cracked?” she asked.
Barbara caught her breath for a moment. Telling Judy the display case housed one of the most expensive or the most fragile set in her collection, which primarily contained imports from Germany and Czechoslovakia, would only add to the woman’s obvious distress. These white china canisters, decorated with multicolored wild flowers, dated back to the early 1800s. The largest canisters for flour, sugar, barley, rice, coffee and tea were intact, as were the smaller ones for spices ranging from cinnamon to mustard, and a pair of tall matching cruets for vinegar and oil, although most of the pieces had tipped over. “There’s no visible damage,” Barbara murmured.
Three months ago, she would have been frantic even to think the set might have been damaged, but losing Steve had taught her many lessons, not the least of which was the importance of life over mere possessions. The smile she offered to the other two women now was genuine. “If there’s any damage at all, it would be very minor. I still haveto carefully check each of the pieces for cracks or chips, but I have to put the canister sets under the light on the work counter in back to know for sure.”
Judy’s smile was tenuous. “Minor?”
Madge grinned. “That’s what Barbara said. Minor.”
The distant sound of a tinny melody signaling a call on a cell phone immediately deepened Madge’s grin. “That’s my cell phone. I just love hearing ‘The Purple People-Eater’ instead of a standard telephone ring,” she explained. “I’ve been expecting an important call. I’ll be right back.”
While Madge walked to the back office in rhythm to the catchy tune, Judy checked her watch. When she looked back at Barbara, her gaze was filled with disappointment. “Unfortunately, I’ve only got about half an hour before the first of my afternoon appointments at the Towers, so I won’t be able to stay while you check the pieces for any damage. Why don’t you open the display case? At least I have enough time to help you take the pieces back to your office. I’d call to cancel the appointments if they were in the shop. My customers there wouldn’t mind a last-minute cancellation half as much, but the seniors…well, that’s not your problem, it’s mine. Anyway, as soon as I finish up at the Towers, which should be by five o’clock, at the latest, I’ll pick Brian up from the after-school program. There’s no way I can bring that child here, though. I’ll see if I can find a sitter. Maybe one of my neighbors would mind him, under the circumstances, and I can come back tonight. That’s assuming you can come back—”
“Judy! You’re rambling. Stop!” Barbara almost chuckled out loud when the woman snapped her mouth shut and blushed again. “Take a deep breath.”
Barbara sighed. “Life is a whole lot more complicated for me now, too, especially when John has evening appointments, which he does most nights these days. But don’t worry about staying while I check the pieces for damage. Once we get them to the back room, it won’t take me long to check them over, and in the meantime, you can go ahead and keep your appointments at the Towers,” she insisted and absently smoothed the hair on the back of her head. For the first time in months, she felt self-conscious about neglecting her hair, but blamed her vanity attack on the fact the Judy was a professional hairdresser who certainly must have noticed how wretched her hair had become.
Judy smiled, however, for the first time since she had entered the shop. “I can’t thank you enough for being so understanding, but I can do your hair for you. After hours. During hours. At the salon, or your house, or mine. It’s the least I can do. I know you’re Ann’s customer, but I don’t think she’d object.”
Barbara swallowed hard and focused on retrieving pieces of the wildflower canister set. “I’ve been too preoccupied and too…”