Celebrate one of America’s most romantic and enduring traditions with The Wedding Quilt.
Sarah McClure arrived at Elm Creek Manor as a newlywed, never suspecting that her quilting lessons with Master Quilter Sylvia Bergstrom Compson would inspire the successful and enduring business Elm Creek Quilts, whose members have nurtured a circle of friendship spanning generations. As the wedding day of Sarah’s daugher, Caroline, approaches, Sarah’s thoughts are filled with brides of Elm Creek Manor past and present—the traditions they honored, the legacies they bequeathed, the wedding quilts that contain their stories in every stitch.
Because Sarah learned the craft after her marriage, she had no wedding quilt, only one to commemorate her anniversary. When the young bride confides in her mother a single, fervent wish—”I wish I had a wedding quilt, one I made myself.”—Sarah yearns to grant it.
A wedding quilt is a symbol so powerful that even the most talented novice would be daunted by the task of stitching in mere days a masterpiece worthy of the couple’s bonds of love, commitment, trust, and hope for the future. Sarah turns to the Elm Creek Quilters, cherished friends who help her create a fitting tribute for a beloved daughter who will soon stand beside her husband in the union of their shared lives.
As they pool their creative gifts, memories of Elm Creek Manor—and of the women who have lived there, in happiness and in sorrow—spill forth, rendering a vivid pastiche of family, friendship, and love in all its varieties.
… Sylvia had gone to the waiting room to update Andrew and Joe on her progress, so Sarah asked Gretchen to search her tote bag for her cell phone. She felt dizzy with relief to see a text from Matt—“How are you? How are the babies?”—although she wished he had mentioned when he expected to arrive. Before responding to him she called her mother to tell her that that she was fine, that the babies were fine, and that she should come straight to the hospital rather than stopping by Elm Creek Manor. The roads were slippery and becoming more so, her mother reported, but the salt trucks and snowplows were out in force and Sarah shouldn’t worry.
Sarah would worry less once she finally heard Matt’s voice. She called his number and sighed with relief when he answered on the second ring. “Hey, honey,” he said cheerfully. “How are you?”
“I’m feeling much better now that I’m hooked up to the epidural. Where are you? When do you think you’ll get here?”
Matt laughed, but then he abruptly stopped. “Wait. Epidural? You’re already at the hospital?”
“Of course I am. What did you think? Didn’t you get my text this morning? Didn’t you get my voice mail?”
“Well, yes, but all you said was—”
“I said you needed to come home!”
“You said you hoped I was on my way home, but you’ve been saying that for days.”
“But this time I said it while I was having contractions!” Her panic soared. “Matt, where are you?”
Matt panted slightly, as if he were running. “I’m on a site.”
“You’re still in Uniontown?”
“Not for much longer. I’m leaving the building and running to the truck.” Wind whipped past the microphone, drowning out most of his words. “I wanted to finish a few things, then what with the storm and everything I thought I’d call you after lunch and see if you really needed me to come home—”
“I really do.” Her tears spilled over. She felt Gretchen take her hand; Sarah threw her a stricken look and forced herself to take a deep breath, to calm down for the sake of the twins. “If you had listened to me from the beginning—”
“I’m sorry.” The truck’s engine roared to life. “I’m really sorry. But you’re not alone, right? Gretchen and Sylvia and your mom are there, right?”
“My mom’s still on the way.” No, she wasn’t alone, but she wanted Matt. She needed Matt. “Just try to get here as soon as you can.”
“I will. Sarah”—he hesitated—“I love you.”
“Drive carefully,” she said, and hung up. She set down the phone and burst into tears. She didn’t need to explain; Sylvia and Gretchen had easily deduced what had happened.
“You’re going to be fine,” Gretchen soothed her. “I know you want Matt here, but if he can’t make it in time, you’re still going to be fine. Haven’t we taken all the childbirth classes together? I’m not as handsome as Matt, but I think I can fill in for him as coach just fine if need be.”
Sarah managed a shaky laugh. “You’ll probably be a better coach, since you took the classes.” She could not say the same for her husband. She fought to calm herself, to regain control of her breathing, to recapture the steady, even rhythm that had helped her ride the waves of discomfort not dulled by the epidural. She tried to put her husband and her disappointment and the storm out of her mind and concentrate on her babies, the beautiful babies she would soon hold in her arms. She considered asking Sylvia to retrieve the book from her tote bag when a knock sounded on the door.
“Don’t start without us,” Gwen called, bursting into the room in a bright red wool coat that clashed merrily with her gray-streaked auburn hair. Following close behind was Diane, who beamed at Sarah before turning a wary eye upon the medical equipment surrounding her, and Agnes, petite and white haired, her blue eyes joyful behind pink-tinted glasses.
Agnes hurried to her side and kissed her cheek, her rosewater scent lingering in the air. “Oh, my dear, you look beautiful.”
Sarah had to laugh. “I couldn’t possibly.”
“I’ve been saying for years that Agnes needs new glasses,” Diane agreed, and when Gwen glared at her, she added, “What? You want me to lie? Sarah’s in labor with twins, not preparing for a photo shoot.”
“Matt was going to take pictures,” Sarah suddenly remembered. “I left the camera in the library.”
“I brought mine,” said Agnes, patting her purse. “I’ll lend it to Sylvia.”
“You aren’t staying?” asked Sylvia.
“We figured you, Gretchen, and Carol would have everything under control,” said Gwen. “Is she on her way?”
Sarah breathed through a contraction and managed a nod.
“We just wanted to say hello and wish you well, Sarah,” Agnes said, patting her shoulder. “You couldn’t possibly relax with all of us crowded in here.”
“This isn’t all of us.” Diane looked around. “Where’s the father-to-be?”
“He’s on his way,” said Gretchen, squeezing Sarah’s hand.
“On his way from the manor, not from Uniontown, right?” queried Diane, glancing to the window, where thick clumps of heavy, wet flakes obscured the view. “If not, he’ll never make it and he’d be stupid to try.”
“Don’t pay any attention to her,” Gwen said. “She’s been a nervous wreck about driving in the snow ever since she slid off the road last year.”
“Tim doesn’t know it yet,” said Diane, shuddering at the memory, “but someday we’re retiring to Arizona.”
“You can’t leave,” protested Gwen. “First Judy, then Summer, then Bonnie, and now you?”
“I didn’t say we’d move anytime soon,” said Diane, looking mildly affronted that Gwen would think her so near retirement age. “Anyway, Bonnie’s coming back next month.”
“I spoke to her a few days ago,” remarked Sylvia. “She said she would be sorry to miss this happy day.”
“She doesn’t have to,” said Gwen. “We can hook up a Webcam and stream the entire birth live on the Internet.”
“No, thanks,” declared Sarah, prompting laughter from her friends. She managed a smile and shifted in her bed. Quickly Gretchen was there to plump her pillow and adjust the blanket. The epidural was wearing off, and she was becoming more uncomfortable with each passing moment. Gretchen spoke to her gently and encouragingly, reminding her to breathe deeply and evenly, to rest and to relax. Sarah closed her eyes and nodded, remembering everything they had practiced in their weekly classes. How fortunate she was that Gretchen had offered to fill in for Matt, and that her other friends were close at hand. If she were lying in this hospital room utterly alone, she knew her strength and courage would falter.
“This takes me back,” said Gwen, sitting down on the sofa and resting her elbows on her knees. “Remember how we all met? Well, not all of us, just those of us who were here before Sylvia’s return to Waterford.”
“It was at Bonnie’s quilt shop,” said Diane. “On a beautiful autumn Saturday.”
“I was in charge of the Waterford Quilting Guild’s annual charity raffle quilt,” Agnes recalled. “Diane and I were shopping for fabric to make it.”
“Bonnie was helping me and Summer at the cutting table,” said Gwen. “Judy came in with a Baby Bunting quilt top, finished except for the border.”
“She looked as if she were nine and a half months pregnant,” Diane added for the benefit of Sarah, Sylvia, and Gretchen, who had not been present.
“That’s perhaps not the best time to go fabric shopping,” said Gretchen.
“She desperately wanted to finish the quilt before her baby arrived,” said Agnes. “But it gradually became clear to the rest of us that she was in labor.”
“It’s hard to pinpoint what gave it away,” said Diane, tapping her chin with a finger. “Was it when she kept groaning from the pain of the contractions, or was it when her water broke all over the quilt shop floor?”
“You’re kidding me,” said Sarah, shocked and delighted.
“The truly funny part is,” said Gwen, “that when we insisted upon calling nine-one-one, she told us she couldn’t be in labor yet because”—Diane and Agnes joined in gleefully—“her due date wasn’t for three more days!”
“As if a baby could read a calendar,” said Diane.
Sylvia laughed and Gretchen smiled, but Sarah said, “That’s an easy mistake to make.”
Gwen laughed so hard she had to wipe tears from her eyes. “Be that as it may, Baby Emily had no intention of keeping anyone’s schedule but her own. The ambulance came and whisked Judy off to the hospital—”
“And you went along to keep her company,” Agnes broke in.
Gwen nodded. “And while she was recovering, the rest of us got together and finished the Baby Bunting quilt so Judy would be able to bring Emily home from the hospital snuggled up in it, just as she had wanted. And that, as they say, was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“I can’t believe I never heard this story before.” Sarah had to wait for a contraction to rise, crest, and pass before she could speak again. “I thought you met through your quilt guild.”
“A few of us knew one another in passing from the guild,” Diane acknowledged, “but we weren’t really close. I’d known Agnes since the time she babysat me as a girl, but Gwen—well, I thought Gwen was a loud, obnoxious hippie.”
“You still think so,” said Gwen cheerfully.
“Of course, but now I realize that’s part of your charm,” Diane teased. “I wouldn’t want you any other way, now that I’ve figured out you’re all bluster. If I ever suspected that you might actually do something to foist your liberal values on the rest of us, I might worry, but I know you’re harmless.”
“Oh, don’t tell me that,” warned Gwen, with a vigorous shake of the head that sent her beaded necklaces clicking. “You’ll force me to do something to prove you wrong.”
Everyone laughed, and for a moment Sarah forgot her anxieties, her weariness. But soon Gwen, Agnes, and Diane departed, explaining that they didn’t want to wear her out and they thought they should try to beat the worst of the storm home. Before leaving, each hugged Sarah and assured her all would be well. As they headed out the door, Agnes reminded Sylvia to call them regularly with any news, even if the only news was that they were still waiting. If they didn’t receive timely updates, Gwen might return and make good on her threat to set up a Webcam.
After they left, Sarah felt fatigue settle over her like the snow blanketing the winding mountain road into the Elm Creek Valley. She didn’t want her book or her music or her quilting. She lay in bed with her eyes closed, relaxing while Gretchen or Sylvia rubbed her back or stroked her hair. She half listened and half dozed as her friends chatted quietly about the upcoming camp season, new classes, the long-arm quilting machine they had recently purchased and set up in the ballroom. From time to time the nurses came in to check her vital signs and the babies’ heart rates, and occasionally the doctor appeared to check her progress. Sarah dilated to seven centimeters, then eight. She had reached nine when her mother dashed into the room, unwinding her scarf and peeling off her gloves, her gray hair sparkling with melting snowflakes. “There’s my girl,” she exclaimed, hurrying to Sarah’s side. Her quick, appraising glance took in Sarah, her chart, and her companions. “I assume Matt’s out getting a sandwich or something?”
“Hmph.” Sylvia glanced up from feeding Sarah ice chips and shook her head. “He’s on his way, we hope.”
“He’s on his way,” said Gretchen firmly, rubbing Sarah’s back. “He’ll be here soon, and even if he doesn’t make it, we’ll be fine.”
Carol draped her coat over the back of an armchair and sat down. “He should have come home days ago.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling him all along,” said Sarah wearily. “If he misses everything, I won’t get any pleasure out of saying, ‘I told you so.’ ”
“He won’t miss everything,” said Sylvia, rubbing her shoulders and stroking her sweaty hair off the back of her neck.
Carol frowned. “He’d better not.”
The epidural had completely worn off by then, but Sarah couldn’t have another dose out of concern that it would risk slowing down the labor. An hour after her mother arrived, the doctorchecked her again, but her brow furrowed slightly when she explained that Sarah had not progressed beyond nine centimeters. “We’ll give you Pitocin to help move things along,” she said, but her reassuring smile had lost its power to comfort.
“Why am I not fully dilated yet?” Sarah fretted wearily.
“I thought you were holding back on purpose to give Matt more time to get here,” remarked Sylvia.
Sarah managed a smile, but it quickly faded as she continued inhaling and exhaling in rhythm. Matt had not called or texted since leaving Uniontown, not that she had expected him to. She wanted his hands on the wheel and his eyes on the road. He should have come home days ago. He never should have agreed to spend the winter away from Elm Creek Manor. “If Matt misses the birth of his children, after I begged him time and time again to come home,” Sarah gasped between contractions, “I’ll kill him.”
“If Matt misses this, you won’t need to,” her mother replied, massaging her feet. “You’re in no condition to kill anyone. I’ll do it.”
“Don’t look so shocked. It was your idea.”
“I was speaking metaphorically.”
“So was I.”
“You sounded serious.”
“So did you.”
“Well, you sounded like you’d enjoy it a little too much.”
Carol seemed about to reply, but her attention was suddenly drawn to one of the many monitors beeping and blinking around Sarah. “What is it?” asked Sarah. Her mother, a nurse, knew much more about what was going on than she did.
“I’ll be right back,” Carol said, and stepped out of the room.
Moments later, through a haze of fatigue and pain, Sarah was aware of her mother and a nurse holding a quick, hushed conference at the end of the bed. “We’re going to give you some oxygen, dear,” the plump nurse said, and quickly placed a mask over Sarah’s mouth and nose. She could barely hear anything over the steady hiss of rushing air.
Moments later the doctor appeared, examined her, and conferred with the nurse. “I’m afraid you still haven’t progressed beyond nine centimeters,” the doctor told her, barely audible, wearing the same rueful look with which she had announced the delay of Dr. Jamison’s flight. “And one of the twins is starting to experience heart decelerations. We’re going to keep an eye on it, but I want you to consider the possibility of a C-section.”
“What’s a heart deceleration?” Sarah gasped, her voice muffled by the mask. Sweaty bangs clung to her forehead and fell into her eyes, but she felt a sudden chill.
“It’s a transitory decrease in the baby’s heart rate. It may suggest that the baby isn’t receiving enough oxygen to withstand the rigors of labor.”
Sarah propped herself up on her elbows and searched the doctor’s face for clues. “Is…my baby going to be okay?”
“Just try to relax,” her mother said, placing her hands on her shoulders and easing her back against the pillows. “Breathe deeply.”
Sarah obeyed, suddenly terrified. She closed her eyes and took deep breaths, tears trickling down her cheeks. “I think a C-section right now would be a very good idea,” she said shakily, and felt her mother squeeze her hand in reply.
The hiss of the oxygen mask filled her ears, drowning out the words of the doctor and nurses, but she knew from their carefully studied expressions that the matter was serious. Through her pregnancy, she had skimmed the chapters on Caesarian sections with a foolish superstition that if she prepared for such a measure, she would need it. She knew women carrying twins often required Caesarian deliveries even after a smooth labor, but she had dreaded surgery and had prayed she would avoid it. Now all she wanted was to deliver the babies as swiftly and as safely as possible, never mind what happened to her. The thought of the small, steady heartbeat faltering was too much to bear.