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Authors: Richard Paul Evans

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BOOK: The Mistletoe Inn
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“They're watching the game,” my father said. “They don't need me.”

“Go,” I said. “You always watch football on Thanksgiving. Besides, I don't want anyone in my kitchen.”

When he finally realized that I wasn't going to back down, he grabbed a beer and walked out, muttering, “It's my kitchen.”

The truth was I wanted to be alone. And I wanted them to enjoy themselves. All three of them were suffering more than I ever had. I guess I had found something to be grateful for after all.

CHAPTER
Eight

Back to Colorado again. The most certain exiles are those that are self-imposed.

Kimberly Rossi's Diary

The men's shuttle from the hospital came to pick them up a little after seven-thirty. Dad talked the driver into staying for some pie, then sent the pumpkin pie back to the hospital with Chuck. Before leaving, Joel shook my hand.

“Thank you for everything, ma'am. I thought today was going to be miserable, but it wasn't. The food was excellent, and the company was even better. It was a real pleasure meeting you. Maybe we could get a coffee when you're back in town.”

“I'd like that,” I said. “And thank you.”

“For what?”

“For your sacrifice for your country. For us.”

“It was my honor, ma'am.”

I furtively glanced at his broken body. “God bless,” I said.

After they were gone, my father came back to the kitchen and made a turkey sandwich from the rolls and leftover turkey, heating up some gravy in the microwave to dip his sandwich in. Then he sat down at the table next to me.

“Best part of Thanksgiving,” he said. “Leftovers.”

“I think we have enough to last until Christmas.” I looked at him. “Your friends were nice.”

“Yeah. Chuck can be a bit cantankerous, but that comes with age and pain. He's a good man. And he's dying. Did you notice his skin was yellow?”

“Yes.”

“That's his liver failing.”

“But he said he's going to get a transplant?”

My father shook his head. “He says that, but he's too old for a transplant. They wouldn't waste the organ. Besides, he'd never survive the operation.”

“How long does he have?”

“A couple of weeks ago I asked his doctor. He said he doesn't have a crystal ball, but he'd be surprised if he makes it to Christmas.”

“So this was his last Thanksgiving.”

My father nodded. “That's why I invited him.”

“And Joel? I can't believe he doesn't hate his wife. I don't even know her, and I hate her.”

“Don't be too quick to judge,” my father said. “We all mourn loss in different ways. But you're right. Joel's an amazing young man.” He looked at me for a moment. “I think he was taken with you.”

“I'm sure he's lonely.”

“I'm sure he's lonely for female companionship.”

“Maybe we'll get a coffee. It's the least I can do.”

My father shook his head. “No, don't go out with him out of sympathy. That would be wrong.”

“Then how about out of friendship?”

“Friendship is good. If he's attracted to you, he might not be able to handle that. But it's good to let him make that decision. Besides, you never know how these things can go.”

“You approve of him?”

“Oh yes. Even with missing parts, he's still more of a man than most of the men I know.”

“Or the ones I've been with?”

“He's ten times the man Marcus was. Is. But that's setting the bar low.”

“I can't argue with that,” I said. “I'm glad you invited them. This morning I couldn't think of a single thing to be thankful for. Now I could make a list.”

“Good,” he said. “There are bigger problems than ours.”

“Cancer is a big problem.”

“It can be,” he said. “But I'm going to be okay. And I still wouldn't trade my problems with either of theirs.”

I nodded slowly. “What you said, about the writers' conference. I'm not going.”

“Of course you are.”

“No, I'm not. It's too expensive. And I'm not going to take any money from you.”

“That's not your decision.”

I laughed. “How is it not my decision if I'm going to go or not?”

“It's not your decision whether I give you money or not.”

“What, you're going to make me go?”

“No, but I already paid for it. Including meeting with an
agent. I got you two of them in case you don't like one of the agents.”

I was stunned. “You signed me up for the conference?”

“You said you wanted to go, so I booked it as your Christmas present.”

“How did you even know where to find it?”

“It's not the Holy Grail. I just searched for a writers' retreat at the Mistletoe Inn with H. T. Cowell.” He looked somewhat proud of himself. “I gave them a credit card and it's nonrefundable. So no, you don't have to go, but you'll waste a lot of my money if you don't.”

“Dad, you've got to get that money back.”

“They were very specific about there being no refunds.”

I was speechless. “That's not fair.”

“What's not fair? It's my money, I can do what I want with it. And what I want is for my girl to pursue her dream.”

“Dad . . .” I stopped, overcome with emotion. “I wish you hadn't done that.”

“Look, if you really want to make me miserable, stop living. That's when I
will
want to die. Remember, it's about the punctuation.”

“You sound like my high school English teacher.”

“Whatever works,” he said.

I spent the next two days with my father pretending that nothing was wrong. It was a pleasant fiction and I was happy until I flew out Sunday morning and reality returned. I
started to tear up on the way to the airport. My father didn't say anything about me crying but reached over and took my hand.

As my father dropped me off he got out of the car and we hugged. “Remember,” he said, “the best years of our lives are ahead of us. And it's time that you realized that dream of yours. The world is waiting for you.”

“Thanks, Dad.” When we parted I said, “Take good care of yourself.”

“I always do,” he said.

As soon as I got inside the airport I broke down in tears.

CHAPTER
Nine

Why is it that, so often, those with the least are the most eager to give?

Kimberly Rossi's Diary

For the next few weeks I spent most of my time after work revising my novel, but you can only do that so many times before the words all start to look the same. It's simple psychology. After you've driven the same route a thousand times, you stop noticing the landscape. My father was right, a retreat would be helpful. Still, after he had sacrificed so much, the pressure of going to the conference was heavy. What if it didn't work out? How would I tell him that no one wanted my book?

To add pain to my misery, Rachelle and her new boyfriend were now talking marriage and I was suddenly her confidant. It was like she got some sadistic pleasure out of telling me how happy she was and, twisting the knife, how certain she was that I would someday find someone nice as well, managing to wrap her condescending tone in faux magnanimity.

As the days went on, my father's cancer was always in the back of my mind, lurking in the shadows like a stalker. I was relieved when he finally had his first appointment with an oncologist at the VA a week after I'd flown home. He called me that night after work.

“What did he say?” I asked.

“Actually, it was a cancer care team,” he said. “And, generally speaking, they were pretty positive about things. Other than the cancer, I'm quite healthy, so surgery is an option. They're recommending a partial colectomy followed by some chemo.”

“When are they going to operate?”

He paused. “Sometime next year. Maybe next February.”


Maybe
next February? They're making you wait?”

“It's just the way it is. They're backlogged.”

“That's too long,” I said. “It could spread. There's got to be something we can do. Someone we can talk to.”

“There's no need to get so upset. If it was more urgent, I'm sure they would have scheduled me sooner. They're not going to take chances with someone's life.”

“You don't know that,” I said. “Bureaucracy kills people. This isn't right. I'm going to make some calls. I'm going to talk to your oncologist.”

“I talked to my oncologist,” he said. “He said this is what they can do.”

“But is it what they
should
do?”

“He said that he'll do all he can. He can't break the rules, but sometimes he can bend them. So stop worrying about me; everything will be okay. You've got a writing retreat coming up. You need to be focused.”

“How am I supposed to be focused when I'm worried about you?”

“You just focus on knocking them dead at that retreat. That's what I want.”

I sighed. “I'll do my best.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Dad.” As I hung up the phone, I wished that I had never told him about the retreat.

CHAPTER
Ten

Sometimes there's a fine line between trepidation and excitement.

Kimberly Rossi's Diary

BOOK: The Mistletoe Inn
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