Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author
Melissa L. White Screenwriter, Filmmaker, Author

Angel Food


A warm breeze whispered through the half open window, stirring the vertical blinds and spreading the hot breath of the Santa Anna winds throughout the office. After watching the orientation DVD, Dana Brown glanced around at the cluttered office. Books and papers were piled upon every inch of surface space on all the bookshelves, desks, and counter tops. She licked her lips, realizing she was hungry as she savored the peppery thick aroma of turkey and cornbread dressing wafting overhead, making her mouth water. A gray-haired woman in a tie-dyed T-shirt and cut-offs approached.

            “All finished?” she asked, giving Dana a clipboard and pen.

            Dana nodded.

            “Okay,” said the woman. “After watching this DVD, are you still interested?”

            “Absolutely. When can I start?”
            The woman grinned and pointed at the clipboard. “That’s our sign-up sheet, explaining our current openings. As you can see, we have more than enough drivers. What we really need right now is kitchen help.”

            She hesitated, sensing Dana’s disappointment then added, “Actually, the kitchen crew is a lot of fun. It’s the heart of our operation.”

            Dana nodded, offering a half smile.

            “You can’t imagine how many lives you’ll touch.”

            Dana fiddled with her pen cap, wishing she could be a driver instead of a cook. She didn’t relish the idea of being stuck in a hot crowded kitchen.

            The woman smiled and said, “Standing over a hot stove has its own rewards too, you know, especially when you cook with love.”

Studying the woman’s face, Dana noticed the laugh lines reaching out from her eyes like creases in an often-read paperback book. Wisps of silvery hair framed her face and her soothing voice made Dana feel calm. Safe. Almost sleepy, as if rocked in a cradle.

            “Obviously, in any volunteer meal delivery program, love should always be the main ingredient, don’t you agree?”

            The woman paused, waiting for Dana to respond.

            Dana cleared her throat then said weakly, “I’m sorry, I forgot your name.”

            “Ernestine,” she said, eyes sparkling.

            She gave Dana an information booklet and asked her to take it home and read it. Dana glanced over the sign-up sheet again, but all the open time slots for kitchen help interfered with her work schedule during the week. And all the weekend slots were filled of course. Just as Ernestine began to explain a little about the founding of Project Angel Food, three teenage girls came marching in, lugging two large cardboard boxes. They dumped the boxes on the front desk.

Ernestine stood and called out to them, “Can I help you ladies?”

            “Sorry,” one of the girls said as she approached, “But it’s almost three o’clock and we have to be home by 4:00.”

            “Are those the meals?” Ernestine asked.

            The girls nodded. “We got totally lost. The directions are really mixed up. We couldn’t follow them.”  She gave a folded up Mapquest printout to Ernestine.

            The other girls approached timidly. “We’re sorry,” said the smallest girl. “But we’re from Orange County and we don’t know our way around Hollywood.”

            Ernestine waved it off. “No problem. How many meals did you deliver?”

            “Two,” said the smallest girl.

            Ernestine sighed. “Oh well, thanks for trying.”

            The girls apologized again then hurried outside. Ernestine smoothed the wrinkled printout, glancing over the names. “Damn,” she said under her breath.

            “What route is it?” Dana asked.

            Ernestine flipped the sheet over and read the route information. “Looks like Silverlake.”

            “I used to work there, so I know the area. I’d be glad to deliver those meals for you.”

            Ernestine grabbed Dana’s hand. “Oh! Could you?”


            “What a godsend you are, dear.  What’s your name again?”

            “Dana Brown.”

            “You see, Dana? You wanted to be a driver, didn’t you? So welcome to Project Angel Food’s Route 26.” Ernestine grabbed Dana’s hands then hugged her. “I’m so glad you were sent to us.”

            Ernestine shoved the Mapquest directions into Dana’s hand.

            “I’ll help you with these boxes,” Ernestine said. “There are seventeen names on this route. Always make sure you deliver the correct lunch because some people have special meal plans. Like low sodium, or vegetarian, or whatever.”

            Ernestine and Dana carried the boxes to Dana’s car.  Ernestine double checked the list then said, “Number seven has a special menu. Make sure he gets the correct lunch. Also if no one’s home, don’t leave anything. Always bring it back. We have to respect our client’s right to privacy. I mean these are AIDS patients. They’ve got enough to worry about. Okay?”

            “Got it,” said Dana, slipping in behind the wheel of her car.

            “Good luck,” said Ernestine. “And thanks so much. You’re an angel.”


            Dana pulled onto Santa Monica Boulevard, wondering if she really was an angel.  It was Saturday. Her husband, Brian, was home watching football on TV. And Dana had been meaning to volunteer for something, anything, it didn’t matter what.  Just so she could fill in that blank marked “community service” on her application for public relations manager at work. It would mean a promotion and a huge raise if she got the job. So here she was. But did this truly qualify her as an angel?



            Dana opened her sunroof as she drove down Santa Monica Boulevard towards Echo Park. The air was crisp. Last night’s rain had washed away the smog and dust. Once she reached Silverlake, she drove to Larissa Lane to deliver the first meal. No one answered the door but just as Dana started to leave, an old man peeked out of the window.

            “Leave it on the porch please,” he called through the open window then ducked back behind the sheer curtains.

            “Sorry this is late,” Dana said, watching his silhouette through the curtains.

            He did not answer.

            Dana hurried down the sidewalk to her car and when she glanced back at the front porch, the sack of food was gone.

            The next five houses were on the same street. Each of these clients was very gracious and accepted Dana’s apology for being late with the meals. They enjoyed having someone to talk to.

            The seventh delivery was a little more involved. According to the instructions on the printout, Dana had to punch in a security code at the main entrance.  She did this and the mammoth wooden gate buzzed open. She followed a steep stone stairway as it wound down the hill to a small cottage on a cliff overlooking the valley below. When she rang the doorbell, a voice spoke to her through an intercom beside the door.

            “Who’s there?”

            “The driver from Project Angel Food.” Dana leaned into the intercom. “Sorry your lunch is so late.”

            The door buzzed open and Dana stepped inside.

            “Come in, come in. Don’t be timid. I’m in here.”

            Dana peeked into the den and the room assaulted her senses. A lingering odor of diapers and Pine-Sol greeted her as the man said, “You’re late.”

            Dana apologized, holding the sack lunch up like a peace offering. She tried not to stare at the masses of red fabric covering the walls and ceiling. Even his bed was canopied with the same bright red curtains. If she had not seen his gaunt cheeks and pale skin, she would have guessed she had entered the private harem quarters of an Arabian sheik.

            The only break from the visual onslaught of red fabric was the large bay window, which drew Dana to its light. The view from the hill was marvelous, overlooking Los Feliz in the valley below.

            “You can put it in the fridge. I’m not even hungry any more.”

            He pointed behind her, so Dana wandered into the kitchen and opened the fridge. It was empty except for a jar of applesauce and a half dozen plastic syringes.

            When she returned to his room, the man said, “I hope they didn’t mix it up again. I’m supposed to get a special meal plan, but the last three meals have been wrong.”

            Dana checked her list. “Low sodium diet with Ensure to drink.”

            “Well maybe it’s right this time. It’s just three hours late.”

            “So can I get you anything before I leave?” Dana asked over her shoulder, heading for the door.

            “No, my nurse comes in the morning. And my mouth hurts so much I can’t eat anything anyway. Wait a minute….”

            Dana hesitated at the door, hoping he wouldn’t prolong this visit. It never occurred to her that filling in that community service blank on her application might lead to something like this.  Dana thought perhaps she should have stayed in the kitchen like Ernestine suggested.  The pungent smell in this room was getting to her. She noticed her palms were sweating. 

            “I suppose you could bring me a pitcher of water. Look in the cupboard by the sink. The red pitcher. Just fill it up with water from the dispenser in the pantry.”

            Dana hurried back to the kitchen, found the pitcher and filled it up. She reached into the cabinet for a glass and a huge cockroach scurried away. She nearly screamed.

            When she returned with the water, the man offered her twenty dollars if she would massage his feet. He said his medication caused muscle cramps and his feet were aching. He pointed to the chair at the foot of his bed.

            “There’s a twenty on the dresser,” he said.

            “That won’t be necessary,” Dana heard herself say as she inwardly cringed at the thought of touching this man’s feet.  Seeing no polite way to refuse, she sat beside his bed and began rubbing the arches of his feet.

            “That feels so good,” he said, “You just can’t imagine.”

            Dana nodded. The soles of his feet were dry and rough and felt almost like stucco against her hands. She worked quickly and quietly and spent the next ten minutes listening to this perfect stranger tell her all about his throbbing joints and his unbearably painful mouth sores until she started feeling claustrophobic.

            At last Dana told him that she hoped he had a better day tomorrow, but that she still had other deliveries to make so she should be going.  She washed her hands in the kitchen before she left.

            Climbing back up the steep winding pathway to the street, Dana could not shake the image of this man in his bed. Surely a simple vaccine could alleviate this kind of pain, Dana thought to herself.  How much longer until a vaccine could be produced? And how many lives hung in the balance?  As she reached her car, Dana looked down and saw that her hands were shaking. She wanted a beer, and she wanted to curl up next to her husband and fall asleep in front of the TV. Then she felt ashamed for being repulsed by that man’s suffering.


            Back in the safe haven of her Honda, Dana checked the list again. The next name on the itinerary was Stan MacGreggor.

            Dana had gone to high school with a boy name Stan MacGreggor. He was gorgeous.  All the girls adored him, but he never seemed to have a steady girlfriend. She wondered for a moment if this might be the same guy.

            “No way,” she told herself then imagined that the Stan MacGreggor she knew in school was probably still living in Texas with a wife and three kids, a patio home, and an SUV in the driveway.

            She rang the bell then heard footsteps inside. When the door opened, Dana was completely taken aback.  It was him.  The same Stan MacGreggor she had known in high school. This was the same guy who had nicknamed her RAGU because her boyfriend, Jamey, had confided to him that Dana was a royal bitch when it was her time of the month. Although it had been years since high school graduation, she still felt embarrassed when she thought of being called Ragu, especially now, standing on Stan’s front porch, holding a sack of turkey and dressing.

            “Stan?” Dana said awkwardly.

            He looked at her, unsure. “Yeah?”

            “It’s me, Dana.”

            He stared at her for a moment then Dana could see that old recognition in his eyes, but only briefly. He backed away as if discomfited.

            “Look, I’m sorry the meal is so late, but the original driver got lost. I just happened to be at the kitchen, signing up as a new volunteer when the driver came back with all this food. So I said I knew the Silverlake area pretty well.”

            He stared down at his food.

            “What an amazing coincidence,” Dana blurted out, feeling her cheeks flush as soon as she said it. “I mean bumping into you here in L.A., of all places. I hope you’re okay.” She looked down at her feet, fumbling for the right words.  “Listen, Stan. If there’s anything you need, or anything at all I can help you with, please let met know.”

            He glanced back inside his house. Dana felt like an uninvited guest at a very private party.

            “Okay? So I’ll leave my number here with you. And you call me if you need a ride anywhere, or if you need someone to come take out the trash or clean house or help you with whatever you don’t feel like doing.”  Dana reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out her wallet, looking for her business cards.

            “Oh no. I’m all out of cards.”

            Stan watched her dig through her wallet until she found an old bank deposit slip. She pulled it out and offered it to him. “This has my phone number, you call me if you need anything. Okay?”


            He hesitated then took the deposit slip and read it aloud. “Dana Brown and Brian O’Donnell?” He glanced up at Dana, smiling that ‘Ultra-Brite’ smile that once melted the hearts of many Texas girls.  “Are you married now?” Stan asked.

            “Yes,” Dana said. “Eight years.”

            “You live in Marina del Rey?” he asked. “Nice place.”

            “Yes. It is,” Dana said. “We live on a sailboat.”

            He looked up at her surprised. “Really?”

            She nodded.

            “Cool.” He glanced back over his shoulder again then said, “So would you like to come in? Or do you have other meals to deliver?”

            “Actually, I do have a few left.” She checked her watch then laughed. “But they’re already three hours late, what’s a few more minutes.”

            Stan smiled. He stepped aside and held the door open for Dana to enter.  She followed him into the living room. 

            “Have a seat,” he said, pointing to the cushy futon by the window. He hurried into the kitchen and opened the louvered shutters at the bar separating the den from the kitchen. “Can I get you something to drink? Coke? Diet Coke? Cherry Coke?”

            Dana laughed. “Coke is fine.”

            He carried in two cans of soda and two crystal champagne flutes, a blue glass plate and a blue linen napkin inside a golden half moon napkin ring.

            “So you live on a sailboat. How interesting. Did you sail it here?”

            Dana laughed. “No, we bought it here. It’s our home. It was the most affordable way for us to live in the Marina. Plus Brian loves to sail.”

            Stan nodded then said, “So how long have you lived here?”

            “Five years.”

            He took a sip of his Coke then said, “So what brings you to the City of Angels? Business or pleasure?”

            “Work,” Dana said.  “Brian’s a musician. He got a good offer from a band passing through Dallas where we used to live.”

            Stan carefully unwrapped the foil and examined the turkey and dressing. “Amazing. It’s still warm.”

            “So Stan. What brings you here?”

            He placed the food on his plate, then cut a sliver of white meat and dipped it into the gravy. “I did a little modeling in Dallas, until my agent bought me a one-way ticket to Hollywood three years ago. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Until recently.”

            “Why? What happened?”

            He looked at her and laughed. Seeing the confusion on her face, Stan held up his Project Angel Food lunch sack.

            “Oh,” Dana said, embarrassed. She stared at her drink. After an extended silence she said, “So do you ever talk to Jamey any more?”

            Stan looked up at her with a mouthful of turkey and dressing.

            “Jamey Larson,” Dana said, “Remember him?”

            “Actually,” Stan said, wiping his mouth with his blue linen napkin. “I spoke to Jamey a couple weeks ago.”

            “So you guys keep in touch? That’s great.”

            “We talk on the phone once in a while.”

            Dana sat back in the couch, sinking deeper into the cushions. “You two were pretty close back then. It’s nice that you keep in touch. I hardly ever talk to anyone from school. It’s been so long.”

            Stan eyed Dana over the rim of his goblet. He took a long thoughtful sip, and set the glass down beside his plate.

            “Jamey lives in Miami now. South Beach to be exact. He’s in real estate and God knows what else.”

            “Really? Last I heard he was in Central America, doing a lot of drugs.”

            Stan shrugged, cutting another bite of turkey. “We all have our skeletons. But he’s been through rehab, so now he’s drug-free and hawking high-rise buildings and mansions in West Palm Beach.”

            “So he’s okay?” she asked, leaning in closer.

            “Hey. He’s made millions.”

            “But how’s he doing? Is he married? Any kids?”

            Stan laughed, almost choking on his turkey. He took his napkin, wiped his mouth, and then tossed the napkin onto his plate. He leaned back in his chair and pushed his plate away from the edge of the coffee table with his bare foot.

            “Jamey is gay, Dana.”

            Her eyes opened wide. Then she made a conscious effort not to let her mouth gape open as well.

            “Oh come on Dana don’t look so shocked.”

            She blinked a few times. “Are you sure?” She finally managed to say.

            Stan howled with laughter. Then he reached over and slapped her on the knee. “You’re priceless,” he said. “Such a comic.”

            “Well he sure as hell wasn’t gay in high school.”

            Stan glanced at Dana then realized she wasn’t kidding. “I believe it was after you two split up, Dana, that he decided to stop hiding it.”

            “Hiding it?” She laughed. “We were together every single day for over a year. I think I would have noticed if he was gay.”

            “Dana. I don’t want to be rude, but whatever it was you guys did, it was a phase for him. Believe me, the man is definitely a homosexual.”

            Stunned, Dana sat there staring at Stan. His eyelashes were still just as long and lush as they were when they were kids. She focused on his eyelashes because his words were too much for her to absorb.

            “Look,” he continued, “I don’t know which TV talk show you get your information from, but people don’t suddenly wake up as adults and realize they’re gay. It’s a part of you from a very early age. And it doesn’t come and go like a clothing fad.”

            “So you’re saying that whole year Jamey and I were together…all those times we… none of that was real?”

            Stan shrugged.

            “He took me up to his grandfather’s farm. I met his great grandmother. We even picked out names for our kids.”

            Stan sighed. “I know, Dana. He would’ve said or done anything he thought you wanted just to keep you happy.”

            “So all of that was a lie?”

            Staring down at his hands, Stan twisted the silver ring on his thumb. “Maybe it wasn’t exactly a lie. He needed you. You were his ticket in. His security blanket.”

            “Oh really?”

            “Think about it Dana. Do you have any idea what it was like, growing up gay in Texas back then?” Stan scratched his two-day stubble. “Gay bashing wasn’t just politically correct, it was ingrained in you at such an early age that it takes years just to figure out how to deal with it.”

            Dana stared out the window.

            Stan cleared his throat then continued, “But once you finally see the big picture, you think up ways to cope. And being with you was a way for Jamey to cope.”

            Dana stood up, not quite sure what to say. “I better go.”

            Stan glanced up at the ceiling then shrugged. “Dana I’m sorry.”

            Tears welled up in Dana’s eyes. So many things flashed through her mind at once: Grandpa Larson’s farm in the Texas hill country and his prizewinning hogs. Water skiing with Jamey on Clear Lake. Skipping school and making love for hours on the living room floor at his house while his parents were at work. Dana remembered these things like it was only last year. Why the hell did she still feel seventeen inside even though she was actually twice that age?

            Dana wondered how all those memories could be lies. She dreamed about these things occasionally. Jamey’s old blue pickup truck. The lizard skin cowboy boots she gave him for his seventeenth birthday. The torn up prom photos he returned to her that awful night when they broke up, dumping them on the driveway at her parents’ house along with everything else she’d ever given him.       

            Dana rubbed her forehead, realizing she had a splitting headache. She looked at Stan and a tear spilled out the corner of her eye. He stood up, two feet in front of her.

            He reached for her hand but she jerked it away from him.

            “Please don’t!”  She said this with such acrimony it surprised her.

            Equally surprised, Stan backed away slightly.

            “You used to call me RAGU. You never really liked me very much did you Stan?”

            His eyes narrowed as he watched her try hard not to cry.  He paused a moment, then put his hand on her shoulder. “Dana, please don’t cry. I can’t take responsibility for any more pain. I have enough guilt at the moment, okay?”

            She took a deep breath and held it. He’s right. I’m being childish.

Dana thought of Stan’s parents. What are they going through? How does Stan sleep at night? Is he alone, or does he have a companion?  Has Stan had to watch a partner die, knowing that his own passing will come soon enough?

            She covered her face and turned away. Trying to squelch the tears only seemed to make it worse.

            Stan removed his hand from her shoulder.

            “I’m so sorry,” Dana whispered. “How stupid of me to act like this. You must be going through hell in your life right now.”

            “Actually,” Stan said softly. “I’m just starting to feel at peace.”

            Dana turned around and looked at him. His blue eyes were always beautiful. But now they seemed even brighter, a truly intense aquamarine. And he actually did seem to radiate peace. He touched her elbow then brushed her hair out of her face.

            “Won’t you please sit down,” he said. “Just for a minute longer.”

            “Oh, Stan. I hate to impose like this.”

            “Dana. Life is so short. Just sit down,” he grinned at her. “I need to apologize for dubbing you Princess RAGU.”

            Dana laughed, wiping her face with the back of her hand.  Stan sat down on the couch and pointed to the cushion next to him.

            “I can’t stand it when people leave and they’re upset with me,” he said. “I never know if I’ll see them again.”

            Dana sat down beside him. He took her hand, pressing it between his thin hands.

            “Look at me,” he said and waited for Dana to make eye contact then he said, “Dying slow is a blessing in disguise because it teaches you how to live.”

            Dana looked into his eyes. She hesitated then said, “I wish I could make it all go away somehow.”

            “Me too,” he laughed. He squeezed her hand then released it.

            And with that little gesture, that squeeze, Dana felt a sudden jolt of electricity. As if a small piece of Stan’s energy was now sinking in beneath her skin. A thousand thoughts raced through her mind all at once. Memories. Emotions. Slivers of their shared childhood. Impossible questions: How long have you been HIV positive? I had no idea you were gay. Or Jamey either. Did you know about Jamey all along? All through school?

            Stan stared at Dana and she felt the weight of his gaze. How could she formulate her confusion into questions he could possibly answer right now? There was nothing he could say anyway to make all that deception go away.

She glanced at Stan just long enough to see his cheek muscles twitch right before he smiled.  Then she stared at the floor. When you get right down to it, why am I here anyway? To make a better impression at work? To get that promotion? To benefit from the suffering of others?

Dana inhaled slowly, and the idea emerged like a sudden puff of wind in a dead calm. She eased into it, watching the wind line across the water, feeling the luff then the lift and the acceleration as the wind filled her sail.

“Would you like to go sailing tomorrow?” she asked.

Stan smiled at her.

“Santa Monica Bay is incredibly beautiful this time of year,” she assured him. “And usually the sky is so clear you can see the mountains beyond the downtown city skyline.”

“Wow,” he said, frowning slightly. He considered it a moment, then relaxed into that same old easy grin she remembered from school.

“Yeah,” Stan said, nodding. He looked at her and proffered that heart stopping gorgeous smile. “I’d like that a lot.”

            “Great. I’ll come pick you up at eleven,” she said. “Is that okay with you?”

            Stan nodded.

            They sat on the couch as an awkward silence settled between them like a low-lying fog. Dana glanced around the room as if hoping to find her way out of the self-conscious lull in conversation. Then she saw a framed black and white photograph on the bookshelf of Stan and another guy. They were standing shoulder to shoulder, leaning against a large palm tree in what looked like a tropical resort location.

            Dana suddenly turned to Stan and said, “Do you want to bring a friend sailing with us tomorrow? So you won’t feel uncomfortable?”

            Stan smiled at her.

            “I’m just thinking about how you might feel around Brian and me. So please don’t hesitate to bring someone else with us if you like.”

            “Dana. Is that your way of asking if I have a boyfriend?”

            She laughed nervously then glanced down at her feet.

            Stan patted her knee. “That’s him in the photo on the bookshelf. That picture was taken in Cabo San Lucas two years ago.”

            “Two years ago?”

            “Yes,” said Stan. “We’ve been together for three years.”

            Dana looked up at him and smiled. “That’s a long time.”

Stan nodded and said, “We met the day I arrived here from Texas. Steven is his name. He’s from Big Fork, Montana. He’s real small town, just like you and me.”

            “Where did you meet him?” she asked.

            “We met at a party at my agent’s house.”

            Dana said, “Is he an actor?”

            Stan laughed, “Who isn’t in this town?”

            Dana did not laugh. Instead she said, “I’m not. And neither is Brian.”

            Stan glanced sideways at Dana. “He works for Paramount as a website designer. He’s a total computer geek, but I love him.”

            Dana smiled. “Does he live here with you?”

            Stan nodded.

            The clock on the mantle struck four and Dana moved to the edge of the couch as if she was ready to get up.

            “Steve should be home any time now, if you want to stick around, you can meet him.”

            “I’d like to Stan, but I really should be going. I still have several meals left to deliver.”

            Stan reached for her hand and she offered it to him. He squeezed it gently then said, “Fine. We’ll be ready when you get here at eleven.”

            Dana smiled, then reached over and hugged Stan. He tensed up at first then relaxed and hugged her back. “I’m glad our paths crossed again. I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”

            Dana stood up and fished her car keys out of her pocket. “Me too, Stan.”

            He held out his hand and Dana shook it.  “See you tomorrow at eleven.”

            “See you then,” Dana said and headed outside to her car.  As she got in her car she saw Stan wave from the front porch. She waved back and thought of Ernestine and her idea that food should be cooked with love.

            Dana delivered the rest of her meals then made her way back home, to the Marina, where she and Brian went for a walk along Venice Beach to watch the sun set over Santa Monica Bay. As Dana walked arm in arm with Brian down the beach, she thought of the photo on Stan’s bookcase. She squeezed her husband’s hand and sighed, wondering how many more sunsets Stan would see before he died. She hoped that Stan had truly found peace. She wanted to know that kind of peace for herself then wondered if it was only attainable when faced with your own impending death. She watched the sun sink below the horizon and felt lucky to be alive.

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© Melissa White