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       Promise Me, p.1

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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Promise Me


  ALSO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS

  The Walk

  The Christmas List

  Grace

  The Gift

  Finding Noel

  The Sunflower

  A Perfect Day

  The Last Promise

  The Christmas Box Miracle

  The Carousel

  The Looking Glass

  The Locket

  The Letter

  Timepiece

  The Christmas Box

  For Children

  The Dance

  The Christmas Candle

  The Spyglass

  The Tower

  The Light of Christmas

  Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2010 by Richard Paul Evans

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition October 2010

  SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  For information about special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or [email protected]

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  Designed by Davina Mock-Maniscalco

  Manufactured in the United States of America

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  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Evans, Richard Paul.

  Promise me / Richard Paul Evans.

  p. cm.

  1. Single mothers—Fiction. 2. Guardian angels—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3555.V259P76 2010

  813’.54—dc22 2010027536

  ISBN 978-1-4391-5003-0

  ISBN 978-1-4391-5406-9 (ebook)

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  Laurie Liss. Amanda Murray. (It was fun while it lasted, Amanda. Thank you for your insight and faith in this story. I really enjoyed working with you.) David Rosenthal. (David, it was a pleasure working with you for all these years, I wish you well in your new pursuits.) Carolyn Reidy. Gypsy da Silva. Copy editor Fred Wiemer. Jonathan Karp (I look forward to working with you, Jonathan). My writing assistant, Jenna Evans Welch.

  For research assistance: Dr. David Benton (A terrific doctor. Thanks for always being there for me, David) and Kristy Benton. Mallorie Resendez Bassetti.

  The staff: Barry James Evans, Diane Glad, Heather McVey, Judy Schiffman, Karen Christoffersen, Lisa V. Johnson, Karen Roylance, Lisa McDonald, Sherri Engar, Doug Smith and Barbara Thompson.

  Keri, Jenna and David Welch, Allyson-Danica, Abigail Hope, McKenna Denece, Michael. (Sorry, Bello. You were no help at all.)

  My love and appreciation to all of you.

  To Keri

  Promise

  Me

  Locked away in jewelry boxes, hidden in my closet, are two necklaces. They are gifts from two different men. Both of these necklaces are beautiful, both of them are valuable and I wear neither of them, but for entirely different reasons—one because of a promise broken, the other because of a promise kept.

  As you read my story, there is something I want you to understand. That in spite of all the pain—past, present and that still to come—I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Nor would I trade the time I had with him for anything—except for what, in the end, I traded it for.

  Beth Cardall’s Diary

  When I was a little girl, my mother told me that everyone has a secret. I suppose she was right. My name is Beth and this is the story of my secret. This is not where my story begins. Nor is this where it ends. This is, hopefully, where it is fulfilled.

  It is Christmas Eve of 2008. The evening sky is flocked with wisps of snowflakes that meander indecisively from the sky like the floating seeds of cottonwoods. Our beautiful home in the canyon is aglow, lit in golden hues and decorated both inside and out for the season. It is cozy inside. There is a blazing flame in the living room fireplace beneath a dated family portrait, and a carved, wooden mantel crowded with our collection of German Steinbach Nutcrackers.

  The smell of pine needles, scented candles and wassail fills the house along with the smells of Kevin’s cooking. Kevin is my husband and on Christmas Eve it is his kitchen—a tradition begun seven Christmases ago that hopefully will never end.

  The sweet, familiar peace of Christmas hymns provide a soundtrack to the evening. Everything is in place. Everything is perfect. It has to be. I’ve waited eighteen years for this night. We are waiting to be joined by our evening’s guests, our old friends Roxanne and Ray Coates, and our daughter Charlotte and her husband.

  While Kevin finishes the last of his preparations, I’m upstairs in the master bathroom trying to compose myself, hoping that no one will notice that I’ve been crying.

  Alone with my thoughts, I take down an old, cedar jewelry box from the top back shelf of my closet. I don’t remember how long it’s been since I’ve opened the box, but it is covered with dust. I set it on the bathroom counter and pull back its lid to expose the crushed red velvet interior and the single piece of jewelry inside—a delicate cameo pendant with the profile of an elegant woman carved into shell. The image is set in a gold bezel on a fine gold chain. I lift the necklace from the box. It’s been many years since I’ve looked at it—many more since he gave it to me. There’s a reason I don’t wear the necklace. It holds so many feelings it would be like carrying an anvil around my neck. Already, just looking at it, I feel that weight as it opens a part of my mind I have kept closed: the evening in Capri when he kissed me and softly draped it around my neck. It was a different time, a different world, but the tears fall down my cheeks now just as they did then.

  I fasten the necklace and look at myself in the mirror. I’m much older than I was the first time I wore it. It’s hard to believe that eighteen years have passed.

  For all those years I have carried a secret that I couldn’t share with anyone. No one would believe me if I told them. No one would understand. No one except the man I share my secret with. For eighteen years even he hasn’t remembered. Tonight that may change. Tonight time has caught up to itself. I know this doesn’t make sense to you now, but it will.

  My story actually began in 1989. There are years of our lives that come and go and barely leave an imprint, but, for me, 1989 wasn’t one of them. It was a hard year, and by hard I don’t mean a day at the DMV, I mean Siberian Winter hard, one I barely survived and would never forget, as much as I wanted to.

  It was the end of a decade and an era. It was a year of contrasts, of Field of Dreams and Satanic Verses. There were remarkable historic events that closed out the decade—the falling of the Berlin Wall and the Tiananmen Square massacre. There were a few notable passings as well: Lucille Ball, Bette Davis, and Irving Berlin died. My first husband, Marc, died as well, but that’s all I’ll say about that now. You’ll understand why later.

  I have loved three men in my life. I was married to Marc for seven years and I’ve been married to Kevin for twelve. But there was a man in between—a man I will always love—but a love that could never be. It was a little more than two months after Marc’s death, on Christmas Day, t
hat he came into my life and changed nearly every reality of my existence. How he came into my life and where he went is not easy to explain, but I’ll do my best.

  I’ve heard it said that reality is nothing but a collective dream. My story may challenge what you believe about heaven and earth. Or not. The truth is, you probably won’t believe my story. I don’t blame you. In the last eighteen years I’ve had plenty of time to think this over and honestly, had I not experienced it myself, I’m pretty certain that I wouldn’t believe it either.

  No matter. Tonight the silence may end. Tonight someone may share the secret with me, and even if no one else will ever know or believe what I’ve lived through, it’s enough that I don’t have to carry this alone. Maybe. Tonight, in just a few hours, I’ll know for sure.

  There are days that live in infamy, for individuals as well as nations. February 12, 1989, was my personal equivalent of Pearl Harbor Day or September 11.

  Beth Cardall’s Diary

  My life was never perfect, but up until February 12, it was pretty darn close. At least I thought it was. My husband Marc had been out of town for several weeks and had arrived home at around three in the morning. I heard him come into our room, undress and climb into bed. I rolled over, kissed him and put my arms around him. “I’m glad you’re home.”

  “Me too.”

  I wasn’t really cut out to be a salesman’s wife. My idea of marriage is someone to share the weekdays with as well as the weekends. Most of all I hate sleeping alone. You would think that after five years I would have gotten used to it, but I hadn’t. I never did.

  Marc was still asleep when the radio-alarm went off three and a half hours later. I shut off the alarm, rolled over and held to his warm body for a few minutes, then kissed him on the neck and climbed out of bed. I got myself ready for the day, then woke our six-year-old daughter Charlotte, made her breakfast and drove her to school.

  It was a routine I had grown accustomed to over the last six months, ever since Charlotte started the first grade and I went back to work. With Marc on the road more often than not, I had become rather independent in my routine. I dropped Charlotte off at school, then went straight to my job at Prompt Cleaners—a dry cleaner about a mile and a half from our home in Holladay, Utah.

  Marc made enough for us to live on, though not by much, and money was always tight. I worked to build us a financial cushion and for extras, as well as to get myself out of the house when Charlotte was at school. I’m not really a career gal, and I doubt working at a dry cleaner qualifies as such, but being cooped up in the house all day alone always made me a little crazy.

  I had been at work a little over an hour and was in the back pressing suits when Roxanne came back to call me to the phone. She waved at me to get my attention. “Beth, it’s for you. It’s Charlotte’s school.”

  Roxanne—or Rox, as she liked to be called—was my best friend at work. Actually, she was my best friend anywhere. She was thirty-eight, ten years older than I, small, five feet one, pencil-skinny and looked a little like Pat Benatar—whom you wouldn’t know if you didn’t do the eighties. She was from a small southern Utah town called Hurricane (pronounced Hurr-i-cun by the locals), and she spoke with a Hurricane accent, a slight, excited drawl, and used terms of endearment like rappers use curse words and with nearly the same frequency.

  She’d been married for eighteen years to Ray, a short, barrel-chested man who worked for the phone company and sometimes moonlighted at a guard shack in a condominium development. She had one child, Jan, who was a blond, sixteen-year-old version of her mother. Jan was also Charlotte’s and my favorite babysitter.

  I love Roxanne. She’s one of those people heaven too infrequently sends to earth—a joyful combination of lunacy and grace. She was my friend, sage, comic relief, confidante, Prozac and guardian angel all rolled up into one tight little frame. Everyone should have a friend like Roxanne.

  “You heard me, darlin’?” she repeated. “Phone.”

  “Got it,” I shouted over the hiss of the steam press. I hung up the jacket I was working on, then walked up front. “It’s the school?”

  Roxanne handed me the phone. “That’s what the lady said.”

  I pulled back my hair and put the receiver to my ear. “Hello, this is Beth.”

  A young, female voice said, “Mrs. Cardall, this is Angela, I’m the school nurse at Hugo Reid Elementary. Your little Charlotte has been complaining of headaches and an upset stomach. She’s here in my room lying down. I think she probably needs to come home.”

  I was surprised, as Charlotte was feeling perfectly fine an hour earlier when I dropped her off. “Okay. Sure. I’m at work right now, but my husband’s home. One of us will be there within a half hour. May I talk to Charlotte?”

  “Of course.”

  A moment later Charlotte’s voice came softly from the phone. “Mommy?”

  “Hi, sweetheart.”

  “I don’t feel good.”

  “I’m sorry, honey. Daddy or I will come get you. We’ll be there soon.”

  “Okay.”

  “I love you, sweetheart.”

  “I love you too, Mommy. Bye.”

  I hung up the phone. Roxanne looked over at me from the cash register. “Is everything okay?”

  “Charlotte’s sick. Fortunately, Marc’s home.”

  I dialed the house and let the phone ring at least a dozen times before I finally gave up. I groaned, looked at Roxanne and shook my head.

  “Not home?” Roxanne asked.

  “That or he’s still sleeping. I need to pick up Charlotte. Can you cover for me?”

  “Can do.”

  “I don’t know what’s going on with Marc’s schedule. I might not make it back.”

  “Don’t worry about it. It’s gonna be a slow day.”

  “Thanks. I owe you one.”

  “You owe me a lot more than one, sister,” she said wryly. “And someday I’m gonna collect.”

  Charlotte’s elementary school was only six blocks from the dry cleaner, just a few minutes by car. I parked my old Nissan in front of the school and walked to the office. The school secretary was expecting me and led me back to the nurse’s office. The small, square room was purposely dim, lit only by a desk lamp. Charlotte was lying on a cot with her eyes closed, and the nurse was seated next to her. I walked up to the side of the cot, stooped over and kissed Charlotte’s forehead. “Hi, honey.”

  Charlotte’s eyes opened slowly. “Hi, Mommy.” Her words were a little slurred and her breath had the pungent smell of vomit.

  The nurse said, “I’m Angela. You have a sweet little girl here. I’m sorry she doesn’t feel well.”

  “Thank you. It’s peculiar, she was fine this morning.”

  “Miss Rossi said that she seemed okay when she arrived but started complaining of a headache and stomachache around ten. I took her temperature a half-hour ago but it was normal: 98.3.”

  I shook my head again. “Peculiar.”

  “It could be a migraine,” she said. “That would explain the nausea. She threw up about ten minutes ago.”

  I rubbed Charlotte’s cheek. “Oh, baby.” I looked back. “She’s never had a migraine before. Maybe a little rest will help. Thank you.”

  “Don’t mention it. I’ll let Miss Rossi know that she’s gone home for the day.”

  I crouched down next to Charlotte. “Ready to go, honey?”

  “Uh-huh.”

  I lifted her into my arms, then carried her, clinging to my shoulders, out to the car. She didn’t say much as I drove home, and every time I glanced over at her, I was surprised by how sick she looked. I pulled into the driveway hoping that Marc was still home, but his car was gone. I carried Charlotte inside and lay her in our bed. She was still lethargic. “Do you need anything, honey?”

  “No.” She rolled over to her stomach, burrowing her head into my pillow. I pulled the sheets up to her neck. I walked out of the room and tried Marc’s office extension but only got his voicem
ail. I called Roxanne to let her know that it didn’t look like I would be back to work today.

  “Don’t worry, baby,” she said. “I’ve got your back.”

  “I love you,” I said.

  “Me too. Give Char a kiss for me.”

  Charlotte lay in bed the rest of the afternoon, sleeping away most of it. Around one I gave her some toast and 7-Up. A half-hour later she threw up again, then curled up in a ball complaining of a stomachache. I sat on the bed next to her, rubbing her back. For dinner I made homemade chicken noodle soup, which she managed to keep down.

  Marc didn’t get home until after seven. “Hey, babe,” he said. “How was your day?”

  I guess I needed someone to take the day’s anxiety out on. “Awful,” I said sharply. “Where have you been?”

  He looked at me curiously, no doubt wondering what he’d done wrong. “You know how it is when I get back in town, it’s one meeting after another.”

  “I tried your extension.”

  “Like I said, I was in meetings. If I had known you were trying to reach me . . .” He put his arms around me. “But I’m here now. How about I take you and Char out for dinner?”

  My voice softened. “Sorry, it’s been a hard day. Charlotte’s not feeling well. I had to pick her up from school. And I already made chicken noodle soup for dinner.”

  He leaned back, his concern evident on his face. “She’s sick? Where is she?”

  “In our bed.”

  He immediately went to see her. I turned on the burner beneath the soup, then followed Marc to our bedroom. Charlotte squealed when she saw him. “Daddy!”

  He sat on the bed next to her. “How’s my monkey?”

  “I’m not a monkey.”

  “You’re my monkey. You’re my little baboon.” He lay down next to her, his face close to hers. “Mommy says you’re not feeling well.”

  “I have a tummy ache.”

  He kissed her forehead. “It’s probably from eating all those bananas.”

  “I’m not a monkey!” she said again happily.

 
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