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Authors: Debbie Macomber

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BOOK: A Gift to Last
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“Too long,” Matt said. “I’ve done a lot of thinking these past few days, and once I’m home I want to talk to you about making some changes.”

“I’ve been a terrible wife,” she sobbed into the phone.

“Pam, you haven’t. Now stop. I love you and you love me, and we’re going to make it, understand?”

“Yes,” she mumbled, her reply quavery with emotion.

“Listen, I want you to think about two things.”


“First, I want to quit my job.” Not until he said the words did Matt recognize how right it was to leave MicroChip. He should have known it when he was passed over for a promotion he’d earned. Being undervalued and underappreciated had cut into his self-confidence, and inevitably, his dissatisfaction with his job had affected his family life. He couldn’t, wouldn’t, allow that to continue.

“Quit your job?” Pam gasped.

“It isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’m going to send out a couple of feelers right after New Year’s. I’ve got a good reputation in the industry. I can get something else. The main thing is that I spend more time at home with you and the kids. It’s unfair to have you chained down with all the responsibility for them and the house while I travel. I’m going to be looking for a sales position that won’t take me away for more than a day at a time.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“The other thing we need is a vacation, just the two of us. I’ve got vacation time coming, and it’s been far too long since you and I got away without the kids.”

“I’d love that, Matt, more than anything.”

“How about a Caribbean cruise?” he suggested.

“Yes…Oh, Matt, I love you so much and I’ve felt so awful about the way our marriage has been going.”

“Me, too. We’ll talk about that some more. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to see a counselor, either.”

“Yes,” she whispered.

Over the phone Matt heard a chorus of background shouts.

“Your parents just arrived,” Pam told him.

“Let them wait. I want to say Merry Christmas to my wife.”


“Silent Night”


athy made up a small bed for herself using the blankets and pillows the VFW Women’s Auxiliary had distributed. By all rights, she should be exhausted. She’d been up since dawn and the day had been filled with uncertainty and tension.

Instead, she lay with her eyes wide-open, mulling over the events of the past twenty-four hours. Apparently she wasn’t the only one having difficulty sleeping. Matt, the sales rep, had carefully made his way across the darkened room and used the phone. It could be her imagination, but his steps seemed lighter on the return trip, as though his mood had improved. Cathy felt pleased for him. She’d lost patience with him earlier, and later…well, later, he’d proved to be an ally and a friend.

She’d witnessed more than one transformation today. The young sailor had been nervous and excited about this trip home; he’d chattered like a five-year-old when they’d first started out.

Then troubles developed, and he’d withdrawn into himself. But over the next few hours, Cathy had watched as Len recovered from his disappointment and frustration. Before the night was over he’d been an encouragement to others.

Nick and Kelly, the young couple with the newborn, were struggling to be good parents and still hold on to the closeness they’d once had in their marriage. Those two reminded Cathy of Ron and her about thirty years ago, after the birth of their first daughter. Eventually, like most couples, Nick and Kelly would learn to work together and ease gracefully into parenthood.

Sam and Louise had kept to themselves all day, offering no advice and little comment until Cathy shared her shortbread cookies. It was then that they’d kindly come forward and contributed their oranges. Later Sam had read the Christmas story from the Bible in a way that had stirred her beyond any Christmas Eve church service she’d ever attended.

She thought again of Matt McHugh. In the beginning he’d been quite disagreeable. Easily irritated, his few remarks cynical. One would assume that as a seasoned traveler he’d be better able to deal with frustrations of this sort. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case until…Cathy couldn’t put her finger on the precise moment she’d noticed the change in him. About the time they’d decorated the tree, she decided, when he’d opened his briefcase and started folding and clipping memos into paper snowflakes. She’d sensed a genuine enthusiasm in him from that point on.

Cathy had been just as affected by the unusual events of this Christmas Eve as her fellow passengers. That morning, when she’d phoned for a taxi in the middle of the snowstorm, she hadn’t been looking forward to the trip. She’d dreaded it less, however, than spending the holiday alone in the house where she’d lived all those years with Ron.

She’d known Christmas would be difficult. After living first with the approach of death and then the aftermath of it, she’d anticipated nothing but pain and loneliness during the Christmas season. And she’d been right. But today, for the first time since standing over her husband’s grave, she’d experienced what it meant to be alive. Sharing, encouraging, laughing. Damn, but it felt good.

“Are you awake?” Matt whispered from the bench directly across from her.

“Yes. You, too.” She smiled at the obviousness of the comment.

“I just spoke to my wife.” He sounded excited. “It was the first time we’ve connected all day.”

“I imagine she was relieved to hear from you.”

She saw his nod, and then he said the oddest thing.

“You loved your husband very much, didn’t you?” he asked, sitting up and leaning toward her, bracing his elbows on his knees.

“Yes.” Her voice wavered slightly, surprised as she was by his question and the instant flash of pain it produced.

“I want my wife and me to have the same kind of relationship you did with your husband.”

The comment touched her heart. “Thank you,” she whispered, warmed by the praise of this stranger who’d become her friend. “How’d you know…I didn’t mention Ron, I don’t think.”

“Ah, but you did,” he said quietly, nestling against his pillow. “You told Kate about the dollhouse your husband built for his granddaughters. It was easy to read between the lines and…well, I could see this Christmas was difficult for you.”

“It’s better now,” she whispered.

He sighed and curled up against the pillow before closing his eyes. “It’s better for me, too.”

“Merry Christmas, Matt.”

“Merry Christmas, Cathy.”


Len purposely waited until the depot was silent. The even rhythm of breathing told him that almost everyone was asleep. His watch said eleven-thirty, which made it ten-thirty in Rawhide. Amy had mentioned playing the piano at the rest home, and he’d waited until he was fairly confident she’d be home.

The phone card he’d paid for on base had long since expired, so he had to use his credit card. The transaction seemed loud enough to wake the entire room, but as far as Len could see, no one stirred.

When the line connected, the phone rang three times, three of the longest rings Len could ever remember hearing. He was about to give up hope when Amy answered.

“Hello.” Her voice sounded breathless and excited at once.

“Merry Christmas, Amy,” he said, speaking in a whisper for fear of disturbing the others.

“Len, Len, is that you?”

“It’s me.”

“Where are you?”

“The train depot,” he said, wishing he had other news to give her.

“Still? Oh, Len, are you ever going to make it home?”

“And miss seeing my girl? Are you nuts? I’ll walk from here to Rawhide if I have to.”

“Oh, Len! I can’t believe this is happening.”

He’d felt much the same way himself most of the day, but somehow everything had changed after Mr. Kemper brought in the Christmas tree. And after the choir had come and the ladies had brought them a meal. And Sam had read the Christmas story…

In the beginning tempers had flared and folks were impatient and short with each other. Then the kindhearted stationmaster had brought that bare sad-looking tree and placed it in the center of the room.

Someone had commented that the stupid tree wasn’t worth the buck Kemper had paid for it.

Len had agreed. It’d taken a five-year-old child to teach them. The minute Kate had placed her hair bow on one sagging limb, the Christmas tree had been magically transformed into something beautiful. Not because of what they’d used to decorate its branches, but because of the effect it’d had on all of them, the way it had brought them together.

Everything had changed from then on. Suddenly they weren’t strangers anymore. Suddenly it was a Christmas like those he’d enjoyed when he was a boy. He’d spent Christmas Eve with strangers who’d become so much more. Strangers who’d become family. Granted, it wasn’t the same as if he’d spent Christmas Eve with Amy, but then he expected to be with her for the rest of his life.

“I’ll be home before you know it,” he promised.

“I’ll be here,” she whispered.

The line was quiet a moment while Len gathered his courage. He’d rather propose when he could look into her eyes and see her reaction as he said the words, but that wasn’t possible. He didn’t think he could wait any longer.

“Did you mean what you said earlier?” he asked. “Do you really love me, Amy Sue?”

“Yes,” she admitted as though confessing to a fault. “I…I probably shouldn’t have said it.”

“Why not?” he asked, raising his voice before he could stop himself.

“Because…well, because we’ve never talked about our feelings and—”

“I love you, too, Amy.”

She didn’t say anything for so long Len feared they’d been disconnected.


“I’m here.”

He could tell from the tremble in her voice that she was close to tears. “Amy, listen, I never intended it to happen like this, but then life doesn’t always go the way we plan it. I decided to come home for another reason besides spending Christmas with my family.”


“I was hoping…” Despite rehearsing his proposal, he was tongue-tied and nervous.

“You were hoping…” she encouraged.

“To talk to you about something important.”


“About the two of us.” He continued to improvise, forgetting the carefully worded proposal he’d practiced a hundred times. “I was thinking you and I…that is, if you were interested…that maybe we should get married.”

There was a silence that seemed to go on and on.

“Married,” she finally repeated, sounding stunned.

Len’s hand tightened around the telephone receiver. His nerves were stretched to the limit. “Say something,” he pleaded, all the while wondering if it was possible to get a refund on the diamond if she refused him. His heart sank to his knees; he hadn’t considered Amy’s refusal. In his arrogance he’d assumed she’d scream with delight, maybe even cry a little. The last thing he’d anticipated was no response.

“Amy?” he asked, humble now, wondering how he could have made such a mistake in judgment. He’d noted the reserve in her recently, the fact that he hadn’t gotten a letter in almost two weeks. Other things didn’t add up, either, but he’d pushed his concerns aside each time he spoke with her—although of course their phone calls had been less frequent lately. But whenever he managed to call she’d always sounded so glad to hear from him.

“Is there someone else?” he demanded, his pride rescuing him. “Is that it?”

“Oh, Len, how can you think such a thing?”

“Then what’s it to be?” A proposal was a straightforward enough question. “Yes or no?”

“Who told you?”

“Told me?” he echoed. “Told me what?”

“About the baby.”


“Home For the Holidays”


aby?” Len’s knees went weak and to remain upright he braced his shoulder against the wall.

“Who told you?” Amy repeated.

“No one…” Len’s thoughts twisted around in his mind until he was convinced he’d misunderstood her.

“To make sure I understand what’s happening here, I need to ask you something. Are you telling me you’re pregnant?”


“Don’t you think you should’ve mentioned this before now?” he demanded, not caring who heard him. “You must be at least three months along.”

“Three and a half…I love you, Len, but you’ve never said how you felt about me. I didn’t want you to feel obligated to marry me. My dad married my mother because she was pregnant and the marriage was a disaster. I refuse to repeat my mother’s mistakes, although I certainly seem to have started out on the same path.”

“Amy, listen, I swear I didn’t know about the baby. No one told me a damn thing.” He took a deep breath. “As for you being like your mom…this is different. I love you. I want us to get married. I wanted it even before I knew about the baby.” It hurt to think Amy had held back, not telling him she was pregnant. “Who else knows?”


“You’d tell your best friend before you’d tell me?” he said, hardly able to believe his ears.

“Why’d you ask me to marry you?” she returned, equally insistent. “Is it just because of the baby?”

“No…I already told you that. Isn’t loving you and wanting to spend the rest of my life with you reason enough?”

“Yes,” she whispered, whimpering now. “It’s more than enough.”

“Listen, Amy. I want to be with you. And I want my baby. We’re getting married, understand? Soon, too, next week if it can be arranged, and when I go back to Maine, I’m going to ask for married housing. Next month I’ll come down and get you.”


That was the reason she’d asked if she was just “his girl in Rawhide.” He hated the thought of her worrying and fretting all these weeks, wondering how he’d react once he learned the truth.

“You said you love me. Are you taking that back now?” he asked.


“I love you. I knew it after my last visit home. I should have said something then. I regret now that I didn’t.” Then, remembering how he didn’t enjoy having his life dictated to him, he asked again, “Will you marry me, Amy?”

Her hesitation was only momentary this time. “Yes, Len, oh, yes.”

He could hear her sob softly in the background.

“I knew tonight would be special,” she murmured.

“How’s that?” Len’s mind continued to spin with Amy’s news, but it wasn’t unwelcome. He was ready to be a husband and had always loved children. His own parents had been wonderful and he was determined to be a good husband and father himself.

“Mr. Danbar came out of his room tonight when I sat down at the piano,” Amy told him.

Len could only vaguely recall the man’s name. “Mr. Danbar?”

“He’s the one who hasn’t spoken a word since his wife died three years ago. The man I eat my lunch with every day. I’m the one who does all the talking, but that’s all right.”

“He came out of his room?” This was big news, Len realized. He remembered now that Amy had written to him about the older gentleman.

“His wife used to play the piano and when he heard the music, he climbed out of bed and came into the recreation room. He sat down on the bench beside me and smiled. Oh, Len, it was the most amazing thing.”

His wife-to-be was pretty darn amazing herself, he thought proudly. She could coax a lonely old man from his room and brighten his life with her music and kindness. Len meant what he’d said, about their marrying as soon as possible. Their marriage would be a strong one, based on love and mutual respect.

He felt like the luckiest man alive.


“Are you awake?” Nick whispered to Kelly in the dead of night. He thought he’d heard her stir and realized they were both accustomed to Brittany waking and needing to be fed around this time.

Nick had been wide-awake for the better part of an hour. Sleeping upright with his head propped against the wall had been awkward, but he’d managed to get some rest. It helped to have his arm around Kelly and hold her close to his side. They hadn’t held each other nearly enough lately, but that was something he hoped to remedy.

In response to his question, Kelly yawned. “What time is it?”

“About two.”

“Already?” His wife smothered a second yawn.

“How’s Brittany?”

“Better than either of us.”

Nick grinned into the darkness and gently squeezed her shoulder.

“I never thought we’d spend our first Christmas as parents stuck in some train depot,” Kelly said, her words barely audible.

“Me, neither.”

“It hasn’t been so bad.”

Nick pressed his face into her hair and inhaled, delighting in her warm female scent. He loved Kelly and Brittany more than he’d thought it was possible to love anyone. More than it seemed reasonable for any human heart to love. Little in his life had come easy, and this parenting business might well be his greatest challenge yet. But his struggles had taught him to appreciate what he did have. Tonight, Christmas Eve, had taught him to
what he had.

He’d considered the trip home to Georgia unnecessary, but Kelly had wanted to introduce Brittany to her grandparents. Besides, traveling in winter was a mistake, he’d told her over and over. In the end he’d agreed only because Kelly had wanted it so badly. He hadn’t been gracious about it, and when troubles arose, it was all he could do not to leap up and tell her how right he’d been.

Nick felt differently now. Being with these people on Christmas Eve hadn’t been a mistake at all. Nor was taking Brittany to meet her extended family. They needed each other. He’d stood alone most of his life, but he wasn’t alone anymore. He had a wife and daughter. Family. And friends.

More friends than he’d realized.


At six o’clock Christmas morning, Clayton Kemper received word that the tracks had been repaired. He hurriedly dressed and rushed down to the train depot, not sure what he’d find. It came as a pleasant surprise to discover everyone waking up in a good mood, grateful to hear his news. While the travelers stretched and yawned, Clayton put on a pot of coffee, then dragged out the phone book and called the hotels in town to alert the passengers there that the tracks had been repaired.

“I don’t imagine this will be a Christmas you’ll soon forget,” Clayton said as he led the small band from the depot to the train. The engine hummed, ready to race down the tracks toward Boston.

Mrs. Norris was the first to board. She smiled as she placed her hand in his. “Thank you again for all your kindness, Mr. Kemper. And Merry Christmas.”

“I was glad I could help,” he said as she climbed onto the train.

The couple with the baby followed, along with the young navy man who lugged his own bag as well as the infant seat. It never ceased to amaze Clayton that one baby could need this much equipment. Time was, a bottle or two and a few diapers would suffice. These days it took the mother and two full-grown men to cart everything in. Clayton was pleased to see that the couple had struck up a friendship with the sailor. They certainly seemed to have a great deal to talk about.

The sales rep boarded next, after helping an elderly black couple with their luggage. This was the man who’d spent a large portion of the day before scowling and muttering under his breath. Kemper didn’t know what had happened to him, but this morning the man grinned from ear to ear and was about as helpful as they come.

“We appreciate everything you did for us, Kemper,” he said as he made his way into the train.

Five-year-old Kate bounced onto the first step and told Clayton, “Santa came last night and dropped off a present for me and Charles.”

“Did he now?” Clayton asked, catching Elise Jones’s eyes.

“Indeed he did,” Elise said with a wide smile.

Apparently the adults had arranged something for the children. Clayton was glad to hear it. He wished he’d been able to do more himself, but he had his own family and plenty of obligations. It was a sad case when the railroad had to put people up in a depot for the night, especially when that night happened to be Christmas Eve.

He waited until everyone was on board before he stepped away from the train. Glancing inside the compartment, he watched fascinated as the group of once-cantankerous travelers cheerfully teased one another. Anyone looking at them would assume they were lifelong friends, even family.

Was it possible, Clayton wondered, that this small band of strangers had discovered the true meaning of Christmas? Learned it in a train depot late on Christmas Eve in the middle of a snowstorm?

The question seemed to answer itself.

BOOK: A Gift to Last
13.28Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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