The ladies of Morning Star Church had outdone themselves. Outside, the lawn was mowed, the bushes trimmed, and the blown-down tree branches and twigs had been picked up and taken away. All the boxes in the house that she had finished were gone. The whole house had been cleaned from top to bottom.
Callie took a breath and opened the door to her mother’s bedroom.
Everything was gone. It was just a room. The bathroom was also empty of any personal items. Only towels and a shower curtain remained.
Mina followed her in. “Are you okay?”
Callie nodded soberly. “Part of me is sad there’s nothing left in here to remind me of her. But most of me is relieved. It just hurts too much right now.”
Mina put her arm around Callie’s waist. “How would you feel about me moving in here now? Then you could have the other bedroom.”
“Okay. I’d feel okay.” Callie took another deep breath. “I don’t want to be in here myself, not yet. But it doesn’t bother me if you are. And it only makes sense. I have to start doing things that make sense.”
“One step at a time,” Mina counseled. “Everyone moves through this at their own pace. And I think you’re still in shock. Give yourself time.”
Callie sighed. “I don’t know. My emotions just seem to be all over the place. I know I don’t seem to operate on all cylinders like I used to.”
“You will, don’t worry. Now,” she said briskly, leading the way out into the dining area, “I say we go shopping tomorrow. Wait, we’re going to South Carolina tomorrow. We’ll go shopping when we get back. All new bedroom furniture, it will be so much fun!”
“Mina, I can’t afford that,” Callie protested.
“But I can. I’m a millionaire, remember?” Mina gave her a quick hug. “Call it an early birthday present and don’t spoil my fun. If it were me, wouldn’t you do the same thing?”
“You want me to say it, don’t you?” Callie replied with a wry smile.
“No – you can just think it. Come on, let’s see what the ladies left us in the kitchen!”
Later that night, Callie sat cross-legged on the big sofa and dialed Hank’s number. She knew that the news of their staying would be all over town tomorrow. He deserved to hear it straight from her, not from the Ware Information Network.
The phone rang several times, then went to voicemail. She hung up. No way she was telling him in a voicemail. Well, she’d try later.
She must have fallen asleep, she woke up to see her phone flashing. Text message. Hank. Did you try to call?
She typed a quick reply: Yes, I had good news wanted to tell u
A few seconds later, her phone rang. She smiled. “Hi Hank.”
“Hi, Callie. So what’s your good news?”
She stretched her legs out and leaned back. “Mina and I are moving to Ware.”
The other end of the line was silent. Dang, she thought, what a time to lose the connection! “Hank? Hank, are you still there?”
“Uh, yeah – yeah, I’m here. You’re moving to Ware for good?”
“Yep. I feel happy here. And I think I could be useful, you know, like my mother was. Well, I don’t know if I could do all that she did, but maybe I could help in my own way.”
“I think you will be very useful.”
“Mmhm. You are smart, energetic, the best multitasker I’ve ever seen –“
She laughed at that.
“- and you have a good heart. You will make a positive difference in this town.”
She asked shyly, “Do you really think so?”
He chuckled. “Yes, I do. So, what’s the plan? If Mina is involved, I know there’s a plan.”
“We leave tomorrow. We’ll get a U-Haul trailer and fill it up with our stuff, then come back here.”
“Can I go with you?”
Callie briefly enjoyed the idea of not being separated from Hank even for a few days, but she knew that was being selfish. “No, Hank, that’s not necessary. I know you’re busy here.”
“I can be useful.”
“I’m sure you can,” she laughed, “but it’s really not necessary, we’ll be fine.”
“I know. I want to come along anyway.”
She sat up as she realized he was serious. “You’re not just being nice.”
“Not in the slightest.” She could hear the wry smile in his voice.
“You really do want to drive halfway across the country and back again?”
“Well, okay. You can come too. Oh! I was supposed to spring clean with Cara tomorrow!”
“I’ll square it with her. See? I’m being useful already.”
“Hank McDonald, there is not a minute in the day when you are not useful,” she pretended to scold him. “Anyway, we were planning on leaving about 9 tomorrow morning. Is that okay?”
“I’ll be there.”
“Okay. -- I’m glad you’re coming.”
“Yeah, me too. See you in the morning.”
“See you.” She hung up and leaned back against the sofa cushions. She didn’t want to impose on Hank, but she had to admit this was a huge relief. She still felt fragile and while she thought she could at least go back to Charleston to close everything out, all that would be so much easier with him along. Thank You, God, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Hank sat up, the weariness of the day falling away and energy surging through him. She was moving back to Ware!
He typed a quick text to his grandmother. Mina and Callie moving to Ware permanently (!!!) They leave tomorrow at 9am to get their stuff from Charleston I’m going with them Could you pack some food to take with us?
His next text was to Daniel. Just heard about Mina and Callie moving to Ware They’re going to Charleston at 9am tomorrow to pack up their stuff I’m going with them You in?
A few seconds later, Daniel’s reply arrived: Mina just called. Yep, told her same thing CU@9?
Hank chuckled. Daniel was smart. Asked my grandmother for food to take with us CU then
He sent one more message, to Gramma: PS Daniel A is coming with us, food for 4?
Hank hit Send and then lifted up his face, eyes closed. Lord God, he prayed fervently, only You know where this is going. But I am so grateful to be helping You with Callie. You know my heart. Whatever it takes, I will give. Thank You, thank You, thank You, Lord!
At 8 am, Hank was climbing the steps to the farmhouse kitchen. Gramma was already cooking breakfast. A large cardboard box sat on the kitchen table. “Got your message,” she said from where she was frying potatoes. “I got some things out of the freezer and made up some sandwiches for you. Let me know if you want something else.”
Hank peeked in the box. Sandwiches were stacked on one side of the box, cookies and scones on the other, fruit and pies in the middle. “Gramma, this would feed half of Ware.”
She huffed as she transferred the fried potatoes to a plate. “Not hardly.”
Grandpa came in and when he saw the box said, “Good heavens, woman, do we have any food left in the house for us?”
“It’s a long trip, and they’ll need something to eat on the way,” she said defensively, putting the plate on the table. Grandpa kissed her and she blushed. “Sit down and eat, old man.”
He waggled his eyebrows at her and she laughed, pushing him away. “Oh Hank, after breakfast do you want to brew some coffee to take with you? I got the thermoses out and washed. Oh, and there’s a paper bag there with napkins and such. Put that in the box so it doesn’t get lost.”
Hank was impressed. She shooed him to the table. “Sit, eat, there’s not much time.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he grinned, giving her a kiss on the check.
In a matter of minutes, he’d bolted down his breakfast, loaded the box, coffee, and plastic bottles of water in the truck, and was ready to leave. “One more thing,” Gramma said, and took Hank’s hand in hers and Grandpa’s hand in her other. “Jesus, we thank You for bringing Callie and Mina to us and Your enabling them to stay here permanently with us. We pray that You shower them with Your love, guide them with Your wisdom, and keep them close to You at all times. We also ask that you watch over them, Hank, and Daniel, and bring them all home safe to us. Amen.” Hank gave her a hug and hurried out to the truck. Time to hit the road!
Callie stashed her suitcase in the back of her SUV. They decided to take Callie’s car instead of Hank’s truck. Mina would return her rental car at the airport and then they would all continue on in Callie’s car to Charleston.
Daniel arrived about 20 minutes early and added his small duffle bag to the suitcase and air travel bag already in Callie’s car. Ten minutes later, Hank pulled up. He tossed his gym bag in the back of the car with the other luggage. Daniel helped him stow all the food and drink in the cargo area of the car. “I believe we are now ready for anything,” Hank grinned.
Daniel and Mina got in the rental car, while Callie and Hank took her SUV. Callie followed Mina to the highway to head to Kansas City. “Excited?” Hank asked.
Callie smiled. “Very. It just feels so right. I think I’m going to be where I’m meant to be.”
“I think so too,” Hank replied, with deep satisfaction. “So, have you thought about what you’re going to do when you get settled?”
“Yes, but I don’t have anything definite yet. Cara mentioned that Mom worked part time for Melissa Dancer, and managed a book club at Melissa’s store. I could do that. But I don’t know.”
“You’d like to do something more your own?”
Callie sighed. “I do. Something I’m more suited to. Daniel is going to pay me for watching over the house until everything goes through probate. So I’ll have that to live on. But I need to be busy, I’m not used to just sitting around.”
“Well, there’s always something going on in Ware. Vacation Bible School is coming up. Managing that would be right in your wheelhouse.”
“Oh I don’t know,” she said doubtfully.
Hank stretched a little in his seat. “Well, think about it. You’d manage the volunteers, set up schedules, get the town involved, organize everything – doesn’t that sound like something you’d like?”
“But don’t they have somebody at the church who does that?”
“Nope. Mrs. Sandusky moved to Florida last fall. Mr. Toscopoulos was trying to recruit Mom, but she doesn’t really want to take that on.” He glanced over to her. “What is it, Callie?”
“I’m not a very churchy type of person. Wouldn’t they want someone … I don’t know, someone who’s been with a church for years.”
“Maybe,” he shrugged. “But what they really need is someone who can organize and manage big projects and that is you to a T. I’m sure the pastor would be thrilled if you want to do it. But you don’t have to of course. It would be entirely your choice. I’m sure there are plenty of other opportunities.”
Her eyes widened. Her choice … was this another invitation? God, You know me. I’m not a religious type and I have no idea why You would want me of all people to run Your Vacation Bible School. But if that’s what You want … I’ll do it. “I’ll talk to the pastor when I get back,” she told Hank. “I’m assuming I’ll get to make lots and lots of lists,” she added lightly.
“Absolutely,” he laughed.
They talked about the church, the high school softball team, and her life in Charleston as the miles passed by. It seemed like no time at all before they were following Mina into the car rental parking lot.
They got out to stretch their legs while Mina and Daniel went in to return the car. Hank took out his phone and sent a text to his grandmother while Callie got a soda from a nearby vending machine.
At the airport returning rental car, all is well. C wants to coordinate VBS this year.
He started to put the phone back in his pocket when it chirped. He glanced down and grinned.
The trip to South Carolina went smoothly. Daniel and Hank checked into a nearby motel after leaving Mina and Callie at Mina’s apartment. The U-Haul store was open on Sunday, so Daniel and Hank took care of renting the trailer and loading it with packing supplies.
That night Daniel and Callie were packing in Mina’s kitchen. Mina was going through what she wanted to box up in her bedroom and bathroom while Hank gassed up the car.
Daniel reached up and started emptying the cupboards over the counter by the refrigerator. “So, you grew up in Ware?”
Callie was seated at a small table, wrapping glassware in sheets of paper. “I did. It was a great place to grow up. Then I went to college and it was like a whole new world. So, when I graduated, I decided to go seek fame and fortune. A friend of mine in college suggested Charleston, so I started job-hunting there. I found a position at Pinnacle and then …” She left the sentence unfinished. “So what about you? How did you get from Texas to Ware?”
“A friend of mine knew someone from Ware and it sounded like a great place to practice family law – that’s what I wanted to do. You might call it a flight from fame and fortune,” he smiled. He started transferring items from the counter to the table. “So, I started driving down to Ware while I was still in law school at KU to check things out.”
“Aunt Phoebe said you went to the University of Kansas,” Callie nodded.
“Rock chalk Jayhawk,” Daniel responded proudly. “Anyway, on one of those trips I met your mom and she sort of took me under her wing and helped me get started. We got pretty close.”
“I didn’t know,” Callie said sadly. “It’s like she had this whole different life that I knew nothing about.”
Daniel sat down and started packing the things he had gotten down from the cupboard. “Well, you were in Charleston. I’m sure when you two talked or got together, she was more interested in finding out what you were doing. She talked about you all the time.”
“Oh yeah,” Daniel smiled. “Things you did, places you went – she was so proud of you.”
Callie closed up the box she had been filling and started another, taking a deep breath. “Thanks, Daniel. So, do you get back to Texas often?”
“No.” It was a short, explosive sound, and she looked up in surprise. He was sitting rigidly in his chair, gripping a small tin of loose tea. Then he slumped and tucked the tin into his box. “I haven’t been back in years.”
Callie hesitated. “But you talk with your mom and dad on the phone?” she asked uncertainly.
“My mom calls on my birthday and Christmas. When my dad isn’t around.”
Impulsively she reached over the table and squeezed his arm. He looked down at the box and smiled ruefully. “It’s a sore spot. Dad didn’t like the idea of my setting up my law practice in Ware. He hasn’t spoken to me since.” He straightened a little and picked up an oatmeal box. “But I found a new family in Ware. Your mom, the O’Neills, Hank – he’s like the brother I never had.”
“That’s how I feel about Mina,” Callie said thoughtfully. “She’s like my sister. I met her at Pinnacle, our desks were right next to each other. We were friends right from the start.”
“Hank helped with the renovations for my law office,” Daniel replied, tucking a plastic bag of rice in next to the oatmeal. “Same for us. Hank’s always had my back, and I’d do anything for him.”
“I guess we both found our own families,” Callie said quietly. “I didn’t realize how important that was until I lost my mom.”
“Yeah, me too. When I came to Ware, I saw what I’d been missing.” He stared into the box. Then he looked back up with a quick smile. “What matters is that we both found what we were missing.”
Callie felt a surge of joy. “Yes, we did.”
A moment later Mina appeared in the doorway. “I’m all done in the bedroom. You guys need any help in here?”
“Sure,” Callie answered. Daniel made room for Mina and they all concentrated on packing.
Between Callie’s lists and Mina’s planning, the to-do list was finished quickly and belongings in both apartments were packed and loaded. Right before they left Callie’s apartment for the last time, Hank stood on her balcony looking out at the ocean. She stepped beside him, resting her arms on the high railing. Hank said quietly, “The ocean is beautiful. I can see why you would miss it.”
“I will,” Callie agreed. “But it’s just a place. It’s not home.”
Hank put his arm around her shoulders and she leaned into him, soaking in his reassurance. “It’s not home,” she repeated softly, unable to keep the longing out of her voice. He squeezed her shoulders briefly.
A few minutes later, the door behind them open and Daniel called out, “Okay, we’re ready to go!”
Hank smiled down at her. “Let’s take you home.”
The return trip was slower. Hank and Daniel took turns driving Callie’s car while Mina and Callie took turns in Mina’s car. Even so, they had to stop for a few hours of sleep at the motel Callie had used when she drove to Ware for her mother’s funeral.
While Daniel and Mina filled up the cars at a gas station near Jefferson City, Missouri, Hank texted his grandmother: At Jeff City Will reach Ware about 10am Breakfast?
As he was getting back in Callie’s car, he got his grandmother’s reply, short and succinct as usual: already cooking
They pulled into the dirt road to the farmhouse at 10:30am. Hank saw his parents’ car so he wasn’t surprised when Tom and Anne came out of the house with Cara and Will. Hugs were exchanged all around, then everyone piled into the kitchen for a massive breakfast of steak and eggs, fried potatoes, and toasted homemade bread.
Callie sat between Hank and Cara, a little overwhelmed by the sudden hubbub. But deep within her she felt something settle into place. She was home. She was finally home.
“So,” Daniel said, reaching for another slice of toast, “what do you think, Hank? Go ahead and unload the truck this morning?”
Hank swallowed his bite of steak before answering. “I’m in. Then we can get the trailer turned back in.”
“While you fellas return the trailer,” Mina commented, “Callie and I can unpack. And then we need to go furniture shopping!”
“Okay by me,” Callie agreed.
“You young people,” Cara shook her head, “I don’t know where you get all that energy from!”
Hank leaned around Callie to smile at Cara. “From your cooking, Gramma, where else?”
Cara smiled back and blushed.
“Hey, son,” Tom said as he got up to refresh his coffee, “can I help with that unloading?”
“Sure, Dad –“
“Well, I want to help with shopping,” Anne put in.
“If there’s one thing my wife is good at it, it’s shopping.” Tom interjected from where he was standing by the coffee machine.
“Tom!” protested Anne.
“It’s true,” he defended himself, “honey, it’s a compliment.”
“Uh-huh,” she responded doubtfully, but smiled when he kissed her as he sat down and whispered something in her ear.
“Well,” Cara said, “now that you all are back, I better get busy making pies.”
Hank, Daniel, and Tom all cheered this announcement.
“And I guess I better stay and keep an eye on Cara,” Will said with a twinkle in his eye. “She might need help with something.”
A chorus of responses to that remark mixed with laughter. This is it, Callie thought, her heart full, this is what I missed. Hank leaned toward her and whispered under the noise, “Welcome home.”
Her smile got even wider. She whispered back, “I am so, so happy.”