Authors: Arlene Sachitano
"Yes, you'll find raisins, dates, brown and white sugar, honey, butter and cream on the tray over there. And maple syrup in the brown pitcher. Help yourself."
Harriet carried her bowl to the condiment tray and sprinkled a handful of raisins and a spoon of brown sugar onto it. Lauren appeared and joined her at the sideboard.
"You have to fix this,” she demanded.
"Fix what?” Harriet asked.
"You have to prove I did my quilt first. You owe me."
Ever since a show quilt Lauren had placed high hopes for a win on had ended up shredded by a murderer, the woman kept insisting the loss was Harriet's fault and demanding reparation. Harriet had finally accepted it was pointless to argue otherwise.
"How am I supposed to do that?” She tried to remain calm.
"You're so clever—figure it out,” Lauren spat, then spun around and stormed out of the building.
Harriet carried her bowl back to the long table and sat down. “Remind me again why I ‘owe’ her?” she asked.
"Because she's Lauren,” Robin replied, busy with her own bowl of cereal.
Carla waited until Harriet had finished eating.
"Are you going to do it?” she asked without looking up.
"For the record,” Harriet snapped, “I don't owe that woman anything."
The chatter stopped abruptly. Harriet looked at her friends.
"No one's saying you owe her anything,” Mavis agreed. “But..."
"But don't you want to know who copied who?” Connie finished.
Carla finally looked up, watching Harriet's reaction.
"Personally, I don't care,” Sarah said and got up, leaving her dirty dishes on the table. “I'm going back to the Tree House. I left my thread case in my room."
"Don't forget to take your dishes to the kitchen,” Connie said, as Sarah started to leave.
Sarah sighed and rolled her eyes skyward, but she picked up her bowl, spoon and glass and carried them into the other room. They could hear her thanking the cook for breakfast before she came out. Harriet hoped it sounded more sincere to the recipient than it did to her.
"May I leave now?” Sarah said to Connie, the sarcasm dripping from her voice.
Connie stood and looked at Sarah's place at the table.
"You may,” she said. Her thirty years of taming Foggy Point's young gave her a commanding presence, and Sarah wasn't immune. She turned and left without saying another word.
Connie sat back down. “Now, about Lauren's quilt..."
"I'm not sure what you think I can do,” Harriet protested.
"I'm sure you'll think of something,” Connie said.
"Why don't we all give it some thought while we're in class, and then we can put our heads together at lunch and see if we can come up with a plan,” Mavis urged. She got up and carried her dishes to the kitchen. The rest of the Loose Threads followed suit then stepped out onto the porch.
Mavis and Connie took the path around the dining hall to the bathrooms. Robin started for the parking lot to look in her car for scissors that weren't where they should be in her bag. Harriet was following Carla along the trail to the fiber arts pavilion when someone pulled her from the path.
Carla looked back, gave her a crooked smile and hurried away. Harriet spun around and found herself face to face with Aiden.
"Hi,” he said.
She pulled out of his grasp and pushed his arms away as he reached for her.
"Leave me alone,” she snapped and strode toward the path.
"Leave you alone? Why on earth would I do that? You've got some explaining to do."
"What?” She whirled back around. “I have explaining to do?” Her voice was rising, and she could feel her face heating. “You're the one who left me hanging when you got a better offer."
"What are you talking about? I didn't leave you. You never called me back. That's why I came by this morning. I wanted to find out why.” He pulled a purple hat from his back pocket. “That, and I wanted to give you this."
He put it on her head. She pulled it off and looked at it. Angel Harbor Spay and Neuter Clinic, it read.
"This was the only purple one. It made me think of you.” He tapped the brim of the hat. “One of a kind."
"Dr. Jalbert,” a voice called from the woods.
Aiden turned toward the sound as the blonde from the previous night emerged at a jog on a path off to the right.
"There's been a fire on one of the boats down at the harbor,” she said in a breathless voice. “Two dogs and three cats were injured; the call just came over the radio.” She displayed the portable unit, as if they needed to see it to believe her story.
"We're not finished here,” Aiden informed Harriet as he started after the blonde. “We're going to talk."
Harriet opened her mouth to reply, but he was already gone.
A steady drizzle broke through the canopy of branches overhead. She looked at the purple hat then put it on her head as she went to her classroom.
Carla had saved a place for her at a two-person table. She'd placed a large cutting mat in the space between the two sewing machines and was bent over her bag pulling tools out and setting them to the left of her machine.
"Did I miss anything?” Harriet asked.
"The teacher told us to get out our basic sewing tools and to thread our machines with neutral thread if they needed it.” She was twisting her fingers nervously; and she stared at them as if they were small rodents fighting and she had money on the outcome. “I threaded yours with off-white.” She glanced up at Harriet before returning attention to her hands.
Harriet placed her hand on Carla's, stopping the motion.
"Thank you,” she said. “Did she say anything else?"
Carla made as if to resume twisting her hands then dropped them from her lap and grabbed the two sides of the chair she was sitting on. “No."
Their teacher, Ray Louise Hanson, returned carrying a sheaf of graph paper and launched into her lecture on the usefulness of half-rectangle construction, a geometric design composed of two different fabrics dividing a rectangle diagonally from corner to corner. As she spoke, she handed several pieces of the grid paper to each student, and soon everyone was creating her own design based on the divided rectangle.
The class was soon immersed in their work, and before Harriet knew it, her paper was filled and it was lunchtime.
"Class will resume at one o'clock sharp,” Ray Louise, a tiny woman with flame-red hair said. She turned and disappeared behind a three-quarter wall at the narrow end of the room that concealed the door to the central storeroom.
Carla stood up and started to leave. She turned back when she realized Harriet had not followed.
"Are you coming to lunch?” she asked without making eye contact.
"You go ahead, I'm going to try out a short cut."
Harriet fiddled with her scissors and rotary cutter on the cutting mat until everyone else was gone. When the coast was clear, she hurried up the aisle to the front of the room and stepped around the dividing wall and through the access door. She was prepared to use her short-cut story if anyone was in the central room, but it was deserted.
She turned slowly. The layout had seemed simple last night but now, on her own, it was confusing. The classrooms all led to the center, but some rooms had an enclosed space between them and the part of the storage area where she was. She could see no other choice than to start opening doors. The third one she tried led to the room she was looking for.
Selestina's office was small but efficient. A simple colonial-style maple desk sat in the center of the room. A matching credenza stood behind it and two wooden-backed maple guest chairs in front. A series of framed botanical prints hung on the wider wall. Selestina clearly didn't do any fiber work here.
Harriet stepped around the desk and tried the file drawers but found them locked. She froze at the sound of a door closing, but when no other noise followed, she continued her search, rifling the small stack of papers on the desktop. A quick look determined they were packing slips for recent materials deliveries. She took one last look around, but there was nothing related to the shipping of quilts to Europe or anywhere else, and nothing that could shed any light on a duplicate quilt that may or may not have been created at the folk art center.
She listened for sounds of life in the storeroom and, when she heard none, stepped quickly across the space back into her classroom then on into the hallway and through the door. She only took a deep breath when she was back out on the trail to the dining hall.
"Where have you been?” Lauren demanded the moment Harriet sat down at the fiber arts table. The cook brought a blue pottery bowl filled with posole and sat it in front of her. The fragrance of the spicy pork-and-hominy soup made Harriet's mouth water.
"Can I eat before we do this?” she asked.
"Fine,” Lauren said.
"Where have you been?” Mavis asked when Lauren had returned to the opposite end of the table, where she'd been sitting with a group of students from the two-year program.
Harriet scooped a spoonful of soup into her mouth and followed it with a bite of crusty homemade French bread. The group got the message and let her eat in silence.
"Okay, so where were you and did you find proof that someone copied my work?” Lauren demanded, once more swooping down on Harriet after her lunch companions had left the dining hall.
"I didn't find anything that indicated Selestina copied your work. As your advisor, I assume she's the one who would see your design first. Since it would take some time to produce the copy, I can't think of anyone else who would have enough access to do it.” Harriet put her spoon down. “I searched her office."
"That's my girl,” Mavis said, sounding like the proud mother of a spelling bee winner.
Harriet looked at her. “I didn't find anything useful, though. Her desk only had a few packing slips on it, and her file cabinets were locked, so it was a big zero."
"I could have told you that,” Lauren sneered. “I told you to find me proof. If it was that easy, I'd have my proof already."
"What, you searched her office?” Harriet asked, jumping to her feet. “If you're finding your own evidence, why are you guilt-tripping me? I'm through with your games—you can untangle your own mess.” She stomped into the kitchen with her empty bowl.
Lauren followed her through the double doors as she was rinsing her bowl at the deep copper sink.
"Okay, I'm sorry,” Lauren apologized. “I was just counting on you to come up with something. You don't know what it's like having everyone think they know something bad about you but really they don't."
Yeah, thought Harriet, I know what it's like. And what it's like when everyone actually knows something bad and doesn't tell you.
Her husband Steve had kept the fact he had a genetic condition that could kill him before he was forty from her, yet he somehow felt free to tell all their friends about it. Not one of them thought she needed to be bothered with the information, and when he died from a burst aorta, they couldn't understand why she didn't want their sympathy.
Harriet knew all about being an outsider.
"So, what did you find out,” she asked without turning around.
Lauren slid onto one of the tall stools that circled a knife-scarred wood center island. “There was a stack of papers and files on her desk."
Harriet took a stool on the opposite side. “So?” she prompted.
"There wasn't anything useful. There was a receipt for a package that was mailed to England two months ago—it was for a quilt, but there was no detailed description so it was worthless."
"Let's let me be the judge of that. I want the papers. All of them."
"I'm telling you, there's nothing there."
"Look, do you want my help or not? If you don't, we're through here.” Harriet started to get up.
"I don't have the papers."
"What? I thought you said you took them."
"Actually, I didn't say I had the papers.” Lauren's shoulders slumped, and she let out a big sigh. “My brother took the files that were on Selestina's desk."
"Your brother?” Harriet said, louder than she'd intended.
"Shhh,” Lauren said, and lowered her own voice to barely above a whisper.” She leaned across the table. “Yes, my brother. He's the janitor here."
"Why are we whispering?” Harriet asked in a normal voice. “Are you embarrassed because your brother is a janitor?"
"Shhh,” Lauren said again. “Of course I don't mind if my brother's a janitor. It's way more complicated than that, not that it's any of your business."
"Look, just because you're finding out why I'm being accused of copying Selestina's work, it doesn't mean we are suddenly BFFs"
"My point exactly. My brother has the files at his apartment in town. He doesn't get off work until six. I'll have him bring them back to the Tree House after dinner."
Lauren stood up, and Harriet understood she was being dismissed. She was still sitting at the island when Mavis came through the doors.
"You're not bleeding,” she said. “Does this mean we're still on the case?"
are not on the anything."
"You mean you're not the least bit interested in finding out who made her quilt first?"
"I didn't say I wasn't interested. I just don't think we should make a major production out of finding out. And might I remind you there's no proof Selestina was the one who produced the duplicate quilt?"
"My money's still on Selestina,” Mavis said.
Robin leaned through the doors. “Come on, ladies, time to get back to class."
Carla and Harriet were at an ironing board at the back of their classroom starching their fabric rectangles to within an inch of their lives when their teacher interrupted.
"Class, would everyone return to their seats, please?"
The students looked at each other in puzzlement but did as she asked. When they were all seated, Ray Louise came around to the front of her table and sat on the edge.
"I'm afraid I have some sad news,” she said. “I've just been informed Selestina Bainbridge has passed away."