"You know, Kelly, I bet you could make Helen's cookie recipe. If you can follow a knitting pattern, you can surely follow a recipe. It's just another form of pattern."
Kelly concentrated on the stitches forming on her needles. "I don't know, Megan. You know how many mistakes I make with knitting. Can you imagine what I could do to Helen's recipe?"
Lisa chuckled. "You can do it, Kelly."
Arguing voices sounded in the classroom doorway. Politely arguing voices. "You are being much too harsh, Hilda," Lizzie said as she flounced into the room, her sister right behind. "Claudia's not a loose woman. She's simply lively, that's all."
"She's a common gold digger," Hilda decreed in her deep contralto, dumping her tapestry knitting bag at the head of the table for emphasis. "I've seen scores of women like that, and they're consummate actresses. They're all smiles and wiles on the outside, while inside they're scheming to trap a rich husband."
Kelly exchanged glances with her friends. Lisa and Jennifer smiled. Megan rolled her eyes. They'd been listening to Hilda complain about Claudia and her "shameless behavior" for several days now. Clearly, Hilda wasn't pleased with Lizzie's new social companion. The "Merry Widow" as Lisa called her.
"Sounds like you've been out on the town again, Lizzie," Jennifer interjected. "I swear, you go out more than I do. Maybe I should join the senior singles."
Jennifer's light-hearted comment brought Lizzie's smile back as well as soft laughter around the table. "You're too young, dear," Lizzie said as she withdrew the lemon yellow baby blanket.
It was still unfinished, Kelly noticed. Apparently Lizzie's social schedule had interfered with her knitting time. "Let's see, Lizzie...you've been to the senior singles dinner, and the movie club, and the lunch club, and a wine tasting group, and"
"And the travel club, and the book discussion group, and the knitting group of course," Lizzie picked up the list, cheeks flushed with pleasure. "And last night I joined the square dancing club."
"Lizzie, I'm so proud of you," Megan enthused. "You really did take our advice. And now you've met all sorts of new friends."
"Oh, yes, and picked up friendships with people I'd lost track of over the years." Her fingers worked the stitches rapidly.
"Is the Merry Widow coming with you to all these groups, too?" Lisa asked.
Hilda made a disgruntled noise as she worked the azure blue yarn in her lap. More mittens.
Lizzie didn't even glance at her sister. "Claudia comes to some of them, but she has her own interests. So, she introduced me to several of her friends and got me launched, so to speak. Frankly, once I discovered all the fascinating activities that are happening there...well, I couldn't wait to get involved."
Claudia had obviously opened a whole new world to Lizzie, and Kelly was pleased. She couldn't resist asking, "I take it some of Claudia's other interests include the widower Jeremy. Is she still seeing him?"
"Ohhhh, yes. In fact..." Lizzie paused and glanced at her sister before leaning over the table to whisper, "she spent the night with him." Jennifer smiled. "Now, it's getting interesting,"
"I told you she was a loose woman. Using her wiles to trap poor Jeremy." Hilda wagged her head, frown etched into her lined face.
"Poor Jeremy?" Jennifer cackled. "It sounds like he's having the time of his life being trapped."
"Face it, Hilda, Claudia is lively, funny, and pretty," Megan added. "Most men Jeremy's age would be interested."
"She's still a schemer and a gold digger," Hilda declared. "Look at that list of husbands. She's looking for a meal ticket, that's all."
"Maybe she's just lonely," Jennifer said without looking up from her needles. Hilda simply sniffed and didn't reply.
"I think you may be right, Jennifer," Kelly ventured, hoping to lower the temperature around the table. It didn't feel right to have Lizzie and Hilda arguing.
"We loose women have to stick together," Jennifer said with a wink before sipping her coffee.
Lisa snickered. "I've never met this librarian you guys told me about, but I have a feeling Jeremy's forgotten her."
Lizzie wagged her head. "I know, I know. I confess I'm torn. I've known Juliet for years, and I was so happy she'd found someone. But now"
"But now, that brazen hussy has stolen him away," Hilda declared, fingers working the yarn so fast the mittens danced on her needles.
Here we go again, Kelly thought, about to interject another moderating comment when the familiar click-clack of high heels sounded in the next room. The Brazen Hussy herself. Kelly sneaked a peak at Hilda, who looked like she'd just bitten into a sour apple.
"Well, well, well, we've got a full house this afternoon," Claudia announced as she sashayed into the room. "How lovely to see everyone."
Claudia settled into a chair beside Kelly and removed the magenta shawl she was knitting. Kelly noticed Claudia was wearing one of the two designer suits Kelly recognized. Not the latest fashion, but stylish nonetheless. "Lizzie has been filling us in on her latest senior center excursions. Sounds like her social calendar is getting full."
"Oh, my yes. Lizzie took to the senior club scene like a duck to water," Claudia said with a little laugh. "I'm delighted"
"If you ladies will excuse me, I must speak to Mimi about my yarn order," Hilda announced as she gathered her knitting and stalked from the room.
A noticeable silence descended for a few seconds, then Claudia spoke in a quiet voice. "I'm sorry that Hilda doesn't like me, but I seem to irritate a lot of women. I guess I'm too outspoken for their tastes."
"Don't mind Hilda," Lizzie said, glancing over her shoulder. "She'll come around."
Claudia shook her head with the air of someone used to these encounters. "Nooooo, I don't think so. It happens all the time." She gave a little shrug. "I can walk into a room and feel it. There's something about me that annoys the living daylights out of most women." The multi-colored yarn formed into neat lacy rows on her needles.
Jennifer chuckled. "I know what you mean, Claudia. A lot of women don't like me, either. But that's okay. I kind of like rattling cages."
"We've noticed," Lisa said.
Kelly held up her coffee mug. "From one cage rattler to the next," she saluted both Claudia and Jennifer. Claudia seemed to relax after that, her shoulders were no longer hunched.
"Lizzie tells us you and your new boyfriend seem to be getting more, how shall I say it. . ." Jennifer paused dramatically. "More involved."
Kelly stared at her double point needles, wondering if Claudia would take the bait.
She did. Claudia gave a sly smile. "You might say that."
Jennifer briefly glanced over her shoulder at the browsing customers. "So, how's ol' Jeremy stack up? Compared to your other husbands, I mean."
"Jennifer..." Megan rasped, nodding to the customers prowling the shelves and yarn bins in the room.
"What?" Jennifer said innocently. "Hilda's gone, so I thought we could talk." Kelly chuckled over her coffee and watched Lizzie eye Claudia expectantly with that bright-eyed robin look.
"Jennifer, you are too much," Claudia said after she finished laughing. "Let's just say that Jeremy is a good student, and I'm a excellent teacher."
Lisa hooted out loud at that, which elicited several smiles from the nearby customers who had been obviously eavesdropping.
"Still waters run deep, as my mother always said," Megan offered.
Jennifer grinned at Megan. "What would you know about still waters? You've got Marty. He's a veritable fountain."
Megan choked on her coffee, she started laughing so hard, as did everyone around the table.
"Waterfall is more like it. Never stops."
"No, a Jacuzzi. It comes in bursts."
"Stop, you guys, I've spilled my coffee," Megan pleaded between laughs.
"I bet Megan is the still water in that relationship," Claudia said.
Kelly noticed a woman who was browsing in the corner yarn bins suddenly turn and survey the table. Her stern gaze fell on Claudia. "I see you've already ingratiated yourself with the locals. You don't waste time, Claudia. You've been in Colorado less than two months."
Claudia stared back at the woman and blanched, her busy needles dropping to her lap.
A hard smile appeared on the woman's thin pinched face. "Surprised to see me, I take it."
Who the heck is this? Kelly wondered, as she stared at the woman and at Claudia's reaction. Claudia was clearly shocked speechless, her blue eyes huge.
"How...how did you know where" Claudia stammered.
"You mean, how did I find you?" The woman's smile hardened at the corners of her mouth. "I tracked you here from Florida. It took a while, I admit. You were very clever, slipping away in the middle of the night like that. Not telling anyone. Everyone at the retirement home thought you'd simply moved out."
Claudia stared stricken at the woman, not answering.
"But stealing that old woman's car was a master stroke, I must admit." "I did no such thing!" Claudia protested. "Mary Ann Howard gave me that car, so...so...I could"
"So you could escape, right?" The woman's gaze narrowed. "You forgot about the credit card bill. All those travel expenses you ran up on that stolen card. That's how I tracked you."
Two customers glanced apprehensively over their shoulders and moved their browsing to another room.
Claudia stared horrified. "I didn't steal her credit card. Mary Ann gave it to me so I could come here. I was going to pay her back."
More heads turned from the adjoining room, and Kelly glanced to her friends. Each of their expressions mirrored her own. What was going on here?
"Sheila, why have you come here? All you had to do was ask Mary Ann. She'll tell you." Claudia's voice contained an uncharacteristic tone of pleading.
Sheila's mouth twisted. "Mary Ann had a massive stroke and died right after you ran off."
Claudia gasped, then stared at Sheila, mouth hanging open.
Lizzie placed her hand on her friend's arm and asked in a tremulous voice. "Claudia...who is this woman?"
Color rushed back into Claudia's face. "She's...she's my step-daughter, Sheila Miller."
"Was her step-daughter," Sheila bit off the words. "Until she killed my father."
© Maggie Sefton