Chapter Two: Adrift
The warm breeze filtered in through the thin sheer curtains at the open windows in Callie’s living room, bringing with it scents of azaleas and wisteria. Her apartment was small and sparsely furnished with worn Scandinavian furniture that came with the apartment. But the apartment was close to the ocean and had a small balcony with a great view of the water. Callie loved it.
Mina had come over to help Callie with her spring cleaning and they were sitting on the floor in the sunlit room, sorting through all the items they had pulled out of the living room closet.
Mina held up a bright orange and green paisley scarf. “Really, Callie?”
Callie laughed. “I know, I know, but my best friend in college gave it to me.”
“How long ago?” Mina asked, still holding the garish scarf at arm’s length.
“Oh, um, a while ago – six or seven years, maybe?” Callie shrugged. “I know I packed it up when I left college.”
“Then it is my pleasure to inform you that the statute of limitations on keeping this scarf has run out,” Mina grinned. “Dump it.”
“Add it to the Salvation Army box,” sighed Callie. “Though I’m not sure they’ll take it.”
“It may be too much even for them,” Mina agreed with a wry grin. “As long as it goes, I don’t care.”
Callie went back to sorting out the box in front of her. She held up a shell necklace. “From my mom when I was sixteen.”
Mina’s expression softened as she looked at the silver chain with its small pale shells strung along it. “That’s beautiful, Callie. Are you still planning to go back to Ware this summer?”
Callie put her head down over the box. “Well, no, not really. I’m buried in work. I was thinking Christmas, maybe.”
Mina topped folding the scarf and stared at her. “Bet your mom didn’t like that.”
“No, she didn’t,” Callie sighed, sitting back. “But it’s just a few months, and we talk on the phone all the time.”
“New subject. How are you doing with not-Wes?” Mina asked casually, folding a winter coat.
“Oh, okay, I guess. It’s been three months.” Callie shrugged, reaching for another box. “I just try to focus on other stuff.”
Mina hesitated, then said, “You saw the notice in the paper, I suppose.”
The letter Callie was holding crinkled as her fingers tightened. “You mean the wedding announcement?” It had been in the paper yesterday, complete with pictures of not-Wes and Miss Lucy. “He’s got his life to live, and I have mine. I wish him well with it.”
“Really?” Mina asked, raising an eyebrow.
Callie unexpectedly laughed at the look on Mina’s face. “Well, that sounds better than saying I hope he rots in hell.”
“Yeah, I’m mostly just tired anymore,” Callie sighed. “Tired of thinking about it, tired of hurting, tired of the whole thing. So when I saw the wedding announcement, yes it hurt, but mainly I just thought, good riddance to bad rubbish.”
“Well, that’s progress, I suppose,” Mina smiled.
“I suppose. You ready for lunch?” asked Callie, tucking the flaps on the box back into place.
Mina stood up and brushed off the knees of her stonewashed jeans. “You bet. Whatcha got?”
“How does shrimp and grits sound?” Callie shoved the boxes to one side and headed for the small shotgun kitchen. Mina followed, stopping at the entranceway and watching Callie assemble the hot food.
“Oh my gosh, that smells so good!” Mina sighed, breathing in the scents of shrimp and garlic and butter. “I love your shrimp and grits.”
“Well, it’s not really mine,” Callie demurred, finding a couple of spoons in the silverware drawer and handing one to Mina.
“You’re the one that got the recipe from Oscar’s and you made it from scratch,” Mina said, reaching for her plate of food. “Close enough for me.”
They moved back into the living room, settling on the sofa and upholstered chair by the windows. “So,” Mina went on between bites, “church tomorrow. Want to come along?”
“Oh, maybe next time. I thought I’d just stay home and relax on Sunday.”
“Oh, come on, Mina,” Callie protested, “you know I’m not into all that church stuff. I mean, it’s fine and all that for those who like it, but it’s just not for me.”
“Okay, suit yourself. But you know I have to remind you – you might not like the idea of church, but church was most definitely made for you. He loves you, Callie.”
“Thanks, Mina,” smiled Callie. “And I do know that. Believe me, He and I have had some pretty earnest conversations over the last three months. But I’m still a work in progress, I guess.”
“As are we all,” Mina agreed. ”Okay, but you know the invitation is always open.”
“Roger that,” Callie smiled and then moved the conversation to what they would tackle in her small apartment that afternoon.
Monday morning was sunny and cool, promising a glorious spring day. Callie could feel her spirits lift as she rolled down the window in her car and breathed in the fresh, ocean-scented air. She felt like she was finally turning the corner on the not-Wes disaster. And she was really happy about the conversation she’d had with her mother last night.
Ever since Saturday, when Mina asked her about going home, Callie’s thoughts keep going back to when she could go back for a visit. Phil would have a fit if she asked for time off. Sunday night she pulled out her smartphone and opened the calendar.
Not the Fourth of July – that was on a Thursday and, while Phil would give them that day off, Callie would have to be back in the office bright and early Friday morning.
But Memorial Day – now that was a possibility. The observed holiday fell on Monday. She could leave Thursday night and be back Monday night. Perfect.
So when she called Mom that evening, she asked, “Mom, what are you doing Memorial Day weekend?”
“Oh, not much,” Mom said. “I’ll go out to the cemetery of course, and probably have lunch downtown afterwards. What about you? Do you have any plans?”
“I do, as a matter of fact,” Callie smiled. “I thought I would come home for the weekend.”
“What?” her mother cried out. “You’re coming home?? Oh Callie –“
“It’s just for the weekend, Mom,” she cautioned, “I won’t be able to take any time off from work.”
“Even one day would be wonderful,” her mother assured her blissfully.
“I miss you so much, Mom,” Callie said in a low, quiet voice. “I really want to come home to see you.”
Mom was ecstatic. “Little girl, you have made my year! I am so happy. I can’t wait!”
“Me, neither,” Callie laughed. “But it’s over a month away, so we’ll have to make it somehow.”
As Callie parked her car on the street in front of the old brick building where her employer, Pinnacle Personnel Services, had office space, she couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of seeing her mother again. Mina was right – it really had been too long.
Mina noticed the change in mood right away. “Okay, spill,” she demanded, “what’s up?”
Callie sat down, stowing her bag in the bottom drawer of her workstation. “I decided to take your advice and go home to see Mom.”
Mina squealed, jumping up to give her a quick hug. “That’s great! I don’t remember suggesting it, but I’ll happily take credit for it.”
“Oh, you were subtle,” Callie laughed, “but I got it.”
Mina settled back down at her desk across the aisle from Callie. “So when are you leaving?”
“Memorial Day weekend. I can leave Thursday night, after work of course,” Callie added wryly, “and I’ll be back in time to get to work on time Tuesday morning. What’s that saying – ‘may you be back at work a half hour before Phil knows you’ve been gone?’”
Mina burst out laughing. “Good one, Cal. Oops,” she said as her phone rang, “that’s Mr. Rosario.”
Callie turned back to her desk to open her planner as Mina answered the call from Jorge Rosario. Three new presentations this week to companies thinking about hiring Pinnacle…several meetings about Pinnacle’s proposed expansion into human resources corporate services…the usual mix of cold calls, follow-ups, and interview scheduling. Looked like a busier week than usual.
Callie dove in, energized by the mix of presentations, one-on-one meetings, and team collaborations that were her strength. She was especially interested in the expansion planning. Pinnacle had started out as a recruiting firm, but Callie saw opportunity to serve as a contracted human resources department as well. Finally Phil had agreed (at which point it became his idea) and Callie was given the lead on planning.
The morning flew by and at lunchtime, she ordered a sandwich from the sub shop down the street so she could keep working. So much to do, so little time – and that was just how she liked it.
At mid-afternoon, she was on the phone with the accountant, firming up figures they had gotten on the cost of the proposed expansion, when she was vaguely aware of Phil calling Mina into his office. Better her than me, she shrugged. "Yes, Jim, that’s just what I needed…Yes, I do think it’s going to work. I think this will really help with the bottom line, plus it will help promote our recruiting services. I think it’s a win for everyone…Thanks, Jim, I really appreciate your saying that. I’m just happy it seems to be working out. Thanks for the numbers, too, Jim…Right, I’ll talk with you then. Bye for now.”
Callie hung up, humming a little tune as she entered the data in the spreadsheet she had set up. The numbers were better than she expected and she began to work them into the brief she was developing for the expansion team. She was so engrossed in the brief that she startled when a hand landed gently on her shoulder. She looked up, relaxing when she saw it was Mina. “Oh my gosh, Mina, you scared me half to –“ Callie stopped abruptly when she saw Mina’s face. “Mina, what’s wrong?”
Mina reached for Callie’s hands. “Oh sweetie – it’s bad news. Your mother –“
“My mother?” Callie asked, not understanding. "What’s wrong with Mom?”
Mina’s face crumpled. “She was in an accident, sweetie. She...she didn’t make it.”
Callie’s heart stopped. What? She couldn’t believe it. “No, Mina, there has to be some mistake,” she managed. “That’s impossible.”
“I’m sorry, Callie,” Mina said, hugging her. “I am so, so sorry.”
Callie sat still, unable to move. This couldn’t be true. She was dreaming or something. Her mother couldn’t be – no, that couldn’t be!
Mina was saying something. “-And then Phil called me in to talk with her. She wants you to call her, you know, to make arrangements.”
“What?” Callie asked blankly. “Who?”
“Your Aunt Phoebe, sweetie. The police notified her and she called Phil. She didn’t want you to find out over the phone.”
Aunt Phoebe. As that sank in, Callie realized it must be true. A vast hole of blackness opened before her, growing and starting to engulf her. She pushed it back through sheer will power. No. Not now. There are things I have to do. Have to call Aunt Phoebe…have to go back to Ware right away…have to clear my calendar.… She slipped into planning mode, setting aside the feelings of abandonment and grief, walling them off into an impenetrable locked box so she wouldn’t have to deal with them right now. Instead, she assumed an icy calm. “Okay.” She took a deep breath. “Okay. I’ll call her now.” I can make this work.
Mina straightened, the corners of her mouth quirking up sadly. “I’m here for whatever you need, Cal. Tell me what I can do.”
Callie felt a rush of love for her best friend, who understood her so well. She picked up her planner and handed it to Mina. “Could you clear my schedule for me while I call Aunt Phoebe?” Callie would have done it herself, but she cringed at the thought of having to explain over and over –
"I’m on it,” Mina said briskly, taking the planner. As Mina turned to her desk, Callie saw her stiffen. "Hello, Phil.”
“Mina. Callie, I just wanted to say I’m sorry about your mother.”
Well, that’s a first, Callie thought, and then chastised herself for being uncharitable. “Thanks, Phil. I appreciate that. And I’m glad you came over, I was going to talk with you anyway. I have to go back home to – to take care of things, don’t know how long,” she rushed on. “I need to talk with my aunt and –“
“You can’t take off now,” Phil interrupted in surprise. “What about the expansion? The Baker Farms executive search? The presentations we have scheduled this week? You can’t go.”
Callie stared at him in disbelief. “Phil, I have to. My mother -” her voice caught, but she soldiered on – “my mother just – died, and I have to go home.”
“Impossible,” Phil shook his head. “You can take care of all that from here.”
“No,” Callie said patiently, “I can’t. Mina’s rescheduling everything for me, that can all wait until –“
“No, it can’t wait,” Phil insisted angrily, his thin angular face becoming flushed. “I’ll give you half a day off today to handle whatever you need to do, but then you need to be back here, working, or I'll –“
“Or you'll what?” Callie demanded, a small flame of anger starting to burn in her.
Phil was implacable. “Or, I'll fire you. I mean it, Callie. If you care so little about -”
The flame of anger exploded and swept through her in a brilliant flash. “Care so little? Care so – are you serious? Oh, forget it, Phil, you won’t have to fire me because I quit! I have just had it with you!” she yelled. “I’m tired of your nitpicking everything I do, of taking credit for my work, of pretending I don’t have a life outside these walls. Send me my check,” she added coldly as she pushed by him to go find a cardboard box for her belongings. She couldn’t stand another moment with him anyway.
She knew without looking that Mina was bent over the planner, head down, smile hidden, but she almost turned back to see the expression on Phil’s face. She was still too angry, though, and knew it was better to just keep walking.
When Callie returned, Phil was gone and Mina was gathering up Callie’s things for her. “I called Phoebe for you. She knows you’ll call her later. I wrote down her cell number for you just in case.” When Callie set down the box and gave her a quick hug, Mina whispered, “Did you really just do that?”
Callie nodded a little sheepishly as she pulled back. “I did. I couldn’t help it, Min, I was just so angry. But I can’t say I regret it.”
Mina leaned back against the edge of the desk. “All I can say is, when you find a new job – and I know you will – call me and tell me they have another vacancy.”
Callie smiled as she started filling the box. “You got it, sis.”
As Mina went back to her workstation to start rescheduling, Callie looked into the box for a spot to put her pen caddy. She saw the items already tucked inside and realized, this is my whole work life, fitting inside this box. For a moment the black hole opened up next to her, swelling toward her, but she ruthlessly pushed it back. Not now. Later. Much later.
"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford