Lauren had joined the tea party.
"Have you figured out how to prove my piece is the original?” Lauren demanded of Harriet, breaking the silence that had fallen over the group.
"A woman's dead here, Lauren. Don't you think accusing her of ripping off your work is in poor taste, given the circumstance?"
"You're the one who said Selestina was the most likely person, not Lauren,” Sarah pronounced as she swept in and plopped down on the couch between Mavis and Robin.
Harriet was trying to think of how to admit her lack of progress without setting off another outburst from Lauren when a tap on the door distracted the group and saved her.
"Hello? Anyone here?” Patience called from the entryway.
"We're in here,” Connie called back. “We're just having a cup of tea. Would you like to join us?” She got up. “Here, you can have my spot.” She picked up the once-again-depleted teapot for another refill.
Patience wore a gauzy skirt that appeared to be made up of several layers, each dyed a different shade of gray-black. She'd paired it with a black tunic-length ribbed turtleneck sweater that she'd belted at the waist with a wide black calfskin belt she had tied instead of buckled. She managed to look stylish in an arty sort of way and still honor Selestina with her mourning black.
"How are you doing,” Mavis asked. “We're all so sorry for your loss."
"It has been quite a shock,” Patience said. “Selestina was older of course, but I believe she was in good health."
"Are you sure you want us to finish out our week of classes?” Mavis asked. “Under the circumstances, I don't think anyone would expect a refund.” By the look on both Sarah's and Lauren's faces, Harriet was pretty sure that wasn't a wholly accurate assumption.
"Thank you for that, but Selestina wanted the school to keep operating. She made plans for every eventuality. She was a bit compulsive that way. And this is her legacy, after all."
"Won't that be up to her son?” Harriet asked. “Or her other relatives?"
"Tom is her only child, and let's just say he's not all that interested in this place."
That's an understatement, Harriet thought. It looked to her like he'd been planning to sell it out from under his mother.
"Selestina knew Tom had his own interests and that those didn't include the folk art school. That's why she'd made other provisions. We were partners, you see.” Patience curved her lips into a weak smile. “She's the front man, I guess you'd call it. I've always worked more behind the scenes.” When she realized what she'd said, referring to Selestina in the present tense, she began to weep softly.
"I don't know how I'm supposed to go on without her,” she blubbered. “I thought all our planning was just talk—you know, something to make her feel better, not something that was really going to happen. I can't run this place alone. This wasn't part of the plan.” She covered her face with her hands, and tears leaked out between her fingers.
Connie went into the kitchenette for the tissue box. She pulled out three and brought them to Patience. Robin rubbed her hand on the teacher's bony back.
Patience blew her nose and sat up straighter, shaking off Robin's hand in the process. “I'm sorry,” she said. “I didn't come here to make a scene. I came to make sure you were all right. And to be sure everyone knows school will go on as scheduled.” She stood up. “Thank you for the tea. I've got two more houses to inform, so I better be on my way."
"That poor woman,” Connie said when Patience was gone.
"I have to agree. I can't see her running the place, either,” Harriet said. “Selestina seemed mean-spirited, but she also seemed to run a tight ship."
"Honey, let's not judge too quickly. We've only seen Patience in Selestina's shadow. She might be a great businesswoman in her own right. And kinder, too,” Mavis suggested.
"Okay, so she's wonderful,” Lauren said. “Can we get back to my catastrophe?"