The living room at Safe Haven was desolate. No one cared to sit on the couches or watch TV. Flora's take on it was that battered women didn't gravitate to living rooms because they weren't exactly living. They were all just hanging on at the fringes of existence. And the shelter was a poor sterilized idea of what a home should be. While Alice napped, Flora roamed the house. There never seemed to be anyone around. The kitchen was empty. The halls were empty. The place felt haunted by misery. The residents of the shelter were always off whispering to counselors in the tiny office behind the kitchen, or upstairs nursing their wounds in bed, or when necessity demanded it, they would come downstairs and cook.
In the bathroom, Flora sat on the toilet with the lid down, just thinking, and the silence of that house, concealing all that aching body-and-heart pain, slingshot her thoughts back at her with a kind of silver-black emphasis, as though they'd originated in the bathroom mirror or the sink drain. Why doesn't Mom break up with that hairy, foul-mouthed loser? I'm sick of sleeping on other people's couches. The girls at school probably wonder why I'm giving them a new phone number every week. Mom's one friend—the guy with the crazy bathroom—actually had this old, avocado-colored, foam toilet seat. Talk about adding insult to injury!
Being a junior high bookworm softened the blunt edges of reality for Flora. Even with hurtling from the house in the middle of the night, she'd had the forethought to bring Gone with the Wind. She'd finished it the very first morning, and ended up having to scour the shelter for an alternative. Luckily, she found a Harlequin romance on the bookshelf in the living room. She kept her eyes glued to it at all times: while she walked the halls, while she sat like a lump on the dimly lit stairs, while she lay on the twin bed in the McDermott family bedroom. She hadn't liked any of the other books she'd found. They were all personal accounts of abuse. She snapped one shut, refusing to read on, after some woman got her eye gouged out with the broken handle of a broomstick. She went right back to The Lady of Stone Gate Manor.
At mealtimes, the staff and guests all took turns cooking. The McDermott's ate with the rest of the residents at a long glossy table under two fluorescent tube lights. Every night was like a Thanksgiving dinner where what the guests were most thankful for was not having the stuffing beaten out of them. They ate donated noodles and Hamburger Helper, which was the kind of fare Flora and Alice never got at home. Typical hippie children that they were, they craved the rare indulgence of processed food. It was a treat for them to sample flavors that tasted good in a mysterious and artificial kind of way. There wasn't an ounce of health food in the place. This was a drag for Mom, but for them it was an unexpected "up side" to life at the shelter.
Flora's main problem, besides being half-traumatized, was that she was anticipating her first-ever junior high school dance, and she—truly—didn't have a thing to wear other than the clothing she'd run from home in, or the nerdy donated hand-me-downs that the shelter staff had pulled out of storage for her. A few months earlier Mom had begun working on a special dress for the dance. Flora had picked out a pattern and fabric for it at the Snip N’ Sew in Eggersville. It was going to be a green muslin peasant dress with a blousy top and full skirt. She found a brown macramé belt at a thrift shop to go with it. She imagined that the dress would be not unlike something that the heroine of The Lady of Stone Gate Manor, Emily Lafontaine, would have had in her wardrobe when she first arrived at the Manor for work, before lucking out and marrying Lord Emerson. Her own current peasant attire amounted to nothing more impressive than her Green Eggs and Ham T-shirt and a pair of jeans with lightening bolts studded down the legs.
The eve of the dance arrived quickly with Flora's forgotten, unfinished dress lying crumpled in the bottom of Mom's tote bag. The thought of going home to retrieve a backup dress was still too frightening for everyone, and Safe Haven didn't have a sewing machine.
So that's when Mom—generally regarded by Flora as the root of all evil—decided to stay up all night with a needle and thread sewing by hand until her head nodded and she couldn't see straight. She got about three hours of sleep, resumed sewing in the morning, and after a full day of toil, finished the dress just two hours before the dance began. In the years that followed, Flora would sometimes doubt her mother's love, but only when she forgot about that dress and those thousands of devoted little stitches. Sewing by machine is love. Sewing by hand is divine love.