Zelda O'Connor Davidson
76 Orchard Avenue
Dear Family and Friends,
Merry Christmas, Everyone!
Let me warn you --- this Christmas letter won't be as clever as last year's. My sister, Katherine (whom
you may know better as K.O.), wrote that one for me, but, ironically, she hasn't got time to do this year's. Ironic because it's due to the popularity of that particular letter that she's managed to start a little business on the side --- writing Christmas letters for other people! (She offered to write mine, of course, but I know that between her work doing medical transcriptions, her job search and her Christmas letters, it would be a real stretch to find the time.)
So, here goes. The twins, Zoe and Zara, have recently turned five. They're looking forward to starting kindergarten next September. It's hard to believe our little girls are almost old enough for school! Still, they keep themselves (and us!) busy. So do our assorted pets --- especially the dogs, two Yorkies named Zero and Zorro.
I'm still a stay-at-home mom and Zach's still working as a software programmer. This year's big news, which I want to share with all of you, has to do with a wonderful book I read. It changed my family's life. It's called The Free Child and it's by Dr. Wynn Jeffries. My sister scoffs at this, but Dr. Jeffries believes that children can be trusted to set their own boundaries. He also believes that, as parents, we shouldn't impose fantasies on them --- fantasies like Santa Claus. Kids are capable of accepting reality, he says, and I agree! (See page 146 of The Free Child.)
So, this Christmas will be a different kind of experience for us, one that focuses on family, not fantasy. Zach and the girls join me in wishing all of you a wonderful Christmas. And remember, a free child is a happy child (see page 16).
Love and kisses,
Zelda, Zach, Zoe and Zara
(and a wag of the tail from Zero & Zorro)
It was him. Katherine O'Connor, better known as K.O., was almost positive. She squinted just to be sure. He looked identical to the man on the dust jacket of that ridiculous book, the one her sister treated like a child-rearing bible. Of course, people didn't really look like their publicity photos. And she hadn't realized the high and mighty Dr. Wynn Jeffries was from the Seattle area. Furthermore, she couldn't imagine what he was doing on Blossom Street.
She'd never even met him, but she distrusted him profoundly and disliked him just as much. It was because of Dr. Jeffries that she'd been banned from a local bookstore. She'd had a small difference of opinion with the manager on the subject of Wynn's book. Apparently the bookseller was a personal friend of his, because she'd leaped to Dr. Jeffries' defense and had ordered K.O. out of the store. She'd even suggested K.O. take her future book-purchasing business elsewhere, which seemed unnecessarily extreme.
"K.O.," Bill Mulcahy muttered, distracting her. They sat across from each other at the French Cafe, filled to capacity during the midmorning rush. People lined up for coffee, and another line formed at the bakery counter. "Did you get all that?" he asked.
"Sure," K.O. said, returning her attention to him. "Sorry --- I thought I saw someone I knew." Oh, the things she was willing to do for some extra holiday cash. One witty Christmas letter written on her sister's behalf, and all of a sudden K.O. was the most sought-after woman at her brother-in-law's office. They all wanted her to write their Christmas letters. She'd been shocked to discover how much they'd willingly plunk down for it, too. Bill Mulcahy was the third person she'd met with this week, and his letter was the most difficult so far. Leno or Letterman would've had a hard time finding anything amusing about this man's life.
"I don't know what you're going to write," Bill continued. "It's been an exceptionally bad year. As I explained earlier, my son is in a detention home, my daughter's living with her no-good boyfriend and over Thanksgiving she announced she's pregnant. Naturally, marriage is out of the question."
"That is a bit of a challenge," K.O. agreed. She widened her eyes and stared again at the man who waited in the long line at the cash register. It was him; she was convinced of it now. The not-so-good doctor was --- to put it in appropriately seasonal terms --- a fruitcake. He was a child psychologist who'd written a book called The Free Child that was the current child-rearing rage.
To be fair, K.O. was single and not a mother. The only child-rearing experience she'd had was with her identical twin nieces, Zoe and Zara, whom she adored. Until recently, anyway. Overnight the five-year-olds had become miniature monsters and all because her sister had followed the "Free Child" rules as set out by Dr. Jeffries.
"My wife," Bill said, "is on the verge of a breakdown."
K.O. pitied the poor woman --- and her husband.
"We've written Christmas letters for years and while life wasn't always as perfect as we --- well, as we
Implied . . ." He let the rest fade away.
"You painted the picture of a model family."
"Yes." Bill cleared his throat and offered her a weak smile. "Patti, that's my wife, chose to present a, shall we say, rosier depiction of reality." He exhaled in a rush. "We never included family pictures and if you met my son, you'd know why. Anyone looking at Mason would know in a minute that this kid isn't a member of the National Honor Society." He released his breath again and shook his head sadly. "Mason's into body piercing," Bill added. "He pierced his eyebrows, his nose, his lips, his tongue, his nipples --- "
K.O. stopped him before he went any lower. "I get it."
"You probably don't, but that's lucky for you. Oh, and he dyed his hair green."
"He wears it spiked, too, and he . . . he does this thing with paint." Bill dropped his voice.
K.O. was sure she'd misunderstood. "I beg your pardon?"
"Mason doesn't call it paint. It's some form of cosmetic he smears across his face. I never imagined that my son would be rummaging through his mother's makeup drawer one day."
"I suppose that is a bit disconcerting," K.O. murmured.
"I forget the actual significance of the black smudges under his eyes and across his cheeks," Bill said. "To me it looks like he's some teenage commando."
Yes, this letter would indeed be a challenge. "Have you thought about skipping your Christmas letter this year?" K.O. asked hopefully.
"Yeah, I'd like to, but as I said, Patti's emotional health is rather fragile. She claims people are already asking about our annual letter. She's afraid that if we don't send it the same as we do every year, everyone will figure out that we're pitiful parents." His shoulders drooped. "In other words, we've failed our children."
"I don't think you've necessarily failed," K.O. assured him. "Most teenagers go through a rebellious stage."
"Did you pierce anything?"
"Well, I had my ears pierced . . ."
"That's not the same thing." He peered at her earrings, visible through her straight blond hair, which she wore loosely tied back. "And you only have one in each ear --- not eight or ten like my son." He seemed satisfied that he'd proved his point. "Then you'll write our Christmas letter and smooth over the rough edges of our year?"
K.O. was less and less confident that she could pull this off. "I don't know if I'm your person," she said hesitantly. How could she possibly come up with a positive version of such a disastrous year? Besides, this side job was supposed to be fun, not real work. It'd begun as a favor to her sister and all of a sudden she was launching a career. At some stage she'd need to call a halt --- maybe sooner than she'd expected.
Her client shifted in his seat. "I'll pay you double what you normally charge."
K.O. sat up straight. Double. He said he'd pay double? "Would four days be enough time?" she asked.
Okay, so she could be bought. She pulled out her Day-Timer, checked her schedule and they set a date for their next meeting.
"I'll give you half now and half when you're finished."
That seemed fair. Not one to be overly prideful, she held out her hand as he peeled off three fifty-dollar bills. Her fingers closed around the cash.
"I'll see you Friday then," Bill said, and reaching for his briefcase, he left the French Café carrying his latte in its takeout cup.
Looking out the windows with their Christmas garland, she saw that it had begun to snow again. This was the coldest December on record. Seattle's normally mild climate had dipped to below freezing temperatures for ten days in a row. So much for global warming. There was precious little evidence of it in Seattle.
K.O. glanced at the coffee line. Wynn Jeffries had made his way to the front and picked up his hot drink. After adding cream and sugar --- lots of both, she observed --- he was getting ready to leave. K.O. didn't want to be obvious about watching him, so she took a couple of extra minutes to collect her things, then followed him out the door.
Even if she introduced herself, she had no idea what to say. Mostly she wanted to tell him his so-called Free Child movement --- no boundaries for kids --- was outright lunacy. How could he, in good conscience, mislead parents in this ridiculous fashion? Not that she had strong feelings on the subject or anything. Okay, so maybe she'd gone a little overboard at the bookstore that day, but she couldn't help it. The manager had been touting the benefits of Dr. Jeffries' book to yet another unsuspecting mom. K.O. felt it was her duty to let the poor woman know what might happen if she actually followed Dr. Jeffries' advice. The bookseller had strenuously disagreed and from then on, the situation had gotten out of hand.
Not wanting him to think she was stalking him, which she supposed she was, K.O. maintained a careful distance. If his office was in Seattle, it might even be in this neighborhood. After the renovations on Blossom Street a few years ago, a couple of buildings had been converted to office space. If she could discreetly discover where he practiced, she might go and talk to him sometime. She hadn't read his book but had leafed through it, and she knew he was a practicing child psychologist. She wanted to argue about his beliefs and his precepts, tell him about the appalling difference in her nieces' behavior since the day Zelda had adopted his advice,
She'd rather he didn't see her, so she dashed inconspicuously across the street to A Good Yarn, and darted into the doorway, where she pretended to be interested in a large Christmas stocking that hung in the display window. From the reflection in the window, she saw Dr. Jeffries walking briskly down the opposite sidewalk.
As soon as it was safe, she dashed from the yarn store to Susannah's Garden, the flower shop next door, and nearly fell over a huge potted poinsettia, all the while keeping her eyes on Dr, Jeffries. He proved one thing, she mused. Appearances were deceiving. He looked so . . . so normal. Who would've guessed that beneath that distinguished, sophisticated and --- yes --- handsome exterior lay such a fiend? Perhaps fiend was too strong a word. Yet she considered Wynn Jeffries' thinking to be nothing short of diabolical, if Zoe and Zara were anything to judge by.
K.O. stopped dead in her tracks. She watched as Wynn Jeffries paused outside her condo building, her very own building, entered the code and strolled inside.
Without checking for traffic, K.O. crossed the street again. A horn honked and brakes squealed, but she barely noticed. She was dumbfounded.
There had to be some mistake. Perhaps he was making a house call. No, that wasn't right. What doctor made house calls in this day and age? What psychologist made house calls ever? Besides, he didn't exactly look like the compassionate type. K.O. bit her lip and wondered when she'd become so cynical. It'd happened around the same time her sister read Dr. Jeffries' book, she decided.
The door had already closed before she got there. She entered her code and stepped inside just in time to see the elevator glide shut. Standing back, she watched the floor numbers flicker one after another.
K.O. whirled around to discover LaVonne Young, her neighbor and friend. LaVonne was the only person who called her Katherine. "What are you doing, dear?"
K. O. pointed an accusing finger past the elegantly decorated lobby tree to the elevator. LaVonne stood in her doorway with her huge tomcat, named predictably enough, Tom, tucked under her arm. She wore a long, shapeless dress that was typical of her wardrobe, and her long, graying hair was drawn back in a bun. When K.O. had first met her, LaVonne had reminded her of the character Auntie Mame. She still did. "Something wrong with the elevator?" LaVonne asked.
"No, I just saw a man . . . ." K.O. glanced back and noticed that the elevator had gone all the way up to the penthouse suite. That shouldn't really come as a shock. His book sales being what they were, he could easily afford the penthouse.
LaVonne's gaze followed hers. "That must be Dr. Jeffries."
"You know him?" K.O. didn't bother to hide her interest. The more she learned, the better her chances of
engaging him in conversation.
"Of course I know Dr. Jeffries," the retired accountant said. "I know everyone in the building."
"How long has he lived here?" K.O. demanded. She'd been in this building since the first week it was approved for occupation. So she should've run into him before now.
"I believe he moved in soon after the place was renovated. In fact, the two of you moved in practically on the same day." That was interesting. Of course, there was a world of difference between a penthouse suite and the first-floor, one-bedroom unit she owned. Or rather, that the bank owned and she made payments on.
With the inheritance she'd received from her maternal grandparents, K.O. had put a down payment on the smallest, cheapest unit available. It was all she could afford at the time --- and all she could afford now. She considered herself lucky to get in when she did.
"His name is on the mailbox," LaVonne said, gesturing across the lobby floor to the mailboxes.
"As my sister would tell you, I'm a detail person." It was just the obvious she missed.
"He's a celebrity, you know," LaVonne whispered conspiratorially. "Especially since his book was published."
"Have you read it?" K.O. asked.
"Well, no, dear, I haven't, but then never having had children myself, I'm not too concerned with child-raising. However, I did hear Dr. Jeffries interviewed on the radio and he convinced me. His book is breaking all kinds of records. Apparently it's on all the bestseller lists. So there must be something to what he says. In fact, the man on the radio called Dr. Jeffries the new Dr. Spock."
"You've got to be kidding!" Jeffries' misguided gospel was spreading far and wide.
LaVonne stared at her. "In case you're interested, he's not married."
"That doesn't surprise me," K.O. muttered. Only a man without a wife and children could possibly come up with such ludicrous ideas. He didn't have a family of his own to test his theories on; instead he foisted them on unsuspecting parents like her sister, Zelda, and brother-in-law, Zach. The deterioration in the girls' behavior was dramatic, but Zelda insisted this was normal as they adjusted to a new regimen. They'd "find their equilibrium," she'd said, quoting the book. Zach, who worked long hours, didn't really seem to notice. The twins' misbehavior would have to be even more extreme to register on him.
"Would you like me to introduce you?" LaVonne asked.
"No," K.O. responded immediately. Absolutely not. Well, maybe, but not now. And not for the reasons LaVonne thought.
"Do you have time for tea?" LaVonne asked. "I wanted to tell you about the most recent class I attended.
Fascinating stuff, just fascinating." Since her retirement, LaVonne had been at loose ends and signed up for a variety of workshops and evening classes.
"I learned how to unleash my psychic abilities."
"You're psychic?" K.O. asked.
"Yes, only I didn't know it until I took this class. I've learned so much," she said in wonder. "So much. All these years, my innate talent has lain there, unused and unfulfilled. It took this class to break it free and show me what I should've known all along. I can see into the future." She spoke in a portentous whisper.
"You learned this after one class?"
"Madame Ozma claims I have been blessed with the sight. She warned me not to waste my talents any longer."
LaVonne's newfound psychic abilities did sound fascinating. Well . . . bizarre, anyway. K.O. would have loved to hear all about the class, but she really needed to start work. In addition to writing Christmas letters --- which she did only in November and December --- she was a medical transcriptionist by training. It paid the bills and had allowed her to put herself through college to obtain a public relations degree. Now she was searching for a job in PR, which wasn't all that easy to find, even with her degree. She was picky, too. She wanted a job with a salary that would actually meet her expenses. Over the years she'd grown accustomed to a few luxuries, like regular meals and flush toilets.
Currently her résumé was floating around town. Any time now, she was bound to be offered the perfect job. And in the meanwhile, these Christmas letters gave her some useful practice in creating a positive spin on some unpromising situations --- like poor Bill Mulcahy's.
"I'd love a cup of tea, but unfortunately I've got to get to work."
"Perhaps tomorrow," LaVonne suggested.
"That would be great."
"I'll call upon my psychic powers and look into your future if you'd like." She sounded completely serious.
"Sure," K.O. returned casually. Perhaps LaVonne could let her know when she'd find a job.
LaVonne's eyes brightened, "I'll study my class notes and then I'll tell you what I see for you."
"Thanks." She reached over and scratched Tom's ears. The big cat purred with pleasure.
With a bounce in her step, LaVonne went into her condo, closing the door with a slam that shook her Christmas wreath, decorated with golden moons and silver stars. K.O. headed for her own undecorated door, which was across the hall. Much as she disapproved of her sister's hero, she could hardly wait to tell Zelda the news.
K.O. waited until she'd worked two hours straight before she phoned her sister. Zelda was a stay-at-home mom with Zoe and Zara, who were identical twins. Earlier in the year Zelda and Zach had purchased the girls each a dog. Two Yorkshire terriers, which the two girls had promptly named Zero and Zorro. K.O. called her sister's home the Land of Z. Even now, she wasn't sure how Zelda kept the girls straight, let alone the dogs. Even their barks sounded identical. Yap, Yap and yap with an occasional yip thrown in for variety, as if they sometimes grew bored with the sound of their own yapping.
Zelda answered on the third ring, sounding frazzled and breathless. "Yes?" she snapped into the phone.
"Is this a bad time?" K.O. asked.
"Oh, hi." The lack of enthusiasm was apparent. In addition to everything else, Dr. Jeffries' theories had placed a strain on K.O.'s relations with her younger sister.
"Merry Christmas to you, too," K.O. said cheerfully. "Can you talk?"
"The girls are napping?"
"No," Zelda muttered. "They decided they no longer need naps. Dr. Jeffries says on page 125 of his book that children should be allowed to sleep when, and only when, they decide they're tired. Forcing them into regimented nap --- and bedtimes --- is in opposition to their biological natures."
"I see," K.O. restrained the urge to argue. "Speaking of Dr. Jeffries . . ."
"I know you don't agree with his philosophy, but this is the way Zach and I have chosen to raise our daughters. When you have a family of your own, you can choose how best to parent your children."
"True, but . . ."
"Sorry," Zelda cried. It sounded as if she dropped the phone.
In the background, K.O. could hear her sister shouting at the girls and the dogs. Her shouts were punctuated with the dogs' yapping. A good five minutes passed before Zelda was back.
"What happened?" K.O. asked, genuinely concerned.
"As I started to say, I saw Dr. Jeffries."
"On television?" Zelda asked, only half interested.
"No, in person."
"Where?" All at once she had Zelda's attention.
"On Blossom Street. You aren't going to believe this but he actually lives in my building."
"Dr. Jeffries? Get out of here!"
Zelda was definitely interested now. "Wait --- I heard he moved to Seattle just before his book was published." She took a deep breath. "Wow! You really saw him?"
"Oh, my goodness, did you talk to him? Is he as handsome in person as he is in his photo?"
Feeling about him the way she did, K.O. had to consider the question for a moment. "'He's fairly easy on the eyes." That was an understatement but looks weren't everything. To her mind, he seemed stiff and unapproachable. Distant, even.
"Did you tell him that Zach and I both read his book and what a difference it's made in our lives?"
"No, but . . ."
"K. O., could you . . . Would it be too much to get his autograph? Could you bring it on the fifteenth?"
K.O. had agreed to spend the night with the twins while Zelda and Zach attended his company's Christmas party. Her sister and brother-in-law had made arrangements to stay at a hotel downtown, just the two of them.
"All the mothers at the preschool would die to have Dr. Jeffries' autograph."
"I haven't met him," K.O. protested. It wasn't like she had any desire to form a fan club for him, either.
"But you just said he lives in your building."
"Are you sure it's him?"
"II looks like him. Anyway, LaVonne said it was."
Zelda gave a small shout of excitement. "If LaVonne says it's him, then it must be. How could you live in the same building as Dr. Jeffries and not know it?" her sister cried as though K.O. had somehow avoided this critical knowledge on purpose. "This is truly amazing. I've got to have his autograph."
"I'Il . . . see what I can do, K.O. promised. This was not good. She'd hoped to find common ground with her sister, not become a . . . a go-between so Zelda could get her hero's autograph. Some hero! K.O.'s views on just about everything having to do with parenting were diametrically opposed to those purveyed by Dr. Wynn Jeffries. She'd feel like a fraud if she asked for his autograph.
"One more thing," Zelda said when her excitement had died down. "I know we don't agree on child-rearing techniques."
"That's true, but I understand these are your daughters." She took a deep breath. "How you raise them isn't really any of my business."
"Exactly," Zelda said emphatically. "Therefore, Zach and I want you to know we've decided to downplay Christmas this year."
"Downplay Christmas," K.O. repeated, not sure what that meant.
"We aren't putting up a tree."
"No Christmas tree!" K.O. sputtered, doing a poor job of hiding her disapproval. She couldn't imagine celebrating the holiday without decorating a tree. Her poor nieces would be deprived of a very important tradition.
"I might allow a small potted one for the kitchen table." Zelda seemed a bit doubtful herself. She should
be doubtful, since a Christmas tree had always been part of their own family celebration. The fact that their parents had moved to Arizona was difficult enough. This year they'd decided to take a cruise in the South Pacific over Christmas and New Year's. While K.O. was happy to see her mother and father enjoying their
retirement, she missed them enormously.
"Is this another of Dr. Jeffries' ideas?" K.O. had read enough of his book --- and heard more than enough about his theories --- to suspect it was. Still, she could hardly fathom that even Wynn Jeffries would go this far. Outlaw Christmas? The man was a menace!
"Dr. Jeffries believes that misleading children about Santa does them lasting psychological damage."
"The girls can't have Santa, either?" This was cruel and unusual punishment. "Next you'll be telling me that you're doing away with the tooth fairy, too."
"Why, yes, of course. It's the same principle." K.O. knew better than to argue with her sister.
"Getting back to Christmas . . ." she began.
"Yes, Christmas. Like I said, Zach and I are planning to make it a low-key affair this year. Anything that involves Santa is out of the question."
Thankfully her sister was unable to see K.O. roll her eyes.
"In fact, Dr. Jeffries has a chapter on the subject. It's called 'Bury Santa Under the Sleigh.' Chapter eight."
"He wants to bury Santa Claus?" K.O. had heard enough. She'd personally bury Dr. Jeffries under a pile of plowed snow before she'd let him take Christmas away from Zoe and Zara. As far as she was concerned, his entire philosophy was unacceptable, but this no Santa nonsense was too much. Here was where she drew her line in the snow --- a line Wynn Jeffries had overstepped.
"Haven't you been listening to anything I've said?" Zelda asked.
"Unfortunately, I have." Her doorbell chimed. "I need to go," K.O. told her sister. She sighed. "I'll see what I can do about that autograph."
"Yes, please," Zelda said with unmistakable gratitude, "It would mean the world to me if you could get Dr. Jeffries' autograph."
Sighing again, K.O. replaced the receiver and opened the door to find her neighbor LaVonne standing there. Although standing wasn't exactly the right word. LaVonne was practically leaping up and down. "I'm sorry to bother you but I just couldn't wait."
"Come in," K.O. said.
"I can't stay but a minute," the retired CPA insisted as she stepped over the threshold, clutching Tom. "I did it!" she exclaimed. "I saw the future." She squealed with delight and did a small jig. "I saw the future of your love life, K.O. It happened when I went to change the kitty litter."
"The . . . kitty litter." That was fitting, since it was where her love life happened to be at the moment, some kind of toilet, anyway.
"Tom had just finished his business'" LaVonne continued, gazing lovingly at her cat, "And there it was plain as day."
"His business?" K.O. asked.
"No, no, the future. You know how some people with the gift can read tea leaves? Well, it came to me in the kitty-litter box. I know it sounds crazy but it's true. It was right there in front of me," she said. "You're going to meet the man of your dreams."
"Really?" K.O. hated to sound so disappointed. "I don't suppose you happened to see anything in the kitty litter about me finding a job?"
LaVonne shook her head. "Sorry, no. Do you think I should go back and look again? It's all in the way it's arranged in the kitty litter," she confided. "Just like tea leaves."
"Probably not." K.O. didn't want to be responsible for her neighbor sifting through Tom's "business" any more than necessary.
"I'll concentrate on your job prospects next."
"Great." K.O. was far more interested in locating full-time employment than falling in love. At twenty-eight she wasn't in a rush, although it was admittedly time to start thinking about a serious relationship. Besides, working at home wasn't conducive to meeting men. Zelda seemed to think that as a medical transcriptionist K.O. would meet any number of eligible physicians. That, however, hadn't turned out to be the case. The only person in a white coat she'd encountered in the last six months had been her dentist, and he'd been more interested in looking at her X-rays than at her.
"Before I forget," LaVonne said, getting ready to leave. "I'd like you to come over tomorrow for cocktails and appetizers."
"Sure." It wasn't as if her social calendar was crowded. "Thanks."
"I'll see you at six." LaVonne let herself out.
"Concentrate on seeing a job for me," K.O. reminded her, sticking her head in the hallway. "The next time you empty the litter box, I mean."
LaVonne nodded. "I will," she said. As she left, she was mumbling to herself, something K.O. couldn't hear.
The following morning, K.O. set up her laptop on a window table in the French Café, determined to wait for Dr. Jeffries. Now she felt obliged to get his autograph, despite her disapproval of his methods. More importantly, she had to talk to him about Christmas. This clueless man was destroying Christmas for her nieces --- and for hundreds of thousands of other kids.
She had no intention of knocking on his door. No, this had to seem unplanned. An accidental meeting. Her one hope was that Wynn Jeffries was hooked on his morning latte. Since this was Seattle, she felt fairly certain he was. Nearly everyone in the entire state of Washington seemed to be a coffee addict.
In an effort to use her time productively, K.O. started work on the Mulcahy Christmas letter, all the while reminding herself that he was paying her double. She had two ideas about how to approach the situation. The first was comical, telling the truth in an outlandish manner and letting the reader assume it was some sort of macabre humor.
Merry Christmas from the Mulcahys, K.O. wrote. She bit her lip and pushed away a strand of long blond hair that had escaped from her ponytail. Bill and I have had a challenging year. Mason sends greetings from the juvenile detention center where he's currently incarcerated. Julie is pregnant and we pray she doesn't marry the father. Bill, at least, is doing well, although he's worried about paying for the mental care facility where I'm receiving outpatient therapy.
K.O. groaned. This wasn't humorous, macabre or otherwise. It was difficult to turn the Muilcahys' disastrous year into comedy, especially since the letter was purportedly coming from them.
She deleted the paragraph and tried her second approach.
Merry Christmas from the Mulcahys, and what an --- interesting? unexpected? unusual? --- year it has been for our lovely family. K.O. decided on eventful. Bill and I are so proud of our children, especially now as they approach adulthood. Where have all the years gone?
Mason had an opportunity he couldn't turn down and is currently away at school. Our son is maturing into a fine young man and is wisely accepting guidance from authority figures. Our sweet Julie is in her second year of college. She and her boyfriend have decided to deepen their relationship. Who knows, there might be wedding bells --- and perhaps even a baby --- in our daughter's future.
So intent was she on putting a positive spin on the sad details of Bill Mulcahy's year that she nearly missed Wynn Jeffries. When she looked up, it was just in time to see Dr. Jeffries walk to the counter. K.O. leaped to her feet and nearly upset her peppermint mocha, an extravagance she couldn't really afford. She remained standing until he'd collected his drink and then straightening, hurried toward him.
"Dr. Jeffries?" she asked, beaming a winsome smile. She'd practiced this very smile in front of the mirror before job interviews. After her recent cleaning at the dentist's, K.O. hoped she didn't blind him with her flashing white teeth.
"You are Dr. Jeffries, Dr. Wynn Jeffries?"
"I am." He seemed incredibly tall as he stood in front of her. She purposely blocked his way to the door.
K.O. Thrust out her hand. "I'm Katherine O'Connor. We live in the same building."
He smiled and shook her hand, then glanced around her. He seemed eager to escape.
"I can't tell you what a surprise it was when LaVonne pointed out the author of The Free Child lived in our building."
"You know LaVonne Young?"
"Well, yes, she's my neighbor. Yours, too." K.O. added. "Would you care to join me?" She gestured toward her table and the empty chairs. This time of day, it was rare to find a free table. She didn't volunteer the fact that she'd set up shop two hours earlier in the hope of bumping into him.
He checked his watch as if to say he really didn't have time to spare.
"I understand The Free Child has hit every bestseller list in the country." Flattery just might work.
Wynn hesitated. "Yes, I've been most fortunate."
True, but the parents and children of America had been most unfortunate in her view. She wasn't going to mention that, though. At least not yet. She pulled out her chair on the assumption that he wouldn't refuse her.
He joined her, with obvious reluctance. "I think I've seen you around," he said, and sipped his latte.
It astonished her that he knew who she was, while she'd been oblivious to his presence. "My sister is a very big fan of yours. She was thrilled when she heard I might be able to get your autograph."
"She's very kind."
"Her life has certainly changed since she read your book," K.O. commented, reaching for her mocha.
He shrugged with an air of modesty. "I've heard that quite a few times."
"Changed for the worse," K.O. muttered.
He blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
She couldn't contain herself any longer. "You want to take Santa away from my nieces! Santa Claus. Where's your heart? Do you know there are children all over America being deprived of Christmas because of you?" Her voice grew loud with the strength of her convictions.
Wynn glanced nervously about the room.
K.O. hadn't realized how animated she'd become until she noticed that everyone in the entire café had stopped talking and was staring in their direction.
Wynn hurriedly stood and turned toward the door, probably attempting to flee before she could embarrass him further.
"You're no better than . . . Jim Carrey," K.O. wailed. She meant to say the Grinch who stole Christmas but it was the actor's name that popped out. He'd played the character in the movie a few years ago.
"Jim Carrey?" He turned back to face her.
"Worse. You're a . . . a regular Charles Dickens." She meant Scrooge, darn it. But it didn't matter if, in the heat of her anger, she couldn't remember the names. She just wanted to embarrass him. "That man," she said, stabbing an accusatory finger at Wynn, "wants to bury Santa Claus under the sleigh."
Not bothering to look back, Wynn tore open the café door and rushed into the street. "Good riddance!" K.O. cried and sand down at the table, only to discover that everyone in the room was staring at her.
"He doesn't believe in Christmas," she explained and then calmly returned to the Mulcahys' letter.
Excerpted from CHRISTMAS LETTERS © Copyright 2011 by Debbie Macomber. Reprinted with permission by Mira, an imprint of Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved.