Gloria Sterling had it all—money, looks, and a new sexy young husband. So when she's found floating face down in her own swimming pool, shock waves ripple through tiny Plum Harbor. At the Black Sheep Knitting Shop, Maggie Messina and her circle are devastated to lose their dear friend—a woman as colorful as her fabulous yarn creations.
The police are quick to call it an accident, but sorting out Gloria's final hours leaves too many loose ends to satisfy her friends. The vivacious, fiftysomething cougar had her French manicured tips in more than a few pots, and the threads of some inside deals stashed in her chic knitting tote.
Who was the last person to see Gloria alive on that quiet summer night? Two empty wine glasses suggest she wasn't home alone knitting the entire evening... The Black Sheep need to know the truth and set out to unravel— stitch by stitch—the weighty secrets that pulled poor Gloria under.
About the Author
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Hemingway was wrong. The rich are different." Lucy gazed out the passenger-side window of her friend Maggie's car as gated entryways, privacy hedges, and lawns as lush as country club greens rolled by. "They definitely have longer driveways."
"And better haircuts, usually," Maggie agreed. "But Gloria isn't different from us. Not really."
They were on their way to Gloria Sterling's house, driving down tree-lined roads deep with afternoon shade, traveling from the heart of the village to The Landing, a neighborhood of gracious old homes that flanked not-so-gracious minimansions and a variety of architectural styles in between.
Maggie had known Gloria a long time, but Lucy had met her only recently.
"Gloria wasn't born with money. Just the opposite," Maggie reminded her. "It's nice of her to have us all over tonight. She's not even part of the group."
Their knitting group five friends in all normally met on Thursday night at one another's homes, or at the Black Sheep, the knitting shop Maggie owned. Gloria had just jumped into the rotation like a sidelined player in a volleyball game. She wasn't an official member of their circle, more like a "guest star," Lucy thought.
Since Gloria had returned to Plum Harbor a few months ago, after a long stay at her house in Florida, she'd been spending a lot of spare time at Maggie's shop. If Gloria happened to be hanging around when one of their meetings started up, it seemed rude to exclude her. She was always interested in Maggie's demonstrations of a new stitch or technique. Or just happy to stitch and chat.
Gloria's irreverent humor and "live large" style had taken some getting used to, for Lucy at least. But the plain-talking blonde bombshell definitely kicked up the evening a notch. And they all liked her husband, Jamie.
Gloria Sterling and Jamie Barnett were pretty much a package deal. Newlyweds, joined at the hip. Or so it seemed at times. Jamie was Gloria's third run at matrimony, clearly the trophy husband. Gloria, the iconic cougar, wasn't coy about it. "I've put in my time with men my age. This one is dessert," she'd told them one night.
The invitation had been for cocktails, knitting, and supper, poolside. Perfect for a surprisingly warm night in June. Would Gloria actually make the meal herself, or have it catered, Lucy wondered. She didn't seem the cooking type and probably had a housekeeper. There was always Jamie.
"Maybe Jamie is doing the cooking." Lucy turned to Maggie and smiled. "Those macaroons he brought to the meeting last week were intense."
"I've had dinner there. He is a good cook. Among his other talents." Maggie was still watching the road, but Lucy caught her small smile.
Jamie was a man of considerable talents. He cooked, he baked, he even knit with the group from time to time, all without seeming to feel any threat to his masculinity.
Who would question his masculinity? No woman Lucy knew, that was for sure.
A big, broad-shouldered, dirty blond hunk of guy, he had less guile than a golden retriever and even more devotion when it came to Gloria. They did seem amazingly happy together, both blissfully unaware of their age difference. Which was in the double digits, Lucy guessed.
If Gloria were a man and had hooked a babe ten, fifteen, or even twenty years younger, no one would think twice about it. But with the roles reversed, the pair did raise a few eyebrows around town. Plum Harbor's Main Street was not exactly Rodeo Drive.
Of course, the fact that Gloria could easily pass for forty made the math less obvious. But Lucy had to wonder how long anyone could keep that up. How many mindless treadmill miles or gallons of Retinol cream did it require? How many discreet nips and tucks and cellulite suctions?
How much money did it take to hold back time's handiwork? The inevitable changes had to catch up sooner or later. At least on the outside.
But Lucy didn't want to take a pessimistic view. The connection between Jamie and Gloria seemed more than skin deep and they seemed to have made some separate, private peace with what others might view as a fatal flaw in the partnership. They even joked about it.
No, it was the real thing. You could tell by the way they looked at each other. She delighted in him. Everything Jamie did was charming to her. And Jamie acted the same way about Gloria, even her flaws, her impatient and demanding side, seemed amusing and even endearing to him. You only had to be around them for a short time to see it. Lucy had witnessed enough relationships, good and bad including her own failed marriage to know the difference.
"I think the turn is coming up soon, on the right," Maggie said. Then she suddenly swerved into a narrow lane. The sign read "Sugar Maple Way."
"Here we are. Number five." Maggie steered the little car up a long, gravel-covered drive. Lucy noticed that their other friends Dana and Suzanne had already arrived; their cars were parked farther up, near the front door. Phoebe, a college student who worked part-time at Maggie's shop and who was also part of the group, wasn't coming tonight. Her boyfriend's band had a gig at a bar in Gloucester. Phoebe was needed to clap loudly and help move the equipment.
Which was probably just as well, Lucy decided, eyeing Gloria's impressive house and property. Phoebe was likely to have an attack of social conscience in this setting and act out in some countercultural, college-student way.
Maggie hadn't said much about Gloria's house. Lucy had pictured an older home, beautifully decorated and meticulously maintained. Just like Gloria herself. But it wasn't quite what she expected.
The house was a large, abstract-looking structure with clean, stark lines, constructed of wood and glass. A style very popular in the 1970s. Considered "modern" back then, though the years since had continually redefined that term.
Maggie parked on the drive and Lucy reached into the backseat for her knitting bag and a knapsack that held a bathing suit and towel, though she doubted she'd swim. At this time of year, she was reluctant to bare too much skin. Her legs especially looked pale and doughy, she thought, like slices of Wonder Bread. When Lucy got out and headed for the stone path that led to the front door, Maggie waved her back.
"I hear them in back. We'll just go 'round the side. Follow me."
Lucy followed Maggie up the driveway and then around the far side of the house. From behind a tall white fence she could hear the sound of voices, splashing water, and music. Was that Latin jazz? Her friends always kicked back at a knitting night, but Gloria's version already seemed like a real party.
"Sounds like they started without us," Maggie said, pushing open the gate.
"Don't worry, we'll catch up," Lucy whispered as she followed.
"Welcome, ladies, come right in. We've been waiting for you."
Gloria was sitting at a round, wrought-iron table shaded by a white market umbrella, along with Dana and Suzanne. She stood up and came to greet them. The other women both looked up from their knitting for a moment and waved. Lucy saw tall cocktail glasses and knitting paraphernalia already spread out around them.
The table was one of three, set on a multilayered stone patio that flanked a kidney-shaped pool. The pool and patio were bordered by flower beds and thick green shrubs. At the far end of the pool, Lucy noticed a waterfall, about six feet high, the water tumbling over large rocks into the deep end. It was a gorgeous setting, like something out of one of those "houses to drool over" TV shows.
Gloria approached, high-heeled slides clicking on the smooth stones, her wrap-style sundress swinging around her legs and clinging in all the right places. The halter-style neckline displayed a deep tan, killer cleavage, and a perfect figure.
Lucy had once read that the Barbie doll's body was anatomically impossible. Designed by a man, of course. So was Gloria's. Lucy tried to remember that any time she felt a twinge of envy. Gloria was a poster girl for cosmetic, surgical intervention and every boy's dream.
Gloria gave them each a hug hello. Lucy stared at the pattern on her dress. A designer logo of interlocking letters she couldn't quite translate. It was either Calvin, Coach...or Le Shopping Channel?
"So glad you could come. Ready to knit the night away? Jamie's grilling. Shrimp and chicken saté with spicy peanut sauce and grilled vegetables."
"Sounds delicious." Maggie smiled and offered a bottle of wine she'd brought as a hostess gift.
Lucy silently agreed. A gourmet, lo-carb meal. She had expected no less.
Jamie stood at the far side of the patio, manning a huge stainless-steel grill, equipped with several cooking areas and rows of shiny black controls and dials. It could probably send and receive e-mail and had a GPS system, Lucy thought.
He checked something under the large dome lid, then turned to wave hello, his hand covered by a hot mitt.
Lucy and Maggie waved back. Lucy smiled quickly and looked away, aware that she'd been staring. Bare chested, he wore a black chef's apron over red bathing trunks. The incongruous outfit reminding Lucy of those male pin-up calendars passed around during bridal showers. Tacky...but effective.
Gloria leaned over and took Maggie's arm. "Come and sit. I'll get you both a drink."
They walked to the patio where Suzanne and Dana were busily chatting and knitting. "Hi, guys. Join the party." Suzanne jumped up and pulled out the chair next to her for Lucy.
Suzanne, a Realtor and mother of three who lived by her BlackBerry, seemed very relaxed tonight, Lucy noticed. Whatever she'd been drinking had done a good job unwinding her.
"What can I get for you two?" Gloria asked Maggie and Lucy. "We made a big pitcher of caipirinhas. Jamie and I had them every night on our honeymoon. We brought the cachaça back from Brazil. Want to try one?"
"Highly recommended," Dana said, taking a small sip from her frosty glass.
"I'll try one," Lucy answered bravely. "I may not be able to knit a straight row after, though."
"Possibly. But you won't worry about it, sweetie," Gloria promised.
"Just white wine for me," Maggie said.
"Whatever you like. But you still need to be in the samba contest."
Samba contest? She was kidding...right?
"Be right back." Gloria grinned and trotted toward the house.
"Don't worry, Lucy. There's no samba contest. Not that we've heard about." Dana glanced her way and smiled. Lucy guessed her expression had given her away.
She watched Dana turn her project over, a pale yellow vest with an argyle pattern on the front. She was making it for her husband, Jack. Knitting a pattern with so many colors was a bit advanced, but Dana could handle it. She was a very careful, methodical knitter who rarely started one project before finishing another. Not like most people Lucy knew, who had plenty of UFOs unfinished objects lying around at any given time.
A psychologist with a busy practice in town, Dana's office was just a few blocks down Main Street from Maggie's shop. She often stopped in at the shop for a knitting break between appointments with her clients, a routine she claimed kept her own sanity intact.
"I know everyone's in the middle of something," Maggie began, "but I found a project I want to show you."
She pulled out a few pages that looked like they'd been printed off the Internet. "I heard about this organization called Warm Up America. I went to the site and found a project we can make together. It's very simple. We each knit squares, seven by nine inches. Just a garter stitch. Then we put all our squares together to make a blanket and send it in. Warm Up America will give it out to someone in need, in a hospice or a homeless shelter. Or to a family who has lost their home in a fire or flood."
"What a great idea. Sounds easy, too." Suzanne took the pages from Maggie, eager to look at the instructions. "I was thinking of trying a pullover for Kevin. I figured if I started now, I might be done for Christmas."
Suzanne held up a photo of a classic but complicated fisherman knit sweater, then passed it over to Maggie.
She was an ambitious knitter, Lucy had to hand her that. Though she often tackled more than she could successfully stitch her way through.
Maggie thought the same, Lucy guessed, but didn't want to discourage Suzanne. She glanced at the sweater photo and handed it back. "The blanket squares will go quickly. You'll have plenty of time before Christmas to try that one."
Gloria had returned and set down a tray that held a frosted glass filled with the exotic cocktail du jour, and a wineglass. Alongside the glass, Lucy spotted a plate of vegetable crudités and a white creamy dip.
"Did I hear something about a group project?" Gloria handed a caipirinha to Lucy and then the white wine to Maggie.
"We're talking about making a blanket for charity. Everyone knits a few squares and we put it all together. I think we should decide on a palette and each take our own color."
"That sounds fun. Can I make some? I'm almost done with my scarf." Gloria's tone was eager and excited, sounding more like a middle schooler than a woman in her fifties.
"Of course you can." Maggie didn't even glance at the others. She knew they would all agree. The Black Sheep wanted to spread the joy of stitching, not hoard it for themselves.
"The pattern on the website calls for forty-nine squares. We're six, counting Phoebe. So that works out fine, eight squares each, and one person makes an extra. I thought we could figure out something special for the center," she suggested. "I have copies of the pattern for everybody, too," she added, pulling out another pile of papers from the bag. "But you each need to make a template for the squares, like this one..."
She held up a rectangle cut from cardboard. Lucy had used a template once before, when she'd worked on an afghan. The tension in everyone's stitches was different, a little tighter or looser, and measuring against a template, as well as counting stitches, kept pieces of large projects uniform.
"Just write everything down. Jamie will take care of it. He's good with things like that." Gloria stretched out on a chaise longue next to the table, white wrought iron with thick yellow cushions.
She extended her long tanned legs and picked up her knitting bag, a chic black tote with a tortoiseshell handle. Then she drew out her project with care, a beautiful fine-gauge, lace-stitch piece that she called a Mist Lace Scarf.
The yarn was a brilliant shade of tangerine, very Gloria; Gloria knew what looked good on her and the scarf was a great choice, Lucy thought. With her long blonde hair and green eyes, the delicate lace would look perfect draped over her bare shoulders on a summer night.
Gloria was a surprisingly deft knitter, Lucy had noticed. Her long polished nails probably add-ons didn't seem to hamper her progress one bit.
"Anybody want to jump in the pool?" Jamie called from the grill. "Dinner's going to be a few more minutes."
"You guys go ahead if you like." Gloria encouraged her guests with a wave of her hand, bangle bracelets jangling. "I'm not a big pool person. The hot tub, okay. Once in a while. When the mood strikes," she added, glancing at her husband. "But those chemicals..." She rolled her large, mascara-edged eyes. "You might as well soak yourself in battery acid. I swear, I come out looking like the Queen of the Crypt Keepers."
Jamie laughed. He had left his cooking post and now stood behind his wife. He reached down and rubbed her shoulders. "She looks like Venus, rising out of the foam in a Renaissance painting."
"Jamie, please...give me a break." Gloria shook her head, though Lucy thought she enjoyed the comparison. A hint of pink flushed her cheeks.
"She does. I want to paint her out here in the water, just floating like a water lily with her hair around her head." He squeezed next to Gloria on the longue chair and slipped his arm around her shoulders.
She glanced at him and smiled, but didn't miss a beat in her knitting. "I'm not the water lily type, babe. More of a tough old...geranium."
Her comparison made everyone laugh.
"A tiger lily, then." Jamie replied, kissing her hair.
"How is your painting coming along, Jamie?" Maggie asked.
Maggie had been a high school art teacher before opening her knitting shop about three years ago. She still loved visiting the museums and galleries in Boston, though fiber art was a big interest now.
"Pretty good. Really good, actually," Jamie answered with a hesitant smile. "Of course, I have my muse here. She keeps me in line." He gave Gloria's shoulder another squeeze.
"I bring some bread and water to his cell every few hours, and remind him to come to bed when he's working too late. He's made big progress since we moved back up here. I think New England has been good for him. Very good," she added. Then she glanced at her husband, her love as evident in that look as a beam of light, Lucy thought. "Can I tell them?" Her tone was eager and unexpectedly sweet.
Jamie looked flustered. "All right...but nothing's solid yet. It might just be a lot of talk," he explained to the group.
"It's practically a done deal, Jamie," Gloria insisted. "Think positively." She turned to her friends. "Jamie's going to have a show at a gallery in Boston. A very good gallery. All his own work, too. Not some group grope thing. Isn't that great?"
"I might have a show," he corrected. "We haven't really nailed it down."
Maggie peered at the couple over the edge of her reading glasses. "That is great news. Congratulations," she said sincerely.
The others quickly chimed in. But Jamie was quick to tamp down their enthusiasm. "It looks good, but we still haven't signed anything. So I'm not breaking open the champagne yet."
"But we will, sweetie. Very soon," Gloria assured him. "I might hop into the hot tub for that celebration," she added, making her friends laugh.
"When will you know for sure?" Dana asked.
"I'm going to Boston tomorrow to meet with the gallery owner. He invited me to the opening of a new exhibit. There are some people coming by who he wants me to meet."
"That sounds promising." Suzanne had already put aside the fisherman knit pattern and was studying the instructions for the blanket squares.
"Very promising," Lucy agreed. Her work as a graphic designer for advertising agencies and publishers didn't put her in touch with the gallery scene much, but she did have a few friends who were still trying to make it in that realm. It was a tough, often disappointing road. It sounded to her as if Jamie was making enviable headway.
"When will this possible art show happen?" Suzanne asked.
"In the fall probably," Jamie answered. "I've started a new series. I'm going to bring a few pieces with me to show him. But I still have a lot of work to do to put together an entire show."
"He's very productive when he has a goal." Gloria patted her husband's leg. "He'll stay in that room for hours. Working and working. So...intense."
Lucy didn't think of Jamie as intense. In fact, that was one of the last adjectives she'd use to describe him. She would have never taken Jamie for an artist, either, he was so down to earth and modest. Not at all the pretentious, downtown type she'd often been drawn to in her younger days. But maybe that was because Jamie was the real thing, an unspoiled, even naïve talent. Not posing, or playacting.
She'd never seen his work, but assumed he did have talent if a good gallery had shown interest in representing him. Art was still a business, and gallery owners had to be savvy salespeople to survive, and without seeming so, either. Jamie obviously had something worth marketing in his work, in addition to his movie star looks.
"I think the food is ready. I'll be right back." Jamie touched Gloria's cheek as he stood, then headed back to the grill.
"I'm so happy for him," Maggie told them in a quiet voice, one that Jamie probably couldn't hear. "For both of you. You must be very excited."
"I am. And very proud, though he hates when I say it," Gloria told them in an even quieter voice. "He has so much talent and he works so hard. He just needs a break. A show at a good gallery that can promote his work. I'm really hoping this is it. If he does get it, and I'm sure he will, we'll hire a publicist and all that. You'd think the art world was different. But that's what it takes these days to get noticed. Publicity, marketing. Your name in the newspapers."
"And on the Internet," Lucy added.
"Exactly. And Jamie is so naïve about business," Gloria whispered, glancing over at her husband as he worked at the grill, arranging the food he'd prepared on several large platters. "Not that it's a bad thing," she added with a small, tender smile. "I'd never want to change that about him."
Jamie brought over the trays of saté and grilled vegetables and set them on a buffet table, where large yellow plates, cloth napkins, and silverware stood ready and waiting. Gloria went into the house and emerged with bowls of cold sesame noodles and a shredded cabbage salad with rice wine vinegar dressing. Quickly clearing the table of their knitting projects and equipment, the group rose and helped themselves to dinner.
"Everything looks delicious, Jamie," Lucy complimented him as she returned to the table with a heaping dish. "Thanks for doing all this cooking."
"No big deal. I really like to cook. Helps me unwind after I've been in the studio all day."
Gloria sat next to her husband, dropping just a tablespoon or two of food on her dish, Lucy noticed. "We use the term 'studio' very loosely around here. It's really just a spare room. Not nearly big enough now for all his things, and the light in there absolutely stinks. Even I can see that."
Jamie dipped his skewer of shrimp saté in some peanut sauce and took a bite. "It's fine for now, Glo. I'm not exactly Picasso."
"He needs a real studio," she continued, ignoring him. "He was going to use one of the stores I own in town. A few are vacant right now. Then we decided to just sell this place and find something new. I've always liked this house," she added, "but it's just not right for us."
Lucy knew that Gloria had inherited the house from her second husband, George Thurman, a successful entrepreneur who had mentored and launched Gloria into the business world. Lucy had heard from Maggie that George had taught Gloria everything she knew. She'd been a junior accountant at one of the firms he owned when they met, and he'd divorced his wife to marry her. George had died of cancer about fifteen years ago. Gloria had nursed him at home, until the end.
Lucy imagined there were a few ghosts wandering around these cedar and glass walls. The newlyweds probably wanted a fresh start.
"So you want to find a house with a little cottage on the property. Something like that?" Suzanne asked curiously. Lucy could practically hear Suzanne mentally sifting through her thick file of listings.
"Exactly. My very talented husband needs his space and solitude to create. I know it's not a great time to sell " Gloria winced at the thought of the money she stood to lose in the down market. "But it works both ways. We might find a real bargain on the other side, right?"
"Exactly. I think you definitely can," Suzanne quickly agreed. Lucy saw her practically spring up in her seat, her fork full of sesame noodles hanging in midair.
"Are you going to stay in Plum Harbor?" Dana asked them.
"We want to. We love it here." Gloria glanced at her husband and he nodded.
"Gloria's business is here. All of her friends. It's close to the city but quiet enough to get real work done. I really like it," Jamie added.
"Do you have any special part of the village in mind?" Suzanne asked.
"Something on the water would suit us, I think. I bet those houses down on Bayview have terrific light," Gloria added, naming one of the most exclusive streets in town. "And we both love the beach."
Lucy noticed Jamie reach over and cover Gloria's hand with his own. Their fingers intertwined and he turned to smile at her. "There are some beautiful properties down there," Suzanne agreed. "I have a few listings I can show you. At least one or two have little outbuildings for studio space. I can put it all into the computer and see what pops up," she offered with supersaleswoman cheer.
"That would be terrific. Give me your card and I'll call you," Gloria promised. "Maybe you could help us put this place on the market. I guess I could move on a new property, if it seemed right." Meaning she didn't have to sell this house in order to afford another, Lucy translated. "But we need to get the ball rolling here, too, right?"
"Yes, you definitely should. This is the perfect time of year. With all the beautiful landscaping and the pool, this place will really show well." Suzanne nodded in agreement.
The prospect of two commissions on top-drawer properties seemed to sharpen Suzanne's appetite. She dug into her saté with abandon.
Not bad work for an evening out. Lucy had the impulse to give her pal a high five, but instead just exchanged a discreet glance of glee.
Jamie wiped his mouth with a napkin and stood up. "It's been fun, ladies. But that cramped, dark little spare room calls."
Lucy was surprised. Jamie often sat and knitted with them, or just hung out while everyone else knit and chatted.
Gloria seemed surprised, too. "Really, honey? I thought you were going to take a break tonight."
"I have to finish the blue piece, so I can bring it with me tomorrow," he reminded her.
"Oh, right. That one is strong. You should bring it."
He smiled at her, then leaned over and kissed her cheek, his hand cradling her face for a tender instant. "Don't fall asleep out here in that chair," he warned her in a firm but loving tone. "And come say good night before you go to bed?"
She didn't answer, but held his gaze a moment and just smiled. Then he stood up again and briefly waved. "Good night, everyone. Have fun."
"We definitely will," Maggie promised him.
"Thanks again for dinner, Jamie, it was delicious," Dana said.
"You are all very welcome. Come back soon." With another sunny smile, he turned and headed into the house.
The backyard had grown dimmer and cooler, though the sun had not quite sunk from view. The outdoor lights had come on, glowing under the shimmering blue water in the swimming pool, bright spots over the patio, and even little white lanterns under the umbrella that surprisingly provided enough light to knit.
Gloria had lit a bowl full of votive candles in the center of the table; the flames glowed warmly. The women worked together to quickly clear the table, placing everything from dinner on a tea cart.
Then Gloria set out dessert, a sumptuous-looking fruit salad and a pile of home-baked cookies. Lucy spotted Jamie's chocolate-laced coconut macaroons, which probably packed about a million calories a bite, she figured. But were too good to resist.
"Can I get anyone another caipirinha or a glass of wine?" Gloria asked.
"I'd really love some coffee, if it's not too much trouble," Maggie replied.
"Me, too," Lucy seconded the motion. The tropical cocktail had gone straight to her head. Lucy took out the new pattern for the blanket square but couldn't quite focus on the simple instructions. She did have the right size needles and thought she'd just make a sample swatch, instead of jumping right in, the way she usually did. Swatching this time was the right thing to do, a moral imperative. It was different when you worked on a group project, she thought. She didn't want to throw the whole thing off on her first square.
"So you're not going into Boston tomorrow with Jamie, I gather," Maggie said to Gloria.
"He asked me to come, but I don't want to butt in. Even if I promise myself to keep my mouth shut, sooner or later, I just lose it, and I butt in. This is his deal. He's doing great so far, and I think it's important for him to reel this in on his own."
"That's very wise of you. You probably would be tempted to say something, or give advice, if you were there." Maggie had known her the longest, and if anyone was able to honestly acknowledge Gloria's assertive side, Maggie would be the one.
"I'm just praying it works out. On any terms at all. He's trying to stay low-key, but I know he'll be crushed if this guy has just been stringing him along." Gloria sighed. "I know you haven't seen his work, but trust me, he's really good. He deserves a break. He just hasn't had time to focus. Until we got married, I mean. He had to take all these odd jobs to make ends meet. Hard, menial jobs that tired him out and depressed him. When we met he was tending bar at some beach resort, for goodness sakes. It's very difficult for people with artistic talent. Our society doesn't reward that effort. You have to be lucky. And persistent...and have some help. At least at the start."
"That's very true. There are a lot of very talented people out there who never make it." Lucy was thinking of many friends who she knew from college.
"That's right. They get worn-out and give up. Jamie was nearly at that stage when we got together. I told him when we got married he had to focus on his work, give it his best shot, and I would support him."
Lucy glanced at Maggie. She appeared to already know this story. Lucy had never heard it before, though, and guessed the information was also new to her other friends.
"That was very generous of you," Dana said. "Very...loving."
"I love him something awful," Gloria stated flatly. "But it's not even about that. I believe in him. It would be a pity to see his talent go to waste. He's not used to that kind of unconditional encouragement. It's taken him a while to feel comfortable with it. He didn't have any growing up. A terrible family life, to tell you the truth." She glanced over her shoulder, at the house. Lucy saw a light glowing in a window on the upper floor but the window was closed tight.
"He's up there, but he can't hear me. I don't think he would want me to tell you this," she said quietly, as if wondering if she should. She paused a moment, then finally continued. "His father left the family when he was just a baby, he doesn't even remember him," Gloria confided, lowering her voice to nearly a whisper. "His mother was overwhelmed. She drank herself sick and neglected him. So he was sent to live with relatives, moved around. Sent to foster homes. Got in some trouble...yes." She nodded her head and sighed. "Could you blame him? When he was a teenager, he just took off on his own and has barely spoken to his family since. No one ever gave him a thing. Not love or attention. Not even the women he's been involved with. Needy, needy head cases. One after the next. No one has ever really loved him, or taken care of him. Except for me," she added. Gloria's voice held a sharp, determined edge.
An angry edge, Lucy noticed. Angry at all the people in Jamie's past who had neglected him. They'd better stay out of sight, if they knew what was good for them, Lucy realized. They didn't want to meet up with Gloria.
"It's amazing he turned out with such a sweet personality, after going through all that." Suzanne's tone was sympathetic.
"Yes, it is," Gloria agreed. "But he's just built that way. He's a special person."
"Every child deserves a loving home. Kids are so defenseless," Dana said. "It's just not fair what some children have to go through."
"Not fair at all. But you know what?" Gloria looked up from her knitting, glancing at each of them. "When I told him, 'Jamie, this is your chance. I want you to just go and paint,' he wouldn't do it. He gave me an argument. Said he didn't feel it was right and what would people say, and so on and so forth." Gloria laughed, skillfully slipping a double stitch onto a long wooden needle. "As if I ever cared what people said about me. But it was sweet of him," she noted. "He didn't want to take advantage. He finally said we would give it a year and see if he'd made any progress. If not, he might go back to school and get some sort of degree. Cooking, maybe. That's his second love. But I know that's not where his heart is. I hope it doesn't come to that."
Neither did Lucy. Jamie loved to cook, but she didn't think he was cut out for commercial kitchens. He did have a great personality and good social skills. He'd probably do very well in some sort of sales job, Lucy thought. If the painting didn't work out, that is.
"How long has it been, Gloria, since he began painting full-time?" Dana asked curiously.
"Let's see...we were married in December. Christmas Eve, down in the Keys, very romantic. So it's almost six months. So far, so good."
"Yes, very good," Maggie agreed. "If it doesn't work out at this gallery I mean, it seems like it will, but you never know it sounds like he'll have other opportunities."
"I've tried to tell him that, too. But I've got my fingers crossed. I hate to see him disappointed. He gets so blue and down on himself. Then he doesn't want to touch a paintbrush for weeks and starts questioning everything. Oh, God. Sometimes I really forget how young he is." Gloria lifted her head and gave a little laugh. "If there's one thing I've learned, don't waste time with a lot of self-doubt and existential bellyaching. It's useless. When disaster strikes, just pick up your skirts and plow on, ladies. That's my motto. That's what gets the job done."
"When disaster strikes, just keep knitting. That's my motto," Maggie countered, making her friends laugh.
It was true. Whenever Maggie faced one of life's lashing storms, she'd just hunkered down and knit her way right through it.
"Same philosophy." Gloria waved her hand; the rings on her slim fingers twinkled in the dark like fireflies. "You have to stay focused and productive. Not give in to that poor-little-me mind-set. There are always going to be problems in life. You're always going to hit a few speed bumps and potholes. When you least expect it, too. That's one good thing about getting older. These little setbacks don't throw you as much as they used to."
Gloria seemed to be talking about something entirely different now than Jamie's art show, or even their marriage, Lucy thought. Gloria sighed and gazed down at her knitting. Lucy had a feeling she was deep in thought about some unexpected speed bumps she'd either recently hit, or spotted on the horizon.
Then Gloria suddenly looked up, realizing she'd been distracted.
"Just between us," she confided in a softer voice, "my dearest love will have a show in Boston before the year is out, if I have to buy the gallery and hang every one of those darn paintings myself."
Everyone laughed at her declaration. But Lucy wasn't sure that their hostess was actually joking.
Copyright © 2010 by Anne Canadeo
What People are Saying About This
"A charmer.... The crafty first of a cozy new series." Publishers Weekly on While My Pretty One Knits