"Absolutely not." The firmness in her voice was intended to end the discussion.
"But mooooooommmm" he whined.
She continued stirring the noodles, and again wondered how Luke could turn two consonants and one vowel into an eight syllable word.
His begging continued, and she continued to ignore it, setting the table and sitting down to eat. He pushed his food around the plate with his fork.
"If you don't eat you'll go hungry." She stated matter-of-factly. "There are many people who would be grateful for that food."
His glare told her he would choose hunger, and, that he was intelligent enough not to say another word, lest he lose TV privileges for the evening. When the table was cleared and the food dumped in the trash he moped on the couch until bedtime. She hugged and kissed him goodnight, in spite of the fact the he didn't return either.
"I love you Luke." she flipped off the light and went to her room.
Pulling out her Bible she sat on the bed and tried to read but watery eyes blurred her vision. Giving up she simply let her heart pray, first remembering to give thanks for all her blessings; a home, food, a job, and most importantly, her son. Then she wept, her soul crying out for a way to reach him.
The argument had been typical. This time it was a cell phone, last time an iPod. It was always something. The 'thing' someone else had, everyone else had, but not him, and it wasn't fair.
She had tried to compensate for his lack of a father with things, and he'd subconsciously picked up on that, learning to manipulate her guilt for his gain. He wasn't a bad kid; he was spoiled. He just didn't know it.
She woke with her heart still heavy and the Bible in her lap. He rode the school bus; she rode public transportation. He did offer her a smile before he boarded. She took that little piece of affection to heart, and refocused her mind on the day ahead.
Answering phones all day wasn't glamorous, but it was consistent, and a regular paycheck. If she skipped lunch she could get an extra half-hour pay and she could save the money that she would've spent on food. If nothing else went wrong, she could afford to get him something special for his eleventh birthday, only three months away.
3:30 came and went without a phone call from her son. 'I'll give him fifteen minutes,' she thought and watched the clock. At 3:44 she answered a cellular call.
"Ms. Matteson?" the voice asked.
"Yes?" she replied.
"This is Lieutenant Davis of the Chicago Fire Department, ma'am. I have your son Luke with me. He's fine." He answered the question before she could form it.
"Did he do something?" Laura asked tentatively.
"No ma'am. He arrived here at the scene about 20 minutes ago, and gave me this number to contact you. There's been a fire. We need to you to come." His information was vague but sufficient.
"I'll be there as soon as I can. Will you keep Luke safe for me, please?" her voice wavered.
"Yes ma'am, I'll take good care of your son." He hung up.
Walking the two blocks from the bus stop home she began to realize the enormity of the situation. Fire engines, trucks, and police cars cluttered the street. Areas were cordoned off. She had to show her identification a dozen times before allowed near enough to find her son.
She hugged him hard and began to assess the damage. There was nothing to assess. Her little apartment building was no more. Everything she owned was gone, and she and her son were now homeless. She was directed to a volunteer that would help her find a shelter for the night. Everything blurred as she held tightly to her son's hand and was guided through the rest of her day. One kindness after another was bestowed upon them. That evening, in the shelter, as she sat on a cot next to her son's cot, a young woman offered her a Bible. They prayed together.
Sleep was sporadic as the nightmare of reality sunk in. She now owned nothing, had nowhere to live, and she and her son were on their own.
They stumbled through the food line in the morning and were offered hotel soaps and shampoos to use in the public shower. After weeks of being shuffled in and out of shelters they landed in a place for single mothers. The ride to work was longer and she counted on other women to get her son to school.
When she stepped off the bus at nearly 7 pm she was tired and hungry. She searched for her son but couldn't find him. Nearly panicked she ran into Pastor Don.
"You have one terrific son." He broke her thoughts.
"Where is he?" she asked concerned.
"He's out back in the field. He organized a game of soccer with the other kids. He even got some of the women to coach and referee." He smiled. "He's been great here."
She and Pastor Don went to watch the game. Luke was coaching the younger kids, teaching them, and being their biggest cheerleader when one managed to connect a foot to the ball.
"You did a terrific job raising that boy." Don commented. "He even helped make dinner tonight, and insisted on serving rather than being served."
She stared at the Pastor. "Are you sure that's Luke?"
He smiled at her. "Hey, you haven't eaten. Come back to the kitchen, I'll get you something."
Hunger convinced her to agree. They sat and ate together while Pastor Don filled her in on her son's activities.
"Luke has taken on the job of big brother here." Pastor started between bites. "The kids love him. One boy was crying about not having his old tricycle when Luke told him that he had a better way to ride around."
"Really?" she was fascinated hearing about this new boy. Luke always complained about not having stuff, and had never, in her experience, found a creative substitute for what he wanted.
"Sure, he gave Mark a piggy back ride until they both collapsed laughing. Then Luke put together some group games, which eventually turned into team soccer. You should be very proud of him." Pastor Don smiled so genuinely that she felt tears form in her eyes.
While they searched for an apartment they stayed at the shelter. Late dinners with Pastor Don became routine, and he filled her in on what she missed in her son's life. Eventually they found a place, but Luke had to change schools again. She cried.
"Don't worry mom, its cool." He hugged her. "I'll just make new friends." Then he asked "Do you think I could go to the shelter after school, instead of coming home?"
"How would you get home?"
"Pastor Don said he'd bring me home by dinner if you're okay with that."
"That's fine honey."
"Cool. And mom?" he continued. "Do you think Pastor could stay for dinner?"
"Please?" he begged with a whimsical whine in his voice.
She smiled at her son and realized her prayers had been answered, beyond her wildest dreams. "Yes." She agreed looking forward to dinner with Don.