“If her debut here is any indication, Lee’s new series is going to be fun, spunky and educational. She smoothly interweaves plot with her character’s personality and charm, while dropping tantalizing hints of stitching projects and their history. Marcy Singer is young, fun, sharp and likable. Readers will be looking forward to her future adventures.” – Pat Cooper, RT Book Reviews (RT Book Reviews nominated The Quick and the Thread for a 2010 Book Reviewers’ Choice Award in the Amateur Sleuth category)
Just after crossing over. . . under . . . through. . . the covered bridge, I could see it. Barely. I could make out the top of it, and that was enough at the moment to make me set aside the troubling grammatical conundrum of whether one passes over, under or through a covered bridge.
“There it is,” I told Angus, my best buddy in the whole wide world. “There’s our sign!”
He “woofed” which could mean anything from “I gotta pee” to “yay!” I went with “yay.”
“Me, too! I’m so excited.”
I was closer to the store now and could really see the sign.
I pointed. “See, Angus?” My voice was barely above a whisper. “Our sign.”
The Seven Year Stitch.
I named the shop The Seven Year Stitch for three reasons. One, it’s an embroidery specialty shop. Two, I’m a huge fan of classic movies. And, three, it actually took me seven years to turn my dream of owning an embroidery shop into a reality.
Once upon a time, in a funky cool land called San Francisco, I was an accountant. Not a funky cool job, believe me, especially for a funky cool girl like me. . . Marcy Singer. I had a corner cubicle near a window. You’d think the window would be a good thing, but it looked out upon a vacant building that grew more dilapidated by the day. Maybe by the hour. It was majorly depressing. One year, a coworker gave me a cactus for my birthday. I sat it in that window, and it died. I told you it was depressing.
Still, my job wasn’t that bad. I can’t say I truly enjoyed it, but I am good with numbers and the work was tolerable. Then I got the call from Sadie. Not “a” call, mind you, “the” call.
“Hey, girl. Are you sitting down?”
“Sadie, I’m always sitting down. I keep a stationary bike frame and pedal it under my desk so my leg muscles won’t atrophy.”
“Good. The hardware store next to me just went out of business.”
“And this is good because you hate the hardware guy?”
She gave me an exasperated huff. “No, silly. It’s good because the space is for lease. I’ve already called the landlord, and he’s giving you the opportunity to snatch it up before anyone else does.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” I said. “You expect me to come up there to Quaint City, Oregon—”
“TallulahFalls, thank you very much.”
“—and set up shop? Just like that?”
“Yes! It’s not like you’re happy there or like you’re on some big five-year career plan.”
“Thanks for reminding me.”
“And you’ve not had a boyfriend or even a date for over a year now.”
“Once again, thank you for the painful reminder.”
“So what’s keeping you there? This is your chance to open up the embroidery shop you used to talk about all the time in college.”
“But what do I know about actually running a business?”
Sadie huffed. “You can’t tell me you’ve been keeping companies’ books all these years without having picked up some pointers about how to—and how not to—run a business.”
“You’ve got a point there. But what about Angus?”
“Girl, he will love it here! He can come to work with you every day, run up and down the beach . . . . Isn’t that better than the situation he has now?”
I swallowed a lump of guilt the size of my fist.
“You’re right, Sadie,” I’d admitted. “A change will do us both good.”
That had been a month ago. Now I was a resident of Tallulah Falls, Oregon; and today was the grand opening of The Seven Year Stitch.
A cool breeze off the ocean ruffled my hair as I hopped down out of the bright red Jeep I’d bought to traipse up and down the coast in.
“Come on, Angus.”
He followed me out of the Jeep and trotted beside me up the river rock steps to the walk that connected all the shops on this side of the street. The shops on the other side of the street were set up in a similar manner, giving the town square a strong community feel. TallulahFalls billed itself as the friendliest town on the OregonCoast, and so far I had no reason to doubt that claim.
I unlocked the door and flipped the “Closed” sign to “Open” before turning to survey the shop. It was if I was seeing it for the first time. And, in a way, I was. I’d been here until nearly midnight last night putting the finishing touches on everything. This was my first look at the finished project. Like all my finished projects, I tried to view it objectively. But, like all my finished projects, I looked upon this one as a cherished child.
The floor was black and white tile, laid out like a gleaming chess board. All my wood accents were maple. I had maple bins in the floor to my left holding cross-stitch threads and yarns. When the customer first comes in the door, she’ll see the cross-stitch threads. They start in white and go through shades of ecru, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, gray and black. The yarns are organized the same way on the opposite side. Perle flosses, embroidery hoops, needles and cross-stitch kits hang on maple-trimmed corkboard over top of the bins. On the other side of the corkboard on the side with the yarn, there are knitting needles, crochet hooks, tapestry needles and needlepoint kits.
The walls are covered by shelves where I display pattern books, dolls with dresses I’ve designed and embroidered, and framed samplers. I have some dolls for those who like to sew and embroider outfits (like me) as well as for those who enjoy knitting and crocheting doll clothes.
Standing near the cash register is my life-size mannequin who bears a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe, especially since I put a short, curly blonde wig on her and did her makeup. I even gave her a mole . . . er, beauty mark. I call her Jill. I was going to name her after Marilyn’s character in The Seven Year Itch, but she didn’t have a name in that movie. Can you believe that? A main character with no name? She was simply billed as “The Girl.” So I call the mannequin Jill.
To the right of the door is the sitting area. As much as I love to play in the “stuff” displayed all over the store, I think the sitting area is my favorite place in the shop. Two navy overstuffed sofas face each other across an oval maple coffee table. The table sits on a navy, red and white braided rug. There are red club chairs with matching ottomans near either end of the coffee table, and candlewick pillows with lace borders are scattered over both the sofas. I made those, too. The pillows, not the sofas.
The bell over the door jingled, and I turned to see Sadie walking in with a travel coffee mug.
I smiled. “Is that what I think it is?”
“It is, if you think it’s a nonfat vanilla latte with a hint of cinnamon.” She handed me the mug. “Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thank you. You’re the best.” The steaming mug felt good in my hands. I looked back over the store. “It looks good, doesn’t it?”
“It looks fantastic. You’ve outdone yourself.” She cocked her head. “Is that what you’re wearing tonight?”
Happily married for the past five years, Sadie was always eager to play matchmaker for me. I hid a smile and held the hem of my vintage tee as if it were a dress. “You don’t think Snoopy’s Joe Cool is appropriate for the grand opening party?”
Sadie closed her eyes.
“I have a super cute dress for tonight,” I said with a laugh, “and Mr. O’Ruff will be sporting a black tie for the momentous event.”
Angus wagged his tail at the sound of his surname.
“Girl, you and that pony!” Sadie scratched Angus behind the ears.
“He’s a proud boy. Aren’t you, Angus?”
Angus barked his agreement, and Sadie chuckled.
“I’m proud, too . . . of both of you.” She grinned. “I’d better get back over here to Blake. I’ll be back to check on you again in a while.”
Though we’re the same age and had been roommates in college, Sadie clucks over me like a mother hen. It’s sweet, but I can do without the fix-ups. Some of these guys she’s tried to foist off on me, I have no idea where she got them . . . mainly because I’m afraid to ask.
I went over to the counter and placed my honking yellow purse and floral tote bag on the bottom shelf before finally taking a sip of my latte.
“That’s yummy, Angus. It’s nice to have a friend who owns a coffee shop, isn’t it?”
Angus lay down on the large bed I’d put behind the counter for him.
“That’s a good idea,” I told him. “Rest up. We’ve got a big day and an even bigger night ahead of us.”
* * *
The day passed quickly. Some Tallulah Falls residents stopped by to wish me well, many bought threads, patterns and fabrics, and most promised to return for tonight’s festivities. Sadie and Blake had enjoyed a busy day next door at MacKenzies’ Mochas, too. But Sadie had stopped in for a quick hello after the lunch rush.
I slipped the black lace dress over my head and smoothed the material over my hips. The dress came to just above my knees, but it didn’t do much to make me look taller. Maybe the four-inch high red stilettos would help. The black did make my pale skin and platinum hair stand out, especially with my splash of red lipstick. I was going for an “old Hollywood” look, and I think I was pulling if off rather well.
My mind drifted back to Mom as I dug through my jewelry box for the pair of jet beaded chandelier earrings I love so much. Here Angus and I had gone and “loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly.” Actually, we’d moved away from Beverly. Singer, that is . . . a/k/a Mom. Costume designer extraordinaire. Complete with “swimming pools and movie stars.”
I gave myself a mental shake. Why in the world was I thinking The Beverly Hillbillies theme song? Of course, thinking about The Beverly Hillbillies brought Buddy Ebsen to mind; and that, in turn, made me remember he’d played Audrey Hepburn’s estranged husband in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Random trivia seems to be always lurking just beyond the forefront of my mind.
I took a long black cigarette filter from inside my jewelry box and placed it between my teeth. Mom had given it to me years ago. It had been a prop on some movie set. God only knew who had used it, so she’d insisted on scalding it before giving it to me. Good thing. While I’ve never been a smoker, I used to love pretending to use the long black cigarette filter. Even Lucille Ball as Lucy Ricardo used one to make her look sophisticated after she and Ethel had attended charm school.
Leaving Mom behind in San Francisco had been the one drawback to my moving to TallulahFalls. I wished Mom could have made the party tonight, but she’s currently in New York on a movie set. It’s par for the course. In many ways, I grew up privileged. But I was lonely for my mother who was often on location somewhere; and since Dad had died when I was very young, I’d often been left in the care of my nanny.
I have to give Mom credit for passing along to me a love of textiles, though. When she was home, Mom would often allow me to come to the studio and help work with the fabrics. She’d wanted me to go into fashion and costume design. A rebellious little snot at the time, I’d told her I wanted a “more stable and reliable career.” Mom said I’d be bored with a reliable career; and while I’d admitted accounting wouldn’t be as exciting as dressing Hollywood’s A-listers, it would allow me to be home for my family, should I ever be fortunate enough to have one. Told you I was a rebellious little snot. That comment had hurt Mom. And I’d meant for it to. At the time I wouldn’t have taken it back for anything in the world . . . even if I could have. Now that I was a wee bit older and wiser, I regretted it.
During my rebellious teen years, I even stopped going to Mom’s studio. It was like I was spiting her, but I was really only hurting myself. I hadn’t realized that until I was in college. I’d come back to the apartment one evening to find Sadie laboriously trying to embroider a pair of jeans. I took over the task and rediscovered my love for the craft. Still, I was too proud to admit that to Mom; so I’d sucked it up and embarked upon my career in accounting.
I found the chandelier earrings and put them on. Taking one last imaginary puff from the cigarette filter, I placed it back in the jewelry box.
I called Angus to me and put his black bow tie around his neck. Then I batted my lashes at him and imitated Bette Davis: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.”
* * *
When Angus and I got to the shop, Sadie and Blake were already there setting up a refreshment buffet on the counter.
“We used the key you gave me,” Sadie said. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“Why would I mind? I just wish I’d arrived earlier. You two already have all the work done.” I inhaled deeply, savoring the chocolate-vanilla scented air. “Everything looks—and smells—delicious.”
“And you look beautiful,” Blake said. “Todd will be thrilled.”
“Blake!” Sadie frowned at her husband.
I looked from one to the other. “Who’s Todd?”
Blake looked at Sadie. “You didn’t tell her?”
“Tell me what?”
The pair continued conversing as if I hadn’t spoken. That made me even more nervous that I already was.
“Of course, I didn’t tell her,” Sadie said. “I didn’t want her to think I was trying to fix her up.”
“You mean you’re not?”
Sadie sighed. “Not exactly. I wanted to introduce the two of them, that’s all . . . nothing more.”
“Uh-huh.” Blake grinned knowingly. “That’s all, huh?”
Sadie swatted at him playfully with a paper plate, and he pulled her to him for a quick kiss.
They’re a sweet couple . . . well-suited, even though on the surface they appear to be such opposites. Sadie is tall and dark. She has an almost European look about her. Blake is only an inch or two taller than his wife, stockily built with blue eyes and light blond hair. They’re opposites in other ways as well: Sadie loves football, Blake prefers hockey; Sadie likes corny horror flicks, Blake likes corny comedies; Sadie enjoys reading the classics, Blake’s reading seems to be confined to blogs . . . really dorky blogs, to be exact. And yet, you can look at them and see how much they love each other, how compatible they truly are.
I hope to find a love like that myself one day. But based on Sadie’s previous attempts, I doubt I’ll find it with this Todd guy. Or anyone else Sadie happens to dig out from under a rock.
“Blake is right about you looking beautiful,” Sadie said. “Though how you walk in those shoes, I’ll never know.”
“You’ll never have to find out,” I said. “You’re tall enough without them. And you look terrific, by the way.”
Sadie looked down at her navy dress with the beaded bodice. “Aw, this old thing?” She winked, as Blake rolled his eyes.
I went to take a closer look at the refreshments while Blake fed Angus a shortbread cookie. There was a carafe of hot chocolate and another of hazelnut mocha coffee. I thought fleetingly of asking the MacKenzies about a pot of decaf but decided not to. Let everyone eat, drink and be wired.
Besides the aforementioned shortbread cookies, there were smores, chocolate chip cookies and peanut butter crinkles. The napkins had The Seven Year Stitch superimposed over an image of Marilyn Monroe standing on a grate with her dress billowing about her thighs. Blake had found the napkins online somewhere. Blake could find anything online.
I turned back to my friends. “Thank you so much, guys. This means a lot to me.”
Sadie smiled. “You’re welcome. You mean a lot to us.”
That’s when I knew I’d have to give this Todd guy a chance . . . no matter what he might be like.
“Will you help me keep an eye on Angus tonight?” I asked. “You know he has no problem reaching the counter; and with everybody’s attention diverted, he might just give in to temptation.” I looked at Angus who wagged his tail and looked up at me with a “who me?” expression.
“Yeah, especially since Blake has already got him started on those shortbread cookies,” Sadie said. “They’re addictive. Trust me, I know.”
“Sorry.” Blake looked sheepish but slipped another cookie behind his back to Angus.
The bell over the door heralded the first guest.
“Am I too early?”
Before I could turn to see who’d spoken, I was struck by “The Voice.” It was a deep, melodic Pernell-Roberts-as-Adam-Cartwright voice, and it was as smooth and delicious as warm maple syrup dripping off a hot pancake on an icy January morning. I turned, half expecting to be disappointed when I saw the man with “The Voice.” I was not disappointed.
“You’re right on time,” I said, taking in the man’s thick dark hair and sparkling brown eyes. I held out my hand. “I’m Marcy Singer. Welcome to The Seven Year Stitch.”
From the corner of my eye, I noticed Sadie and Blake elbowing each other as the man encased my hand in his own.
“Nice to meet you, Marcy. I’m Todd Crowell.”
Angus placed his big snout on our clasped hands to effectively end the handshake.
“Well, hey, big fellow,” Todd said. “Do you embroidery, or are you only here for the party?”
“He’s here for the shortbread,” Blake said.
To everyone’s delight, Angus sat and offered Todd his large gray paw to shake.
Wow, I thought, even Angus approves. I caught Sadie’s eye and gave her an appreciative smile. If she’d dug Todd Crowell out from under a rock, that rock must’ve been a diamond.
* * *
Before I really knew what was happening, the shop was full. Sadie and Blake introduced me to the people I hadn’t met earlier in the day. Still, it was going to be hard to remember everyone.
I looked around the room and caught sight of Todd Crowell. He was bending over to hear what some short older woman with her hair in a super severe bun was telling him. When he caught my eye, he raised his coffee cup in a salute.
I grinned. There was at least one person here I’d have no trouble remembering.
I sought out Angus and spotted him sitting beside a lovely girl with honey-colored hair. The girl was stroking Angus’ head and speaking to him softly.
“Hi, I’m Marcy,” I said, approaching the girl. I nodded at Angus. “Angus likes you.”
“Thanks. I like him, too. People say I’m good with dogs.”
“You sure are.”
From the corner of my eye, I glimpsed a lanky, unkempt man wearing dirty jeans and a trucker cap coming toward us. He staggered into me and caused me to stumble. Angus stiffened as I caught the back of the red chair to steady myself.
“It’s okay, Angus,” I said softly.
“I needa talk wif you,” the man said.
The man was obviously drunk, and he was making me uneasy. I walked slowly away from Angus so the dog wouldn’t sense my anxiety. The man followed with an unsteady gait.
“Dis used to be my store,” the man said.
“Oh, then you must be Mr. Enright,” I said.
“Yep. Tim Enright. Thirty years . . . this was Enright’s Hardware.”
“It—” I cleared my throat. “It must be hard for you to see the place change hands. I—”
Mr. Enright shook his head. “No . . . not that. Something else. We needa talk.”
I glanced around and was relieved to see Blake coming to my rescue.
“Hey, Tim! How’re you doing?” He put his arm around Mr. Enright’s shoulders and propelled him away from me.
“I needa talk to her,” Mr. Enright said. “Gotta tell her.”
“Aw, that can wait, man. Come on over and check out the refreshments.”
Mr. Enright tried to turn back to me, but Blake had a firm grip and led him over to the counter.
I had no idea why Mr. Enright would want to talk with me. I was giving that some thought when Sadie came over with a slender woman with salt-and-pepper hair and small round glasses. The woman wore a white knee-length tunic and scarf over matching pants.
“Marcy, I’d like you to meet Regina Singh.”
“Please call me ‘Reggie,’” the woman said. “Everyone does.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Reggie.”
“Likewise. I love to embroider—” She held out the end of her scarf to reveal intricately embroidered white orchids. “So I know you and I will get on swimmingly.”
“I’m sure we will.” I took a closer look at her scarf. “This is chikankari, isn’t it?” Chikankari is a traditional form of white-on-white embroidery from India. “You do lovely work.”
Reggie seemed pleased that I recognized her form of embroidery.
“Reggie is the local librarian,” Sadie said.
“Then I’m sure we’ll see a lot of each other,” I said with a laugh. “I love to read. And I love looking through art books for embroidery ideas.”
“I do, too,” Reggie said. “I wish my husband could’ve been here tonight, but he’s on duty. He’s the police chief.”
“That must be an exciting job,” I said.
“It has its moments, I guess. Manu loves it, but the hours can be a pain.”
“Speaking of being a pain, what’s with Tim Enright this evening?” Sadie asked. “He looks horrible.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever met him,” I said. I bit my lower lip. “Does he drink a lot?”
Reggie shook her head. “I’ve known Timothy for more than twenty years, and I’ve never known him to take a drink.”
Before either Sadie or I could respond, a heavyset woman with short curly brown hair interrupted. She wore a severe black suit and pumps. The suit seemed to belie the woman’s outgoing personality.
“Excuse me,” she said, “I’m Vera Langhorne. I have to run, but I didn’t want to leave before meeting the guest of honor.” She shook my hand warmly.
“Thank you so much for coming tonight, Mrs. Langhorne,” I said. “I do hope you’ll come back when we have more time to visit.”
“Oh, I will. I’ve signed up for one of your classes. I’m looking forward to it.”
“So am I,” Marcy said.
As Mrs. Langhorne walked away, Timothy Enright approached me and took me by the arm. “Come ‘ere. Gotta tell you.”
“Please, Mr. Enright,” I began. “I’m sorry I—”
“Tim!” It was Todd Crowell. “How’ve you been?” He widened his eyes at me and led Tim Enright away. “What’ve you been up to these days?”
Mr. Enright turned back to me, his eyes pleading. I’d have felt sorry for him if I weren’t so frightened by his behavior. Since I was frightened, I took the opportunity to walk away and lose myself in the crowd.
* * *
Two hours later, everyone except Sadie, Blake, Todd, Angus and I had gone. I slipped off my shoes and padded around in my stocking feet while helping Blake and Sadie clean up.
“Ms. Singer,” Todd said, “I believe your open house was a rousing success.”
“Thank you. I do, too. Look at how many people signed up for embroidery classes.”
Sadie looked over my shoulder at the list. “Impressive.”
Suddenly, we heard a thud. It appeared to have come from the back of the building.
“What was that?” I asked.
“Probably just a dog turning over a trash can,” Blake said.
“We get that a lot,” Sadie said. “If you throw any food in the garbage cans out back, be sure to double bag it.”
“Or even triple bag it,” Todd said. “Because of the bears.”
“Oh, sure. They come scrounging around every now and then.” He caught Blake’s eye and grinned. “In fact, I should probably walk you out to your car just in case that was a bear.”
The next morning, it became clear that a bear had not caused the thud we’d heard. Timothy Enright had.
# # #
Visit Gayle Trent/Amanda Lee online at http://www.gayletrent.com. To order a copy of The Quick and The Thread, please go to Amazon, Books-A-Million, Barnes and Noble, or order from your local bookseller. Thank you for your interest in The Quick and The Thread!