This is where it all started…Melody is working at Stonybrooke hospital, minding her own business (for the most part). She’s having a blast working on her baking blog, making cookies and getting together for the Friday Friends Dinner Club on the first Friday of every month.
It all starts falling apart.
“Watch out!” Melody reached out and grabbed the long branch of the Christmas tree as it teetered. She threw her weight against it as it started to topple to the side. Pink and green ornaments fell off the tree and rolled away. Melody braced her feet on the ground and pushed it back up. Branches brushed over her face and chest. She shifted her position.
Melody was about to lose her grip, when the weight of the tree lifted. A deep voice from the other side of the tree called out, “I’ve got it. Can you get it back into the tree base?”
“I think so,” Melody said. She got down on her hands and knees and made her way under the long tree branches. She quickly saw the problem; the tree had been placed at an angle and it slipped out of the tree holder. She moved the base of the tree and readjusted the screws on the stand. Carefully backing out from under the tree, she brushed off pine needles from her slacks and Christmas red sweater and stood up.
“Not bad at all,” Melody said, picking up the few fallen ornaments. “Thanks for your help. I think I would’ve started crying if it toppled over.”
“Happy to help. That sure is a colorful tree.”
Melody came face to face with Brandon, the marketing director—and most handsome guy—at the hospital. He was putting a plan into action to showcase the hospital’s new orthopedic wing amid the new technology they were beginning to use and get national attention for. He had the most gorgeous smile Melody had ever seen.
When he smiled, it was the most gorgeous smile. He was rather serious at the hospital. Half the female staff had a crush on him. Melody hated to admit it, but she did too. Her dates were few and far between and every time she tried to get the attention of a good-looking guy she ended up looking like Lucille Ball on the candy factory episode, all clumsy and talking as if she had a bunch of chocolates in her mouth. Not a pretty sight. Never mind all that. He was simply a colleague. She pushed her curly hair over her left shoulder.
“Colorful? Too much?” Melody said in response, standing up straight.
Brandon raised his left eyebrow. “A bit.” His dark brown blazer hung loosely over the dress shirt he wore. When he moved his arms, Melody noticed the silver cufflinks on his shirt. They looked like an animal of some sort. “I just like a tree that’s a bit subtler.”
“You’re entitled to your opinion.” She shrugged and turned to open the box of decorations for the next tree. She had five more trees to decorate and she didn’t have time to take an opinion poll from the marketing department.
He smiled. “Hey, it’s no reflection on you. I just like a more classical Christmas look. And I’m sure glad I don’t have to decorate a tree. It’d be awful.”
Melody gave him a nod and small smile. “Fair enough.”
He smiled back. There was something about the way he looked at her. Did he like her? It was so hard to know. She was a bit dense when it came to flirting and romance. She dug through the box, pulling out several ornaments shaped like coffee cups. Was he still standing there?
She got up and saw that he was still there. He took a deep breath and asked, “Listen, I’ve been meaning to ask you—”
Before he could finish his sentence, Dr. Worster, the chief orthopedic surgeon burst through the double doors, his red tie blowing in the breeze of his entrance and matching the color of his face. The surgeon always looked stressed. “Brandon. We’ve got to talk about the way the media is handling coverage of the surgeries I’m doing. It’s imperative that we get the messaging right.” He stopped and looked at the trees decorating the auditorium. He let out an expletive. “What is this?”
“We’re setting up for the Handmade Holiday Bazaar, Dr. Worster,” Melody said, resenting the squeak in her voice. “You know, the annual fundraiser for the hospital?”
Dr. Worster rolled his eyes and didn’t bother to look at Melody. “This tawdry event. It’s the last year we’re doing this handmade crap. This hospital is going on the map and we need events and a presence that will support that. Brandon?” He strode though the room, towards the doors that led to the administrative wing and flew down the hall.
Brandon looked at Dr. Worster, then back at Melody. “Gotta go, I’ll catch up with you tomorrow, okay?”
“Catch up with me about what?” As the assistant manager of the orthopedic unit, she didn’t do too much with the marketing department. Melody watched him walk behind Dr. Worster and let out a deep sigh. The Handmade Holiday Bazaar brought in local artists and stores in the community for a special holiday shopping boutique for the community. Twenty-five percent of the profits went to the hospital’s special projects fund. They’d made over a hundred thousand dollars in the last five years, enough money to start the funding for the new orthopedic wing Dr. Worster was so proud of. Melody had led the Handmade Holiday Bazaar with her boss, Sylvia. Melody liked her job as the assistant nurse manager of the orthopedic floor. If Dr. Worster wasn’t in charge, she might love her job.
“I’m not letting his negativity influence my job on these trees,” she said out loud to the empty auditorium.
Melody opened another box and decorated the next tree in a coffee theme: coffee cups, spoons, teapots and miniature ornaments of desserts covered the tree. The following tree was decked out in pink ornaments of every shape and size. It represented all the women who worked at Hope Community Hospital who had fought breast cancer or whose mom or daughter had been affected by the disease. In addition to the ornaments, Melody strung on pink lights and topped the tree with a star, all silver with pink sequins. She worked steadily, humming along to the Christmas music until all the trees were finished.
Thirty minutes later, Melody stood back and smiled in satisfaction at the sight of the decorated trees. Small twinkling white lights hung on thirty trees. Each tree had a different decor theme, based on one of the sponsors. Melody called her boss, Sylvia Platt.
“Are you done?” Sylvia said.
“I am, and it looks great, better than last year,” Melody said.
“Worster just blew through. Said this was the last year for the Handmade Bazaar. Says we need something with more finesse. Maybe a symposium for surgeons with lots of vendors and such, bring in other people from the country.”
“Yea, he was in here earlier this evening,” Melody said, clearing her throat.
“He has some good ideas. So does Brandon from marketing. Got to embrace change if we’re going to grow. And we’re going to show them we’re on the cutting edge. I’ll see you tomorrow to talk about ideas.” She hung up the phone.
Sylvia’s job was her life. When she said she’d have a list of ideas, what she meant was she had a hundred ideas Melody would have to implement. Melody sighed. As much as she enjoyed her job, she made room for other things too, like the Friday Friends Dinner Club.
Once a month Melody and four friends got together to make dinner and catch up. And laugh. They laughed a lot. The Friday Friends Dinner Club was the highlight of Melody’s life right now and no amount of crazy work stuff would keep her from it.
She stood back to admire her handiwork. She took in the soft glow of twinkle lights and the array of colorful decorations and smiled in satisfaction. She picked up a stack of now flattened boxes in one arm and swung her oversized black computer bag over her left shoulder. She glanced down at her phone again. Three missed calls and voicemails, all from Gwendolyn. It rang again, and Gwendolyn’s name appeared.
She picked up the phone. “Gwendolyn?”
“I keep them all on the bookcases in the front room. The sun shines in and I’ll sit there in the morning with my coffee and the crossword puzzle. I always have one or two on the table next to my chair; I’m thumbing through finding a recipe for someone or just enjoying the read. And now they’re missing! All of my cookbooks are gone!”
Gwendolyn had been so upset, Melody hadn’t been able to understand her on the phone. Instead of trying to talk through Gwendolyn’s tears, Melody told Gwendolyn she’d be over in twenty minutes. Gwendolyn and Melody were neighbors in the same apartment complex. Melody lived on the second floor in a modern studio apartment and Gwendolyn lived in a two-bedroom apartment, kitty-corner from Melody’s building.
Gwendolyn reached over to the table and picked up a notepad. “I’ve been going through Mrs. Joy for the past week looking up lamb recipes for my friend, Adrianne. I’ve been so tired with all the company, it’s taken me almost a week to do it.”
She handed the notepad to Melody. About a dozen recipes for different ways to prepare lamb were written in near-perfect script on several pages.
“There’s just been so much company,” Gwendolyn said again. “Two nights ago, I went out to an early dinner with my daughter, Dollie. She came and picked me up at 4:00. She is hosting a luncheon for a women’s group she’s in and is supposed to make a fancy dessert. Since I had The Joy of Cooking out, I figured I would use that first. I looked up different tarts with fruit fillings that wouldn’t be too, too hard. I made a copy of the recipes I thought she would like on my index cards and returned the books to the shelves. I remember noticing the layer of dust on the shelf and made a mental note to dust them in the morning. Where are they? She’s going to be here for them tonight.”
Gwendolyn turned again to the desk but there were no more note cards. “Darn it, where did I put them,” she said. “I had them on recipe cards, all sealed up in an envelope.”
“Let me look,” said Melody.
She got down on her hands and knees and ran her hand underneath the chair. There was nothing there. She lifted the long lace overhand on the table stand. In between the legs was a small envelope with the name ‘Dollie’ written on it.
“Here Gwendolyn, this looks like your note cards.” Melody brushed off dirt that was on the note cards. “There’s quite a bit of dirt on the floor here. Does your cat track in dirt?” She looked down at the floor. There was dried mud there. Melody got on her knees to get some distance and identify the shape. “Gwendolyn, it looks like the outline of a construction boot here. Have you had people in for work?” Bits of dirt were all over the carpet around the bookcase.
“Oh, yes. Maybe it was the plumber—there were two of them in here this week. Oh dear, it will settle.” Gwendolyn leaned over, the space between her eyes furrowed in a deep crease.
“We should let the police see this. You said they were coming by?”
“Well, I called them this morning. They said they’d send someone over. Since there was no evidence that there was a break-in…”
Gwendolyn’s voice trailed off and she gave Melody a weak smile. “You know, my memory isn’t what it used to be. And there are no broken windows and or locks.”
Melody sat down on the brown velour cushion of the love seat and crossed her legs. She leaned towards Gwendolyn. “But you’re sure they’ve been stolen.”
“Well, they’re not here,” Gwendolyn said, a hint of indignation in her voice. “And I didn’t give them away. I’m not that forgetful.” She stirred her tea. The spoon made a clinking noise around the cup.
Gwendolyn set her cup on the side table next to her. “Last Thursday night, I came home and went to bed without doing my crossword puzzle. It wasn’t until the next morning that I noticed they were missing!”
“All of them?” Melody asked, pulling a pad and pen from her purse and jotting down notes.
“All of them. I was so shocked, I didn’t know what to do. Like I told you, I called the police and told them what had happened—that was this morning.”
“And what did the police say?”
“Not much; someone is supposed to come over tomorrow morning. Something about they had a big car crash this evening and a robbery in one of the neighborhoods with pretty significant damage done.”
Melody looked up at Gwendolyn, who had pulled out her handkerchief and was dabbing at her eyes.
“I’m sorry, dear. This probably seems a tad silly, crying over cookbooks. But I’ve collected them all my life, well, for about six decades or so.”
“It’s not silly, at all,” Melody said, straightening up in her chair and feeling a bit angry. “I’d be furious if someone stole my cookbooks. And if they took my grandmamma’s cookbooks, I’d take them out! How many cookbooks are we talking about?”
Gwendolyn smiled and set her handkerchief down. “You’re a very passionate young woman; you remind me of myself. Two hundred and forty-two cookbooks, most of them first editions and signed by the author.”
Melody coughed and set her cup down and stared at Gwendolyn. “Over 242 cookbooks were stolen? How much were they worth?”
“All together the collection was worth $70,000. That’s what they were appraised for a few years ago.” She folded her hands and leaned back in her chair, shaking her head. “I know I should have locked them up, but they were so pretty sitting on the bookshelves.
“My husband and I collected cookbooks from the countries and cities we visited; it was a way for us to bring the journey home with us. We would have a picture taken and put it in the front of the book; so, when we opened the book to cook from it or just enjoy the pages, the picture would come out too and we could spend a little time remembering.”
“So, the pictures,” Melody began, sensing the pain the loss was bringing to Gwendolyn.
Gwendolyn’s lips pursed tightly, and tears formed at her eyes. She took a tissue from her pocket and dabbed her eyes. “I invested in many of those cookbooks to use if I needed it for money. I never expected to live this long. But if I’m honest, those cookbooks were for me. They were how I celebrated the memories of my marriage and with Cliff now gone, sometimes I’ll go to one of those cookbooks and I’ll make one of the recipes we used to make together. I’ll make it and remember and look at the picture with so much gratitude for the happy times. So many happy times in our marriage.”
She blew her nose as more tears fell. “I started to fall in love with first edition cookbooks as I visited antique shows and estate sales here in the States. Some of them I gave away and then I started to keep them. I thought it would make a fun investment for myself or one of my kids one day.”
Melody reached across the table to take Gwendolyn’s hand. “We’re going to find those cookbooks,” she said.
Gwendolyn nodded. “I just wish the police would come sooner. Since there was no sign of a break-in and I don’t even know when they went missing, the nice operator said they’d come by tomorrow. Will you be here, dear? I’m beside myself with anxiety. And poor Bitty doesn’t know what to do.”
In response, the cat looked up at Melody, then settled its white head back into its paws and closed his eyes.
“I’ll be here,” Melody promised.