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Authors: Jill Churchill

Tags: #Mystery, #Holiday, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths

A Farewell to Yarns

BOOK: A Farewell to Yarns
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

A Farewell To Yarns


Jill Churchill



The Jeffry house in the suburbs of Chicago
empty, but it was a hectic sort of emptiness. The portable television in the kitchen was on the "Today" show at top volume. Jane's ninth-grade daughter, Katie, had turned it on in the desperate hope of finding some tidbit of news with which to complete her social studies assignment. Naturally, she hadn't thought of turning it off before leaving for school. Such things never occurred to Katie. From upstairs, the sound of sixteen-yearold Mike's stereo was blaring an extremely noisy Queen album. Mike didn't set much store by turning things off, either.

The coffee maker was making a very peculiar burble because, in her haste to get her kids off to school, Jane had slopped water on the heating element. The furnace was going full blast, making the funny clicking sound Jane had been worrying about for a couple of days, and from the basement there was the sound of some lonely item of clothing with a metal button thrashing around in the dryer.

The kitchen phone was ringing insistently and was being ignored by the cat closest to it. He, a rotund gray tabby tom named Max, was stand ing in the sink fishing expertly in the garbage disposal for any little treasures that might not have been thoroughly disposed of. The faucet was dripping every few seconds on the back of his almost nonexistent neck, but it didn't seem to worry him. His counterpart, a sleek yellow item named Meow, was daintily cruising the breakfast room table for crumbs.

In the dining room a great shambling dog named Willard was barking his head off at the neighbor who walked the poodle by the house e ve r y m o r ni ng. W i l l a r d ha d b e e n s o und l y trounced once by the poodle and now spent a few refreshing moments every morning telling the interloper (from the safety of his own dining room) what would happen to him next time they met. Jane had to clean the low windows at least once a week because of his spitty morning barkfests.

Added to this at 8:38 was the rumble of Jane's car pulling into the driveway. "It's only a little hole in the muffler, Mom," Mike had assured her. Jane thought it sounded like a Concorde taking off every time she accelerated.

Jane Jeffrey came in the outside kitchen door a moment later. Normally an attractive (though she didn't really think so) and well-groomed woman in her late thirties, this morning Jane was a wreck. Most of her blond hair was stuffed under a stocking cap that did more to emphasize than conceal its uncombed condition. She wore an antique and very tatty socalled minkshe'd picked up at a garage sale several years earlier. Jane didn't really approve of wearing fur—her economics as well as ethics were of fended by it—but this one looked like it came from an animal that
to be extinct. The coat was a disgrace, and she knew it, but it was incredibly warm, just what she needed for driving winter morning car pools. With this unstylish garment, she wore jeans, a sweatshirt that said, "This is no ordinary housewife you're dealing with," and sheepskin slippers that she removed and shook the snow from into the sink—after hoisting Max out.

She leaned on the counter for a moment, looking around the kitchen with disgust. "This looks like white trash lives here, and it's your fault!" she told the car. Then she bellowed at the dog,

"Willard! I'll bring that poodle in here to beat you up if you don't stop barking this instant!”

There was a knock at the kitchen door, and Jane opened it to find her friend and next-door neighbor Shelley Nowack. A few snowflakes spangled Shelley's neat cap of dark hair and the velvet trim on her coat. In honor of the ap proaching holidays, she had a sequined Christmas tree brooch pinned to her lapel. Even in her distracted state, Jane noticed that Shelley's high-heeled boots were of exactly the same shade as her gloves and her purse. "How dare you look that good already."

“My God, Jane. What happened to you? You look like you've been savaged by a gang of bikers."

“... which is roughly equivalent to being the mother of three kids. The electricity must have been out for an hour or so last night. We over slept. Why didn't you?"

“My alarm is battery powered. You should have one. Now I know what to get yo u fo r Christmas."

“I should have a lot of things. A housekeeper for starters. Then maybe an indulgent millionaire husband. Shelley, pour us some coffee, would you?”

Shelley took off her coat, folding it neatly over the back of a chair, then laid her gloves and purse on the seat. She took down two coffee mugs from the shelf, while Jane hastily cleaned the table. " Calm down. W e've got plenty of time," Shelley said as Jane brutally shoved cereal boxes into the cabinet.

“Yes, I guess so. I just work up in a panic mode and can't seem to stop." She sat down and blew on the coffee. "Jesus! I hate days that start this way. Mike thought they ought to just stay home from school altogether since they were going to be late anyway and was outraged that I wouldn't consider it. Katie acted like I'd turned the clocks off on purpose to make her miss some girly-girly gossip session in the second floor john before school. And Todd took advantage of the situation to trick me into signing a sheet saying I'd help drive the fifth grade to something or other. If Steve weren't already dead, I'd kill him for leaving me with all this. He should have been here helping."

“Come on, Jane. Steve wouldn't have been helping you this morning. He'd have been standing around helplessly, wanting you to iron a shirt or something."

“You're right. Either way, I'm mad at him. Ughhh! This coffee is awful."

“That's possibly Steve's fault, too," Shelley said with a grin. Jane smiled back. "As a matter of fact, it is. I buy it because it was
favorite brand. He's been gone nearly a year, and I'm still drinking his disgusting coffee. What's the matter with me?"

“Nothing that time won't take care of. Just think. You can use some of his lovely insurance money to buy all sorts of expensive gourmet brands to try out. Now, go get dressed and put on a face, and I'll tidy up the kitchen."

“Don't even think about it! I don't want you to look in my cabinets and know what a slob I really am.”

Shelley put a well-manicured hand on Jane's wrist and said, "Can I be honest?"

“Why stop at honest? Go straight to cruel."

“I don't have to look into cabinets to know your secret. Get dressed, unless you plan to meet your old friend looking this way."

“I don't think Phyllis would care. Knowing Phyllis, it's questionable whether she'd notice, but I'd hate to risk seeing a look of raw pity in her eyes. I'll have to feed Willard; he'd be terrified to eat anything someone else's hands had touched. The whole world is out to poison him, he says, but the cat food is under the sink in the guest bathroom."

“There must be a reason for that," Shelley said mildly, having long since accepted most of the vagaries of Jane's peculiar housekeeping system.

“It's my emergency supply, for when I've run out and they start attacking my ankles." Jane disappeared down the basement steps, peeling her sweatshirt off over her head as she went. She came back up a few minutes later wearing a denim skirt and blue-and-white striped blouse. "There's noting like getting dressed right out of the dryer. So toasty and warm." She sat down on a kitchen chair and struggled into a pair of panty hose. The cats were sitting on opposite sides of their dish, staring at each other, each afraid to eat first for fear of getting smacked on the head by the other. Willard kept sticking his big wet nose into the back of Jane's knees. "Yes, yes. Just a minute," she told him.

As she stood up to give her panty hose a final tug, her finger punched through the hose, and a fat run slithered down her leg. "A man invented panty hose," Shelley observed.

“Probably a grandson of the man who invented corsets!" Jane said, stripping off the ruined item and throwing it into the wastebasket. She hurriedly fed Willard, then ran upstairs while Shelley continued to tidy the kitchen.

When Jane returned, she was a new person. Her short, streaked blond hair was combed and sprayed into a tousled upswept style —Shelley had made her go to a hairdresser to learn how to create this miracle—and she had on navy knee-length boots that added a full two inches to her height. With makeup, she looked a good five years younger and a great deal less stressed. " Y o u d o c l e a n u p g o o d , " S h e l l e y s a i d approvingly. Jane glanced around the spotless kitchen. "Sodo you. If Paul ever goes bankrupt and you need a job, I'll hire you."

“The sad thing is, I'd love it," Shelley ob served. "I know it's shallow of me, but I really love to clean. It's not anything compulsive, it's just that you can see a difference when you're through. Not like raising kids or something that you're not sure how it's going to turn out for a couple of decades.”

Jane sat down and took another sip of the now-cold coffee. "And I hate cleaning, because no matter how often or well you do it, it has to be done again—and again and again. How are we on time?"

“Plenty. Your friend's flight isn't due for an hour and a half, and it's only an hour to the airport."

“Still, I'd like to get going. Do you mind?"

“Not a bit. Are you driving, or shall I?”

This question raised a good number of conflicting emotions in Jane. Though Shelley was normally the most calm, refined individual in the world, something about getting behind the steering wheel of a car brought out a savage, competitive streak in her. On the other hand, Jane didn't think her muffler would stick with her all the way to O'Hare, and she had an awful suspicion that the kids had left McDonald's wrappers and other trash in the backseat, where Phyllis would have to ride. Of course, Phyllis Wagner was so down-to-earth that she probably wouldn't think of a thing about it. The deciding factor was really the afghan

“Why don't you drive so I can crochet?" Jane said after a moment of consideration. "I've lied to Fiona. I told her I've finished it already and have just forgotten to bring it over. I've got to get the damned thing done."

“Can you crochet and ride?"

“With you? I'd rather crochet than watch." Jane went into the living room and grabbed a big yellow plastic bag that contained the afghanin-progress. Shelley followed her. "Why don't you have a tree up yet?"

“I'll get one in a day or two. You could at least notice and appreciate all those boxes in the corner. Those are the Christmas decorations, fresh from the basement and ready to go up whenever I have a spare day or two.”

True to form, Shelley made a spectacularly belligerent entry onto the main road at the bottom of their street. Jane didn't even look up from the snarl of red, green, and white yarn in her lap. She just leaned with the motion of the minivan and went on muttering, "Triple, triple, triple, single. Triple, triple, triple, single, single. Triple—"

“Hold it, Jane. You just did two singles," Shelley said.

“I was turning a corner."

“I suppose that makes sense. What I don't understand is why you have to walk your way through crocheting."

“For the simple reason that I'm not very good at it. Saying the stitches out loud is the only way I can keep track of where I am and what I'm doing.”

Shelley made what she called a "runningstop" at a stop sign and said, "You must be a lot of fun around the fireside in the evenings.”

Jane stopped working for a moment. "Fire sides would be okay. It's the television that gets me in trouble. The kids won't let me in the same room when they're watching. I annoy them to a frenzy."

“Of course you do. Just being their mother is enough for that."

“I can't understand what went wrong with me. The women in my family were usually born knitting. You know those little hats babies wear home from the hospital ... ? My aunts made their own to wile away time in the bassinets. I swear it. Knitting and crocheting are in our genes. Even Katie can whip up a granny square. How could I pass the ability on to my daughter without any sticking to me? My mother can work an elaborate cable stitch in three colors without even looking at the needles and discuss the history of the Reformation at the same time. I must be missing some crucial part of my brain."

“The part that connects with your hands probably. Or maybe the part that wants to discuss the Reformation. We're only a block from Fiona's. I've got all that stuff I have to drop off for the church bazaar. We have time before we have to be at the airport?"

“And have you speed all the way to make up lost time? I'd rather go to a dentist than let myself in for that. No, I'll help you unload it at Fiona's later. Fiona's another one—she could build a whole town with leftover scarps of yarn if she set her mind to it. Of course, she's English, so that helps explain it. Probably cut her teeth on the Bayeux Tapestry."

“Isn't that in France?”

Jane cocked an eyebrow. "If you're going to get literal on me, I won't be your friend anymore."

“If you're not my friend, I won't drive you to the airport to pick up this long lost pal of yours and you'll never finish that afghan —which might be my ultimate contribution to the longterm benefit of mankind. Now, tell me about this friend of yours.”

BOOK: A Farewell to Yarns
11.34Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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