This is the last free chapter of SCRAPPED I can offer you. If you didn’t see the first two, scroll around on the blog and you will see them. They are also printed all together in the back of the first book, SCRAPBOOK OF SECRETS. SCRAPPED will be published December 31 and I am counting the days. You can pre-order on Amazon. If you hit the like button, I’d surely appreciate it. Enjoy!
Vera’s back twisted in pain as she placed a sleeping Elizabeth into her crib. After all the years of dancing, who would have thought parenting would be the most physically taxing thing on her body?
“She’s down for the time being,” she said to her mother, who was sitting next to the fireplace, wrapped in a quilt.
“Go and have a good time,” Beatrice said. “This fire is so nice. Think I’ll stay right here. Be careful, Vera. It’s not safe out there.”
It had been almost a week since the mysterious body washed up in their park, with nobody claiming it. How sad to think that nobody missed this woman enough to report her absence—or to claim her body.
But still, Beatrice was acting a little more concerned about her safety than usual. Vera wondered if Beatrice would ever be the same. After she returned from her vacation in Paris, a general malaise hung over her, and no matter what Vera said or did, it was clear Beatrice didn’t want to talk about this trip, which she and her long-gone husband had dreamed about taking for years. Vera had thought she would return home with countless stories about the city, its food, and its people, but she didn’t. Instead, she’d shared a few photos and thoughts, said she was glad she went, but that was it. Vera mused over this as she opened the door to Sheila’s basement scrapbooking room.
“How’s Lizzie?” Sheila said after Vera sat down at the table and cracked open her satchel of scrapbooking stuff. She was still working on chronicling Elizabeth’s first birthday party.
“Rotten, but asleep for now,” Vera said, feeling a wave of weariness, reaching into her bag for chocolates. She had found a new chocolate shop in Charlottesville the other day and was smitten with the handmade dark chocolate spiced with chili pepper. Who would have imagined? She sat the box on the table. “Chocolates,” she said.
“Have some pumpkin cranberry muffins,” DeeAnn said, shoving the plate toward Vera.
“Thanks,” Vera said.
“God, these are so good,” Annie said, taking another bite of muffin.
“Thanks. We’re selling a lot of them at the bakery,” DeeAnn said and sliced a picture with her photo cropper. “Business hasn’t slowed down a bit for us, thank God.” She made the sign of the cross across her ample chest, even though she wasn’t Catholic. She was the town baker, and her place was always busy, particularly in the mornings.
“Wish I could say the same thing,” Sheila said, pushing her glasses back up on her nose. “Digital scrapbooking is all the rage. I’m losing business with it being so paper based.”
“My business is going through a rough patch, too,” Vera said. “This darned economy.” After a few minutes of silence, Vera brought up the subject of the mysterious body. “You know, I just can’t get the dead woman out of my mind,” she said. “Any word yet on who she is?”
“Not that I know of,” Annie said. “I’ve called the police a few times. Bryant’s supposed to let me know.”
“I wouldn’t trust that,” Sheila said, placing her scissors on the table with a rattle and a clunk.
“Don’t worry,” Annie said. “I have his number. I’m already researching these symbols carved into her body.”
“Symbols?” Cookie asked.
“A first I thought it was Hebrew, but it’s not.”
“Ooh,” DeeAnn said. “That just gave me the chills.” Her blue eyes widened, and she leaned on her large baker’s arms. “I’m thinking Satanists . . . or witches. . . . Sorry, Cookie.”
“Witches don’t do that kind of stuff,” Cookie said. “We are gentle, earth loving, people loving. I’ve told you that.” She grinned.
“I would assume you are not all the same, though,” Annie said. “That there are bad witches, just like there are bad Jews or Christians.”
“Well . . .” Cookie shifted around in her chair as it creaked. “You’re probably right about that.” She turned and asked Sheila, “Now, how do I use this netting?”
Sheila happily showed Cookie the technique. She unrolled the netting from the packaging ball. One side of it was sticky. She placed it on the page at a diagonal and pressed down, then cut it with her scissors, giving it a rough edge, which added to the textured page.
“I honestly still don’t know why you call yourself a witch,” Vera said.
“Oh, Vera, would you just please leave it alone?” Sheila said. “Good Lord. We are having a crop here, not a trial.”
Cookie smiled slightly. “Thanks, Sheila, but I don’t mind answering. I call myself a witch because I feel I’m honoring the women who were burned at the stake in the name of witchcraft. I reclaim it. That’s all. And if people have a problem with it, they can either educate themselves or not. But I don’t dwell on their issues with it.”
“Humph,” Vera said and laughed. “I guess she told me.”
Cookie smiled. “Well, you asked.”
“Indeed,” Sheila said. “I’d much rather talk about your sex life than Cookie’s witchcraft.”
“Oh yes, me too,” Annie said. “What happened last week? What kind of kinky sex did you have last weekend?”
“Good Lord,” Sheila gasped, red-faced, clutching her chest. “The way you just blurt those things out.”
Paige, the other steady scrapbook club member, entered the room with a flourish. Paige, DeeAnn, Sheila, and Vera were the original crop. Annie came along last year; then came Cookie.
When Vera thought about how things had changed over the past year, it almost gave her vertigo. She was now the mother of a sixteen-month hellion of a baby, who refused to take naps and didn’t want to be weaned. Annie was going to be a published author. Sheila’s daughter Donna was now in her senior year of high school—which set Sheila all atwitter from time to time. Paige had announced she was going to take an early retirement from the school system—this year, her twenty-fifth, would be her last. And DeeAnn’s bakery was just becoming more and more successful.
Paige’s breezy pink silk shirt almost caught on the corner of the ragged table as she waltzed by. “Sorry I’m late.” She placed a scrapbook on the table and opened the pages. “I had a flat tire, and it took a while for my husband to get it changed. I mean, Jesus, it’s not as if he hasn’t changed a tire before. What kind of muffins do you have there?”
“Pumpkin cranberry,” Annie answered, holding her page up and eyeballing it. “We were just going to talk about Vera’s sex life.”
“Oh, really? What did he do to you this time?” Paige asked.
Vera just laughed and waved her hand. They wouldn’t believe her if she said that there was absolutely no sex between them the last time she went to the city. They just laughed a lot and talked even more. They had so much to say to one another. She would never tire of hearing Tony’s Brooklyn accent as he told her stories about going on tour with this or that dance company. His voice soothed her—it felt like home. And his touch burned her skin with a passion she hadn’t known since they were together all those years ago in college, as young dancers. Maybe it was time he visited Cumberland Creek. But how would Bill feel about that? Would he make trouble for them? God knows she couldn’t keep his coming a secret. He’d be arriving on a Harley, and if that wasn’t enough of an attention getter, he was a beautiful dark man. Not many of those around Cumberland Creek. He’d stick out no matter where they went.
“Yoo-hoo.” Paige waved her hand in front of Vera’s face. “Where are you? I was asking about the dead body. Did you say she had red hair?”
“Yes,” Vera said. “Long red hair. Annie saw her.”
“You know, I was just thinking about this the other day. There seems to be a bunch of redheads that live up on the other side of Jenkins Hollow,” Paige said, twirling her own wavy blond hair with her slender finger.
Vera looked at Annie, who, at the mention of Jenkins Hollow, coughed on her wine.
“I’m just going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Annie finally said.