Chelsea Timmons delivers groceries on weekends to make extra money, and as she pulled up to a client's long, sloped driveway in Austin, things suddenly took a bad turn: Her car began to slide uncontrollably toward the client's house.
It was Valentine's Day, and the historic storm that devastated Texas had just begun. Timmons thought she could make one more delivery and head home, not realizing the magnitude of the storm or how icy the inclined driveway would be.
"I closed my eyes and prayed, 'Please, please, don't let me hit their house and wreck my car,' " recalled Timmons, 32.
Instead, she crashed into the homeowners' flower beds, then took out a small tree before her Toyota RAV4 came to a rest.
"I tried to back up, and that just made it worse," said Timmons, who was overcome with feelings of dread. "No matter what I did, my wheels would spin in place."
Timmons texted the client inside the house that she was stuck in the driveway. Homeowner Doug Condon quickly came outside.
Condon tried to help free her car, even sprinkling birdseed to get some traction, but the car wouldn't budge. They realized it was useless, said Timmons.
Condon and his wife, Nina Richardson, told Timmons to come inside and get warm while she called AAA and several towing companies.
Timmons, who was grateful to be out of the storm, told them she lived three hours away in Houston and spends weekends in Austin to deliver groceries because the money is good there. She works as an independent contractor for a statewide delivery service.
After making calls for several hours, Timmons said it dawned on her that help wasn't coming. Nobody could come out because the roads were terrible and accidents were piling up all over.
At this point, Condon, 58, and Richardson, 62, realized they could send her back out into the storm, or they could invite her to stay. They invited her to stay.
"We have two guest rooms. It just seemed like the natural thing to do, considering the situation," said Richardson. "We didn't even need to talk it over."
Condon and Richardson are the parents of five grown children who live on their own. They are both working at home during the pandemic, Condon as an energy consultant and Richardson for several public and private technology companies.
The couple had recently received the coronavirus vaccine, said Richardson, so they felt fine taking in Timmons. They told her to make herself comfortable upstairs.
Timmons, however, was anxious about being in the strangers' home.
"I was very grateful, but kind of nervous, so I paced the room and talked on the phone with my aunt, then my parents, to let them know the situation," said Timmons. "I also kept trying to reach any tow truck company I could find, but nobody could come. I was stuck."
Richardson prepared a Valentine's Day dinner of steaks, potatoes, broccoli and salad with the groceries Timmons had delivered, then the three gathered around the table.
While power outages and frozen water pipes were hitting cities and towns all over Texas, Condon and Richardson's home had been spared.
"We were lucky - our lights stayed on and we were warm," said Condon. "And as we got to know each other over dinner, any awkwardness disappeared."
"We just became friends," added Richardson. "She's a wonderful, sweet young woman. We couldn't imagine sending her out in the dark on dangerous roads."
Still, Timmons admitted that a few bad horror movies crossed her mind as she fetched some fresh clothes from her car and settled in for the night.
"My situation was the trailer for every blockbuster horror flick," she said. "I didn't get much sleep that first night."
The next day, though, she began to relax when she learned that her apartment complex in Houston was without power, said Timmons.
"My brother was taking care of my dogs, so I knew they were safe, and I felt thankful to have a warm place for a few days," she said. "I was just so amazed that these super kind people let in a stranger to stay for the night."
When Condon and Richardson retreated to their home offices to work after breakfast, Timmons decided to thank them by using her baking talents to make a coconut cake from scratch.
And when bad weather persisted and one night stretched to five, she took their advice and made herself at home, snuggling with the couple's two dogs, Haddie and Crosby, and helping to prepare dinner and wash dishes.
At one point, Timmons wondered aloud if she should check into a motel, but her hosts discouraged the idea.
"I told her, 'What would you eat there? All the restaurants are closed because of the storm,' " Richardson said.
"What's another day?" Condon said. "If one of our daughters were in a situation like Chelsea's, I'd like to think that somebody would do the same."
Timmons said she wept tears of gratitude in her room several times, touched that they had taken a chance and opened their home to her.
"I just couldn't get over it - they never saw me as a burden, not even for a second," she said.
Once the weather warmed up and she was able to dig out her car, Timmons posted some photos of her Austin adventure and a note of thanks on Facebook the day before she returned home.
"How amazingly blessed am I right in this moment?!" she wrote. "Blessed that out of all the places for my car to get stuck, it was their flower bed and not a ditch. Blessed that they were willing to let the 'Delivery Driver' into their home in the midst of a pandemic. Blessed that during the time of a food shortage, they were willing to share their meals."
"I can't believe everything that has happened," she concluded. "Beyond grateful that I have been able to find comfort with strangers during this unprecedented Winter Storm."
The next day after lunch, when everyone had hugged and said their goodbyes, Timmons drove home, knowing that wouldn't be the last time she saw them.
"We're definitely going to stay in touch. How could we not?" she said with a laugh. "I know their address."