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On a June day, a young woman in a summer dress steps off a Chicago-bound bus into a small midwestern town. She doesn't intend to stay. She is just passing through. Yet her stopping here has a reason and it is part of a story that you will never forget.
The time is the 1950s, when life was simpler, people still believed in dreams, and family was, very nearly, everything. The place is a small midwestern town with a high school and a downtown, a skating pond and a movie house. And on a tree-lined street in the heartland of America, an extraordinary set of events begins to unfold. And gradually what seems serendipitous is tinged with purpose. A happy home is shattered by a child's senseless death. A loving marriage starts to unravel. And a stranger arrives—a young woman who will touch many lives before she moves on. She and a young man will meet and fall in love. Their love, so innocent and full of hope, helps to restore a family's dreams. And all of their lives will be changed forever by the precious gift she leaves them.
The Gift, Danielle Steel's thirty-third best-selling work, is a magical story told with stunning simplicity and power. It reveals a relationship so moving it will take your breath away. And it tells a haunting and beautiful truth about the unpredictability—and the wonder—of life.
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Danielle Steel has been hailed as one of the world’s most popular authors, with over 560 million copies of her novels sold. Her many international bestsellers include Sisters, H.R.H., Coming Out, The House, Toxic Bachelors, Miracle, and other highly acclaimed novels. She is also the author of His Bright Light, the story of her son Nick Traina’s life and death.
From the Paperback edition.
Annie Whittaker loved everything about Christmas. She loved the weather, and the trees, brightly lit on everyone's front lawn, and the Santas outlined in lights on the roofs of people's houses. She loved the carols, and waiting for Santa Claus to come, going skating and drinking hot chocolate afterwards, and stringing popcorn with her mother and sitting wide-eyed afterwards looking at how beautiful their Christmas tree was, all lit up. Her mother just let her sit there in the glow of it, her five-year-old face filled with wonder.
Elizabeth Whittaker was forty-one when Annie was born and she came as a surprise. Elizabeth had long since given up the dream of having another baby. They had tried for years before, Tommy was ten by then, and they had finally made their peace with having only one child. Tommy was a great kid, and Liz and John had always felt lucky. He played football, and baseball with the Little League, and he was the star of the ice hockey team every winter. He was a good boy, and he did everything he was supposed to do, he did well in school, was loving to them, and still there was enough mischief in him to reassure them that he was normal. He was by no means the perfect child, but he was a good boy. He had blond hair like Liz, and sharp blue eyes like his father. He had a good sense of humor and a fine mind, and after the initial shock, he seemed to adjust to the idea of having a baby sister.
And for the past five and a half years, since she'd been born, he thought the sun rose and set on Annie. She was a wispy little thing with a big grin, and a giggle that rang out in the house every time she and Tommy were together. She waited anxiously for him to come home from school every day, and then they sat eating cookies and drinking milk in the kitchen. Liz had changed to substitute teaching, instead of working full-time after Annie was born. She said she wanted to enjoy every minute of her last baby. And she had. They were together constantly.
Liz even found time to do volunteer work at the nursery school for two years, and now she helped with the art program at the kindergarten that Annie attended. They baked cookies and bread and biscuits together in the afternoons, or Liz read to her for hours as they sat together in the big cozy kitchen. Their lives were a warm place, where all four of them felt safe from the kinds of things that happened to other people. And John took good care of them. He ran the state's largest wholesale produce business, and he earned a decent living for all of them. He had done well early on, it had been his father and grandfather's business before him. They had a handsome house in the better part of town. They were by no means rich, but they were safe from the cold winds of change that touched farmers and people in businesses that were often adversely affected by trends and fashion. Everyone needed good food, and John Whittaker had always provided it for them. He was a warm, caring man, and he hoped that Tommy would come into the business one day too. But first, he wanted him to go to college. And Annie too, he wanted her to be just as smart and well educated as her mother. Annie wanted to be a teacher, just like her mom, but John dreamed of her being a doctor or a lawyer. For 1952, these were strong dreams, but John had already saved a handsome sum for Annie's education. He'd put Tommy's college money away several years before, so financially they were both well on their way toward college. He was a man who believed in dreams. He always said there was nothing you couldn't do if you wanted it bad enough, and were willing to work hard enough to get it. And he had always been a willing worker. And Liz had always been a great help to him, but he was happy to let her stay home now. He loved coming home in the late afternoons, to find her cuddled up with Annie, or watch the two of them playing dolls in Annie's room. It warmed his heart just to see them. He was forty-nine years old and a happy man. He had a wonderful wife, and two terrific children.
"Where is everyone?" he called that afternoon as he came in, brushing the snow and ice off his hat and coat, and pushing the dog away, as she wagged her tail and slid around in the puddles he'd made on the floor around him. She was a big Irish setter they had named Bess, after the president's wife. Liz had tried to argue at first that it was a disrespect to Mrs. Truman, but the name seemed to suit her, and it had stuck, and no one seemed to remember how she'd gotten her name now.
"We're back here," Liz called out, and John walked into the living room to find them hanging gingerbread men on the tree. They had decorated them all afternoon, and Annie had made paper chains while the cookies were in the oven.
"Hi, Daddy, isn't it beautiful?"
"It is." He smiled down at her, and then lifted her into his arms with ease. He was a powerful man, with the Irish coloring of his forebears. He had black hair, even now, a year shy of fifty. And brilliant blue eyes, which he had bestowed on both of his children. And in spite of her blond hair, Liz's eyes were a soft brown, sometimes almost hazel. But Annie's hair was almost white it was so fair. And as she smiled into her father's eyes and rubbed her tiny nose playfully against his, she looked like an angel. He set her down gently next to him, and then reached up to kiss his wife, as an affectionate look passed between them.
"How was your day?" she asked warmly. They had been married for twenty-two years, and most of the time, when life's petty aggravations weren't nibbling at them, they seemed more in love than ever. They had married two years after Liz graduated from college. She'd already been a teacher by then, and it had taken seven years for Tommy to appear. They had almost given up hope and old Dr. Thompson had never really figured out why she either couldn't get, or stay, pregnant. She had had three miscarriages before Tommy was born, and it seemed like a miracle to them when he finally came. And even more so when Annie was born ten years later. They admitted easily that they were blessed, and the children gave them all the joy that they had hoped and expected.
"I got the oranges in from Florida today," John said as he sat down and picked up his pipe. There was a fire in the fireplace, and the house smelled of gingerbread and popcorn. "I'll bring some home tomorrow."
"I love oranges!" Annie clapped her hands, and then climbed on his lap, while Bess put both of her paws up on John's knees and tried to join them. John pushed the dog away gently, and Liz came down the ladder to kiss him again and offer him a glass of hot cider.
"Sounds too good to turn down." He smiled, and then followed her into the kitchen a moment later, silently admiring her trim figure. He was holding Annie's hand, and it was only moments after when the front door slammed, and Tommy came in, with a pink nose and bright red cheeks, carrying his ice skates.
"Mmm. . . smells good. . . hi, Mom. . . hi, Dad. . . hey, squirt, what did you do today? Eat all of your mom's cookies?" He ruffled her hair and gave her a squeeze, getting her face wet with his own. It was freezing outside, and snowing harder every moment.
"I made the cookies with Mommy. . . and I only ate four of them," she said meticulously as they laughed. She was so cute she was hard for anyone to resist, least of all her big brother, or her doting parents. But she wasn't spoiled. She was just well loved, and it showed in the ease with which she faced the world and met every challenge. She liked everyone, loved to laugh, loved playing games, loved running in the wind with her hair flying out behind her. She loved to play with Bess. . . but better yet her older brother. She looked up at him adoringly now, taking in the well-worn ice skates. "Can we go skating tomorrow, Tommy?" There was a pond nearby, and he took her there often on Saturday mornings.
"If it stops snowing by then. If this keeps up, you won't even be able to find the pond," he said, munching on one of his mother's delicious cookies. They were mouthwatering, and they were all Tommy could think of, as his mother carefully took off her apron. She wore a neat blouse and a full gray skirt, and it always pleased John to notice that she still had the figure she'd had when he first met her in high school. She'd been a freshman when he was a senior, and for a long time it had embarrassed him to admit that he was in love with a girl so young, but eventually everyone had figured it out. They teased them at first, but after a while, everyone took them for granted. He'd gone to work for his father the following year, and she had spent another seven years finishing high school and college, and then two more working as a teacher. He had waited a long time for her, but he never doubted for a minute that it was worth it. Everything they had ever really wanted or cared about had come to them slowly, like their children. But all the good things in their lives had been worth the wait. They were happy now. They had everything they had always wanted.
"I've got a game tomorrow afternoon," Tommy mentioned casually as he gobbled up two more cookies.
"The day before Christmas Eve?" his mother asked, surprised. "You'd think people would have other things to do." They always went to his games, unless something really major happened to prevent it. John had played ice hockey too, and football. He had loved it too. Liz was a little less sure, she didn't want Tommy to get injured. A couple of the boys had lost teeth in ice hockey games over the years, but Tommy was careful, and pretty lucky. No broken bones, no major injuries, just a lot of sprains and bruises, which his father claimed were all part of the fun.
"He's a boy for heaven's sake, you can't wr...
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