Mrs. Ames piped in from the couch.
“You know, because you riiiippp it out, like ‘ribbit,’ like a frog!” Caroline Beasley, a bubbly redhead, smiled at her. Caroline had been a grade or two behind Claire and now worked as a CPA in Dovetail.
Mr. Black waited for the others to subside, then continued.
“No sense ripping open any more of the stitches than you need to. Take it back to where you miscounted, then start over from there.” Claire looked up at Donald again.
By stitches he meant old wounds or was her preoccupation with Dutch making her crazy?
His gaze was steady and apparently innocent.
But his mouth was ever so slightly curved, the lines around it a fraction deeper. Enough for Claire to realize she needed to make this man her friend. It was never wise to have an enemy who could read you so well.
“Thanks, Donald.” She emphasized his given name. He wasn’t Mr. Black anymore; Mr. Black would’ve told her to read another chapter of A Tale of Two Cities to understand the significance of Madame Defarge and her maniacal knitting. Donald let her know with a glance that he didn’t miss a trick, but wasn’t inclined to push her on it, either.
His kindness was evident in the relaxed way he spoke to her. He didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable around him.
“This is always scary.” Claire ripped back row after row until she couldn’t see the ripples anymore, and the stitches left in the row were the same ones she’d started with.
“It’s part of the process, Claire. We all rip back, even after years of knitting.”
“Donald, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were still trying to teach me theme and motif, only this time on life.”
Donald laughed. “Am I that gauche? It’s a good thing I retired, then. I’d really confuse today’s kids.”
Claire smiled at him. “No, you wouldn’t. You were always a wonderful teacher. You cared about your subject and the kids. But you did keep a wall up.” Indeed, he’d never been the go-to teacher when a student needed affirmation or advice.
“You understand it now, I assume?” He raised his eyebrows at her. She looked at his face; he was still handsome, the once-dark goatee and full head of hair an elegant shade of silver. Claire saw the years in the wrinkles on his forehead. Years of keeping his private life private, years of ignoring the taunts and snide comments issued by adolescent boys learning about their own sexuality.
“I do. And I still think you’re wonderful, Donald.”
With that, Claire started her first real friendship since returning to Dovetail.
C LAIRE WAS SCRUBBING down her countertop and glanced out the kitchen window toward the barn for at least the sixth time in five minutes. Dutch’s truck was there. Some days she went out and talked to him as he tended to the llamas, other days not—she figured he’d tell her if there was anything she needed to be aware of.
Besides, it was easier to her if she didn’t have to face him in person.
The past few weeks had passed without incident as Stormy healed from the rough birth, the crias grew stronger by the day, and Sasha fell into a routine of spending time with Claire a couple of afternoons each week.
Claire was proud of keeping her promise to herself. She was available to Sasha, but wasn’t consumed by Dutch’s moods or her own ruminations on their past.
For the most part.
She threw down the sponge and leaned against the counter.
She hated the total awareness her body had of Dutch. From the moment his truck turned into the drive, a full quarter mile up the road, until he was a mile out from her property, her internal radar seemed to vibrate at a frequency just shy of excruciating.
With another man, other circumstances, she’d be able to let herself enjoy the physical chemistry. But not with Dutch, especially since it was so one-sided. Whatever chemistry they’d had as kids only lingered with her; she was certain of it. Even if Dutch saw her as more