This is a work of fiction.
I was not looking forward to the conversaton I was going to have with Sammy when it was his turn to help me. It wouldn’t be until dinner, so I would just have to get through the day.
We’d just eaten breakfast when my phone rang. I looked at it, and saw my daughter’s name. She’d texted when they’d arrived at their hotel, and occasinally to say they were having a great time, but this was the first actual call. Stacey had never been the kind of person to chatter away on the phone, so if she was calling, something important must be going on.
I sat down at the picnic table and tapped Accept.
“Hi Stacey, how are you?”
“I’m not sure. Sandi from work texted me yesterday while Chuck and I were . . . busy. Her message said ‘I heard about what happened, call me if you need to talk.’ The thing is, I have no idea what happened, and I don’t want to ask her. I tried to check messages at home, but I can’t remember the password. It’s on a piece of paper on the desk in the office. I hope I gave you the key.”
I checked my purse.
“Yes, you did. Should I go and check your messages or read out the password?”
“Would you mind going there and checking mail and messages? I’ve been trying to check my work e-mail, but the server keeps saying there’s some problem, and there’s nothing new in my personal e-mail. Chuck removed his work e-mail from his phone before we left. Sorry, I know you must be busy with the kids, but I’m worried and I don’t want to ask Sandi what she’s talking about.”
“We’ll go right now. We’re going for a hike later, but we have time to go home first. I’ll stop off at the store and buy food for when you get home on Monday.”
“Monday? What? Can you hold on a second?”
Poor Stacey sounded so distracted. She was supposed to be having a good time, not worrying about some message a colleague had probably sent by mistake. She loved her work; it was where she and Chuck had met, although they didn’t work in the same department, but my daughter didn’t always know when to take time off and relax.
She came back on the line.
“Mom, I think I’ve screwed up. What date do you have for our return flight?”
I looked at the calendar on my phone.
“This coming Monday.”
“Oh no, I’m so sorry. It’s not this coming Monday, but the next one. I don’t know how I managed to do that.”
“That’s no problem. I’m happy to stay here for another week with the kids.”
“Are you sure? I can call around and see if anybody can babysit.”
“No, there’s no need to do that. If we can’t stay here any longer, we’ll go to your house.”
“I don’t think we’ve set up the guestroom yet.”
“Don’t worry about that. If there’s no bed, I’ll put my sleeping bag on the couch.”
“I’m sorry Mom.”
“Don’t be. I’ll call you when we’re at the house.”
I unlocked the front door, and the smell hit me.
“Yuck!” Sammy yelled. “Dead dog!”
“It’s not a dog,” I said. “It’s spoiled food. Do you want to stay outside and play while I clean up?”
The boys did, but Lydia came with me.
It didn’t take long to find the source: an open package of cheese had been left in a cupboard.
I found a bare minimum of cleaning supplies, cleaned up the mess as best as I could, and settled Lydia in the living room with her knitting.
I checked on the boys and then went into the office. I put my phone on the desk and called Stacey.
“I’m here. Want me to read the password to you?”
“Can you listen to the messages and call me back if there’s anything important?”
“Thanks. Chuck’s begging for breakfast.”
I laughed and we said goodbye.
There were a lot of messages. Many of them were from people saying thank you to Stacey and Chuck for the lovely wedding. I wrote down the names and saved the messages.
Then there was one from the kennel. Popeye had passed away peacefully in his sleep.
I called Stacey back and told her.
“Oh no! Would you mind going?”
“I don’t mind, but are you sure? They said it’s not a problem to keep his ashes until you return.”
“Yes, I’m sure. I’d like Curly to have the honor.”
“Mom? I know this might sound crazy, but I don’t want to come home . . . and find . . . I know it’s not him, but it would be like Abe was gone all over again.”
“What do you mean?”
“Can you take the kids and get another dog?”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes. Hold on a sec please.” I heard her talking to Chuck, and then she came back. “Yes, Chuck’s fine with it. Can you do it?”
“Yes. Just so there’s no misunderstanding, you’d like me to take the kids to pick up Popeye’s ashes and Curly is the one who will decide what to do with them. You’d also like me to take the kids and get another dog.”
“Okay. I’ll listen to the rest of the messages first.”
“I’ll stay on the phone. Chuck’s buried in bacon and eggs.”
A minute later, I played the last mesage.
I’d put the phone on speaker so Stacey could hear, and a man’s deep voice resounded through the room.
“Hi,” he drawled in a wonderfully smooth Southern accent. “This message is for Stacey and Chuck. We’re downsizing just a little, so your services are no longer required. We’ve put your final paychecks in the mail. I heard you went off to Hawaii to enjoy each other’s company on the beach, so have fun in the sun — if y’all still can.”