Chapter Seven: Moths and Flames

 

Sunday morning dawned fresh and bright, a perfect spring day. The scents of lilac and primrose teased Hank as he left his cottage to head over to the farmhouse. Gramma had taken on the responsibility of landscaping the area around his cottage. He had to admit, her bushes and flowers did make the place look homey.

He took the steps up to the mudroom two at a time and hurried into the kitchen, drawn in by the smell of bacon and sizzling potatoes. Gramma was over by the stove, tending the frying eggs, and Grandpa was at the coffee machine, getting a cup of coffee. “Morning, Hank, coffee?”

“Yessir, sounds great. Got some Peets left?”

Grandpa nodded, fishing out the pod from the carousel. Both his grandparents had been wary at first when he gave them the new machine last Christmas. But they quickly came to appreciate the choices it gave them – and the freshness of each cup of coffee and tea.

“Want to go fishin’ tomorrow, Hank?”

Hank grinned. There were few things he liked better than going fishing with his grandfather. “That would be great.” He saw Gramma moving the fried eggs and hash browns to serving plates. He stepped over to the oven and picked up the plates. “I’ve got this, Gramma.”

“Thanks, Hank,” Cara smiled. “I’ll get the biscuits then.”

“Oh yes please,” Hank teased her, “and then maybe you can put some more in the oven for you and Grandpa.”

“Them’s fightin’ words, son,” Grandpa declared, slipping in a pod for Hank’s cup of coffee. “You keep your hands off my biscuits!”

“La di da,” Gramma said airily. “And just who made those biscuits? If you want any, you will sit down and behave.”

“Yes ma’am!” Hank and Will both said, hastily sitting down at the kitchen table. Then Will leaned over and kissed Gramma on the cheek. “Want to negotiate?”

She shooed him away. “I do not,” she said sternly. But then her expression softened. “I always end up giving in.”

 

~~~

 

Grandpa parked the truck in an empty spot about halfway to the church door. Hank got out of the back seat while his grandfather came around to help Gramma get out. Hank knew Gramma was perfectly capable of stepping down on her own, but it was one of his grandfather’s favorite things to do. Hank suspected Gramma liked the courtesy too.

A number of people had gathered in the foyer prior to the service starting.  Hank and his grandparents stopped inside just to the right of the main doors, where his parents had been waiting for them. Charlie Toscopoulos was next to Hank’s mother, Ann, discussing summer’s Vacation Bible School. Charlie was a little older than Grandpa, a tall craggy looking man, and sharp as a tack. Hank shook Charlie’s hand, clapped his dad on the shoulder, and gave his mom a kiss on the cheek. Then he stepped back to make room for his grandparents.

He happened to glance up as the wall stopped him from going back any further – and his heart seemed to drop down below his stomach. There she was, about twenty feet away at the other end of the foyer. She must have just looked his way, because she too had a startled expression on her pale face.

Callie.

Then the O’Neills stepped into his line of sight and he lost sight of her. He turned slightly and found himself being hailed by Jack Carpenter, who owned the grocery store. “You all right, Hank?” Jack asked. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Not in this church,” Hank smiled easily. “How’s it going, Jack?”

“Can’t complain. Mrs. Javelli’s driving me crazy, but nothing new there,” Jack chuckled. They talked about what Mrs. Javelli had been doing to drive him crazy this time - something about stocking organic foods that no one ever bought from the grocery – until the crowd in the foyer started moving into the nave. Hank moved with them, trying to ignore the sharp look Charlie gave him. None of Charlie’s business, Hank grumped. That man notices far too much.

 

~~~

 

Callie sat in the pew facing front. She knew Hank was somewhere behind her; she could feel him watching her. She figured he would be here this morning. Hank was always good about attending church. She hadn’t expected seeing him again would affect her so much.

Lord, he had only gotten more good-looking since the last time she saw him. His caramel brown hair was in need of cutting, but even that looked good on him. His features seemed a little more sharply cut, making him seem older and more masculine, not the boy she remembered. His eyes – oh those ice-crystal grey eyes – those were exactly as she remembered.

She sensed Phoebe shifting beside her and glanced down. Oh, right, the opening hymn. She noticed the words were projected on a screen behind the pulpit, so she just stood up and started singing.

Between singing and reciting, she was able to corral her thoughts of Hank. She was even able to concentrate on the sermon, which was about the grace of God when troubles seemed overwhelming. She wondered wistfully if she could ever feel that grace.

“All you have to do is ask,” the pastor said, looking right at her. “He loves you, and He wants to help you. He will try to reach you, He will knock on your door. But it’s your choice. You need to ask – you need to be the one to open the door to Him.”

The pastor looked over to the other side of the nave as he continued, and Callie took in a full breath. She made a note of the scripture he mentioned in her bulletin. Probably just her imagination, she scolded herself, he didn’t really mean that just for her. Or maybe it was one of those preaching techniques, to make people think you were talking just to them when you really weren’t.

After the service, she and Aunt Phoebe were gathering their things when she heard a light, cheery voice beside her. “Phoebe! And Callie, I haven’t seen you in such a long time!”

Callie looked up to find Anne McDonald beaming down at her, a pleasant brunette with bright blue eyes and a generous figure. Anne continued, addressing both Phoebe and Callie, “Hank said he asked about your coming over for dinner – I was wondering if you’d like to join us for Sunday dinner. We’d love to have you and there’s plenty of food.”

“Oh Anne, it is so good to see you!” Phoebe cried happily. “I’d love to –“ She broke off as she looked over at Callie. “Callie, I know you’re exhausted so if you’d rather pass…”

Callie knew Phoebe was trying to give her a graceful way out of the invitation, but for the life of her she couldn’t take it. “No, I’m fine, thanks. I’d like to come too, if that’s all right.”

Anne was delighted and told them to just come on over when they were ready. “It’s the same old house on Oak Street, Phoebe, you remember where that is?” When Phoebe nodded, Anne reached in and gave them each a quick hug. “See you there then!”

Phoebe studied Callie briefly. “I didn’t mean to force you into anything.”

“I know, it’s fine,” Callie assured her. She added an easy smile as she stood up. “That was a good sermon, wasn’t it?”

Phoebe agreed, evidently convinced that Callie was okay with the invitation.

Truth to tell, Callie sighed, it would be easier for a moth to stay away from a flame than to keep from going to the McDonald house. There was no sense to it, none at all, but she had to do it.

 

~~~

 

Now this will be interesting, Hank thought with a slight smile. He was sitting in the back seat of his grandparents’ pickup truck as they headed over to his parents’ house. Mom had come over and told them Phoebe and Callie were coming to Sunday dinner.

He’d gotten over the shock of seeing Callie again, and he had reminded himself, several times, that she was just here for her mother’s funeral and then she’d be gone again. Just like before. There never had been any future in it, and she’d never even given a hint that she’d ever even thought about him that way. So let it go, he told himself. Again.

She sure was pretty though in that bright flowered sundress. She’d twisted her blonde hair back in some kind of loose bun and it made her face look -

Let it go.

  

~~~~

  

Callie leaned back in her chair, arms crossed over her stomach, as she laughed and shook her head. “Oh my gosh, I cannot eat another bite!”

“At least you made it through the pie,” Hank grinned.

“I think it was the pie that finished me off!” Callie protested, then smiled blissfully. “But oh, it was so good, it was all so good.” She noticed Phoebe and Anne get up to start clearing the table and got up herself to help.

But Anne shooed her away. “No, you let Phoebe and me do this. You go out and sit on the patio with Cara. Hank, show her how to get there.”

“This way,” Hank said obligingly, jumping up to sweep his arm toward the patio doors at the back of the dining room.

Callie laughed and stepped outside through the door he had opened. To her surprise, Cara was nowhere in sight. Hank grinned. “There’s another patio. Follow me.”

She joined him on the path that slipped through some tall privets into a secluded area with a small fountain. Cara was sitting on an elaborate white wrought-iron bench next to the fountain. She smiled happily as Hank and Callie stepped into the little garden. “Come,” she encouraged them, “come sit with me.”

“I’d love to,” Callie nodded, joining Cara on the bench.

“Thanks, Gramma, I’m going back in the house,” Hank said as he turned to go. “The Royals are playing,” he added, as if that explained everything.

Cara shook her head. “This happens every Sunday. We have a wonderful dinner and then all the men head to the living room to watch some sports game.”

“It was a wonderful dinner,” Callie smiled. She could still taste the crispy chicken, smooth mashed potatoes, and thick cream gravy. And the pie! She sighed happily at the memory of the soft sweet filling matched with crunchy toasted pecans and rich pastry crust ….

Cara patted her hand. “I’m happy you enjoyed it.” She gestured at the little garden surrounded by tall privet shrubs. “This is one of my favorite spots. I feel a little guilty not helping with the clean-up. But I come out here whenever I get the chance.”

“It’s beautiful,” Callie responded quietly, looking around at the fragrant flower beds and short fruit trees just starting to blossom. The quiet trickling of water in the tiny fountain added to the feeling of peace. “I would do the same.”

“You’re always welcome,” Cara nodded. “But I hear you’re leaving soon.”

“Yes, Tuesday, I think.” Callie shifted a bit awkwardly. “I need to get back to Charleston.”

Cara thought for a moment. “Well, I guess a small town in Kansas doesn’t match up against a beautiful coastal city like Charleston.”

“Oh, Ware has its own charms,” Callie responded diplomatically. “I think the best thing about Ware is its people. Everyone is so kind and helpful.” She smoothed her light spring dress. “I suppose it’s just because I used to live here and people remember me –“

“Oh no,” Cara interrupted firmly. “You could be a complete stranger and they would treat you just the same. That’s how we are.” Cara patted her hand again. “Maybe you could come back to visit.”

Callie looked down at her folded hands. “I don’t really have a reason to anymore,” she said softly.

“Oh my dear!” Cara put her arm around Callie and gave her a short hug. “You have us. You will always have us. You belong here.”

Callie managed a shaky smile. “Thanks.”

Cara clasped her hand over Callie’s and shook it up and down a few times to emphasize her next words. “This is your home, Callie. If you need anything – anything,” she stressed with another shake, “you call us. We will be there for you.”

Callie was overwhelmed. “Oh, Mrs. McDonald, thank you. That means so much to me.”

“Good. You remember that now.” Cara’s smile lit up again. “And call me Cara, for heaven’s sake. Although if you really wanted to make an old woman happy, call me Gramma.”

Callie suddenly burst out laughing. ‘You realize that would make Hank my brother. I wonder how he would feel about suddenly having a sister!”

Cara laughed too. “Might do him some good. But you’re right, we probably should stick with Cara.” The old woman went on briskly, “Now, tell me about Charleston, what do you like best?”

They chatted about Charleston for quite a while, until Anne came to fetch them back in the house for iced tea. Shortly after that, Callie and Phoebe said their goodbyes. The men emerged briefly to thank them for coming, then returned to their baseball game. As Callie walked out, she heard Tom McDonald shouting, “Catch it, catch it, catch it! Yes!!” and all three of them cheering and slapping hands.

Settling in the passenger seat in her aunt’s rental car, Callie sat back and relaxed. This was the single best day she’d had in a long, long time.

  

Chapter Six     Chapter Eight

 

"That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford