The next morning, Callie told herself she needed to put all this behind her and get her life back on track. She sat down at the small table in her room with her planner to outline the next few days.
Priority one: finances. She would have to move out of the inn and into the house. After she got everything wrapped up in Ware, she could drive back to Charleston and find something, anything to create some kind of revenue stream for the next year. Then she’d have time to develop a more permanent source of income.
Priority two: the house. She’d have to sell it. That meant packing up, making sure Hank finished the repairs, and talking with the real estate agent, Olivia O’Neill. Deep down inside she quailed at the idea of packing up all her mother’s things, but she ruthlessly suppressed the feeling. Needs must, she told herself firmly.
Priority three: she didn’t have a priority three. But she needed a priority three. She needed more to do, there wasn’t enough on her list. She was used to juggling far more, that was when she was at her best. Well, she’d find something. She had enough to start with anyway.
Full of purpose, she swallowed the last bit of cinnamon roll – oh that woman could bake! – and started looking for her car keys and wallet. She found them in her purse from yesterday. She packed and put her luggage in the car, then checked out of the motel. She assured the old man at the desk that she had very much enjoyed her stay and thanked him and his wife for taking such good care of her while she was there.
Daniel Alverson was happy to give her a key to the house and minutes later she was pulling in the short driveway. She didn’t see any other cars around so she figured Hank hadn’t arrived yet. She got her luggage out of the car and into the house. She stashed the suitcases downstairs for the time being, then started walking through the house.
The living room was in the front of the house. It was far more formal than the family room downstairs. The sofa stood on tall curved legs and was upholstered in an understated damask fabric with minimal padding. A couple of rosewood armchairs, with padded backs and seats, and two filled bookcases faced the sofa. Callie shook her head. This wasn’t at all like her mother. It was too formal, too – impersonal. She wondered how the room got that way.
The dining room was more like Mom, warm and friendly with its worn wooden table from the old house and comfortable dining room chairs. The kitchen was very modern with its curved island and granite countertops, but it was clearly the center of the house, and that was Mom too. She was always baking or cooking or feeding someone. Callie stifled a laugh. Mom and Cara must have gotten on famously.
She peeked into the garage again and made a note in her planner to ask Daniel about the remote for the automatic garage door. She noticed where Hank was working on repairs.
She avoided the bedrooms for now and instead went downstairs. She moved her suitcases into the bathroom and tried out one of the power recliners. Yes, she could sleep down here for a few days. That wouldn’t be so bad.
She heard noises upstairs, then Hank’s voice calling out her name. “I’m downstairs, I’ll be right up!” she shouted and hurried up the steps.
Hank was waiting in the dining room, dressed in a paint-splattered dark t-shirt and worn heavy denims. His smile warmed her more than it should. “Phoebe gave me a key,” he began.
“I know,” she said quickly, “she told me and I said that was fine.”
“So…are you thinking of selling the place?”
Callie nodded. “It just isn’t practical to keep it. But I decided to stay here a few days while I get everything ready to close up.”
“I get it. You need to get back to your job in Charleston.” She didn’t say anything so he went on, “I should finish up by tomorrow. I can leave the key for you if you like.”
“No, that’s all right,” Callie said briskly. “You can just give it to Daniel and he can pay you.”
“Okay,” Hank nodded. “Well, I’ll get to work, unless there’s something you need.”
“Oh, there is one thing,” Callie answered. “I’m going to be putting a lot of stuff in storage and I need some packing materials. Do you know where I can get some?”
“My dad’s store,” Hank said promptly. “He’s got everything you need. And when it comes time to put it in storage, let me know. I can rustle up some help to get that done for you.”
“How much do you think that would cost?” Callie asked a little hesitantly.
“I don’t know about the packing materials,” Hank shrugged, “but moving it all to storage won’t cost anything – just Ware being neighborly.”
Callie knew she should protest, but she also knew she couldn’t afford to. Well, she could make it up later. For now – “Thanks, Hank, that would really help. Okay, I’ll head over to your dad’s to get the packing supplies.”
Hank raised a hand as he turned to go into the garage. “When you get back, give me a shout and I’ll help you carry in the stuff.”
“Okay, thanks,” she smiled and hurried out the front door, eager to start the next thing on her list.
Hank waited until he heard the car drive off, then called his dad on his smartphone. “Hey, Dad? Hank. Listen, Callie Robinson is on her way over to get some packing supplies so she can pack up her mom’s stuff. Can you make her the best deal on them you can? I think she’s running short on cash.”
Hank listened for a moment, then shook his head. “Just a feeling, something she let slip…Okay, thanks, Dad. I’ll talk with you later. Bye.”
He slipped the smartphone back in his pocket. There was something going on with that girl, something she wasn’t talking about. He knew he hadn’t seen her in years, and he knew people changed. But there was something there that just didn’t ring true. Like she was wearing a mask. Hank shook his head. Whatever it was, he’d just have to leave it in the Lord’s hands for now. There was nothing more that he could do.
Callie drove back to the house, the back of her SUV filled with flat boxes, tape, plastic bubble wrap, and all sorts of things Tom McDonald told her she would need. She shook her head. She couldn’t imagine how much all that would cost, but Tom refused any offer of payment.
“As much as I want to, I can’t do anything for Lizzie now,” he’d told her firmly. “But I can do something for her daughter and I figure that’s close enough. Let me do this, Callie. Let me do it for her.”
Well, there was nothing she could say to that. So she was driving back to the house with a carful of free packing supplies. Callie shook her head. Those McDonalds. What would she do without them?
She pulled in the driveway and hollered for Hank. He appeared right away, with the heart-stopping smile she remembered from high school. Easy, girl, she told herself, remember you’re leaving in less than a week.
She opened the cargo area of the SUV so Hank could get at the boxes. She took out the plastic bags and followed him into the house, trying not to notice how lean and well-muscled he looked as he effortlessly carried the heavy cardboard flats inside.
In the house, she said, “I thought I could put half of the boxes up here and half downstairs.”
“No problem,” Hank said, gently setting half of the boxes against the wall by the door to the laundry room, then taking the rest of flats downstairs. She set the plastic bags on the dining room table, then moved restlessly to the living room. This might be the best place to start, she mused. And I could stage all the filled boxes in here as well.
Hank returned upstairs and joined her in the living room. “Anything else?”
“Well, I was wondering, what about the furniture in here?” Callie asked. “The big pieces probably wouldn’t even fit in a box.”
Hank scanned the room. “Well, if you’re going to ship them, I’d recommend crating ‘em. But if you just want to store them, I’d suggest wrapping the furniture in heavy plastic. I have some plastic sheets back at the farm – some of it is paint-stained, but if that doesn’t bother you, you’re welcome to it.”
“The plastic would be perfect,” Callie said gratefully, “if you don’t need it.”
“Nah,” Hank shook his head, “I don’t, probably just end up throwing it out anyway. I can bring it by tomorrow and wrap these pieces up for you. Then we could take ‘em out to that storage place by the highway if you want.”
“Thanks so much, Hank,” Callie sighed. “You just make everything easy.”
Hank flashed a grin. “That’s what I like to hear.”
She boxed up everything she could in the living room and then came to an abrupt halt as she considered where to go next. Hank was out in the garage so she couldn’t go out there – she’d just get in his way. She wasn’t ready to start on the bedrooms. She guessed she could do some of the kitchen stuff. But she would still be here for a few days and she didn’t want to pack it all up. She started pulling things out of the cupboard that she felt she wouldn’t need.
Callie was pondering how so many pots, pans, glasses, and dishes can fill up the finite space of a cupboard when Hank came in from the laundry room. “I’m done with the garage,” he announced, putting his toolbox on the floor. “Anything I can help you with in here?”
“No thanks,” Callie smiled. “You’ve already done so much.”
“Just doin’ my job, ma’am,” he drawled teasingly.
“Oh all right,” she laughed. “Just leave your silver bullet on the table.”
“See you tomorrow – I’ll bring some plastic.” He hesitated at the door. “I know you’re probably in the middle of things here, but I wonder, would you like to come over for dinner? My grandparents would love to have you.”
“Oh my gosh, Hank, I’ve practically been living with them!” she exclaimed. “And there’s so much food here, I’d hate to have to throw any of it out when I leave.”
“I know, I saw all that when I put Gramma’s pie in there.”
“Hank!” Callie exclaimed.
Hank shrugged. “I didn’t have a choice. Gramma ordered me to do it.”
“Oh you McDonalds!” Callie shook her head. Then she raised an eyebrow. “What kind of pie?”
Callie could still taste that wonderful cherry pie she’d shared with Aunt Phoebe. “Okay,” she said reluctantly, “I’ll let you get away with it this time. But Hank, you have to tell her I literally cannot eat all that food she keeps giving me!”
“Oh I’ll tell her,” Hank agreed. “Don’t know if it will do any good, but I’ll tell her.”
“Oh you!” But she was smiling when she said it.
Callie talked to Mina briefly that evening. She explained that she had decided to stay a few more days to close up the house. Mina said she’d look after the apartment and not to worry. Callie joked about all the high-calorie foods Cara kept giving her (“the worst part of it is that she is probably the best baker you’ve ever met!”) and described how everyone had been so kind to her.
After that, she finished boxing up what she thought she could from the kitchen and put those boxes in the living room. Then she went downstairs to box up some of the things in the family room. After that, she curled up on the large sofa and turned on the TV. But she just couldn’t find anything that held her interest.
She wondered what it would be like if she had gone to the McDonalds for dinner. Maybe she could have helped Cara in the kitchen. Then they would all have sat down at the big kitchen table and talked, and laughed … Hank would have teased her and smiled that warm, relaxing smile of his ….
She fell asleep dreaming of Cara’s cherry pie.
The next morning she woke, her neck stiff from how she’d fallen asleep on the sofa. She extracted her suitcases from the downstairs bathroom and partly unpacked, using the shelf space she’d cleared last night for her folded clothes. After a quick shower and change to fresh jeans and a loose campshirt, she started working on boxing up everything else in the basement. She had just finished when she heard Hank come in. She took one of the boxes upstairs with her.
Hank took it from her and put it in the living room for her. “Do you have more downstairs to bring up?” he asked as he set the box down.
“A few, but you don’t have to –“
He was already on his way downstairs.
Callie switched on the coffeemaker in the kitchen and got out a couple of coffee mugs. Before the coffee was ready, Hank emerged from the stairs carrying two of the big boxes she had filled. “Living room?” he asked.
“Yes, I thought I’d put them all in there for a while.”
“I saw some more boxes downstairs, I’ll bring those up in a bit,” Hank told her as he came back toward the kitchen. “But first I think we should wrap up the furniture, while we still have plenty of room in there. You want to help?”
“Yes, please,” she smiled, happy to have something else to do.
“I already brought in the plastic,” Hank told her. “Do you have scissors and duct tape?”
Callie went over to the dining room table which still held her bags from the building supply store. “I think so. Mr. McDonald put a whole bunch of stuff in here.”
“If he did it, then I’m sure you’ve got some.”
Callie pulled out a thick roll of silver duct tape. “Aha! Oh and here are the scissors.”
“Great! Bring them into the living room.” Hank led the way and as they reached the living room, she saw several big pieces of heavy plastic folded on the sofa. He pulled those onto the floor and unfolded one of the sheets. He lifted one end of the sofa. “Okay, that’s pretty light. You get at that end and lift up the sofa, and I’ll wrap the plastic around it.”
“Okay,” Callie nodded and took her position. She was impressed at how quickly and efficiently Hank wrapped the heavy plastic around the sofa. He put duct tape completely around the sofa to hold the plastic in place. Then they did the other end the same way, making sure any open edges were sealed off with tape. Finally, Hank asked her to cut off some long strips of duct tape that he used to secure the ends.
“That was so fast!” Callie said, admiring the neatly wrapped sofa.
“I had good help,” Hank grinned, To her embarrassment, she could feel her cheeks flushing. “I can do the rest of the furniture myself, unless you’d like to help.”
“Sure, I can help,” Callie answered willingly. “It’s the least I can do, after all you’ve done for me.”
“Great. I just need you to cut lengths of duct tape for me and put it on while I hold the plastic in place.”
“Sure, I can do that.” Minutes later, looking at the finished work, Callie shook her head. “That went so quickly!”
“Many hands make light work,” Hank quoted with a grin. “Gramma Cara.”
“Of course,” Callie grinned. “Oh, I forgot! I started the coffee machine. Want some before we go?”
“Sounds great, but let me get all this in the truck first.” Hank started to pick up the sofa and Callie rushed over to get the other end. After they got the sofa into the back of the pickup truck, Hank shooed her into the kitchen. “I’ll get the rest of this – you can take care of the coffee.”
Callie thought that should offend her somehow, but it made sense. The boxes were too heavy for her to carry, and she’d just be in his way trying to help with the chairs and other furniture. So while Hank loaded his truck, she poured coffee and cut slices of Cara’s pie. From what she remembered, Hank loved his grandmother’s pie.
The happy expression on his face when he saw the pie told her she’d guessed right. “Wow, this looks great!” he said cheerfully sitting down beside her.
“You deserve it,” Callie smiled. “Cream or sugar?”
“No, black is fine.” He took a sip and nodded. “You make a good cup of coffee.”
“Thanks, Hank,” she answered, trying to hide the fact that she was absurdly pleased. “So, how are the Royals doing this year?”
He shrugged. “Okay. Since they won the World Series, we always expect them to repeat. But they don’t have good pitchers, so it’s not happening.”
They chatted casually as they finished their coffee and pie. But soon both the coffee and the pie were finished and it was time to get going again.
The rest of the morning passed quickly. She got a space at the storage facility and Hank unloaded the truck. They made a quick stop at Daniel Alverson’s office. The attorney produced the remote control for the garage door and told Callie he was working with Phoebe on filing for probate.
Back at the house, Hank disappeared into the basement and Callie started boxing items from her bedroom. By lunchtime, she had the room stripped of everything but furniture, bedding and linens. She thought she might work on the garage in the afternoon. Hank had said something about an attic, and she needed to check that out too.
She heated up a casserole for lunch and they shared it at the old table in the dining room. Then Hank returned to the basement and she took some of the flat boxes out to the garage, to pack up things out there. By late afternoon, they had both finished their tasks.
Hank showed her the list of what he’d done and walked her around to view the repairs. She was impressed and readily signed off on the list. He helped her get up in the attic and move everything down into the garage.
Hank suggested one last trip to the storage facility, so they loaded up the truck and filled up the space she had rented earlier. As they headed out, Hank again invited her to dinner at his grandparents’ house.
Callie tried to beg off, but before she knew it they were driving down the road to the farmhouse. She tried to convince herself this was like a last farewell dinner before she went home to Charleston. She was mostly successful.
But it was a fun evening. She felt surrounded by warmth, affection, and cheer. Tom and Anne came over, bringing a crisp salad. They lingered over chocolate cake and coffee, chatting and joking, before Hank took her back to the Walnut Street house.
“Give me a call when you have another load ready,” Hank reminded her when he pulled up in front of the house. “I’ll come move it for you.”
“Thanks, Hank,” Callie smiled. “I really appreciate all you’ve been doing.” She was hoping he was including it in his bill to Daniel, but she knew that was very unlikely.
“Just being neighborly,” Hank shrugged. “Hold on.”
He got out to walk around the truck and open the door for her and help her down. She noticed he waited until she was safely inside the house before he drove off. Yep, she smiled, remembering what Aunt Phoebe had said, he was raised right.
- "That Little Thing" Copyright © 2020 by Susan Stafford