Page 22

We gathered, Matt, Margaret and I, to watch the fireworks, and as they burst over the Seattle skyline, tears rolled down my cheeks. I’d hardly ever felt more wretched or alone.

I wasn’t good company. It’d been almost two weeks, and I knew I could make it if I didn’t think about the future, if I coped with one day at a time. If I could get through today, I told myself, I’d find the courage to confront the next day and the next.

It didn’t help that Brad continued to work the same route. Tuesday morning he told Margaret he’d requested a transfer but had been denied. I believed him. Last year, when I’d ended our relationship, he’d applied for—and received—a transfer and then later, when things were settled between us, he’d requested his old route back. Now the powers that be were obviously tired of this. So we were stuck seeing each other on a regular basis.

After weeks of depression over Matt’s unexpected job loss, Margaret seemed to have cheered up considerably. I didn’t know if this was an act for my benefit. In any case, I chose to believe that because Margaret loves me, she was trying to bolster my mood and create a supportive environment. I valued her support and this new tenderness.

I also needed Margaret as a buffer between Brad and me. He’d been in the shop four or five times since our last conversation and, thankfully, my sister was available to deal with him. This saved me, because I wasn’t ready to pretend our relationship was merely casual. I couldn’t speak to him without letting my emotions show and that would’ve humiliated me all the more.

Besides Margaret, one of my few comforts during this bleak time was the charity knitting group. They came Friday afternoons to work on a number of projects. When I first suggested this idea, my original class decided that they’d knit patches for Warm Up America. The nine-by-seven-inch pieces are crocheted together by Margaret to form blankets. This is her contribution to the effort. The patches make for an easy project, and each requires only a small commitment of time. Jacqueline, Carol and Alix lead busy lives, so this worked well for them. They also liked the idea of being involved in the same projects.

Elise wanted to come, but hadn’t yet. I’d given her some donated yarn and she was knitting a blanket for the Linus Project at home. Alix had knit a couple of blankets for them, too, between classes at the Seattle Cooking Academy and her part-time job at the French Café.

Margaret was in the store when all three of the women from my original class showed up on Friday afternoon. She’d become as fond of them as I had. The first to arrive was Jacqueline.

“I’m back,” she announced as she swept into the shop. Jacqueline was always one to make an entrance. Margaret and I have come to love the way she broadcasts her arrival, although at one time it annoyed me. As always, Jacqueline looked like the society matron she is, every hair in place. She once told me never to discount the effectiveness of a good hair spray. I would’ve laughed if she hadn’t been serious.

I’ve given up trying to keep track of all the traveling Jacqueline and Reece do. In the past year, they’d been on a cruise in the Greek islands, a walking tour of England’s Lake District and most recently they went salmon fishing in Alaska. That, according to Jacqueline, was a longtime dream of her husband’s. To my utter amazement, she loved it and even brought me some smoked salmon.

“How are you?” Jacqueline asked, gazing into my eyes. She didn’t wait for a response before pulling me into a tight hug.

“I’m okay,” I lied.

She took her place at the table and brought out her knitting. Her patch was knit in super-wash, hand-dyed wool at fourteen dollars a skein, but that was Jacqueline. Price was rarely a consideration. And in her generosity, she always bought her own yarn for the charity projects, rather than accepting donated leftovers from me.

“I see I’m the first one here,” she said, looking around. This was unusual in itself. “Well, I’ve got great news and I’ll tell you first.” She smiled widely. “Tammy Lee’s pregnant again! Reece and I are beside ourselves.”

I remember how she’d once objected strenuously to her southern daughter-in-law and called her “white trash” and a “breeder.” My friend had experienced a change of heart, largely due to Tammy Lee’s patience and her loving personality—as Jacqueline’s the first to admit. Jacqueline adores little Amelia and I was sure she’d feel exactly the same about this new baby.

“It’s a girl and she’s due in February around Valentine’s Day.” Her eyes lit up. “Isn’t that perfect?” She smiled again. “I want to look through your baby patterns later. There’s knitting to be done!”

As we laughed, the door opened and Carol came in. I was mildly surprised to find she was by herself.

“Where’s Cameron?” I asked. The baby had been a miracle, one that had happened last year. Carol and Doug had tried desperately for a baby through in vitro fertilization. They had their son now, but he’d been adopted—truly a child of their hearts. That was thanks to Alix, whose roommate had been secretly and unhappily pregnant.

“Doug has the day off, so Cam’s with his daddy,” Carol explained as she sat down next to Jacqueline. They exchanged greetings and she took out her knitting. It was wonderful to see her. With a toddler underfoot she couldn’t participate every week. If she did stop by, it was during Cameron’s nap-time. She’d park the stroller by the table and stay only until her son woke up. Her child was the delight of her life; he brought her the greatest happiness imaginable. She’d told me that she and Doug were closer than ever, both of them completely dedicated to Cameron. I wanted to tell her to hold on to this joy, to cling to it, because—as I’d learned two weeks ago—happiness can disappear all too fast.

Carol’s knitting needles clicked rapidly as she worked on her section of the blanket. She was a fearless knitter who loved a challenge. I’d showed her the two-needle technique for socks and she’d basically taught herself the rest. “I heard from my brother the other day,” she said, frowning. “He’s remarried.”

“You mean he didn’t invite you to the wedding?”

“No. He let us know after the fact.”

From the way she said it, I knew Carol was disappointed in him. She’d confided in me earlier about Rick, and I gathered he was a self-indulgent and rather immature man. An airline pilot, he was a little too apt to engage in dalliances with flight attendants and other women he met on his travels. That had, of course, ruined his marriage to a woman Carol liked.

“I hope this marriage lasts longer than his first one,” she added. “Doug and I mailed them a gift. We rarely hear from Rick these days.” In other words, she wasn’t running to the mailbox looking for a thank-you card.

She was about to say more when the door opened again and in walked Alix.

“Whuzzup?” she cried to a chorus of greetings. Alix is…unique. When she first signed up for the class, I was afraid I’d be dealing with a felon. The first thing Alix did was tell me she’d be knitting the baby blanket to satisfy her court-ordered community service hours. Next, she wanted to know if that would count toward anger management. Despite some awkward moments early on, we’ve all come to treasure her. Time and love have worn away the rough edges of her personality. Last year she started dating Jordan, a youth minister she’d known since grade school. I knew the two of them were getting serious, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Alix announced their engagement in the near future.

Alix looked me in the eye. “I know about Brad. I could have him hurt if you want.”

I didn’t know if she was joking or not, so I laughed, or tried to. I told her the same thing I did Jacqueline. “I’m okay.”

“You sure?”

I swallowed hard and nodded.

Alix pulled out a chair and sat down with her needles and yarn. I sat at the end of the table, resuming a ChemoCap I’d begun the week before. Smiling at my friends, I tried to imagine the Warm Up America blanket they’d construct. Jacqueline with her lavender-and-pink super-wash wool patches; Carol’s patches in a nice Paton’s baby-blue yarn left from a sweater she’d knit Cameron; and Alix’s variegated green- and-yellow blend, leftovers one of my other customers had donated.

“I made a genoise this morning,” Alix said proudly. “Those are really hard to do—very delicate. It turned out perfectly. And it sold right away.”

“That’s wonderful,” Jacqueline exclaimed. “I want to order one for a business dinner we’re having next week.”

“For you—it’s free. I’ll make it at home.” Alix continued to live in the housekeeper’s quarters at Jacqueline and Reece’s place. She’d originally been hired to help with the housework, but with school and her job, it’d become too much for her. Jacqueline had hired someone else who came in during the days to do the housekeeping, but Alix was still staying with the Donovans to watch the house whenever Jacqueline and Reece traveled.

“Just think of it,” Alix said, “I get my first real job as a pastry chef, and wouldn’t you know, it’s in the same spot I worked before. Only this time it’s not a video joint, but a classy café.”

“And Reece and I didn’t have a thing to do with her getting that job,” Jacqueline reminded everyone. “Alix was hired for her skills.”

“You bet I was. Anyone who tastes my éclairs and cream puffs would know it, too.”

“Don’t mention those éclairs,” Jacqueline pleaded, briefly closing her eyes. “I’m on a new diet and I’m avoiding desserts—except at dinner parties, of course.”

“Speaking of diets,” I said, changing the subject, “I’ve got a teenager in my sock class, Courtney, who’s knitting in an effort to lose weight.” I laughed as I said it. “How it works, she says, is that while she’s knitting, she’s not in the kitchen hauling food out of the fridge. And she’s definitely lost a few pounds.”

“Hmm,” Jacqueline murmured. “It’s worth considering. Keep us posted.”

“Courtney’s a high-school senior,” I said. “Does anyone remember meeting Vera Pulanski? This is her granddaughter.”

Jacqueline nodded. “Vera gave me her scarf pattern.”

“Courtney’s living with her this year.”

“How’s she doing?” Alix asked. “That’s tough, moving around so much. I should know.”

“So far, so good,” I assured her.

“Did anyone else interesting sign up for your classes?” Carol asked, finishing her row.

I hesitated before mentioning Bethanne. “A divorced woman who hasn’t quite found herself.” I couldn’t help worrying about her. Bethanne had talked about needing a job, but apparently nothing I or any of the other women suggested was suitable. She seemed depressed to me, lacking direction and purpose. All that kept her going was her two teenage children, who’d be out of the house within a few years. Bethanne would be completely alone then.