Bridget groaned. “I
“We know, we know,” Lindsay and Cici replied in unison.
“How’d they get the address anyway? No one ever reads it.”
“Your own personal PR agent, how else?” Cici gave a shake of her head that was half amazement, half amusement. “It’s nice to know all those marketing courses Lori’s been taking have paid off. She probably e-mailed the editor just to make sure no self-promotional stone was left unturned.”
Lindsay lifted a hand for attention. “You close the article, Bridge. Listen.”
sacrifice, the house is still
and the farm
work in progress.
Every day is an adventure for the residents of Ladybug Farm, and not every adventure has a happy ending. If they had it all to do over again, would they have made the same choice? Do they have any regrets?
“When we bought this house,” Bridget says, “we all had our ideas of how it was going to turn out, and big plans for what we wanted to do. Of course nothing turned out like we thought it would.” And she gives a slow, shy smile that seems, in a way, to exemplify the charm of Ladybug Farm. “It turned out better.”
Lindsay looked up, smiling, and the three women shared a moment of silent appreciation for the memories they had made together. But it was only a moment. The screen door squeaked and banged, and Noah exclaimed, “Hey did y’all see this? They put one of my pictures in the magazine!”
He came in with a magazine upheld, page turned to the pictorial display, and Lindsay grinning, held up her own copy to match.
“You’re famous,” Cici said, pulling one of the six copies of
Virginians at Home
out of his hand.
Noah hooked an ankle around the leg of a chair to pull it out from the table and plopped down, his head buried in his own copy. “Pretty cool,” he admitted. “Of course, they didn’t say much about me.”
“A picture’s worth a thousand words.”
“I guess. I wonder how come they only used one.”
Cici rolled up her magazine and rapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Because the article wasn’t about you. It was about us.”
“You’re going to have lots of articles written about you,” Bridget assured him soberly. “But we’re old. This could be our last chance.”
“Well,” he agreed thoughtfully, “there is that.” And then he laughed when all three of the ladies rolled up their magazines and pummeled him indignantly.
Noah Clete bore little resemblance to the sullen, gangly, greasy-haired teenager they had taken in a little over two years ago. He had lost his awkward angles and gained confidence. Two part-time jobs—one at Ladybug Farm and another at Family Hardware in town—had given him long muscles and sun-golden skin. His dark hair had remained neatly trimmed since a girl—now long forgotten—had mentioned she liked it that way, and was now worn short and spiked as much as the school dress code would allow. His voice had deepened, and he shaved regularly to keep the faint bristle of beard at bay.
When he had first shown up at Ladybug Farm, secretly sleeping in a shack in the woods and stealing from their garden to live, he had attended public school only sporadically but treasured a sketch pad on which he chronicled scenes from everyday life. Lindsay bribed him with art supplies and homeschooling, and discovered he was an excellent student, given the right motivation.
Last year he had won Young Artist of the Year in a competition of over three thousand students sponsored by the Virginia Council for the Arts. His charcoal drawing of a soldier at a train station was entitled “Homecoming.” The award had included his choice of a cash award or a one-year scholarship to the college preparatory school of his choice. The women had brought all their persuasive powers to bear, but in the end all three were surprised by how easy it was to convince the once-mercenary young man of the advantages of spending his windfall on higher education.
Within weeks of applying, he had been accepted to the John Adams Academy for the Arts and Sciences, a privately funded college prep in Staunton, Virginia. The open-campus nature of the school, which was an hour away, made it possible for him to attend classes only three days a week and still keep up with his responsibilities on the farm, his part-time job, and his art. It was Lindsay’s proudest accomplishment that, even though the majority of his education had been obtained at home, through her own rather inventive and sometimes bizarre curriculum, he was an honor student.
Before he had come to Ladybug Farm, it hadn’t occurred to Noah that a boy with his background should even want to go to college. A year ago he had to be wrestled into a shirt and tie for church services once a week. Now he complained that the school uniform—khakis, blue shirt, and maroon tie—made him look like a used car salesman, but he got up early every school day morning to iron his shirt himself, and he had proudly paid for the uniforms out of his own earnings. He had spent most of his life trying to avoid school out of boredom, and downplayed his own intelligence in a misguided effort to escape notice. Winning the Young Artist award had changed what he believed was possible. But having the opportunity to attend a school like John Adams had changed everything else.
The phone rang. Lindsay looked exasperated as Bridget got up to answer it. “People have been calling all day” she said. “Does everyone in the county subscribe to that magazine?”
Noah grinned. “Hey, we’re celebrities. Deal with it.”
Bridget said into the telephone, “Wait, Lori. I’m going to put you on speaker.”
She pushed a button on the wall phone and Lori’s voice burst from the speaker in an excited squeal. “O! M! G! You guys are rock stars! Have you checked the traffic on the blog?”
Bridget said, “Well, I’ve been kind of busy. I harvested two rows of carrots and dug asparagus and gathered three dozen eggs and that crazy rooster tried to kill me—”
“Sixty-one comments!” exclaimed Lori.
Bridget’s eyes widened. “Sixty-one?”
“Since this morning! I told you this would be a gold mine! I told you!”
Bridget said, “I’ll be right back! This I’ve got to see. Talk to your mom.” She rushed from the kitchen in search of her laptop.
Cici said, “How was the economics exam?”
“Aced it. Mom, listen. What we need to do now is get you on one of the local news segments—”
Cici choked on a laugh. “Doing
“And Aunt Lindsay if you’re serious about getting your art school off the ground this is going to give you the boost you need.”
“What I need,” Lindsay pointed out, “is students.”
“It’s called synergistic marketing,” Lori went on enthusiastically. “And this is just the beginning. Is that boy there?”
Noah said, “Hey, kid.”
“Noah, listen. What I need you to do is ... oh, wait. I have a text.”
Cici demanded, “You’re not texting and driving?”
“Walking, mom. I’m walking to class and talking on the phone and I really have to call you back. This could be important.”
“Are you coming home this weekend?”
“I’ll call you back.”
“Don’t text and drive!”
“I love you guys. Call you back.”
“Good luck getting through,” Lindsay said. “The phone has been—”
But she was talking to dead air.
Noah called toward the phone, “Glad I could help!” and turned back to the magazine.
Cici shrugged. “Ah well, the price of fame. She’s probably fielding calls from Hollywood.”
“Hey there’s a whole other page of photographs,” Noah observed. “Nice one of the fountain and the patio.”
Lindsay and Cici shared a smile as they returned to their own copies of the magazine. The restoration of the fountain and the patio had been Noah and Lori’s Mother’s Day gift to them the year that Noah had decided to join the family permanently.
“Look at that vineyard,” Lindsay observed. “It’s as pretty as anything you could see in France.”
“Prettier,” Cici said. “They don’t have mountains in France.”
“Well, I think they have the Pyrenees.”
“Not in wine country.”
“Hey look,” Noah pointed out, trying, and not entirely succeeding, to sound casual about it. “My grandma’s paintings.”
Cici read the caption out loud. “‘The murals flanking the fireplace depict spring and winter views from the front porch of Ladybug Farm. They were painted in the 1960s by regional artist Emily Hodge, and uncovered during the restoration project.”’
“They could have mentioned that she was related to me.” Noah frowned a little.
“There wasn’t room to write everything, Noah. They had to save some room for advertising.”
Until the murals were uncovered, and Ida Mae had related their history, Noah had known nothing of his family, or even that he had one. Discovering that his grandmother had been an artist, too—and that she had left her mark on the house where he now lived—had planted the first seeds of pride and purpose within him.
Bridget returned to the kitchen with her laptop open, tapping the keyboard with one hand. “Eighty-four!” She was practically chortling as she settled down at the table with her computer. “Eighty-four comments since this morning! That’s more than I’ve gotten in the past month!”
Noah shrugged and turned another page. “Not much of an article, for all the time they spent out here.”
“Well, they took a lot of pictures,” Lindsay said, “and most of the exposition is in captions. That’s the way they do it in magazines like this.”
“‘The eight-foot-wide chandelier,’ ” Cici read by way of example, indicating a color photograph of the chandelier that hung over the grand staircase, “‘was imported from Belgium in the 1920s. It lowers on a chain and pulley system for cleaning.’ ”
“They should have used the soldier drawing,” Noah said.
Lindsay glanced up. “What?”
“Instead of the oil painting. They should have used the picture that won the prize.”
“It’s not all about you, Noah. Look!” Grinning, Lindsay flipped the magazine around, proudly pointing to one of the pictures. “They used my room!”
“ ‘Although the public areas of the house are restored to period, the sleeping quarters are decorated in individual styles. Artist Wright used a faux-plaster technique to create this mystical nature wall treatment in her bedroom.’ ”
Cici glanced up. “Say Bridget. You should have Lindsay be a guest on your blog and write about how she did the plaster stencils.”
Bridget, typing away, laughed out loud in delight. “Eighty-six! Eighty-six comments! And listen to this—ten of them want to know where they can buy the jam.”
“Do we have ten jars left?” Cici inquired innocently and Bridget made a face at her. Every shelf in the pantry was lined with jam.
“Announcing...” Bridget read out loud as she typed. “Next week’s special guest blogger, artist Lindsay Wright, on how to create the special painting technique featured in this month’s issue of
Virginians At Home
magazine.” She clicked Post and grinned at Lindsay. “Lori’s going to love that.”
“Synergistic marketing,” observed Cici absently, still reading.
“It would’ve been even more
Noah added, placing slight, teasing emphasis on the word, “if you’d added a link to the magazine article.” He tossed his copy of the magazine on the table and stood. “Here’s the mail.” He pulled a couple of envelopes from his jeans pocket. “I stopped by the PO when I was in town. Save the driver a trip out here.”
“That was nice of you, Noah,” Cici said, reaching for the envelopes. “Bills,” she added as she glanced through them.
Noah said, “I’ve got to finish patching that fence before dark. I’ll be gone all day tomorrow. Jonesie’s got a big shipment coming in.”
Cici said, “Do you want to borrow a car? We don’t like you on that motorcycle at night.”
“I’ll be back before dark,” he assured her. “Besides, I’m low on gas money.”
Noah still owned and lovingly maintained the motorcycle he had purchased with the money he had earned his first summer at Ladybug Farm. None of the women was entirely comfortable with his using it to commute two hours roundtrip to school, however, and even Noah had come to see the advantages of having alternate transportation in case of rain. One of the three SUVs—four, when Lori was at home—was almost always available for his use.
Bridget looked in dismay at her post. “Rats,” she said. “He’s right about the link.”
“Maybe Lori can fix it,” Cici offered.
Lindsay frowned at Noah. “You’re putting in an awful lot of hours at the store. Your scholarship depends on maintaining your grade point average, and you can’t do that if you start working on the days you’re supposed to be studying.”
“It’s cool,” Noah assured her, although Lindsay thought she noticed a brief shifting of his gaze. “All I’ve got Friday is an art history essay and it’s done. Do you want to read it?”
“I certainly do.”
“I’ll print it out tonight.”
Cici said, still reading, “My car is gassed up if you change your mind.”
“That’s okay, I’m good.”
Ida Mae was coming up the back steps as he reached the door, and he propped the door open for her with his hip. “I’ll be leaving early in the morning,” he added casually as the older woman edged her way past him, carrying a basket filled with cut dandelion greens. “And it might be after supper before I get back. So don’t look for me.”
He glanced into the basket Ida Mae was carrying and made a face. “We having greens for supper? Maybe you better not count on me tonight, either.”
All three women braced themselves for the tirade they knew Ida Mae was about to unleash on him, and even Noah seemed surprised when she merely plopped the basket down on the soapstone counter next to the sink and started washing the greens, ignoring him.