Daniel Alverson’s offices were in a former dress shop that Callie vaguely remembered. But from what she could see, he had completely redone the inside of the old building. The waiting room was filled with comfortable Mission furniture and large green plants. She learned the hallway on the right led past his office to a medium-sized conference room. In that room, upholstered chairs on casters surrounded the big mahogany conference table. The walls were painted in a relaxing off-white, with sierra-colored plush carpet covering the floor. A few tasteful landscapes hung on the walls.
Mr. Alverson himself, or Daniel as he quickly asked them to call him, was young, as Callie expected, but he was built more like a compact wrestler. She thought he’d be tall and lanky. His light brown hair was cut very short and his face had craggy features, more like what she thought a Texas lawyer would look like. There was something open and friendly in his dark brown eyes that made her like him immediately.
“I was sad to hear about Lizzie,” he said with a bit of a Texas twang coming through. He gestured toward the chairs. “She had become a good friend to me.”
“She told me how helpful you had been to her,” Phoebe agreed as she and Callie took their seats. “She really liked you a lot.”
Callie shifted uncomfortably. She didn’t even know her mother had a lawyer, let alone one who was a good friend.
Daniel sat across from them and spread out his papers. “First of all, there’s the will. We have to go through probate before everything can be distributed. But there’s a bequest to you, Ms. Park –“
“Phoebe,” Daniel smiled. “You receive $100,000 and a few items you had mutually agreed would go to you.”
Phoebe turned to Callie. “You remember, we all talked about those things when Lizzie updated her will a few years back.”
Calle smiled. “Yes, I remember.”
“Everything else goes to you, Ms. Robinson,” Daniel continued. “That’s the house, its contents except for the items going to Ms. – Phoebe,” he corrected with a quick smile, “the contents of her safety deposit box, and financial assets worth just over $350,000.”
Callie was stunned. Phoebe looked at her in surprise. “You didn’t know?”
“No,” Callie stammered, “Mom never told me. I knew she lived comfortably, after Dad died. But I had no idea she had that kind of money.”
Phoebe patted her arm. “Henry left her a lot of money when he passed. And then she got more from the sale of the old house and all that land. She invested part of it in a big insurance policy herself, some in stocks and bonds, and some to the church and charity. But the money never meant much to her. She used to say, it’s not having money that’s important, it’s what you can do with it.”
“I remember her saying that,” Callie confirmed, wondering what else she didn’t know about her own mother. “She never spent a lot though.”
“Not on herself,” Phoebe smiled. “But she found a lot of ways to help others. She started a small scholarship at the University, new computers were installed at the library, and new playground equipment got built at the school.”
“And a certain lawyer was given a loan to start his firm,” Daniel added, his expression somber. “Paid it off two years ago.”
Callie shook her head. “I had no idea.”
“She never made a big deal of it,” Daniel remarked. “She did a lot anonymously. But Ware is a small town. Folks soon figured it out.” He reached for one of the stacks of paper. “I need you two to sign some things, and I can get started on probate.”
Callie read every piece of paper he put in front of her. She even listened as he explained each one, she asked questions about a few of the papers, and she made notes in her planner. All very businesslike and focused. But as he did the same for Phoebe, the details faded away like memories of a forgotten dream.
Daniel turned to Phoebe. “Lizzie named you as executrix of her estate. I’ll do everything I can to help you. Of course, if you’d rather have some other legal representation –“
“No,” Phoebe said very firmly. “I’m well pleased with our current lawyer.”
Daniel flushed a little. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “I appreciate that.”
“So,” Phoebe said briskly, ”how long will all this take?”
“Probably several months before it’s all complete.” Daniel noted her look of dismay and asked, “Is that a problem?”
“Yes,” replied Phoebe, “I have to get back to my job in Chicago and Callie has to get back to Charleston.”
Daniel shook his head reassuringly. “Oh, don’t worry about that. There are a few more things you need to do in Ware, but that shouldn’t take more than a few days. Everything else can be done by phone, fax, and email.”
“Oh, good,” Phoebe sighed in relief.
“if you need an accountant,” Daniel continued, “to handle the tax returns and other things, Stacey Carpenter here in town is good. I wrote down her number there.” He pointed at the stack of papers in front of her. “Of course, you may know someone else you would prefer.”
Phoebe thanked him and turned the paper so Callie could make a note of the phone number.
“You’re very welcome,” Daniel nodded. “I have also listed all my contact information. I understand you have a lot to think about. How long were you planning on being in Ware?”
Phoebe answered, “About a week, I think,” and then glanced at Callie. “How about you, Callie, how long do you plan to stay?”
Callie gave herself a mental shake. “About a week,” she echoed, “until after the funeral.”
“Then let's plan to meet in a couple of days,” Daniel suggested. “That will give you time to look over these papers and make some preliminary decisions.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Phoebe agreed. “Oh, Daniel, Callie is thinking about selling the house. Is there someone we can get to check it out, make sure everything is ready for the sale?”
“Well, you probably want Hank McDonald, he does a lot of handyman work.” Daniel pulled back the sheaf of papers and wrote on the page where he had his contact information. Then he pushed the papers back to Phoebe. “I wrote down his phone number for you. You can call or text him at that number.”
Callie sat quietly as Phoebe thanked Daniel and worked out a time and place for their next meeting. Hank McDonald? She hadn’t been in touch with him since high school. She didn’t even realize he was still in Ware.
Though evidently he was.
Callie gathered up her papers, stood up, and followed Phoebe as Daniel showed them out. Well, it really didn’t matter. He wouldn’t even remember her. Her huge crush on him was entirely one-sided. His interest was focused on Sherry Dellalogia. Oh my gosh! What if they got married?
And with that thought, she returned to her senses. It made absolutely no difference if he was married or not, or who he might be married to if he was. None of my business! she told herself firmly.
And that was the end of that.
The rest of the afternoon passed quickly. Callie and Phoebe set up an account at the bank for the estate and started the process of closing Lizzie Robinson's personal account. They examined the contents of the safety deposit box, mostly papers and a few pieces of family jewelry. At least there were no surprises there.
At the funeral home, a pleasant young man named Jacob Pauly led them to a wood-paneled conference room lined with samples of wood, stone, and other products. Callie supposed that should be kind of creepy, but it was actually very helpful.
She and Phoebe sat to Jacob’s left at the oval heavily-varnished oak table. He was young and looked more like a farm kid than an undertaker’s assistant with his broad friendly face and stocky build.
Jacob had a leather folder in front of him which he opened to reveal a small stack of papers on top of a lined legal-sized pad. Business must be good, Callie thought irreverently, as she noticed his expensive ink pen.
She opened her trusty planner and started to take notes as Jacob began, “Mrs. Robinson contacted us several years ago to set up her arrangements. Her husband had already secured two plots for himself and Mrs. Robinson.” He handed them each a sheet of paper showing the location of the plots. Jacob guided Callie and Phoebe through all the various options for services, caskets, memorials, and other details.
“Some people prefer for us to handle everything,” Jacob said at last, “but I found a note in there that Mrs. Robinson expected the memorial service would be held at the Morning Star Church. I think the church will also be expecting to host the gathering after the burial, too. You’ll want to talk with Mrs. Austin about that.”
“Thanks, Jacob,” Phoebe said pleasantly. She caught Callie trying to place the name. “Ginny Austin, the pastor’s wife. A very capable, organized woman, if memory serves me correctly.”
“That’s the one,” grinned Jacob. “Well, when would you like the funeral to be held?”
Phoebe glanced at Callie. “Monday, right?” Callie nodded. “Monday morning,” Phoebe said firmly to Jacob. “We’ll have the wake right after that at the church.”
“We’ll have everything ready,” Jacob promised. He took their contact information, shook their hands, and assured them of his sympathy as he escorted them back to the front door. Callie wasn’t sure if she felt more satisfied or exhausted as she and Phoebe walked to Phoebe’s small rental car.
As they buckled their seatbelts, her aunt said, “Tomorrow we can meet with Mrs. Austin at the church. Can you contact the accountant to see if we can meet with her tomorrow? I’ll take care of calling Mr. McDonald, since I’m staying at the house. How do you want to do the obituary?”
“I can call the accountant. Could you write the obituary?” Callie asked, scribbling in her ever-present planner.
Phoebe backed the car out of their parking space before answering. “Well, why don’t we both write a draft?”
“Okay,” Callie reluctantly agreed. How could she explain that after everything she’d learned today, she didn’t think she knew enough about her mother to write an obituary? She glanced up at the road and asked, “Can you take me back to Sally’s? I’ll get some take-out before I head back to the inn.”
“Can do,” Phoebe replied, putting her car in gear. “I figure I’ll just heat up one of the casseroles that the church ladies brought by yesterday. Friends of your mom,” Phoebe clarified. “I had some last night, and oh my Lord, those ladies can cook! You’re missing out, Callie.”
“It does sound good.” Callie saw the café up ahead and started collecting her things. “I’ll text you after I talk to the accountant.”
“That works.” Phoebe parked the car to let Callie out. “See you tomorrow, kiddo.”
Callie shot her a warm smile. “Thanks, Aunt Phoebe. I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Vice versa,” Phoebe smiled back.
Callie stepped out of the car, waved to Phoebe, and hurried inside the café.
I can do this, she told herself. I can do this. Just keep busy….
Later that evening, Callie munched on her burger and cold fries as she went over her budget. Her financial situation didn’t look good. She’d be all right if she had some kind of income, but she didn’t. And her savings would only take her so far. At least she’d gotten a good price for the ring.
She looked over the figures again. Of course, by next year, she’d be fine. Callie shook her head. How could she not know her mother had all that money? She thought Mom sold the old house because it cost too much to maintain, and Mom said the money Dad had left her was meant to pay for Callie’s tuition at the University of Kansas. Callie had the impression that Mom was okay financially but lived frugally. Callie shook her head, thinking of the times she had splurged on something for Mom, feeling like she was providing some treat for her mother. And all the while….
Callie blew out a big breath of air, then reached for her phone. She wanted to check in with Mina before it got too late. She smiled when she heard Mina’s breezy hello. “Hi, Mina, it’s Callie.”
“Callie, how are you? Are you doing okay?” Mina’s voice was warm and concerned.
“Oh getting by,” Callie shrugged. “Lots to do, so I’m keeping busy. How are things at your end?”
“Phil’s gone nuts,” Mina responded with no small measure of satisfaction. “I don’t think he realized how much you did. And he’s having a tough time finding someone else with enough experience to take your place.”
“That’s a shame,” Callie said with no sympathy whatsoever. “Have you heard of any openings in town?”
“No, and I’ve kept an eye out too. I figured that was the last thing on your mind right now, and it’s hard to job search from so far away.”
Callie leaned back in the chrome dinette chair. “Oh thanks, Mina, I appreciate that so much. I looked online when I stopped for the night near Nashville, but I couldn’t find anything.”
“Well, I’ll keep checking. So when are you coming back?”
“In a few days,” Callie shrugged. “The funeral is on Monday, and I should have everything wrapped up by Wednesday or Thursday.”
“Anything I can do for you?”
Callie couldn’t help smiling. “No, nothing, thanks, Mina. You’re already keeping an eye on my apartment, watering my plants, and picking up my mail. “
“Just how I roll,” Mina joked. “Seriously, if you need anything, just let me know.”
“I will. You’re the best, Mina.”
Callie could hear the smile in Mina’s voice. “Of course I am.”
“I’ll make it up to you,” Callie promised.
“Just remember you’re job hunting for two,” Mina laughed. “So, how does it feel to be back home?”
“Kind of weird, really,” she shrugged. “It’s like nothing has really changed since I left. The people, the buildings, it’s all the same. But I kinda like it, you know? And everyone’s been so nice.”
“I’m glad, sis.”
Callie told her friend about lunch at Sally’s, the owner who still presided like a rough foreman but had a heart of gold, then the meeting with the attorney – “you’d like him, Mina, he’s cute,” Callie teased – and the surprising amount of money she didn’t know her mother had. “It’s like she was this whole other person that I never knew. I thought we were really close, she was my mother, for heaven’s sake! How could I miss all this? It’s like she had this whole other life.”
Mina said gently, “She did. You knew her as your mom, but she was also Elizabeth Robinson, and she had a whole other life outside of being your mother.”
Callie thought about that for a moment. “You’re right. She’s always been Mom to me, and I never saw her as anything else.”
“This might be a good time to talk to the folks in Ware and find out about that other life your mom had,” Mina suggested.
Callie smiled. “Do you ever get tired of being right?”
“Never,” Mina retorted with a laugh.
Callie looked down at her planner. “My Aunt Phoebe asked me to draft up an obituary for Mom. That’s a good excuse for asking people what they know about Mom.”
“That’s a great idea.”
“Oh Mina, thanks so much. You’re the best friend ever.”
“Takes one to know one,” Mina replied warmly.
They chatted for a few more minutes, and then Callie said good-bye. She looked down at her budget notes and her planner, and sighed. There was no way around it. She was going to have to move into the house, at least until the end of the week. She couldn’t put into words why she felt so strongly about not wanting to see her mother’s house. It wasn’t all that familiar, she’d only been there a few times over the past several years. But something about walking in and finding it empty –
She sat up straight and crumpled the hamburger wrapper and paper bag into a tight ball.
- "That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford