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Saturdays were generally my busiest day of the week, but sales tended to slow down toward the end of the month, just before payday.

“Do you have any special plans for the fourth?” I asked Margaret when there was a lull shortly after noon.

“Not really.” She didn’t exhibit a lot of enthusiasm one way or the other. “What about you?”

“Nothing definite yet.” Brad and I hadn’t made any formal plans, but I wanted to suggest we drive to the ocean, have a picnic and watch the fireworks there with Cody and Chase. The last time I visited Ocean Shores, a resort town about three hours away, I’d been a teenager. I remembered that it’d been shortly before they discovered my first brain tumor. The trip was one of the last carefree times I’d had that summer and for years afterward.

“We’ll probably just have a barbecue in the backyard and watch the fireworks on TV,” my sister added.

I stared at her. I couldn’t help it. Seattle had two incredible fireworks displays every year. The first was at Myrtle Edwards Park on the waterfront and the second at Lake Union’s Gas Works Park north of downtown. The fireworks on the lake were timed to patriotic music—a stirring experience and one that always dramatized for me what we were really celebrating.

Margaret lived on Capitol Hill, not far from Blossom Street, which was a perfect location for viewing the Lake Union display. I couldn’t believe that she’d choose to sit in front of her television rather than stand outside her front door.

“What about Julia and Hailey?” I adored my nieces, aged fifteen and ten, respectively. We’d grown even closer in the past year, when my rather tense and complicated relationship with their mother had begun to relax. I used to think Margaret tried to keep the girls away from me out of spite, but in retrospect I understood that she was protecting them. She was afraid of letting her daughters love me too much, for fear I’d get sick again. If I lost my battle with cancer and died, my nieces would be devastated.

Margaret focused on busywork, reorganizing one of the yarn bins. “The girls already have plans.”


“Julia’s going to Lake Washington with friends and Hailey’s going camping with the neighbors.”

“So it’ll just be you and Matt?”

Margaret shrugged, her back to me. “Looks that way.”

I waited a moment, then decided to say something. I’d drop a hint to see if she responded. “Brad said he ran into Matt recently.”

Turning slowly, Margaret studied me and seemed to be searching for some clue that I’d learned the truth. “Matt didn’t mention it.”

“No need, I suppose,” I said casually.

“Probably not,” my sister agreed.

“Will you invite Mom over?” I asked next. I hated the thought of her spending the holiday alone. We’d somehow gotten through the year without Dad and all the terrible firsts that accompanied the death of a family member. The first Thanksgiving and Christmas were the worst for me, followed by Valentine’s Day and then the Fourth of July.

“I didn’t say anything to her. What about you?” Margaret was hedging, and I could see that she’d rather I dealt with Mom.

“Do you want me to talk to her?” I asked, which was another way of saying I’d be responsible for keeping our mother occupied over the holiday.

“That would be best,” my sister said.

I found it an effort not to point out that it would make more sense for Mom to join Margaret and Matt. A backyard barbecue would be ideal for her and a lot less strenuous than a trip to the ocean, if that was indeed what Brad and I decided to do.

“She’ll have a better time with you,” Margaret murmured apologetically.

Finally I couldn’t stand it any longer. “You could have told me, you know,” I said softly, hoping to broach the subject of Matt’s unemployment in a nonconfrontational manner.

“Told you what?”

I couldn’t understand why Margaret continued to maintain the pretense. “That Matt’s been out of a job for months. I’m your sister—you should be able to talk to me.”

Margaret glared at me but didn’t say a word.

“Is it some deep, dark secret you’re ashamed of letting anyone know?” I cried, unable to conceal the pain and anger I felt.

“This is Matt’s business and mine. It’s none of your concern.”

I reached for my knitting and sat down. Knitting is a great tension reliever for me. My hands were moving quickly as I worked on my current project, a sweater I wanted to put on display.

“There isn’t anything I don’t tell you,” I reminded her. The past year I’d shared everything, and I do mean everything, with my sister. I’d confided my fears, my joys, my hopes, my…my soul. My knitting increased in speed, keeping pace with my outrage.

“This is different,” Margaret returned evenly. She picked up her crocheting, jerking it so hard the ball of cotton yarn fell to the floor. Scrambling to pick it up, she tucked it under her arm and started in with the hook, her fingers moving as quickly as mine.

“How’s it different?” I challenged.

“It’s not me, it’s Matt.”

“He told Brad. Your husband felt comfortable enough letting Brad know, but my own sister didn’t tell me.” I felt a sense of betrayal, even more so now that Margaret’s attitude was out in the open. She hadn’t shown the least bit of remorse, although I’d hoped she would admit how much she’d wanted to talk to me. Apparently that had never been the case.

“Who Matt tells is his business.” Margaret’s eyes were focused on her project, a poncho for Julia. Her hand flew as she worked, her concentration fierce.

“Exactly.” I tugged viciously on the ball of yarn, yanking it out of the wicker basket. It went tumbling to the floor.

Margaret scooped up the pretty blue yarn and placed it in my basket, and as she did I noticed that her hands were shaking. I resisted the urge to touch her, to let her know I cared and that I wanted to help if I could. I would’ve done it but I feared her rejection, feared she’d turn away from me again, and I couldn’t have borne that.

“Finding out about Matt’s job explains a lot,” I said, continuing to knit although I knew I’d have to unravel every stitch. I slowed down as I gathered my thoughts. I’d given up paying attention to the pattern and was working the design by memory. Knitting right now wasn’t a good idea because I was bound to make errors, but I needed something to occupy my hands.

“What do you mean, explains a lot?” Margaret echoed, her tone hostile.

“Your attitude at work, with me and with other people.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I wasn’t choosing my words as carefully as I should, but I went on, anyway. “You’ve been prickly and abrupt with the customers.”

“If you don’t want me working here, all you have to do is say so,” Margaret snapped.

“Why does it have to be like this with us?” I pleaded. “I’m your sister.”

“You’re my employer.”

“I’m both, but I’ve never felt it was necessary to draw any lines.” Apparently she did. “I asked you recently if everything was all right and you assured me it was.”

“Like I said, my life is none of your business.”

I blinked back tears. “If that’s how you feel, then fine.”


I’d heard my two nieces respond in just that way countless times and always been amused, but I wasn’t now. Stuffing the half-knit sweater back into the wicker basket, I bolted to my feet. “I’m your sister,” I said again. “Isn’t it time you started treating me like one?”

To my absolute horror, Margaret covered her face and burst into tears. I watched her, aghast, hardly knowing what to say.

“Margaret?” I whispered. “What is it?”

My sister whirled away and rushed to the back room.

Despite the two customers who’d just come in, I followed her. Thankfully they didn’t need yarn or attention just then, because I would’ve abandoned them. Margaret was my first priority. Once again risking her rejection, I placed my arm around her. To my surprise, she turned to me and rested her head on my shoulder.

“I wanted to tell you,” she sobbed.

“Why didn’t you?” I didn’t understand it. I was afraid I’d failed her in some way, but had no idea how.


“Yes, you could.”

“Matt is feeling wretched…. He always believed he’d retire from Boeing. He’s been with the company all these years.”

“I know,” I said soothingly. “I’m so sorry.”

Margaret straightened and wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I was afraid you’d give me that Mary Sunshine routine of yours, and I just couldn’t deal with it.”

“The what routine?”

“You know—your ‘everything will be better in the morning’ speech.”

I stared at her blankly.

“All you need to do is think happy thoughts, and all your problems will go away,” she went on in an insulting saccharine voice.

Sometimes the truth is painful to hear and this was one of those times. Had Margaret come to me a few weeks earlier that is what I would’ve said. Well—not exactly, but something along those lines. Being positive and hopeful, choosing happiness: that was the approach I tried to bring to my life these days. Without intending to, I’d probably sounded glib to Margaret as I burbled on about my own contentment.

“What can I do to help you?” I asked.

She shook her head. “Nothing. All I really want you to do is be my sister. I don’t want advice. I don’t want you to worry.” She tried to smile. “I’m doing enough of that for everyone.”

“There must be some way I can help,” I insisted. I was beginning to think I’d already failed on all counts, but I was determined to try.

Margaret’s teary eyes met mine. “You could listen.”

I nodded and we hugged. “Why don’t Brad and I join you on the fourth,” I suggested. “We’ll have a barbecue together.”

Margaret managed a quavery smile. “As you might’ve noticed, I’m not much fun to be around lately.”

“We’ll make the best of it. We’re family.”

Fresh tears filled her eyes. “Thank you,” she whispered.

I hugged her again, grateful we’d talked, and sorry I’d delayed it so long.



Elise was as ready to see Marvin “Maverick” Beaumont as she could be. He was due to arrive that afternoon. Her daughter had been fussing with the house for days, cooking and cleaning as if she were expecting royalty. All this special attention irritated Elise no end. At any other time and for anyone else, Elise would’ve been just as involved, elbow-deep in the preparations. To be fair, she’d helped some, mostly by keeping the boys entertained so Aurora could do her straightening, vacuuming and polishing.