Authors: Marie Bostwick
Threading the Needle
(Cobbled Court Quilts #4)
A Thread So Thin
(Cobbled Court Quilts #3)
A Thread of Truth
(Cobbled Court Quilts #2)
A Single Thread
(Cobbled Court Quilts #1)
On Wings of the Morning
Fields of Gold
“The Presents of Angels” in
“A High-Kicking Christmas” in
Comfort and Joy
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
With thanks â¦
To my editor, Audrey LaFehr, and my agent, Liza Dawson, who never allow me to settle for less than my best; to my husband and family, for putting up with my crazy schedule and many moods; to my sister, Betty, who offers encouragement with liberality and criticism with grace; to my Very Sparkly Assistant, Molly, who keeps my books, calendar, and life pretty balanced, considering; and to Anne Dranginis, whose friendship I value and whose insights regarding courtroom drama and family law made this book more interesting; and to the readers whose appreciation and encouragement are the greatest rewards of writing.
eople are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
Elisabeth KÃ¼bler-Ross said that, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately. Maybe that surprises you. Most of the people I know, apart from my close friends, would be surprised to know I can quote from KÃ¼bler-Ross, and for one simple reason: I am nice.
I am. That's how people describe me, as a nice person, a nice girl. That wasn't so bad when I
a girl, but when you move beyond girlhood into womanhood, people tend to confuse niceness with lack of intellectual depth. And if that nice person is also a person of faith, they think you're as shallow as a shower, incapable of introspection or academic curiosity. But mine is an examined faith, composed of inquisitiveness, discovery, and introspection. However, it didn't begin with me.
I have known and loved God for as long as I can remember. It was as natural to me as breathing. As I've grown older and met so many people who struggle with the meaning and means of finding God, I have sometimes wondered about the validity of my faith. Could something so precious truly come as a gift?
I can't answer for anyone else and don't presume to, but, for myself, over and over again, the answer has been yes. I don't understand why the searching and finding should be so simple for some and so arduous for others. I only know that I have been blessed beyond measure or reason. But while peace with God came easily to me, peace with myself has been elusive.
From adolescence onward and with increasing anxiety as the minutes and years of my biological clock ticked on, I waited for the missing piece of myself to arrive, the better half who would make me whole: a husband. And with him, children, a family. That's what I'd always wanted, and that, I was sure, was what would make me happy. But after reading and meditating on KÃ¼bler-Ross, Brother Lawrence, the apostle Paul (“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”), I finally realized that I was not happy with myself because I had never learned to be happy
And so, more than a year ago, I broke it off with my boyfriend, Arnie Kinsella. It was hard, but it was for the best. I like Arnie, but I wasn't in love with him any more than he was in love with me. Even so, if he'd asked me to marry him, I'd have said yes in a heartbeat. I know how terrible that sounds, but it's the truth.
My friendsâEvelyn, Abigail, Ivy, Virginia, everybody from my Friday night quilt circleâapplauded my decision. They said I deserved the real thingâhead-over-heels, candy-and-flowers, heart-throbbing, heart-stopping L-O-V-E.
A nice thought, but it's never going to happen, not to me. And if finally acknowledging that didn't quite make my windows blaze with light, at least it saved me from further humiliation and the weight of impossible dreams. I was over all that and I was over Arnie Kinsella.
Or so I thought. Until today.
oday, I turned forty.
I wanted to let this birthday pass unnoticed, but when my lunch break came I decided I deserved a treat and walked around the corner to the Blue Bean Coffee Shop and Bakery, known to locals in New Bern, Connecticut, as the Bean.
My table was near a window frosted with little icy snowflake patterns where I could watch people bundled in scarves, hats, and thick wool coats scurrying from shop to shop in search of the perfect Christmas gift. When the waitress came by I ordered a plate of nachos, loaded with extra everything including so much sour cream they ought to serve it with a side of Lipitor.
Six bites in, a glob of guacamole and chili slipped off my chip and onto my chest. Dipping a napkin in water to clean up the mess only made it worse. My white sweater looked like a toddler's finger-painting project. I was on my way to the restroom to clean up when I spotted Arnie sitting in the back booth with Kiera Granger. That's where people sit when they don't want other people to know what they're up to. It doesn't do any good. Everybody in New Bern is well informed about the business of everybody else in New Bern.
On another day maybe I'd have been able to forget the sight of Arnie and Kiera sitting in the dimly lit booth, heads together, hands nearly but not quite touching as they talked intently, so intently that Arnie didn't even see me, but not today. I left my food and twenty dollars on the table and ran out the door and into the street, wishing the blustery December snowfall would turn into a blizzard and hide me from the world.
With only five shopping days until Christmas, Evelyn would need all hands on deck, but I couldn't face going back to work. I fumbled around in my bag until I found my cell phone. Evelyn answered on the fifth ring.
“Cobbled Court Quilts. May I help you?”
I heard a car round the corner; the engine was so loud that I'm sure everyone within three blocks could hear it. I stopped in my tracks, hoping the heap would pass so I could continue my conversation. Instead, it slowed to a crawl and the noise from the engine grew even louder. I pressed the phone closer to my left ear, covered the right with my free hand, and shouted into the receiver.
“Evelyn? It's Margot.”
“Margot? What's all that noise? I can barely hear you. Where are you?”
“I'm going home.”
I held the phone directly in front of my mouth, practically screaming into it.
“I'm going home. I'm not feeling very well. I'm sorry, but â¦ aack!”
A blast from the car horn nearly made me jump out of my skin. It was more of a bleep than a blast, the kind of short, sharp tap on the horn that drivers use to alert other drivers that the signal has gone green, but what did that matter? At close range the effect was the same. I yelped and dropped the phone, dropping my call in the process.
When I regained my balance, my phone, and some of my composure, I turned toward the street and saw a low-slung, bright blue “muscle car,” rusty in spots and with multiple dents, a tailpipe choking clouds of smoke, topped by a roof rack carrier piled high with possessions and covered with a plastic tarp that was held in place by black bungee cordsâsort of. The tarp was loose on one side, exposing some boxes, a big black musical instrument case, and a hockey stick. Quite a collection.
The driver was a man about my age with black hair receding at the temples and brown eyes that peered out from rimless glasses. A boy of twelve or thirteen sat slumped in the passenger seat, looking embarrassed and irritated. The driver said something and the boy cranked down the window. The driver shouted to me, but I couldn't make out his words over the roar of the engine.
What kind of person shouts at strangers from their car? Or honks? In New England, honking in a situation that is short of life threatening is up there with painting your house orange or coming to a dinner party empty-handed. You just don't do it.
Climbing over a snowbank and into the street, I noticed that the car had Illinois plates and a Cubs bumper sticker. Were they visiting relatives for Christmas? If they were, I probably knew the family. So no matter how rude he was,
had to be nice.
Shaking my head, I mimed a key in my hand and twisted my wrist, signaling him to shut off the ignition. Instead, he shifted into neutral. That reduced the engine noise to a loud hum rather than an earsplitting roar. Better, but not much.
“Sorry!” he yelled. “If I turn it off, I'm not sure I'll be able to start it again. Can you tell me where Oak Leaf Lane is? We're lost.” The boy, who I supposed must be his son, slumped down even farther in his seat, clearly humiliated by his dad's admission. I smiled to myself. Teenagers are so painfully self-conscious.
“Turn around, take a right at the corner. Oak Leaf Lane is the third right after the traffic light. Beecher Cottage Inn is down about a quarter mile on the left, if that's what you're looking for. Or are you staying with family over Christmas?”
Still grinning, he shook his head. “Neither. We're moving here.” The man leaned across his son's lap and extended his hand out the window so I could shake it. “I'm Paul Collier. This is my son, James. James is starting as a seventh grader at the middle school after the holidays and I'll be starting a new job at the same time.”
“Dad!” James hissed. “You don't have to tell her our life story.”
Paul Collier rolled his eyes. “I wasn't. I was just making introductions. This is the country, James. People in the country are friendly. Isn't that right, miss?”
He looked to me for support, but I decided to stay out of it. Paul Collier seemed nice, but I had to wonder how he was going to fit into New Bern. The residents of New Bern
friendly but, like most New Englanders, they are also proud and a bit reticent. They like for strangers to act â¦ well, a little strange, at least initially. And they don't like it when strangers refer to their town as “the country.” Makes us sound so quaint.
I bent down to shake his hand and changed the subject. “Well, it's nice to have you here. On Christmas Eve, we have a carol sing with hot chocolate and cookies on the Green. That's the park in the center of downtown,” I added, realizing they might not be familiar with the term. “And if you're looking for a place to attend Christmas services, New Bern Community Church is right on the Green too.”
“Great! I was just telling James that we needed to find a church first thing.”
His enthusiasm piqued my interest. Most men don't put finding a church high on their list of priorities when they move to a new town. My gaze shifted automatically, searching out his left hand, but I couldn't tell if he was wearing a ring.
What was I doing? When was I going to get over the habit of looking at every man I met as a potential mate? Even if this man was single, his hair was too dark and his forehead too high. Not my type. And he was probably too short. And anyway, I was through with all that. And even if I hadn't beenâwhich I was, I absolutely and forever wasâPaul Collier's response to my next question would have settled the matter.
“So, you've moved here for a new job?”
“I'm a lawyer. I'm starting at Baxter, Ferris, and Long after Christmas.”
A lawyer. Of course, he was. It was a sign, a clear sign that I was supposed to learn to be content as a single woman and stay away from men. Especially lawyers.
I let go of his hand and took a step back from the blue heap; he couldn't be a very successful lawyer if he was driving such a pile of junk. “Well â¦ good luck. Have a good Christmas.”
“Thanks. Same to you, miss. Or is it missus?”
He was awfully direct, another quality that doesn't go over well in New England.
“Margot,” I replied, leaving his question unanswered. “Margot Matthews.”
“Nice to meet you, Margot. Merry Christmas.”
He put the car back into gear, revved the engine, made a three-point turn in a nearby driveway, and drove off, leaving my ears ringing. Or so I thought, until I realized that the buzzing was coming from my phone.
“Sorry, Evelyn. I accidentally dropped the phone.”
“What happened? It sounded like an airplane was about to land on top of you.”
“Just a car driving by. Listen, I don't think I can finish the rest of my shift â¦.”
“Something you ate at lunch?”
“Sort of,” I replied. “Will you be all right without me?”
“Sure. I mean â¦ if you're sick, you're sick. Do you think you'll feel better if you just lie down for an hour? Maybe you could come in later.”
Evelyn is not just my boss; she's also my friend. She doesn't have a deceitful bone in her body, but something about the tone of her voice made me suspicious.
“Evelyn, you're not planning a surprise party at the quilt shop, are you?”
I told her, I told all my friends, that I don't want to celebrate this birthday. Why should I? There is nothing about being forty and still single that's worth celebrating.
“No. We're not planning a party at the shop. Take the afternoon. But you've got that meeting at church tonight, don't forget. Abigail called to see if you'd pick her up.”
The meeting. I was so upset that it had completely slipped my mind.
I sighed. “Tell her I'll pick her up around six fifteen.”
In the background, I could hear the jingle of the door bells as more customers entered the shop. I felt a twinge of guilt. I almost told her that I'd changed my mind and was coming in after all, but before I could, Evelyn said, “I've got to run. But feel better, okay? I know you're not happy about this birthday, but whether you know it or not, you've got a lot to celebrate. So, happy birthday, Margot. And many more to come.”