Chapter Three: Ashore
The sun was setting when Callie finally pulled into the motel a couple of miles outside of Ware. The last rays were filtering through the silver maples and spilling across the dark asphalt road and intensely green grass. The motel had seen better days. But though the outside needed painting and there were potholes in the gravel parking lot, the inn looked tidy and clean. Callie was grateful – she was afraid the low rates would mean she’d be rooming with cockroaches. Instead, it looked like she’d be staying in her room alone.
She checked in and was happy to find her room was on the ground floor. She could park right outside the door. She thanked the small grey-haired woman who handed her the key with a smile, then drove her car around to the motel room. Every muscle in her body protested as she lugged in a couple of her bags. She was so exhausted – she’d been driving for two days, only stopping in Nashville for a few hours to sleep.
The motel room was plain and reminded her vaguely of the 1970’s. But her clean and tidy impression was proven correct. The room was immaculate and everything was neatly in place. Callie sank down on the bed and took off her shoes. The bed felt wonderful, firm but with just the right degree of softness. She looked at the fluffed up pillows longingly. But first things first.
She tugged out her smartphone and called her aunt. “Hi Aunt Phoebe, it’s Callie, I just checked in at the motel….I know I can stay at Mom’s house, Aunt Phoebe, but the motel is fine and….no, I don’t think so, I am so exhausted I just want to fall into bed and never get out of it….okay, great, I’ll meet you for breakfast in the morning,…Sally’s Café, got it. Thanks so much, Aunt Phoebe, I’ll see you then….Right, okay, bye now.” She hung up, dropped the phone on the bed, and fell back onto the soft mattress. Sooo comfortable, she sighed. She fell asleep while she was still trying to talk herself into sitting up again.
Callie woke up late the next morning. Sometime in the night she must have shifted so that she was lying on the bed with her legs up and her head on the pillow. She sat up slowly, trying to get her thoughts in order. Motel room…Ware…Mom…oh, Mom….
She straightened sharply. No. Can’t go there. Set it aside. Deal with it later. Too much to do now.
She winced when she saw the time and called Aunt Phoebe to apologize for missing breakfast. Aunt Phoebe told her she understood completely and they agreed to meet at Sally’s for lunch. Relieved, Callie disconnected the call and quickly started making lists.
First, shower and put on fresh clothes. That meant unpacking. Second, she needed to find another job. She could scan job listings on the internet, but she couldn’t do much more until she got back to Charleston. That brought her to the third list – the funeral, the estate, and all related to that which had to be done. Aunt Phoebe was already here, having flown in from Chicago, and would help with all that. But there was still plenty for Callie to take care of.
Feeling more alert, Callie briskly started executing her lists. In less than an hour, she was showered, dressed in jeans and a loose white blouse, and driving to Sally’s Café in downtown Ware for lunch with her aunt.
As she parallel-parked in front of the café, she noted how little Ware had changed in the years she’d been gone. The buildings were a little older and in some cases sported a new coat of paint. But there was no new construction and, as she pushed through the glass door into the café, she saw that not much had changed inside either, at least at Sally’s.
The same square oak tables with their mismatched chairs were scattered across the open room. Bright floral-printed curtains hung at the sides of each of the windows, and shelves still lined the back wall on either side of the batwing doors leading to the kitchen. Even the patrons sitting at some of the well-worn tables looked familiar. Phoebe, dressed in her usual fashionably tailored suit, was easy enough to spot in the far corner of the room. She looked the same as ever – elegant sculptured features like her mom, mostly brown hair, alert light blue eyes.
Callie smiled and wove through the tables to join her aunt. Sitting next to Phoebe, with a view of the room as well as through the nearby window, Callie gestured at the laminated menu on the table. “Anything new?”
“Not a thing,” Phoebe laughed. “It’s like stepping back through time, isn’t it?”
“It is,” agreed Callie. “Kind of reassuring, in a way. So, what are you going to have?”
They exchanged small talk until Sally came over to take their orders. Callie asked for her favorite, pork tenderloin sandwich with onion rings (that had sustained her all through high school). Phoebe virtuously chose the chicken Caesar salad, although she did indulge in a couple of onion rings when Callie offered to share.
After lunch, Callie pulled out her planner and asked, “Okay, what do we need to do?”
Phoebe extracted her smartphone and opened up an app. “I’d suggest we start with Lizzie’s lawyer, then go over to the funeral home. That way we’ll know what we have to work with.”
“Makes sense,” Callie agreed, making notes. They worked for another half hour, interrupted periodically by townsfolk who came over to extend their sympathies. Callie had been dreading that, but instead of feeling like she had to paste on a smile and hold her grief at bay, she found the comments oddly soothing. They made her feel … safe.
Then Phoebe said, “What do you want to do about the house?”
“The house?” Callie echoed blankly.
“Yes, Lizzie told me when she bought it that she wanted to leave it to you. Do you want to sell or rent it out to someone?”
Callie stared down at her planner. Her mother had bought a new house after selling the large family home Callie had grown up in. That was right about the time Callie had graduated from college and moved to South Carolina. The new house was smaller and near downtown. Mom said the smaller house would be easier to keep up and she liked having neighbors right next door. Callie had only been back a few times since then and didn’t really remember much about it. She mumbled, “I don’t know, sell I guess.”
“Well, of course you don’t have to decide this minute,” Phoebe replied. Callie could feel her aunt’s assessing gaze. “But if you do sell, you’ll want someone to go through the house and fix whatever might need fixing first. That might be easier to do while you are still here.”
That made sense of course. “I’ll look into it.”
Phoebe hesitated. “You don’t mind my staying at the house while I’m here, do you? I mean –“
“Oh no!” Callie interrupted hastily. “No, you’re fine. I’m glad you’re staying there.”
“There’s plenty of room for two, or I could get a room at the bed and breakfast –“
“Don’t be silly,” Callie cut her off with a smile.
”Well, okay,” Phoebe conceded. “Of course, you will want to come over and take a look at it while you’re here.”
“Oh yes.” Callie busily wrote a note in her planner, thinking oh no - that’s the last thing I want to do.
"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford