Authors: Arlene Sachitano
"Take a flying leap,” Lauren said in a stage whisper.
"I think we all just need some time to calm down,” Mavis said. “Some of us are a little more excitable than the rest."
"If you want to do something, maybe you could convince your boss to eliminate the public humiliation session,” Harriet suggested. “I can tell you, it doesn't make me want to spend the rest of the week here."
"Sit down.” Robin indicated a place on the sofa she was seated on. Patience crossed the room and sat. “I know Selestina has been running this school very successfully for a lot of years, and I know she has very high standards, but she didn't use to be mean. I came years ago, and now I've come for the last three short sessions, and I have to tell you, Patience, she's crossed the line. If she keeps up this approach, she's going to lose more than just our tuition."
"You're not all leaving, are you?” Patience asked. She had pulled a wadded-up tissue from her jeans pocket and began rolling the edge between her thumb and forefinger, causing small white shreds to fall on the rug at her feet.
"I don't know,” Robin replied honestly. “We were just talking about things when you got here."
Harriet got up. “I'll go check on DeAnn,” she said.
If they called for a vote right now there was no question, she would be the first one on the bus home. She didn't need to learn how to hand stitch bad enough to deal with this drama all week.
She climbed the stairs and called out to DeAnn from the last landing. She wasn't sure what she was warning her for—it was unlikely the woman was sobbing on her bed. But you never knew about these things, and Harriet wasn't familiar enough with her roommate to know if she might be prone to throwing things when she was angry.
She needn't have worried; when she stepped into the room, it was empty.
"DeAnn?” she called again. She went back into the hallway and to the bathroom. The door was open, and the room was empty. “DeAnn?” There was still no answer.
She went back into their shared room. This time she noticed what she hadn't seen before—a folded piece of pale-blue paper rested against the pillow of her twin bed.
Harriet sat on the bed and quickly read the note. She looked around the room and confirmed what the note had explained. DeAnn was gone.
"She's gone,” Harriet said as she returned to the common room. She held up the note. “This was on my bed. It says she got a ride into Angel Harbor and will catch a ride home with Aunt Beth."
Beth was coming that evening to see the the long-session students’ fiber exhibition. In addition to actual technique classes, the folk art school taught students how to solicit and fulfill commissioned works, how to book gallery showings and how to hang an exhibition of their work. Lauren's class was doing the latter this week.
"That was quick,” Lauren commented. “We weren't that far behind her. I wonder if she had this all planned."
"Don't be ridiculous,” Robin told her.
Lauren glared at her, but kept quiet.
"Here's what I think we should do,” Mavis said. “We don't have any more meetings today and classes don't start until tomorrow, so we eat dinner, we go to Lauren's exhibit, get a good night's sleep and then see how we feel about it in the morning."
"That will give us a chance to talk to Beth about it, too,” Robin added.
As one of the founding members of the Loose Threads quilting group, Beth's opinion would carry weight even if she hadn't been present for the original incident.
The rest of the group agreed.
"We'll let you know what we decide in the morning,” Mavis told Patience.
"That's fair enough.” Patience carried her teacup to the kitchenette and went to the door. “I hope you won't let one unfortunate experience color your opinion of our very fine school,” she said and left.
"Anyone want to go for a walk?” Harriet asked when Patience was gone. “It's too early for dinner, and I don't think I can sit and stitch right now."
"I'll go with you,” Robin said. Mavis and Connie declined.
"I'm going to check on my display,” Lauren announced. “Selestina is inspecting our hanging in an hour and a half, and from what I've heard, I won't feel like joining you for dinner afterward, so I guess I'll just see you at the show."
"I'll bring you something you can eat after,” Connie offered.
"Thank you,” Lauren said as she went out the door.
"There's a loop trail around the perimeter of the school,” Robin said. “It goes by a little duck pond down below the painting pavilion."
Harriet put on her gray hooded sweatshirt, and Robin pulled on a hip-length yellow jacket whose bottom edge curved up at her hips. The jacket was the same obscure athletic brand as her black yoga pants and pale blue form-fitted top and was a fabric that was undoubtedly the latest in technical sportswear.
In the months since she'd returned to Foggy Point, Harriet had learned that Robin was a popular yoga teacher; she'd also avoided having to take a class with her.
The two women strolled through the woods in silence, each lost in her own thoughts. They had just come into the clearing that contained the painting pavilion when they spotted three men ahead of them. Two were dressed in jeans and denim shirts. The third was taller and thinner and wore tan wide-wale corduroy slacks and a dark-brown sweater vest over a pale-blue oxford shirt.
"The boundary stake should be somewhere around the base of that taller pine tree.” He pointed to the center tree in a cluster of pines then, when he turned back to the path, discovered Harriet and Robin. “Hello,” he said. “I hope you're enjoying the grounds."
When they didn't respond, the man stepped toward Harriet with his hand outstretched.
"I'm Tom Bainbridge. My mother owns this place."
Harriet shook his hand and found it warm and firm. “I'm no one of consequence,” she said.
"I find that very hard to believe,” Tom protested with a smile. He leaned back and looked her up and down. Harriet blushed. “A quilter, I'd guess. Am I right?"
"What gave it away? Am I covered in thread clippings?” She brushed at her pants.
"No.” He laughed. “With quilters, it's all about what's missing. Potters’ hands tend to be chapped and red. The painters usually wear their art. Even when they clean up, there are telltale paint signs—you know, under their fingernails, specks in their hair."
"We could have been photographers,” Robin pointed out.
The man spread his hands in front of him. “Not possible,” he said. “No photographer could walk through those woods and into this beautiful meadow without clicking off at least a dozen pictures."
"Okay, you got us.” Harriet conceded.
"If only that were true,” he said, a bit wistfully.
"Hey, don't look at me,” Robin said. “I'm married."
He spread his hands wider. “A beautiful meadow, perfect weather and two beautiful women—a man can dream, can't he?"
"Do you want us to identify each tax lot or do you just want the outer perimeter?” one of the denim-clad workers asked Tom Bainbridge, interrupting his flirtation.
"I'm going to need the individual tax lots. I should be able to infer the outer boundaries from those, right?"
The man nodded and turned back to his partner, who was stomping the ground around the pine tree.
"I better go help find that stake before he tramples the whole meadow. If you're looking for the duck pond, keep on this path and it will come up on your left after you get past the pavilion.” He bowed slightly from his waist. “And, ladies, it's been my pleasure."
"He's a charmer,” Harriet said when he was out of earshot.
"Not quite as striking as a certain vet we know."
"But a bit more age appropriate,” Harriet noted, and began walking again. “I wonder why he's surveying the property."
"The real question is why is he breaking out the individual tax lots? That's the kind of thing you do when you're planning a residential development."
"Have you heard any rumors to that effect?"
"No, but then, I'm not sure that's the kind of thing they would broadcast. And maybe they're just trying to assess the value for future planning."
"You mean like when the evil son gets the mother declared incompetent then sells her life's work out from under her?"
Robin stopped and turned to look at her. “Let's have a little faith in our fellow man here. Maybe he wants to be sure her insurance is adequate or her tax assessment is accurate.” She set off again.
"Well, he seemed a little slick, if you ask me."
A brown mallard duck with six fuzzy ducklings waddled across the path ahead of the two quilters. Harriet pulled a crumbled cellophane packet of crackers from her sweatshirt pocket, the leftovers from last Wednesday's soup and salad lunch at the Sandwich Board, one of Foggy Point's lunchtime hot spots. She sprinkled the crackers over the water, pausing to watch the ducks splash into the pond after them.
Then, they continued on the path in silence, entering the dark woods on the opposite side of the meadow and returning to the Tree House.
The Loose Threads reassembled in the common room and walked in pairs to a cedar-sided building tucked in the trees just beyond their dormitory.
"In spite of what Lauren said, the food here is good,” Mavis advised as she climbed the steps onto the porch of the dining room.
"Lauren may have overstated the situation, but they do serve economical meals,” Robin added and pulled the door open.
The room they entered was a large rectangle filled with long plank tables and benches. Double doors on the opposite wall presumably led to the kitchen. The side walls were hung with primitive art. Harriet took a deep breath. Whatever was cooking smelled delicious.
Clusters of people sat along the length of two tables; a third table stood empty.
a method to their madness,” Mavis said as she led them to the empty table. “There's no seating chart, but this one, as indicated by the quilted runner, is designated as the fiber arts table."
Harriet looked at the other two tables and noticed the top of one was covered with butcher paper decorated with graffiti. The other was topped with black-and-white photos under glass.
"Clever,” she said. “I'm not sure how I feel about the segregation, though."
"Patience explained it to me the first time I came here,” Mavis explained. “In order to not overwhelm the kitchen, they stagger the activities in each pavilion so only a third of the people arrive at any one time."
"I never knew that,” Robin said.
"Just part of the well-oiled machine that is the school,” Sarah said and sat down.
A middle-aged woman with a long gray braid that fell to her waist came through the double doors carrying a tray laden with bowls of steaming soup.
"You can help yourself to drinks on the sideboard,” the woman said as she began setting the bowls on the table. “The bread just came out of the oven. I'll have it out here in a few minutes,” she added over her shoulder as she walked back through the double doors.
"Thanks,” Harriet said as she sat down with the glass of ice water she'd just poured at the large oak buffet. The soup was Italian, with chunks of sausage, bowtie pasta and zucchini in a tomato-basil broth. It was hardly the watery gruel she'd expected after Lauren's comments.
When the quilters were finished eating, the woman with the braid brought a wrapped bundle.
"Here's a little sandwich for Lauren,” she said and handed it to Connie. “She'll need her strength."
A slender blond man in a khaki work uniform began clearing the table as Harriet and her friends headed for the door.
"There's a new restroom behind the cookhouse,” he said in a soft voice without looking up. “Follow the porch around to the back."
"This is convenient,” Mavis said as they waited for Sarah to come out of the bathroom. “Before, we had to go back to our rooms after meals."
"Seems like they add something new every time we come here,” Connie noted.
Robin pulled a round plastic brush from her purse and began brushing her hair. “Maybe if they weren't building all the time, they could afford to feed us something besides soup."
"I liked the soup,” Harriet protested, and started down the path as Sarah emerged.
The three classroom pavilions at the Angel Harbor Folk Art Center were of similar construction: large pie-shaped spaces around a central supply room hub, with two large rooms on one side that extended all the way to the exterior windows. The rest of the rooms were bordered by a wide hallway that curved around the building, providing ample wall space for hanging student's work.
"Wasn't your aunt Beth supposed to meet us here?” Sarah asked Harriet as they reached the stairs to the porch that surrounded the fiber arts pavilion.
Harriet looked around and, not seeing her aunt, glanced down at her watch. “She was, but we're early. I told her to meet us at seven, and it's only quarter till. Feel free to go in. I'll wait for her.” She glanced hopefully at the door, but Sarah didn't move.
"We'll all wait. I wouldn't want it to be said I'm not a team player,” Sarah announced.
"We'd never want that,” Aunt Beth said as she walked up behind her. “But since I'm here, you'll have to find another opportunity to display your team spirit."
Robin looked at Harriet and rolled her eyes skyward. “Let's go see what our buddy Lauren has been up to all these months."
Sarah began commenting on the first exhibit the group came to. The assignment must have involved granite, since all six quilts looked like some variation of a granite countertop, the veining created with dense stitching. The backgrounds looked like hand-dyed muslin and varied from rose-gray to almost black.
"Clearly, some students understood the task better than others,” Sarah pronounced.
"Let's go the other direction around the hall,” Harriet whispered to Carla.
The younger woman smiled briefly and followed Harriet as she strolled in the opposite direction. When Harriet paused in front of a display of hand quilting, she realized Robin had joined them.