To: Uncle Ben
Re: Thanks to you, we have a whole new family!
Moving to Chestnut Grove was the best thing to happen to Mom and me. It's so neat that a few months ago Mom didn't know she had a half brother--you! And I can tell she likes Jonah Fraser, this really cool carpenter. I always tell Mom she's got to believe in the power of prayer. But now I have my own special prayer--that mom and Jonah get together to make this the best Christmas ever!
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November 30, 2007
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Excerpt from A Holiday to Remember by Jillian Hart
Mom, are you even listening to me?
"Sure I am, kid." Debra Cunningham Watson was too busy navigating her SUV down the small Virginia town's unfamiliar and icy streets to do more than shoot a quick glance in her thirteen-year-old daughter's direction. "I'm just trying not to crash into the car in front of us."
Did they have to hit the noon-hour rush? Things had not been going according to plan for this entire trip, which was why they were running late. The long line of slow-moving traffic through the town's main street didn't help. Nor did the knowledge that the appointment she had to keep was a personal one--meeting with Ben Cavanaugh, the half brother she didn't know she had until six months ago. Talk about being thrown for a loop. She still couldn't quite believe it.
"Mom, aren't the decorations awesome?"
Mia was at the age where everything was either awesome or tragic. Since the line of cars ahead of her had stopped inching forward due to a red light, Debra relaxed back into the leather seat, took her eyes from the road and considered her daughter. Talk about high hopes. Meeting her cousins from Ben's side of the family, along with his wife, her new aunt, was about all Mia could talk about during the morning-long drive on wintry roads from their home near Baltimore.
Mia leaned against the restraint of her seat belt to point across the dash. "Is that like the biggest Christmas tree ever? They're using the fire truck's ladder. Look!"
"So I see." Debra hadn't noticed, she'd been too busy stressing over the compact snow and ice on the road. But since the traffic was still stopped, she took a moment to scan up the street, where two city workers were mounting Christmas lights in the shapes of giant candy canes and Christmas stars and silver bells on the utility poles.
Beyond the block of quaint shop-lined street, she spotted a city park, where snow blanketed a stretch of grass and mantled picture-perfect evergreens. In the center of the square was an enormous spruce, probably as old as the town itself, long graceful boughs holding up strings of fat, lit bulbs. What would it be like to live in such a postcard-perfect place?
Impossible, that's what. It was like a Currier & Ives scene, with the morning's snowfall fresh on the ground and crisping the roofs and awnings and trees along the row of shops. It could even make someone as driven as she was wish for a quieter life. Then again, a quieter life often came with a less impressive paycheck, and that meant no Chesapeake Bay-view home and no prestigious private school for Mia. No top-of-the-line luxury SUV.
And it wasn't only material things at stake, Debra thought with a heavy heart as the traffic began to creep forward and she eased her foot back onto the gas pedal. There were the family obligations to consider. Obligations to those living and those gone.
Debra's throat ached with sorrow and she forced down the grief that still felt too immense to handle. It had not been easy to lose her mother. To make it all worse, coming to this adorable little town was like digging up all that grief and hurt and confusion and feeling it anew.
But not for Mia. No, learning about Ben had seemed to help the girl with her burden of grief, for she and her grandmother had been tight. Practically joined at the hip. Mia was lit up as she took in every detail. "Mom! Don't you see it? It's a sign."
Uh-oh, here we go again, Debra thought. "You mean, the sign that says, Welcome to Chestnut Grove?" She couldn't help but tease a little because she knew it would make her daughter smile or at least roll her eyes in the way of teenagers everywhere. But did it divert Mia? Not a chance.
"Mom, really. You know I meant a sign from heaven, not a physical signpost." Mia pursed her lips in ladylike disapproval, thirteen going on forty-three. "This sign can only mean one thing."
"I'm afraid to ask what."
"That God is about to answer my deepest, most secret prayer."
There she went talking about God again. It took all Debra's effort to snap her mouth shut and keep it that way. Thankfully, the street she needed to turn left onto came into view and she pulled the SUV into the icy turn lane. When she eased onto the brakes, the vehicle skidded to a safe stop. "If I had a prayer, it would be to arrive at Ben's business in one piece."
"Do you know what your problem is, Mom?"
"I'm afraid to know the answer to that, too."
"You don't believe in the power of prayer."
Where had she heard this exact phrase before? Oh, yes, constantly, the entire time she was growing up. Debra didn't know if she believed in heaven anymore, but she knew beyond a doubt that her mother had. And if her mother were there, then surely she would be looking down rejoicing in the fact that her granddaughter was carrying on her life's work to save as many people as possible, especially Debra.
Resigned, Debra turned at the break in traffic and crept through the intersection. The temperature was dropping, confirmed by the gauge on the dash and the fact that the passenger compartment felt colder. Snow clouds hung overhead, gathering momentum. With any luck, they'd finish seeing Ben and be able to get back to the bed-and-breakfast before more of the white stuff fell. Debra turned up the heater.
"I'll have you know that prayer works." Mia gave her curly brown hair a flip. "I know it does because we're here in Chestnut Grove right now. Together. It's proof."
"We're here because we agreed to meet Ben."
"But we're meeting Ben because I prayed for more family to love and God answered me. He had to take Grandmother Millie from us, but He saw fit to give us Ben."
How did she tell Mia that God and prayers had nothing to do with it? That a carpenter had been renovating a wall in some mansion here in this town, and had discovered original birth certificates and records of adoptions that had been falsified. Ben Cavanaugh's birth information had been part of those discovered records and that's how he had found them.
It was not God's handiwork, she thought sensibly, but the result of someone renovating a house. Debra was on her way to touch bases with her half brother not because of some grand design by God. Really. It was happenstance--mere chance--that they'd even learned about Ben at all. That was why they were here. The only reason they were here.
But she didn't say that to Mia, not when she knew those words would dampen her daughter's happiness. Debra cut her eyes from the road long enough to take in Mia's dear face. She had a light scattering of freckles across her perfect nose and a peaches-and-cream complexion. Dimples bracketed her bright smile, and she radiated hope and life.
When was the last time she saw her daughter so bubbly? Her dark eyes glinted with a joyful brightness that had been missing since, well, Debra realized with a heavy heart, since her mom's passing. There was no way she would take an ounce of Mia's hope away, but larger questions had plagued her since all of this came to light.
What if it was a mistake getting involved with Ben and his family? They were strangers. They'd only met Ben once, when he'd made a short trip to Maryland to meet them. He'd been nice--but so were a lot of people on the surface. What if once his curiosity about them was satisfied, Ben cut off all ties? What would that do to Mia?
Debra had plenty of other doubts and concerns, but that was the greatest one. Which was why her stomach was becoming a tighter knot with every click of the odometer. She checked the cross street at the corner signpost adorned with Christmas lights and realized they were a block away. One more block and they would come face to face with Ben. With all her uncertainties and questions and doubts.
Don't think about them now, Debra, she told herself. She was here for Mia. To make this a good experience for her daughter. Goodness knew, they'd had enough bad ones lately and it was taking its toll.
"A Christian bookstore, Mom! Cool. We'll have to stop there later, promise?" Mia seemed enchanted by the town's streets, which did have a certain charm. "Oh, and that's a school. A junior high. That would be better any day than my yucky school."
"The Stanton School is one of the best in the country." And also their biggest source of conflict, Debra thought, but decided to keep her tone light. "I went there. Your aunt Lydia went there. Your grandmother Millie went there."
"I know." Mia rolled her eyes. "I'm a Cunningham and a Watson. There would be nowhere else I could possibly go. Family tradition is so-oo important."
Normally Debra would comment on the sarcasm, but this wasn't the time. She had enough on her mind, and did she dare break Mia's wonderful good mood? Absolutely not. It had actually lasted all morning long. A record for recent times. Debra pulled the SUV to a stop in front of Cavanaugh's Carpentry and cut the engine.
"We're here! I can't stand it." Mia hit the seat-belt release. "I'm so excited. I'm glad we're seeing Uncle Ben and all, but I don't know if I can wait much longer to meet Aunt Leah and Cousin Olivia and baby Joseph."