As the last of the sun dipped into the horizon, Kasey jumped the fence behind the dock master’s building on 24th Street. Everyone had gone, except for the night watchman. She kept her eye on him, and he was down on the docks near the ships. She quickly opened the urn, dug a hole as fast as she could, and gently placed the ashes in the hole. She heard Naomi tell so many stories over the years about the docks and Kasey’s grandfather, that she couldn’t think of a better place to scatter her mom’s ashes than the docks. And since it was illegal to dump the ashes in the water, this was the closest she could get to where her mom would want to be. She didn’t have time to shed a tear, as the sound of the night watchman’s cough got closer and closer.
She scaled the chain link fence as fast as she could, flipped her legs over the top, jumped down landing hard on the blacktop, and ran down the block to her car. She jumped in and started her car just as his flashlight shown in her review mirror. She drove away quickly and as inconspicuously as possible.
That night as she lay in her bed, she listened to the silence. She still wasn’t used to it. She didn’t have to check on anyone or worry about anyone but herself. It was both liberating and heartbreaking. She listened to every creak and moan the old apartment building had. Maybe she should get a cat or something to keep her company. Then it occurred to her that she had the time to date now that her mother was gone. She might be able to find someone. But her guilt quickly squelched her fantasy. How could she even think about men at a time like this? What kind of a daughter does that? It was bad enough that she fought with her mom the night before she died, and now she was thinking about dating? She apologized to her mom, over and over in her head, but it didn’t make her feel any better. She didn’t know what time it was when she finally fell asleep.
Willow was at the coffee shop when Kasey got there. Kasey looked at the clock on the wall.
“Am I late?” Kasey asked Chase as she put her purse in the cupboard.
“Willow’s already here. She’s not usually in until later,” Kasey noted.
“Oh, yeah. She has something to do this morning, I guess,” Chase said.
Kasey shrugged her shoulders and went about her business. Chase paused as he passed Willow’s table.
“She’s suspicious as to why you’re here early…” he whispered.
“You didn’t tell her, did you?” she whispered back.
Chase shook his head.
“What were you two talking about?” Kasey asked.
“Why all the questions?” Chase returned.
“No reason. Sorry, I’m just tired today. Probably a little grumpy too.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Chase teased.
Willow finished her coffee, and gathered her things to leave.
“You’re leaving already?” Kasey asked.
“Yep. Got things to do today,” Willow said.
Chase smiled at Willow as he passed behind Kasey. Kasey caught the exchange. Something was definitely up. She’d get it out of one of them sooner or later.
Willow turned in to Countryside Daycare. The front of the building could’ve used a fresh coat of paint, but it was clean at least. She figured it wasn’t the most expensive place in town, but probably what Kasey could afford. There were fresh flowers on the table in the foyer, and the woman behind the counter greeted her.
“Good morning. Can I help you?”
“Hi, I’m looking for Helen?” Willow asked.
“That’s me. You must be Willow?” Helen said and stood to shake Willow’s hand.
“Hi, nice to meet you,” Willow said.
“Now you’re here about Naomi Hunter, right?”
“Why don’t we go back to the office and see what we can do,” Helen said. Willow followed her down the hall. The walls were decorated with framed old newspaper clippings as well as photos of families, usually gathered around an older person. She assumed they were probably pictures of residents. Willow sat across the desk from Helen.
“I think what you’re doing is a lovely gesture,” Helen said.
“Oh, thank you. But it isn’t just me. We sort of took up a collection,” Willow said.
“Oh, that’s even nicer. She’s lucky to have such good friends.”
“We’d like this to be anonymous. Is that possible?” Willow asked.
Helen looked confused. “You don’t want her to know who paid her bill?”
“If that’s possible, yes.”
“Okay. We can just list it as an anonymous donor or something, I guess,” Helen said.
“Oh, then she’ll know for sure who did it. Don’t you have some sort of bereavement fund or something like that? I mean, can you fudge the paperwork to say that? So long as it doesn’t mess anything up on your end, that is,” Willow asked.
Helen thought about it for a few minutes. “I guess I could tell her something like that. Do you think she’ll believe it?”
“So long as she doesn’t have to pay it, I think she will.”
Helen smiled and set the bill on the table across from Willow. Willow examined it, to make sure there were no extra charges, or anything sneaky. It looked legitimate. Willow wrote out a check and handed it to Helen.
“Can I have a receipt?” she asked.
She cleared out the bill, stamped it paid, and handed a receipt to Willow. Willow put the receipt in her purse. She thanked Helen for her help and made her swear she wouldn’t tell Kasey a thing. She headed home to finish her day. Maybe she’d be able to do some writing.
As it got near the end of her shift, Kasey cleaned up the coffee machine.
“You sure you don’t mind me leaving a little early?” she asked Chase.
“No, I’m good.”
“Thanks. I’ve got to go wrap up some lose ends.”
“Mom stuff?” Chase asked.
“Yep. Hopefully it’s the last of the people who want money. I can’t believe the amount of stuff they expect you to take care of when you’re in the middle of grieving someone’s death. It’s practically heartless,” Kasey said.
“I wish I could help,” Chase said, knowing that he already had.
He smiled as she walked out the door.
“What? Are you sure?” Kasey asked Helen.
“Yes, I’m sure. It says the balance was cleared out.”
“But…how? Who? You said I owed over $1000?! I’ve been stressing for days about this!” Kasey said, a little upset that she’d been stressed out for no reason.
“It looks like the management used our bereavement fund to pay your bill,” Helen said.
“What bereavement fund? Charity?” Kasey asked.
“Sort of. Sometimes when one of our residents passes away, and paying would be considered a hardship, they give access to the bereavement fund to pay the balance.” Helen was making it up as fast as she could.
“A hardship? Who decides it’s a hardship?!” Kasey said.
“Management,” Helen said and reached across the desk and grasped Kasey’s hand.
Kasey stopped getting upset for the moment.
“Kasey…it’s taken care of. It’s okay. Don’t worry about it. You have enough things to take care of. Let us take care of this. Don’t argue about it, just accept the gift for what it is,” Helen said softly.
“But…I can take care of…”
“I know. But you don’t have to. It’s just a gift, not an insult,” Helen said.
Kasey put her head down. “I guess you’re right. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
“I know. It’s okay.”
Helen slid the cleared bill to Kasey, and she picked it up. She stood slowly, a little embarrassed and a little in shock.
“You take care, okay? Your mom was a lovely woman. We’ll miss her,” Helen said.
Kasey smiled and walked slowly out to her car. She pulled out of her parking spot and took one last look at the place knowing that she’d never have to be back there again. It was bitter sweet.
“Bereavement fund?” she mumbled as she drove away. It still didn’t sound like a real thing to her.
Willow got to the Rusty Anchor early. Judy wasn’t there yet, but Bill was.
“So? How did it go?” he asked, eager for an answer.
“How did what go?” Willow mocked, and laughed. Bill growled.
“Operation Bereavement Fund is complete,” Willow said as she sat down.
“Bereavement Fund. It’s the excuse that the director at the daycare was supposed to give Kasey for the reason her bill got paid, so she wouldn’t trace it back to us,” Willow explained.
“Oh, I see. Did Chase pitch in too?”
“I guess he is a good kid. I’ll have to meet him,” Bill said.
“I don’t think he drinks,” Willow said.
“Very funny. I drink coffee too, you know,” Bill said.
Judy walked through the swinging doors. She looked around and sat down.
“Is she here yet?” she whispered.
“No, not yet. It’s all taken care of. The director at the daycare was supposed to tell her that a bereavement fund took care of the debt,” Willow explained.
“Oh, that’s perfect! She’ll never suspect a thing,” Judy said.
“Chase even pitched in,” Bill added.
“Ahhh, what a nice guy,” Judy said.
Kasey pushed her way through the swinging doors like a cowboy looking for revenge. She set the bag of her mom’s clothes next to Judy, and walked passed everyone and took her place behind the bar. She spoke briefly with Ben, and Ben left. They waited for her to say anything. In silence, she pulled a few different bottles, poured their contents into the blender with some ice, then poured it into three glasses.
“So, who wants to try my new drink?” Kasey asked.
“A new drink? What’s it called?” Bill asked, excited to be the first to try something new.
She eyed them all, and topped each glass with a sprig of mint leaf. Bill started to reach for a glass.
“I call it Burr-eev-mint,” she said, and raised her eyebrow and each of them, daring them to take a glass.
“What kind of name is that for a drink?!” Bill cackled.
“I think it’s a perfectly appropriate name. I made it with ALL of you in mind. Anyone want to guess where I got the idea for the name?” Kasey baited them.
“Sure, I’ll bite. Where’d you get the name?” Bill said.
“It is an awfully strange name, dear,” Judy said, nervously.
“What about you, Willow? You want to have a taste?” Kasey asked.
Willow looked down at the bar, then back up at Kasey. She knew they’d been caught. “How did you know?” she asked.
“So, tell us. Where’d you get the name?” Bill interrupted, still clueless.
Willow elbowed him. “The jig is up, Bill. She’s wise to us.”
“Oh,” he said disappointed. “Can we still have the drink?”
“Yes, you can still have the drink,” Kasey said.
“Helen wasn’t supposed to tell you,” Willow said.
“She didn’t. It didn’t sound right to me, so I went home and called the Manager. He said they have no bereavement fund, which only left one other explanation.”
“Are you mad?” Willow asked.
“I was, at first. I was insulted that you guys didn’t think that I could take care of things myself…” Kasey started.
“Oh, that’s not it at all…” Judy interrupted.
“We were only trying to help,” Bill added.
“I know. I see that now. I’ve just never had people that would do something like that for me before. I guess I underestimated you all,” Kasey said.
“It was her idea,” Bill said and pointed to Willow.
Kasey laughed. “You don’t think I know that? I certainly knew that you weren’t the brains of the operation, Bill,” Kasey said.
“Hey!” Bill defended.
“Admit it…she’s got you there,” Judy said and laughed.
“Chase pitched in too,” Bill said.
Kasey turned to Willow. “What?”
“He wanted to. I told him what we were doing and he offered to pitch in too. Don’t be mad at him. He just wanted to help,” Willow said.
“Fine,” Kasey said. “But no more, okay?”
“Agreed…okay,” they said.
Kasey reached out and took the drinks away. She dumped them in the sink.
“Hey! Wait! I wanted to try that!” Bill cried.
“Trust me. You didn’t,” Kasey said.
“Did you see what I put in it?” Kasey asked.
“No,” Bill said.
“I didn’t either. I just grabbed whatever and threw it in there. I was going to make you drink it until you fessed up,” Kasey said.
They all laughed.
“I guess we know not to trust you then, huh?” Bill teased.
“You should’ve learned that a long time ago Bill,” Kasey said.
She poured a Tom Collins for Willow and set it in front of her. “This one’s on the house. Thanks.”
“Hey, I pitched in too!” Bill squealed.
“Give it up Bill,” Kasey said as she walked away.
Bill laughed and clinked glasses with Willow and Judy.