The marimba riff from the phone echoed off the walls of her trailer, waking Clara. She reached over from her bed and, without opening her eyes, managed to hit the "Silence" button on the screen in one blind shot.

She gave herself a moment before rolling out of bed and onto her feet. Dream imagery continued rattling its way around her thoughts as Clara stepped out from her sleeping nook and made her way over to the sink. As she brushed her teeth under the cheap fluorescent light fixture, Clara tried to shake the hazy pictures and thoughts that lingered. The images slowly faded as last evening's memory of a half-eaten meal at a local diner with an old acquaintance took their place.

Clara finished her morning duties, slipping on work jeans and boots before pulling her only clean A Standing Shelter staff shirt over her head. She pushed her dirty clothes into a mesh bag, tossed the bag over to the cluttered side of her trailer, and headed out the door.

Walking across the field toward the build site, Clara spotted a few volunteers already on the scene. A dampness covered the gravel beds and concrete, and she vaguely remembered hearing raindrops on her trailer roof throughout the night. Even with the dearth of grass that New Mexico offered, the post-rain smell drifting in from the foliage on the hillside that bordered the development smelled wonderful. Why can't everything smell like this all the time? Clara thought, then wondered how quickly that smell would become invisible if it was the norm. A week, maybe two was her conclusion as she crossed the vacant property that bordered the site.

She found Ricardo leaning on a pile of pre-fab wall panels. He and two other builders who Clara hadn't yet met studied the top page of a stack of plans. They looked up at her as she approached.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Ricardo pointed down to one section of the plans on the right side of the page, which showed the back of the property. "You tell us," he said.

Clara surveyed the plans carefully, feeling the eyes of the three men on her. She made sure not to let any uncertainty show on her face as she took a quick count of the panels in the pile below.

"We're good for today," she said, giving the top panel a hard tap. "But someone needs to order one more load of these for tomorrow. Running out now would really suck."

"That it would," the taller builder said. The others chuckled.

Clara smiled along with them. As she turned to Ricardo, she noticed Mr. and Mrs. McCorman sitting on the roped off area that would soon become their back patio. The way their bodies leaned against each other made Clara think that something was wrong.

She took a step forward to get a better look at them. "Are the McCormans okay?" she asked Ricardo in a low voice. "If there's something wrong with the project, I need to know."

"Something's wrong," Ricardo said, stepping away from the others. "But it doesn't have anything to do with the project. One of their kids is sick. The middle girl, Gracie."

"Oh no," Clara said. "How serious is it?"

"They're not sure yet," Ricardo answered. "The McCormans were in Melody's office last night and I got called in. Gracie's getting some tests done and they wanted to let us know they'd be away for a day or two."

Clara watched as Mr. McCorman wrapped an arm around his wife. Her head hung low as he slowly stroked her back.

"They need to take care of their daughter," Clara said. "We can get through a couple days without them. I hope they're not concerned about us."

"They were until I talked them through it," Ricardo said. "But they're fine now. They didn't want to jeopardize our timeline, but I told them everyone was behind them one hundred percent and they shouldn't worry about us at all."

"Good," Clara said. The workers behind her grabbed the plans and headed off toward the main build area on the opposite side of the property.

Ricardo took a quick look at his watch. "It's time," he said.

He started walking toward the site as well. It took Clara a few seconds to catch up. She pulled her gloves from her front pocket, tugging them onto both hands as she stepped over the thin ground cover that spanned the field.

She locked onto the back of Ricardo's shirt. Unlike the volunteer shirts, staff shirts had the logo for A Standing Shelter across the back instead of the front. Clara's eyes traced the outline of the two stylized figures in the logo, each angled toward the vertical beam in its center. For as many times as she'd seen the image, she felt like she was only now truly seeing its intended meaning.


Clara walked along the tight hallway, looking over the framed photos and tacked up plans from A Standing Shelter's completed housing projects. She'd seen the images dozens of times before, but there was always some new detail to be found each time she visited Melody's office.

The conversation that trickled through the closed door was just audible enough to be understandable. Melody was on the phone with a supplier disputing an invoice he'd submitted. Her voice only sounded testy a couple times during the call. Clara wondered how she'd handle a situation like that if she were in Melody's position. Even with a non-profit like A Standing Shelter, Planning Directors were constantly dealing with people not coming through as promised. It must take a serious toll on her, Clara thought.

She looked around, studying the interior of the trailer. Unlike all the other mobile facilities on the job site – consumer RVs with slight modifications to accommodate crew members for weeks at a time – Melody's office was the only unit of its kind. It was a more industrial and less welcoming environment than the unit Clara had been given.

The conversation inside the room ended and Clara knocked on the door. "Melody?" she called in a quiet voice, figuring that she'd probably been when she first entered the trailer, but still not wanting to startle her boss.

"Hey Clara," she heard from the other side. "Come on in."

Clara pushed the door open. Melody's private office area took up the rear half of the trailer, and the photos and knick-knacks that covered its walls and shelves made the area feel a little more homey than the rest of the unit.

"That sounded fun," Clara said, taking a seat in the ragged visitor's chair. She tried to settle in but couldn't stop herself from wiggling around.

"Ugh. What a nightmare," Melody said, scribbling on a yellow legal pad in front of her.

"Another supplier issue?" Clara asked.

"What else?" Melody answered. "Who makes promises they can't deliver?"

"Everyone," Clara responded.

Melody laughed and said, "That's how it feels some days." She looked up from her pad. "So what's going on? I know you didn't wander here in the middle of a build day just to chit chat. Are your volunteers giving you trouble?"

Clara smiled. "No, no. They're great." She turned to her right, toward the U.S. map that hung on the metal wall. "I'm just thinking about... about a move."

"You mean... before the end of this job?" Melody asked.

"Yes," Clara said, her eyes roving the northeast portion of the map. "And I was hoping to do it now – if you're okay with that."

"I see," Melody said. "Well, you've got the volunteers in shape, most of the shipments have been made and the rest have been scheduled. You think Ricardo can pick up any loose ends?"

"I asked him and he said he would." Clara stood up and pushed one of the magnets higher up along the right side of the map, revealing more of New England under its drooping corner. Her finger traced the route of the highway that ran up the coast.

"I'm sorry to spring this on you now," Clara said. "I'd... there's more to it, but I'd rather not--"

"It's approved," Melody said. "You've always come through for us. If this relocation is what you want, we'll make it happen. Where were you thinking?"

"We have headquarters in Burlington, don't we?" Clara asked.

"Burlington?" Melody repeated, squinting at the map. "You mean Vermont?"

"Yes," Clara said. She pushed in closer to the state, looking over the names of the major cities. "I mean Vermont."

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