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Greer Beckett breathed deeply, filling her lungs with the same air that caressed her upturned face. Indian summer. She had once heard Seattle's weather described as "perpetual drizzle interrupted by occasional rain." The remark was fairly accurate much of the time, but she doubted if any city could be more spectacular on a balmy, mid-September day like this.
She glanced at her adoptive sister who sat beside her on a bench. A breeze ruffled Casey Wyatt's short, blond curls. Her pert features were arranged into a distant expression.
"What are you thinking about, Case?"
Casey stirred. "How much I like being here, with you. I've been very lucky."
"Not half as lucky as me," Greer replied. She touched Casey's hand lightly and concentrated on the familiar scene around them. "I'm still grateful I managed to salvage enough out of the business to open Britmania. I've also never regretted deciding to have the shop down here. This place always feels so alive."
Pioneer Square was crammed with its usual assortment of humanity. Tourists and local workers rubbed shoulders with shambling street people amid a jumble of small, offbeat shops and restaurants bordering the cobblestone plaza. The city hugged the square on three sides. Towering modern buildings in the central business district loomed immediately north, like a painted backdrop against a cerulean sky. To the west a warren of narrow streets led beneath a viaduct to Elliot Bay and the awesome vista of Puget Sound and the snowcapped Olympic mountains beyond.
On a bench across from Casey and Greer, an old man lay outstretched, his bare ankles pale between ragged polyester pants and the tops of new army boots. A yellowed newspaper shaded his face from the early afternoon sun, and his crossed hands rose and fell atop a protruding belly that jiggled with each breath. Greer eyed the brown paper sack wedged between his body and the back of the bench, noting that the wine was probably the only possession he had in the world. She began to wonder where the man came from and who missed him. Dozens of transients roamed the area day and night, but she could never think of them as faceless and forgotten. Everyone had a past.
Casey had hooked her elbows over the seat back and crossed her long legs. Her pink T-shirt, which read, Seat-tleites Don't Tan, They Rust, was hiked up to show an inch of smooth midriff.
"Sis," she said, peering sideways at Greer. "Let's be irresponsible."
"What did you have in mind?" Greer asked cautiously.
Casey's eyes closed like a lazy cat. "Taking the afternoon off."
Greer chuckled and brushed sandwich crumbs from her lap. "Lunch break's over for me. Time to get back to the grind. You can fritter away the rest of the day if you want to. But if we're going to keep on paying the rent and covering my expensive whims, someone had better tend the shop."
"Don't start that again." Casey put an arm around Greer's shoulders and squeezed. "This trip back to England isn't a whim. It's something you've got to do. And it'll be good for the store, too. Where better to dredge up some oddball British memorabilia?" She tugged her hair theatrically, stopping with her elbows pointing to the sky. "The mind boggles. I can see the newspapers. 'Glamorous proprietor of Seattle's trendiest shop does it again. Import store becomes the only American establishment to stock genuine imitation crown jewels. Orders are being taken at Britmania by'"
Greer placed a finger to Casey's lips. "You're wonderful. I love you. But you talk too much. Stay and soak up the sun for a while. I'll start back." She stood, threw the remnants of her lunch into a garbage can and adjusted her belt around her tiny waist.
"Okay, slave driver. You win." In one smooth motion Casey was beside her sister. "I was only trying to make you take it easy for once. You push yourself too hard. Remember what the doctor said? It hasn't been two months since the hysterectomy and he told you to give yourself at least three before returning to full activity."
"I don't want to discuss that."
"Why?" Casey shook her head impatiently at a grizzled man who approached from a doorway, his hand held out. "Why don't you want to discuss it, Greer? It's unnatural for you to avoid something so traumatic as if it never happened."
While Casey marched ahead Greer dug in her purse for some coins. "Here, Charlie," she said to the white-haired man, who gave a courtly, slightly wobbly bow. "Something to eat this time, okay?" She handed him the money. He closed his grimy fingers around the money and displayed a mouthful of stained teeth.
"I wish you wouldn't do that," Casey said when Greer caught up to her. "You shouldn't encourage these people. They know you're a soft touch."
Greer shrugged, grateful for the change of subject. "It doesn't hurt anything. And I've seen you do the same thing. Want to go to Takara for dinner tonight?"
"Maybe. Is it four weeks or five before you leave?"
"Five. October 21."
"I worry about you going alone. Why don't we hire someone to run the shop and I'll come with you?"
Familiar threads of anxiety started to wind through Greer. "No. Even if we could afford it. This is one thing I want to do by myself. And there's nothing to worry about. Anyone listening to you would think you were the one who was four years older instead of me. I know what's best for me."
"Josh would help us out "
"No!" Greer snapped. Somehow she must make Casey understand without hurting her. Josh Field had been Colin's partner and, since she became a widow, Greer's close friend too close for Greer. Lately she sensed his growing impatience for more than a platonic attachment. She wanted to gently discourage the relationship, not encourage it.
Casey caught Greer's elbow and pulled her to a halt. "Look at me," she said. "Your behavior isn't normal."
Two couples passed, glancing curiously at the women. "This isn't the time or place for this," Greer muttered, feeling her color rise.
"There never is a time or place. But at least out in the open, you can't hide. Please, Greer, don't stay clammed up like this. I've waited weeks for you to let your feelings out."
"I don't feel anything," Greer insisted. At five foot one, Greer had to crane her neck to meet her tall sister's eyes. "What difference does a hysterectomy make to me now? We're late."
"Fine," Casey said as she released Greer's arm. "Keep on pretending you don't give a damn. When you said you were going back to England, I thought you'd decided to stop pretending you don't care about all that's happened to you. You're only twenty-six. And you're gorgeous. You ought to marry again and we both know who'd be only too happy to oblige."
Greer walked faster, but Casey hardly lengthened her stride to stay alongside. They crossed Occidental Square and headed for Post Street where they had rented space in the basement of a renovated building.
"Listen, Greer," Casey began, before having to dodge a wild-eyed teenager in a headset who practiced a dance that took up the width of the sidewalk. "Listen," she repeated as they fell into step again.
A panicky sensation invaded Greer's stomach. She smiled, knowing the effort was obviously phony. "If you're still planning to palm me off on poor Josh Field, forget it. Just because he used to be Colin's partner, and he's been good to me, it doesn't mean he wants to get permanently saddled with a cripple."
"Give me a break," Casey exploded. "You limp a bit. Since when did that make you a cripple? And if you're worried about not being able to have children, big deal. Mom and Dad adopted you. They felt exactly the same about both of us, and if you adopted kids you'd love them, too. Anyway, I don't think Josh even likes children that much. You'd be perfect for each other."
The panicky sensation spread to Greer's legs. Why would Casey choose now to bring all this up? There was nothing to say that hadn't already been said a hundred times. She slowed down, forcing herself to take deep breaths. "Don't get mad, Case. Let's drop it," she managed to say.
A garish poster flapped away from a wall as they passed and Casey batted it with a fist. "I'm not mad, just frustrated. Josh isn't good to you, as you put it. The guy's crazy about you and all he gets is the runaround."
"That's not true."
"It is, sis. He wants you to be his wife."
They reached the flight of stairs leading down to Britma-nia. "I've been a wife. And I had the best husband in the world. That's enough, more than most women ever have," she said, favoring her right leg slightly as she walked down.
Casey's backless sandals slapped the concrete when she loped past, taking two steps at a time. She fumbled in her jeans' pocket and produced a key. "Colin was a good man. But he wasn't a saint." She unlocked the door and went inside. Quickly she flipped the sign on the door to read open. "I understood that the main reason for you going to England again was to make another attempt to find your biological family. And I thought that was great. But I'm beginning to suspect the real reason. What you want to do most is be where you last were with Colin, isn't it? You're going to his and Colleen's graves, aren't you?"
"Yes," Greer muttered. She took a comb from her purse and started to drag it through her hair. "Is that so strange?"
"I suppose not," Casey said. China wine decanterseach shaped like one of the wives of Henry VIIIclattered as she pushed them to the end of a shelf. "Maybe there you'll finally cry the tears that must be waterlogging your brain by now. Put the ghosts to rest and get on with your life." She twisted a ceramic head sharply on its cork neck.
"Look, Casey," Greer said laying the comb on the counter. "I'm not falling apart. When I first got back here I was pretty broken up. Destroyed would be a better description, but who wouldn't be? If I didn't cry then it was because I was too numb, and later there wasn't time."
"No, Case. You wanted me to spill all this, so let me finish."
Taking several deliberate steps, Greer reached the door, locked it and turned the sign around to read closed. She paced in front of her sister. "I want to trace my original family very much. And I do intend to search for them. But I never faced up to Colin and Colleen dying. They say you have to go through a bunch of phases to grieve properly, and I missed just about all of them. I thought about it a lot while I was in the hospital for the hysterectomy and decided I'd like to try and catch up. Does that make sense?"
"Yes. I'm glad. You know I didn't mean to criticize you, don't you, sis?" Casey inquired gently.
"Yes, I know, but it's important to get things straight between us," Greer answered just as gently. "Before the accident, Josh had already signed the papers to buy Colin out. I took what money was left afterafter everythingand made it work for me. You make it sound as if I've sat around for two years feeling sorry for myself."
"I never said that "
"Pretty close. I know Colin would approve, of Britmania and of what I've done. He'd be proud of me. And I thought you enjoyed all thisthis crazy stuff we deal in. It works, and it uses my only real talentimagination. I love selling ashtrays with coats of arms to people named Smith. It's a kick to watch customers cart away bits of the white cliffs of Dover in plastic bags or key rings with Wimbledon locker-room numbers. Oh, sure, they pretend the whole thing's a big spoof but they enjoy every minute of it. And we make a good living. As far as I'm concerned that's success, and I made it." Greer paused. Her blood pumped hard and it felt good.
Casey massaged her temples. "Every word you say is true. You've done marvelously well. I love being a part of it all, and you know that. But I still say you're avoiding the point."
"I don't know what you mean."
"You do." The younger woman grasped Greer's shoulders and backed her to a chair. "Sit there and listen. All you're talking about is the business. There's no question that it's a success. But I'm worried about youGreer Beckett, the woman. If Josh twists your arm you go out to dinner or the theater. By eleven you're home and he's fortunate if you allow him in for coffee. The guy wants you. If you gave him one little word of encouragement he'd whisk you down the aisle so fast our heads would spin."
To her horror Greer felt moisture well in her eyes. She tipped her head back, but the tears sprang free and coursed down her cheeks. "Do you think I don't know that?" she whispered. "And feel like a creep about it?"
Casey dropped to her knees, cradling Greer's head against her shoulder. "I don't know how you feel. You never tell me."
"I don't want to marry Josh. I don't want to marry anyone. If I live to be a hundred I'll always miss Colin. I haven't cried because I'm afraid that if I do I'll never stop." She felt herself begin to tremble and took a deep, controlling breath. "If you just relax Casey, everything will be fine. Josh will find someone else and, hopefully, still be my friend. I have all I want. Forget the idea I'm yearning for new beginnings."
"Oh, Greer," Casey said in a wobbly voice, "I want you to be happy."
"I am. Please let it go at that."
Casey sat back on her heels and sniffed. "Okay. I guess I'll have tofor now. Need a tissue?"
Greer swiped her cheeks with the backs of her hands. "Yup. But I'll get it. Turn that sign over, kid. I'm going to unpack the stuff that was delivered this morning. Then I'll make us some coffee." Before she went through the door to the storeroom she looked over her shoulder. Casey was still on her knees, staring through the window. "You didn't say yes or no to Takara's for dinner," Greer said, deftly smoothing over the awkward moment. "Sushi's healthy, you know. Then we could go upstairs to the ice-cream place and have seven-layer mocha cakejust to keep up our energy."
"You're on," Casey said, not turning around. Her voice was muffled.
Greer went into the sloping space under the stairs of the business behind Britmania. A naked electric bulb hung from a long wire that could be looped over various hooks in the wall, depending on where light was needed. How could she explain feelings that were a mystery even to her? Greer started the coffee maker and went to work opening boxes.