Chloe was 83 years old and lived by the ocean in a big, beautiful house that no one had time to visit.
A lot had changed in the past 50 years, since Chloe and Harry’s wedding day, when he had carried her, blindfolded, to that beautiful place for the first time.
Many years later, Chloe could still hear Harry’s laughter echoing off the walls. His soul was in this house, as were the memories of the beautiful son they raised together against all odds.
But children grow up, and loved ones breathe their last. Chloe has lived alone in the same house for seven years now.
She wanted her son Steve to visit her, if only for a day. Of course, the young man now has a family of his own, an adorable little girl Eva, and a business to take care of.
And even though Steve made video calls with Chloe every other day, she found it all frustrating.
So there she was, watching the sunset, thinking about her son and granddaughter who were miles away, and wishing she could be with them.
One day, Chloe heard noises coming from the house next door. It was a much smaller place, the kind that should have been renovated years ago. Chloe looked out the window and was delighted to see that she had new neighbors.
Chloe’s eyes widened, obviously very excited as she saw a young woman working in the kitchen, scolding two boys who appeared to be twins.
“Cookies! I’ll make them cookies!” Chloe sang and put on her apron.
That night, Chloe had been standing with a basket of cookies on the neighbor’s unfinished driveway, waiting for someone to answer. She could still hear noises from inside, but no one had opened the door.
Chloe left the basket of cookies on the doorstep, and went for her evening walk along the beach.
Not that she had much company on her walk, but it felt good to just see people getting out of their houses and enjoying the sunshine, and it was also fun to listen to their everyday conversations as they passed by.
But on this day, Chloe noticed that one particular topic was popular among the neighbors.
“Did you see that young woman with the twins…”
“…the children looked so miserable, with their unkempt hair…”
“…the woman was too proud to wave to them…”
“…I wonder where the husband is. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he had abandoned her or croaked…”
Chloe had her suspicions, but she didn’t like the way the young woman’s life was being discussed.
“Surely there’s a story in there…” she thought, trying to think of a new way to make contact with the elusive stranger.
The next day, at the grocery store, she ran into her neighbor.
And it became immediately clear that the woman was nervous, looking for something in her purse while the cashier glared at her.
The children running in circles around the woman trying to catch each other didn’t help either.
“Get out of the line, please! Some people have the money to buy what they want,” the cashier told the poor clumsy woman.
Chloe felt embarrassed for the woman and approached her before she hurried out of the store with the children.
“Hello! I’m Chloe, your neighbor. I stopped by the other day to bring you some cookies…”. Chloe noticed that the woman was avoiding eye contact with her and pretending to discipline her children.
“Look, you came a long way from home to go shopping. Don’t go empty-handed. Let me help you out. I happen to have a few extra dollars in my purse,” as she said this, Chloe rummaged through her purse for a minute. She found the extra money and some caramels from last week’s groceries.
“This…,” Chloe said, handing out the caramels and doing her best to bend down to the children’s eye level, “…this is for you bright-eyed gentlemen!”
The twins were hypnotized by the sight of the candy, but their mother’s voice brought them out of their thoughts.
“No! Don’t take that old lady’s candy,” she yelled, much to Chloe’s surprise.
The woman quickly realized she had been too loud, adjusted her tone, and spoke softly but coolly to Chloe.
“Thanks, but I don’t need your help.” Tugging on her boys’ little collars, she walked out of the store.
Chloe couldn’t stop thinking about the tears that had filled the woman’s eyes at the store.
“She’s angry, but she’s in pain. I wonder what she went through…”
Chloe would finally find out a few days later. One morning, when Chloe woke up and walked along the shore, she heard the sounds of splashing water and the sound of children laughing wildly. She followed the noise and was alarmed to find the twins from the house next door standing knee-deep in the ocean water.
“Boys! Where’s your mother?” she called to the children.
The brothers smiled at Chloe and pointed in the direction of their home.
Chloe looked around and waited with the boys for a few minutes, but there was no sign of their mother.
Something was wrong.
“Why would someone leave their children unattended on the shore?” thought Chloe.
“This woman doesn’t seem like the careless type.”
“I have to go check!” she thought to herself as she simultaneously grabbed the kids’ hands and walked them back to their house.
Thank goodness she did. If Chloe had ignored her instincts or arrived even a few minutes later, the innocent twins would have lost their mother forever.
When Chloe opened the door, she found the young mother lying unconscious on the kitchen floor, next to a pile of crumbled bread and broken plates.
The twins began to cry, trying to shake their mother awake. Chloe didn’t waste a second calling 911 and managed to convince the boys to stay calm when help arrived.
First responders were able to revive her at the scene, and the first face she saw with her tired eyes was Chloe’s.
“My boys! Ralph! Raymond!” the woman shouted to her children from the gurney as the medical team and ambulance prepared to take her away.
Chloe read the concern in the young mother’s eyes and gripped her palms.
“Don’t worry. Everything is going to be all right. I’ll take care of your little boys.”
It was the first time the woman looked Chloe in the eye and nodded her head in gratitude.
Chloe knew very little about this strange woman, and the gossip about her only got worse. But Chloe preferred to believe that the world is built on goodness and kindness.
She kept her promise and took care of the children like a grandmother. She took Ralph and Ray in and let them sleep in the room that had been specially set up for her granddaughter Eva.
Chloe fed the children nutritious food, played and sang with them, and in the evenings, she answered any worries they had in their little hearts about their mother’s health.
“She’ll be up and running after you in no time, boys! But she’ll need you to behave,” she smiled as she ruffled the boys’ hair.
It was during those few days that the truth about the young woman came out. The children weren’t old enough to speak up, but they led her to a diary of their mother’s. Page after page, it revealed that the boys had been abandoned by their father, who lived a luxurious life in a big city.
“I am their mom and dad now. I will never let them feel abandoned like their father did. I have to provide for them, and one day I will move them into a big, beautiful house. They will have everything they could ask for…”. Chloe read the silent woman’s vivid emotions as the children slept beside her.
Chloe read the diary day and night. By now, Chloe knew that their mother, Phoebe, had developed severe kidney and heart problems from the stress, and that she had struggled to make ends meet by selling sweaters and socks she knitted. Having been disappointed by the man she trusted most explained Phoebe’s hesitancy to be socially open or friendly.
Watching Phoebe’s children eat and drink with such joy, she remembered how much she wanted to see her little Eva. Chloe wondered if there was anything she could do to help make the boys’ lives a little better.
Raymond and Ralph were running freely around the big house at that moment, giving Chloe the answer she was looking for.
Chloe’s connection with the boys only deepened over the next week or so. By the time Phoebe got home from the hospital, the children had already started calling Chloe “grandma”.
When Phoebe struggled to find the words to thank her elderly neighbor, Chloe hugged her and said:
“There’s no need to feel indebted to me, dear. I only did what any normal human being would do. This house is yours as much as it is mine, dear,” Chloe said as she kissed Phoebe’s forehead.
It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Chloe and Phoebe. Chloe took care of the kids while Phoebe went to a new job she found, and Phoebe took care of Chloe like the mother she wished she had.
And one Thanksgiving, as Chloe, Phoebe, Ralph and Raymond sat at a table filled with delicious food, another blessing came knocking at Chloe’s door. It was her son Steve and his granddaughter, Eva!
Steve thought he would be the one to surprise his mother with his visit, but it was he who was left speechless by the amount of joy and love that was floating around the house. Seeing his mother happier than she had been in years, Steve felt a pang of guilt for not giving her that happiness sooner.
As everyone at the table began to say what they were thankful for, Steve made a promise to himself: to be inspired by the young woman and become another source of love, belonging and happiness in his beloved mother’s later years.