Navy Husband (Navy #6)

Chapter 4

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It would be so good to have her sister back again. If she had any say in the matter, Ali would move to Seattle so the two of them could be closer.

“If you get out of the Navy, does that mean you’ll marry Uncle Adam?” Jazmine asked with the excitement of a kid who’s just learned she’s about to receive the best gift of her life.

“Who’s Uncle Adam?” Did this mean her sister had managed to find two husbands while Shana had yet to find one? Ah, the old competitive urge was back in full swing.

“He was one of my dad’s best friends,” Jazmine supplied with more enthusiasm than she’d shown since she’d arrived. “He’s cute and funny and I think Mom should marry him.”

Raising one brow, Shana turned to her sister for an explanation. Ali had never mentioned anyone named Adam.

“Uncle Adam is stationed in Everett. That’s close to here, right?” Jazmine demanded, looking to Shana for the answer.

“It’s a bit of a drive.” She wasn’t entirely sure, never having made the trip north of Seattle herself. “Less than an hour, I’d guess.”

“Uncle Adam will want to visit once he learns I’m here.”

“I’m sure he will,” Ali murmured, pressing her daughter’s head against her shoulder.

“You like this guy?” Shana asked her. Ali was decidedly closemouthed about him, which implied that she had some feelings for this friend of Peter’s.

“Of course Mom likes him,” Jazmine said when her mother didn’t respond. “So do I. He’s totally fabulous.”

Ali met Shana’s gaze and shrugged.

“Another pilot?” Shana murmured.

She shook her head. “He’s a Supply Officer. You’ll like him,” her sister was quick to say, as if this man might interest her romantically. No way. Shana had sworn off men and she was serious about that.

“He said I can talk to him anytime I want,” Jazmine went on. “I can phone him, can’t I?”

“Of course you can.” Shana was more curious than ever about this man her sister didn’t want to discuss.

Shana turned to gaze at Ali, silently pleading for more information. Her sister ignored her, which was infuriating. Clearly, Adam had already won over her niece; he must be the kind of guy who shopped at the army surplus store.

Chapter Three

First thing Monday morning, Shana drove Jazmine to Lewis and Clark Elementary School to enroll her. Shana had to admit her stomach was in knots. The school yard was jammed with kids, and a string of vehicles queued in front, taking turns dropping off students. Big yellow school buses belched out diesel fumes as they lumbered toward the parking lot behind the building.

Shana was fortunate to find an empty parking space. She accompanied Jazmine into the building, although the girl walked ahead of her—just far enough to suggest the two of them weren’t together.

The noise level inside the school reminded her of a rock concert and Shana felt the beginnings of a headache. Or maybe it was caused by all those students gathered in one place, staring at Jazmine and her.

The school bell rang and like magic, the halls emptied. Within seconds everyone disappeared behind various doors and silence descended. Ah, the power of a bell. It was as if she were Moses, and the Red Sea had parted so she could find her way to the Promised Land, or in this case, The Office.

Wordlessly Shana and Jazmine followed the signs to the principal’s domain. Jazmine was outwardly calm. She gave no sign of being ill at ease. Unlike Shana, who was on the verge of chewing off every fingernail she owned.

“This is no big deal,” Jazmine assured her, shifting the backpack she carried. It was the size one might take on a trek through the Himalayas. “I’ve done this plenty of times.”

“I don’t feel good just leaving you here.” They’d had all of one day together and while it was uncomfortable for them both, it hadn’t been nearly as bad as Shana had feared. It hadn’t been good, either.

When they took Ali to the airport, Shana had been the one in tears. Mother and daughter had hugged for an extra-long moment and then Ali was gone. It was Shana who did all the talking on the drive home. As soon as they were back at the rental house, Jazmine disappeared inside her bedroom and didn’t open the door for hours.

Dinner had been a series of attempts on Shana’s part to start a conversation, but her questions were met with either a grunt or a one-word reply. Shana got the message. After the first ten minutes, she said nothing. And nothing was what Jazmine seemed to appreciate most. They maintained an awkward silence and at the end of the meal, Jazmine delivered her plate to the kitchen, rinsed it off, stuck it in the dishwasher and returned to her room. The door closed and Shana hadn’t seen her again until this morning. Apparently kids this age treasured their privacy. Point taken. Lesson learned.

“This must be it,” Shana said, pointing at the door marked Office.

Jazmine murmured something unintelligible, shrugging off the backpack and letting the straps slip down her arms. Shana couldn’t imagine what she had in that monstrosity, but apparently it was as valuable to the child as Shana’s purse was to her.

“I was thinking you might want to wait a bit, you know,” Shana suggested, stammering, unable to identify her misgivings. “Not do this right away, I mean.” The students she saw in the hallway didn’t look particularly friendly. Jazmine was only nine, for heaven’s sake, and her mother was headed out to sea for half a year. Maybe she should homeschool her. Shana considered that option for all of half a second. First, it wouldn’t be home school; it would be ice-cream parlor school. The authorities would love that. And second, Shana was completely unqualified to teach her anything.

“I’ll be all right,” Jazmine said just loudly enough for Shana to hear.

Maybe so, but Shana wasn’t completely convinced she would be. This guardianship thing was even harder than it sounded. The thought of leaving her niece here actually made her feel ill.

Jazmine’s eyes narrowed accusingly. “I’m not a kid, you know.”

So nine-year-olds weren’t kids anymore? Could’ve fooled Shana, but rather than argue, she let the comment slide.

Enrolling Jazmine turned out to be surprisingly easy. After Shana completed a couple of forms and handed over a copy of her guardianship papers, it was done. Jazmine was led out of the office and into a classroom. Shana watched her go, forcing herself not to follow like a much-loved golden retriever.

“It’s your first time as a guardian?” the school secretary asked.

Shana nodded. “Jazmine’s been through a lot.” She resisted the urge to mention Peter’s death and the fact that Ali was out at sea. Instinctively she realized that the less anyone knew about these things, the better for Jazmine.

“She’ll fit right in,” the secretary assured her.

“I hope so.” But Shana wasn’t sure that was true. There were only a few weeks left of the school year. Just when Jazmine had managed to adjust, it would be time for summer break. And what would Shana do with her then? It was a question she couldn’t answer. Not yet, anyway.

With reluctance she walked back to her parked car and drove to Olsen’s Ice Cream and Pizza Parlor. She’d thought about changing the name, but the restaurant had been called this for the last thirty years. A new name might actually be a disadvantage, so she’d decided to keep everything the same for now.

Shana’s day went smoothly after her visit to the school. She was on her own now, her training with the Olsens finished. They insisted the secret to their pizza was the tomato sauce, made from their special recipe. That recipe had been kept secret for over thirty years. Only when the final papers had been signed was Shana allowed to have the recipe, which to her untrained eye looked fairly unspectacular. She was almost sure her mother used to make something similar for spaghetti and had gotten the recipe out of a “Dear Abby” column years ago.

There was a huge mixing machine and, following the Olsens’ example, she went into the shop each morning to mix up a batch of dough and let it rise. Once the dough had risen, it was put in the refrigerator, awaiting the day’s pizza orders. The restaurant opened at eleven and did a brisk lunch trade. How much or how little dough to make was complete guesswork. Shana’s biggest fear was that she’d run short. As a consequence she usually mixed too much. But she was learning.

At three o’clock, Shana found herself watching for the school bus. Jazmine was to be dropped off in front of the ice-cream parlor. From noon on, she’d constantly checked the time, wondering and worrying about her niece. The elementary students she’d seen looked like a rough crowd—okay, maybe not the first-and second-graders, but the ones in the fifth and sixth grades, who were giants compared to Jazmine. Shana just hoped the girl could hold her own.

Business was constant—people waiting to catch ferries, high-school students, retired folk, tourists. Shana planned to hire a part-time employee soon. Another idea she had was to introduce soup to the menu. She’d already experimented with a number of mixes, both liquid and dry, and hadn’t found anything that impressed her. Shana was leaning toward making her own from scratch but her experience in cooking large batches was limited.

A bus rolled into view and Shana instantly went on alert. Sure enough, Jazmine stepped off, wearing a frown, and marched inside. Without a word to Shana, she slid into a booth.

“Well,” Shana said, unable to disguise her anxiety, “how was it?”

Jazmine shrugged.

“Oh.” Her niece wasn’t exactly forthcoming with details. Thinking fast, Shana asked the questions her mother had bombarded her with every day after school. “What did you learn? Anything interesting?”

Jazmine shook her head.

“Did you make any new friends?”

Jazmine scowled up at her. “No.”

That was said emphatically enough for Shana to surmise that things hadn’t gone well. “I see.” Glancing over her shoulder, Shana sighed. “Are you hungry? I could make you a pizza.”

“No, thanks.”

The bell above the door rang and a customer entered, moving directly to the ice-cream case. Shana slipped behind the counter and waited patiently until the woman had made her selection. As she scooped chocolate chip–mint ice cream into a waffle cone, she realized something was different about Jazmine. Not until her customer left did she figure out what it was.

“Jazz,” she said, startled, “where’s your backpack?”

Her niece didn’t answer.

“Did you forget it at school? We could run by to pick it up if you want.” Not until the parlor closed at six, but she didn’t mention that. During the summer it wouldn’t be until eight o’clock; she didn’t mention that, either.

Jazmine scowled even more ferociously.

Shana hadn’t known how much fury a nine-year-old girl’s eyes could convey. Her niece’s anger seemed to be focused solely on Shana. The unfairness of it struck her, but any attempt at conversation was instantly blocked.

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