Authors: Gregory D Kincaid
ALSO BY GREG KINCAID
A Dog Named Christmas
Christmas with Tucker
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2012 by Greg Kincaid
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kincaid, Gregory D., 1957–
A Christmas home / Greg Kincaid.—1st ed.
1. People with mental disabilities—Fiction. 2. Parents of children with disabilities—Fiction. 3. Empty nesters—Fiction. 4. Dogs—Fiction.
5. Family life—Fiction. 6. Human-animal relationships—Fiction.
7. Domestic fiction. I. Title.
Jacket design: Megan McLaughlin
Jacket photographs: Debra Bardowicks/Oxford Scientific/Getty Images
; Michael Mahovlich/Masterfile
This book is
lovingly dedicated to
my youngest son
For several hours men in sweat-soaked uniforms walked in and out of the small bungalow. Each time they opened the front door, a chilly wind lifted the edges of the brown paper that had been put down to protect the floors. Dominated more by dandelions than bluegrass, the lawn on the side of the house facing the street had not been mowed in months. The
sign cast a shadow on broken and discarded toys that lay in empty flower beds
When the strangers first arrived, all their activity made the retriever edgy. She snapped her head up to better take in their scents and barked deeply. A woman, not yet thirty-five, but already wrinkled with disappointment, held the dog at bay. The dog would not yield. The barking made the woman nervous, so after a few minutes she put the retriever in the fenced-in backyard and went back to watching the strangers carrying boxes
and furniture from the house, loading them into a long white beached whale of a truck parked along the curb
The men maneuvered a few larger pieces of furniture out the back door and through the dog’s yard. They attempted to befriend the retriever with soft, beckoning voices, but sensing the woman’s suspicions and fears, the dog stood steadfast and only answered with muted growls through clenched teeth
The dog was a three-year-old female of steady temperament (under normal conditions) and intelligence, originating from the stoic golden retriever bloodlines of her mother. Her spectacular thick and soft, creamy coat hued with soft white fur, and her loyal and fearless heart came straight from her father: a Great Pyrenees
In addition to the dog and the woman, two children lived in the bungalow. It was the only home the boy and girl had ever known. Their mother’s vague explanation for the move—that the bank now owned the house—was beyond their comprehension, and they were confused. At about the same time the movers were completing their work, the school bus let the children off at the corner. As they approached their house, they found it very unsettling to see everything they owned loaded inside a truck
It seemed strange to return to their home emptied of all their belongings. A variety of hidden debris was all there was left—dust, dog hair, pennies, Cheetos, crayons, matchbooks, and little scraps of paper with faded phone numbers, all small memories of times past. The children walked through the house like refugees, stunned by the ghostly quiet. The youngest child, a six-year-old boy with thick, dark hair, draped his small arms around the
retriever they called Gracie. There were so many things the boy could not understand. At the top of the list was why they had to leave their home and this dog he loved so much. He had cried and cried and still no one could answer what seemed to him such a simple question. Why? Even his teachers put their arms around him and awkwardly strung together words that were too abstract for him to comprehend, like “sometimes life takes hard turns.”
The boy’s older sister, a tall and gangly nine-year-old, was carrying a small gym bag that her mother was allowing her to take with her in the car. She pulled out a note she had written while the other children played at recess earlier in the day. The paper had a hole punched in the corner with a piece of red ribbon threaded through for tying the note to the dog’s collar. The outside of the note bore the name Gracie
The children’s mother deposited two large plastic buckets in the yard. She sighed and wished that the bank would accept her children’s tears in lieu of ten months of delinquent mortgage payments. The red bucket was filled to the brim with four gallons of water, and the green bucket held the bargain-brand dog food they could barely afford. When she got out of town, she would call the local shelter and anonymously report the dog as abandoned. She knew she should take the dog there herself, but she couldn’t stand the thought of one more humiliating encounter
The woman unwound her children’s arms from around the dog. She took them by the hands and directed them out of the backyard, where only a few days earlier they’d played so
happily and life seemed predictable and full of promise. Things had gone wrong for the woman and her family very quickly; first, the divorce; then her ex lost his job and could no longer pay child support; and then she’d lost her own job when her employer pulled up stakes from Crossing Trails. The foreclosure was inevitable. When her son began to sob inconsolably, she held him close to her, not saying a word. There were no words, she thought. No words
The woman shut the backyard gate behind her and did not allow herself to look back as she headed for the packed car in the driveway. She wanted to stay strong for her children. Life might knock her down, but she would get up and keep walking, one step at a time. She deeply regretted leaving Gracie behind—she loved the dog as much as the children did—but it was a sacrifice she knew she had to make. She swallowed hard and hoped that the shelter would find a good home for the dog
Gracie pressed her face against the gate, barked, and then began circling nervously around the yard. She could see the driveway from the gate and watched the familiar car pull out, the boy and girl waving back at her. Then they were gone. But what did it matter? They always returned
As dusk turned to night, no one came back. The dog was anxious and confused. The next morning, no one took her for a walk, poured fresh water or food into the plastic buckets, or let her in the house. The day progressed but still there was no television, no children’s voices. No one threw her a ball or sat beside her as the sun set in the sky, talking about homework or playground bullies
The next day, the dog accidentally knocked over what little water was left in her bucket. She panted, and as the hours passed her throat and mouth became dry and chalky. She could smell and sense water beyond the fence that confined her. Tantalizingly near, water sprayed from the sprinklers in the neighbor’s yard; she could hear it swirling in washing machines and dishwashers and from a neighbor’s hose where a boy was washing his father’s car. Gracie needed to get out, needed to get beyond the fence, needed to feel wetness on her tongue. She pawed at the gate and barked until she could bark no more. Her house was on a corner, and the neighbors next door were elderly and did not hear well. No one came
The white retriever spent the day whimpering and drifting in and out of a deep sleep