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Finding noel, p.1
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       Finding Noel, p.1

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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Finding Noel


  ALSO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS

  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

  Rockefeller Center

  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 © 2006 by Richard Paul Evans

  All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.

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

  Designed by Davina Mock

  ISBN: 0-7432-9833-0

  ISBN 978-0-7432-9833-9 (ebook)

  Visit us on the World Wide Web:

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  First and foremost, tante grazie to my sweetheart, Keri, for being my home and heart.

  I would like to thank the usual cast for their unusual patience and support during the difficult times I went through while writing this book: my agent Laurie Liss and my S&S friends: my editor Sydny Miner (thank you, Syd, for your empathy and reassurances), and my publishers David Rosenthal and Carolyn Reidy.

  I’d like to thank my talented and insightful new writing assistant, Jenna Evans.

  Also, thank you Gypsy da Silva, Emily Benton and Karen Roylance for your editorial assistance.

  I’d like to say goodbye to my assistant Kelly Gay. It’s been a pleasure working with you over the past few years. (Boomer too.)

  While this book is wholly a work of fiction—as are its characters—many of Macy’s experiences in this book were inspired by the real life experiences of my dear friend Celeste Edmunds. I am grateful to Celeste for her assistance with my research but mostly for sharing with me the stories of her past and allowing me to recreate them in my book. For those who feel my character Macy is too resilient, good-hearted and untarnished by the atrocities of her past to be credible, I invite them to meet Celeste.

  In memory of June Sue Carol Thorup Evans

  Thank you for purchasing this Simon & Schuster eBook.

  Sign up for our newsletter and receive special offers, access to bonus content, and info on the latest new releases and other great eBooks from Simon & Schuster.

  or visit us online to sign up at

  eBookNews.SimonandSchuster.com

  CONTENTS

  A Note to my Readers

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Epilogue

  About The Author

  A NOTE TO MY READERS

  My first published work was a tale I wrote in the first grade at Hugo Reid Elementary School in Arcadia, California. My story was called “The Blue Bunny,” and it was printed in the school’s annual creative works publication. My mother treated it as a masterpiece of American literature. From “The Blue Bunny” on, my mother was my biggest fan.

  I lost my biggest fan on Valentine’s Day of this year. This story is for her.

  FINDING

  Noel

  Begin at the start, end at the end. It’s the best advice I could give a friend.

  SONG LYRICS FROM MARK SMART’S DIARY

  When I was a boy, my mother told me that everyone comes into our lives for a reason. I’m not sure if I believe that’s true. The thought of God weaving millions of lives together into a grand human tapestry seems a bit fatalistic to me. Still, as I look back at my life, there seem to be times when such divinity is apparent. None is more obvious to me than that winter evening when I met a beautiful young woman named Macy and there ensued the extraordinary chain of events that encounter set in place.

  Of course such a theory carried to the extreme would mean that God sabotaged my car that night because, had my car’s timing belt not broken at that precise moment, this story never would have happened. But it did, and my life was forever changed. Perhaps my mother was right. If God can align the planets, maybe He can do the same to our lives.

  My story began at a time when it was dangerously close to ending—a wintry November evening, eleven days after my mother died. My mother was killed in a car accident. There were three other people with her in the car, and everyone but my mother walked away unharmed. I was close to my mother, and the day I learned she died was the worst day of my life.

  Even before her death my life was in shambles. I had left my home in Huntsville, Alabama, nine months earlier and come to Salt Lake City to attend the University of Utah on an engineering scholarship. I had never been out West, and all I knew of Utah (other than that it had the only out-of-state school willing to give me a scholarship) was that it was a long way from Huntsville, with a few mountain ranges in between. This suited me because I wanted to put as many miles between my father and me as I could.

  Actually, I never really called Stuart Smart “Father.” He had always been “Stu” to me, and I considered his full name an oxymoron. He was an auto mechanic with an eighth-grade education, grease under his fingernails, and a disdain for all things he didn’t understand—which included English grammar and me.

  His dream was for me to one day take over the family business—Smart Auto Repair—and every Saturday after I turned ten, he’d drag me down to the garage and put me to work. While my friends were hanging around the Tastee-Freez or hunting grasshoppers with BB guns, I spent my childhood changing tires and air filters.

  I hated everything about the garage; from the boredom of watching Stu dissect a transmission to eating bologna and mustard sandwiches on bread smudged with motor oil. But most of all I didn’t like being with Stu. He wasn’t one for idle conversation, so the long days were mostly silent except for the occasional whine of a pneumatic wrench and the constant twang of a country radio station. I wasn’t much good as a mechanic and Stu always seemed annoyed with my ineptness. Every week I begged my mother to not make me go, and one Saturday, around the time I turned fourteen, Stu finally gave up on me and left me home.

  If love isn’t blind it’s at least horribly nearsighted.

  —Mark Smart’s Diary

  My
mother, Alice Geniel Phelps, was nothing like Stu. She was soft, well spoken and thoughtful. She liked to read and talk about philosophy, music and literature, things my father generally considered a waste of time. I could never figure out why someone like my mother married a guy like Stu until I came across a copy of my parents’ wedding announcement. To my surprise I learned that they’d been married just eight weeks before I was born. I figured that with the way things were back then, she had to.

  As I got older, Stu and I argued a lot. I couldn’t tell you how many times my mother interceded on my behalf, sometimes standing between the two of us. My mother was the skin that held our home together. Now she was gone. And so was my home.

  As I said, things were already going badly. Though I worked hard and earned straight A’s, after my first year in school, the university announced a budgetary cutback and dropped hundreds of scholarships. Mine included. Since I was no longer in school, I lost my job at the university registrar’s office and my room in the dorm.

  In truth, I didn’t care that much about engineering—I had no real love for it—but my parents couldn’t afford tuition and the scholarship was my only way into college. My real dream was to be a songwriter. But music scholarships are hard to come by unless you’re a classical virtuoso, which I’m not. I play the twelve-string guitar alright. I guess I’m more of a folksinger, not exactly Juilliard material.

  Stu had predicted my failure and I wasn’t about to give him the satisfaction of making him right, so I stayed in Utah and wrote cheerful, fraudulent letters home, telling everyone that school was going well. The truth was I was lonely, poor and depressed, living in a rundown basement apartment and employed at the only job I could find—on the janitorial crew at a nearby high school.

  My plan was to save up enough money to get back into school, but I was barely making enough to get by. The day my mother died, my aunt called the dorm to tell me. That’s when my family learned I was no longer in school. Since I had left no forwarding address or phone number, I didn’t find out about my mother’s death until two days after her funeral when I called home to talk to her. Stu answered the phone. He called me a liar and told me not to bother to come home.

  I thought I’d hit bottom, but apparently there was still more room to fall. Later that same week Tennys, my girlfriend back in Alabama, whom I had dated for nearly four years, sent me a letter informing me of her recent engagement to a promising young chiropractor.

  I’m ashamed of what happened next. I now believe that under the right circumstances we are all capable of things we’d never think possible.

  In the last year I had struggled with depression. But now, with the added grief, loneliness and rejection, I began having thoughts of ending my life. At first it was no more than an errant spark, quickly extinguished. But as my depression deepened, the idea began to take root.

  The night this story begins I had arrived at work only to be yelled at by a crazy English teacher who accused me of stealing a classroom CD player. I knew nothing of the player, had never even noticed it, but she insisted that I was the only one with access to her room and she swore I’d be fired and reported to the police if I didn’t return it by the next day. Later that evening, as I cleaned toilets, I decided this would be my last night of pain. That was where my mind was when my car broke down on the way home from work. God kicking me one last time, I thought. The truth was He had other plans.

  My mother used to say, “Man’s extremities are God’s opportunities.” She also used to say, “Be kind to everyone—you don’t know what cross they’re bearing and how sweet that kind word might ring.” That night proved both pieces of wisdom true.

  That night was the start of a journey that taught me that one truth can change everything. It was the night I found Macy. And it was the Christmas season that Macy found Noel.

  My mother used to tell me that angels walk the earth disguised as people. Tonight I’m a believer.

  MARK SMART’S DIARY

  NOVEMBER 3, 1988

  “What the…”

  My windshield wipers swung wildly in a vain attempt to clear the snow from my windshield, as my sixteen-year-old Malibu coughed, shuddered, then stalled, the dashboard lighting up like a Christmas tree. It was almost midnight and Salt Lake was in the clutch of an early snowfall. A blizzard, actually. I had just finished work and was headed home on snow-packed roads, wondering if I was really capable of ending my life. Considering the direction my thoughts were taking, it seems peculiar that my car breaking down bothered me. But it did. Just another sign of God’s boundless love, I thought cynically.

  I coasted the Malibu to the side of the road, bumping into the snow-covered curb. I punched the steering wheel in frustration. For all the time I spent in Stu’s shop, I knew relatively little about cars. Stu would’ve known what was wrong before I came to a stop. I saw a movie once about a horse whisperer, a guy who could talk to horses and heal them. Stu was a kind of “car whisperer”; he could tell you what was wrong with a car before popping its hood.

  The driving snow cocooned my car. When I could no longer see through my windshield, I climbed out and looked around, sizing up my predicament. Every building on the street was dark except for one about a half block up. I trudged over the unplowed sidewalk toward the light.

  A sign outside the building read THE JAVA HUT, or JAVA THE HUT, COFFEE HOUSE; because of the placement of the words on the sign, I wasn’t sure which. As I approached the shop, a young woman turned the OPEN sign in the front window to CLOSED. She then walked to the front door, reaching it about the same time I did. She jumped a little when she saw me. I’m sure I was a sight, my head and shoulders frosted with snow. She was shorter than me by at least six inches, about my age, with reddish-brown hair, a wide face and fawnlike eyes the color of Coca-Cola. She was the kind of beautiful that usually tied my tongue in square knots. She opened the door just enough to stick her head out. “I’m sorry, we just closed.”

  I awkwardly stared at her, my hands deep in my pockets. “My car broke…I just need to borrow a phone.”

  She looked me over, then slowly stepped back and opened the door. “Come in.”

  I stomped the snow from my feet, then stepped inside. She locked the door behind me, as I unbuttoned my coat. “The phone’s back here.”

  I followed her to a back office. The room was an unabashed mess. The desk was piled with paper; it looked like someone had emptied a trash pail on it. The place smelled like coffee grounds. She pointed to the phone.

  “It’s right there. You can sit at the desk if you want.”

  “Thank you. Do you have a phone book?”

  “Yellow or white pages?”

  “White.”

  She retrieved the phone book from a pile on the nearby credenza and handed it to me. I looked up the number of a friend whose brother fixed cars. I let the phone ring a dozen times then set it down. She looked at me sympathetically. “No one there?”

  “I guess not.”

  “Do you want to call someone else?”

  I couldn’t think of anyone. “I don’t know who I’d call.”

  “I know a mechanic,” she said, then frowned. “But he wouldn’t be there at this hour. Do you want to call a cab?”

  I hadn’t the money to pay for one. “No. I’ll just walk.”

  “In this blizzard?”

  “It’s not far,” I lied.

  Her brow furrowed. “Alright. I’ll let you out.”

  I stepped out of the office, buttoning my coat as I walked. She followed me back out to the front of the store, took out her keys and unlocked the door for me.

  “Thanks anyway,” I said.

  “Don’t mention it.”

  She looked at me for a moment then suddenly asked, “Are you okay?”

  No one, outside of my mother, had asked me that since I left home. I’m not one to cry—my father saw to that. Still, to my embarrassment, my eyes began to fill. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away from her.

&
nbsp; “You’re not, are you?” She looked at the tears welling up in my eyes, then stepped forward and put her arms around me. I couldn’t tell you the last time I’d had physical contact with anybody. She felt warm and nurturing and safe. I dropped my head on her shoulder and I openly began to cry. It was more than a minute before I regained my composure. I stepped back, wiping my cheeks and feeling embarrassed to be crying in front of a complete stranger.

  “I’m sorry.”

  “Tell me what’s wrong.”

  I just shook my head.

  She pulled a chair from a nearby table. “Here, sit down. I’ll get you a hot chocolate.”

  I sat down in the chair, furtively wiping my eyes as if someone else were in the room and might notice I’d been crying like a baby. In a moment she came back with a steaming cup of cocoa with a cloud of whipped cream rising above its rim.

  “There you go.”

  I took a sip. It was hot and rich. “Thank you.”

  “I have a secret ingredient. I add a little maple flavoring to it.”

  “It’s good.” I looked up into her eyes. They were fixed on mine.

  “What’s your name?” she asked.

  “Mark.”

  “I’m Macy.”

  “Macy.” I repeated. “Like the parade?”

  She nodded. “My father used to tell me the parade was for me.”

  “What’s your last name?” I asked.

  “Wood.” She knocked on the table even though it looked to be Formica and steel. “What’s yours?”

  “Smart.”

  “That’s a good name to have. From your accent I’d bet you’re not from Salt Lake.”

  “Alabama. I came out for the U.”

  “Then you’re a college boy,” she said, sounding impressed.

  “I was. Now I’m just working.”

  “Where do you work?”

  “At West High School. I’m a custodian.”

  “I went to West,” she said. “For a while at least.” She looked at me. “Tell me what’s wrong?”

 
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