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Threading the Needle : A Cobbled Quilt Novel
From New York Times bestselling author Marie Bostwick comes a beautiful novel of sisterhood lost and found--and of the ways we create the rich tapestries that encompass the past and the future. . .
The economic downturn has hit New Bern, Connecticut, and Tessa Woodruff's herbal apothecary shop, For the Love of Lavender, is suffering. So is her once-happy thirty-four-year marriage to Lee. They'd given up everything to come back to New Bern from Boston and start their business, but now they're wondering if they made the right decision. To relieve the strain, Tessa signs up for a quilting class at the Cobbled Court Quilt Shop, and to her surprise, rediscovers the power of sisterhood--along with the childhood friend she thought she'd lost forever. . .
Madelyn Beecher left New Bern twenty years ago and never looked back. But when her husband is convicted of running a Ponzi scheme and she's left with nothing but her late grandmother's cottage, she is forced to return to the town she fled. Unfortunately, the cottage is in terrible shape. Madelyn's only hope is to transform it into an inn. But to succeed, she'll need the help of her fellow quilters, including the one friend she never thought she'd see again--or forgive. Now Madelyn and Tessa will have to relive old memories, forge new ones, and realize it's possible to start over, one stitch at a time--as long as you're surrounded by friends. . .
Praise for Marie Bostwick and her Cobbled Court Novels
"Bostwick is a topnotch storyteller. . . Enjoy hours of storytelling that will warm your heart and help renew your belief that people can be good, if given the chance." --Armchair Interviews
"Heartwarming. . .Bostwick's contemporary New England quilters series is an unbreakable thread of friendship and faith." --Publishers Weekly
"As their tenuous bonds grow stronger, each woman discovers how much they can help each other with life's many challenges. Bostwick's writing is warmly nourishing, emotionally compelling. . .quiet yet powerful." --The Chicago Tribune
"The women in A Single Thread will feel like your own girlfriends--emotional, funny, creative and deeply caring. It's a story filled with wit and wisdom. Sit back and enjoy this big-hearted novel, and then pass it on to your best friend." --Susan Wiggs, New York Times bestselling author
"Bostwick beautifully captures the very essence of women's friendships--the love, the pain, the trust, the forgiveness--and crafts a seamless and heartfelt novel from them." --Kristy Kiernan, author of Matters of Faith
"[A] buoyant novel about the value of friendship. . .a tantalizing book club contender." --Publishers Weekly
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May 31, 2011
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Excerpt from Threading the Needle by Marie Bostwick
New Bern, Connecticut--1966
Madelyn Beecher stood on the icy sidewalk in front of Thomas Edison Junior High School, exhaling a frosty vapor as she scanned the faces of the chattering children who streamed past before they boarded the yellow buses that stood idling by the curb or formed into little clumps and cliques for the walk home from school.
As the crowd thinned out, Madelyn tightened her grip on the brown paper bag she held clutched in her left hand, shifted her book bag to a more comfortable position on her shoulder, and frowned, causing a small indentation to form between her brows, a line about three-quarters of an inch long, like the top of an exclamation point. When she grew older and frowned more frequently, this line would become permanent and more pronounced. Repeated, fruitless attempts at its eradication would pay for a family ski vacation in Vail for Dr. David Miner, one of the most prominent cosmetic surgeons on New York City's Upper West Side. But, at age twelve, that little line did nothing to mar Madelyn's looks.
She was pretty, with a clear complexion, high cheekbones, brown eyes rimmed by thick lashes, and light brown hair that she would later dye blond. However, like many young girls, Madelyn could only see the flaws in her face and figure.
She was the tallest girl in her class, half a head taller than most of the boys. She found this embarrassing, so she tended to walk with her shoulders hunched in a futile attempt to appear shorter. Yet a year or two from growing into her long limbs, Madelyn's grandmother, Edna, often accused her of being so clumsy that she could "trip over a piece of string," a cruel but not entirely inaccurate barb. Madelyn thought her forehead too high, so she kept her bangs long to cover it and to shield her eyes, which reminded her too much of her deceased father. Sometimes, when she looked in the mirror and saw his eyes staring out from her face, she would begin to cry.
As a child, Madelyn was pretty. As a woman, she was beautiful, with a face cameras loved and a body men craved. She would not pass very far into adolescence before realizing that her physical appearance brought her attention and gave her power. But on this day, still clinging to the remnants of a short and rocky childhood, Madelyn would happily have traded her face, her body, and her life for those of her best and only friend, Tessa Kover.
It was twenty-nine degrees on that February afternoon. The radio said another snowstorm would blow in after sunset. Mr. Walters, the school custodian, didn't put much faith in weathermen, but he figured they had at least half a chance of being right and so he decided to sprinkle a layer of salt on the walkways before he swept the gymnasium.
He donned the plaid wool jacket and matching cap his wife had given him for Christmas and headed outside with a bucket of salt just as the buses were pulling away. He saw Madelyn Beecher standing outside with her coat unbuttoned, holding a brown paper lunch sack. Mr. Walters knew why she was waiting. In his thirty years as a school custodian, he'd seen plenty of friendships between preteen girls, though the relationship between Madelyn Beecher and Tessa Kover was more intense than most--at least on Madelyn's part. Girls could be funny that way.
"She's already gone home, princess."
Mr. Walters, who had no children of his own, called all the girls at Edison "princess" and all the boys "son." None of them minded.
"Tessa was one of the first ones out the door when the bell rang. Think Ben Nickles was walking her home."
"She wouldn't walk home with Ben Nickles," Madelyn insisted. "He's a creep. Besides, we always walk home together."
The old man tossed a handful of salt onto the steps and shrugged. "Well, he was carrying her books. Whatever it was, she's long gone. Probably home by now."
He looked up at the sky. "Feels like the weatherman was right. Feels like snow. You should head home before it starts."
The frown line between Madelyn's brows deepened. She sighed. "See you tomorrow, Mr. Walters."
"See you tomorrow, princess."
He watched Madelyn shuffle down the sidewalk with her shoulders drooping.
"Hey! Princess!" he called out. "Button up your coat, will you? It's cold!"
Madelyn waved at him and went on her way, coat still undone. Mr. Walters shook his head as he tossed more salt onto the walkway.
"Poor little thing," he mumbled to himself. "Doesn't anybody look out for that child?"
Tessa and Madelyn were born in the same week in March. The previous year, to mark their twelfth birthdays, Madelyn made a pair of semi-matching friendship bracelets for her and Tessa to wear, stringing fishing line with aquamarine-colored beads salvaged from old necklaces that she'd bought at tag sales. It had taken months to find enough.
The girls lived three doors apart from each other on Oak Leaf Lane, in New Bern, Connecticut. It was a pretty street and aptly named, lined with big Victorian framed houses and oak trees with strong branches that stretched streetward to create a canopy of green every spring.
Madelyn moved there at the age of nine, after the death of her father. She and Tessa became friends the way children often do, with the prodding of some well-meaning adult who assumed that two girls of the same age, living on the same street, had enough in common to become friends. This turned out to be true even though the adult in question never stopped to consider just how different Madelyn and Tessa were.
Tessa was as petite as Madelyn was tall. She, too, was pretty but in a sweet, girl-next-door way with blue eyes, brown hair that refused to hold a curl, and a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. As an adult, Tessa would grow to just a hair over five foot three and had to watch her diet carefully to keep from putting on weight. As a seventh grader she hadn't yet reached the five-foot mark, and after an uncharacteristic bout of begging, she had convinced her mother to let her start wearing high heels.
Every day after walking to school, Tessa took off her red snow boots and exchanged them for a pair of heels she'd stowed in her book bag. Later in life she would develop foot problems and would exchange her three-inch heels for two-inchers but never gave them up entirely, except when she was working outdoors. Then she would slip into a pair of comfortable, well-worn clogs, which might explain why she went on to become such an avid gardener; that was the only time her feet didn't hurt.
Madelyn, always self-conscious about her height, wore flat- bottomed Keds sneakers she purchased at Goodwill and embellished with beads, sequins, and embroidery floss scavenged from her grandmother's sewing box. A widow on a fixed income, Edna Beecher's means were more limited than her neighbors', but she wasn't as poor as she pled, just miserly, and rarely gave her granddaughter any spending money. Madelyn got most of her outfits secondhand from tag sales, thrift shops, or, if no one was looking, by riffling through bags filled with old clothes that neighbors left on the porch for St. Vincent de Paul to pick up.
Tessa was bright and studious, brought home straight As on her report cards, and was a favorite with her teachers.
Madelyn, though equally bright, was a painfully slow reader. She struggled in school, barely passing her classes. In those days before most educators knew about learning disabilities and differences, Madelyn was labeled by her teachers as an "underachiever." She believed this to be true.
Madelyn lived alone with her grandmother, Edna Beecher, a woman who prided herself on speaking her mind and took no trouble to disguise the fact that she considered being saddled with the care and expense of her orphaned granddaughter yet another in a long line of bad breaks fate had handed her.
Tessa shared her home with her mother, father, an amiable older brother named Joseph, and a golden retriever predictably named Rex. Never in all the time Madelyn spent in the Kover home, which was considerable, did she hear Mr. and Mrs. Kover raise their voices or say anything unkind to each other. Joseph and Tessa got into arguments but not often and not of any lasting duration.
Tessa was a good little girl, loved by her family and held up as an example by her teachers. Surprisingly, this did nothing to decrease her popularity among her peers. Everyone liked Tessa; they always had. And that was a problem. Tessa had never known anything but approval and success and was, therefore, frightened by the idea of failure or disapproval. Because of this, she was an unusually compliant child, doing and saying what was expected, avoiding risks, coloring inside the lines.
Unlike many good little girls who revel in their goodness, Tessa had dreams of adventures and chances, whims and wildness, and secretly admired people who seemed not to care what others thought of them. This was what attracted her to Madelyn--until her adolescent need to belong trumped her desire to be different.
Having been wounded early in life and often, Madelyn was simultaneously cautious and careless. She held herself aloof from anyone she felt might hurt her. It made for a lonely existence but freed her from the expectation that she ever should or could win the approval of others. Madelyn possessed a sort of calloused courage, a personality that was fiercely independent and undeterred by outside opinion. She did what she wanted, when she wanted, without asking permission or pardon. Even as a child, one of Madelyn's most oft repeated phrases was, "That's the deal. And anybody who doesn't like it can just go to hell."
Hearing Madelyn say those words shocked Tessa and made her feel a little bit wicked, a sensation she didn't find as unpleasant as she supposed she should.
Tessa liked having sleepovers at Madelyn's house because, under Edna's nonexistent supervision, the girls were permitted to eat nothing but potato chips and hot chocolate for dinner, watch horror films that gave them nightmares for weeks, and stay up till all hours playing with the dollhouse or stay out till all hours having adventures.
Not long after arriving in New Bern, Madelyn found a worn, dusty, and furnitureless Victorian dollhouse in Edna's attic. She carted it down to her room and set about fixing it up, beginning with a stop at the hardware store. When she told the owner what she was up to, he gave her a book of outdated wallpaper and carpet samples. With a murderously sharp craft knife and no supervision, Madelyn cut them into the precise sizes and shapes needed to repaper and recarpet every room in the tiny house.
Tessa donated a family of dolls to the project--father, mother, brother, and sister. Gathering scraps from her mother's sewing room, she stitched together tiny patchwork quilts for each of the doll beds. The quilts were simple, tiny squares of blue, red, or pink checkerboarded with white, but Tessa was happy to have something to contribute.
It was Madelyn who had most of the ideas and did most of the work on the project. She had a gift for that kind of thing, spending hours scouring the tag sales and junk shops for tiny furnishings, sometimes making her own. Her most impressive creation was a miniature chandelier fashioned from wire and a pair of old crystal earrings she bought for ten cents at the Methodist Women's White Elephant Sale.
The girls spent hours playing with the dollhouse, arranging and rearranging the furniture, acting out their lives and lacks, childishly testing out the roles they supposed they would live. Adventures, on the other hand, were how they tried on the roles they wished they would live. One in particular stayed with Tessa all her life.
Upon a moonlit night in their eleventh summer, Madelyn and Tessa climbed out the bedroom window, shimmied down a porch column, and spent a wild night chasing through woods and fields, catching fireflies, feasting on strawberries stolen from a farmer's garden, sneaking into a pigpen and then luring the pigs into the open by offering them ears of half-green corn--also stolen from the farmer.
Tessa was hesitant about releasing the pigs, but when Madelyn reminded her of the awful fate that awaited the adorable piglets unless someone intervened, Tessa went along with the plan. Charlotte's Web was one of Tessa's favorite books. She reasoned that, given the opportunity, Fern would have done the same thing. As she held out an ear of corn and backed slowly out of the pen with two pigs following behind, she felt not guilty but adventurous--and a little bit brave.
The next morning, Tessa's legs began to itch. By the afternoon, she was covered with red spots from knee to ankle. Her father went over to Edna's yard in search of poison ivy but couldn't find any. Her mother wanted to take her to the doctor, but Tessa protested, worried that the doctor might start asking questions she'd rather not answer. Tessa was a terrible liar and she knew it. Madelyn was the one who'd made up a story about Tessa coming into contact with the noxious weed while they'd been running through the sprinkler in Edna's backyard.
Mrs. Kover furrowed her brow and turned to her husband. "I just don't know. What if it gets worse?"
"Oh, she'll be fine," Mr. Kover said dismissively. "When I was a kid I used to get poison ivy all the time. Get some calamine lotion. She doesn't need a doctor."
"It's not that bad, Mommy. I hardly itch at all."
"There. You see? She hardly itches at all." He smiled at Tessa and ruffled her hair. "That's my big girl."
Later that day, Mr. Kover sat Tessa and Madelyn down on the front porch steps and took their picture. The girls wore matching blue pedal pushers and white midriff blouses. Each had one arm slung over the shoulders of the other. Tessa tucked her free hand firmly under her thigh to stop herself from scratching her legs and grinned as wide and bright as sunshine in August.
Madelyn enjoyed playing at the Kovers' as much as Tessa enjoyed playing at her house, though for different reasons.
Madelyn thought of the Kovers as a "regular family" and envied their "regular family" lifestyle, which included game nights, annual camping trips to the North Woods of Maine, and home-cooked sit- down dinners served at six on the dot.
Madelyn was especially fond of Mrs. Kover. Being naturally maternal, Sarah Kover fussed over Madelyn as if she'd been her own, urging her to finish her milk and wear warm sweaters, and avoid crossing her eyes; French braiding her hair, and even sewing the matching pedal pushers and blouses Madelyn and Tessa wore in the photograph. Mrs. Kover was the only adult who seemed to have any influence over Madelyn, though the girl's willingness to be influenced had its limits.
Madelyn went to the Kovers' nearly every day after school and quickly learned that if she passed through the Kover kitchen around
5:45 P.M. and commented about how good everything smelled, she would be invited to stay and eat. However, in recent months, Madelyn began to notice that her dangled hints for dinner invitations often went unheeded. When she rang the Kovers' door as usual on a Saturday morning in late January she was met not by Tessa but by Mrs. Kover. "You're up bright and early, Madelyn. But I'm afraid Tessa isn't home. She went to Jillian Eversoll's for a sleepover last night."
Jillian Eversoll? Why would Tessa want to stay overnight with her? Jillian had small, piggy eyes, and just the week before, she'd tattled on Madelyn for passing notes to Tessa during English class.
"Oh. Will you tell Tessa that I dropped by?" She turned from the door to face the snow-drifted street and the prospect of a whole day with no one but Grandma Edna for company.
"Why don't you come inside for a minute, Madelyn? I just took a loaf of banana bread out of the oven. Would you like some?"
Mrs. Kover made hot chocolate and set a cup in front of Madelyn along with a plate of warm banana bread spread with melting butter that dripped onto the girl's fingers, then sat across from her at the table with her own cup of cocoa.
Sarah Kover was blond and had a warm, motherly smile. Madelyn thought she looked a little like the actress who played Samantha Stephens on Bewitched.
"So, Madelyn, how is school?" Mrs. Kover blew on her cocoa to cool it.
Madelyn shrugged. "Okay."
"Do you like Mrs. Bridges? You know, she was my teacher when I went to Edison. She's been teaching math for about as long as I can remember."
"I don't think she likes me very much."
"Why do you say that?"
"She called Grandma in for a conference last month to talk about my grades. They aren't very good. Grandma was mad. She said that Mrs. Bridges said that I'm not living up to my potential and that that's just another way of saying I'm lazy."
Mrs. Kover pressed her lips together, as if keeping them closed required some effort. "I'm sure Mrs. Bridges didn't mean it like that. I think that was just her way of saying that, with a little more effort, your grades will improve. You're a smart girl, Madelyn. I'm sure Mrs. Bridges was just trying to encourage you."
"That's not the way Grandma saw it."
Mrs. Kover wrapped her hands around her cup and frowned, resting both elbows on the table, which was something Grandma Edna had told Madelyn that ladies didn't do. Madelyn mentally chalked up one more thing on her growing list of things Edna was wrong about and propped her own elbows up on the kitchen table.
"No. Well . . . sometimes older people don't always . . ."
Mrs. Kover faltered, sighed, and changed the subject. In the entire time Madelyn had known her, she never heard Mrs. Kover say anything bad about anyone else.
"Give yourself a little time, Madelyn. Things will get easier."
Madelyn licked some butter from her fingertips and nodded, not because she thought Mrs. Kover was right but because she liked her.
"What about friends? Have you made any new friends this year?"