Chapter Eleven: Reconstruction
The pillow under her head shifted and she heard a deep warm voice saying something to her in a low tone. She wiggled a little and opened her eyes.
She was in a truck. Hank’s truck. Startled, she jerked and sat up straight – she’d been leaning against him, she must have fallen asleep!
She heard the amusement in his voice as he said, “Hello there, sunshine. We’re here.”
She looked out the window and memories began filtering back. Hank said they were going to the farmhouse for breakfast. Do you trust me?
“Wait,” he said now, getting out of the truck so he could help her down. Since she was already closer to the driver’s side of the truck, she slid a little closer and let him help her down. He made sure she was steady before he stepped away with a smile.
She felt suddenly alone, chilled – silly, he was standing right there, but it wasn’t enough, she yearned to be closer. As if he understood what she was feeling, he took her hand in a firm grasp and led her around to the back of the farmhouse. She instinctively clung to his hand. She sensed there was danger in thinking too much right now and safety in being with Hank. She didn’t go any further than that.
Then she was in the warm, bright kitchen, fragrant with smells of coffee and hot biscuits, and Cara was enfolding her in a protective, nourishing hug. Tears started falling again and Cara just held her closer and let her cry, murmuring soothing words in her ear.
When she finally stopped weeping, she stepped back and found Hank there right beside her, offering a hot mug of steaming coffee. Her thankful smile trembled a little and he squeezed her shoulder to reassure her. The warmth of his touch flowed through her, bringing strength and calm, just as it had in the truck.
Then she was sitting at the table, Cara placing an overflowing plate in front of her, Will passing her salt and pepper, Hank sitting beside her. She took a bite of the buttery scrambled eggs and then nibbled at the light, flaky biscuit. She didn’t think she was hungry, but as the food hit her system, she was suddenly ravenous, and she ate her way through eggs, biscuits, hash browns, fried ham, and pancakes that she slathered with butter and syrup. Finally she was too full to eat any more, though she still wanted to.
Hank had refreshed her mug with hot coffee and she smiled gratefully as she took a sip. She was starting to feel more alert and she looked over at Will and Cara. “Thanks,” she began, “I’m sorry –“
“Oh pish-tosh,” Cara interrupted, “you’ve nothing to be sorry about. You’ve been carrying too big a load for way too long. You just sit and relax.”
Callie looked over at Hank hesitantly. He told her seriously, “I’m not going anywhere.”
Will stood up. “I’ll see to the chores. Anything I can do for you, Callie?”
When she shook her head, he patted her shoulder and headed for the mudroom and the exterior door. Callie saw Cara clearing the table and she jumped up to help. Cara started to protest, but Callie asked her to please let her help – “I feel better with something to do.”
Cara sighed and gave in. Callie quickly cleared the table and then joined Cara at the sink to dry the dishes that Cara was washing. Cara commented, “That’s what it was, wasn’t it? You ran out of things to do.”
Callie nodded slowly. “As long as I was busy, I was okay. But then, when I didn’t have anything more to do…well, it all sort of sunk in. I was alone, and I – I didn’t think that would ever change.” One corner of her mouth quirked up. “It’s been a rough year.”
When Cara looked at her curiously, Callie went on slowly, knowing Hank was sitting five feet away and listening to every word, “On New Year’s Eve, I got engaged.” She sensed Hank stiffening. “Then, right before Valentine’s Day, he dumped me. He’d reconnected with someone he used to be with, and he – he wanted her more.”
Hank started rumbling some very nasty words and Cara banged some pots into the sink to cover the sound of those words. But she didn’t rebuke him. Judging from the expression on Cara’s face, it seemed they all shared the same opinion of not-Wes.
Callie picked up another dish to dry. “Then Mom – she was in that accident. I asked my boss for time off to come back for the funeral, and he said I could have half a day. So I quit.”
Cara wrapped her in another hug, soapy hands and all. “Oh my poor girl,” she exclaimed, “you have had a heavy load. I’m so sorry.”
Callie drank in the hug like thirsty dry ground, but then she stepped back. “I did okay as long as I was busy. There was always something else to plan, something else to do.”
“Your mother was like that,” Cara observed, turning back to the dishes. “When your father passed, she was everywhere at once, trying to do everything at once.”
Callie was going to ask about that but her phone started playing the KU “Rock Chalk” chant. “Excuse me,” she apologized, pulling out her phone. “Mina? What’s up?”
“I’ve been trying to find you! Where are you?”
“I’m at Cara’s house – you know, the baker. Why? What’s happened?”
“I’m in Ware,” Mina answered. “You –“
“You’re here??” Callie interrupted, astonished. “Here in Ware?”
“Yes,” Mina replied with a trace of amusement. But her tone turned serious as she went on, “You didn’t sound right when I talked to you yesterday. The more I thought about it, the more concerned I became. Then I tried to call but there was no answer. When I couldn’t stand it any more, I just hopped on a plane and flew your way.”
“Oh Mina!” Callie turned to Cara and mouthed, “Can she come here?”
Cara nodded as if Callie didn’t have to ask and Callie went back to the phone. “Mina, come out here to the farmhouse.”
“Okay, how do I get there?”
Callie tried to remember the road that ran by the farmhouse but before she could say anything, Hank was standing in front of her holding out his hand. She handed it to him gratefully, though she could well imagine what Mina was thinking when she heard that deep, calm voice. “Hi, this is Hank. Do you have GPS? … Okay, great. Enter this address: 24961 Dairy Road. When you get here, just take the dirt road to the farmhouse and park in back by the pickup truck. You set? … Yes, that’s right. Okay, I’m giving you back to Callie now.”
“I’m on my way. But who on earth is Hank??”
Callie said, her face burning, “Good, I’ll see you soon.”
“Okay,” Mina sighed in frustration, “I get it, he’s standing right there. So don’t answer. But I will see you both soon!”
“Okay, Mina, bye.” She thanked Hank and turned to Cara. “I worked with Mina in Charleston. She’s my best friend, like a sister.”
“What on earth is she doing here in Ware?” Cara wondered.
Callie blushed. “I talked to her yesterday about going back to Charleston.” She glanced over at Hank, who was leaning back against the table, his arms folded. “She said she got concerned and, well, she just flew out here.”
Hank nodded as if that were the most normal thing in the world – which to him it probably was – and Cara said, “I like this girl already.”
It wasn’t long before they heard the car outside and Callie raced down the steps to greet her friend. Mina jumped out of the car with a squeal and they met in a joyous hug before Callie remembered they were both guests. She turned to find Cara at the top of the steps and Hank lounging against the railing on a lower step. She heard Mina whisper, “That’s Hank? Quiet my beating heart.” Callie ignored her and introduced Cara and Hank to Mina.
“Come on in,” Cara invited Mina and they all trooped into the kitchen. Mina was given a seat at the kitchen table, a glass of iced tea, and a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Hank reached for one and Cara slapped his hand. “Those are for our guests,” she reproved him.
Mina nodded with a teasing smile. “And if those taste as good as they look, you’ll have to fight me for them.”
Hank rubbed his jaw thoughtfully. “Might be worth it.”
Cara slapped him on the arm. “Hank McDonald! Here –“ she grabbed a cookie from a dish on the counter and thrust it at him. “Go find your Grandpa and get out from underfoot.”
Hank happily took the cookie but looked at Callie before he left. She had never felt so well looked out for in her life. She nodded with a radiant smile and he smiled back as he brushed past her to go outside.
Callie felt much restored as she turned back to Cara and Mina, neither of whom, it appeared, had missed the silent communication between her and Hank. “I was a little down but I’m a lot better now. I’m sorry you came all the way out here.”
Mina glanced toward the back door and said with a teasing smile, “I’m not.” But then she turned serious. “Are you really okay?”
Callie gave it up. “I am now. But last night I was a hot mess. I ran out of things to do,” she added by way of explanation.
“I worried about that,” Mina confessed. “You’re reChally doing better?”
“I really am,” Callie assured her. “The McDonalds have been so good to me, and Cara –“ she glanced at Cara with a slight smile - “Cara let me help with the dishes.”
Mina laughed. “I’d say she knows you very well.”
“So how did you get time off from work?” Callie asked curiously.
“I called in sick,” Mina shrugged, reaching for a cookie. “Mm, these are delicious!”
“Thank you,” Cara responded with a pleased smile.
“Anyway,” Mina went on, “I’m kind of hoping Phil finds out. It’s gotten really awful there. Phil can’t find anyone to replace you and he’s just gotten more and more ill-tempered.”
“That’s hard to imagine.” The three women chatted about Ware and Charleston until Will and Hank returned. Hank looked at her first, then Mina and Cara. “Hank,” Callie said hesitantly, “can I talk with you for a minute?”
He nodded and gestured to the back door. She followed him out and then across the yard and into the barn. “It’s a little more private in here,” he explained. “What’s going on?”
She took a deep breath. “I wanted to thank you for everything you did for me last night, and this morning. You took such good care of me.”
“I’m glad.” He waited patiently.
She twisted her hands together, not sure how to go on. He covered her hands with his, and they stilled in his grasp. “What is it, Callie?”
She looked up at him, still not sure how to say this. “It always helps me to have things to do, to keep busy. That’s just how I am. So it may look like I’m doing just fine and I’m busy and don’t even remember how much you helped me, how you – saved me. You did! But I will never, ever forget that, and if there’s anything I can do for you, I will move heaven and earth to do it.”
“Thanks, Callie,” he said with a slight smile.
She looked down at the barn floor. After a moment she mumbled, “Well…I guess that’s all I needed to say.”
He put his hands on her shoulders and, bending slightly forward, looked intently into her eyes. “I will always be there for you, Callie. If I can help, you must ask me. You would be doing me wrong otherwise. Promise me?”
Her eyes filled with tears and she nodded. “Thank you. Thank you so much.”
He drew her into his arms and murmured softly, “You have a lot of tears stored up. It’s time to let them all out.”
Hank stood on the front porch and waved as Mina and Callie drove off in Mina’s rental car. He sighed and plunged his hands into his jeans pockets.
His grandmother appeared beside him. After a moment he said, “Say it, Gramma.”
“I don’t have to,” Cara returned.
“She’ll be leaving again,” he told her, watching the car make the turn onto Dairy Road. Then he sighed. “Yes, I asked her to stay, no, she didn’t say she would, and yes, I told her I would be there for her no matter what.” He looked down at his grandmother. “She’s not through all of it yet, Gramma.”
She slipped her arm around him around his waist and leaned against him. “I know,” she agreed sadly.
"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford