Chapter Twelve: On the Brink
Mina waited only long enough to make the turn onto Dairy Road before she started asking questions. “Who is Hank, how do you know him, does he have a brother, what exactly is your relationship –“
“Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Callie protested, holding up her hands. “Slow down!”
“Okay. First, who is Hank?”
“I knew him back in high school. I had a huge crush. He didn’t know I was alive.”
“Well, that obviously has changed,” Mina observed wryly.
Callie looked upward in exasperation. “That’s just Hank being Hank. He helps people whenever he can, it’s just second nature to him.”
“Mmhmmm,” Mina nodded, drawing out the second syllable.
“Oh don’t be silly.” Callie sat back in the passenger seat and looked out the window. “Look, I just collapsed last night. I felt so … lost, without Mom. Hank stopped by and … it was so strange, just his being there gave me an anchor, you know? I felt safe, protected. I cried and cried, and when I finally fell asleep, he sat by me all night. In the morning, he drove me over to the farmhouse and Cara fed me and helped get me put back together. That whole family has stood by us. At the funeral, Aunt Phoebe and I were sitting alone, and they all came up and sat with us, to be there for us. I think they’ve kind of adopted me.”
“They sound like fine people.”
“Turn right, up there,” Callie pointed. “They are. Hank’s mother and my Aunt Phoebe were really close friends, so that might be part of it. And of course everyone knew Mom.”
“Well, I get it about Hank and his family,” Mina said thoughtfully. “But I have to tell you, sis, that is one good-looking man.”
“I know,” sighed Callie.
“You’ve still got a crush on him!” Mina exclaimed.
“Well, not so much as you’d notice,” Callie protested. “Oh, pull in here! That’s the attorney’s office, we need to check in there.”
Mina obediently parked her car a couple of doors down from Daniel Alverson’s office.
When they walked in through the front door, they found a frazzled Daniel hunting through papers at the receptionist desk. “Oh hi, Callie, I’m running behind today. Did we have an appointment?”
“No, I just thought I’d drop in, sorry. We can go –“
“Please don’t,” Daniel smiled. “I’m never too busy for my clients.”
“We won’t be long. I just wanted to introduce you to my friend, Mina Pederson. She’ll be staying with me at the house – do you have a spare key?”
“Pleasure to meet you, Ms. Pederson. Sure, I have an extra key right here.” He fished in a drawer in the receptionist station and came up with a key he handed to Callie.
Mina looked disturbed. “Aren’t you going to have her sign out the key?”
“Well, no,” Daniel said slowly. “I know Callie.”
“Sorry,” Mina apologized, her checks turning red. “I don’t mean to mix in. It’s just that I worked as a paralegal once and that was drilled into our heads. Is yours off today?”
“I don’t have one,” Daniel admitted. “Now that I’m getting more clients, I’ve thought about it, but I just haven’t gotten to it yet.”
Mina assessed at the receptionist station’s pile of papers and folders. “I’ll be in town a few days. If you want, I could organize your office, put in a few systems, that could help you operate more efficiently.”
Daniel glanced at Callie, who smiled in amusement. “Look, I know I shouldn’t interrupt your visit, but I would really be grateful if you could help out.”
Mina nodded, pleased. “It’s almost lunchtime. I’ll go back to the house and get settled, then could we meet for lunch and discuss what you need?”
“That sounds good to me,” Daniel agreed, “my treat, since I’m the one you’re rescuing. How about the Meadowlark at 12:30?”
Mina glanced at Callie, who nodded. “We’ll be there.” She held out her hand to Daniel and they shook hands. “See you then.”
Back in the car, Callie gave directions to the house and then asked, ‘So what do you think of Daniel?”
Mina thought for a moment. “He’s smart. Most lawyers I know would have said thanks but no thanks to my offer. A few might have thought it was a chance to hit on me. But this guy knows he has a problem and is practical enough to accept a solution. And he trusts you, which I consider another point in his favor.”
“What do you mean?”
Mina shrugged. “He doesn’t know me but you do. If I can’t deliver, he trusted you to say so.”
“There you go, being right again,” Callie laughed.
“It never gets old,” Mina joked. She turned onto Walnut and then leaned forward sightly. “Is that your house?”
Callie gasped. Cars lined the street in front of the house, and a few men and women were tending the yard and landscaping. “Oh my gosh! I forgot I asked Ginny Austin if she and some of the women at the church could help me pack! She must have decided I need more than that.”
“I like her style,” Mina said appreciatively. They parked about half a block away. As they walked toward the house, Pastor Austin shut off the lawn mower and stepped over to the sidewalk to meet them. “Callie! How are you?”
“Better,” Callie smiled. “Pastor, this is my friend, Mina Pederson. She’s come to stay with me a few days. Mina, this is Pastor Bill Austin. Mom was active in his church, and his wife Ginny is the one who is helping me with packing.”
“Pleasure to meet you,” Mina said politely, shaking hands with the pastor.
He turned to Callie. “I was under the impression you were going to be leaving today.”
“I was, but that’s changed now,” Callie answered a bit awkwardly.
“Well, I hope nothing bad happened, because I’m delighted you’ll be with us a few more days. Will Mina be staying at the house?”
“Nothing bad happened,” Callie assured him. “And yes, I thought Mina could stay in my room.”
The pastor nodded. “So you still need everything packed up in your mother’s room and the bathroom, right?”
Callie smiled in relief. “Yes, exactly.”
“Okay,” he nodded, “I’ll go tell Ginny. Mina, pleasure to meet you, I hope to see you later on.”
“Thank you, Pastor,” Mina responded and he hurried away. “My goodness, is everyone in this town like the McDonalds?”
“I’m beginning to think so,” Callie laughed. “Look, we’ll just be in the way here. Why don’t we go over to the Meadowlark and we can talk before Daniel gets there?”
“Oh good,” Mina agreed, “I have about forty zillion questions.”
“I figured you would,” laughed Callie.
The Meadowlark was hidden behind a bank of pines and thick bushes. At one time, it had been a one-story ranch house but it had been extensively renovated to create a dining area and banquet room, in addition to the large kitchen. The grounds were lavishly landscaped, with an outdoor dining area on the west side of the building, off the dining room.
Mina parked near the door and they got a table in a secluded corner, after Callie told the hostess they would be meeting Daniel Alverson in about an hour.
A waitress appeared promptly after they were seated, providing them with menus and taking their drink orders. Mina looked around the dining room from where she sat. The walls were paneled in dark walnut and the Berber carpet was a dark brick red. Pale linen tablecloths draped the tables and green palms and other plants were scattered strategically through the room. Low instrumental music drifted through the dining room from hidden speakers to soften the background noise.
“Wow,” Mina murmured, admiring the upholstered chairs clustered around the tables, “this is a prom night restaurant.”
“Mmhm,” Callie nodded, studying the menu. “I think the food at Sally’s Café might be better, but this is where you go for privacy or romance.”
The waitress returned with their drinks – club soda for Callie, Coke for Mina – and agreed to bring back a sampler appetizer.
“So, what’s the story with Daniel Alverson?” Mina asked, reaching for a small piece of bruschetta on a sourdough round.
Callie, who had been expecting more questions about Hank, was only too happy to satisfy Mina’s curiosity. She shared what she had learned from Phoebe and what little she had picked up from around town. “It’s strange,” Callie commented as she finished. “Everybody in Ware knows everybody’s business, but they don’t seem to be big on gossip.”
Mina nodded. “My guess is that there are two or three main distributors who determine what needs to be known by whom.”
“You may be right – as usual,” Callie teased, trying one of the poppers.
“So what do you think is going on at your house?”
“My guess? Now that Ginny Austin knows I’m staying for a few more days, she will have that house not only cleaned from top to bottom but fully stocked with anything she thinks we need.” Callie waved a hand in front of her mouth. “Whew! That’s hot!”
“Try the bruschetta, that’s pretty good.”
Callie took a round and put it on her small bread plate. “You know, Mina,” she said slowly, fidgeting with a fork, “I’ve been thinking about staying longer than a few days. Like, moving here permanently.”
Mina stared at her in surprise. “For real?”
Callie nodded somberly. “I don’t have a job, there’s no mortgage on the house, and there’s something about Ware that just makes me want to stay.”
Mina grinned. “Would that something be named Hank?”
“No,” Callie shot back, but then hesitated. “Well, maybe, partly, but not in the way you mean. I feel … safer around Hank. It’s hard to explain. Anyway, that’s not what I mean when I say I feel drawn to Ware.” She thought for a moment. “It’s something Cara McDonald said to me. We were talking, off by ourselves, and she said, ‘You belong here.’ She meant that if I was ever in trouble, I could come to the McDonalds for help, she considered me one of them. But aside from that, when I’m in Ware, I feel like I do belong here.”
She leaned forward earnestly. “I love Charleston, but you are the only close friend I have there. I work, I socialize, I daytrip – but I don’t really have anyone I can turn to but you if I get in trouble. I was here in Ware one day and I was befriended, looked out for, and included as a member of the town.”
“Like family,” suggested Mina.
“Exactly. Mina … what if I did move to Ware?”
“You would probably live happily ever after,” Mina smiled. “Have you mentioned this to Hank?’
“He’s the one who suggested it.”
Both of Mina’s eyebrows shot up. “Hank wants you to stay? What did he say?”
“He’s a guy,” Callie shook her head, remembering that awful night. “He said ‘stay’ and ‘why not.’”
“That’s it?” Mina was clearly expecting more.
“I think he knows I’d be safer here,” Callie mused. “Mina, you’re a problem-fixer. You see a problem, you know it would be easy to fix it, and you dive in to do it. Hank is like a help-fixer. He sees someone who needs something, or something that needs to be done, and his first thought is, ‘Is there anything I can do?’ If there is, he does it.”
“Is that what happened last night?” Mina asked hesitantly.
Callie considered the question. “Partly. But I won’t lie to you, Mina. There is something more there.” She looked around and then said in a low voice, “He knew, Mina. He knew I was in trouble. He woke up in the middle of the night sensing something was really wrong and … he knew it was me. He said … ‘it scared the hell out of me.’”
“Callie.” Mina sat back, her expression serious. “Let’s review. You feel happy in Ware. You have a mortgage-free house here. You have a support system that rivals a Special Ops unit. And you have a handsome single man who will race over to your house in the middle of the night simply because he senses something is wrong, and he wants you to stay.”
One corner of Callie’s mouth tugged down. “Well, yeah, I guess.”
“You’re always telling me how right I am about things,” Mina said seriously. “Trust me on this. You have to stay. You have to move to Ware. You will regret it forever if you don’t.”
“But what about you? I mean, I was going to find a job in Charleston where we could work together.”
Mina shrugged. “Plans change. Who knows, maybe I’ll move here too.”
Callie stared at her. “For real?’
Mina looked across the dining room. “Maybe. Let’s see how it goes.”
Callie followed her gaze and saw Daniel Alverson coming their way. Her mouth formed a silent “O” as she looked back at Mina. Mina laughed. “Close your mouth, Callie, you look like a fish.”
Callie quickly pressed her lips together just as Daniel reached the table. “Hi, Callie, Mina.”
“Hi, Daniel,” Callie greeted him pleasantly. “We ordered appetizers but we were waiting for you to order lunch.”
Daniel sat down as the waitress came over to take their orders. Over the meal, Mina asked questions about Daniel’s practice and outlined the suggestions she wanted to implement for him. He agreed with all of them enthusiastically. “Mina, this is great. How much will I pay you?”
“Oh I’m not doing it for pay,” Mina protested.
Daniel grinned at her. “Oh yes you are.”
She studied him for a moment and then acceded, “I guess I am.” She named a rate well below what Callie thought the consultation was worth.
Daniel thought so too. “I don’t know,” he said slowly. “I think I can only hire you for about twice that amount.”
Mina burst out laughing. “You drive a hard bargain, Counselor! Okay, it’s a deal.” She held out her hand and they shook on it.
“So where are you two ladies off to next?” he asked as the waitress arrived to remove their plates and leave the check.
“Not sure,” Callie admitted. “It’s too soon to go back to the house.”
“Well, I have an idea,” Mina interjected. “I could go back to your office with you, Daniel, and Callie, you could go out to the farmhouse.” Mina smiled and Callie read the unspoken sentence – you know I’m always right.
Callie was inclined to agree. An afternoon with the McDonalds sounded like just what she needed. “That works for me.”
“No problem here,” Daniel nodded. “I’m eager to get all that paper under control.”
“Great! Daniel, can I ride back to the office with you?” When he said sure, she dug out her car keys and passed them to Callie. “Take my car and you can pick me up when it’s okay to go back to the house.”
Callie took them and smiled at Daniel, who looked both bemused and impressed. “She organizes,” Callie explained, “it’s what she does.”
“Sounds just like what I need,” Daniel replied happily.
You don’t know how right you are, Callie thought with a sly glance at Mina as they all got up from the table.
"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford