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Danielle Steel

“I’m fine. It’s nuts right before Christmas, the kids are all over the place. We wanted to take them skiing, but I don’t want to leave Dad, so the girls are going with friends, and Charlie has a new girlfriend he can’t tear himself away from, so he’s thrilled we’re not going away. He has to finish his college applications, so I’ll be riding his ass all through the holidays.” The thought of her nephew going to college woke Ginny out of her stupor and made her realize how fast time had flown.

“I can’t believe that.”

“Neither can I. Margie will be sixteen in January, and Lizzie is turning thirteen. Where the hell did my life go while I was driving car pool? Alan and I will be married twenty years in June. Scary, isn’t it?” Ginny nodded, thinking about it. She remembered their wedding as though it were yesterday. She’d been their maid of honor at sixteen.

“Yes, it is. I can’t believe you’re forty, and I’m thirty-six. Last time I looked you were fourteen and had braces, and I was ten.” They both smiled at the memory. Then Alan walked in from work, and Becky said she had to go.

“I have to burn him something for dinner. Some things don’t change, I’m still a lousy cook. Thank God we’re having dinner at Alan’s mother’s on Christmas Eve. I couldn’t deal with the turkey again. Thanksgiving nearly did me in.” They were the all-American family, and everything Ginny had never been.

Becky had always done everything that was expected of her. She had married her high school boyfriend while they were still in college. After they graduated, with their parents’ help, they bought a house in Pasadena. They had three terrific kids, and she was the perfect mom. She was head of the PTA and had done Cub Scouts with their son, she got the girls to all their after-school classes and helped them with their homework, kept a beautiful home, and was a great wife to Alan. They had a solid marriage, and now she took care of their father, while Ginny trotted around the world to war zones and desolate places, trying to cure the ills of the world.

The contrast between the two sisters seemed more marked than ever before, and yet they respected and loved each other. Still, the path Ginny had chosen in recent years was hard for her older sister to understand. She knew the reasons for it, but it seemed too extreme a reaction to her, and Alan agreed with her. They both hoped Ginny would come home and settle down, and start living a normal life again. In spite of everything that had happened, they thought it was time, before she became too different, to the point of strange. Becky was afraid that Ginny was getting there, although she admired what she did. But they felt she should give up her travels and the risks she took every day, before she got herself killed. Becky was convinced that Ginny was punishing herself, but enough was enough. It all sounded very noble, but two and a half years in the wilds of places like Afghanistan was just too much. It was hard for her and Alan to imagine what she did there. And Becky never said it, so as not to put pressure on her younger sister, but she needed help with their dad. With Ginny gone so much and so far away, all the hard decisions and difficult moments rested on Becky. Ginny had left before their father started to decline, and now with the work she did, she wasn’t around to participate.

“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Becky promised before she hung up. They both knew it would be a bad day. It always was—it was the anniversary of the day Ginny’s life had changed forever, and everything she cherished and held dear had disappeared. It was a day she would have liked to forget or sleep through every year, but she never could. Ginny lay in bed that night wide awake, running the film over and over again in her head, as she always did, thinking of all the ways it could have been different, and why it should have been, and what she should have done and didn’t. But it always turned out the same way. She was alone, and Mark and Chris were dead.

She and her husband had gone to a holiday party given by friends two days before Christmas. There were going to be children and a Santa Claus, so they had taken Christopher with them. Ginny had never seen the photographs of that night, but the pictures of him on Santa’s lap had been heartbreaking for Becky to look at when she packed them for her sister, along with all Chris’s baby albums and her wedding photographs with Mark. They were in the boxes Ginny had never opened that were stacked in the unused second bedroom of her New York apartment. She had no idea what Becky had sent her as souvenirs of her lost life, and had never been able to face them.

Ginny and Mark had been the golden couple, network stars. She was an on-air reporter, and he was the most popular anchorman in the business. Handsome, beautiful, and madly in love, they had married when Ginny was twenty-nine, with a blossoming network career, and Mark was already a star. Chris had been born the following year. They had a gorgeous home in Beverly Hills and everything they had ever wanted, and a marriage and life that were the envy of their friends and all who knew them.

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