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From the bedroom doorway, Sylvia Bergstrom Compson Cooper regarded the taped and labeled cartons Bonnie had stacked against the walls, leaving only a narrow aisle between the bed and the bureau. "It might feel more like home sweet home if you unpacked."
"I don't have time," said Bonnie, shoving a box of sweaters under the bed for storage. Though it was October, she wouldn't need them where she was going. "I have too much to do before my flight."
Sylvia picked her way through the clutter to the center of the room and studied the mess, frowning thoughtfully over the tops of her glasses, which hung from a silver chain around her neck. "If you like, I can unpack for you while you're away."
"Oh, no, Sylvia. Please don't go to all that trouble."
"It's no trouble. I'll enlist a few of the other Elm Creek Quilters to help and we'll spread the work over a few days."
Sylvia didn't need to add that they would have lots of time to finish the job before Bonnie's return--too much time, thought Bonnie's friends, who agreed that she needed a getaway but perhaps not one of such long duration.
"I'll take care of it when I get back." Bonnie smiled to take the sting out of her refusal. "I'm not moving in permanently, remember?"
"The invitation stands if you change your mind," Sylvia assured her. "You'll always have a home at Elm Creek Manor, even if you only want it long enough to get back on your feet."
Bonnie thanked her, wondering which of her friends would next offer to take her in. The apartment in Grangerville had never been a real home, just a wayside between the condo she had once shared with her now-estranged husband, Craig, and wherever she might settle after her return to Pennsylvania in the spring. Sylvia had convinced her that it made no sense to keep renting an apartment for her belongings when she could store them at Elm Creek Manor for free, so Bonnie had cancelled her month-to-month lease. She had needed no more than a day to pack up the apartment, not only because the Elm Creek Quilters helped her, but also because after moving out of the condo, she had unpacked only the necessities and left everything else in boxes.
Somehow she must have known that she was not meant to stay.
"I might decide to make the manor my home," Bonnie said, stacking a laundry basket full of quilt fabric on top of a carton of old photo albums. "I honestly haven't thought it through. I've had too much on my mind and I can't plan so many steps ahead."
"A change of scenery and new challenges will do you good," said Sylvia.
"I'm counting on that." Bonnie shoved a box out of the way with her foot and sat down on the bed, absently patting the Windblown Square quilt for comfort. A few years before, she had been blindsided when she caught Craig carrying on a cyber-affair with a younger woman, but after recovering from her shock, she had fought to save her marriage. She had thrown herself into an exercise program, lost twenty pounds, had her dark curls trimmed into a flattering new style, and had endured fellow Elm Creek Quilter Diane's coaching about the best clothes for her curvy frame and makeup for her ruddy complexion. According to her friends, she looked better than she had in years--younger, fitter, more attractive--but even then she had known that a successful makeover alone wouldn't be enough to rekindle Craig's affection.
Through marriage counseling and countless date nights, Craig had led her to believe they were reconciling and rebuilding, but all the while he was secretly hiding his assets for the divorce only he had known was inevitable. To make matters worse, he had told their children that she had abandoned him, that the divorce was her idea, that he was as confused and distraught as they were, that he deserved their sympathy and Bonnie their anger. C.J., their eldest son, knew their father too well to believe it, their daughter, Tammy, refused to take sides, and their youngest son, Barry, was far too credulous where his father was concerned. Bonnie didn't push it. The very thought of engaging in a battle for the hearts and minds of their three grown children exhausted her. She didn't have the energy to persuade her kids that Craig was wrong and she was right.
Now that she had accepted that her marriage was over, all she wanted was to put the whole ugly situation behind her and to move on.
To feel good again. To return to the happy, contented woman she had once been and now only vaguely remembered. But how could she heal when even the protective walls of Elm Creek Manor triggered so many painful memories?
She had despaired of ever doing so until her old friend Claire phoned with an invitation as wonderful as it was unexpected. Bonnie rarely saw her former college roommate except at college reunions, but Claire kept in touch with chatty letters mailed from military bases in different foreign countries as she followed her officer husband from post to post. When he had retired from the service, they settled in Hawaii, having fallen in love with the island paradise while
Eric had been stationed in Oahu earlier in his career. For the past several years, Claire had run a quilt shop on Maui, and when an opportunity came to expand the business, Claire contacted the long-time friend who had introduced her to quilting to enlist her help.
"A quilter's retreat in Hawaii," Claire had said. "What could be more perfect? And who knows more about setting up a quilt camp than you?"
"Sylvia Cooper, for one," Bonnie had said, but before she could reel off the names of the other Elm Creek Quilters who were far more qualified to tackle the project, Claire had accused her of her old fault of excessive self-deprecation and insisted that only Bonnie possessed the perfect combination of knowledge, experience, and trustworthiness that Claire needed to launch her new business venture. She offered to hire Bonnie as a consultant, and in exchange for Bonnie's expertise, she would provide a modest stipend, room and board in Maui for the winter, and a guaranteed room at Aloha Quilt Camp whenever Bonnie desired.
Bonnie felt as if her old friend had thrown open doors and windows to let fresh air and sunshine into a room too long shuttered and neglected. Elm Creek Quilt Camp closed for the winter, so why not spend the off-season in Hawaii? She couldn't sit at home counting the days until her divorce, as if on the day it was final, her disappointment and anger would magically vanish. Where better to begin building a new life for herself than in Hawaii, where she would be soothed by balmy breezes and lulled to sleep by the pounding surf, where she could help a beloved friend launch an exciting new business, where everything was unfamiliar and nothing would remind her of what she had lost?