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Small Town Quilting Treasures, Chapter 1

Order from Amazon Order from Barnes & Noble The group, not certain if Deirdre Carter was serious, laughed. “It’s the Lord’s honest truth,” she said and snipped a thread of one of the blocks she was piecing. “Maddie’s as exasperated as she can be with that child, although you can hardly call a thirty-two-year-old a child. I wasn’t about to be giving advice and kept saying, ‘Really, well, isn’t that something,’ until she calmed down.”

Phyllis Latchley regained her composure first. “Okay, let me get this straight. Your niece and Maddie’s daughter, Jasmine, was engaged to Rodney. She called the wedding off with only two weeks to go and sent him packing. Later, she took up with and married his brother, Robbie. That didn’t last, and they got divorced. The oldest of the three brothers, Raymond, moved back to town and connected with Jasmine. They started up a relationship, are getting married, and both the other brothers are going to be in the wedding party.”

“It’s the Lord’s honest truth,” the retired music teacher repeated with a grin. “Not one of us is making a prediction about what will happen. We sisters are pretty well divided as to if this is going to be ‘third time’s a charm’ or ‘three strikes and you’re out,’ if you know what I mean.”

“At least she doesn’t have to worry about changing her name again,” Becky Sullivan said. With a glance toward Deirdre’s tote on the floor next to her, she asked, “You’re quilting her wedding present?”

“An easy thing—a nice table runner with batik blocks and matching napkins. I’m not saying Jasmine can’t be a little flighty at times, but she went right on through from high school to get an associate degree in business and has worked her way up to being the administrative assistant for the business department head at the community college up in Clarksville. Raymond already has what sounds like a nice job lined up in Clarksville, too, so they seem to have a good plan anyway.”

Brief silence as heads nodded in agreement. They had twenty minutes or so until they took their break. Helen Crowder glanced at Sophie Jensen, the newest member of the quilting circle. Not surprisingly, she was seated at the table next to Rita Raney. Sophie’s husband, Blaine, worked at the plant with Rita’s husband, Steve, and the two couples were close in age. The Jensens had moved to Wallington, Georgia, from the Dallas area several months ago, and Sophie’d been quickly hired as an English teacher at the high school. Discovering her friend’s interest in quilting, Rita had invited Sophie to join the circle and assured her that being a novice was no reason to be intimidated by the skill of some of the older members. Sophie, a full head taller than Rita, with black hair she usually wore in a braid, was working on embroidering a line of script in lavender thread, “The Best Is Yet To Come.” It was to be the name of a throw quilt she was making for a teacher who’d announced her upcoming retirement.

Rita had started a line of animal-themed totes she sold at Dickinson Veterinary Clinic, where she worked, to help raise money for the animal shelter. Her current one featured squares of small dogs, and she was using alternating gold and light brown strips to connect the squares. When she designed the tote, she said it had to be sturdy enough to carry a pug-sized dog. She’d experimented with some of the smaller dogs at the animal shelter for the weight test, and so far, she’d had positive reviews.

Sarah Guilford was in the chair next to Deirdre, a side table between them. Sarah had brought a series of squares and rectangles she was piecing together for a baby quilt. A pastel yellow print with different colored rocking horses was placed between a pastel blue square and a pastel pink with prints of different colored teddy bears. There would be five rows with solid fabric for the sashing and borders. She planned to alternate the solid colors, which were a shade darker than the background of the prints. “When is Max due back, Helen?”

Helen didn’t try to hide a smile—hearing Max Mayfield’s name had that effect. “Saturday. This has been a long trip—Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas. He hardly ever does consulting now, but one of the few clients he still feels a loyalty to called and asked for help with a special venture.” She looked at Alicia Johnson, the third member of the circle in the thirty-something age range. “I want to thank you again, Alicia, for getting me set up with the video-calling. I’m enjoying it so much.”

Alicia,  the techno-wiz in the group, had her own web marketing business. “Glad to help. I get a lot of requests for that service, especially from older folks. It really is an easy way to stay connected to kids and grandkids.” Alicia was sitting at the end of the table where she could stretch out the throw she was planning to give a great-aunt who had recently moved to assisted living. The great-aunt was a retired librarian so Alicia had chosen blocks that were a mix of prints of books on shelves and literary quotations in script. It was a new kit Wanda Wallington was stocking at her store Memories and Collectibles. Helen occasionally helped out in the shop and had unpacked the latest shipment of the kits when Alicia came in looking for something special.

Katie Nelson, who’d recently expanded her takeout and meal delivery service at Katie’s Kitchen Helper, was on the love seat with Helen, an embroidery hoop in her lap. She’d finished the last quilt she’d been working on and was trying to get caught up on cross-stitching a wall hanging she was making as a housewarming gift for one of her clients.

The rest of the circle was absent with other commitments for the evening, but with more members than before, it wasn’t practical to expect everyone’s schedule would sync each week. Like Max, Mary Lou Bell was out of town. Carolyn Reynolds, owner of The Right Look: Ladies’ and Children’s Apparel, was meeting with Susanna Dickinson, an incredibly talented local fabric artist, about a line of dresses she had designed. Carolyn would, of course, manage to have in-store exclusivity for at least a while. One of the reasons Susanna was able to make a genuine living as an artist was because she had a robust online business. Dresses in boutiques should increase her reputation at least within the region.

Phyllis folded the section she’d completed and rolled her shoulders forward, then back. “We’re ready for break, aren’t we?”

Helen shook herself from musing and smiled. “Close enough, let’s go.”

Helen’s dining room had two wide square openings; one separating it from the living room and another from the kitchen to provide an easy flow. Drinks were served from the kitchen, and the pattern for eating was stand-up to stretch legs and to keep the break around twenty minutes. Everyone brought savory or sweet items that could be eaten with one hand or a fork—no cutting required.

“Katie, the quiche is terrific. I’m trying to figure out the flavor,” Phyllis said, holding up the last bite of the slice on a fork.

Katie lifted her wineglass in acknowledgment. “Smoked chicken, smoked sweet onion, and a very light touch of paprika. Getting the proportions right took a lot of tries. It’s become one of my most popular items on the menu. Oh, and I’m sourcing as much as I can from the Lurleys.”

“They are the nicest couple,” Rita said and turned to Sophie, who was reaching for one of the roasted pepper, pine nut, and three-cheese tartlets Helen had made. “Have y’all been to Always Fresh Farms yet?”

Sophie shook her head. “No, I’ve been meaning to go because everyone says it’s a great spot.”

That led the conversation into the different products the circle members used from the farm Helen’s grandparents had once owned. Juanita and Kyle Lurley purchased it with a carefully thought-out business plan of slowly expanding from the original seasonal U-pick and farmers’ market. Each stage had so far been successful. Their café, Fresh Table, was the most recent endeavor.

Phyllis slipped to Helen’s right and lowered her voice. “Hey, can you do lunch at the farm tomorrow? I can’t hang around tonight, and I want to tell you about Avery’s visit.”

“Sure, I’m good at noon,” Helen said, only a little surprised that Avery Lyon was finally coming to Wallington. Avery was head of security for the ship they been on for the quilting cruise. Since the cruise, he and Phyllis had met up for another short cruise and a few days in Atlanta when the ship was in the home port of Fort Lauderdale for routine maintenance.

Deirdre waved a chocolate raspberry mini-cupcake. “The little ones don’t have calories, right?”

Everyone chorused agreement and refilled their beverages to return to quilting. Later, as the circle began wrapping up, Helen sensed Katie wanted to linger. It was a few minutes after nine o’clock when they were alone together in the kitchen, dishwasher loaded, and countertops wiped clean. “Another wine, coffee, or tea?”

“Coffee for me,” Katie said and moved to the pot still a third full. “Shall we make more?”

Helen shook her head, added ice to her glass of tea, and then motioned for Katie to sit at the oval pine pedestal kitchen table as they had done on countless occasions. The remaining four mini-muffins and a small stack of the parmesan crisps Rita had brought were on a plate between the two of them.

“Sophie seems to be getting comfortable with us,” Katie said, eyeing one of the chocolate muffins then placing it on the napkin in front of her. “How is she doing at the school?”

Helen didn’t want to press for whatever was really on Katie’s mind. “Tricia said she’s fitting right in. They’re on a couple of committees together. Phyllis was correct about your new quiche recipe. Is there a cookbook in the offing?”

Katie gave a half-smile. “I’m not ready to give away my secrets yet. I hope I’m not keeping you up?”

“I’m not a night owl like Phyllis, but I’m good for a while yet.”

“I don’t think this is anything you’ve dealt with, but I need a sounding board as much as anything. It’s about Scott’s niece—the only child of his younger sister, Lacey.” She puffed out a breath of air. “Their mom died when Scott was only fourteen and Lacey was twelve—a very aggressive cancer—apparently kind of like what happened with Mitch.”

Helen remembered how stunned they had all been when her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. They had such little time to adjust to the thought of losing him. “As difficult as it was for us, at least the kids were adults.”

Katie took a tiny sip of coffee. “Scott said he threw himself even more into sports and school and wasn’t aware of how much their mother’s death affected Lacey. Anyway, his dad remarried less than two years later, and his new wife had a daughter two years younger than Lacey. I guess it wasn’t the most successful blending of families. My impression is no one really thought about getting counseling for Lacey and maybe it wouldn’t have mattered.”

“She developed problems, I gather?”

“Yeah, fairly typical stuff. Grades sliding, withdrawing from former friends and family, sneaking out. Basically, she barely graduated high school, eloped, got pregnant right away, and that marriage didn’t last. Scott was in college and couldn’t help much financially, and she wouldn’t ask their dad for help. She did qualify for some assistance programs and has always worked, but pretty much at minimal paying jobs.” Katie took a bite of muffin.

Helen did the same, in no hurry. Her willingness to genuinely listen to people was why Mitch had often teasingly suggested she start charging for therapy sessions.

“Without getting into a lot of boring details, the years do zip by, don’t they? Scott has helped his sister quite a bit even though she married a second time. The guy seemed fine on the surface and turned out to be nothing more than a big talker. Racked up a bunch of debt and ran off with another woman.” Katie exhaled with a sigh. “Scott was able to connect Lacey with a nonprofit that works with creditors, and we provided a fair amount to at least get her and Whitney, her daughter, on stable footing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Both Scott’s construction company and my business are doing well because we put a lot into them. And Lacey is a sweet person; she works hard. I think she’s finally come to understand being a single mother is still better than falling for another unsuitable guy. She just, I don’t know, she just can’t get enough going at one time to break out of the spot she’s stuck in, I suppose is the best way to describe her situation. She mostly waitresses in places like Calico Café, which means tips don’t add up to much more than her regular pay.”

She flashed a slight smile. “Sorry, I did promise the short version. Whitney is almost seventeen, and she’s having problems too. From what I understand, it’s nothing terrible yet, but I guess there are issues at school—bullying and having trouble in a couple of her classes. Lacey isn’t communicating well with her, and she’s worried because Whitney stays shut up in her room most of the time. I guess she’s not what you’d call a joiner. Oh, they live in Tifton, and Scott has asked if we can bring Whitney here for the summer. With Scott Junior going to Georgia Tech this summer, we have room. But Scott also wants me to let Whitney work at my place, give her a chance to accomplish something on her own is kind of the idea.”

Helen spoke carefully, “Do you know her very well?”

Katie allowed a small sigh to escape. “No. I haven’t even had much contact with Lacey. And there’s another factor. One of the regular customers where Lacey works is pretty high up in administration at the hospital. If Lacey can complete the courses she’s been chipping away at, she’s basically been assured of an entry-level job with better benefits than she’s ever had plus a decent chance for at least a little upward mobility. Having Whitney with us for the summer will take a big load off of Lacey and probably allow her to finish the training.”

“Has anyone asked Whitney how she feels about this?”

Katie took another sip of coffee before answering. “Apparently, she isn’t wildly enthusiastic, but she’s not looking forward to the summer in Tifton either. Also, apparently, about the only girl she does hang around with is moving with her family to Colorado as soon as school is out. Scott says he won’t push me on this.” She smiled wanly. “I know what I think the right answer is, and I can think of just as many reasons why it could be a bad idea.”

Helen smiled gently. “What can I do to help?”

“Remind me that family really is important?”

“Yes, and so is your own peace of mind.”

Katie reached for another muffin. “True. I suppose what’s getting to me is it sounds as if Whitney could use a good role model, and that doesn’t mean I’m knocking Lacey as a mom.”

Helen took the last muffin. “I didn’t think you were. It would seem like Whitney could use a change of scenery, and the simple fact is you have done something terrific with your business. You had a well-established career before that, and you mentored several young women along the way. If what you need done at the shop isn’t overly complicated, Whitney might be of benefit to you. On the other hand, there are likely to be at least a few bumps along the way.”

Katie grinned this time. “Well, we have been through teenaged angst, and while I’m not at the point where I need another employee, someone temporary could be useful. I’d like to expand my delivery route on at least a trial basis.” She ate half the muffin and nodded once. “Nothing like a little chat and some chocolate to help with perspective. I’ll talk more with Scott before I give my final answer. By the way, did I hear Avery is coming for a visit? Phyllis mentioned it to Carolyn when she was in buying a new outfit.”

“I don’t have the details yet,” Helen said and finished her muffin. “It’s soon, I think.”

Katie pushed her chair back and got up. “I’m sure she’ll tell us when she’s ready. Well, I’ve kept you late enough. Thanks, and I’ll let you know what I come up with.”

Helen waited on the porch until Katie pulled away from the curb, then locked the front door. Tawny was waiting in the kitchen when she reentered it. The little chug was already on her way to the pantry where the box of treats was stored. She patiently waited as Helen completed their nightly ritual. The Chihuahua-pug mix Helen had taken in as a rescue tended to greet everyone on quilting night, then take to her bed in the den. As uncertain as Helen had been when she initially agreed to the adoption, she hadn’t regretted her decision.

She filled an insulated tumbler with ice water to take to the bedroom and thought about Katie’s situation. No doubt not being close to either her sister-in-law or her niece did complicate the matter. After all, since Katie hadn’t been around either one much, it was difficult to predict how things would go. Knowing Katie’s nature, however, she suspected Katie and Scott would agree to have the girl for the summer, and she hoped it would work out for everyone.