Wealthy businessman Roger Landers was often annoyed by the sight of the homeless begging on the street outside his office building. There seemed to be more and more of them each year. He reflected as he passed a young woman huddled against a wall, a kindly soul dropped a coin in her cup. The woman looked up and smiled at her benefactor, and that smile pierced Roger to the heart. In one second, that huddled anonymous annoyance became a lovely, radiant woman.
Roger walked into the building, and that moment when the girl’s face was transformed by her smile replayed over and over in his mind. He found himself wondering who she was, what had driven her to live in the pitiless streets of Los Angeles.
For the rest of the week, Roger found himself almost obsessed by the young homeless woman. He watched her surreptitiously and, once when he dropped a coin in her cup, watched that miraculous transformation. At close quarters, love can sometimes lurk in the most unexpected places, he found himself thinking about her, inventing stories about her, little fantasies in which he discovered she was really a reporter writing about homelessness at close hand, or a deeply committed actress preparing for a role homeless.
Finally, on Friday afternoon, after he wrapped his work for the day and dismissed his employees, Roger did what he’d been longing to do all week. He walked up to the girl sitting on the sidewalk and talked to her.
“Hi,” he said awkwardly. “Would it be okay if I bought you a cup of coffee? You look really cold.”
The girl lifted up her face and smiled at him. “Thank you,” she said sweetly. “I’d like that.”
Roger was struck by her low, educated voice and her grace as she got to her feet. She was tiny, he realized, petite next to his towering car. He walked her to a nearby coffee shop and ordered her hot food to go with her coffee. Once again, Roger was surprised by her delicate gestures, her manners. This was an educated girl. How had she ended up on the streets?
When Roger saw color flood back into the girl’s face after she finished her hot soup, her grilled sandwich, and her coffee, he asked her exactly that.
“How did this happen to you, living on the streets?”
The girl looked him straight in the eye. A wry smile twisted her lips. “I was stupid and trusting,” she said. “It’s not an original story. I was in love with this boy in my hometown, Idaho, if you can believe it. My parents disapproved of him, which only made him even more romantic and attractive to me. To cut a long story short, he convinced me to withdraw my college funds and run away with him to Los Angeles. He was going to be a movie star, and I’d be a screenwriter.”
Roger shook his head sadly. “A lot of people come out here every year. Less than a handful make it,” he commented.
“Well, I’ll never know,” a tinge of bitterness colored the girl’s voice. “The first night in Los Angeles, we booked into a motel. When I woke up in the morning, Kevin was gone. So was my money and everything I had.”
Roger gasped. “Did you go to the police? Call your family?”
The girl was shaking her head, tears in her eyes. “I was too ashamed. I made a deal with the motel manager. She let me sleep in the storeroom and I cleaned the rooms. Some of the guests gave me tips, and I managed to eat. But then her husband started trying…”
The girl shook her head. “You know how it is. I left the motel and ended up here, on the streets.”
“Emma,” the girl said with one of those radiant smiles. “Emma Sinclair from Preston, Idaho.”
“Well, Emma Sinclair from Preston, Idaho,” Roger smiled back. “I’m Roger Landers from Los Angeles, California, and I’m sending you home.”
Roger took Emma into a nearby mall and bought her several outfits and a suitcase. He waited at the food court while she changed and came out of the restroom transformed. He drove her to the bus station and bought her a bus ticket home. He tucked a $100 bill in her hand.
“Listen,” he said. “Don’t let any more charming rascals talk you into coming to Los Angeles, okay?”
Emma was crying and smiling through her tears. She reached up and gave Roger a hug. “Thank you, thank you, and God bless you.”
Roger watched her board the bus with a sinking feeling in his heart. Why did he feel that this was a mistake? He wanted to run after that bus, beg Emma to stay. What was happening to him? That night, Roger realized that the petite waif with the glowing smile had stolen his heart.
“If I let her go, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life,” he told himself. “She’s special, and I love her.”
Two days later, Roger was driving into Preston, Idaho. He stopped at the police station and asked where he could find Emma Sinclair.
“Emma?” asked one of the deputies suspiciously. “What do you want with Emma?”
Roger blushed. “Well, you see, I met her in Los Angeles, and I wanted to see if she was all right.”
The deputy looked him up and down. “You can find Emma at her mom’s laundromat two doors down. I’m coming with you. I don’t want any more trouble for Emma.”
Roger’s heart was beating fast as he walked into the laundromat and saw her. She looked up, and her face lit up. At that moment, Roger knew she had been feeling the same way. They belonged together.
So, just three weeks after she returned home, Emma headed back to Los Angeles once again. But this time, she was with a man who loved and cherished her. By the end of the year, Roger and Emma were married, and she became involved in a program to help runaways find their way home.
Helping others can be a transformative experience. Roger helped Emma, and in the process, he found his own way to lifelong happiness. Love can sometimes lurk in the most unexpected places. Roger found love with a homeless wife when everyone expected him to marry a socialite.