Dan was unable to tell if the second meeting of the knitting group was any better than the first overall, but for him, it was definitely worse. As Mika called roll, it became apparent that three people weren't there, and probably wouldn't be coming to any more meetings, as the only attendees were Coach Drina, obviously, Mika, of course, Lia, the overenthusiastic freshman, and Jared, surprisingly.
When Jared had walked into the room, almost late, Dan's insides had shrunk down, like a little creature was pulling his insides down as far as they could go and stomping on them repeatedly. This was not a very pleasant feeling, so he slipped his headphones into his ears in order to look busy.
Dan couldn't imagine what the school asshole was doing in the knitting group, particularly since he appeared to have no intentions of learning, but Dan was really not motivated to ask. The last time he'd asked Jared Palmer a question, he'd asked if he could please go down the slide, and he'd been beaten to a pulp. That was second grade, and he did not feel like repeating the experience now, in a room with witnesses and pointy sticks.
Fortunately, Jared didn't seem to be looking for interaction. He sauntered into the quiet room, the door slamming behind him with a ringing thud, slung himself across a chair on the side of the room near the door, ran a hand up through his spiky hair, and pulled out his phone.
At this point, Dan and Mika exchanged a look. Turns out Mika wasn't thrilled to have him back either. Well, at least he wasn't the only one.
Coach Drina waited a few minutes to start the meeting, probably in hopes of more people showing up, but eventually relented. "Okay, guys!" she said. "Welcome to our second knitting group meeting. Hopefully today we can do some knitting and get those of you who don't know how to knit yet going! That's just..." she consulted Mika's roll call sheet of paper. "Jared and... Lia, right?"
"Yep!" Lia piped up. Jared didn't acknowledge his name being spoken or even move. Typical.
"Okay, then," Coach Drina said. "Lia, do you want to learn first?"
Dan was relieved to hear her say "first", implying that she would be teaching both of them. Last year, the newbies had been taught by those in the group who are already knitters and Dan was not about to teach Jared how to knit. There was no way. He'd jump out the window first.
"The rest of you, well, Mika and Dan, you guys know what to do." Coach Drina went and sat in the pale pink velour armchair next to Lia's, armed with two short, relatively fat plastic knitting needles and a basket of cotton yarn. She always started beginners off with knitting cotton dishcloths. The orange, red and green ones Dan had made when he was learning were still in use in their kitchen, holes, unevenness and all.
Because of Jared's prescense, Dan felt awkward pulling his knitting out of his backpack, like he was being uncool by knitting in a knitting club and for being there in the first place, even though Jared may or may not have even noticed that anyone else was there. It seemed like to him, he was sitting in an empty room, completely ignoring everything around him, including all the subtle little looks of disapproval from everyone else, who he was also ignoring.
However, as Dan figured it, it wasn't really a secret that he knit, and he was there to knit, so he may as well actually go ahead and do what he was there to do. Plus, if he didn't, Mika and Coach Drina would be suspicious and it wasn't like Jared seemed to be in the mood to torment anyway. So, he pulled out his work-in-progress, a cabled sweater vest with dark green heathered wool for his grandpa for Christmas. Yes, it was August. He started Christmas knitting early.
"Ooh, that looks nice, Dan," Mika said from where she sat, working on a light green and teal striped beret. "Love the Irish cabling."
"Thanks," Dan said, glancing over to Jared, who had put in earbuds. Good.
Between them, Lia was struggling. The needles were cumbersome in her hands, her ball of rainbow cotton kept rolling off her lap, and every time she went to wrap the yarn around her right needle, it slipped out of the stitches and onto the floor, which is an infuriating kind of problem to fix, especially repeatedly.
"How do you all make this look so easy?" she asked, dropping her lack of progress on her lap in frustration and looking back and forth between Mika and Dan.
"Your fingers learn what to do as you practice," Mika said. "Try resting it on your lap as you knit so the needle has nowhere to fall and your fingers can get used to it being there. Eventually they'll learn to hold it."
"Okay..."Lia said, going in for another stitch with her needles on her lap. She put her entire body into every motion, like it was a huge effort, but she made it. "Hey!" she said, holding up her knitting for all to see. "I did it!"
"Awesome work!" Coach Drina said. "You're doing really well!"
There was one slightly lopsided stitch under the right needle. "Nice work," Dan said. It was nice to see someone so enthusiastic about learning.
"Thank you, guys. I think I can finish a row on my own now," she said to Coach Drina, who smiled.
"Awesome," she said. "Jared?"
He either didn't hear or ignored her. Dan put his head down, using his well timed cable round as an excuse to hide.
"Jared," Coach Drina said. "Jared!"
"What do you want?" he finally snapped back. When he did, Dan, Lia, and Mika all flinched. Coach Drina did not flinch.
"Are you sure you don't want to learn to knit?" she asked with surprising kindness.
Jared looked at her like she was an invalid. "I'm sure," he said.
Coach Drina gave a sharp nod. "Okay, then," she said. "Thank you." And with that, she walked over to her purse and pulled out a purple sock in procress, sat down, and started to knit, striking up a conversation with Mika about the classes she was taking this year.
Dan watched Jared carefully out of his periphial vision. Jared had resumed staring at his screen, but something about him gave off the feeling like everyone in the room was under survaillence and if one person did so much as blink the wrong way, something very, very bad would happen. Dan didn't know what that bad thing was, but he did not want to find out.
He wasn't the only one, either. Everyone in the room except Coach Drina occasionally glanced over to Jared, checking up on him, but nobody said anything about it.
Eventually, Dan started eavesdropping on Mika and Coach Drinas' conversation.
"-yeah, all this AP literature reading is going to be the death of me. It takes so much time."
"You should use online textbooks," Coach Drina suggested. "That way you can knit and read at the same time."
"Or you could listen to audiobooks," Dan jumped in. "More fun, and that way people don't jump in and distract you as often."
"That could be fun, but I don't know if I can focus on knitting and reading at the same time, audiobooks might work but still... It's high level stuff."
"Yeah, I'm glad I don't teach classes with hard reading. I don't want to have to figure that stuff out either. I'll stick to knitting patterns."
"Same. I saw this really pretty pattern for this lace wrap yesterday. I'm thinking of designing something similar as a summer shawl for my online shop with some organic cotton, but I'm not sure if it'll block out right if I don't use wool."
"Try using drop stitch and stripes," Dan suggested. "It'll be loose stripes and tighter stripes, and you can vary thicknesses and colors, without as much of the bunchiness of lace."
Mika nodded. "That's a great idea, I'll make up a swatch at the next meeting on Friday."
"The pattern master has spoken," Coach Drina said with a smile, referencing his nickname from the year before.
Mika laughed. "The pressure is on, Dan."
Dan shook his head. "Please don't bring that back again," he said, only half teasing.
"Bring what back?" Lia asked, about three fourths of the way through her first row. Dan had forgotten how long it took to knit in the beginning.
"It's a long story," he said quickly, before the others could jump in.
"Shut up, Dan, we have time," Mika said. "You want to hear a story?" she asked Lia.
"Once upon a time, meaning last year, Dan and I were both in knitting group with a bunch of other people, right?"
Lia nodded. Dan ducked his head and pretended to not listen, cabling away. He was working on the front piece of this vest and he did not want to mess up. All the little seed stitch bits and big, swooping twists would be a pain to have to fix.
"And we were all sitting around, knitting and chatting about patterns, as knitters do. Specifically, we were ranting about how sometimes pattern designers use abbrevieations that nobody can figure out, because one girl, Kimi, a senior, she was really nice, was working on this pattern for this hat that was super pretty in the picture, but nobody could figure out what the abbrevieations were. Like, it was supposed to look like a bunch of interlocking leaves, kind of, and she had this perfect spring green alpaca for it salvaged from the trunk and everything. But all the directions were just weird letters, I don't remember specifics, and they didn't seem to be doing what they were supposed to be doing...it was bad. Increases going in the wrong direction, eyelets in all the wrong places. Like, nothing we tried worked, right? And Dan is sitting over there, working on these gloves, which is a ridiculous task, fingers are so annoying, and he's just like, 'This is why patterns suck,' and everyone in the room stops and looks at him in silence like, 'huh?'. And he's like, 'Patterns are just excuses to be confused. Why use them?' and we're all just stunned by this insanity. Everyone uses patterns. There is no good knitter that doesn't use patterns. Even pattern designers use patterns. So we're all shocked."
"Mika's mouth could have caught flies, she was so stunned," Coach Drina interjected. Dan shook his head. It's not that weird. He was sure plenty of knitters didn't use patterns. He couldn't be the only one.
"Totally speechless. Everyone was. And then we were all like, 'Okay, stop lying, we know you use patterns. We've seen the stuff you knit, you have to use patterns.' And he's like, 'Nope, just make it up as I go.' And we say, 'nah,' and he's like 'I've never used a pattern. Think about it.' So we do and he's right, we'd never ever seen him with a pattern. Which is ridiculous. And he's like 'It's not that weird,--"
"It's not that weird," he interjected. Mika shook her head and rolled her eyes.
"It's definitely weird, Dan. So then he's like, 'The closest thing to using a pattern that I ever do is copying a picture and knitting what I see. That's it'. And Kimi's like, 'Well here then, how would you do this?" And he looks at it, and he's like, easy, you just increase the number of stitches inbetween the increases every other row and make sure you're using left leaning ones on the left and right leaning ones on the right and then reincrease with yarn overs for the little holes and make sure there's one purl in the very center of each for the start of the stem, and we're like, fine, we'll try that, and so we do and it looked exactly like the picture. Exactly. And so from there on out he was the pattern master," Mika finished. "And we didn't let him forget it."
"Wow," Lia said, looking at Dan. "That's so cool!"
"Thanks," he said. "Don't listen to them, though, it's not that big of a deal."
Coach Drina shook her head. "He still doesn't get how awesome it is," she said.
"I know," said Mika. "So sad. And he doesn't even write them down for other people, either. He just hogs them all in his head..."
Dan flinched. She was right, he didn't write them down, but it's not like he was hoarding them for the sake of making people jealous or even just making unique things or whatever. He had good reason. He didn't really feel like explaining or whatever, so he didn't argue.
"Yeah, well," he said, putting his earbuds in. "Lia, now you know the story. A dramatic version, at least."
And that was the last he observed of that knitting group meeing. The rest of it was him, his cables, and his music.
When the meeting was over, he drove himself home. He pulled up his family's driveway, leading up to a suburban house in the nice part of town. With crisp, sage green paint, brown trim, and some light brick accents, it looked just as nice as every other house on their street, which made them all blend together. He parked the car, a black and gold dual tone Suburu Outback, and walked in the front door, tossing his keys in the bowl on the table in the entryway with everyone else's. The house was deserted except for a light and some faint instrumental music coming from his sister's room. As he passed by it, she yelled "DAN!" from inside.
He opened the door and poked his head in to see her sat at her desk, surrounded by homework, glasses on instead of contacts, and brown hair up in a messy bun. "Alexis?"
"Mom's working late on a case, so Dad's 'cooking supper' when he gets home, theoretically around six."
"Pizza and wings again, then?" She nodded. "Thanks for the heads up," he said, and left.
"DAN!" she yelled again as he was walking away.
"Shut the door behind you." He did so, and went next door, to his room, where he dumped his schoolbag on the floor and plopped on his bed, only to move again to retrieve his knitting and the remote control for the TV. He was going to enjoy the next hour and a half or so of quiet.