Chapter Twenty: Passages
Callie sat on the bed in her room with the door open so she would see Mina come in. Unfortunately, that proved to be very late. Sometime after midnight, Callie dozed off.
A noise woke her up and she sat up to see Mina floating into the dining area. “So?” Callie asked, scrambling out of her bed into the dining space. “Was it?”
Mina hesitated and then held out her left hand, palm down. The ring on her ring finger had a small diamond in the center with two smaller diamonds on either side, nestled in a delicate gold setting.
They both screamed and hugged before Callie told her how gorgeous the ring was and how radiant Mina looked. Then they made hot chocolate and sat down at the table with a box of Cara’s cookies to talk about Mina’s night.
“Now tell me,” Callie demanded, “I can’t wait any longer. Tell me everything!”
Mina took a bite of cookie, taking her time chewing it before she relented and swallowed. “First of all, the limousine was fabulous. I’ve known one-bedroom apartments that were smaller!
“Before I knew it, we were at the Meadowlark. Oh, Callie, you should have seen the banquet room! The walls and ceiling were covered with billows of white gauzy stuff and about a million twinkly fairy lights. The kids from the high school – you know, Patty, Rick, and Jesse – were playing soft jazz in one corner, and the table was in the other. Oh Callie! it was just exquisite – pure white damask tablecloths, real silver and porcelain, a floral arrangement of creamy pink roses and baby’s breath, oh and a couple of upholstered chairs from the dining room – it was all so elegant.” Mina sighed and lapsed into silence until Callie poked her.
“What – oh, sorry! Okay, so he led me over to my chair – the kids were playing that ‘I will always love you’ song – Patty was singing the lyrics really softly – and before I knew it, Daniel was down on one knee and taking my hand …. “ Mina touched her eyes and then went on, “He said he had loved me from the moment he first saw me and he knew in that moment that he would be in this room, looking at the most beautiful woman he had ever known and asking her to marry him. He said, ‘Will you marry me, Mina?’ And of course I said yes, and then he slipped this beautiful ring on my finger, and then he kissed me …” They both sighed in unison.
“And then we had dinner – it’s funny, I don’t remember anything we ate, I think it may have been beef or something – but I do remember champagne, and we danced, and we talked, and then we danced … oh Callie, I am so happy!” Mina exclaimed, her face glowing and her eyes bright with happy tears.
Callie hugged her. “And I’m so happy for you! Have you set a date yet?”
“Sometime next June. Will you help me plan it, Callie?”
“Of course!” Callie was struck with inspiration. “But you know who should get as your wedding planner.” They looked at each other for a moment, and then, when Mina got it, they both shouted together, “Anne McDonald!”
Callie and Mina talked until the early morning hours. Shortly before dawn, they went to bed. After Callie turned out her light, but before she fell asleep, she took her smartphone from the bedside table and texted Hank.
Mina and Daniel are getting married in June.
She figured it was too early for him to be up and started to put her phone back on the bed table. But then a wave of intense emotion rolled through her. So she waited.
She’d almost given up when her phone beeped.
Happy for them
She waited but there was nothing more.
Be courageous. Ask.
Are you okay?
Another wave of emotion, this time warm and happy.
Yeah, I’m fine, just tired. So are you going to be the maid of honor?
She typed back quickly, I don’t know, I think so. Mina’s going to ask your mom to be the wedding planner
His answer was almost instant – a whole line of hysterically laughing emoticon faces filled her screen. That was followed by another message: That’s perfect actually, she’ll be brilliant. Daniel asked me to be his best man.
She realized that meant Hank had known about this all along, which was a little irritating. But she could hardly fault him for keeping his friend’s secret. She typed: You are the best. But don’t let it go to your head.
His answer came back right away: sorry, too late
She laughed and put the phone down, asleep in seconds.
Callie had started using her planner again to keep track of all her projects and now she opened up a new section: Wedding. Soon she would be adding Christmas Bazaar and New Year’s Ball. She smiled – she did like keeping busy.
But no matter how busy she got, her prayer time was non-negotiable. It had become essential to her, as much a lifeline as being near Hank. So she always started her day down in the prayer room.
From there she went out to the farmhouse to spend the morning with Cara. Then it was back home for lunch (and now wedding consultations with Mina) and then, three days a week, she worked at the book store.
During the afternoons she wasn’t working, she was in her office at home getting caught up on all her projects. Mina usually had dinner with Daniel now, so Callie would work until she got hungry. Then she’d heat something up from the freezer and take it back to the office so she could work some more. What she was doing was fun and satisfying, so she didn’t mind that at all.
Sundays were her favorite days though. She had come to love the Morning Star Church and all the people in it. She loved sitting with Mina, Daniel, and all the McDonalds during the service, especially one particular McDonald.
She loved going over to Tom and Anne’s for Sunday dinner and being immersed in the happy raucous family atmosphere. And often she and Hank would find a quiet corner where they could sit and talk … about the sermon, their friends, what they’d done during the week … she treasured that almost as much as her prayer time.
November slipped into December. Callie filed away all her materials for the Thanksgiving events and turned her attention to Christmas activities. She and Melissa decorated the book store for Christmas and the book club decided to read A Christmas Carol and watch three of the main "Christmas Carol" movies to discuss at their mid-December meeting.
Weather was getting to be more of a challenge. Her SUV tread fearlessly through the snow but wasn’t that great on ice. Hank insisted she keep a bag of food, clothing and emergency supplies in her car. She hadn’t needed to use it yet, but there were a few times she got delayed a few hours until the roads were cleared or treated.
Aunt Phoebe had been in touch. Weather permitting, she planned to fly down to Kansas City on December 22 and drive down to Ware. She was going to stay at the B&B over on Sycamore Street. Her plans were to leave on December 26.
Callie sat in her office, tapping the glass desktop with her pen. Time was running out. She had to go through her mother’s things soon. She’d prayed about it and the silence she felt reminded her of Cara’s technique of waiting. She knew she had to go through her mother’s things. She guessed God was waiting for her to get on with it.
She tugged her phone toward her. There was only one way she felt she could get through this. But she hesitated to ask. Hank had been so busy lately because of the harsh weather. She knew he worried about his grandparents too. He didn’t need more problems. Helping her through all the turmoil of going through her mother’s things definitely qualified as a problem.
If I can help, you must ask me. You would be doing me wrong otherwise.
She sighed. She did promise.
Hank, I need to go through my mom’s stuff. Can you help me do it?
She hesitated for several minutes before gently pressing Send.
His reply came seconds later: Yes
Then: Just tell me when
She read his answer and felt an overwhelming urge to get it done. Okay, she sighed. Now?
On my way.
She wanted to sit up straight and strong as they drove to the storage facility. But she huddled, clutching her thick parka around her, trying to disappear inside it. Hank glanced over and put his arm around her shoulders, encouraging her to slide closer to him on the bench seat. She gratefully leaned against him as some of her fear eased.
Neither of them spoke on the way to the storage facility until he was parked by the units she had rented. Then he said quietly, “You ready?”
She stared at the units. “No. But I’ve been putting this off for months, and I have to get it done before Aunt Phoebe gets here. And today I just had this feeling … ‘now.’”
“So how do you want to do this? Go through the things here? Take them back to the house?”
“Here, I guess. I don’t want to take them back to the house, that would be really hard.”
Hank nodded. “It’s bitter cold today though. Why don’t we take them to my place?”
She looked at him in astonishment. She had never ever been to his house before. “Are you sure?”
“it’s small, but it’s warm, and no one will accidentally wander by.”
Callie laughed shakily. “You had me at warm.”
“Good. Give me the key codes for the locks and I’ll load up.”
“How will you know which ones to load?” she asked
“Ginny told me all your mother’s things were clearly labelled.” He gave her a piece of paper and a pencil to write down the key codes. When she handed them back, Hank said, “I’ll have this done in a jiff.”
She watched from the warmth of the cab. He was carrying two and sometimes three boxes at a time. Guys, she thought irrelevantly. They’re so strong. I wonder how that got decided?
A few moments later, Hank had locked the storage units and jumped back in the truck. “I think the temperature is dropping,” he told her, putting his seat belt back on. “It’s freezing out there.”
“We can do this another day,” she suggested, a small flare of hope flashing through her.
“No, you don’t get off that easy,” he chuckled as he put the truck in gear. “I just meant it’s a good idea we didn’t try to do this at the units. You’d be frozen solid before you got through the first box.”
“Oh,” she said, the flare of hope vanishing.
Hank stopped the truck in front of some other units and turned to her. “I understand how tough this is for you. But you’ve decided this has to be done, and you are the strongest, most courageous person I’ve ever met.”
“’Be courageous,’” she echoed faintly.
He smiled. “Don’t forget the other part: ‘Do not be afraid.’” He put his gloved hand on the shoulder of her parka. “Callie, I know you can do this. If you don’t trust me, trust God. He knows you can do this too.”
She gazed up at him and said, almost inaudibly, “I trust you.”
“Good.” He held his elbow out. “Hang on to my arm. I’m taking the back way to my house and it can get pretty bumpy.”
She willingly wrapped her hands around his upper arm and he tucked his elbow back in. They left the highway for a side road that cut through some fields. He turned onto a dirt track that followed an irrigation ditch to an even fainter track between two fields. That led to what she thought was an equipment shed, but as they got closer, she saw it was a little house, complete with bushes around it. Hank parked right by the door and helped her down.
Callie caught her breath as the frigid wind bit her face. He told her to go on in, he’d bring some of the boxes to her. She dashed for the door and rushed in, greeted by a welcome surge of warmth.
There wasn’t much to the little house. On the back wall was a kitchen counter and an enclosure that she guessed was a bathroom. A small rectangular table was on her left, with a couple of wooden folding chairs. A closet extended from there to the door. On her right was a camp bed.
She shook her head. Hank wasn’t kidding! This was teeny tiny.
The door bumped her from behind and she jumped out of the way. Hank brought in two boxes and kicked the door shut behind him. “I figure we’ll rotate the boxes; I don’t think we can fit them all in here at the same time.”
She sat down on one of the wooden chairs, easing out of her parka and peeling off her gloves. “Thank you, Hank.”
“You’re welcome,” he smiled. He moved the other wooden chair next to hers, sitting so he faced her side. Then he drew one of the boxes closer. “I figure we’d start out easy. This is bedding.”
She took a deep breath and opened the box. Inside were the sheets and comforter from her mother’s bed and some pillows in matching pillowcases. None of them looked familiar. She closed the box and Hank moved it out of the way. He pulled the next one to her. “There are clothes in this one.”
She opened the box. The contents of this box were more familiar. Her mother’s dresses, a couple of skirts, half a dozen blouses and a pair of slacks, her mother’s robe and nightdress. She rubbed the flannel of the robe between her fingertips, thinking of all the times she had seen her mother wearing this … when Callie was so sick with the flu her senior year in high school … cups of cocoa late at night when they couldn’t sleep … Christmas mornings as Callie opened her presents. A tear slipped down her cheek.
Hank said beside her, “Is this something you would like to keep?”
She studied the robe and answered, her voice roughened with unshed tears, “I think so. There are a lot of happy memories associated with this robe. Some are sad, but most are happy, and all of them remind me of how much … how much my mother … loved me. I will want to remember that.”
He took the robe from her and carefully folded it to set aside. He looked deep into her eyes and she smiled, resolutely. He smiled back. “I’ll get the next boxes.”
The next three boxes weren’t so bad. The clothes were newer and evoked no memories: a heavy coat with scarves and gloves, some sweaters, a tailored black suit, and an assortment of underthings. When she got to those last, Hank looked away while she went through them and she almost laughed. That was Hank.
The last box of clothing contained an elegant ball gown. Callie held it up with wide eyes. She had never seen her mother dressed like this, at least that she could remember. Here was a sign of that other Elizabeth Robinson she had discovered last summer. The fabric was a slinky pale blue silk, shot through with silver strands. The back was cut low and the front rose to the neck, with no sleeves and a long sheath of a skirt. Callie stared at it in awe. Beside her she heard Hank whisper, “You would look so beautiful in that dress.” Callie folded it reverently and handed it to Hank to put with the robe.
He brought in the boxes from the kitchen. There were only a few things in those that she wanted to keep for herself. Then Hank carried in the last two boxes. “I think these will be the hardest. You ready?” She took another deep breath and nodded. He opened the first box for her and sat back in his chair.
These were the other things that had been in her mother’s room. Reading glasses … a paperback novel with a bookmark in it … a small picture of her dad … a picture of Callie. These must have been on her mother’s nightstand, to be close while Mom slept. Callie smiled, filled with love for her mom.
She went through the rest of the items in the boxes, keeping her tears inside. Some items went in the pile Hank had started for her. Some that she thought Aunt Phoebe might want stayed in the box. Finally she was done. With one more deep breath, she slowly, gently closed the box.
Hank whispered, “I’ll be right back.” He took the boxes back out to the truck.
When he came back, she was holding one of the items she had wanted to keep. It was a misshapen plaster sheep, covered with pink paint. Hank sat back down beside her and she held up the funny-looking sheep. “I made this in summer camp for my mom. Pink was her favorite color.”
Hank lifted his eyes from the sheep to her face, and put one hand on her shoulder, the other on her knee. And waited.
Callie went on, her eyes filling with tears again, “I loved her so much, Hank. I miss her. Did you know I talked with her the night before she died? I was telling her I was coming for a visit Memorial Day weekend. I thought …” she sighed. “I had gotten caught up in all the things I was doing and hadn’t been home in a long time. In part thanks to Mina, I finally realized I needed to get back to Ware more often, so I called her and we made our plans to be together during Memorial Day weekend.”
The tears began falling out of her eyes, down her cheeks. “And then … the next day … she was gone. I had waited too long.” The sheep wobbled in her hands and Hank took it from her, setting back with her other saved items. “I miss her so much, Hank. I can’t ever get her back. Not here on earth, with me.” She sank against him, weary and worn. His arms enclosed her, one hand resting protectively over her hair.
She heard him say softly, almost in a whisper, “She loved you, Callie. She kept your sheep all these years because she loved you. All those other things that she associated with you, she kept, because she loved you. Can’t you feel that love, Callie?”
She rested against him, secure in his arms, and shifted her focus. She put herself in her mother’s place and she understood the love her mother felt for her. And then – she felt it, filling her, surrounding her. She relaxed into it.
“She is still watching over you, Callie. She’s sad that you have to suffer, she’s proud of how you have fought through this, and of all that you gave to others even though you were feeling so much pain yourself. She loves you without reserve, Callie. She will never really leave you.”
She knew that was true. She felt it. She nestled deeper into Hank’s arms, wanting to stay there forever.
She didn’t know how much time had passed but eventually she knew she had to get up. She stirred and Hank loosened his hold on her. She sat up and opened her eyes, surprised that the room was dark, only the moonlight filtering through the window shades providing any light. “Close your eyes,” Hank said softly. She did.
She sensed light flooding the room and slowly opened her eyes. Hank had reached up and switched on the overhead light. He glanced at his wrist. “About 4 in the morning. How do you feel?”
Callie thought for a moment. “Complete. More complete. I guess there will always be an empty part.” She flushed and glanced around the room. “I, uh, I …”
“Over there,” he smiled, pointing to the bathroom enclosure. “Can you get up?”
“Mmhm.” She stood up and he kept his hands on her waist until she steadied.
When she came back out, the boxes were gone, the chairs were back where they’d been when she’d first come in, and Hank had been making coffee. The rich aroma filled the small space and gave a lift to her spirits.
He poured the coffee into thick white diner mugs and set them on the table. They sat down together. Hank asked, “Is Mina going to be worried about you?”
“I don’t think so,” Callie shook her head. “I told her what I was doing and that I would be with you.”
He looked pleased at that.
She sipped the hot coffee and waited for the caffeine to kick in. She still felt exhausted and the caffeine didn’t seem to be having much effect. Hank studied her closely. “I’d let you sleep here but that bed isn’t very comfortable. Let’s get you home so you can sleep in your own bed.”
Callie agreed; she wasn’t so much tired as simply drained of strength, and the thought of curling up in her soft bed was irresistible. He bundled her up in her parka and gloves (“it is beyond cold out there”) and bustled her into the truck. Running around to the driver’s side of the truck, he jumped in and got it started before putting on his seatbelt. “It’ll warm up in here in a few minutes,” he told her.
She tried to nod but wasn’t sure he could tell with the parka hood hiding her. Her face was freezing, but at least the parka was keeping her warm. The truck startled rolling.
The moonlight washed over the frozen fields and she could see the farmhouse slide past in the distance. Soon the town came into view, and minutes later, the truck stopped in front of her house. “Stay there,” he told her. He got out to come around and help her out. She was becoming more exhausted by the moment and her legs weren’t very steady. He simply scooped her up and ran up the steps. “Key?”
She fumbled in her pocket and he reached in to get the keys for her. Moments later, she was sitting on her bed and Hank was taking off her parka and gloves. Then she was lying on her bed and he was tucking around her the thick blanket she kept at the end of her bed. She slipped into sleep without another thought.
As Hank came out of Callie’s room, Mina appeared in the doorway of the other bedroom. “Hank?”
He glanced back at Callie and softly closed the door to her room. “She’s fine. Just worn out.”
Mina nodded, the drowsiness falling away. “I’ll make coffee.”
“I need to bring in something from the truck first,” he said, heading for the front door. While Callie had been in the bathroom, he’d emptied out a bin her kept in his closet and transferred the things she wanted to keep to the bin. Now he brought it in and slipped the bin inside Callie’s room. She didn’t even move.
He sat down at the island where a cup of coffee and a plate of pie were waiting for him. He looked at the filling – cherry. He grinned. “You are such a good friend.”
“You’re no slouch yourself,” Mina smiled.
Hank took a bit of pie and closed his eyes in bliss. Then he took a drink of his coffee and said, “She went through it all. She’ll be okay now.”
“Was she up all night?”
Hank shrugged. “She’s drained – emotionally, physically, you name it. She’ll sleep for a long time, I guess, but then she’ll be fine.” He slipped out his phone to check his messages. There were several up to about noon yesterday, then nothing.
“A lot of people texted me when they couldn’t reach you,” Mina explained. “I told your family that you were with Callie, helping her do something concerning her mother and they should wait until they heard from you. I told the other people you were out of pocket for a while and you would get back with them when you could.”
“Daniel is a lucky man,” Hank grinned.
Mina smiled back. “Thank you. Remind Daniel of that from time to time if you would.”
“Oh, trust me,” he assured her, “I don’t have to do that. He knows.”
She glowed and he smiled at her.
He ate the rest of his pie in a couple of bites and quickly finished his coffee. “Thanks – I gotta get moving.”
Mina reached across the counter and put a hand on his arm to stop him. He looked at her, questioning, and she said seriously, “There aren’t enough words to thank you for all that you do for that girl.”
Hank nodded, closing his thoughts so they wouldn’t show on his face. “Gotta go.”
He jumped in the truck – dang, it had to be ten below zero! – and started the engine. First, he’d take those boxes back to the storage shed for Callie. Then he’d swing by his grandparents’ to check on them and maybe get some breakfast. After that, he could go home and sleep a bit. A lot, he corrected with a wry smile.
He was amazed by Callie. She’d been through the wringer this year, but he was awed by her courage and strength. Well, she was through the worst of it now, and her faith in God got stronger every day. She was going to be fine.
He sighed, turning into the storage facility. Then she’d be ready for new challenges, get her inheritance, and strike out for new places. She’d be gone.
Ah, but he would have wonderful memories. Not just of her, but of the moments they had been so connected … when he had been able to help her. Like last night when she rested in his arms, and he held her through the long hours, unwilling to move in case that would disturb her. He sighed. No sense in dwelling on it. His job was to help her get to where she needed to be, then let her go when she was ready to leave again.
He stowed the boxes and locked the doors, then headed back to the farmhouse. Gramma and Grandpa were up and he could smell the cinnamon rolls from the yard. And steak … and fried potatoes … he took the steps three at a time, suddenly ravenous.
The intense look of relief on Gramma’s face made him feel guilty for not contacting them earlier, but before he knew it, he was being seated at the table and a plate of food was being put down in front of him. All thought left as he attacked the food, hungrier than he could ever remember being.
When he finally had enough, he sat back and sighed. “I’m sorry, I was starving.”
Gramma set a glass of orange juice in front of him before going back to the stove. “How is she?”
“Good. She’s got it worked out now. But she’s exhausted. I’m guessing she’ll sleep for hours.” He drank half the large glass of orange juice. “Thanks, Gramma.”
“What can we do for you, boy?” Grandpa asked. Hank smiled – he was the one who usually asked Grandpa that question.
“Well, you could let Mom and Dad know I’m okay. Right now I think I’ll head back to my place for some sleep.”
As he got up, Gramma handed him a full grocery bag. “For when you wake up. You’ll be back for dinner?”
“I feel like I could sleep for days, but I will if I’m awake.” He stood up, grabbing the sack as he kissed his grandmother’s cheek. “Thanks, Gramma.”
His grandfather clapped a hand on his shoulder. “You’ve done a good day’s work, grandson. Probably the best you’ve ever done.”
Hank saw the sadness in Grandpa’s eyes, a sign that his grandfather understood what it had cost him. “Thanks, Grandpa,” he said simply. “I think so too.”
"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford