Callie greeted Mina with a cheery “Good morning!” and a big glass of orange juice. Mina couldn’t help laughing. “I’m still trying to get used to this new Callie.”
“I just feel good,” Callie replied without offense, taking a cinnamon roll out of the microwave and passing it back to Mina. “Everything is just going so great! Christmas is coming, and Aunt Phoebe will be here, and the Christmas Ball – and all sorts of good things!”
Mina couldn’t answer – she’d taken a bite of the hot cinnamon roll and her eyes had closed in sheer bliss. When they opened, she told Callie, “These are just as good as Cara’s.”
Callie beamed at her. “Thanks! Hey, I have to get going, I’m going over to the farmhouse for a bit.”
“Bundle up, it’s freezing again today. Wait! Do you need me to do anything?”
“Ah, yes, we need to start making decisions on the wedding.” Callie started tugging on her heavy parka. “Colors, flowers, dress, venue. We need to meet with Anne, so start thinking, okay?”
“Aye-aye,” Mina laughed. “I am so blessed to have both you and Anne working on this wedding!”
“Think!” Callie said sternly, but then she smiled back as she dashed out the door.
She never ceased to be amazed at how her life had changed a couple of weeks ago at the storage facility and Hank’s house. It was as if shackles had dropped away and left her spirit free, unchained. She had more energy, she felt more alert, she felt more like herself than any time since she met Wes.
She was so happy!
Cara was in the kitchen and lit up when she saw Callie. “Good morning, Callie! I didn’t expect you so early!”
Callie shucked off her parka and sat down at the table. “I’m on a mission. Is Hank around?”
Cara started a cup of coffee for Callie. “No, he went over to the Armstrongs to replace their window.”
“Good. This is one time I don’t want him walking in.” Callie stuffed her gloves in her coat pockets. “Christmas is coming up and I’m trying to think of a present for Hank. I came to see if you have any ideas.”
“Oh! I understand that,” Cara nodded. “Twice a year I have that same problem. Hank is a simple man. He doesn’t have, or want, a lot of stuff for himself. So what do you get for someone who doesn’t want anything?”
“I know,” Callie sighed. “But I have to do something – he saved my life this year. Anytime I needed something, he was there. He does all these things just to make my life easier, he’s always looking out for me – I have to do something.”
Cara brought Callie’s cup of coffee over to the table and sat down. “You think a lot of Hank, don’t you?”
Callie blushed as she looked down at her coffee and took a small sip. She supposed her feelings for Hank were pretty obvious to anyone who bothered to look. She was pretty sure Mr. Toscopoulos had it figured out months ago, before their discussion in the church. Cara probably knew too, as much as she had been around both of them together. “He’s a good man,” she temporized.
Cara snorted and Callie looked up startled. “I’m not blind, girl.” Callie felt her face turn red hot. “How long have you felt that way?”
“High school,” Callie muttered. “Sophomore year. But he didn’t feel the same way. He was dating that Dellalogia girl.”
“I never liked her,” Cara remarked, which made Callie smile. “Well, I’ll think on your question.”
“Thanks, Cara, I really appreciate it. So what do you want to do this morning?” Callie asked.
“Sewing. I need to make some Christmas stockings to sell at the bazaar. Have you ever sewn before?”
“I helped my mom some with her projects.”
“Good! This should be easy for you then,” Cara approved. “I’ll go get the supplies and we can work in here. It’s warmer and the light’s better.”
“And we’re closer to the cookies,” Callie said innocently.
“Oh my goodness,” Cara shook her head. “All right, go get one, but then wash your hands. We don’t want to stain these stockings with chocolate.”
Callie warmed up her chocolate chip cookie in the microwave, then washed her hands after she finished eating it. She savored the flavor of brown sugar and melted chocolate that lingered in her mouth … soooo good.
Cara came back and they started working on the brightly colored Christmas stockings. After a while, Cara asked, “So, what are you going to do when you get your inheritance?”
“Oh I don’t know,” Callie answered, threading her needle through the applique. “I thought I’d probably invest some of it. Then maybe I could do some of the things my mom did, you know, help people, fill needs.”
“Well, it’s a lot of money,” Cara remarked, attaching a yellow cuff to the top of a green stocking. “I suppose you could do anything you want. Travel, move to a big city, go back to Charleston.”
Callie shook her head, pulling the needle through. “Why would I do that?” she wondered. Maybe a trip, she thought, remembering the ocean she could see from her apartment in South Carolina. But she couldn’t feel any desire at all to go there. She was so satisfied with her life here. Mina, Will and Cara, Tom and Ann, the pastor and Ginny, Daniel, Mr. Toscopoulos, the church, the kids in the youth group, her senior ministry, her house … Hank. How on earth could she leave him behind? She shook her head at the absurdity of that.
Cara shrugged. “It’s a big world. Thought you might want to see more of it, or move to where you would have more to do.”
“One thing I don’t need is more to do!” Callie laughed. “And everything I want is right here. I’m so happy here, Cara. I just don’t have any interest in going somewhere else.”
Cara shook out her stocking, looking it over critically. “You think Hank knows that?”
Callie’s hands stilled as she thought that over. He should know … but she’d never really come out and said anything about it. In fact, they’d never discussed it that she could remember.
Of course! Callie’s eyes widened. That explained so much. She’d left to go to college and then didn’t come back to stay until after Mom died. She could see how he would assume that as soon as she had enough money to go somewhere else, she’d take off again.
Hank lived to help people, and he had promised he’d always be there for her. And then there was that mysterious connection they seemed to have. It would probably drive him crazy to think of her moving away, and his not being able to be there for her like he could if she stayed here. Because one thing for sure, dynamite couldn’t get Hank to move away from Ware. Everything he knew and loved was here. He could have gone to college, like she did, but he wanted to stay here.
That would explain the shadow she saw sometimes flit through his expression, the strain lines around his eyes that had developed over the summer. Every time he helped her he probably was thinking that would be the last time he could keep his promise.
If she could just convince him that she didn’t want to ever leave Ware, she could wipe away all that worry for her!
But how on earth could she do that? Callie sighed. This would take some thinking.
She glanced up to see Cara watching her with a completely blank expression. “How can I convince Hank that I want to stay?”
She thought she saw a twitch in the corner of Cara’s mouth, but it probably was just a trick of the light. Cara was saying calmly, “Oh I don’t know. Why don’t we both think on it and see what we can come up with?”
“Okay,” Callie nodded. She knew what Cara meant. Hank could be pretty stubborn. Once he got something in his head, it was hard for him to let it go. It would take something pretty convincing to get him to really believe it.
A smile spread across her face as she imagined all that worry being wiped away. It would be the best Christmas present ever!
The Christmas Bazaar was a huge success and raised a lot of money for the local animal hospital. The church’s youth group was working with the choir director to present a special Christmas concert for seniors and Callie agreed to handle the costumes for them. She was wrapping up the details for the annual Christmas Ball, and business at the book store was building as the holidays approached. She spent half her time at the farmhouse, where Cara was baking up a storm for the food bank, Christmas presents, and entertaining.
Callie had never been happier.
But she was no closer to solving the problem of Hank’s present. She asked Mina how she could convince Hank she wasn’t going to move away, but Mina was blank too. “Maybe Daniel would know of something,” Mina suggested. “He and Hank are pretty close.”
“Well, maybe,” Callie answered reluctantly. “I don’t want this to get out on the Ware Information Network though.”
Mina patted her hand. “Oh, honey, it’s probably already there. The important thing is to keep it from Hank, and they can do that.”
But Daniel, who did indeed understand Hank pretty well, had no ideas either.
She asked God about it every morning when she was down in her prayer room. Nothing had come out of that either.
The days flew by and before she knew it, Aunt Phoebe was driving in from the Kansas City Airport and came straight to the house. When Callie saw her aunt pull up in front of the house, she ran outside and hugged her aunt joyously. Phoebe looked at her in astonishment. “Callie, you look fabulous!”
“I am fabulous,” she laughed, tugging her aunt to the house. “Come in out of the cold!”
Callie introduced Phoebe to Mina – Phoebe knew all about Mina from Callie’s occasional emails and phone conversations, but the two hadn’t met until now. After that, they all sat down at the dining room table to enjoy hot chocolate and warm cinnamon rolls while they got caught up on news. Callie said, “You know you’re welcome to stay here.”
“Oh I know,” Phoebe smiled, “but you’ve got a full house and I love the bed and breakfast here in town. I’ll check in there later – I wanted to see you first.”
“I’m so glad you did,” beamed Callie.
Aunt Phoebe took another bite of the cinnamon roll on her plate. “Oh, that is so good! I dreamed about these in Chicago. No one can make cinnamon rolls like Cara McDonald.”
Mina and Callie exchanged glances and giggled.
“What?” Phoebe demanded.
Mina said, “Callie made those.”
Phoebe stared in astonishment at Callie. “No! Really?”
“I’ve been going over to the farmhouse a lot,” Callie explained, ”and Cara and I have been baking together. My cherry pie is pretty good too!”
“You seem transformed,” Phoebe replied, still amazed.
“I think I am,” Callie smiled, “but we can talk about that later. Tell us what’s going on in Chicago.”
A while later Phoebe left to check in at the bed and breakfast, and Mina left to meet Daniel for dinner. Phoebe came back for dinner at the house with Callie. Over dinner and the coffee that followed, Callie gave her aunt a condensed version of everything that had happened over the last year.
“Callie, I had no idea,” Phoebe said finally, when Callie finished.
“That was on me,” Callie said quickly, “I didn’t want you to worry and I knew you would.”
“Guilty as charged,” Phoebe laughed. “Though if I had known about Hank, I wouldn’t have worried as much. He really did look out for you.’”
“I know – he got me through some really rough times. I was such a mess when I got here. I think he just wanted to make sure I got all better. Hank is like that, he just wants to help people.” A ghost of a smile turned up the corners of her mouth. “He made me promise to ask him if I needed help.”
“Now that I’m so much better, he’s probably thinking I’ll leave again like I did after college. I think he’s worried that if I get into trouble after I leave, there won’t be anyone to help me.”
“Umhm,” Phoebe nodded.
“But here’s the thing,” Callie burst out in frustration, ”I don’t want to go anywhere else! And I don’t think he understands that! So there’s no need for him to worry but he’s so stubborn and I don’t know how to convince him that I want to stay in Ware permanently!”
“Ah,” Phoebe said as if she suddenly understood, “I see the problem.”
“Can you think of anything that I could do that would convince him?” Callie asked, a little desperately.
“Welll … of course, if you bought a house, that would show you were putting down roots, but you have a house and he probably thinks you will sell it.”
“Exactly,” Callie agreed.
“Okay,” Phoebe said thoughtfully. “Well, have you ever thought of starting a business? That would certainly show a commitment to remaining in the community.”
Callie’s eyes widened. “Oh that’s brilliant! And yes, it’s odd, but I’ve been thinking lately that I should start an event planning business. That’s mostly what I’ve been doing, and I thought maybe I could make money from it.”
“Well, there you go,” Phoebe smiled. “Doesn’t have to be anything grand, just enough to show that you intend to make Ware your permanent home.”
“Perfect!” Callie responded happily. “This will be a great Christmas gift to Hank. Now he won’t worry so much.”
Phoebe nodded, her expression softening. “I think he will just love it.” Then she turned brisk. “Well, if you want to do this thing before Christmas, you better get a move on. You’ll want to talk with your lawyer and accountant to start with. But with a little help from them, I think you can get enough done to convince Hank.”
Callie reached for her phone and started typing in a message to Mina. Sorry to bother u, but would it b ok to ask Daniel a q? it’s about the xmas present
She hit Send and waited, Phoebe looking on in bemusement.
A few seconds later, the phone rang. Callie smiled – it was Daniel. “Hi, Daniel, I am so sorry to bother you but Christmas is coming up fast.”
Daniel sounded intrigued. “Ask – I’ll help anyway I can.”
“I want to start a business.”
“Okay,” Daniel responded. “Let me put you on speakerphone so my office manager can join the call. Mina, Callie wants to start a business.”
“I have Aunt Phoebe here – it was her idea. I’ll put my speaker on too.” A second later they were all on the call. “I think if I do that, Hank will believe that I want to stay in Ware. But I have to work fast if I’m going to have something convincing to show him.”
“Well, I can get you incorporated as an LLC pretty quickly. What kind of business do you want to start?”
“Event planning. It doesn’t matter if I make money at it, the business just has to bind me to Ware.”
“Nope, just me. I’ll contract for any services I need.”
“Like my wedding planner?” Mina put in.
Callie laughed. “Exactly!”
“Will you run this out of the office at your house?”
“No,” Callie said firmly. “I need a separate office. Probably rent for now, maybe buy later after I get my inheritance.”
“Investing that money in your business,” Mina commented, “which you would not do if you were leaving.”
“Nailed it,” Callie nodded.
“I just got some paper stock to print business cards for Daniel,” Mina added. “I haven’t used them yet – I could get you cards tomorrow.”
“And I have another suggestion,” Daniel put in. “You know, I’ve been living in the space over my office. Mina and I have been talking about buying a house for when we get married. So, I could go and buy the house now and move in myself. That would leave the space in the building I own vacant and I could rent that space to you.”
Callie was stunned. “You own the building?”
“Thanks to your mother. I am sure she’d approve of my new tenant. And I’ll give you a sweetheart deal that anyone would be a fool to walk out on.”
“Oh, Daniel!” Callie exclaimed, overwhelmed.
“Phoebe,” he went on, “you’re the fiscal management expert in our group, This looks like minimal capitalization to me, at least to start. What do you think?”
Phoebe leaned forward to talk into the phone. “I agree. But you’ll want to involve Callie’s accountant in all this.”
“I work with Stacey all the time,” Daniel agreed, “I’ll talk with her. I’m sure she’d be happy to advise Callie on this.”
“To that end,” Phoebe said, “you will need some capitalization to begin with. I propose that I become a silent partner who will provide you with a line of credit to get started. You can always buy me out later on if you want.”
Callie was floored. “Aunt Phoebe!”
“I can make that happen,” Daniel told Phoebe firmly. “You’ll want to set up a bank account anyway. Stacey and I can do that for you.”
“I’m worried about this getting out on the Ware Information Network,” Callie replied anxiously.
Daniel chuckled. “It’s probably already out there. But don’t worry. Remember Operation Prom Night?”
“I sure do,” Mina interjected. “I can’t believe everyone in town knew you were going to propose but me!”
“Exactly,” Daniel responded. “The main thing is to keep Hank from finding out, and that can be done. Now, what are you going to call this new business?”
“Ware Event Planning,” Callie said with great conviction. “It’s not catchy or anything, but it shows that the owner wants to be here in Ware.”
“Sounds great,” Daniel approved. “All right then. Let’s get started on Operation Hank!”