The Saturday visit to Hazelwood was much on everyone’s mind, though little of the anticipation was centered on viewing the house. It was clear to Melly that she was perhaps the only one interested in seeing Hazelwood for its own sake, and even her pleasure in the prospect of the trip was augmented by the opportunity to ride out with Malcolm, and checked by the potential awkwardness of the budding relationship dynamics between almost every member of the party. Sophia and Ian Winter were treading a thin line. Though Sophia lived with Chris in Baton Rouge, she had spent most of the week at Stillwater, “dealing with the wedding prep”. Whatever might constitute “wedding prep”, it didn’t seem to involve opening RSVP cards, checking presents off the registry, or talking to the caterers. Sophia had only looked in once on Melly as she sat in the alcove beading the dress, and then only to show it off to Ian. He seemed to think it more interesting than Sophia did.
“Did you do all this yourself, Melly?” Ian cast a professional eye over the rich luminous textured fabric as Melly’s needle slipped in and out, spearing and affixing the little luminous orbs according to a complex pattern.
“Yes.” She bowed her head over the dress. She had expected to have several solid hours of uninterrupted time to get into the flow of her needlework, and the interruption was throwing off the rhythm.
“May I look at it?” he asked. Melly reluctantly handed it over, and he carried it from the alcove to the front parlor window to get the best light. Sophia pressed close to him, looking over his shoulder as he examined the dress turned up the edge of the dress, looking at the neat hem and the smooth seams and the hand-picked zipper. Then he turned back to Melly, examining her with the same cool appraisal. She wished he wouldn’t look at her as if he’d only just realized that she was human. “Did you make this? Are you a seamstress?”
“Melly doesn’t work,” said Sophia, bored with any conversation that didn’t focus on her. “That’s why she has lots of time to sit around and sew.”
“This can’t be your first project,” said Ian, still looking at the dress. “This is as good as any couture work I’ve seen.”
“I learned from my mother,” said Melly, wishing to goodness that they’d go away and leave her to work in peace.
“Then she must be talented.”
“She made a lot of the ball gowns up in the attic,” said Sophia, switching tactics. “You should come up and see them. They’ve got hoop skirts and everything.”
“You keep costumes in your attic?”
“Sure. Maybe I’ll try one on for you.”
Ian turned his face slightly so that his lips were near her ear. “I’d like to see you in any costume except this one.”
Melly shrank uncomfortably in her seat. They knew she was sitting right there. Surely they couldn’t imagine that she didn’t hear them. She had less than no desire to call any attention to her presence at this moment, but she also wanted him gone, from Sophia, from the house. Hesitantly, she spoke.
“It’s kind of you to admire the dress, but if I don’t keep working on it, it won’t be done in time.”
Sophia took the dress impatiently and tossed it back to Melly. She and Ian crossed to the hall door, presumably to head up to the attic, and Melly exhaled in relief. Her peaceful work time had been disturbed, but at least they were unlikely to bother her again today. She closed her eyes for a moment to focus herself back on the work, then turned the dress carefully, looking for the dangling needle that marked her spot.
Ian poked his head back in the door. “That’s good work you’re doing. Keep it up.”
Melly jumped, startled, and yipped in surprise. He vanished again, and she could hear his laughter drift back down the hall as he and Sophia went up the spiral staircase.