Callie sat on the back steps of the farmhouse. She was taking a short break from cleaning Cara’s heavy silver pieces that had come down through the family from Cara’s great-grandmother in Ireland. Thanksgiving was coming up in a few weeks and Cara said she always brought those pieces out for the big family Thanksgiving dinner. So Callie offered to do the polishing this year.
She spent as much time as she could at the farmhouse. She was learning so much! The canning they’d done in the fall had been a revelation, and she could make at least a passable cherry pie – Hank’s favorite – from scratch. In return, she introduced Cara and Will to shrimp and grits. That was a huge hit, at least with Will.
Callie pulled her winter coat around her. The weather had turned chilly again, and there was still a smattering of snow on the ground from the last snowstorm. The slight breeze carried the tang of woodsmoke and the sweet scent of Cara’s cinnamon rolls. She sighed. This was just about perfect.
The best part of spending time at the farmhouse was that she saw more of Hank. It was hard being as helpful to him as he had been to her. Of course, she was a mess and needed a lot of help. Hank was so calm and happy most of the time. He just didn’t need that much.
But every once in a while, there were shadows in his ice-grey eyes and the lines of strain had never gone completely away. So she looked for little things she could do to smooth things out for him. She was delighted whenever she managed to succeed at that.
There were a number of other things she liked. Her book store job wasn’t exactly challenging, but it kept her busy and she loved helping the customers find what they wanted. The book club was fun too, and helped her find some good friends.
She had also gotten involved with a lot of the community projects in Ware. That was a better match for her organizing and multitasking skills. But the most rewarding things she did were at the church. She’d started working with the teen group and was deeply involved in planning the church’s annual Thanksgiving celebration. She even got the Pastor to agree to sponsor a senior ministry at the church. Recruiting Mr. Toscopoulos to help with the ministry had been her most brilliant move yet.
She caught sight of Hank’s truck turning onto the dirt road, and she rushed inside to get the coffee she’d been keeping hot in case he stopped by the farmhouse. He was just parking the truck by the back door when she returned.
It was habit now for her to search his face to see how he was. Today his face lit up when he saw her, even as he did his own quick check to see how she was.
Callie smiled and held out the steaming mug of coffee with a smile. “Thanks,” he grinned, taking the mug from her. “A fella could get used to this kind of curb service.”
They sat down on the steps together. “So,” he said, cradling the mug in his gloved hands, “what are you doing at the farmhouse?”
“Polishing silver,” she answered, trying – and failing – to keep the pride out of her voice.
He grinned. “Well, look at you.”
She bumped his arm and he laughed, carefree and happy. They sat for a while in companionable silence, Hank drinking his coffee and Calle soaking in his calm strength. She’d learned a lot from him about the new path she had determined to follow, and she’d poured herself putting it all into practice. She prized moments like this, though, when she could just sit near him.
She wondered if heaven would be like that. Could they sit together in heaven? Or would they be spirits just floating around? Would she even know Hank there? She shivered and then told herself, no, she would always be near Hank, one way or another.
“Penny for your thoughts,” he rumbled beside her.
She blushed. “I was just thinking about heaven.”
Oh gosh, she sighed, couldn’t she even have one secret from this man? “I was wondering if I would know you in heaven.” She slid a sideways glance at him. “What do you think?”
He sipped his coffee and thought for a moment. “I would know you.”
She looked at him curiously. “Would you seek me out?”
He chuckled. “Like a needle in a compass seeking true north. I told you, I will always be there for you.”
She sighed and leaned against him. But then she felt from him a pang of deep sorrow, a sense of intense yearning – she sat up straight. Why? Should she ask him?
But he was getting up and heading inside with his coffee mug. She trailed behind him. “Can I get you another cup of coffee?” she asked.
“No, I’m good. I came home to work on a fence over by the orchard,” he answered, going over to the sink to wash the mug. “Where’s Gramma?”
“Up in the attic looking for things we can use in the Christmas bazaar. Can I help with the fence?” she asked, looking for some way to lighten his mood.
“No, Callie, I appreciate it but it’s just a quick job. What about your silver?”
“Oh there’s plenty of time for that,” she shrugged. “Well, okay, if I can’t help with the fence, is there anything else I can do?”
He dried his mug and set it down by the coffee machine. “You going to be practicing making cherry pie today?”
She laughed. “Oh you are a sly one! Sure, I can do that. I’m getting pretty good, if I do say so myself.”
“You are indeed,” he smiled at her. Then he turned serious. “I want to thank you for all you’ve been doing with Gramma. She’s been so happy having you around. And I don’t worry so much about being away from here.”
Callie made a note of that – it was a new type of helping she hadn’t considered. “It’s my pleasure,” she assured him. “I am learning so much from her! About cooking and housekeeping and life and God – well, so many things. I am so blessed!”
“And we are blessed by you,” he said softly. Then he grinned and chucked her under her chin. “But don’t let it go to your head.”
She slapped his arm playfully. “As if! Go on, go play with your fence.”
He laughed and as he brushed by her he leaned down and whispered, “Don’t forget, cherry.” She shook her head as he hurried outside with a grin.
Callie got most of the silver done before she had to leave and told Gramma she’d be back tomorrow morning to finish the rest. The cherry pie she’d made had been her best one yet and Gramma told her they’d move on to cakes next.
She stopped off at home to have lunch and change before going to work at the bookstore. She chose the blue dress that Cara had altered for her. Callie the long flowing lines of the soft fabric and the comfortable fit.
Mina had come home for lunch too and laughed when she saw Callie’s blissful smile. “Hi,” Mina called from the kitchen. “How’s Hank?”
Callie perched on a stool at the curved island as Mina made another sandwich. “Fine. Well, mostly.” She didn’t ask why Mina thought she’d just seen Hank. Callie knew Mina could tell just by looking at her. Mina called it her “Cloud 9” expression.
“Oh? Something wrong?” Mina handed her a plate with one of the sandwiches and some chips.
“Dunno,” Callie sighed and nibbled at a chip. “It’s just every once in a while and then he’s fine again. So, how are things with you and Daniel?” She asked with a teasing sing-song inflection when saying the names.
Callie could tell something was up. “Spill,” she demanded.
Mina sighed, slicing her own sandwich in half. “It could just be wishful thinking, it’s probably nothing.”
Callie waited – something else she’d learned from Cara.
“Well … Daniel is taking me to the Meadowlark tonight. He said we could pretend it’s prom night and dress up and dance.”
Callie shook her head. “The Meadowlark doesn’t have dancing.”
“I know, right? And where else would we go in Ware? Or the surrounding countryside.” Mina sighed again. “He’s planning something, I just know it.”
“But –“ Callie stopped short, her eyes wide. “Do you think –“
Mina threw up her hands. “I don’t know! And it’s driving me crazy.”
“Well, you’ll know soon enough,” Callie assured her. “If he does propose, will you say yes?”
“Uh yeah!” Mina laughed. “You know I’m head over heels about that guy. And he says he feels the same way about me.”
Callie selected another chip and pointed it at Mina. “Okay, prom girl, here’s the deal. I’ll come home early from the book store and help you with your hair and make-up. What are you going to wear?”
“The aquamarine gown with all the sequins.”
Callie paused, the sandwich halfway to her mouth. “I love that dress!”
“I figure go big, or go home,” Mina nodded.
“Wow,” Callie said seriously, then ducked as Mina threw a potato chip at her. “Okay, okay, enough of that. Pass me a paper towel. I’ll eat this on the way.”
Mina handed her a paper towel sheet. “Thanks, Callie.”
“My pleasure,” Callie smiled. “When’s he picking you up?”
“A quarter to six.”
“I’ll be here by a quarter of five.” Callie told her, stuffing the wrapped sandwich in her tote bag. “Do you still have that hair clip that matches the dress?”
“I sure do,” Mina grinned.
“Perfect!” Callie laughed as she headed to the door. “See you later!”
When Callie got to the book store, there were just a few customers shopping on their lunch hour. She sought out Melissa and found her in the back opening up a box of paperbacks. “Hey, Melissa!”
Melissa looked up with a smile. “You’re here early!”
“I was hoping to get off early,” Callie nodded. “About 4:15?”
Callie was surprised at how easy that was. “Aren’t you going to ask why?”
Melissa lifted out a stack of paperbacks. “Don’t have to. I know why.”
Callie shook her head. “The Ware Information Network.”
Melissa grinned, leaning back against the tall table she’d been using for unboxing. She counted off on her fingers. “Fact: a handsome, single young attorney rented the Meadowlark banquet room for tonight. Fact: Terri at the dry cleaners delivered a freshly cleaned tux to said attorney. Fact: the high school jazz trio has been excited that they just got their first paying gig. Tonight. At the Meadowlark.” Melissa held up her hand. “Wait – not done yet. Fact: Bob at the florist shop is delivering a wrist corsage to said attorney in a couple of hours.”
“What color?” Callie asked curiously.
Melissa arched an eyebrow. “White sweetheart roses with dark greenery.”
“Perfect,” nodded Callie. “Nothing about a ring?”
“Probably got it out of town, so people wouldn’t know.”
Callie laughed. “He’ll learn.”
“’Two may keep a secret, if one of them is dead.’”
Melissa and Callie played a quotation game during the slower hours in the shop. Callie guessed, “Benjamin Franklin.”
“Very good,” Melissa smiled approvingly. “Last fact: friend of attractive young office assistant to said attorney asks to leave work early, without giving a reason.”
“So how did you find out about all this?” Callie wondered.
“Perception, observation, five minutes at Sally’s during lunchtime,” Melissa listed with a deadpan expression.
“Ahhhh,” Callie grinned.
“You know, we noticed when you girls first moved here, you spent a lot of time at Sally’s.”
“Fastest way to get to know a lot of people and find out what’s going on,” Callie explained.
“People thought that was really smart,” Melissa nodded.
The bell rang out front. “I’ll get it,” Callie said, shrugging out of her coat and hurrying out front. “Thanks, Melissa!”
Callie arrived at the house to find Mina already dressed and terribly nervous. A full-length plush white cloak was draped over one of the dining room chairs and make-up and other items were waiting on the kitchen island.
“You look beautiful,” Callie smiled.
“I’m a wreck,” Mina corrected.
“It’s going to be fine,” Callie assured her, and took off her coat. “Okay, let’s get started.”
Mina obediently sat on one of the tall stools at the island and Callie began combing Mina’s honey-colored hair. “I was thinking,” Mina worried, “what if he gets a corsage? That won’t be easy to pin to this dress.”
“Wrist corsage,” Callie told her, and when Mina looked at her curiously, added, “white sweetheart roses with dark greenery.”
Mina closed her eyes. “I can’t believe this town knows more about my date than I do. Is there anything else I should know?”
Callie thought for a moment as she continued to comb Mina’s hair. “There will be dancing. Wear comfortable shoes.”
“Well, at least I have that covered,” Mina replied, lifting one leg and pulling back the layers of tulle in the skirt, she wiggled her foot back and forth. The shoe was a flat sandal encrusted with crystal bits and sequins; it glittered in the late afternoon sunlight.
“Wow,” Callie gasped, “those are gorgeous!”
“I’m just glad it’s not snowing outside,” Mina said, admiring the shoe before she lowered her leg. “I’ll still have to walk fast through the parking lot!”
“We must all suffer for beauty,” Callie intoned. She started twisting Callie’s hair into a soft chignon. “Clip?”
Mina held it up and Callie took it to secure the chignon. She handed Min a hand mirror and held up a square mirror. “Take a look.”
“Oh my gosh!” Mina exclaimed. “I look elegant!”
“You are elegant,” Callie corrected, with a warm smile.
“I feel like Cinderella,” sighed Mina.
“Now let’s do your make-up,” Callie said. “You wanted to look like Chucky, is that right?”
“Oh stop!” Mina laughed, swiveling on the stool so Callie could stand in front of her.
“I will now demonstrate gilding the lily,” Callie teased.
A half-hour later, Callie stepped back. “Perfection.” She passed Mina the hand mirror.
“Oh Callie! Thank you so much!” Callie had made sure the make-up was barely noticeable, just accentuating here and there, with eyeshadow and mascara making her brown eyes stand out. Mina really did look beautiful.
They hastily gathered up the make-up, mirrors and other items, stowing them in a plastic bag in Mina’s room just as the doorbell rang. Mina looked terrified. Callie looked right at her, capturing Mina’s gaze, and asked quietly, “Do you love him?”
It took a moment, but then Mina became very calm and smiled. She nodded. “Good,” Callie smiled. “Wait in here. I’ll go answer the door.”
Callie let Daniel in. He looked terribly handsome in a superbly tailored tuxedo – and extremely nervous, clutching the plastic box with the wrist corsage between trembling hands. She remembered what Mr. Toscopoulos said: What you can do with one, you can do with the other. She caught Daniel’s attention and said in a low voice, “Do you love her?” Daniel nodded immediately. “Then you’ll be fine. I’ll go get her.”
She walked to the door of Mina’s room. “Ready?”
Mina nodded and stepped outside the room. She really did look breathtaking. A glittering blue and green gemstone-encrusted barrette held her smooth blonde hair in place, matching the sleeveless dress. The dress itself was magic – a tight bodice completely covered with sequins that caught and reflected the light and a full-length skirt of yards and yards of floating chiffon in shades of green and blue.
Callie watched Daniel as Mina stepped into view. He was stunned. Mina was staring at Daniel in his tux with the same expression. Callie cleared her throat. “Okay, you two, I want a picture of you before you leave.”
Daniel slipped on the wrist corsage and Callie took a few pictures with her camera phone. Then she followed them outside, and when she saw the limo parked out front, Callie gasped – it was so long that it could have accommodated a soccer team! A uniformed chauffeur opened the door for Mina and Daniel to get inside. She wondered how the Ware Information Network had missed that one.
Callie waved and went inside. Her phone chirped and she looked down – Anne McDonald. Did they leave yet?
Callie texted back, Yes – Operation Prom Night is underway