Authors: DeAnna Julie Dodson
Tags: #Mystery, #Fiction
Letters in the Attic
Copyright © 2010 DRG.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews. For information address DRG, 306 East Parr Road, Berne, Indiana 46711-1138.
The characters and events in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to actual persons or events is coincidental.
Library of Congress-in-Publication Data
Letters in the Attic / by DeAnna Julie Dodson
Annie’s Attic Mysteries
Series Creator: Stenhouse & Associates, Ridgefield, Connecticut
Series Editors: Ken and Janice Tate
Annie Dawson stood on the front porch of Grey Gables, forgetting for the moment that she carried a bag of groceries in each arm. The light dusting of early-October snow had melted, and now the day was crisp and clear, the brilliant reds and yellows of the maple trees and the rich green of the white pines vibrant against the aqua sky. Maybe these were exactly the colors she needed for her next crochet project—the colors of Maine in autumn.
The ladies at the Hook and Needle Club had told her weeks ago that she ought to make herself a nice sweater for the cool weather to come.
“Maine’s not like Texas where it stays hot until November sometimes,” Mary Beth had told her.
Annie smiled to think of that now. Just yesterday her daughter, LeeAnn, had mentioned that the temperature was up to 85 degrees in Dallas. But a few weeks ago, back when Mary Beth had made her comment, Annie hadn’t decided if she would still be in Stony Point when the cold weather came, or if she would even need a sweater warm enough for a chilly fall evening in Maine. Now it was October, and she still hadn’t really decided. But she hadn’t left, either.
There was too much yet to be done at Grey Gables. Gram had left her the old house and an attic full of memories and mysteries, too, treasured handwork and precious remembrances from a long life well and thoroughly lived. Having those things properly cared for, seeing them sold or given to those who would truly appreciate them, was a task Gram had entrusted to Annie. As much as she missed her daughter and her twin grandchildren, Annie couldn’t go back to Texas quite yet.
She had to admit, too, that she was enjoying the changing seasons. When she was young, she had visited Gram in the summers. She hadn’t been in Stony Point during harvesttime, and hadn’t seen the changing of the leaves or the coming of the snow. Maybe people who lived up north thought the snow was a nuisance. In her part of Texas, it was a brief and beautiful thing. What would it be like to live in a place where, every winter, it came to stay?
Annie took one last deep breath of the brisk air before going into the house. She headed straight for the kitchen, where she set down the groceries. It was well past noon, and Boots would be clamoring to be fed. Usually she was meowing and rubbing against Annie’s ankles the minute she came home.
“Boots? Here, kitty, kitty. Lunchtime.”
Returning to the entryway, Annie picked up the mail that had been slipped through the slot in the front door and put it on the little table alongside her purse. Back in the kitchen, she poured a bowlful of crunchies. The smell of the dry cat food and the sound of it jingling against the porcelain bowl ought to bring Miss Boots running.
“Come eat, Boots.”
Annie helped herself to a banana from the kitchen counter and then checked her answering machine: three messages.
“Mrs. Dawson, this is Josephine Booth from the library. We received the book you requested and will hold it for you until next Friday. Please stop by at your convenience to pick it up, or let us know if you’re no longer interested in checking it out. Thank you. We hope to see you soon.”
Lovely. She couldn’t wait to dive into the book on restoring old homes that one of Alice’s Divine Décor friends had recommended, and she really wanted to see what else the library had to offer on the subject.
“Mom? I forgot to tell you about the party we’re having for Herb’s birthday next month, just in case you want to … oh, I don’t know … come home for it? Call me.”
Annie shook her head. LeeAnn wasn’t always subtle with her hints about Annie coming back to Texas.
“Hello, Annie. This is Clara Robbins. Just wanted to let you know we’re planning a harvest banquet at the church, and any ideas you’d like to contribute would be very much welcome. Be thinking about it, and I’ll let you know as soon as we have a time set for the planning meeting. Call me if you have questions.”
Annie made a mental note to offer to make some of Gram’s unparalleled berry pies for the occasion. Other than that, she’d volunteer to help however she was able. And she’d see what Alice, her friend since childhood and now her next-door neighbor, had in mind. It would be fun and not a bad way to get better acquainted with more of her neighbors in Stony Point.
She took another bite of the banana and went through the mail. Bills mostly, except for one oversized envelope addressed in a large, careful scrawl to “Grammy.” Smiling, Annie opened it and found two folded sheets of manila paper. One was a drawing of a princess with floor-length yellow curls, a bright pink gown, a tiara, and a sparkling magic wand. It was inscribed “From Joanna.” The other was unsigned, but it had to be from her twin, John. It was a Technicolor dinosaur breathing flames from its nostrils at something that looked like an astronaut. Yes, it was definitely from John.
Smiling still, Annie took both pictures and added them to the gallery on her refrigerator. She glanced at the cat’s bowl and noticed the food was still untouched. Where could that rascal be?
She finished the last bite of banana, dropped the peel into the trash, and went into the living room. There was no little fur ball curled up on the couch.
“Boots, come eat!”
Annie looked in a few of Boots’ favorite places—the sunny window in the dining room, the overstuffed chair in the library, even under the afghan puddled on the living room couch. No Boots. Finally out of options, Annie went upstairs. A quick look around told her that the attic door was open just wide enough to allow the passage of a lithe little gray body. She’d have to be more careful about closing that door all the way. Nothing intrigued a cat more than someplace she wasn’t allowed.
Annie pushed open the door and went up the stairs. “Boots? Are you in here? Boots?”
She heard a sound—half purr, half sleepy meow—and a little gray head popped up out of a partially open drawer.
“That is not your bed, missy.” Annie marched over to the antique bird’s-eye maple dresser at one side of the attic, pretending to scold as she picked up the cat. “Bad enough you think the whole house is your playroom. You don’t need to be up here getting into Gram’s things.”
Boots purred and butted her head against Annie’s hand, begging to be scratched, and Annie obliged. “All right, flatterer, you’re forgiven. Now what were you sleeping on?”
Annie looked in the drawer and shook her head.
“Those are Gram’s hand-embroidered dish towels, you know.” She set the cat on the floor so she could open the drawer a little more and then caught her breath before an involuntary little shriek could escape her. Then she laughed. OK, so it wasn’t a real severed hand, just an old rubber one from some forgotten Halloween. Why in the world had Gram kept the silly thing, and what else was in the drawer?
Annie rummaged around a little more. A couple of Victorian-looking Christmas ornaments, some seed packets, two decks of playing cards rubber-banded together, and shoved toward the back was a packet of envelopes tied with a piece of yarn. Annie remembered that yarn. It was the variegated green she had used on one of her very first afghans Gram had taught her to make when she was a girl. She didn’t even try to think how many years ago that had been.
Boots rubbed against her ankles, demanding to be fed.
you’re hungry. Well, go on.”
Annie picked up the letters and shooed Boots down the stairs and out of the attic, careful to close the door all the way behind her. As she made her way down to the living room, Annie felt her smile grow wider. The envelopes were a bit faded now, but as she flipped through them, she remembered the brightly colored inks and the exuberant curvy letters, complete with red and pink hearts to dot every letter “i.” She remembered the little smiley faces and rainbows that had been so popular when she was just out of grade school.
She remembered Susan.
Annie was fourteen that year, and she and her Stony Point friends were building a sand castle—a sand castle that was meant to be the biggest and best ever. She couldn’t help noticing the skinny girl with white-blond hair who stood at the edge of the grass watching, though she didn’t invite her to help with the building. But Gram had noticed the girl too.
She waved Annie over to the bench where she was reading. “That little girl looks about your age, honey. I bet she’d love to help you with your sand castle.”
Gram never liked to see anyone left out, and young Annie felt kind of sorry for the girl, so she went over to her.
“Hi. What’s your name?” The blond girl smiled, looking shyly at the ground. “I’m Susan Morris. I’m a good swimmer.”
“I’m Annie. I like to swim too. You want to work on our sand castle? My grandma said you might want to.”
Susan shrugged. “Guess so, if it’s OK.”
“Sure. Come on.” Annie took her to the rest of her friends. “This is Susan. She can help us.”
Soon Susan lost most of her shyness and seemed to be enjoying herself, even though Alice had assigned to her the task of hauling wet sand from near the surf. By the time the magnificent, or at least large, sand castle was built, Susan and Annie had found they had something in common. Annie visited Maine only in the summer. Susan lived in a house outside Stony Point and didn’t know many of the town kids. In a way, they were both outsiders.
Gram smiled consent when Annie asked if Susan could come back to Grey Gables with them for lunch. At the house, Annie showed her new friend her first attempts at crochet, the start of the variegated green afghan, and Gram offered to teach Susan how to make one too.
That was the first summer the two girls spent together. In late August, Annie had returned to Texas and school, so she and Susan had exchanged letters—
letters. Or at least these were the letters Susan had written to her.
Annie opened one at random. How it took her back. She was fourteen again, and everything was so important.
I got an A+ on my history test. I couldn’t remember which president was Old Hickory, but I must have guessed right … My mom got me some new tap shoes, and I’m taking lessons in Brunswick now. Mom says I needed a better teacher than Mrs. Herttenberger if I’m going to be a real dancer someday … Billy Kinneman sits behind me in science this year …
Laughing softly, Annie returned the letter to its envelope and chose another. More smileys and rainbows and hearts.
Daddy got me my own telephone for my birthday. I wish it wasn’t long distance to call you. Why do you have to live in Texas anyway? … Bobby Marchment tried to sit by me on the bus to the planetarium, but Billy made him move … Bunny had four puppies last night …
One more, Annie promised herself, and then she absolutely had to get some housework done. She chose one toward the bottom of the stack, postmarked May 1980.
ANNIE!!!!!! You won’t believe it! I’m going to live in New York! I didn’t tell you because I was afraid I wouldn’t be chosen, but I auditioned for a dance program there and was accepted! Mom and Dad didn’t think they could afford it, but I’m getting a scholarship and everything! My Aunt Kim lives there, and I’m going to get to stay with her! Isn’t it cool!!!!
Annie shook her head and laughed again. All those exclamation points. How excited Susan had been, and Annie had been almost as excited for her. It must have been a busy time for her, too, because there weren’t many letters after that, and Susan hadn’t come back to Stony Point the next few summers. Annie had lost track of her. Her marriage to Wayne, college, and helping him manage their Chevrolet dealership had kept her close to home in Texas. Gram had to come visit her there instead of Annie coming to Grey Gables. But what had become of Susan?
Annie sighed. Could it be thirty years ago already? It seemed incredible, but the time had passed in the blink of an eye. Did Susan ever become a “real” dancer and perform on Broadway as she had so often dreamed? Perhaps her days on the stage were over, and now she was the one teaching young hopefuls. Maybe her hair, like Annie’s, was showing some silver in the gold. Had she kept in touch with Billy Kinneman, or was someone else the love of her life? Did she have children? Grandchildren? Maybe she, too, was widowed.
Somebody in Stony Point had to have kept up with Susan. Wouldn’t it be great to see her again?
Annie tapped the stack of letters against the edge of the coffee table, thinking. Mary Beth knew everything about everybody. Too bad the needlework club didn’t meet until Tuesday. The meeting would have given her the perfect opportunity to ask about Susan. Of course, if she were to start on a new sweater, she’d need some more yarn. A perfect excuse to visit A Stitch in Time for supplies and a little information too.
She could always call Alice. Alice had been in Stony Point all her life, and she knew almost as much about everybody as Mary Beth did.
Annie reached for the telephone, but jumped with surprise when it chose that moment to start ringing.
“Annie? How’d you know I was on the line? It didn’t even ring.”
“Alice!” Annie laughed. “Well, it rang here. Startled me! And you must have read my mind or something. I was just about to call you.”
“Oh yeah? I bet it’s about the harvest banquet thing at the church. I got a message from Clara about it.”
“Yeah, me too. Of course, I may be back in Texas by the time they have the banquet.”
Alice snorted. “Don’t be silly. You can’t go back yet. You haven’t gone through even half of the stuff your grandmother left up in that attic.”
“Tell me about it. In fact, that’s what I was going to call you about just now. Boots got up into the attic, and she was sleeping right on top of some old letters from when I was in junior high.”
“Ooooh, from an old boyfriend?”
Annie chuckled. “Don’t be silly. I was only thirteen or so.”
be silly. You know you had a crush on that boy who played the drums one summer. What was his name?”
“The drums?” Annie thought for a moment and then laughed. “Dan. Dan Foster. Oh, and he never even talked to me.”
“And you cried and cried when you had to go home that year.”
“I did,” Annie admitted, giggling. “And the next year I couldn’t stand him.”