…Lunch with Dickie? It sounded like a title to another book. Mystery? Fantasy? Romance? She was both tempted and terrified. So many of her dreams had turned out far different from what she’d imagined. Her marriage, for one. “I’ve thought about you often over the years, Dickie. I have so many questions. Is your mother still alive? What do you do for a living? Are you married? Do you have kids? Where did–“
He interrupted her with a good-natured, “Whoa. I tried speed dating once and even it was slower than this. Are you sure you’re an editor and not a police interrogator?”
He knew what she did for a living.
As did anyone who read her published bio.
“I’d planned to cover all this at lunch tomorrow. Would you settle for a condensed synopsis tonight?”
A little editor humor. Clever and smart. She’d always been a sucker for quick-witted men. “Yes.”
“Okay. First, my mother died of breast cancer when I was fourteen. We might have had her longer if she’d had health insurance, but the working poor usually don’t. Her death sealed my fate, in a way.”
Abby didn’t know what that meant, but she mumbled, “I’m so sorry.”
“Me, too. I loved her very much. Luckily, Latisha and her husband took me in. He’s a successful plastic surgeon…retired, now. They lived in White Plains at the time, and both their children attended a private school. Latisha enrolled me, too. I call this my second life-changing gift. I studied hard, earned some scholarships and wound up at Harvard.”
“Wow,” she exclaimed. “Good for you, Dickie—I mean, Richard.”
“Dickie,” he repeated, his tone wistful. “No one has called me that for a long time. What about you, Abigail? What little I know is from your online bio and the paragraph in the back of your book. Congratulations, by the way. I’m honored to know a real live author.”
“A one-book-wonder kind of author,” she corrected. “I’m an editor by trade and inclination. My Christmas Angel was a fluke. A memory that stayed in my head until I finally put it on paper and set it free.” Embarrassment heated her cheeks. “I was at the right place at the right time. I take it you’ve read the book?”
“Yes. Last month at Thanksgiving. My niece bought a copy for her daughter and couldn’t help noticing some similarities to the story I tell of my most memorable Christmas.” He laughed. “Actually, her exact words were, ‘Uncle Richard, some lady stole your story. You should sue her.'”
The thought had crossed Abby’s mind, too, but her publisher had assured her nobody could copyright an idea. “You remembered that night? Enough to tell people about it?”
“Yes, although my version is a little different. My hardworking mom couldn’t afford to pass up the tips at the local diner on Christmas Eve, so, even though it was my sixth birthday, she sent me off with a Good Samaritan white social worker to celebrate with strangers at a strange house.”
“Oh, my,” Abby said. “I never thought how scared you must have been.”
“I wasn’t scared. Not after I met you.”
“You. A little girl with long braids and a big heart who gave me a gift that changed my life.”
She swallowed hard. “I hate to break this to you, Dickie, but I didn’t give you that bear. My mother did.”
“I know, Abigail. I wasn’t stupid, just poor. And I could see how much you wanted it, which, not surprisingly, made it all the more special. As I tell my grandnieces and nephews, that bear was the first gift I ever received from someone outside my immediate family. It became my most treasured possession. I slept with it every night until I went to college. It went with me, then, too, but never left my drawer.”
“I thought so.”
There was a slight pause. She sensed he was choosing his words with care. “I still have him, of course. On a shelf in my office. He’s a little worse for wear, but obviously well-loved and when I look at him I’m reminded of your true gift.”
Abby couldn’t find the breath to ask.
“That night, you saw me, Abigail. Not some poor little black kid your father tolerated and your mother felt an obligation to feed. For the first time in my life, I felt special. Unique. In your eyes, I was a Christmas angel. If you and God believed that, then anything in the world was possible. Can you imagine what a gift unfettered hope could be for a child from the projects?”
Her throat was tight with unshed tears. “No,” she whispered, intending to set the record straight. How could he possibly attribute his grace and goodness to her when he’d shared those gifts with her–not the other way around?