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To my reader:
this story is my love song to you.
to Kimberly Whalen,
my extraordinary agent, who, since my first novel,
has traveled with me on this writing journey
and encouraged me to write this very
particular story at this very particular time.
May stillness be upon your thoughts and
silence upon your tongue!
For I tell you a tale that was told at the beginning . . .
the one story worth the telling.
—A TRADITIONAL IRISH STORYTELLER’S OPENING
The truth inside the story is
what the storyteller aims for . . .
—MAEVE MAHONEY TO KARA LARSON
immy Sullivan—God bless his soul—wrote the perfect Christmas song. Now, I’m not the only one who says this, so don’t go thinking this is just my opinion. This was so perfect a song that it almost ruined him.
When Jimmy wrote this song it was his first holiday season with Charlotte. Well, not technically his first, but when it comes to storytelling I’m not really sure if the word “technically” should enter our minds or hearts. Pure love formed this song. Of course, this is where the best stories,
melodies, and lyrics are born: love. You might not believe that a mere song can change a life, but I’m here to tell you that it can and it did.
t was Thanksgiving morning when the Unknown Souls band tour bus pulled up to the Larson family house. Brothers Jack and Jimmy Sullivan were asleep in the backseat, exhausted after their Savannah concert the previous night. It was a balmy coastal morning in Palmetto Pointe, South Carolina, the air infused with the rain of the past two weeks. The palms bent low in submission from the constant beating of wind and rain, the ground damp with the sweet smell of earth, sea, and life combined—an aroma of their childhood.
Jack woke first and shook Jimmy. “We’re here, bro, and you’re staying for the day. No arguments.”
Now, normally Jimmy wouldn’t want to be staying for this family thing; he’d rather hang out with the band. The poor boy just wasn’t much on domestic events (I’ll tell you more about that soon), even if the family belonged to his brother’s girlfriend, Kara, who was his childhood next-door neighbor. But the one thing that can change a man’s mind made Jimmy stay—the love of a woman. Kara’s best friend,
Charlotte, would be here today, and Jimmy was falling in love with her. He’d known Charlotte briefly as a child, and he denied this blooming love to his brother and anyone who would listen. No one believed him. Love like that is obvious to everyone within a heart’s distance.
“We have to be on the road by 9:00 a.m. for the concert in Nashville,” Isabelle, one of the backup singers, called from the back of the bus, her voice still as brittle and hard as it had been since Jack admitted his love for Kara. She couldn’t help it—love denied sometimes hardens the heart. It doesn’t have to be this way, and Isabelle’s heart will soften with time.
Jack and Jimmy stood at the bus door when Porter Larson, Kara’s dad, appeared and poked his head into the bus. He hugged Jack. Now, this right here was a Thanksgiving miracle because Mr. Larson was none too keen on Kara’s breaking up with Mr. Hotshot Golfer to hook up with an old neighbor who was now in a country band. But Porter’s smile and hug sang of a changed heart.
“Hello there!” Porter hollered, uncomfortable around the band, but wanting to be friendly. “What’s everyone doing for Thanksgiving?” He glanced around the bus.
Isabelle answered for the group. “Happy Thanksgiving to you, Mr. Larson. I think we’re headed to the beach for the afternoon. We have a concert tomorrow, so . . . ”
“Oh, no, you don’t,” Porter said. “You’re coming to spend the day with us.”
Luke, the band director, stood up and walked toward the front of the bus. “We’re fine, Mr. Larson. You’ve got your hands full with the Sullivan boys here.”
“Please,” Porter said. “We’d love it and we have plenty of food. Kara and Charlotte have been cooking for days.”
The band members shrugged and laughed (except for Isabelle). Harry, the drummer, stood, holding drumsticks in his hand as he always did. He played the air when he couldn’t play the drums. “I’m betting Kara Larson’s turkey is better than our sub sandwiches.”
The house was bright and warm that morning as the bedraggled group followed Mr. Larson to the living room. Jimmy burst through the door, hugging and greeting the entire family. The smell of cinnamon, pine, and something cooking in the back of the house filled Jimmy with a longing for things lost and never had. He wondered how he, so undeserving, could be blessed enough to walk into this house, into this family, and toward the open arms of Charlotte Carrington.
Then the noise began. Kara’s sister and brother-in-law, Deidre and Bill, came through the front door at the same time, hollering for help with the food and case of wine. Then came Kara’s brother, Brian.
The house filled with noise in that gorgeous way of family, of laughter and private jokes. The band crowded the living room, men and women with guitars and drumsticks looking misplaced on the prissy antique furniture of Mr. Larson’s living room, which looked exactly the same as the day his wife, Margarite, passed away, twenty years ago. Damask curtains fell to the floor where Isabelle sat cross-legged, and she began to tell the stories, the ones about Jimmy and his antics on the road. She is good at this, and laughter rang out like the sound of hope as she told the story about Jimmy’s hiring a girl to run up on stage and dance around Jack, trying to rope him with a lasso as he sang the Toby Keith song “Shoulda Been a Cowboy.”
Jack shook his head. “I’m telling you, I almost killed him, but what would we do without Jimmy’s jokes on tour? I think sometimes they save us from insanity, even when we beg him to stop.” The combined voices and warm food, the cold wine and deep laughter, filled the room.
Sometimes Thanksgiving Day is all it should be in a family, in a home. That day inside the Larson home was one of those. In the simple and undeserved way of love, hearts mended and relationships were stitched together over food, twinkling lights, bad jokes, laughter, and melancholy memories. They talked about Maeve Mahoney, the Irish woman Kara believes brought her back to Jack. They spoke of Margarite
and how both Margarite and Maeve seemed to be present in all that was said and done that day. They spoke of Jack and Jimmy’s sweet mother, Andrea, now in California. Even Isabelle’s mouth broke into a smile that didn’t leave her face for the remainder of the day.
Charlotte brought her mother, Rosie, and soon the house filled with a light that Jimmy believed only he could see. He watched Charlotte with her wide smile and long blonde curls, Charlotte with her sweet laugh, tender touch and gentle words. Families had never been a safe place for Jimmy, and he’d believed they never would be, like growing up in a war-torn country and then believing that all lands are the same. But here he was beginning to relax into the rhythm of a new place where Charlotte inhabited not only the Lowcountry, but also his heart.
harlotte and Jimmy met as all the best lovers do—when they weren’t looking for love, when they were too busy to notice they’d stumbled upon treasure. They were brought back together when Kara and Jack reunited.
Now, Kara and Jack’s love story has been told, but it is so beautiful that I love to tell it again and again, recalling the events with long, beautiful sighs.
You see, Jack and Kara were childhood sweethearts, yet were separated when they were twelve years old. You can split a boy and girl apart, but here’s what you can’t do: take the love out of their hearts. No, you just can’t. Love is alive inside a heart the same way blood moves inside a body—running and thrumming through every cell and unseen thing that make us who we are.
The story of how they ended up together is much more complicated than just finding one another again. It had been in May of the previous year, and sweet Kara was engaged to the wrong man. Not a bad man. No, not that. Just wrong for her. Now, poor Kara had lost her mother when she was nine, and her daddy was a strict man who just wanted the best for his daughter and thought that her famous fiancé was the best thing for her. She wanted to please her daddy. Who doesn’t? This is built into the human soul like a building block.