“I’ve kept in touch with Mr. Toscopoulos,” Phoebe said shyly. “I had a lot of questions. He had a lot of answers. So last week – I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”

Callie squealed, jumped up, and ran around the table to throw her arms around her aunt. “I am so happy!”

Phoebe glanced around the room – everyone was staring at them. “I knew I shouldn’t have told you here,” she said with a wry quirk in the corner of her mouth.

Callie waved at the people with a happy smile and sat back down. “Oh, don’t mind them. They’d all be happy if they knew why I did that.”

Phoebe lifted one shoulder. “Well, maybe – this is all pretty new to me.” Then she smiled. “But it’s not like I’m going to change my mind. Anyway, now I look at things a little differently and I’ve made some decisions.”

Callie was intrigued and leaned forward. “Such as?”

“Such as … they have to downsize at work, and they’re offering voluntary early retirement – with a nice little separation incentive. I retired right before I came down here.”

Callie was astonished. “You retired?”

“I did,” Phoebe nodded. “I am now officially a woman of leisure.”

“I know how much you liked your job,” Callie said hesitantly. “Was it hard?”

Phoebe shook her head with a smile. “No, it really wasn’t. Like I said, I’m looking at things differently now.” She poked at her salad with her fork. “So, I called Olivia O’Neill and asked her if she knew of any houses near the downtown area in Ware.”

Callie stared at her, stunned.

“Wouldn’t you know, by sheer coincidence, a small one-bedroom house on Elm Street had just gone on the market. The separation incentive made a good down-payment.”

“You’re moving to Ware?” Callie gasped.

Phoebe nodded, with a happy smile. “I like it here. When I was younger, I was drawn to the excitement of the big city and the opportunities to move up that I would never have had here in Ware. But – been there, done that. Now I love being home.”

Phoebe set down her fork. “That brings me to the next thing. I know I’m a silent partner but I was wondering if you could use an office manager slash financial adviser.”

“I would love it!” Callie cried out. The other people in the dining room looked at them and started whispering.

Phoebe laughed. “You might as well go ahead and tell them.”

With a huge grin, Callie stood up and announced, “My Aunt Phoebe is moving to Ware!”

The people in the room cheered and clapped. Phoebe turned bright red, though Callie sensed that the warm welcome pleased her aunt. The noise died down after a moment, but as people left, or as there was an opportunity, they came over to introduce themselves and offer whatever help Phoebe might need.

“That goes for me and Hank too,” Callie said during a lull. “When do you move in?”

“Um, the movers should be here tomorrow,” Phoebe admitted.

“Wow, you move fast,” responded Callie, impressed. She pulled out her phone and typed a message to Hank:  Aunt Phoebe is moving to Ware!!!

While she was entering the next part of her message, Hank’s answer came in:  Already heard, it’s on the WIN

Movers arrive tomorrow at Elm St, can you help?

Of course.

Then, Daniel says he’s in too. Whatever she needs.

Callie smiled and showed Phoebe the text. Phoebe blinked to clear her eyes. “I just love those boys,” she said, as if she were speaking to herself. Then she straightened. “Well, we should get going. Do you want to put that order in for Hank and Daniel?”

Callie waved to Sally, just as her phone chirped. She looked down and laughed. “That’s fast even by Ware standards!”

“What?”

Callie grinned. “Ginny Austin wants to know if I have a key to the Elm Street house.”

Phoebe looked confused for a moment, then the light dawned. “They want to clean.”

“And more I would guess,” Callie nodded. “You won’t have to worry about going to the grocery store for a while.”

“Those women,” Phoebe said in awe. “They are amazing.”

Sally appeared. “Are you ready for that take-out order now?”

“Yes, Sally, thanks,” Callie smiled quickly.

“Anything else for you two?”

“No, we’re good,” Callie told her. “The food was delicious, as always!”

Sally tore a page off her order pad. “Thanks. I’ll be right back.” And she was off, hurrying to the kitchen.

Callie looked down at the receipt. “Ah.”

Phoebe looked at her curiously. “What?”

“’Welcome to Ware,’” Callie chuckled, holding up the receipt. ”Your lunch today is on the house.”

Phoebe held up her fork. “It is great to be back home.”

~~~

 

The office turned out even better than Callie had hoped. Light and airy, with white walls and furniture and cheerful yellow accents, the office space was both inviting and practical. Andy O’Neill consulted on their automation needs and stayed to help with the renovations.

Once the upstairs office was finished, Phoebe quickly made it her domain. She handled everything administrative and financial, including ordering whatever was needed for the events. That freed Callie to spend more time at the farmhouse. She loved being with the grandparents. She learned something from them every day and one of her great pleasures was doing whatever she could to make things easier for them.

On Sunday morning in early May, she was in the church’s fellowship hall after the service, visiting with friends before the family gathered at Tom and Ann’s for Sunday dinner. Hank was a short distance away, talking with Daniel and Mike O’Neill. Mr. Toscopoulos appeared at her side and she smiled happily. “Mr. Toscopoulos! How are you doing?”

“Oh, very well, I would say,” he smiled back. “I can see how you are.”

Callie laughed. “I guess it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? And I owe a lot of that to you.”

He looked around the room as he shook his head. “Messengers shouldn’t take credit for the message, or for what is done by those who have courage. I understand you are managing the Vacation Bible Study again this year?”

“I am,” she nodded. “And I hear that you and Phoebe are planning a lot of summer activities for the senior ministry.”

His smile reappeared. “Ah, Phoebe, she is a wonderful addition to our church. We may need your assistance with some of the events.”

“Any time,” Callie readily agreed.

“Ah, there is Mrs. Schmidt. Forgive me, I should go talk with her. She was telling me about a friend of hers, Linda Douglas.”

“Oh I know Linda. She goes to Saint Mark’s.”

“Yes, she is having a difficult time right now. She recently had an operation at West Road Hospital – oh, she is recovering,” he interrupted himself when he saw Callie’s expression. “But she can’t go back to work yet and the medical bills are overwhelming. She is troubled.”

Callie nodded.

“So, I go.” He looked back at her. “You are a blessing to us all. I thank God for his sending you to us.”

That startled her but he simply smiled and walked away. She shrugged and made a note in her planner, which was never far from her side. She was just putting it back in her purse when Hank joined her.

“Ready to go?” he asked.

“All set,” she said happily, talking his arm.

As they walked to the truck, where Grandpa and Gramma were waiting, Hank asked, “Who is it this time?”

“Mrs. Douglas. She has a lot of medical bills and can’t go back to work yet.” She knew that Hank had figured out that Mr. Toscopoulos was one of her informants. Sometime next week, Mrs. Douglas would find out all her medical bills had been paid – no one would be sure quite how it happened, because there was no record of who paid. It had all been done in cash.

Hank stopped her as they passed a large silver maple and when she looked up questioningly, he kissed her soundly. “What was that for?” she asked breathlessly.

“Privileges of a husband,” he smiled – that slow, lazy smile that always made her heart turn over. “I get to kiss my wife whenever I want.”

She arched an eyebrow. “Oh yeah? Betcha can’t do it again.” She was happily proven wrong.

“Come on, woman,” he said with a low chuckle, “they’re waiting on us.”

~~~

Hank leaned back in his chair and stretched. “Mom, that’s the best Sunday dinner I’ve ever had.”

His mom smiled at him from her place at the table next to his dad. “Thank you, son.”

He looked around the table at his family and friends with quiet satisfaction. This was what he considered most important, more than his work, more than his home. Only God had priority over this.

His gaze snagged on Daniel. Something was going on there. He didn’t know what – Daniel and Mina seemed happy. Daniel’s law practice was going well. Daniel would never get rich, in a town like Ware, but he did all right. He was active in the church and the McDonalds had welcomed him into their family – Hank was happy to have him as a brother.

Hank waited until the dinner was over and the men were going into the living room to watch the baseball game. He caught Daniel’s arm and nodded his head toward the patio door.

Outside, in the warm sunlight, they sat down in the patio chairs. Hank leaned forward, hands clasped and elbows on his knees. “What’s going on?”

Daniel rubbed his face with both his hands. “We never talked much about my family in Texas.”

Hank waited.

Daniel studied an apple tree in the corner of the yard. “My dad wanted me to go into his firm – corporate law. I didn’t. That’s how I wound up in Ware. A friend of mine in law school was joking that this was the only town he ever heard of that didn’t have an attorney. I drove down here from KU to check it out. Liked what I saw and decided to set up my practice here.”

Daniel’s foot started tapping. “Dad was furious. Said he was cutting me out of his will. Haven’t heard from him since.”

Hank tried to imagine his own father doing that to him. But it was impossible. Dad would never do something like that. Hank felt a deep sadness for his friend, whose father could.

“Thing is,” Daniel was saying, “Mina’s been after me to try and get things right with Dad. Not just for me - she thinks he’d want to see his grandchild, when we have children. And then there’s my mom – she’s an innocent party in all this. Mina hasn’t even met her.”

Daniel stood up and walked over to the edge of the patio, fists jammed in his pockets. He said sharply, “I don’t care if I ever see that man again. I don’t even want to be in the same room with him.” He looked up at the sky and sighed. “But what would you do if Callie asked you to do something like that?”

“Get it done,” Hank responded immediately. “Even if it killed me.”

“And there you have it,” Daniel sighed.

Hank got up to stand beside him. “How can I help?”

Daniel shook his head. After a moment, he said, “Be my brother.”

Hank put his arm around Daniel’s shoulders. “When do we leave?”

 

  

 

⇐ Chapter Twenty-Seven   Chapter Twenty-Nine

 

"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford