Chapter 11 – Understanding Kasey

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.

“No, why?”

“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?”

“Yes.”

“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.

“Of course.”

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.

“Me too.”

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.

“Good…Operation what?”

“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?”

“Yep.”

“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.

“What? Why?”

“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.”

“You’re welcome.”

“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.

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Chapter Ten – Understanding Kasey

Kasey poured herself a shot of whiskey and drank it down.

“Already?” Bill asked. “You just got here.”

She ignored his comment and refilled his beer. He was disappointed that she didn’t spar with him.

“Rough day?” Judy asked.

“Aren’t they all?” she returned.

“Oh, don’t say that. What can we do to help?” Judy asked.

“Nothing. I’m okay,” Kasey said.

Willow strolled in about an hour later and sat near Bill. She wanted to tell him how her visit to the daycare went, but it wasn’t a good time. Kasey was within earshot. The suspense was killing Judy. She exchanged looks with Willow and Willow tried to dismiss her.

Kasey could tell something was up.

“What’s going on over here? Did I miss something?” she asked.

“No…no…not at all…nothing,” they all mumbled together.

Their response made her more suspicious.

“Okay, now I know something’s up. What gives?” Kasey asked.

They looked at Kasey then back to Willow.

“So, this has something to do with you, huh?” Kasey said, and leaned in towards Willow. Willow stood firm.

“You can’t ruffle me,” Willow said and leaned back towards Kasey. Kasey laughed.

“Fine, be that way. But I’ll get it out of you. The night’s young,” Kasey threatened. “Especially you,” she said and pointed at Bill.

“Me?! Why me?!” he challenged.

“You want someone to pour your beer, right?” Kasey taunted him.

“Hey! Are you threatening me?” he mocked. Willow and Judy were laughed hysterically at the mock stand-off.

“Don’t worry, Bill. I can reach the tap,” Judy said as she leaned over the bar towards the beer tap.

“Oh, great! That’s just what I need…Judy playing waitress!” Kasey teased and ran to stop Judy from opening the tap and spilling any beer.

Judy sat back in her seat and laughed. Soon, everyone was laughing, even the customer that had wandered in who had no idea what was going on was laughing.

Kasey went to take his order. She had to go to the back to get the beer he’d ordered.

“I’ll be back. No funny stuff, you hear?” Kasey warned them.

As soon as she was gone, they turned to Willow.

“Okay, here’s what I know. She still owes about $1100.00, and the woman that I talked to said that she doesn’t have to be the one to pay it, which is good for us. Now we just need to get the money to the daycare before she does. So, think about how much you can contribute, and get back to me tomorrow, okay?” Willow said quietly.

“Sounds good,” Bill said.

“Will do,” said Judy.

Kasey came back carrying a six pack in each hand. She eyed them, and checked the bar for spilled beer.

“I didn’t touch a thing,” Judy said. “I swear.”

“I’m still watching you…all of you!” she warned in jest.

As the evening went on, Kasey was quiet, not her usual self. It concerned Willow.

“Are you sure you don’t want to talk?” Willow asked.

“Thanks for asking. I’ve just got a lot on my mind. I didn’t realize there was so much stuff to take care of regarding my mom.”

“Let me know if I can help, okay?” Willow offered.

Kasey nodded and walked away.

“Poor kid,” Bill whispered.

“Does she have anyone to talk to, besides us?” Willow asked.

“Not that I know of,” Judy said.

“She must have friends,” Willow said.

“I think she was so occupied with her mom and staying afloat that she let her relationships fall by the wayside,” Judy said.

“But she’s too young to be alone,” Willow said.

“Maybe she likes being alone,” Bill offered.

“Bill, no one likes being alone,” Judy said.

“I do. People are a pain in the…”

“Bill!” Willow interrupted.

“Sorry. But they are. They want you when they want you and then when they don’t need you they’re gone,” he said.

“Wow, bitter much?” Judy asked.

“Aren’t you married?” Willow asked. Bill shook his head.

“Widowed” Bill answered.

“Oh, Bill. I’m sorry,” Willow said.

“It’s okay. I’ve gotten used to being a lone wolf,” he said.

Willow and Judy exchanged looks. They knew it was all an act.

Kasey came down to the end of the bar. “Does anyone know where I could donate my mom’s stuff?”

“What?! So soon?” Willow asked.

“Well, not all of it. Just her clothes. Is there a local shelter that anyone knows about?”

“There’s one on 13th I think,” Judy offered.

“Really? Down by the docks?” Kasey asked.

“Yeah. They take everything, no questions asked. I think they really need the donations. I’d be happy to take it there for you.”

“Really?” Kasey asked.

“Sure, she would. She’s down at the docks all the time. It’s where she meets her dates,” Bill teased.

Judy gave him a dirty look.

“Do you want any help going through things?” Willow offered.

“No, thanks. It should be pretty easy. Just need to fill up some bags. Hope they’ll take old lady clothes,” Kasey said and laughed. Everyone laughed, though they felt uncomfortable doing so. Naomi had just died and Kasey was already getting rid of things. Judy and Willow looked to one another with concern that she was throwing things away too soon.

“Is there a friend that could help you?” Willow asked, cautiously.

Kasey thought for a moment. “Friends wouldn’t want to help with something like that,” Kasey said.

“A good friend would,” Willow said quietly, almost to herself.

The comment fell on deaf ears.

 

Kasey went home to her quiet apartment later that night. She still wasn’t used to the silence, and she wondered if she would ever get used to it. She looked at the clock…2:35am. She should go to bed. She should be tired. But the urge to clean out her mom’s closet nagged at her. She got a large trash bag and stood in front of the open closet. Where to start? The closet still smelled like her mom, though it was starting to fade. Still, the clothes had to go sometime, why not go ahead and start?

She started with the shoes. She made two piles: toss and donate. She pictured her mom dressed for her last high school reunion in the satin flats. She remembered how much fun her mom had at the reunion, connecting with people she’d long since lost touch with. Little did she realize she’d forget about them again within a few years as her mind started to deteriorate.

It was easy to fill the throw away pile with clothes and shoes that were worn out, but that her mom had insisted on keeping. She went through her mom’s blouses, then pants and skirts, and filled several bags. Someone would be grateful to get them. She set the bags of clothes to donate by the front door so she’d remember to take them to the Anchor to give to Judy.

It was 4:00am before she decided to give it up for the night. She lay down in her mom’s bed and stared at the nearly empty closet. She set the alarm for 7:00am and nuzzled into the pillow. She fell asleep almost instantly, emotionally exhausted.

Chapter Nine – Understanding Kasey

Helen slid the bill across the desk to Kasey.

“I really hate this part of the job. I’m sorry to have to add to your burden, especially right now.”

Kasey smiled and took the bill. “It’s okay. It’s just business, right?”

Kasey read the release papers and signed the bottom. Then she flipped over the page and looked at the itemized bill. She scanned the services and everything looked in order. She got to the bottom of the page. The total was $1923.50. Her heart began to beat faster. Why so much?

“I don’t understand. Why so much? Wasn’t I current with my payments?” Kasey asked.

“Is the total wrong?” Helen asked, and looked at the file on the computer.

Kasey waited for Helen to make a correction.

“It looks like that’s the total we have on record. I have a payment from you from last month for $775.00,” Helen said.

“Right. $775.00. Why is it over $1900.00?!”

“It looks like your mom’s insurance didn’t cover this month, and our rates went up as well,” Helen explained.

“What?! That’s crazy! She had insurance! Why didn’t they cover it?! And you raised the rates?!” Kasey raised her voice.

Helen tried to reason with her. “Look, why don’t you pay your usual $775 today, and then you can call your insurance and find out what’s going on with them?”

“That’s fine for the insurance, but what about your rates? How much more do I owe you?!”

“Let me talk to billing and I’ll see what we can do about our rate. Sometimes we can make allowances, especially considering the circumstances,” Helen said, and she reached across and patted her hand.

Kasey recoiled, but calmed down a little. “Thank you. I appreciate that.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Helen said.

Kasey’s hand shook as she handed Helen her debit card. Helen made a note on her file and subtracted the $775 from her total due. She printed out a receipt with her new total of $1148.50. Kasey looked at the new total. It didn’t really matter if it was $1000 or $20,000, she didn’t have either of those amounts lying around. She wasn’t looking forward to fighting with the insurance company.

 

“No Kasey today?” Willow asked as Chase walked up to take her order.

“She had something to take care of this morning. Probably something about her mom. Do you want the usual?” Chase asked.

“Yeah, thanks. How are you, Chase?” Willow asked. She had been so wrapped up with Kasey that she had hardly spoken with Chase.

“I’m okay. Just studying and stuff.”

“How’s your literature class? Are you reading anything good?” Willow asked.

“We’re in the middle of a poetry section right now.”

“Oooh, poetry. Anything good?”

“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Heard of it?” Chase asked.

“Ahhh…in the room the women come and go talking of Michelangelo. I remember it well,” Willow said fondly.

“Yeah, well. I’m not quite as excited about it as you,” Chase teased. “I’m not a big fan of poetry.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’d much rather read a novel.”

“Well, poetry is different. You sort of need to think of it like a song. At least that always helped me.”

“Hmm…I’ll have to try that. Thanks for the advice. I’ll get your coffee,” he said, and left the table.

Kasey walked past Willow with a quick ‘hello.’ Willow nodded her way, but could see that she was anxious to get busy. She watched as Kasey made herself a cup of coffee, then started on the other orders. Willow could tell she was tense, because she didn’t talk to anyone, and the grimace on her face was set in stone.

Chase walked by, and Willow stopped him. “Is she okay?” she whispered.

“Who knows? Is she ever okay?” Chase said. “I’m sorry, that came out wrong.”

“It’s okay. I’ll see if I can get her to talk,” Willow said.

“Better you than me.”

Kasey walked over to Willow’s table.

“I suppose you want to talk to me,” Kasey said.

“No, not at all…why would you say that?” she stammered.

Kasey rolled her eyes.

“Do you need to talk?” Willow asked quietly and pulled out the chair beside her. Kasey looked back at Chase who wasn’t paying attention, and she quickly sat down.

“Thanks for coming by the other day. I appreciate it. I’m sorry if I was, well, less than polite,” Kasey said.

“It’s okay. No harm done. Did you take care of what you needed to do this morning?”

“Sort of,” Kasey said, and looked away.

“You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“It’s okay. I might as well. You’ll get it out of me somehow,” Kasey said.

Willow laughed. “Am I that pushy?”

Kasey smiled. “I owe the daycare for services rendered,” she said bitterly.

“Didn’t you think you would have to pay them?” Willow asked.

“No, no, it’s not that. I just didn’t think I owed as much as I do.”

Willow looked confused.

“My mom’s insurance cancelled their daycare provision last month, and I didn’t see the letter telling me about it. So now, I owe the daycare twice as much as I thought I did,” Kasey said. She fought back the tears.

“Oh no! There must be something we can do.”

“Are you any good at fighting with insurance companies?” Kasey joked.

“I’m afraid not. Do you think you can fight it?”

“No, I’m sure I can’t. I’ll just have to see if I can pick up some extra shifts at the Anchor or something. Maybe even some extra shifts here too.”

“How much…oh, well…it’s not my business. I’m sorry,” Willow back-tracked.

“It’s okay. It’s about $1000.00 more than I have. I’ll find it somewhere,” Kasey said, and stood.

“I’m sure you will.” Willow tried to sound encouraging.

She wanted to lend Kasey the money but knew she’d never take it. If only there was some way she could sneak it to her, or pay off the bill without her knowing about it. But how?

 

When Kasey got home she called the insurance company. She waited on hold for twenty minutes before deciding that it wasn’t worth her time. She knew she wouldn’t win the fight. She had better spend her time coming up with a plan rather than fighting over bureaucracy.

 

Willow got to the Anchor before Kasey. Bill was already there.

“How much money do you have to spare?” Willow asked Bill as she walked in and sat down beside him.

“I’ve got millions to spare! Why? Who’s asking?” Bill laughed.

“Hah! Millions?” Judy commented.

“You don’t know how much I’m worth,” Bill snarked back at her.

“I’m serious. How much?” Willow asked.

“That depends. What’s going on? You in trouble?” Bill asked.

“Yeah, right. Willow in trouble. What’s going on?” Judy asked.

“Our girl needs some cash, but you have to pretend you don’t know about it, okay? You have to play dumb,” Willow said.

“He should have no trouble with that!” Judy cackled.

“Come on, focus, you two. She’ll be here soon. She owes the daycare where her mom went, and I think we could help her.”

“She won’t take our money,” Bill said.

“I know, that’s why we have to be sneaky.”

“What did you have in mind?” Judy asked.

“What if I asked the daycare how much she owed, and we take up a collection and pay it for her, directly to the daycare. Then she can’t say no,” Willow said.

“She could still get mad,” Bill said.

“What? Are you afraid of little Kasey?” Judy ribbed.

“A little bit, yeah,” he teased back. “She does make my drinks, you know.”

“Now be serious. Do you think we could do it?” Willow asked.

“I’m in,” Judy said.

“Okay, me too,” Bill agreed. “Hope she doesn’t owe too much.”

“I think we can handle it if we split it up. I’ll ask Chase, at the coffee shop, if he wants to pitch in too. Now, how do we find out the name of the daycare?” Willow said.

“Countryside,” Ben, the bartender, said.

“You sure?” Willow asked, surprised that he’d been listening.

“Positive.”

“Thanks. But don’t tell her, okay?” Willow said to Ben. He nodded.

“I’ve got work to do. I’ll be back later. Don’t say a word,” Willow warned. She left energized and ready for her mission.

Chapter Eight – Understanding Kasey

“Don’t get into trouble while I’m gone. Okay?” Willow said and reached down to pet Vinny on the head. He meowed and danced around her legs. She pushed him out of the way before she opened the front door.

It was a crisp morning as she walked to the coffee shop. She worried about Kasey and wondered if she’d be at work.

Chase had the coffee machine under control while Tony, who was usually one of the bakers, fumbled with serving and taking orders. Willow sat down at a table near the window and looked around for Kasey. When she saw Tony, she knew that Kasey hadn’t shown up.

Tony went by Willow’s table. “I’ll be right with you,” he called to her as he raced to the kitchen.

“No hurry,” she said.

She pulled out her journal and doodled while she tried to focus on writing. Her thoughts drifted back to Kasey.

When things slowed, Chase stopped by Willow’s table.

“Hey, there. Are you writing anything good?” he asked.

She lifted her arm to reveal a page filled with doodles. Chase was impressed.

“No Kasey today?” Willow asked.

Chase shook his head. “She called in sick. I don’t blame her. I’m glad she took a day off. Was she at the Anchor last night?”

“Yes, she was. She, uh…” Willow paused. She didn’t want to tell Chase too much. “She wasn’t feeling well.”

“I still feel horrible about arguing with her. I had no idea her mom, well…”

“It’s okay. I think she’ll forgive you.”

“I hope so. I wouldn’t blame her if she didn’t though,” Chase said.

“Do you know where she lives?” Willow asked.

“I’ve never been there, but I could find her address. Why? Are you going to go check on her?” he asked.

“I think I might. I think she could use a friend.”

“You’d better be careful. She doesn’t deal with things the same way we do. She might not want the company,” Chase warned.

“Well, I don’t care,” Willow said. Her mind was made up.

“Let me see what I can find out for you,” Chase said.

He returned after a few minutes and handed Willow a scrap of paper with an address on it.

Willow read the address. “That’s right near the Rusty Anchor, right?”

“I think so.”

Willow looked at the clock on the wall. “Do you think she’d be up yet?”

“Hard to tell. Are you sure you want to go alone?” he asked.

“I think that’s probably best. Wish me luck?” Willow said, and put her pen and journal in her bag.

“You’re going to need it,” Chase said.

Willow gave him an admonishing look. He looked down at his feet.

“Tell her I’m sorry, will you?” Chase asked.

“I will,” Willow said, and headed out the door.

 

Kasey’s head pounded as she drank her first cup of coffee. She kept the blinds pulled even though some light still broke through. She wasn’t sure if the headache was from the alcohol or the grief. Either way, it had to pass sooner or later.

The knock at the door felt like someone was pounding on her head. She didn’t want visitors. Besides, who could it be?

She peeked through the blinds by the front door. Willow. Maybe if she ignored her she’d go away. She knocked again. Who was she kidding? Willow wasn’t going anywhere. She might as well get it over with.

She opened the door a crack and shielded her eyes from the morning sun.

“Can I come in?” Willow asked.

Without a word, Kasey stepped back and let Willow in. Willow walked to the couch and paused.

“May I?” she said, as she sat down on the couch.

“Would it matter what I said?” Kasey asked.

“No, it wouldn’t,” Willow said.

“Would you like some coffee?” Kasey asked, not really offering.

“No thanks. I just came from the coffee shop.”

“How did you know where I lived?” Kasey asked.

“Chase,” they said at the same time, only Kasey sounded disgusted.

“He was worried about you too,” Willow said.

“Yeah, well…” Kasey said.

“No, really. He told me to apologize to you for him. He feels just awful about arguing with you the other day.”

Kasey didn’t say anything.

“What can I do? Do you need help with making arrangements…or anything?” Willow offered.

Kasey thought that would be nice, but instead, she said, “No. There’s nothing you can do. I have to take care of her personal stuff.”

“How about something else? Can I go to the grocery store for you or something?”

“No, I have food. Besides, I don’t really have an appetite.”

“Oh, Kasey. You need to eat. Can I make you something? How about some toast or eggs?” Willow offered.

Kasey’s stomach growled at the mention of food.

“Come on. Let me at least do that much. Do you have eggs?”

“In the fridge,” Kasey said.

Willow went into the kitchen and was surprised at how clean the place was. She wasn’t sure why, but she didn’t expect Kasey’s house to be so tidy. She found a frying pan, and started the eggs and toast. She hummed quietly while she cooked. It was a habit she couldn’t break.

“How do you like your eggs?” Willow called.

“Scrambled,” Kasey said.

“You got it,” Willow said. “Here’s a switch…I’m serving you for a change.”

Kasey managed to crack a smile. “Hope you’re better at eggs than I am at a Tom Collins.”

Willow smiled at the exchange.

Kasey was grateful for the company. The apartment had been too quiet without her mom. It was peaceful, but a little lonely.

“Do you want to eat in there?” Willow asked.

“Yeah, that’s fine.”

Willow brought in the food and set it on the coffee table in front of Kasey. Then she returned to the kitchen to clean up. Kasey hadn’t had anyone take care of her for years. She’d forgotten how it felt.

“Do you need more coffee?” Willow called.

“No, I’m good.”

Willow came back to the living room with her own cup of coffee.

“I thought you already had your coffee?” Kasey said.

“I didn’t get to finish it. Besides, you can never get enough coffee. How are the eggs?”

“They’re good. Thanks.”

Willow smiled and took a sip.

“No, really…Thanks,” Kasey said again.

“You’re welcome. It’s what friends do for each other,” Willow said. “You have a lovely home.”

“This place? You aren’t very picky, are you?” Kasey teased.

“It’s homey. I like it.”

“It’s mostly my mom’s stuff. I tried to keep it as familiar to her as possible,” Kasey said. “I guess I can change that now, huh?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t make too many changes. At least not right away.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Besides, I can’t really afford to change anything right now. I need to go pay the bill at Mom’s daycare this next week. I’m not even sure how much that will be,” Kasey said.

Willow wanted to offer to help, but didn’t want to insult her either. “I’m sure it won’t be that bad.”

“Come to think of it, once I’m paid up, I should have some extra money every month,” Kasey realized.

Willow nodded and took a sip of coffee. Willow watched as Kasey’s expression lightened just a little while she thought of possibilities. But Willow could also tell that she was struggling with the loss.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to call your family for you?” Willow offered.

Kasey shook her head. “Don’t have any.”

Willow wasn’t sure she heard her correctly. No family? How was that possible?

“At least none that I could ever find,” she mentioned.

Willow waited. She wanted Kasey to lead the conversation.

“I suppose my dad’s out there somewhere. But I wouldn’t know how to find him. Besides, I’m sure he wouldn’t care. He hasn’t reached out in 25 years, why would he care now?” she lamented.

“I understand. Family is over-rated anyways,” Willow said, though she didn’t believe her own words. Her heart went out to Kasey and wished things could be different for her.

“You don’t have any family either?” Kasey asked.

“I have a brother. But we haven’t talked in years.”

“You should call him.”

“Maybe I will,” Willow said. But she knew she wouldn’t. They’d had a falling out years ago, and too much time had gone by to mend fences. They were both too stubborn to make the first move. At least for the time being.

“This was good, thanks,” Kasey said and motioned to her empty plate. “I didn’t realize how hungry I was.”

Willow reached for the empty plate, but Kasey stopped her.

“That’s okay. I got this. I can wash my own dish,” Kasey said.

“Will you be okay?” Willow asked.

Kasey nodded.

“Okay. Call me if you need anything…anything,” Willow said and stood to leave. She wanted to hug Kasey, but when Kasey didn’t move towards her, she took that as a sign that she wasn’t the hugging type.

Willow left quietly and Kasey closed the door behind her. Maybe Willow wasn’t so bad after all.

Chapter Seven – Understanding Kasey

As evening approached, Kasey thought it would be best if she kept moving, keeping up with her routine. Besides, if she had to settle her bill at the daycare on Monday, she couldn’t afford to miss any work.

When she walked in to the Anchor, she was surprised to see Willow there. Why was she there every time she turned around? She couldn’t get away from her.

“Isn’t it a little early for you?” Kasey said to Willow as she walked by her.

“I wasn’t sure you’d be here,” Willow said. She gave Kasey a sympathetic look. Kasey hated her pity.

Kasey poured herself a shot and drank it down. She was completely aware that Bill, Willow and Judy were watching her.

“What? You’ve seen me drink,” she sniped.

“Yes, but…” Judy stammered. She wasn’t sure how to express her sympathy.

Willow looked to Bill to break the tension. He was silent.

“A girl has to make a living, right? I’ve got bills to pay, lots of them,” she said. “I guess she told you all what happened?” Kasey said and nodded towards Willow.

“Are you sure there isn’t someone who can work for you tonight?” Judy asked.

“I’m fine. Besides what would you people do without me?”

Out of habit, she poured a club soda with a lime and started to slide it down to the end of the bar where her mom would’ve been sitting. Embarrassed, she drank the club soda herself in an attempt at cover.

“Did Willow tell you how it happened? Did she give you all the details?” Kasey smarted.

“Hey, that’s not necessary, Kasey. Willow was just concerned about you, that’s all,” Bill said.

“Yeah…well…” Kasey said.

“Really…that’s all she was trying to do,” Judy added.

“You guys don’t even know her. How do you know what she was trying to do?” Kasey spoke as if Willow wasn’t even there.

The tension was palpable. They knew she was hurting, but that was no reason to be so mean to Willow.

“Come on. She’s our friend too,” Bill said, but stopped short of saying more. He didn’t want Kasey to continue spewing venom at Willow’s expense.

Willow smiled a sad smile.

“I need to get going anyways. I need to get home and feed Vinny. I’m here if you need me,” Willow said.

“Willow, don’t go,” Bill urged.

“She didn’t mean it,” Judy whispered. Willow mouthed the words ‘I know’ to Judy.

Willow gathered her things and patted Bill on the back on her way out the front door.

“Who’s Vinny?” Kasey said, pretending not to care.

“It’s her cat,” Bill said sternly.

Kasey nodded, but quietly wondered how Bill knew that Willow had a cat. When did she ever mention that she had a cat?

“So, who else needs a drink?” Kasey said, and poured herself another shot and drank it down. She grimaced when it hit her throat.

“I’m good, thanks,” Bill said.

“Me too,” Judy said.

Kasey wiped down the bar several times during the evening. She refilled the bowl of peanuts and cut enough lemons to make about five gallons of lemonade. She did whatever she could to keep busy and talked about every subject possible to avoid talking about her mom. She turned on the game, even though she didn’t follow football, and debated the players’ abilities with Bill. She told Judy she was thinking about dying her hair, and asked Judy who did hers. Judy told her she did her own and recommended a do-it-yourself hair color that would be good for beginners. Bill laughed at the thought of Kasey having red hair as vibrant as Judy’s. But he didn’t say it out loud.

Judy left before closing, but Bill stayed until closing to make sure Kasey was okay. She objected at first, but he insisted. She was secretly glad he did.

“Thanks for sticking around,” Kasey said.

“Never leave a man down,” Bill said.

Kasey laughed. “Really, I appreciate it.”

“You sure you’re okay?” he asked.

She paused a moment. “No, I’m not. But I need to keep going, otherwise I think I’ll crash.”

Bill nodded.

“You know, I yelled at her,” Kasey said.

“What?”

“At my mom. Our last conversation before she went to sleep was me fighting with her,” she began. “She was looking for her dad’s keys, which of course don’t exist, and I lost my patience. I was tired and wanted to go to bed. I yelled at her and put her to bed. I didn’t even tell her I loved her. I fought with her and then she went to sleep and never woke up. I never got a chance to apologize, to say goodbye.”

“Oh, kid…I’m so sorry. I know it’s been hard for you…being alone and all. Do you have any other family?” Bill asked.

“Not really. My dad’s out there somewhere, but I have no idea where. Everyone else is dead.”

“Well, you got me,” Bill said.

“Thanks. I appreciate that,” she said and smiled. “Come on, let’s get out of here. It’s probably way past your bedtime,” she teased.

He smiled and followed her out to her car. He gave her a big bear hug.

“You need me to drive you home?” he asked.

“No, I’m just around the corner. I’ll be fine.”

“You sure?” he asked.

She nodded. She leaned into his hug again. She didn’t realize how badly she needed that hug.

On the way home, she thought about how rude she was to Willow. She’d have to apologize to her when she saw her again. She hoped that Willow would accept her apology.

Bill secretly followed her home and watched from the street as she went up to her apartment. He made sure she closed the door behind her before he drove on home.

Kasey washed her face and walked past her mom’s room to go to bed. She paused at the doorway, and went to her mom’s bed. She lay down on the chenille quilt. It still smelled like her mom. She wished she could somehow preserve the smell. She knew she’d have to wash the sheets and clean the room out soon. But for now, she just wanted to remember her mom for as long as she could.

“I’m sorry, Mom,” she said. And with that, the tears began to flow.

Chapter Six – Understanding Kasey

The coffee shop was full, and Chase was struggling to keep up with the orders.

“Where is she?!” he said loud enough for customers to hear.

Several customers walked out after waiting for too long. Chase was furious. He knew that Kasey had her hands full, but she’d never been this late for work. This was just plain rude!

Willow reached for the coffee shop door and was nearly hit with it as two angry young men pushed past her. She stepped back out of their way.

“…never coming back to this place again,” she heard one of them grumble.

She stepped in and saw the line at the register. She made her way to a table and sat down. She didn’t need her coffee right away, and decided she’d wait until the crowd died down. She saw Chase at the counter in full panic trying to help people as fast as he could. She didn’t see Kasey anywhere. She wanted to help but was afraid she’d only get in the way, so she stayed back and watched as Chase dealt with the chaos single-handedly.

 

Kasey left the hospital alone, after filling out an endless amount of paperwork. She was numb to anyone around her, but a load of guilt weighed on her shoulders. She reached for her keys as she got to her car. Those keys…why did she have to argue over the stupid keys? Why did that have to be the last conversation with her mom?

She drove home to a quiet apartment. She paused at her mom’s bedroom door, and looked at the blankets thrown to the floor in haste. She set her purse down and went to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee. As she poured the grounds into the basket, she suddenly remembered. “Coffee! Work! Oh, my gosh! Chase is going to kill me!”

She unplugged the coffee maker, grabbed her keys and hurried to the coffee shop.

She ran through the front door of the shop, and in to a relatively sparse crowd. “Oh, thank God! There’s no one here,” she mumbled. And then she saw Willow. “Well…almost no one.”

She walked past Willow and barely acknowledged her. Willow had a strange look on her face, and Kasey knew she was being judged for being irresponsible and not showing up for work. If she only knew.

“Chase, I am so sorry,” Kasey began.

“Save it,” he said, and went about cleaning up.

She saw the number of cups and plates in the sink and knew she’d missed the morning crowd.

“You don’t understand,” she pleaded.

“I know, I know. Your mom. It’s always your mom. Look, I try to be understanding when you’re late. I try to let it slide when you’ve had a rough morning. I even look the other way when you need to leave in the middle of your shift. But…come on!” he said.

“Just let me explain,” she said, too tired to fight.

“What? What could you possibly say that would excuse not showing up at all for the morning rush? What?!” he yelled.

Kasey felt rage build inside of her. “It won’t happen again, okay?!” she yelled back.

“How can you even say that?!”

She fought the anger but he was out of line. “She’s dead, okay?! She’s gone! She won’t be a problem for you anymore!” Kasey screamed at him.

Willow heard the entire exchange and didn’t know what to do.

Chase froze. He looked at Kasey’s eyes which were filled with tears. He felt like an idiot.

“I…I…I’m so sorry, Kasey. I had no idea,” he said and reached out to her.

She pulled away, and aggressively wiped her tears. She didn’t like to show emotion or weakness, especially in front of Chase.

“Look, I gotta get out of here. You’ll have to finish up on your own. You can tell Jerry and he can fire me if you want!” she said as she turned and ran for the door.

Willow stood and wanted to stop her, but could tell that she was determined to leave.

“Kasey, wait!” Chase called, but she slammed the door behind her.

“I’m so stupid. I can’t even believe that just happened,” Chase said. He looked around the café and all eyes were on him. He was embarrassed beyond belief. He wanted to scream at the patrons to mind their own business, but he was the one who’d let things escalate. He’d brought them into his business.

Willow reached out to Chase. She wanted to hug him, but didn’t know if she should. Instead, she reached up and squeezed his hand.

“You didn’t know. It’s okay. She’s tough. She’ll be back,” Willow said.

Chase felt comforted by Willow’s words. He was compelled to hug her, but recoiled.

“Thanks. I hope she’ll be okay,” he said.

“Let’s give her some space. Do you need help with the dishes?” she asked.

“No, no. I’ll call someone from the next shift and see if they can come in early. I should’ve done that earlier.”

He went back to the kitchen, ashamed of the outburst.

 

Kasey went back home to her apartment. She didn’t know where to start. She should probably call people, but they didn’t really have any family. She had no idea where her dad was, and didn’t really think he’d care anyways. He’d abandoned them so long ago, what right did he have to know Naomi had died? She’d only heard what a louse he was all her life. What good would it do to find him now? Her grandparents died years ago. She didn’t have brothers or sisters and neither did her mom. Who did she have to tell? The daycare. She needed to call the daycare.

Helen answered the phone, and Kasey explained what had happened.

“Oh, no. I’m so sorry. Is there anything we can do?” Helen asked.

“No, I’m okay, thanks,” Kasey said.

“Okay. When you get a chance, you will need to come down and fill out some paperwork. It’s not a lot, but it needs to be done.”

“I understand. Does it need to be done today?” Kasey asked. She didn’t think she could fill out any more paperwork.

“No, Monday would be fine. Also, you’ll need to clear out your balance sheet. I’m sorry, I hate telling people that news,” Helen apologized.

“It’s okay. Don’t worry, I’ll get it all worked out. I’ll see you next week, okay?” Kasey said.

“Okay. Take care,” Helen said and hung up.

“What next?” Kasey said as she hung up. She laid her head back on the couch and closed her eyes. She knew she had more arrangements to make, but she needed to rest. There was plenty of time to take care of things after a nap, if only she could fall asleep. She had to work at the Anchor in a few hours, she’d better get herself together.

Chapter Five – Understanding Kasey

After Kasey put her mom to bed, she went to the bathroom and splashed water on her face. She leaned on the sink and looked at herself in the mirror as the water dripped down into the sink. She rubbed at the dark circles under her eyes that had become a permanent part of her face. She hated them, and wished she could rub them off completely. A 25-year-old woman shouldn’t look as old as she did. Taking care of her mother had taken its toll over the last few years. She needed help, but who could she turn to? It wasn’t like she had any family to turn to for help. Her father was never a part of her life. She’d lost most of her friends. Maybe if she had gone to college she could have avoided this whole mess with her mom. And as for dating? Nobody wanted to date a woman with an invalid mother, nor did she have time to find a date. At least she had her customers at the Rusty Anchor and the coffee shop. She wasn’t sure she could consider them friends, but at least she saw them on a regular basis. Except for Willow…she couldn’t figure her out. She seemed to want to push her way into her life. Kasey didn’t want to be rude, but she liked her life compartmentalized. She was a different person at the coffee shop than she was at the Anchor. At the Anchor, she could let her guard down. But since Willow had started showing up at the Anchor, Kasey felt guarded.

She heard a rustling sound coming from the living room. It startled her at first, but as she passed her mom’s bedroom door, she realized her bed was empty.

“What now?” she mumbled. “Mom? Why are you out of bed!”

Naomi had pulled the cushions off the couch, and was sticking her hands deep into the crevices.

“Not this again,” Kasey said.

“Come on, Mom. Time to go to bed,” she said, and pulled gently on her mom’s shoulders.

“They have to be here somewhere! Daddy is going to be so mad at me! I lost his keys again!” Naomi said. She was agitated, even frantic. She pulled away from Kasey.

“Mom, please,” Kasey urged and reached for her again.

“No, I have to find them!” Naomi said, and pulled away.

Kasey had reached her end with this nonsense. She reached for her own keys, grabbed them and shook them violently.

“I found them! Now let’s go to bed!” Kasey raised her voice.

Naomi paused, and studied the keys.

“Those aren’t Daddy’s keys. Now help me look, or we’ll both be in trouble!” Naomi yelled.

“Yes, they are! I’m sure of it!” Kasey yelled back.

“No, they aren’t! Daddy’s keys have a bottle opener on them!” Naomi said.

Kasey thought for a moment. She had to get Naomi off the subject, or they could be up for hours.

“No, remember? He took that off the keys! I’m sure of it! Now, let’s go to bed!” Kasey yelled and threw the keys into the dish on the counter. She reached for Naomi, and Naomi struggled against her.

“Mom, please!” Kasey was beyond exhaustion. She was crying, and desperate to distract Naomi.

Naomi saw Kasey’s tears and paused. For a moment, Kasey thought she saw recognition in Naomi’s eyes, but it didn’t last.

“Oh, sweetie, what’s wrong? Did someone hurt you?” Naomi asked.

“Yes,” Kasey said under her breath.

“What can I do to help?” Naomi asked, forgetting about the keys for the moment.

“Let’s just go to bed, okay?” Kasey asked, and wiped her tears. “We’ll talk about it in the morning.”

“Okay. If you’re sure there’s nothing I can do to help,” Naomi said.

Naomi looked around the living room, as if she was forgetting to do something. Kasey gently grabbed her by the shoulders and took her back to her room. She covered her up, and turned off the light, closing the door behind her. Then Kasey made her way to her room, and collapsed onto the bed. She wanted to cry, but was all cried out. She turned off the light and prayed for a better day in the morning.

 

The sun streamed through Kasey’s window, hitting her in the eyes. She squinted and looked at the clock…6:23am. She realized she hadn’t set her alarm, but she still had time to get to the coffee shop on time. Hopefully her mom would cooperate. She took a quick shower, pulled her hair back in a ponytail, and went to wake up her mom.

Naomi lay in her bed, snuggled under the covers, silent, in the same position Kasey left her the night before.

“Mom?” Kasey said quietly.

Naomi didn’t stir. Kasey sighed, knowing that getting Naomi up was going to be another struggle. She opened the curtains and turned on the light beside her bed.

“Mom,” she said again, and gently shook her. She still didn’t stir.

“Wow, you’re really asleep. Come on, Mom, time to get up.”

Kasey rolled her over and noticed how cold Naomi was.

“Mom?”

She felt her cheek…cold.

“Mom!”

Kasey shook her and put her ear to Naomi’s chest. She couldn’t hear anything. Her mom wasn’t breathing.

“Oh, God…Mom!”

She shook her again. Still nothing. Kasey ran to the phone and dialed 9-1-1, then ran back to her mom’s side. She tried to start CPR, but didn’t know if she was doing it in the right order. Was it breathe first?! Or chest compressions?! How many breaths?! She went back to chest compressions. Still nothing. She was panicked, breathing and compressing as best as she could remember. She didn’t know how long she was there before she heard the knock at the door.

“It’s my mom! Please help!” Kasey yelled and led them to her mom’s bedside.

She watched from the doorway as the paramedics tried to bring her mom back to her. She could hear the paramedics talking to one another, but couldn’t focus on what they were saying. She replayed arguing with her mom about the keys over and over in her mind. Did she upset her mom so much that she had a heart attack? Was it her fault? She should have been more patient with her. She felt so selfish and so guilty.

“Ma’am?” the paramedic said.

“Is she alive?” Kasey asked and strained to see over the paramedic’s shoulder.

He shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

“Are you sure? There’s nothing else…”

He touched her shoulder. She watched from the doorway as the paramedics picked up everything from around her mom.

A police officer introduced himself to Kasey. She didn’t hear his name, and didn’t remember when he’d shown up. He told her that she’d have to answer a few questions, and fill out some paperwork. And the coroner was on his way.

The Officer led Kasey to the couch to sit down, and the cushions were still on the floor from the night before when her mother had been searching for the keys…those damn keys.

The next few hours were a blur. She talked to police and made arrangements with the coroner’s office. But none of it seemed real. Kasey felt like she was in a dream. Her mom was really gone.