same time.”

Christine nodded. “I can certainly understand that. At Kroger, we try to do all we can, in as many communities as we can, but more and more people need help. Now more than ever.”

Tanya went to her desk. “I know you got my fax, but I wanted to give you some hard copies of our documents,” Tanya said as she handed Christine a manila folder. “It’s got all the info you requested: the brochure, the letter from our director, our tax info and our 501(c)3 certification.”

“Thanks,” Christine said as she flipped through the papers. She then slid the folder into her briefcase. “Now, I still have to run this past my boss, but I gave him my preliminary report right after you called, along with some news articles I pulled from the Internet. It’s looking good, but I won’t have official word for a few more days.”

“That’s fine,” Tanya said. “Anyway, I appreciate your help.”

“Anytime,” Christine smiled.

Tanya was smitten. She decided to try for more.

“Well,” she said, checking her watch, “it’s almost lunchtime. Wanna grab a bite to eat? I’d have to get back to work pretty soon, but we can at least have a quick lunch together?”

“Sure,” Christine said. “And after lunch, you can come back to your office, after you drop me off at my hotel. Now that I’ve seen your facility for myself, I want to send another report back to my boss so he can have all the information he needs before the workday ends.”

Tanya decided to make a move. “Well, you don’t have to stay at a hotel. I have plenty of room at my place. And I have Internet access so you can email your boss.” Tanya stopped speaking and held her breath in anticipation.

Christine hesitated, but only for a moment. Then a big smile spread all over her face. “I’d love to! I thought you’d never ask!”

~~~

“So how’ve you been?”

Tanya smiled at Christine as they sat in the Rosemont Café. Deciding on a light lunch, they both chose salads along with hot coffee to warm themselves from the Indiana cold weather.

Before Tanya answered Christine’s question, she took in her friend, and one-time crush.

Christine’s skin was the same smooth, luminous, warm caramel tone as it had been in college. Her hair was still soft-black, but now had auburn and copper streaks, and was cut in an easy, swinging bob. She was still tall and lean, and was as analytical as ever. But she still had the same compassionate nature, given her work with Kroger’s corporate giving program.

“I’ve been fine,” Tanya answered. “Very fine. But what about you? What have you been doing all these years?”

Christine was blunt. “Well, just after graduation, I got married.”

Tanya winced. There goes that fantasy, she thought. “Wow! That’s wonderful,” she said, with as much glee as she could muster.

“Don’t be. We got divorced less than two years later.”

Seems like Christine is full of surprises. “Are you all right?” Tanya asked.

Christine sighed. “I never should have gotten married.”

“To him?”

“No. To a man in general.”

Tanya’s eyes widened. “Really? That means…you’re gay?”

Christine gave her a lopsided grin. “I guess I always knew, but I never really wanted to deal with it. But now? I’m cool. My family still hasn’t come around, though,” she said, taking another sip of coffee. “And it’s been two years now, but what can I do? I have to live my life, right?”

“Right. Well, when I first came out, my mom –“

Christine’s head snapped up. “Excuse me?”

It was Tanya’s turn to grin. “I said, when I first came out, just after high school, my mom had a real problem with it. But later on, she admitted that she always knew. In fact, she was kind of waiting on me to tell her. Now, she’s okay with it.” Then Tanya stared at her for a moment. “You know, there’s a good chance that your family will come around too.”

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