Callie sat very still. “How long will you be gone?”

He stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her, looking at her in the mirror. “I don’t know. Could be a week maybe.”

The last time she had been apart from Hank that long was when she left for college. An involuntary shudder ran through her. He held her tight and she could sense the pain he was feeling. She knew if she asked, he would stay. He was waiting for her to decide.

But how could she do that to him? She took a deep breath. “You’ll keep in touch with me.”

He nodded soberly.

She closed her eyes. Be courageous. “Come home safe.”

~~~


Hank was impressed by the huge mansion that Daniel’s father lived in. Three stories of brick in-your-face, he thought wryly. Daniel parked his car and started up the steps to the brick walkway.

Hank tagged along after him, still not sure why he was here. He didn’t think Daniel needed him for moral support. Maybe Daniel hoped Hank could keep him from getting in a fistfight with his dad.

A pretty older woman with dark hair answered the doorbell and immediately threw her arms around Daniel. He laughed, half embarrassed, half-overcome. “Hi Mom.”

“Daniel,” she sighed happily, stepping back to look at him. “It has been far too long.”

“I know, Mom.” He moved so she could see Hank. “This is my friend Hank McDonald.”

She smiled warmly. “Pleased to meet you, Mr. McDonald.”

“My pleasure,” he nodded, “and please, call me Hank.”

Daniel told his mother, “Hank’s been like a brother to me, Mom. I asked him to come with me.”

Mrs. Alverson looked at him curiously, but only said, “Come on in. Can I get anything for your two?”

“Just Dad,” Daniel answered tightly as they stepped through the door.

Mrs. Alverson closed the door and led the way into the elegantly furnished living room before she said, “Have a seat.” They took the two armchairs and she sat on the sofa across from them. “He’s not here, Daniel.”

Daniel’s chin came up and he looked out the living room window. “Where is he?” he asked tightly.

She said sadly, “He told me he was going to the office.”

Daniel exploded from his chair. “Typical! He knew I was coming here and he ran off to hide in his office.”

Hank sensed that the anger was covering up a deeper pain, and evidently Mrs. Alverson had the same idea. She got up and put her hand on Daniel’s arm. “Son, you have to understand how hurt he was when you didn’t join his firm. He’s never gotten over it.”

“Oh I understand about hurt,” he retorted bitterly. Then he shook his head and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry, Mom. You shouldn’t be caught in the middle of all this.”

“I ache for you both,” she said sadly, tears brimming in her eyes.

“We’ll find a way to put an end to this, I promise,” he told her. “Okay, Mom, we’ve got to get going for now. But I’ll come back by to see you before we go back to Kansas.”

She kissed him on his cheek. “I love you, son.”

“I love you too, Mom,” he smiled, squeezing her arm. Then he walked swiftly out of the room as Hank hurried to catch up with him.

“Daniel!” he called out as they reached the car.

Daniel turned abruptly and barked, “What!”

“Hey, man,” Hank said, putting his hands in his pockets and looking Daniel in the eye. “Are we good?”

It took a tense minute, but then Daniel leaned back against the car and he relaxed. “Yeah, Hank, I’m sorry.”

Hank clapped him on the shoulder. “I know. Now, if you think you can keep yourself from decking the guy, let’s go find him.”
 

~~~

 

 

The Alverson law firm occupied two floors of a glittering downtown skyscraper. Hank wondered how Daniel had become the kind of person who would turn his back on all this to practice law in a small Kansas town.

He glanced over at Daniel as they rode up in the elevator. His friend was strung tight as a wire. Not seeing anything else he could do, Hank prayed. Lord, please bring these two together. This family needs Your healing hand.

Daniel reached the secretary’s desk in three long strides. “Mr. Alverson?” the middle-aged woman said in surprise. “Is that really you?”

“Is he in?” Daniel replied tersely.

“Well, yes, but –“

Daniel went straight to the double doors near the desk and pushed his way inside. Hank shrugged his shoulders apologetically at the secretary and followed Daniel.

The father was seated behind an enormous mahogany desk. He was a short, stocky man, with a crewcut of graying hair. He had craggy features like Daniel, but his father’s were broadly spaced. He looked up angrily at his son. “What are you doing here?”

Hank could tell that was like touching a match to oil-soaked kindling. He gently closed the office door as Daniel said in a low, tight tone, “You knew I was coming today to see you at the house. You weren’t there, so I came here.”

“I had better things to do,” the father said coldly, picking up a sheaf of papers.

Daniel planted his hands on the glass top covering the desk and leaned forward. Hank edged a little closer, just in case. “Look, Dad, I get it that you’re done with me. That suits me just fine. But someday you’re going to be a grandfather and I thought that would mean something to you. I thought you would at least make enough peace with me so you could see your own grandchild!”

Hank thought he saw a flash of pain in the man’s dark brown eyes, but Mr. Alverson’s face showed only cold indifference. “I no longer have any interest in you, young man, since you clearly have no interest in me.”

Daniel threw up his hands. “Oh what’s the point!”

Hank subtly moved a step in Daniel’s direction so he would be in the way when Daniel whirled around to storm out of the office. Daniel stared at Hank, who shook his head once, slightly. They stood there for a moment. Then Daniel took a deep breath and turned around. He sat down in a chair and Hank sat on a sofa over by the door.

Mr. Alverson looked up at Daniel. “You still here?”

“I am.” Hank was relieved to hear the calm tone. “You said I had no interest in you, Dad. But that’s not true. It was the firm I didn’t have an interest in.”

His father flushed. “I am this firm! I built it from nothing, and I always thought that I would be able to turn it over to my son. But you just blew that off!”

“No, Dad, that wasn’t it at all.” Daniel sounded shocked. “I just wanted to practice a different kind of law. I thought about coming here and working in the firm, I did. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I would be miserable. Not because of you, but because I would be doing work I didn’t want to do.”

“It’s a good life –“

“It is for you!” Daniel cut him off. “Not for me!”

“Why not!” Mr. Alverson exploded. “I worked my whole life at this, I poured myself into this, I wanted you to be with me! My son!” Hank again caught a flash of pain underneath the anger.

Daniel answered quietly, “I don’t want a big firm like this, Dad. I want my own small office, where I can help my neighbors.” Daniel paused, and then continued, “Dad, I’ve always admired you for what you’ve been able to do. But you are more to me than that.”

Mr. Alverson turned away. “When you rejected working with this firm, it felt like you were rejecting me.”

“No – Dad -“ Daniel was shaking his head in disbelief. “Dad, I love you, I could never do that!”

Mr. Alverson turned around, the pain and confusion now clear in his face. “But I don’t understand, son! I just wanted to work with you, help you get a good start! Why didn’t you want – that?”

It was a last-second correction, so quick it would have been easy to miss. But Daniel had caught it. “I am just not a corporate law type,” he shrugged. “But Dad, I always wanted to work with you. I always wanted you. You’re my dad.”

Mr. Alverson blinked and looked around the office for a distraction as that sank in. He noticed Hank for the first time and flushed, asking brusquely, “Who’s this?”

Hank stood up and came over to the desk to shake hands. “Hank McDonald, sir, I’m a friend of your son.”

“Hrrmmph,” the father grunted, shaking Hank’s hand.

“This is quite a firm you’ve built,” Hank said admiringly. “You must have a lot of satellite offices.”

When Mr. Alverson started to answer, Hank raised an eyebrow. Mr. Alverson looked at him sharply. Hank returned his gaze with a mild expression. “Hrrmmph,” the father said again, looking at his son, then back at Hank, then back at Daniel. “Odd you should ask about that,” he finally answered Hank. “I’ve been wanting to branch out a bit, you know, get into different types of law.” He turned his attention back to Daniel. “Like family law. I think it would be wise to choose an experienced firm and arrange some sort of partnership. The parties could exchange information and services, but as far as the businesses were concerned, they’d be completely separate. Don’t want to fix what ain’t broke, right, son?”

Daniel looked stunned. His father said softly, “Right, son?”

Daniel said slowly, “Right, Dad.” Then he grinned. “That sounds like a great idea! Of course, I imagine you would want to perform some onsite visits.”

Mr. Alverson’s face lit up. “Oh, yes, several times a year, I would think.” He held out his hand to Daniel. “I think this is the only contract we need.”

Daniel shook the hand firmly. “Good for me, Dad.”

Mr. Alverson turned back to Hank. “You a lawyer too?”

“No sir,” Hank said pleasantly, “I’m a handyman.”

Daniel added, “He fixes things.”

“Interesting,” Mr. Alverson said thoughtfully. “You two are friends, I take it.”

“Yes, sir,” Hank nodded.

“Brothers, Dad,” added Daniel.

“Happy to meet you,” Mr. Alverson said, shaking hands with Hank.

“Same here, sir,” Hank responded. “Well, you two look like you have a lot to discuss so I’ll just go downstairs.”

“I’ll go with you,” Daniel said and then told his father, “I’ll be right back, Dad.”

Daniel went down to the main floor with Hank and then kept walking out to his car. There he opened the trunk, took out his duffle bag, and said, “Here.” He tossed the keys to Hank. “You can go on back if you want, Hank. I’ll find my own way home.”

Hank was dumbfounded. “You want me to drive your car back to Ware?”

“Don’t you have someone waiting on you?” Daniel grinned.

“I do,” Hank agreed, but he hesitated. “You’re sure?”

Daniel nodded. “Thanks, Hank.”

“Brothers, right?” Hank smiled.

They fist-bumped, then Daniel slipped the duffle bag strap over his shoulder. “See you soon, Hank – drive safe!”

Hank took a moment after he got in the car to pull out his phone and type in a text message. On my way home All went well See you soon my love

He hit Send and then fastened his seatbelt. His spirits soared. He was going home!

~~~

Hank sat on the swing on the front porch, enjoying the sunset and warm May breezes. When it got darker, the fireflies would appear, twinkling in the fading twilight. Callie came out to sit beside him; he lifted up his arm so she could snuggle in, then lowered it to rest around her shoulders.

They sat in silence for several minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Callie sighed, “A year ago, I never even dreamed I would be sitting here with you like this.”

“You went through a lot,” he responded softly.

“So did you.”

He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “You were worth it.”

He could hear the smile in her voice. “I love you so much, Hank.”

I dreamed about this, he realized suddenly, at the hospital. Summer, and we were sitting here on the swing. I thanked God that she was safe. He pulled her a little closer.

“What?” she asked curiously.

“Just thinking how blessed I am.” He bent his head down to hers and whispered, his heart full, “I love you, Callie.”

She turned and, with a smile, kissed him. He smiled back.

This is just about perfect.

 

 

⇐ Chapter Twenty-Eight

 

"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford