Sometimes your life can be improved by something as simple as one warm coat.
It was early Friday evening, and Jeremy huddled at a table in the back of Starbuck’s, afraid that he’d be asked to leave. He’d been there for over three hours, going directly from school. The weather in the morning had been cold, but bearable to walk the three and a half miles from his house to school. By the time his last class finished the temperature had dropped into the high 20’s, and he decided that his thin hoodie wouldn’t keep him warm enough to walk home. He’d had a heavy jacket, but someone had stolen it from his locker earlier in the week.
So he sat nursing an eggnog latte so it would last until he figured out how to get home. He used this time to do his homework, which kept it from being wasted.
His stomach growled so he decided he needed to get something to eat. Starbuck’s had sandwiches and salads, but the few left looked a little tired. Or, they looked ‘a little long in the tooth,’ as his grandma had often said before she passed away. When she’d say that it had always made him laugh. Besides being less than fresh, what Jeremy saw in the display case were expensive for someone on a very limited budget.
He could walk about four blocks from Starbuck’s to McDonald’s and order off the dollar menu, or have a quarter pounder or a daily double, and a Coke. That sounded like a good idea, so he put on his backpack, threw out his cup and napkin, pulled his hood over his head, zipped up his hoodie, and left for the ten minute walk to McDonald’s.
The weather was colder, a lot colder, than when he left school. Maybe coming downtown had been a bad idea. He was shivering when he arrived at McDonald’s. The interior felt warm and comfortable. His meal cost just over three dollars for a double special, fries, and a Coke. ‘Not bad,’ he thought. There were several empty tables. He picked one away from the door but next to a window. He enjoyed watching the traffic and the people walking with their coats pulled tight around them trying to keep warm. After eating he headed to Broadway Plaza in the south part of downtown. Maybe he’d see someone he knew and could get a ride home.
He arrived at the plaza and looked at the city’s huge Christmas tree, decorated with what seemed to be thousands of lights and ornaments. He saw a TV equipment truck and a cameraman with a video camera focused on a reporter who spoke into a microphone. Several large piles of coats were on both sides of the reporter and alongside the tree. Jeremy moved closer to find out was going on.
“We’ve received over six hundred coats so far. We’d like to thank the Girl Scout Troops in Contra Costa County who are helping us collect the coats tonight, and Walnut Creek Troop 90 which helped organize our drop-off site this afternoon. Of course, we’d especially like to thank the members of our audience for these donations. Your generosity will help members of our communities, those who cannot afford a new coat, to stay warm. This is especially important due to the much colder weather we’re experiencing here in the Bay Area.
“Remember, we’re going to be here through eleven o’clock tonight, so please, if you live in central Contra Costa County and have a gently used coat or a new coat that you can donate, bring it to Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek. You can find our drop-off location by looking for this amazing Christmas tree across from the Nordstrom department store. Remember, donate coats so they can be given free of charge to those in need.”
The reporter continued talking. “One Warm Coat had its start at one location in San Francisco in 1992, and now there are thousands of other locations nationally, and five drop-off locations here in the Bay Area. Remember, the Bay Area locations are competing with each other to see how many coats each location can collect. Right now, the drop-off location in Walnut Creek has the largest number of donations so far….” Jeffrey tuned out; too much yada-yada.
‘I wonder,’ he thought, ‘where they take these coats so people who need them can get them.’
He shoved his hands into his jeans’ pockets to try to warm them, then looked around. There were several guys standing near each of the piles of coats, probably making sure someone didn’t walk off with any of them. Maybe they could tell him where he could get one. He sure needed it. He walked over to the guy standing alongside the nearest pile. He looked younger than the others, so Jeremy thought he’d be more likely to understand his problem.
The guy wore a name badge. “Uh, hi, Paul,” Jeremy said. “How does someone get one of the coats?”
“They are all sent to local charities. They distribute the coats to the needy.”
“Do you know which charities? My only heavy coat was stolen out of my locker at school the other day, and I’d like to find out how to get a coat to replace it.” Jeremy shrugged his shoulders to get more of his body into his hoodie. “I can’t afford to buy a coat.”
“No, I don’t know about that,” Paul replied. There’s a website that might have the information, but I’m not sure. It’s onewarmcoat-dot-org. The onewarmcoat part is the three words all run together.”
“So, there’s no way to get one tonight? Here?”
“Nah, it’s just not done that way.” Paul stared at Jeremy like he might grab a coat and run. ‘Not at all friendly,’ Jeremy thought.
“Okay. Thanks anyway,” he told Paul.
He walked to one of the benches and sat down. Then he jumped up, fast. ‘Damn, that bench is cold!’ he thought.
“That kinkda froze your butt, didn’t it?”
Jeremy turned and looked at the guy, about his age, who’d just asked an obvious question.
“Yeah, it sure did,” he replied.
“You look cold,” the guy said. Something even more obvious.
“Yeah. Somebody stole my heavy coat out of my locker at school the other day. Now the warmest thing I have is this hoodie. It’s pretty good except for days like today.”
“You need one of those coats.” The guy waved his arm, gesturing to where the piles of coast surrounded the Christmas tree.
“Yeah, that would sure help out. But I talked to that guy,” Jeremy pointed to where Paul stood next to a pile of coats. “He said local charities gave them out, and not here.”
“Tell you what, you stand right here, being sure you don’t try to sit down again, and I’ll see what I can do.” He grinned.
“Hey!” Jeremy said as the guy started to walk away. “I’m Jeremy. I don’t know your name. What is it?”
“Mike. I’m Mike.” He turned and walked toward the back corner of the plaza, near the Lucky Jeans store. Jeremy watched him as he talked to an older man. After a bit the older man nodded his head, and Mike turned to look across the plaza at Jeremy. He waved his arm, indicating he should walk over and join them.
“Jeremy, this is my granddad, Roger Butler. That’s my last name too, by the way.”
“Tell me what happened, Jeremy,” Roger asked.
“Like I told Mike, I had a good heavy coat, even had a hood and was water resistant. Someone got into my locker and stole it on Monday. I asked the school about it, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Turns out they aren’t responsible for any student property stolen on campus, even if it’s locked up in a locker that’s broken into. So, I’m kind of stuck. I don’t have the money to buy a new coat. I went to the second hand store near school, but the used clothes are only for sale, and the coats they had weren’t very heavy and they were a lot more than I could pay.”
“Do your parents work?”
“No. My mom’s not working now, and her latest boyfriend is sometimes a car mechanic but he isn’t working now, either.”
“Where do you go to high school?” Mike asked.
“Las Lomas. I’m a junior.”
“Hey, I’m a junior too. I go to Northgate.”
Mike seemed about to continue, but Roger interrupted him. “Well, I’m the head of the One Warm Coat program for Contra Costa County. We are responsible for distributing the coats to a number of charities that provide them to people in need. I can see that you’re in need, Jeremy. With your mom not working things must be tough.”
“Yeah, they are.”
“I want Mike to help you pick out a coat. Here,” Roger handed Mike a card, “Mike, you give this to whichever guy is watching the pile that has the coat that Jeremy picks out, okay?”
“Sure thing, granddad.”
Roger turned to Jeremy.
“Is that okay with you?”
“Yes sir, absolutely. Thank you, Mr. Butler!”
Jeremy blinked a few times to hold back tears. He smiled and said, “Thank you!” again.
Mike grabbed his arm. “Let’s get this show on the road. I saw some really nice coats, I think some are like the one someone stole from you. Let’s go over and take a look.”
Mike led Jeremy to the pile that Paul stood guarding.
“That’s the guy who said I couldn’t have a coat from here.”
“Yeah, I remember that’s what you said. But I have the get out of jail free card my granddad gave me. Hang on right here for a minute, let me go talk to Paul.”
Jeremy stood waiting while Mike went over and talked to Paul. Paul shook his head several times, obviously meaning ‘No!’ Finally Mike showed him the card his granddad had given him, and Paul shrugged his shoulders and turned away from Mike.
Mike gestured for Jeremy to join him.
“Look, see that black coat up there on the pile?”
“Yeah. It’s a lot like the one I had stolen.”
“Can you reach it?”
“No way, and I don’t think it would be a good idea for me to climb up there.”
“You won’t have to do that. They have long poles with hooks to pull the coats off the piles and load them into bins to be picked up. Trucks take the coats to a dry cleaner’s plant where they are sorted and cleaned and bagged and tagged. Let me get one of those poles and we should be able to get that coat.”
When they got it down Jeremy checked the size. “It’s a large, that’s my size. This is the same general kind as mine, but mine was from Penney’s and this has a Nordstrom label.”
Mike grinned. “You’re moving up the food chain, Jeremy.”
“I don’t understand… oh, I get it, you mean by moving from a Penney’s coat to a Nordstrom’s coat I’m moving higher up on the coat quality and price ladder. Or something like that.”
“Not something like that, exactly that. Try it on.”
Jeremy pulled off his backpack and hoodie, and put on the coat.
“Oh my god, this is wonderful! It has a fluffy lining inside that’s a lot warmer than my coat was. And it fits better, too. This is like a fantastic Christmas present. I love it.”
He pulled the hood over his head.
“Yeah, this is great! Thank you, Mike. Uh, would it be okay if I go over and show the coat to your granddad and thank him again?”
“Sure. I think he’d like that a lot.” Mike smiled. ‘Jeremy is definitely someone very special,’ he thought. ‘I gotta get to know him better, a lot better.’
Jeremy put his hoodie into his backpack and carried it as they walked to where Roger Butler stood talking to one of the girl scouts. She walked away as they walked up.
“Mr. Butler, I want to thank you for this wonderful coat. It’s great, and it fits perfectly. And I….”
Jeremy didn’t want to cry. Sixteen year olds don’t cry. High school juniors don’t cry. He didn’t want Mike to see that he was about to cry. But he couldn’t hold back a couple tears that ran down each cheek. Roger saw this, and grabbed Jeremy into a hug, hiding his tears from his grandson’s view.
“You know, Jeremy, I’ve done what I did for you a few other times today. You’re the only person to come back and thank me. I’m impressed. Thank you!”
Jeremy couldn’t believe what he’d been told.
“No one ever thanked you before?” He shook his head. “That’s… that’s terrible.”
Mike stood grinning at his granddad. “See, I told you that he’s a nice guy.”
“That you did, Mike, that you did. Now I have a meeting with the head of the Girl Scouts service projects, which includes our One Warm Coat project. So I’ll say good night to the two of you.”
“Thank you, Mr. Butler.”
“Now it’s my turn to do something for you, Jeremy. Let’s go to my favorite restaurant. I want a piece of key lime cheesecake. How about you? My treat!”
“Okay, I guess so.”
“You guess so?” Mike asked, with an incredulous expression he held until he started laughing.
Jeremy laughed, too.
“Yeah, that sounds great.”
“Then we’re off to Cheesecake Factory. I hope you’re hungry!”
“I just ate, at McD’s, but I always have room for dessert.”
Jeremy smiled. He was warm, he had a wonderful replacement for his coat that someone stole, and it seemed like he might have a new friend. A new good friend. Life didn’t seem to suck anymore. Life now seemed that it might be good. He wondered about Christmas. Maybe that would be good too.
Another thing Jeremy’s grandma had often said was ‘good things came in threes.’ He already had two of the three, his coat and Mike, and Christmas could be the third. He thought for a few seconds.
Christmas… and Mike. Yes, now his life would be good.
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing One Warm Coat
If you enjoyed this story,
you can read the other stories in the series on Codey’s World:
|One Warm Coat|
|One Best Friend|
|One Perfect Boyfriend|
|One Complicated New Year|
|One Sexy New Neighbor|
|One Cute New Neighbor|
|One Questionable Outcome|
|One Satisfactory Outcome|
|One Confusing Phone Call|
|One Acceptable Outcome|
|One Life Changed|
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