Excerpt from Bagpipes, Brides, and Homicides by Kaitlyn Dunnett
©2012 by Kathy Lynn Emerson
Liss MacCrimmon’s mother’s idea of “helping out in the shop” consisted of rearranging every bit of merchandise sold at Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium. True, Violet MacCrimmon dusted as she went, but the overall result was chaos. By the end of the first week of her parents’ visit, Liss no longer knew where anything was. If an entire rack of ready-made kilts could disappear—she’d finally located it tucked away behind a large display case—Liss feared that the search for any of the hundreds of smaller, Scottish-themed gift items she kept in stock might last hours, even days.
“Mother, please!” Liss exclaimed, fighting the urge to pull at her hair in the best cartoon-character tradition. “I know you’re trying to be helpful, but I like that section of the shop the way it is.”
“Nonsense,” Vi said. “Nothing is ever so perfect that it can’t be improved.”
She disappeared behind one of the bookcases that gave the illusion of privacy to the shop’s “cozy corner,” an area furnished with two overstuffed chairs and a coffee table. There customers could make themselves comfortable while they examined Liss’s offering of novels set in Scotland or featuring characters of Scottish descent and volumes of nonfiction with a Scottish theme. There were a few histories and biographies, but for the most part Liss stocked coffee table books full of pictures, cookbooks, and instruction manuals. The how-to books covered everything from dancing the highland fling to preparing your own haggis.
The lemony scent of furniture polish wafted across the showroom, making Liss’s nose twitch even as her hackles rose. Vi MacCrimmon was accustomed to getting her own way. She’d only recently retired after teaching world history to junior high school students for thirty-five years. Nothing fazed her, least of all objections from her only child. Short of seizing her bodily and shoving her out the door, there was no stopping her.
For a brief moment, Liss toyed with the idea of doing just that. Vi was five inches shorter than she was and proportionately petite. She reassessed the idea as one of those comfortable, overstuffed, heavy chairs shot out from behind a bookcase and traveled a good two feet beyond. Vi kept her figure with ruthless workouts at a local gym. For a woman of fifty-eight, she was in great shape.
And you are almost thirty years old, Liss reminded herself, not thirteen. It was absurd to revert to the behavior of her childhood simply because her mother hadn’t changed one iota in all the years they’d lived apart. Besides, there was something more important at stake here than the arrangement of displays in her place of business. Liss’s parents had returned to Moosetookalook because she was about to get married. Unchecked, Vi’s meddling wouldn’t stop with the Emporium. She’d already talked her daughter into making major changes in the wedding plans. Liss had no doubt but that Vi had other “improvements” in mind.
Grimly determined to reclaim control of the situation, Liss marched across the shop and flattened her palms against the soft fabric of the easy chair. Putting her back into it, she shoved. A loud scraping sound made her wince and fear for the state of her hardwood floor, but she didn’t stop until she’d returned the cumbersome piece of furniture to its original location.
Vi turned from one of the bookcases, a dust cloth in one hand and a spray bottle of furniture polish in the other. Her frown was a formidable weapon and she knew how to use it. Liss had to squash the impulse to back away, apologizing with every step. She held her ground, but it was a near thing.
Her mother’s eyes were pale blue behind stylish glasses and her hair was still the same dark brown as Liss’s. At first glance, Vi looked a good ten years younger than she was. Liss reminded herself that Vi’s hair needed help to stay that color. Then she looked closer, homing in on the lines inscribed in her mother’s face. They were deeper than she remembered.
Liss faltered. Both her parents were getting older. One day, perhaps sooner than she expected, given that all four of her grandparents had all died before they reached the age of seventy, she wouldn’t have her mother to complain about any more.
Vi frowned. “Is something wrong, honey?”
“Sit down, Mom.” Liss sank into the chair she’d just manhandled and pointed to the other. Giving direct orders rarely worked on either mothers or cats, but that had never stopped Liss from trying. This time, she lucked out.
Vi hesitated for a moment, then shrugged and sat. She placed the polish and the dust rag on the coffee table with exaggerated care before she folded her hands in her lap. The pose put Liss in mind of the deceptively prim heroines of Regency romances. In common with those dauntless females, Vi attempted to appear demure but the expression in her eyes shattered the illusion.
Fixed on Liss, Vi’s steely stare sent her daughter straight back into adolescence. It might be irrational, but Liss felt exactly as she had on the night she’d been caught sneaking back into the house at three in the morning. She’d been fifteen and determined to attend the midnight showing of a movie her girlfriends had been raving about. All these years later, she couldn’t remember the title of the film, but she’d never forget how devastated she’d been by her mother’s disappointment in her.
She cleared her throat. “The shop looks lovely, Mom. It hasn’t been this clean in months. But I don’t want to change the cozy corner. It’s always been kept just this way.”
If there was one thing Vi MacCrimmon understood, it was tradition. Throughout Liss’s childhood, Vi had been the one who’d drummed her Scottish heritage into her head, all the while encouraging her to take up traditional Scottish crafts and skills. Because of Vi, Liss had won prizes for Scottish dancing at Scottish festivals all over New England during her youth and had gone on, after two years of college, to pursue a career as a professional Scottish dancer.
The curious thing was that Vi didn’t have a single drop of Scottish blood in her veins. When she’d become Mrs. Donald MacCrimmon, however, she’d wholeheartedly adopted her new husband’s family background. She’d become more Scottish than any native-born Scot. That was hardly surprising, Liss supposed. At the time of their marriage, he’d owned and operated Moosetookalook Scottish Emporium in partnership with his sister. The store had been opened thirty years before that by Liss’s grandparents.
“I was just trying to help.” Vi sound more reproachful than apologetic.
Liss read the subtext with the effortlessness of long practice. It was: Do you kick puppies, too? She squirmed in her chair. What was it with mothers and guilt? She felt like the worst kind of bully when all she’d done was ask Vi to cease and desist.
Stop rearranging my shop, she thought. Stop trying to take over my life!
Aloud, she said none of that. She kept her voice as soothing and conciliatory as she could manage. “I know you mean well, Mom. And I appreciate all you’ve done here. But you didn’t come back to Maine to clean the cobwebs out of my shop. Look outside. It’s a beautiful day. You and Dad should go for a drive. Maybe visit old friends.”
“Well, I suppose there are one or two people I’d like to see,” Vi mused, “and there are some wedding details that need attention.”
Alarm bells sounded in Liss’s head. Loud ones. “Everything is right on schedule, Mom. I’ve checked off nearly everything on all my to-do lists.” Liss was a champion list maker.
“But you haven’t taken care of the most important item. Here it is the end of May, with your wedding scheduled for the twenty-fifth of July, and you still haven’t found a wedding dress.” Vi leaned forward, her expression earnest and concerned. She took Liss’s right hand in hers.
“I’m thinking about it.” Put on the defensive, Liss felt her muscles tense. She willed herself to relax. This was her wedding. She had to stick to her guns.
“You said you liked my suggestion of a Renaissance-style gown.” Vi gave Liss’s hand a squeeze, then released it.
“I did. I do.” Liss had the feeling that she was digging herself deeper into a pit with every word. Agreeing with her mother was always risky. “I just haven’t decided which one I like best. I’ve narrowed it down to two choices, both pictured in that magazine you sent me.” It had arrived in the mail shortly before Vi herself had turned up on Liss’s doorstep.
“Well, then, I have the perfect solution. I know a wonderful seamstress who can make your dress. She can incorporate whatever elements you want.”
There had to be a catch, Liss thought, but she couldn’t find one. “That’s a wonderful idea, Mom, but are you sure she’ll be able to take on a commission like that on short notice?” Liss regularly dealt with kilt makers and they always needed eight to ten weeks to deliver the finished product. Her wedding was exactly eight weeks and one day away. That was cutting it very close.
“Oh, yes.” Vi’s face wore a smug smile. “I’ve already talked to Melly about it on the phone. That’s her name: Melly Baynard. If you really like the idea, I’ll drive down to Three Cities this afternoon and discuss the dress with her face-to-face.”
Three Cities, actually only one city, wasn’t very far away, perhaps an hour and a half by car, but Vi sounded much too willing to take on the chore. “Maybe I should be the one to go talk to her,” Liss suggested.
“Oh, I don’t mind. It’s been years since I’ve seen Melly. We went to college together. Back in the dark ages,” Vi added with a self-deprecating chuckle. “I’ve been dying to spend some time with her and catch up on what she’s been doing. The only things I know for certain are that she’s currently the wardrobe mistress and costume designer for the theater department at our old alma mater, and that, since it’s summer semester[KLE1] now, she isn’t as busy as she would be during the school year[KLE2] .”
Translated, that meant Liss’s mother had already made arrangements for Melly Baynard to make the wedding gown. Liss’s first instinct was to balk at the idea. Then she remembered that old adage about not cutting off your nose to spite your face. She didn’t have a better idea, and in her mind’s eye she could envision the perfect dress. Her mother was right. It needed to be custom made.
Decision reached, she stood. “Okay, Mom. Go talk to her. I’ll give you the pictures from the magazine and write notes right on the pages to make sure there’s no confusion about what I like and don’t like.”
That, she reasoned, would keep her mother’s contributions to the design at a minimum. It was too much to hope that she’d entirely keep her fingers out of the dress pie.
Beaming, Vi bounded up from her chair and leaned across the coffee table to give Liss a quick hug. For a moment, Liss was engulfed in the scent of violets, Vi’s signature perfume. A peck on the cheek followed.
“This is all that’s wonderful, darling. I promise that you won’t be sorry.”
As she watched Vi waltz out of the Emporium, humming cheerfully to herself, Liss wasn’t so sure about that.
Please note that this excerpt is taken from the author's original manuscript. There may be minor changes and corrections to style and grammar in the published version, thanks to the much valued contributions of an editor and copy editor.