Quilts Galore ~ Excerpt

PROLOGUE

Early morning sunshine washed over my breakfast nook and turned the pale yellow walls into the rich color of golden daffodils. The rays of light were strong and bright, so unlike the washed out, faded blue-jean color of last winter’s mornings.

I wasn’t strong like the sunlight, though, and my hands trembled as I pinned two fabric blocks together for my quilt-in-progress, just staying busy as I passed the time. Jack Pearson was due here any minute. An across-the-yard neighbor and friend, his official capacity as our—my— family lawyer made our appointment necessary. I didn’t want him to come, but a week had passed since I’d buried William, and Jack said he needed to go over some details of William’s estate. Routine paperwork, I assumed.

Jack knocked on the patio door and let himself in, leading with his briefcase. In his charcoal gray suit and characteristic crisp white shirt, he was already dressed for the office. Mine was the first business of his day, but I was dressed in my typical quilting-at-home clothes, comfy slacks and a beige cotton sweater. We didn’t need to be in the staid atmosphere of Jack’s law firm setting to accomplish whatever he’d put on the agenda.

I put the quilt pieces aside on the table and nodded towards the counter. “Coffee? It’s ready.”

He nodded, but didn’t look my way.

That he didn’t meet my eye, felt like a slight. I ignored it and filled two mugs and carried them to the dining room, setting them on the table. I swept my arm across the table, pushing piles of newspapers, junk mail, and fabric scraps to one side, clearing space for us to do our work.

Jack pulled out a chair, the same one he always sat in when he and his wife, Liz, came over for one of our regular foursome dinners, then opened his briefcase. He pulled out a sheaf of documents, placing them on the table. The official looking papers left me uneasy, not that I had any particular worries. Consulting with Jack, William and I had prepared our wills together and I knew the provisions. He still hadn’t looked me in the eye though, and something about Jack’s reserved manner triggered mild anxiety. Distancing himself was so unlike him.

Steady and calm, yes, but he was friendly and casual, too. Especially around me. After all, he and William were good friends. His wife, Liz, and I had been close for years. Even more important, she was my rock, my confidant, over the grueling months of William’s illness and during the last week, too. The first week I was without my husband. Going over William’s estate had to be painful for Jack, too.

He cleared his throat and took a quick swallow of coffee. “Okay, Marianna, I know this is tough, so let’s get through it. I’ll do a quick recap, confirming what you know.”

Until William’s diagnosis, I’d never expected—or wanted—to be sitting across the table from Jack, listening to him explaining this or that provision of a will I wished I’d never had to file or even look at. I wanted William alive and with me. The trembling returned, and I wrapped my arms at my waist, as if holding my body together. I wanted to run outside and declare this all a horrible mistake, or a bad dream. William was well and strong. He’d join me for a cup of coffee any minute now. But I knew that wasn’t true. Finally, I raised my hand. “Enough. I know which charities William chose for his bequests, and I’m aware he left everything else to me. That’s what’s important now. We don’t need to go over all those details. I’ll sign whatever forms you give me. Let’s just wrap this up.”

With his eyes still on the papers in front of him, Jack squirmed in the chair.

“What is it? You’re wiggling around like a little kid.”

He lifted his head, at last looking me in the eye. “William added a codicil,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper.

“A codicil? You mean he added something to the will and didn’t tell me?”

He nodded. “It’s about Rachel.”

Rachel? My fists turned into little balls in my lap. I was aware that my nails dug into my palms, causing mild pain, but somehow I didn’t care. “I see.” A lie. I didn’t see at all. “He never told me about it. He hadn’t seen her in, what, fifteen years?”

Jack tapped the paper. “That’s true, but remember, Marianna, he knew he was going to die, and he’d had time to think about the past. Maybe examine a few regrets.” Jack cleared his throat. “Most of all, he wanted to make sure you were protected.”

“From what—or who?”

“From Lydia, first, but Rachel herself, too,” Jack said with a sigh. “William was certain Rachel’s mother would come knocking on your door, maybe making demands on Rachel’s behalf. But the codicil is in the form of a trust. You’re under no obligation to tell Lydia or Rachel that there’s some money for her down the road.”

I pointed to the papers in front of him. “Tell me more about it. I don’t understand.”

“William funded a trust for Rachel with some investments he held long before you two were married. But he restricted her access to the trust until she’s twenty-five years old. You have control until then, and there are provisions that would allow you to release or hold back funds.”

“Lucky me.” My sarcasm didn’t escape either of us. I had no desire to deal with either Rachel, who I’d never met, or her mother, who was the reason William had virtually no relationship with his daughter. The money itself wasn’t an issue. William and I had always had plenty—more than enough for a comfortable life. The day after William died, Jack had quietly assured me I would never want for anything. But I’d already known that. William often joked we could live to be 100 and still pay the bills. More than half way to the century mark already, I was simply thankful that I’d be spared dreary money worries.

“I’m not sure I like this particular surprise. One day I’ll have to hand over money to Rachel for no other reason than she’s William’s daughter.” I swatted the air, wishing it would sweep away this new development. “He never had a relationship with her—you know all the complicated reasons for that. And it’s not like Rachel has done anything to earn the money.” For some reason, that didn’t sit well with me.

Jack nodded and took another gulp of coffee. “You’re right.” He paused. “Still, it isn’t her fault her mother is a miserable person, willing to hurt Rachel and ruin any chance she had to get to know her father.”

True enough, but it didn’t help this news settle in any easier. “Since it’s a trust, then you’re saying I don’t have to contact the girl until she’s twenty-five? Until then, I never have to be involved with her at all?”

“That’s correct, Marianna. I’ll continue to pay the child support until Rachel turns eighteen. Her birthday is in a few months, by the way. The trustees at the bank will send annual reports to state and federal tax agencies until she’s twenty-five. Right now, since Rachel is fifteen, none of this will require anything from you for ten years.”

“That’s a relief.”

Jack gathered the files and the copy of the will and returned them back to his briefcase. He quickly closed the clasps, as if trying to make the codicil to the will disappear along with the papers. “I have to run,” he said, getting to his feet. “I’ve got an early appointment to get to.”

He hurried to the door, but stopped and pivoted on his heel to face me. “As I said, Marianna, William never wanted the codicil to hurt you—or be a burden. That was the last thing he’d ever want. He didn’t talk to you about it, because he wanted his last months and weeks—even days—to be only about the two of you, not rehashing things that happened long before you were married.”

I nodded, showing that I understood. But I didn’t. If William wanted the girl to have some money, he should have left her a lump sum in his will. Somehow, I was left with the feeling this wasn’t going to be a matter of a simple ten-year wait.

CHAPTER ONE

Two years later

Restless and pacing between my kitchen counter and the stove, I held a mug of coffee in one hand, the phone in the other, and waited for Liz to pick up my call. Finally, after the fourth ring, I heard her breathless hello.

“Morning, Liz,” I said quickly. “I finished another quilt design last night. I’m heading to the fabric shop in Wolf Creek this morning. Want to come along?”

Liz laughed. “You’re talking so fast, like a woman on a mission.”

“I suppose I am,” I said. “It’s just that I’m eager to be on my way.” I didn’t expect her to understand my sense of urgency to get out and go somewhere. I wasn’t acting like the Marianna that Liz had seen recently—for the past two years, anyway.

“As much as I want to go with you…oops, hold on.”

I heard little Andrea fussing in the background and Liz’s low voice trying to soothe her. I hadn’t known she’d have her granddaughter with her for the day.

“Marianna? You still there? I’ve been up all night with Andrea and she still hasn’t settled down. She’s the cutest almost-two-year-old you ever saw, but she has her days—and nights. There’s no way I can take her on a trip today. Can we go another day?”

Her question carried a hint of longing. She liked nothing better than a spontaneous jaunt to a nearby town, a chance to poke around in shops and go out for lunch. She usually had to drag me along. But I wanted the fabric today. Besides, I was finally eager to do something different. A trip to Wolf Creek captured my attention. It was important to go today.

“We can go together another time, Liz. I’ll stop by later and show you the fabric when I get home.”

“Okay,” Liz responded, apparently resigned to the situation.

Eager as I was to be on my way, I still wanted to avoid abruptly ending the conversation. “Andrea isn’t sick, is she?”

“I don’t think so,” Liz said with a sigh. “Just cranky last night and today. She’ll be okay. You have fun.”

“Thanks. I will.”

I appreciated what Liz said. She knew better than anyone that for me, fun had been elusive. For two years, Liz coaxed me to try new things, or even agree to simple things such as going out for breakfast at a café in town. But more often than not, I’d said no. I wasn’t usually so compelled to leave my house, but I wanted to begin my new quilt without delay, and I needed the fabric.

Ready to be on my way, I went to the door going into the garage, but stopped before opening it. I’d almost forgotten my brooch. It was right where I’d left it on my kitchen counter, protected in its velvet box. I opened the box and picked up the brooch, my mind slipping back to the day I’d buried William. I rubbed my fingers over the delicate primrose design, the petals of hammered silver, the center a pearl, and three “buds” of smaller pearls on the end of wire curves. I’d wanted to wear the brooch today, but when I went to pin it on my coat the clasp broke in my hand. It upset me more than that kind of mishap usually would, but it was the last piece of jewelry William gave me before his cancer diagnosis.

These last two years, I tried to keep him close by having the brooch sit on my dresser top so I could look at it—picking it up to run my thumb over the surface—every day. Feeling ready to wear it again, I wanted it repaired. Another reason Wolf Creek beckoned me. I wouldn’t wait any longer.

Surprised by my own restlessness, I tried to examine what drove me to start the quilt, but I didn’t want to slow down long enough to figure it out. I tucked my quilt design and the box into my purse and hurried to the car. This day, I wanted to leave the familiar behind. I’d spent two years surrounded by, even cloaked in, all the touchstones of the life William and I had built. All this time, the memories had been enough, but not anymore.

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