Do you think you know Callie? Discover one of the shocking moments of her past in this sneak peak at my work in progress…
Sunday dinners were the absolute best with the Forsythe family. Callie had first been introduced to them about two weeks after she and Rick had started dating, and they embraced her with loving arms. Austin was such a large city and seemed light-years away from Mississippi, and because she’d only just moved a few months prior, these dinners with Southern fare, laughter and pranks made her feel a little less homesick for her own family.
The entire Forsythe crew of 30, including grandchildren, would all attend Sunday morning church services and then gather in Rick’s parents’ home just a few miles away, meeting in the kitchen to prepare dinner – or lunch, as Callie had grown up calling it. Contrary to the traditional meal prep which Callie was used to, the Forsythe men cooked while the women sat and drank wine.
This is a life I could get accustomed to, Callie thought, taking a deep sigh as she took a sip of the sauvignon blanc Rick had just poured for her. He was everything she wanted in a life partner… at least so far. He was nothing like the boys back in Mississippi she’d dated. He came from a loving, prominent Austin family, he was driven to succeed in his family’s business, he was very attentive, and he had constantly showered her with lavish gifts over the two months they’d been dating. Oh, and boy, was he gorgeous! His shoulder-length, blond hair looked like he had it been professionally highlighted, with colors of wheat, gold and amber that glistened in the sunlight, and a body that would stir any young woman’s hormones. But to add to his lengthy credits, he had told Callie that sex was off the table; that he wanted to get to know her. She was going to hang onto him, and very tightly.
Interrupting her sweet daydream of being Rick’s wife, with two-point-five children, a German shepherd and a white picket fence down the street from his family, Rick’s mom Felicia asked, “Callie, how’s the new job going, Sweetie?”
Callie responded, “Oh, it’s really awesome so far. I’m learning all sorts of new things, and my boss is super nice. The girls in the office are a little too gossipy for me, though.”
Felicia patted her on the hand and said, “Oh, I understand completely. I can remember my first job out of high school and having to deal with the gossipy sort. You’re pretty much stuck with that in an office full of women. As the new girl, if you don’t participate in it, they don’t trust you; and if you plunge right in, they backstab you. But I have a tip that might help you. Always use phrases like ‘I understand’ or ‘Really’ or “Oh, my goodness’. Use of those phrases can keep you from getting into trouble with either side because no one can pin you down on an opinion. And here’s another one: Marry my son and quit your job. He’s a great catch, you know.”
Rick, mashing the potatoes at the wraparound kitchen island, quickly joined the conversation and said, “Okay, Mom, slow down! That’s a great tip if you want to send her running in the opposite direction.”
Felicia giggled and said, “I’m just trying to help her with that little gossip problem, Son.”
Callie didn’t quite know what to say except to smile because the conversation was awkward and everyone had stopped talking and started staring at her, but Rick followed up by adding, “Don’t fall for it, Callie. She just wants to add more notches to her grandma belt.”
That comment led to everyone’s laughter, and the awkwardness turned to a more jovial mood. Callie was relieved that Rick had stepped in, obviating her need to comment, because she wasn’t ready for marriage in reality, just in her daydream world. There were too many things she wanted to accomplish before she committed herself to a lifetime with someone else. She wanted to be a wife and a mom, but not now. Definitely not now.
It was at about that time that dinner was ready to be put on the table, and Callie got up to help with the table settings in the formal dining room, just in case Felicia had any further comments on the marriage subject. Rick’s teenage cousins Jasmine and Victoria got up to help her, while everyone else brought the dishes in and put them on the large table which, surprisingly, accommodated every member of the family. Callie remembered Rick’s dad Clarke telling her that he’d had it built for that specific purpose. It had three leaves, which were added on Sundays and holidays, and it was covered by a custom-made, white linen tablecloth accented with pearl-embellished, lace edges.
Once everyone was in their seats, they bowed their heads and held hands as Mr. Forsythe began the prayer. “Dear, Lord. Through your blessings, we come together on this Sunday to eat the bounty you’ve provided for us. We thank you for those blessings, and we ask that you continue to bless us, one and all, and that the meal and togetherness can serve as nourishment for our souls. In your name, we pray. Amen.”
Everyone at the table said “Amen,” and the dishes were passed around. This meal, as every other one Callie had eaten with her Austin family, didn’t disappoint. She had learned to put less on her plate, though, because she had started to gain a few pounds over the last several months of Sunday carbs. The menu for the day was harder to resist, though, because someone – she thought, perhaps Rick – had probably told Felicia her favorites, because they sat very prominently on the table, beckoning her taste buds.
As Callie looked down one of the table, Felicia winked and smiled at her, letting her know that she was, indeed, the one who decided on all Callie’s favorites. She knew what had to be done. Remembering her Southern manners, but not to ditch her diet plan, she decided she’d have a taste of everything on the table, but it would be limited to smaller portions. She took a small slice of pot roast, a dollop of mashed potatoes and gravy, a few baby carrots, green beans, a smidgen of broccoli-cheese casserole, macaroni and cheese, and one dinner roll. Her plate was sufficiently full, she got a huge smile from Felicia, and her hips weren’t going to be ashamed of her later.
The plates were filled and Rick began to tell his high and low for the week. It was the Forsythe tradition that each person did so, in no particular order. It was a nice tradition, and Callie loved the fact that they included her in this. Rick’s high was that he’d had the highest daily sales number so far in his year at the family’s large coffee import-export business. It had been in the family for three generations, and it had thrived and grown since its inception. Rick’s parents beamed with pride over his announcement, and the entire family clapped in support of him. Even though his low wasn’t really a low, he said, “And my low was that I was five minutes late picking up Callie for our date on Tuesday.”
Callie rolled her eyes at that, but then added, “And my high was that he was five minutes late because he stopped to pick up my favorite chocolate-covered strawberries from the candy store.” Rick grinned from ear to ear, gently kissed her on the cheek and said, “I’d do anything to make you smile, Callie.”
Clarke held up his glass of wine and toasted, “Here’s to my son, who knows how to win a sale and a lady.”
Uncle Bob, who’d spent most of every meal with a stern, blank face, added, “Here, here!” and actually almost smiled for the first time since Callie had met him. Wow! He must really be impressed, thought Callie. As the toast was complete, Bob’s wife, Amelia, asked, “And your low, Callie?”
Callie thought for a few brief seconds over the entire week and said, “My daddy said he missed me.”
The smiles turned to sad faces all around the table… until Rick said, “Babe, why didn’t you tell me? We can take a trip home next weekend, if you want. I’m sure Dad will give me a Saturday off, and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to meet your family.”
Clarke responded, “Absolutely. Family is everything. Consider it a bonus for a job well-done, Son.”
This gracious gesture almost made Callie cry. Instead, she fought back the tears, got up from the table and gave Clarke a proper thank-you with a huge hug. The smiles now returned, and the highs and lows continued around the table. Almost in sync with the last recount of the week, the meal was finished and the dishes were cleared. The men retreated to the study to talk shop for the week that lay ahead while the women did the dishes and walked out to the porch to enjoy the autumn breeze and a pot of fresh-brewed tea… which Callie thought was comical, given that they had a coffee business.
After a few sips of tea, Callie politely excused herself to the bathroom. Walking down the hallway towards the guest bath, she couldn’t help stopping to look at all the family photos. Rick was the spitting image of his dad, who still had a full head of gray-blond hair, although neatly cut and appropriately styled with the current trends. And Felicia, as it happened, was a Miss Texas in her early 20s. Her youthful appearance had remained, which Callie thought was a consequence of her weekly tennis matches at the country club. Callie hoped that she could look that fabulous when she was a grandma.
Her bladder getting fuller by the second, she continued down the hallway, but as she passed by the study just a few steps from the bathroom, the door was slightly ajar and she heard a comment from Clarke that caused her to stop again:
“Son, you’ve worked really hard over the last year, and I’m considering a promotion for you.”
How awesome! I’ve got to hear the rest of this, Callie thought, as any 20-year-old would. As the conversation unfolded, however, Callie would regret her curious eavesdropping. Rick was, of course, excited – at least from what she could hear from his tone of voice.
“Dad, really?” Rick said. What kind of promotion? I mean, it doesn’t really matter, but what is it?”
“Hold on, Son. Don’t get ahead of me here. I said I was considering it. Before I give it to you, I have to know you’re committed enough to take it on. The promotion I’d be looking at putting you in is district manager for the Southeastern U.S. But in order to ascertain if you’re the best fit for it, I’m going to need you to handle a problem. And I’ll need you to do what I say without asking any questions and without any reservations.”
As Callie stood there, her feet glued to the carpet, Clarke continued, “One of our competitors is trying to take our territory away from us in the Southeast. I have an envelope here that I’m going to hand you with specific instructions of how you’re going to help us remedy that problem permanently.”
Rick asked, “What does that mean exactly, Dad?”
Bob responded this time, saying, “Are you sure he’s up for this, C? You don’t want to send a boy for a man’s job.”
Clarke said, “He’s ready, and it’s time he understands how things work in the business.”
Callie was intently listening at this point because she was even more intrigued, but she was still clueless as to what big job they wanted Rick to do. She hoped he wouldn’t have to go out of town for it, but it sounded as if that might be the case.
“But Dad, I still don’t know what you want me to.”
Again, Uncle Bob chimed in, “Rick, you have to take out the competition. And just so you’re really clear what that means, you’ll meet with the guy, and you’ll come home, but he won’t.”
Callie couldn’t move, and she also couldn’t believe what Clarke had just proposed. There was no way that her sweet Rick would ever agree to that.
Rick asked, seemingly confused, “You mean you want me to kill somebody? Like, really take them out? Like a hitman?”
“Exactly like that,” Clarke answered.
Callie, reeling from the conversation, thought, Have I landed in some plot for a movie? This has got to be a script. It can’t be real! It just can’t be!
But as Rick responded, she knew that it was.
“Of course, Dad. I’m up for it. Family is everything, and I can handle this for you, if that’s what it takes to keep the business.”
Nearly breathless, Callie’s neck began to sweat and her pulse began to race. Run! Run now! she thought, but just as she was about to take a step towards the bathroom, she heard a voice.
“Callie, did you get lost? asked Felicia. “I thought you were going to the bathroom.”
Befuddled, heart still racing, Callie dug deep and came up with a response. “I got sidetracked looking at all the wonderful family photos. I was just about to step into the bathroom when my heel got stuck in the carpet. Dumb shoes!”
Felicia noticed the study door being ajar, reached around Callie and closed it shut and gave her a quizzical look. “Okay. Well, hurry on in there and join us back on the porch. I’m about to serve up some apple pie with caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.”
Without hesitation, Callie said, “I’ll be right there. Thank you for checking on me, Felicia.”
Callie had never been happier to see any bathroom as she was at that moment. She stepped in to calm her nerves and try to come up with a plan of escape without causing any undue suspicion as to why she had to leave quickly. She didn’t have much time, but she’d always been great at figuring out a way to excuse herself from an uncomfortable situation. Having a dad who was a youth court judge at the same time she was a teenager, Callie had learned a few tricks on how to leave trouble before it grabbed her by the hand and danced with her.
In just the amount of time it took to relieve her bladder, she decided she’d have a bite of pie and then feign a migraine. She got them often, and Rick knew that she needed to be alone when they happened. Getting out of the house should be easy enough. But how in the world would she get out of this minefield she’d stepped into?