The Christmas List, p.1Richard Paul Evans
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About the Author
To my friend, Robert C. Gay
After penning more than a dozen books I’m afraid that my thank you list has become a bit redundant, but my feelings of gratitude have not. I am most appreciative of these people who I have had the pleasure and honor of associating with:
Laurie Liss, Sydny Miner, David Rosenthal,
Carolyn Reidy, Gypsy da Silva, Fred Chase
My personal and Christmas Box House team
Lisa V. Johnson, Barry James Evans, Miche Nicole Barbosa, Diane Elizabeth Glad, Heather McVey, Judy Schiffman, Karen Christoffersen, Karen Roylance, Lisa McDonald, Sherri Engar, Doug Smith, and Barbara Thompson.
The Christmas Box International Board
Pat Berckman, Estelle Dahlkemper, Judy Schiffman, Ken Deyhle, Patrice Archibald, Randi Escobar, Kay Dea, Shelly Tripp, Sterling Tanner, Les Moore, Ann Foxley, Lee Farmer, Jean Nielsen, and Mike Olsen.
Glenn Beck, Kevin Balfe, David Parker, Christopher Pair
And, not least, The home team
Keri, Jenna and David Welch, Allyson-Danica, Abigail Hope, McKenna Denece, Richard Michael, and our bulgy-eyed dog: Bello
I am very proud of (and grateful for) my new writing assistant, my daughter, Jenna Evans Welch. Well done, girl. Thank you for your insight. You make me proud.
My love and appreciation to all of you.
When I was in seventh grade my English teacher, Mrs. Johnson, gave our class the intriguing (if somewhat macabre) assignment of writing our own obituaries. Oddly, I don’t remember much of what I wrote about my life, but I do remember how I died: in first place on the final lap of the Daytona 500. At the time I hadn’t considered writing as an occupation, a field with a remarkably low on-the-job casualty rate.
What intrigues me most about Mrs. Johnson’s assignment is the opportunity she gave us to confront our own legacy. How do we want to be remembered? That question has motivated our species since the beginning of time: from building pyramids to putting our names on skyscrapers.
As I began to write this book I had two objectives: First, I wanted to explore what could happen if someone read their obituary before they died and saw, firsthand, what the world really thinks of them. Their legacy.
Second, I wanted to write a Christmas story of true redemption. One of my family’s holiday traditions is to see a local production of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen it (perhaps a dozen) but it still thrills me to see the change that comes over Ebenezer Scrooge as he transforms from a dull, tight-fisted miser into a penitent, “giddy-as-a-schoolboy” man with love in his heart. I always leave the show with a smile on my face and a resolve to be a better person. That’s what I wanted to share with you, my dear readers, this Christmas—a holiday tale to warm your seasons, your homes, and your hearts.
To: James Kier
From: Linda Nash
Re: The list you requested
Here is the list you requested; the names are in no particular order. Attached is a paragraph about each individual and their relationship to you. I wish you well in your quest, and hope you accomplish what you desire.
Estelle and Karl Wyss
P.S. Merry Christmas.
SATURDAY, THREE WEEKS BEFORE CHRISTMAS
James Kier looked back and forth between the newspaper headline and the photograph of himself, not sure if he should laugh or call his attorney. It was the same photograph the Tribune had used a couple of years earlier when they featured him on the front page of the business section. He had worn a silver herringbone-weave Armani over a black silk T-shirt for the photo session, the corner of an ebony silk handkerchief peeked strategically from the breast pocket. The black and white photograph was carefully posed and lighted to leave half his face in shadow. The photographer, a black-clad young Japanese man with a shock of bright pink hair, chose to shoot in black and white because, in the photographer’s words, he was “going for a yin-yang effect—to fully capture Kier’s inner complexities.” The photographer was good at his craft. Kier’s expression revealed a leaky confidence.
While the photograph was the same, the headline could not have been more different. Not many people get to read their own obituary.
Local real estate mogul dies in automobile crash
Utah real estate developer James Kier was pronounced dead after his car collided with a concrete pylon on southbound I-80. Rescue workers labored for more than an hour to remove the Salt Lake man’s body from the wreckage. Authorities believe Kier may have had a heart attack prior to swerving off the road.
Kier was the president of Kier Company, one of the West’s largest real estate development firms. He was known as a fierce, oftentimes ruthless, businessman. He once said, “If you want to make friends, join a book club. If you want to make money, go into business. Only a fool confuses the two.”
Kier is survived by his son, James Kier II, and his wife, Sara. See page 1 of the business section for more on James Kier.
Kier put the paper down. Some idiot’s going to lose his job over this, he thought.
He had no idea what the article was about to set in motion.
Single mother, 29 years old. Son, Henry, 7. Ms. Hatt lost her home after you persuaded her to purchase a larger home than she could afford by putting her entire life’s savings into the down payment. Six month
ONE DAY EARLIER
Celeste Hatt rooted through a box of children’s books looking for the thinnest in the stack. It was definitely a short story night. Barely nine o’clock, and she was already exhausted. The single mother routine never seemed to get easier. During the day, when her son, Henry, was at school, she worked as a checker at Smith’s Food and Drug. Weekend evenings she waited tables at the Blue Plate Grill, a small diner half a mile from her home. In addition to her two jobs, nearly every night she assembled circuit boards at home for a local electronics firm. Her tiny kitchen was stacked to the ceiling with brown cardboard boxes printed with Chinese characters.
On most nights, after dinner, the dishes, and her son’s homework, she and Henry would watch TV while she snapped the circuit board components together. The process wasn’t so much technical as it was tedious; something a machine would be better suited to doing. All the same, it was extra money. Two dollars and fifty cents a board times five an hour equaled thirty dollars a night.
Between her jobs, household chores, and raising an active seven-year-old boy, the only time Celeste had for herself were the few minutes between when Henry went to bed and when her own head hit the pillow. It’s been said that the best way to extend the day is to steal a few hours from the night, but there’s a price to pay for all theft and it showed in Celeste’s dark-ringed eyes. She settled on a book from the pile and carried it into Henry’s tiny bedroom. Henry was already in bed, the room illuminated by a small lamp on the floor.
“Hey buddy,” she said. “How about The Grinch? It’s getting near Christmas.”
“Okay,” he said, leaning up on one elbow.
She sat down on the side of the bed and opened the book.
Henry brushed a wayward strand of silky blond hair from his face. “Mom, how long are we going to have to live here?”
She looked up from the book. “I don’t know, honey. A while.”
“How long’s a while?”
“I wish I knew.”
“I don’t like it here. I want to go back to our house.”
Celeste had scrimped, sacrificed, and saved for three years to get them into a home of their own, only to lose it, and their down payment, just five months later. Now they were living in a run-down two-bedroom duplex looking out on the busy thoroughfare of 7th East. It was obvious to her now that she never should have bought the house. Why had she listened to that man at the development? Maybe the better question was, why wouldn’t she? He spoke so well, so wisely, like a father giving paternal advice to his daughter. He used logic that seemed irrefutable and words that carried their own persuasive power, like: home ownership, personal equity, tax deductions, and financial security; each word finding ground in her scared places. She had trusted him to do what was best for her.
“Well, we can’t. It’s not our house anymore.”
“When you don’t pay the mortgage the bank takes your house from you.”
“What’s a mortgage?”
“It’s money we borrowed from the bank.”
“Why don’t you just get more money?”
Celeste sighed. “It’s not that easy, sweetheart.”
As she lifted the book again Henry asked, “How come Daddy didn’t have to move?”
She frowned. “Do you want a story or not?”
She started to read, fighting to bury the anger Henry’s last question brought up. While she battled to keep their heads above water, her ex-husband, Randy, continued to fight her on paying alimony and child support. To make matters worse Henry was struggling in school and his teachers had suggested he needed counseling.
Of course he was struggling. His father had virtually abandoned him, missing the last six months of visits. She wondered how Randy could so easily dismiss this wonderful little boy from his life. The first time her ex didn’t show up for his visit, Henry had stood by the door with his suitcase packed for nearly an hour. When Celeste finally got him on the phone he first told her that something had come up but eventually admitted that he had just forgotten and made other plans. He told her that Henry “cramped his style.” When she asked if by “style” he meant “selfishness” or “stupidity” he hung up on her.
Henry interrupted again.
“Mom, how is Santa going to find us this year?”
“He’ll find us. But don’t expect too much. Times are hard for Santa too.”
“I’m just going to ask him to make the bank give our house back.”
“That would fall under the ‘too much’ category.”
“Not for Santa. He’s magic.”
Celeste sighed. “Henry, we need to talk about Santa.”
He stiffened. “What?”
She looked into his frightened eyes. “Never mind. You know, I’m pretty tired. How about we skip the rest of the story tonight. Okay?”
She closed the book and got up off the bed. Henry grabbed her hand. Celeste looked down at him.
“Mom, were you going to tell me there really isn’t a Santa?”
“Why would you think that?”
“I already knew. Miss Covey told me.”
Celeste felt a prickle of annoyance. “She did, huh?”
“I’m sorry, sweetheart. You should have heard it from me.”
“Miss Covey said our parents were lying to us.”
Celeste groaned. “Well, I guess I’ll be having a talk with Miss Covey.”
“Did you lie?”
“Henry, Santa is the spirit of giving. And sometimes it’s good to have something to believe in. I just wanted you to have something to believe in right now.”
“What do you believe in?”
She looked at him for a moment then forced a smile. “I believe in you.” She combed her fingers through his hair. “And I believe we’ll be okay. Now let’s say our prayers.”
She knelt by the side of his bed. “Would you pray tonight?”
“Sure.” Henry closed his eyes. “Dear God . . .” He stopped. Opening one eye he whispered, “Mom?”
“Is God fake, like Santa Claus?”
He closed his eyes again. “Heavenly Father. Thank you for our many blessings. Please help Mom to feel better. Help us to get more money. And please help us get our house back. Amen.”
“Amen,” Celeste said softly. She leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. “I love you, sweetheart.”
“I love you too.”
She turned off the light, shut the door, then went out into the kitchen. She wished she really believed what she had told her son; that things would be okay. She wished something would happen to make her believe.
Through the kitchen window she could see the snow falling outside. She turned on the radio. “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” was playing. Mitch Miller. She turned him off. It was far too festive for how she felt. Thanksgiving had just passed and she and Henry had spent it eating TV dinners with sliced turkey and processed mashed potatoes, then she went into work at the diner. When would something good happen to her?
She heated some water in the microwave, then dropped in a bag of chamomile tea, followed by a teaspoon of honey. She walked to the rocking chair in their front room, stirring her tea, and sat down. A steady flow of cars rolled loudly by. It was like living next to a river that squealed and honked. She took a sip of the tea, then lay her head in her hands and began to cry.
THAT SAME FRIDAY
Sara’s son quietly opened the door and peeked into the darkened room to see if she was still sleeping. Her voice came from the darkness, weak and labored.
“Is it time?”
“No, I was just lying here. Would you turn on the light?”
“Sure.” Jimmy flipped the light switch. His mother was in her flannel nightgown, the duvet pulled up to her chest, her bald head exposed. Bello, a black shih tzu, nestled in the crevice between her ankles. The dog looked up, then rolled onto his back, hoping to have his belly scratched. “Not now Bello.” Sara fumbled around for her cap, found it, and quickly slipped it on. “Sorry,” she said, embarrassed. “You shouldn’t have to see your mother bald.”
Jimmy sat down on the bed next to her. “Some women look pretty bald. You’re one of them.”
She smiled. “Thank you. Some men look handsome bald.”
“And the rest look like thumbs.”
Sara laughed. “Are you ready?”
“Yeah. Juliet will be here in a few minutes. At least she had better be or I’ll miss my flight.”
“I know a couple of girls who wouldn’t complain if you did.”
“I know a few professors who would.”
“I know. Here, give me a love.”
She pulled him in close and held him as tightly as she could. “It’s been so nice having you home. I miss you when you’re gone.”
“I miss you too, Mom.” He reached over and stroked the dog’s long silky fur. “How’s Bells?”
“He’s a pain,” she said. “Can’t live with him. Can’t grill him.”
Jimmy laughed, then slid his fingers under Bello’s collar and scratched his neck. “And how are you feeling?”
“I’m okay,” she said.
He looked up at her dubiously. “Yeah?”
“Maybe a little dizzy.”
“You should go back to sleep.”
“I need to get up. I have a meeting this morning.”
The Christmas List by Richard Paul Evans / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes