Kelly Flynn looked at her reflection in the seamstress’s three-way mirror. The royal blue taffeta fabric shimmered under the bright spotlights shining down from the ceiling. Kelly turned to her left and admired the lines of the bridesmaid gown. Her friend, Megan, had used her own bridal gown’s strapless design to model the bridesmaids’ gowns, except they weren’t floor length. The skirts flared gently past the knee instead. Megan had also chosen strong vibrant colors for the dresses. Kelly’s was royal blue, Lisa’s was lemon yellow, and Jennifer’s was shamrock green. Megan’s sister Janet, who was the matron of honor, was wearing her favorite—fire engine red. Kelly had laughed when Megan told her she wanted “a bold rainbow,” not those pale pastels she saw so often.
Not bad, Kelly thought to herself, admiring the fabric’s shimmer as she turned to the right. She had to admit Megan had a good eye for color. The royal blue set off Kelly’s dark hair and fair skin perfectly.
“How does it feel, Kelly?” the seamstress, Zoe Yeager, asked from the floor, where she sat cross-legged, dressmaker pins in her hand.
“It feels great, Zoe. You did a wonderful job,” Kelly said, feeling the fabric’s crisp texture beneath her fingers.
“You look gorgeous, Kelly,” Megan said from the corner of the room, where she sat making calls on her cell phone. Only three and a half weeks before Megan’s and her boyfriend Marty’s wedding, and all the intricate plans had to fall into place. “I told you that color would look fabulous on you,” Megan said as she paged through her bridal schedule book.
“Right as usual, Color Genius,” Kelly bantered. “I bow to your expertise.”
Zoe laughed from her spot on the floor as she ran her fingers over the hemline. “I swear, Megan, you and your friends make me laugh, especially Jennifer. She is hilarious.”
“Well, that’s Jennifer’s specialty, making us laugh,” Kelly added.
“Stand straight and don’t move for a minute, Kelly. I want to give this hem a final check.” Zoe scooted backward on the floor, leaned over, and peered at the bottom of the dress. “Okay, now turn in a circle slowly,” she instructed.
Kelly did as she was told while Zoe scrutinized her handiwork. Kelly observed a slight blue smudge on the side of Zoe’s face which she hadn’t noticed before. Zoe’s medium-length brown hair had obscured it.
“Looks good,” Zoe decreed, rising from the floor. “Let me help you take it off, and I’ll put this one on the finished rack along with Lisa’s and Jennifer’s.”
Kelly allowed Zoe to unzip the dress and help her step out of it, hoping nothing would happen to the gorgeous creation once she was in charge of its safekeeping.
Zoe shook the fabric and examined it inside. Now that Zoe was closer, Kelly could see the middle-aged woman’s face better. There was definitely a blue bruise along Zoe’s jawline that hadn’t been there before. “What happened, Zoe? Did you fall down or something?” Kelly asked, concerned. “You’ve got a bad bruise on your face.”
Zoe looked slightly startled, then color began to stain her cheeks. “Uh, no . . . I . . . I’m just clumsy. I tripped over my back porch steps, that’s all.” She reached for a satin-covered hanger. “Here, let me put this away in the work closet.” And she hastened from the room, taking the royal blue creation with her.
Megan approached, holding Kelly’s slacks and short-sleeve top. Early September, and it still felt like summer outside.
“Don’t ask her anything else, Kelly,” Megan whispered when she was closer. “Those bruises are from her husband Oscar. Mimi told me Zoe had confessed to her about her husband’s abuse a year ago. Mimi tried to get her to leave him, but Zoe hasn’t so far.” Megan glanced over her shoulder to the doorway. “I cannot understand why women stay in those relationships, Kelly.” A familiar scowl darkened Megan’s pretty features.
Kelly slipped on her crisp slacks. “I think it’s because they’re scared, Megan. Scared of what will happen if they try to leave, especially if there are young children at home.”
Megan’s scowl evaporated and was replaced by a contrite expression. “You’re right, Kelly. I know you are, but there are shelters here in town for women to escape to with their children. I just wish Zoe would think about going. She doesn’t even have children.”
“I’d like to think so, too, Megan,” Kelly said, slipping the lightweight top over her head. “It seems everyone has a breaking point, when they decide enough.”
Zoe came around the corner of the fitting room, a gauzy bit of ribbons and tiny silk flowers in her hand. “Here, Kelly, let’s take a look with the headpiece. I finished this one yesterday.”
Kelly took the delicate confection and fingered the tiny seed pearls and blue and white silk flowers that adorned the taffeta-wrapped headband. “This is so pretty, Zoe. Simply exquisite.”
Zoe beamed. “Thank you, Kelly. I love working with those silky flowers. They turn out so nicely. Try it on and let’s take a look.”
Kelly did as directed, adjusting the headpiece’s small combs into her hair. Gazing at her reflection, she almost didn’t recognize herself. Kelly never wore ribbons or flowery things. But the way Zoe had arranged them, they were very flattering.
“I look like I should be going to a fairy tale ball in some castle, rather than poring over financial statements,” she teased.
“Well, wait until Steve sees you in this dress,” Megan said slyly. “He may invite you to one of those fancy Denver charity balls.”
Kelly deliberately didn’t look at Megan. She already knew what Megan was doing. Smiling. Now that Kelly was working in Denver several days a week, she and Steve had lunch or dinner together whenever they were both in town. Consequently, Megan had made it a point to offer frequent suggestions as to other recreational activities Kelly and Steve could pursue. “Suggestions,” Megan always claimed. Planting seeds, Kelly surmised.
Once Steve started driving up to Fort Connor this past spring and summer to play baseball on his old team, Kelly and Steve had a chance to be in each other’s company on a regular basis. Familiar ground. It had made it easier for them to move to the next step of having dinner together. Of course, Megan and the rest of the gang were careful to maintain a relaxed environment. No expectations, Kelly had told them.
Now that she and Steve had gotten past their sudden and dramatic breakup last year, Kelly figured both of them needed simply to be friends right now, while they figured out what came next. What did the future hold in store? She didn’t know. All Kelly knew was she enjoyed having Steve back in her life. After all, they’d started out as friends before they became lovers once before. Maybe they could again.
Right now, they were two friends who really enjoyed each other’s company. They talked on the phone every day, even when Steve was traveling on business for the Denver company where he worked. Having watched his own small architect and builder business go belly-up in the recession that followed the recent housing debacle, Steve threw his energy and creativity into Sam Kaufman’s construction company. Sam appreciated Steve’s efforts and encouraged him to follow up on new ideas. Steve had jumped at the chance.
Zoe glanced from Megan to Kelly and back again, a smile tweaking her lips. “Who’s Steve? Kelly’s boyfriend?”
Kelly didn’t even have time to answer. Megan did it for her. “He was for over two years. Then they split up last year. All of us are hoping they’ll get back together.” She flashed that Cheshire cat smile Kelly had seen frequently these past six months.
“I haven’t heard a word from Kelly,” Zoe teased. “Why’s Megan answering for you?”
Kelly pretended to continue admiring the pretty headband. “Because she does it so well. Megan’s got an overactive imagination.”
“It’s not my imagination,” Megan retorted. “We’ve all seen you two whenever you’re together. You’re a matched set.”
Kelly had to laugh at that, and so did Zoe. Removing the delicate headband, she returned it to the seamstress. “She makes it sound like we’re bookends. Now I know what I’m going to give you and Marty for a wedding present. A set of monstrosity bookends. Maybe two huge moose heads or something.”
“Please, don’t. Marty would probably fall in love with them, and we’d have them on the living room bookshelves.” Megan rolled her eyes.
“You are so funny, Megan,” Zoe said, chuckling. “Let me put this away and check my daytimer. Now that Kelly’s gown is completed, we’ve finished everything with three weeks to spare.”
“Wonderful job, Zoe,” Megan said as the seamstress headed for the curtained doorway that led to a workroom in the rear of the small shop located in a neighborhood strip mall.
Kelly checked the mirror and fluffed her shoulder-length hair. “You’re right on track, Megan. I hate to sound like an anal accountant, but I am. Planning makes all the difference.”
Megan drew her cell phone from her pants pocket as she returned to her chair in the corner. “You’re preaching to the choir on that one, Kelly. I couldn’t have done it without my lists. Which reminds me that I have to check on those caterers again.”
“And that reminds me I have to finish up one of my clients’ financial statements. I’ve got an appointment with him tomorrow.”
“When will you be in Denver again?” Megan looked up from her cell phone screen.
“Later this week, and no, Steve won’t be there,” Kelly teased. “He’s visiting some specialty building firms at a conference in Oregon.”
“Too bad.” Megan shot her a wicked grin before she spoke into the phone. “Hello, this is Megan Smith. Is Kevin there? I need to change my wedding reception estimate again.”
Kelly felt sorry for caterer Kevin. Megan had been increasing the guest list estimate every week for a month. Kelly grabbed her shoulder bag and started for the door. The sooner she finished those financial statements, the sooner she could take a break at Lambspun, the knitting and fiber shop close to her cottage. She had been burrowed in work for several days for her Fort Collins real estate investor client, Arthur Housemann, and her Denver developer client, Don Warner.
Letting her mind return to matters financial brought another thought from the back of her mind. She needed to pay Zoe for the dress. Kelly was always scrupulous in paying small business owners by check. That way, they kept the entire amount rather than pay credit card fees. It was a small thing, but could make a real difference to a small business owner like Zoe Yeager. Her sewing business had grown substantially thanks to Zoe’s creative designs. Small business success stories always made the accountant lobe in Kelly’s brain buzz. Only the strongest and best survived, especially in a recession environment.
Kelly changed direction and walked through the curtained doorway that led to Zoe’s workshop. She was about to turn the corner into the lighted area when Zoe’s sharp voice held her in place.
“Don’t give me excuses. I told you I needed that gown finished by tonight!”
Kelly didn’t hear anyone reply, so she assumed Zoe was on the phone.
“I don’t care how late you have to stay up. Just finish it tonight, do you hear? Or I’ll take it out of your wages. You can bring it to the shop on your way to work tomorrow morning. And don’t call me again. I’m busy.”
Kelly quickly turned and retreated into the outer dressing room once again, not wanting to disturb what was obviously a heated conversation. She was also surprised at Zoe’s tone of voice. It was sharp and dictatorial. Ugly. Whenever Kelly saw her, Zoe was always so pleasant and cheerful. Kelly couldn’t help wondering whom Zoe was talking to.
Megan was clicking off her phone call, so Kelly approached and lowered her voice. “Zoe is in the midst of a phone call. I can’t wait, so would you ask her to please mail me a bill, and I’ll send a check right away? I need to finish some financial statements.”
“No problem. She needs to send bills to Lisa and Jennifer, too,” Megan said, running her finger down the smartphone’s screen.
“You can add it to one of your to-do lists,” Kelly said as she left.
Kelly walked across the driveway separating her look-alike cottage from the Spanish colonial beige stucco, red-tile-roofed farmhouse that had inspired the cottage’s design. Once the farmhouse for Kelly’s aunt and uncle, it was now a lively knitting and fiber shop. The cottage had become Kelly’s when her Aunt Helen was murdered nearly four years ago. That was the tragic event that had brought a transformation in Kelly’s life. She’d responded to the warmth and camaraderie of the knitting shop family of regulars. They had become Kelly’s family, replacing the ones who’d passed away. Kelly left her life as a corporate CPA in Washington, DC, and switched gears entirely, drawn by the warmth and friendship that beckoned to her from the friends she’d made at Lambspun.
She turned at the sound of her dog Carl’s deep Rottweiler bark coming from the cottage backyard. Carl was standing on his hind feet, front paws on the chain-link fence, warning the golfers on the adjoining golf course not to trespass. Few disobeyed Carl, Kelly noticed.
Kelly admired the colorful annuals that were still blooming in the flower beds bordering the walkway that led to Lambspun’s front door. Bright red geraniums and white impatiens beside deep purple petunias. Fringy dianthus alternated with sturdy orange marigolds. Colorful easy low-maintenance plants. The very same that Kelly had put in the planters lining her cottage walk.
She paused beside the shady patio, debating whether or not to knit here instead of inside the shop. Early September temperatures were still delightfully warm, in the low eighties. The sun shone brightly in the gorgeous blue sky that arched over the golf course. Colorado blue, Kelly called it. Late afternoon, and the sun hadn’t even begun its descent toward the ridges of low mountains on the west side of the university town. The “foothills,” as locals called them. Beautiful was Kelly’s word.
Tempted to drop her knitting on the nearby table or wrought iron chair, Kelly decided she would first see what Lambspun’s owner, Mimi, was doing. She hadn’t had a chance to drop in and visit with her for several days.
Pushing the heavy wooden door open, Kelly stepped inside the wonderland of color and texture and sensuality that always greeted her whenever she entered the shop.
Yarn, yarn everywhere. Wooden crates were stacked one upon the other in the foyer. Shelves lined the walls of the adjacent room. Fat balls and loosely wound skeins tumbled forth from all of them. Tables and chests were piled high with yarns. Sweaters, scarves, and vests dangled from the ceiling and shelves. Long puffy loops of yarn draped along the walls. Wool, cotton, silk, mohair, alpaca, cashmere. Any fiber your heart desired.
“Well, hello, Kelly. It’s so nice to see you,” Mimi said as Kelly entered the foyer. “You haven’t been here since last week.” Mimi was stacking twisted coils of terra cotta red yarn in a tidy pile beside similar yarns in the middle of an antique dry sink. Moss green, burgundy wine, copper ore.
Autumn colors, Kelly noticed. Although it was still summer outside with balmy Colorado temperatures, the Lambspun crew always had an eye for an upcoming season. Seasonal colors always appeared in the shop overnight, it seemed. She would walk into the shop and find rooms totally transformed as if by magic. Kelly attributed it to the Lambspun “elves,” as she called Mimi and her two main helpers, Connie and Rosa.
Kelly fingered one of the terra cotta red skeins. HAND-DYED, the label read. It was a merino wool, not as thick as some of the others she’d touched. It would require a smaller needle but would be perfect for making fall and winter knitted hats. Or mittens.
“How’s that bridesmaid shawl coming?” Mimi asked as she gave the yarn piles a pat.
Guilt drew Kelly from her fiber indulgence. “Oh, it’s coming slowly. I’ve been swamped with work and haven’t been able to knit very much.”
She headed to the adjoining main room and dumped her knitting bag on the long wooden library table that served as meeting place for scores of fiber workers of every description. Not only knitters showed up around the Lambspun table, but also crochet lovers, or hookers, as they called themselves. Quilters turned up, too, as well as spinners, who set up their wheels in the corners. Weavers regularly worked their creations on the larger looms in the two rooms adjoining the large one.
Kelly always thought of Lambspun as an “equal opportunity” shop. Whatever your fiber tastes and inclinations, you would find someone at Lambspun to share them. And Mimi helped spread her expertise in all the fiber arts through a full schedule of classes. Kelly had noticed new classes in tatting and lace embroidery. They both sounded tricky to her.
“Would you like me to help you with it?” Mimi offered as she followed Kelly into the room. “I’d be glad to.”
Now Kelly felt even guiltier. Lisa, Megan, and Jennifer had already finished their shawls. But not her. Now Mother Mimi was offering to rescue her.
“No, no, I’ll get it done,” she promised as she settled into a chair at the table. No other customers around. Good. Maybe she could get more knitting done. Interesting conversations always distracted her, she’d noticed.
She pulled the royal blue bundle from a plastic bag she had protecting it from the jumble inside her knitting bag. There were knitting needles of varying sizes, a tape measure, stitch markers, copies of previous patterns she’d worked, and not one but two plastic containers of yarn needles, perfect for tucking in dangling yarn ends. She held up the bundle which formed a large triangle and examined her work so far. It didn’t look bad. The loose-knit design would be very flattering over the bridesmaids’ bare shoulders.
“Look, you’re halfway finished,” Mimi said with her encouraging smile before she returned to straightening books on the shelves.
Kelly knew Mimi was doing her nurturing best to be kind. Normally she would make a joke, but instead a remembered thought came to mind. “My bridesmaid gown is all finished,” she said, picking up her knitting stitches where she’d left off. “Megan and I went over this morning. Zoe has finished everything, including the headbands. Three weeks early, too. Megan was delighted, of course.”
“Of course. Megan has to stay on schedule, or—”
“Or there’ll be hell to pay. And we’ll all have to listen to it,” Kelly joked.
Mimi laughed her light laugh as she checked the other bookshelves. “I was going to say woe to the vendors who were not keeping up.”
“That, too. Tell me something, Mimi. When I was there this morning, I noticed a dark bruise on Zoe’s face and asked her about it. She got kind of flustered and said she was clumsy and tripped on some stairs. But Megan told me when we were alone that Zoe has an abusive husband. She said Zoe had talked to you about it.”
Mimi turned from the bookshelves and sat across the table from Kelly. Her cheerful smile was nowhere to be seen. Worry lines appeared on Mimi’s face now, showing the years of worrying about others. “Yes, that is true. It’s so very upsetting. I’ve known Zoe for the six years she’s been in Fort Connor. I remember when she first started her shop four years ago. And I noticed those bruises appearing last year. I asked Zoe about it, and she tried to dismiss my concern like she did with you. But I kept after her. Finally, she admitted that her husband Oscar had become increasingly abusive since he’d lost his new consulting business. He was trying to make it as a financial advisor so he could leave his regular job with the power company.”
Mimi began to trace a pattern with her finger on the light wood of the table. “She said he started to drink heavily, and that’s when he began hitting her more. Apparently he only hit her occasionally before that.” Mimi’s voice had acquired an edge. “I simply cannot bear it when smart women stay with men who abuse them. There were no children to worry about. Oscar had kids from an earlier marriage. I told Zoe I would take her to the battered women’s shelter here in town, but she refused to go. I’ve told her that every time I see her. It’s gotten so she stopped coming in here to visit. She knew I’d remind her of my offer. I can’t force her to go.” Mimi gave a little shrug and met Kelly’s eyes. “I wish I could. With Oscar drinking more, there’s no telling what he might do.”
Kelly had let her knitting drop to her lap. “That is so sad, Mimi. Zoe is so lively and full of energy. And . . . and so talented.”
“I know, it’s so—”
Her sentence was cut off by shop helper Connie, who walked into the room quickly. “Mimi, I’ve got that New England yarn vendor on the phone. It took me half the day calling. You wanted to talk to him.”
Mimi almost leaped from her chair. “Yes! Absolutely. Sorry to leave so quickly, Kelly, but I’ve been trying to reach him for weeks.”
“No problem, Mimi, we’ll talk later,” Kelly said as Mimi hurried from the room.
Kelly returned to the loose-knit shawl as she let the disturbing images Mimi had described dart around her head.