“So you bought it? Shana, for heaven’s sake, what do you know about running any kind of restaurant?”
“Not much,” she said, “but I’ve worked in sales and with people all these years. I was ready for a break, and this seemed practically fated.”
“But how could you afford to buy an established business?”
Shana had an answer for that, too. “I had a chunk of cash in savings.” The money had originally been set aside for her wedding. Saving a hundred dollars a month and investing it carefully, she’d managed to double her money. Just then, she couldn’t think of a better way to spend it. Buying this business was impulsive and irrational but despite everything, it felt…right.
That Sunday in the park she’d admitted there would be no wedding, no honeymoon with Brad. Shana drew in her breath. She refused to think about it anymore. She’d entered a new phase of her life.
“It’s a cute place. You’ll like it,” she murmured. She had lots of ideas for fixing it up, making it hers. The Olsens had promised to help transfer ownership as seamlessly as possible.
“You rented a house?”
“That very same Sunday.” Once she’d made her decision, Shana had been on a mission and there was no stopping her. As luck would have it, there was a house two streets over that had just been vacated. The owner had recently painted it and installed new carpeting. Shana had taken one look around the 1950s-style bungalow with its small front porch and brick fireplace and declared it perfect. She’d given the rental agent a check immediately. Then she drove home, wrote a letter resigning her job—and phoned Brad. That conversation had been short, sweet and utterly satisfying.
“Making a move like this couldn’t have been easy,” Ali commiserated.
“You wouldn’t believe how easy it was,” Shana said gleefully. “I suppose you’re curious about what Brad had to say.” She was dying to tell her.
“I called him,” Shana said without waiting for Ali to respond, “and naturally he wanted to know where I’d been all weekend.”
“You told him?”
Shana grinned. “I couldn’t get a word in edgewise. He was pretty upset. He told me how worried he was, and how he’d spent the entire weekend calling me. He was afraid of what I might’ve done. As if I’d do something lethal over him,” she scoffed. Shana suspected that his concern was all for show, but none of that mattered now. “When he cooled down, I calmly explained that I’d gone for a drive.”
“A three-day drive,” Ali inserted.
“Right. Well, he got huffy, saying the least I could’ve done was let him know I’d made plans.” What came next was the best part. “So I told him I’d made plans for the rest of my life and they didn’t include him.”
Ali giggled and it sounded exactly the way it had when they were girls, sharing a bedroom. “What did he say then?”
“I don’t know. I hung up and started packing stuff in my apartment.”
“Didn’t he try to phone you back?”
“Not for the first couple of days. He e-mailed me on the third day and I immediately put a block on his name.” That must have infuriated him—not that Shana cared. Well, she did, a little. Okay, more than a little. Unfortunately she didn’t have the satisfaction of knowing what his reaction had been. In the past, she’d always been the one who patched any rift. That was her problem; she couldn’t stand conflict, so she’d done all the compromising and conciliating. Over the course of their relationship, Brad had come to expect her to make the first move. Well, no longer. She was finished. Brad Moore was history.
Instead of kicking herself for taking so long to see the light, she was moving ahead, starting over…and, to be on the safe side, giving up on men and relationships. At twenty-eight, she’d had her fill. Men weren’t worth the effort and the grief.
“I never was that fond of Brad,” Ali confessed.
“You might’ve said something.” Shana realized her tone was a little annoyed. In the five years she’d dated Brad, there’d certainly been opportunities for Ali to share her opinion.
“How could I? We just met once, and you seemed so keen on him.”
“If you’d stayed in one place longer, we might’ve gotten together more often.”
Ali’s sigh drifted over the phone. “That’s what happens when you’re in the Navy. They own your life. Now honestly, are you all right?”
Shana paused to consider the question. A second later, she gave Ali her answer. “Honestly? I feel great, and that’s the truth. Yes, this breakup hurt, but mostly I was angry with myself for not waking up sooner. I feel fabulous. It’s as if I’ve been released from a spell. I’ve got a whole new attitude toward men.”
Her sister didn’t say anything for a moment. “You might think you’re fine, but there’s a chance you’re not totally over Brad.”
“What do you mean?”
Again her sister hesitated. “I remember what it was like after Peter died. The shock and grief were overwhelming at first. I walked around in a fog for weeks.”
“This is different,” Shana insisted. “It’s less…important.”
“It is and it isn’t,” Ali fired right back.
“But you feel better now, don’t you?”
“Yes. One day, out of the blue, I discovered I could smile again. I could function. I had to. My daughter needed me. My patients needed me. I’ll always love Peter, though.” Her voice wavered but eventually regained strength.
“I’ll always love Peter, too,” Shana said, swallowing hard. “He was one of a kind.” Her brother-in-law had been a loving husband and father, and her heart ached for her sister even now. The situation with Brad didn’t compare.
“I’ll give you my flight information for this weekend,” Ali said, changing the subject.
Shana had nearly forgotten that she was about to become a substitute mother. “Oh, yeah. Let me find a pen.” Scrabbling through her purse, she dug one up and found a crumpled receipt she’d stuffed in there. Good—she could write on the back.
She was looking forward to some time with her sister. They saw each other so rarely, thanks to Ali’s career. This upcoming visit would be a brief one, but Shana hadn’t seen Ali—and Jazmine—since the funeral.
“You and Jazmine will do just fine,” Ali said warmly. “Jazmine’s a great kid, but be warned. She’s nine going on sixteen.”
“In what way?”
“Because she’s an only child, she’s rather…precocious. For instance, she’s reading at ninth-grade level. And the music she likes is sort of—well, you’ll see.”
“Thanks for warning me.”
“I’m sure this’ll be easy for you.”
Shana had her doubts. “If I remember correctly, that was what you told me when I asked if I could fly off the top bunk.”
“What did I know? I was only six,” Ali reminded her. “You’ve never forgiven me for that, have you?”
“I still remember how much it hurt to have the wind knocked out of me.” It felt the same way now. Despite the assurances she so freely handed out, Shana was still struggling to recover her equilibrium—to reinvent her life on new terms. No Brad, no steady paycheck, no familiar Portland neighborhood. Now, her niece was about to complicate the situation. The next six months should be very interesting, she thought. Very interesting indeed.
She vaguely recalled an old Chinese saying, something about living in interesting times. Unfortunately, she also recalled that it was intended as a curse, not a blessing.
Alison Karas couldn’t help being concerned about leaving her nine-year-old daughter with her sister, Shana. This wasn’t a good time in Jazmine’s life, nor was it particularly opportune for Shana. Her sister sounded strong and confident, but Ali suspected otherwise. Despite Shana’s reassurances, she’d been badly shaken by her breakup with Brad, even though she’d initiated it. Jazmine hadn’t taken the news of this deployment well, and was reluctant to leave her newfound friends behind and move to Seattle.
But Ali really had no other option. Ideally, Jazmine would go to either set of grandparents, but in this case that wouldn’t work. After the sudden loss of her father ten years earlier, her mother hadn’t done well. She’d never recovered emotionally and was incapable of dealing with the demands of a young girl. Peter had been an only child and his parents had divorced when he was young. Both had gone on to other marriages and other children. Neither set of paternal grandparents had shown any great interest in Jazmine.
Jazmine wandered into Ali’s room just then and flopped down on the bed with all the enthusiasm of a slug.
“Are you packed?” Ali asked, her own suitcase open on the opposite end of the bed.
“No,” her daughter muttered. “This whole move is crap.”
“Jazmine, watch your mouth!” Ali refused to get into an argument with a nine-year-old. The truth was, she’d rather not ship out, either, but for Jazmine’s sake she put on a good front. This was the most difficult aspect of her life in the Navy. She was a widow and a mother, but she was also a Navy nurse, and her responsibilities in that regard were unavoidable. That was made abundantly clear the day she accepted her commission. When the Navy called, she answered. In fact, she wouldn’t have minded six months at sea except for her daughter.
“Uncle Adam lives in the Seattle area,” Ali reminded her. She’d been saving that tidbit, hoping the news would make her daughter feel more positive about this most recent upheaval in their lives.
“He’s in Everett,” Jazmine said, her voice apathetic.
“I understand that’s only thirty or forty minutes from Seattle.”
Her daughter revealed her first spark of interest since they’d learned of the transfer. “Does he know we’re coming?” She sat upright, eager now.
“Not yet.” Busy as she’d been, Ali hadn’t told Adam Kennedy—her husband’s best friend and Jazz’s godfather—that Jazmine would soon be living in Seattle.
“Then we have to tell him!”
“We will, all in due course,” Ali assured her.
“Do it now.” Her daughter leaped off the bed, sprinted into the living room and came back with the portable phone.
“I don’t have his number.” Ali hadn’t been thinking clearly; their phone directory had already been packed away and she simply didn’t have time to search for it.
“I do.” Once more her daughter made a mad dash out of the bedroom, returning a moment later. Breathless, Jazmine handed Ali a tidy slip of paper.
Ali unfolded it curiously and saw a phone number written by an adult hand.
“Uncle Adam sent it to me,” Jazmine explained. “He told me I could call him whenever I needed to talk. He said it didn’t matter what time of day or night I phoned, so call him, Mom. This is important.”READ MORE >>