WFOL 2024 Challenge

Winterfest Guests


by Tunnel Writer


Stacey had just walked up at the end of Bruce’s story. “What should they ask me?” she asked.

“Oh, Dad was telling us how he became a Helper,” Brooke said, smiling at her Mother-in-law.

“So, Mom, how did you learn about the tunnels?”

Stacey chuckled gently. “I knew working for the city and being a licensed plumber, he’d be called on at all hours of the day and night. I understood that was part of the job, and I was perfectly OK with it. That was, until he got this new project that was calling him away for fourteen to sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. He even missed a very important date night. We had those Broadway tickets for months. I was furious that he couldn’t put one evening aside for us. The worst problem was the gifts.”

“Gifts?” Brooke asked.

* * *

“Bruce, how’s your girlfriend?” James asked as they connected another pipe Together.

“She’s angry with me. Yesterday was the first anniversary of our first date. Let’s just say she’s currently not speaking to me.”

“That’s too bad. I’m sure you’ll make it up to her.”

“I hope so.”

“How did you two meet?”

Bruce smiled as he went to grab his wrench. “We met at a homeless shelter.”

Jacob and a few others came over to listen.

“I volunteered nightly at the homeless shelter. Mainly to keep from getting bored. I saw this terrified, distrustful girl come in to get something to eat. As the weeks went on, I tried to get her to talk. I found out from others that Stacey had a rough childhood. Her parents were abusive, and she was bounced from foster home to foster home. Some were worse than the home she was removed from. The abuse never seemed to end.  When she aged out, she was pretty much kicked out.”

Jacob nodded sadly. “I am aware of how the system rejects teens. We have several here who have aged out, as well.”

Bruce measured another pipe as he continued his story. “One day she didn’t come in to eat. I asked around and found her by the bridge. She was going to end her life. I talked her down, and I broke the rules and brought her to my apartment. We started talking. I discovered that she never graduated from school and couldn’t get a job. I helped her study for her GED and helped her get into college. The day she graduated college is the day I asked her out on our first date.

“She wanted a job to help other kids like her. So she volunteers as a mentor, and has built trust with these teens. She teaches them life skills, helps them find jobs, and gives advice. Honestly, she is so serious about building trust, she won’t even tell me what they discuss with her. She is the best secret keeper I’ve ever met.” Bruce laughed. “I told her she’d make a great psychologist. Besides volunteering, she found a job as a school counselor.”

“That’s a very respectable job,” Jacob said as he looked at his pocket watch. “That’s it for the evening everyone,” he announced.

It had been a long week, and everyone was exhausted and slowly headed back.

“Hey, Bruce, got something for you,” William called out.

Bruce’s brow knitted in question as William handed him a small package wrapped in a napkin.

“Cookies?” Bruce asked as he pulled a corner of the napkin.

William nodded. “Appreciation for your friendship and your help. Made them myself,” he said proudly.

“You didn’t have to, but thank you.” Bruce smiled.

Bruce slowly unlocked the door and entered the apartment. He wasn’t sure if Stacey would still be angry with him. He tiptoed in anyway. The sound of the lock echoing made him cringe.

“Bruce, I’m glad you’re home. I’m sorry. I know how hard you work to support us,” Stacey said as she ran into his arms, crying. “I shouldn’t be so upset. I’m sorry we fought.” She stopped at the sight of the napkin. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Just cookies that my coworker made.”

“I didn’t realize that Scott knew how to bake,” she said as she took a bite.

“Scott didn’t make them. Another coworker did.”

“Which one?” Stacey asked as she took another bite.


“I don’t remember you ever mentioning a William.”

“Well, he’s new,” Bruce said uneasily.

Stacey noticed how uncomfortable Bruce was acting, but decided to ignore it for the time being. “OK. Well, tell William thank you.”

“I will. I need a shower and to get to bed. I have to get up in a few hours for work.”

“How much longer are you going to push yourself? You’re going to make yourself sick,” Stacey said with concern.

“Until the job is done.”

Every evening Bruce was always given something to take home.

“What did you bring home this time?” Stacey asked with a frown on her face.

“Apple pie,” Bruce reluctantly told her as he handed it to her.

Stacey stared at it for a moment before turning her tear-filled eyes towards him. “If there’s another woman, let me know now. I’m tired of wondering who you’re with.”

“Stacey, there is no one else but you. You HAVE to believe me.”

“I want to meet these new coworkers.”

“Stacey, I can’t bring you to work with me. We are almost finished with this job, and I promise we will go away for a whole weekend. Just you and me.”

Stacey smiled as she gave him a quick kiss.

* * *

“OK, that’s it for the day. I think we have just one more day before we’re finished with this job.”

As Bruce was bundling up to go home, Mary approached him. “You’re not going out with your head uncovered, are you?”

Bruce buttoned his coat and smiled at Mary. “I’ll be fine.” Mary’s worried expression made Bruce chuckle. “I’m OK. Honest!”

“Here, these will come in handy,” she said, pushing a knitted bundle towards him.

Bruce took the bundle and realized Mary had made a hat, mittens, and a scarf. His face fell as he shook his head. “I can’t accept this. You see, Stacey is thinking I have another woman and that’s why I work such long hours. This would be very hard to explain. We’re already on shaky ground,” he said, pushing the bundle back into Mary’s hands.

“Oh dear. That is a problem.”

“I know this is terribly out of the ordinary, but perhaps you can bring her tomorrow evening,” Jacob suggested.

The gasp from Mary made Bruce realize this wasn’t normally done.  “If you think it’s OK,” Bruce said.

“If she’s as good at keeping secrets as you claim she is, it will be OK. Perhaps we can put her fears to rest.”

The next evening, Bruce went straight home after his shift.

“Honey, you’re home early!” Stacey said excitedly.

“Hurry, put on some old clothes. You’re coming with me tonight. I want you to meet my coworkers.”

Stacey’s curiosity was piqued and she hurriedly got ready.

“Honestly, Bruce, what are we doing down he…” She stopped as she saw the community working together.

A woman grinned at her as she approached.

“You must be Stacey. I’m Mary, and we are so sorry for causing you undue worry. Bruce has been helping us get this pipe fixed.”

“You ladies get acquainted. I have work to do.”

“And that is how Mary and I became best friends.” Stacey sighed.

Brooke quickly wrote the last sentence in her journal. “Thanks, Mom. This will be preserved for generations to come.”


  1. Touching and good of Stacy to meet Bruce, that he managed to change her fate in time…and with her work she changed the lives of others, helped them….

  2. This is wonderful. I love the process of the story. So uplifting. I can’t wait to read more.


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