"I definitely need to take a morning and just straighten this place out."

Theresa dug through the antique credenza, the largest piece of furniture in the mismatched office. Picture frames on its surface shook as she rooted through its drawers.

"If you can't find whatever it is," Clara said, "I can always come back later."

"No, no," Theresa said. "If you leave now, it'll just give me an excuse to stop looking altogether."

While Theresa was busy looking, Clara used the opportunity to take in the details of her office. She thought Theresa and Aunt Maureen would get along well. They both seemed to have a love for black and white photography, art, and bric-a-brac – though the things Theresa kept on her shelves were less whimsical than Aunt Maureen's collection.

"You know," Theresa said, "being at a company for a few decades is a good thing and a bad thing. There's a comfort in feeling like you're building something – a legacy, if that doesn't sound too pompous..."

"No, not at all," said Clara. Theresa moved to the next drawer, which contained a wider assortment of objects than the previous one.

"But the downside – one of them, anyway," continued Theresa, grunting as she pulled a stuck drawer back onto its track, "is that you just collect so much crap."

Clara laughed. Theresa wasn't what she'd expected. And Clara thought this was probably the real reason why she'd been invited here after the company lunch – so she and Theresa could get to know each other. She wondered if Bailey had the same kind of introduction. Doubtful.

Theresa pulled out an old photo album and got an unexpected face full of dust. Through her coughs she managed to get out, "So tell me about how you came to work for us, Clara. I don't have any idea."

"Oh," said Clara. "Well, I always knew I wanted to do something that was artistic in some way. I've loved drawing and building since I was a kid. I'm sure that's a pretty common thing for architects to say about themselves."

"It is," said Theresa. "We all grew up begging our parents to buy us erector sets and construction toys." At this point, she'd found a battered cardboard box inside the drawer. She pulled it out and set it on the edge of her desk, shuffling through its contents.

"Right," said Clara. "But I also always did well in math – especially geometry. Not to... not to sound like I'm bragging or anything."

"Clara," Theresa said, "never apologize for your accomplishments."

"Right," said Clara, wondering if she was giving too much detail. "So last year in school, my Geometry teacher – who I also had for Algebra – he told my parents that there was no reason why I couldn't get some practical experience working in a field I might major in at college."

"Of course there isn't," said Theresa, still sorting through the box's contents. She examined a few smaller items up close and set one aside, though it didn't seem to be the one she was looking for.

Clara went on. "And I liked the idea – I'd only had one job last summer, working at this ice cream place. It wasn't much of a challenge. But I had no idea where I could work in a field that combined art and math."

Clara saw Theresa smile for a second. She slid something aside, but held it under her hand and looked Clara in the eye. Clara had a hard time maintaining eye contact without getting thrown off track.

"And then my Aunt Maureen – she mails me packages of little presents all the time. One of them was a ceramic bowl she made herself. Aunt Maureen packed the bowl in the Breach Point Gazette so it wouldn't break during shipping. So after I opened the package and took out the bowl, the wrapping paper was all over the floor in my room. And then I looked at one of the pages from the Gazette and there was this photo of three buildings--"

"Our ad," Theresa said.

Clara nodded. "Yes. And I read about Fogelsang, and looked up the firm online. I'd already been talking about spending the summer with my aunt, and it just kind of... all came together."

Theresa smiled. "Amazing how fate works," she said.

Clara nodded. She had a good feeling about Theresa. "Yes it is," she said, looking down at Theresa's hand. "So, did you find what you were looking for?"

"I did," said Theresa. She lifted her arm and pulled out a piece of rotted, blackened wood which she handed to Clara. Her hand sank a bit with its weight.

"What do you think?" Theresa asked.

"It's heavier than I expected," Clara said.

Theresa said, "That's the effect of two hundred years of sea water." She stood and looked out her window toward the northern edge of the island. "When we were working along the shoreline back in the eighties, someone from our crew came across a pile of rotted wood in the mud under one of the piers."

Clara listened intently as Theresa continued. "We dug it out carefully. It looked like a skeleton – and it was. It was the remains of a British ship sent over during the Revolutionary War."

"Wow," Clara said. She looked at the wood in her hand again. It felt different now.

Theresa went on. "We did some research and found out that back in 1779, a British officer dispatched a ship to dismantle an armory south of here that was supplying our troops with weapons. A group of privateers headed them off. There was a heavy storm and the British weren't prepared for our muddy shores, so their ship got stuck and they were taken hostage."

"So this," Clara said, "is an artifact from the Revolutionary War?"

"It is," said Theresa. "We donated what we found to a local college, but they let us keep a few odd pieces like that one."

"I almost don't believe it," said Clara. She tried to hand the piece of wood back, but Theresa waved her off.

"No," said Theresa. "You keep it. Everyone here who wanted a piece already has one. And you do seem interested in the local history. Maybe it will inspire you in some way."

"Thank you, Theresa," said Clara. Theresa rolled the mouse on her computer, turning off its screensaver. Clara took it as a subtle cue that it was time to head back to her desk.

"You're very welcome," said Theresa. "Just be aware, though. The historian at the college told us that once the wood was exposed to the air, the rate of deterioration would increase drastically. There's no telling how long that little sucker has left. It could turn to dust any day now."

Clara nodded. "I'll keep it out where I can see it, then. I don't want it turning into a pile of sawdust before inspiration hits."

"Nothing to worry about if it does," said Theresa, now fully facing her computer monitor. "Everything fades eventually."

Clara opened the door, letting in the soft hum of the office. "I really appreciate the gift, Theresa," she said. She'd almost stepped out before she asked, "Oh – will you be at the festival tomorrow?"

Theresa shook her head. "I wish I could be there, but I have a previous commitment. You'll have fun there, though. Enjoy yourself."

"I will," said Clara, now stepping fully into the hallway. As she walked back toward her desk, she held the piece of wood tight at her side so none of the co-workers that she passed would see it.

------------------

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- Steve


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