Sunshine ignited burgundy-fringed roses charged with ochre and coral. A ladybug crossing the jade leaves of one caught the attention of Roberta Warner. She crouched down with a smile on her pleasant visage, breathing in the aroma of the many roses while the ladybug ascended, spiraled toward Calder, and plopped onto one of his silk suspender straps. He removed one hand from his trouser pockets to allow it onto his index finger, saying, "I'm sorry to hear about your condition."
"Your Ma has always been good to me," the woman answered as the breeze tossed her ginger curls around her. She pressed a palm down on her straw hat. "I hated to explain what little time I have left, and how much I'll miss inviting her over for tea and pie. We should discuss more inside the cottage."
Sunlight spilled across the fiery cherry wood through large windows, warming the buttermilk rooms. Calder trailed the woman into the kitchen, where she poured a kettle of chamomile tea into two cups and set one at each end of the table beside a window. He seated himself opposite of her as she settled.
"Calder, I have something to ask of you."
"I have an estranged aunt and uncle. They are the only other family Phyllis has, and I'm sending her to live with them until she is old enough to live here on her own. In the meantime, I'll have a gardener attend to the roses. But, as they are estranged, I have no idea where they live."
"And you want me to discover their location," Calder concluded and agreed with a nod.
Miniature ruby roses grew up a trellis painted ivory against the opposite side of the kitchen. A pair of kittens, one orange and the other a tabby, scampered across the wood.
"I don't see why I can't keep staying here."
They started with surprise and swiveled to the right in their chairs to see Phyllis in her maroon school uniform, a pair of chocolate French braids down her shoulders and tears streaming down her cheeks from misted eyes. Roberta rose and enveloped her into her arms.
"You are fifteen and still too young to live alone."
"But I could do it!" Phyllis persisted. "I know I could."
Calder cleared his throat and scraped his chair back. "Phyllis, I have to ask you to be reasonable or leave the room while we discuss this."
"Let me be part of the discussion," Phyllis hastened forward to pull a chair back and drop into it with crossed arms. "After all, this is in regards to where I live the next three years."
Calder exchanged an exasperated expression with Roberta and returned his eyes to the girl. "Say we use a modified version of a greedy algorithm to make this decision. Answer these questions honestly. Are you capable of looking after yourself and the house daily?"
"Yes, of course I am."
"All right, then we continue down this road. Is it legal for you to live on your own?"
"It could be, if you allowed it," she switched her gaze to her mother.
"Would transportation be available to you?"
"Yes, I am positive I could seek out help with that," Phyllis agreed heartily as she elevated visibly in the anticipation that Calder could agree with her, "or use some sort of public transit."
"And do you have the means of supporting yourself and your endeavors?"
Phyllis drooped her shoulders. "Maybe I could ask around and see if I can get something to do for pay," tears streamed down her cheeks as she raised her eyes to his pleadingly. "I'm sure someone would let me do some work for them. And I can sew and knit, so maybe I could sell some clothing."
He stared at her until she grasped the reality of the situation and rose to excuse herself to her room.
"More tea?" Roberta asked with a swipe of her wrist across her eyes. She raised the pot and dribbled a stream of tea into his cup as he noted the tear in her eye.
"She's going to be all right," he promised.
"I pray that you're right," she cleared her throat and replaced the pot on its woven mat. The kittens streaked past the doorway into the living room again and skittered across the wood.
"Do you have any information on your aunt and uncle?" Calder asked eventually. Roberta rose abruptly and made her way to the drawer beside the kitchen sink, which she jerked open to remove a legal pad and a pen. She dropped back down into her chair and started scribbling information.
"I only remember some things. Me mother and I lived close to them in Galway when I was a child. I was twelve when there was some dispute between them and we moved here. I do remember that they were close with another couple that lived close to them. I believe their names were Wesley and Edna Thompson. They seemed to be the only other people we saw as often as me aunt and uncle."
"And what are the names of your aunt and uncle?"
"Earnest and Molly Murray. I'm sorry that's all I have."
"I have gone on less," he rose with a smile and started toward the door. "It was lovely to see you, and I appreciate the tea."
"All right, and I'll give your Ma a ring tonight!"
Rose garden: "From the Heart" by John Whelan
On the train: "Take the A Train" by Duke Ellington