Monday morning he and Daniel were in Callie’s basement, measuring where the room would go. Before they went in the house, Hank floated an idea to Daniel, who agreed vigorously. So now, as Daniel wrote down the measurements, Hank took Callie aside.
“Look, I know it means a lot to you to pay for this. Here’s the deal,” he said firmly as she started to interrupt, “you pay for the materials, Daniel and I provide labor for free.” She started to speak again and he said flatly, “Non-negotiable.”
She studied him for a moment. Then she nodded, once, and reached out her hand to shake on it. “Deal,” she agreed with a smile.
He shook it firmly, impressed once again by her ability to so quickly understand and accept the best deal she could get. They briefly discussed how the prayer room should look and then Hank turned back to where Daniel was marking the floor with masking tape. “Okay, Daniel, time to go to the building supply store.”
“Let’s do it,” Daniel said briskly, putting aside the masking tape and following Hank to the stairs.
At the building supply store, Hank had more trouble with his dad than he did with Callie. Daniel watched in amusement as they dickered.
“Son, I just don’t feel right about charging her,” Tom protested.
“I know, Dad,” Hank nodded, “but she really wants to pay for it herself, that means a lot to her.”
“But still …”
“All right, Dad, how about this? You charge her a discounted rate for whatever you want, say maybe 20%.”
His dad rubbed his jaw. “75%?”
“Done.” They shook hands, grinning. Hank added, “Write everything up showing only the discounted price, Dad.”
Tom raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think she’ll catch on?”
Hank shrugged. “She might. But I think she’ll cut us some slack. She’s a practical woman, and as long as she feels like she’s gotten the spirit of what she wanted, I think she’ll go along.”
“Okay, son,” Tom nodded, though he clearly had his doubts. “Let’s get you loaded up.”
Daniel punched him in the arm as they walked out to move the truck. “If I ever need a negotiator, I want to hire you.”
“After all this, I might need a lawyer,” Hank joked. “You available?”
“You bet, brother,” Daniel grinned. “We’ll plead insanity.”
Hank shook his head. “That might be easier to win than you think.”
It took Hank and Daniel three days to build the prayer room. Callie was delighted. They had installed shelves on opposite walls, at a comfortable height for writing. The bench had a comfortable cushion on it. Between the shelves, opposite the door, was a rail and underneath a kneeler, so the girls could kneel to pray if they wanted. Everything was painted a soft white. It was perfect. Daniel had even found an “Occupied” sign that could be hung on the doorknob.
She was disturbed when she saw the final bill. She’d gone on the internet to check prices when she was budgeting, and she knew these were really low. She shot a look at Hank, who looked back innocently and said, “Things are cheaper in Kansas.” She’d pursed her lips in irritation. But what could she do? Sue them so she could pay more? She decided to consider it something God had arranged, and be grateful. She did at least get to pay something. She sighed and patted him on the arm, as if to say OK you get this one – but don’t try it again. He nodded once – message received, with thanks.
Thursday she went to Melissa Dancer’s bookstore. Melissa hadn’t been able to find anyone willing to work part time so she was delighted when Callie asked about it. After Callie filled out the application and Melissa saw who she listed as references, Callie was hired on the spot.
Her life settled into a pleasant rhythm. Most mornings she spent at least an hour in her prayer room (Mina liked using it in the evenings) and then she worked on VBS until lunchtime. After lunch, she would either go to work at the bookstore or to the farmhouse to help Cara. Evenings she would read or watch TV – she was trying to get more familiar with the Royals so she could drop comments about them into her conversations with Will or Tom.
She saw less of Hank, and most of the time, she was okay with that. Her battered soul was healing and she felt stronger now. She’d see him at church and at Sunday dinner at his parents’ house. Sometimes she’d see him at the farmhouse. When that wasn’t enough, she’d send him a text, and they’d end up talking on the phone. The sound of his voice, the reassurance he was near, was enough, at least until the next time.
Summer flew by. The Vacation Bible School was a huge success, and she took on Melissa’s book club to fill the time after that. Sometimes she and Mina would go on daytrips. She still hadn’t gone through all her mother’s things yet. She figured there would be time for that later.
Mina and Daniel had settled into some kind of close friendship, but Callie was expecting that to change. They were perfect for each other. Surely it was only a matter of time.
Then the pace started to pick up. The church was planning their fall festival in September and Aunt Phoebe called to say she wanted to come visit at Christmas. Callie loved being busy and having lots to do, so this just made her happier. She got to make more lists!
One night in mid-August, Cara asked her to come out to the farmhouse to help with something. Callie was happy to agree. Mina had gone out somewhere with Daniel and Callie didn’t have anything in particular to do. As well, she loved Cara like her own grandmother. Callie had a special place in her heart for Will too. She did check to see if Hank’s truck was parked near the house, a little hopeful. But only Will’s truck was parked there. Well, it was a faint hope anyway.
She parked and went in the back entrance. She didn’t see anybody in the kitchen, so she called out for Cara. She heard Cara call back, “I’m in the living room!”
She went to the front of the house and as she turned into the living room, she was greeted with shouts of “Happy birthday!” She was stunned – Hank was there, Mina and Daniel, Tom and Anne, Cara and Will. They launched into a spirited if slightly off-key version of the Happy Birthday song.
Then Mina pulled her in to sit down in the middle of the room. She looked around at all these dear, dear friends, who had adopted her as family, and she burst into tears.
Then Hank was there, his warm hand firmly on her shoulder. She gripped it tightly and tried to get the tears to stop. “It’s just – it’s just that I’m overwhelmed,” she managed, clinging to Hank’s hand. “That you would do all this, for me … “
Cara smiled. “We love you, child. You’re part of our family.”
She burst into tears again and she was vaguely aware of Hank guiding her to the kitchen and holding her on his lap as she buried her face in his shirt. He simply sat quietly, letting her cry. Finally she was able to say, “I wanted to be part of a family so bad.”
His voice was low and calm. “And so you are, through the grace of God and your own sweet self.”
“Why is God so good to me?” she wondered. “It’s not like I’m some perfect person.”
“That’s easy,” Hank chuckled, the sound a low rumble in the ear she had pressed against his chest. “He loves you, Callie. Don’t you like doing good things for people you love? Even if they mess up sometimes?” She nodded. “Well, God does too. Sometimes I think I can feel it, this immeasurable wave of love that comes over me.”
She sat up a little to see his face. She said in surprise, “I’ve felt that too!”
He smiled. “See? You’re getting closer and closer to Him. He knows your heart, He knows what you long for. Is it any wonder He would want you to have it if you should?”
She sighed, burying her face in his shirt again. “I still have a ways to go.”
“We all do,” he said softly. She felt his lips brush the top of her head, comforting her. “You ready to go back in yet?”
No, she thought, I want to stay right here. “Yes. In a minute.” She sat up, brushing the hair out of her face as he smiled at her encouragingly. “Thanks, Hank.”
His smile broadened. “You are welcome. Now, how about enjoying your birthday party with your new family?”
She threw her arms around his neck in a fast hug and sat up straight with a radiant smile. “Yes, let’s go have fun!”
He laughed and helped her stand up. “Better wash your face first.”
“Oh yes,” she answered hastily, brushing at her eyes and heading toward the kitchen sink. “Tell them I’ll be in there in a minute.”
“Will do,” he answered cheerfully. She had the faucet running and was wiping her face with a dishcloth, so she didn’t notice him pause outside the kitchen, look up and take a deep breath before he turned to go into the living room.
“She’ll be here in a minute,” he told the group in the living room. “She was just overwhelmed. This meant a lot to her.”
Mina nodded understandingly. “She’s been so happy becoming a part of this family.”
“I just love that girl,” Cara sighed. “Such a sweet child.”
Will patted her on the shoulder. “We all do, Cara.”
Callie appeared in the doorway with a big smile. “Don’t tell me you’re all talking about me!”
“Only nice things,” Mina assured her. “I didn’t tell them about the time you mistook this guy for Bruce Willis and –“
“Mina!” Callie cried out, turning crimson.
“Well, you were only trying to get his autograph,” Mina said innocently, “it wasn’t as if you were doing anything bad.”
Hank dove in. “Oh, that’s nothing. When she was sixteen, she – ow!”
“Serves you right,” she said, shaking the hand she had punched his arm with. “Man, your arm is like concrete!”
“Serves you right,” he retorted, pleased that she thought his arm was so firm.
Cara shook her head. “Well, if anyone wants cake, they better straighten up.”
“He started it,” Callie said defensively.
“Do you want cake, young lady?” Cara demanded.
“Yes, ma’am.” Callie did her best to sound obedient, but her impish grin gave her away.
Cara threw up her hands, smothering a smile. “Well, all right then. I’d hate to throw it out, I worked on it all day.”
The crowd parted to reveal the cake on the sideboard against the wall. It was a masterpiece of roses and scallops. Tom had taken the opportunity while everyone was distracted to light the candles, and now Hank dimmed the lights. Callie walked toward the cake lit in the soft glow of the candles, her mouth open in amazement. “It’s so beautiful!”
“Blow out the candles,” Mina said, “but make a wish first!”
Callie hesitated, close her eyes, then opened her eyes and blew out every one of the candles.
Mina said happily, “You’ll get your wish!”
Cara served the cake then and everyone started talking and joking. Hank watched her soaking it all in with that radiant smile she’d been wearing more and more often lately. Lord knows she deserves it, Hank thought pensively. God, please watch over her and keep her safe.
Later that night the party broke up and the guests filtered out toward their cars, most of which were parked behind the barn. Mina explained she had gotten a ride with Daniel and asked if she could go home with Callie. Callie quickly agreed and while Hank was busy cleaning up the living room, she got swept out to the yard with the other guests. He heard her car drive off and he sat down with a sigh.
His grandmother came in and sat beside him. “She’s making progress.”
He shook his head. “Goin’ to bed, Gramma. I’ll see you in the mornin’.”
Cara patted his knee. “I love you, boy. It’s going to work out.”
One corner of his mouth quirked up. “Thanks, Gramma. I hope so.”
“There’s always hope, Hank. Remember? ‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.’” Hank recognized his grandmother’s favorite verse. She had repeated it again and again as he grew up.
Hank kissed her on the cheek and got up from the couch, bone weary. “Thanks, Gramma. I love you too."