Home > Real Men Knit

Real Men Knit
Author: Kwana Jackson

1

 


   There was nothing cute about the first time Kerry Fuller met Jesse Strong.

   He broke her glasses, she bloodied his nose and they both ended up in a tangle of yarn on the floor in the loft space of Strong Knits being scolded by Mama Joy.

   What she wouldn’t give to be scolded by the older woman just one more time, Kerry thought as she adjusted her dark-framed glasses and purposefully pushed aside the almost-long-forgotten childhood memory. She glanced over at the front window of Strong Knits, the Harlem yarn shop that had been so much a part of her life growing up.

   Any other day Kerry would have loved walking through the doors of Strong Knits. It had been that way since she had first stepped foot in the little knitting shop where she’d worked part-time for the better part of the last ten years and pretty much just hung out for most of her childhood years before that, making it her unlikely sanctuary. A place of calm in the midst of the chaos that was the concrete jungle of upper Manhattan. But this day was anything but normal. Despite the summer sun, warm and glinting off the freshly cleaned windows, showcasing the vintage baskets overflowing with color from the brand-new yarns that Mama Joy had gotten in barely two weeks before, Kerry still felt a chill run through her body that sent goose pimples rippling across her bare forearms.

   Even the cute little display to the right of the baskets with fake ice-cream cones made of balls of finely spun cotton in creamy sherbet colors couldn’t bring a smile to her lips, when they’d brought her nothing but delight just a little over a week before. But smiling now, and the memory of Mama Joy and those cones, caused Kerry’s heart to ache way too much.

   When she and Mama Joy had put the display together, it was with much happiness and no idea of the sorrow to come. No, all they could think of then was the smiles of the passersby when they saw the new yarns displayed in the whimsical not quite ice-cream cones. Mama Joy knew the children in the neighborhood would love it. And she was right. They did. Folks came in and immediately asked for those yarns. Little faces glowed when they saw the display and brown eyes lit with delight upon seeing the colorful cones.

   But like the dynamo she was, Mama Joy had already been anticipating the next display, looking forward to what they would be doing for the fall. She had been excited about showcasing something even better for the neighborhood kids come the end of August with the new shipments on the way.

   Kerry felt a weight suddenly lay heavy on her chest. What would happen to those yarns now? What would they do now that Mama Joy was no longer here to help navigate the changes that the new season would bring? Kerry peered through the glass of the door once more, noticing the darkness in the shop, uncharacteristic for the hour of the day. If this had been a normal day, the lights would already be on in the back of the shop and right around this time Mama Joy would be stepping forward to unlock the door and wave her in. Kerry let out a sigh as the fact that she’d never be greeted by that wave, or Mama Joy’s easy smile, ever again took the air clear out of her lungs.

   Oh well, she couldn’t just stand here wallowing in her feelings. Instead, Kerry swallowed and physically forced them down as she reached out and gave the buzzer on the side of the door three short rings. She waited. One breath and then another. Two more rings. Longer and steadier this time. She moved to the side and rang the bell to chime up at the residence upstairs. Come on, Jesse, where are you? Noah? Lucas? She knew Damian would probably not be there, but she thought that maybe Noah and Lucas would have stayed over since they were all supposed to meet up here later anyway.

   Disappointment blanketed her shoulders for a moment at the silent response to her ring. Why weren’t the brothers together? Especially at a time like this? Sure, Lucas could have stayed over at the firehouse where he was stationed and lived most of the time, and maybe Noah went back to the place he was subletting with the other tour dancers, and knowing Damian, he didn’t want anything to mess up his usual well-ordered routine so he’d probably gone back to his own apartment. But still, she expected Jesse to be there. Kerry felt her brows draw together. Who was she fooling? When it came to Jesse Strong, who knew what rock he was burrowed under this morning? The thought brought with it a sizzle of anger that shot quickly through Kerry’s spine, followed immediately by an intense feeling of guilt.

   She could at least cut Jesse some slack, today of all days. Yes, her thinking was perfectly logical, but it was uncharitable and uncalled for, nonetheless. Especially since Jesse was hurting just as much as she was—hell, probably even more so—with it being the day after Mama Joy’s funeral. She may call Ms. Joy “Mama Joy,” like most of the young people in the neighborhood, but to Jesse, Lucas, Noah and Damian, she was their mother. The only one that mattered. The only one in this world who stuck around and took the time to truly make them a part of her family. Kerry knew if she was feeling this level of grief and uncertainty, then what must Jesse and his brothers be going through having just lost the only mother they’d ever been able to call their own?

   She pressed the shop’s buzzer again, then hit the side buzzer one more time. Still no answer. Oh well, she guessed Jesse wasn’t there. He probably hadn’t wanted to spend last night home above the shop alone. And who knows, maybe he ended up staying over at Damian’s. Kerry felt her lips tighten, knowing how unlikely that was, given how well the two of them got along. Nope, more likely than not, Jesse was crashed underneath whatever woman he was currently seeing or hooking up with. She sighed. There she was being petty once again. How was it that thoughts of Jesse brought out the “Call me Petty Patty” side in her so easily?

   Reaching into her tote bag to pull out her spare set of keys to let herself into the shop, Kerry hesitated. It shouldn’t be too much of a problem just letting myself in. Right? Mama Joy had given her the keys ages ago as a backup and Kerry had promised the brothers she’d meet them this morning to help with sorting things out while they discussed the future of . . . well, everything.

   Kerry feared that after today the Strong brothers would officially state out loud what she’d assumed after hearing that Mama Joy had suddenly died. That Strong Knits and all that went with it would be no more. A Harlem institution here and gone in what felt like too short a breath, just like the amazing woman who had made it great.

   With a last sigh Kerry finally let herself into the shop. The weight of the old wooden door seemed heavier than ever before. It couldn’t be an easy decision for any of the brothers to make. The least she could do was have coffee on for them when they arrived.

   As she stepped inside the shop, the light tinkle of the overhead bell made her half smile while bringing a tear to her eye and a painful tug to the center of her chest. She knew it was just her imagination, but it was as if she could still smell the scent of Mama Joy’s cinnamon biscuits. The ones she’d make special on Wednesdays for her senior knitting circle, self-dubbed the OKG—Old Knitting Gang. Kerry was their honorary little sister and, in a way, their mascot from early on. She guessed now maybe Ms. Cherry and the rest of the crew would meet at the senior center or one of the women’s houses. She made a mental note to get all their contact info so she could still help them with getting yarns online. Not that they’d let her get too far out of reach, mind you. They were just not that type of crew. The OKG felt more Godfather than Junior League, meaning that once you were in the family there really was no way out except one, and sadly, Mama Joy had made her way out.

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