"I guess we'd better go," Luther said to his daughter, his only child.
They hugged again and fought back the tears. Blair smiled and said, "The year will fly by. I'll be home next Christmas."
Nora, her mother, bit her lip and nodded and kissed her once more. "Please be careful," she said because she couldn't stop saying it.
"I'll be fine."
They released her and watched helplessly as she joined a long line and inched away, away from them, away from home and security and everything she'd ever known. As she handed over her boarding pass, Blair turned and smiled at them one last time.
"Oh well," Luther said. "Enough of this. She's going to be fine."
Nora could think of nothing to say as she watched her daughter disappear. They turned and fell in with the foot traffic, one long crowded march down the concourse, past the Santa Claus with the irksome bell, past the tiny shops packed with people.
It was raining when they left the terminal and found the line for the shuttle back to the satellite, and it was pouring when the shuttle sloshed its way through the lot and dropped them off, two hundred yards from their car. It cost Luther $7.00 to free himself and his car from the greed of the airport authority.
When they were moving toward the city, Nora finally spoke. "Will she be okay?" she asked. He had heard that question so often that his response was an automatic grunt.
"Do you really think so?"
"Sure." Whether he did or he didn't, what did it matter at this point? She was gone; they couldn't stop her.
He gripped the wheel with both hands and silently cursed the traffic slowing in front of him. He couldn't tell if his wife was crying or not. Luther wanted only to get home and dry off, sit by the fire, and read a magazine.
He was within two miles of home when she announced, "I need a few things from the grocery."
"It's raining," he said.
"I still need them."
"Can't it wait?"
"You can stay in the car. Just take a minute. Go to Chip's. It's open today."
So he headed for Chip's, a place he despised not only for its outrageous prices and snooty staff but also for its impossible location. It was still raining of course--she couldn't pick a Kroger where you could park and make a dash. No, she wanted Chip's, where you parked and hiked.
Only sometimes you couldn't park at all. The lot was full. The fire lanes were packed. He searched in vain for ten minutes before Nora said, "Just drop me at the curb." She was frustrated at his inability to find a suitable spot.
He wheeled into a space near a burger joint and demanded, "Give me a list."
"I'll go," she said, but only in feigned protest. Luther would hike through the rain and they both knew it.
"Gimme a list."
"Just white chocolate and a pound of pistachios," she said, relieved.
"Yes, and make sure it's Logan's chocolate, one-pound bar, and Lance Brothers pistachios."
"And this couldn't wait?"
"No, Luther, it cannot wait. I'm doing dessert for lunch tomorrow. If you don't want to go, then hush up and I'll go."
He slammed the door. His third step was into a shallow pothole. Cold water soaked his right ankle and oozed down quickly into his shoe. He froze for a second and caught his breath, then stepped away on his toes, trying desperately to spot other puddles while dodging traffic.
Chip's believed in high prices and modest rent. It was on a side alley, not visible from anywhere really. Next to it was a wine shop run by a European of some strain who claimed to be French but was rumored to be Hungarian. His English was awful but he'd learned the language of price gouging. Probably learned it from Chip's next door. In fact all the shops in the District, as it was known, strove to be discriminating.
And every shop was full. Another Santa clanged away with the same bell outside the cheese shop. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" rattled from a hidden speaker above the sidewalk in front of Mother Earth, where the crunchy people were no doubt still wearing their sandals. Luther hated the store--refused to set foot inside. Nora bought organic herbs there, for what reason he'd never been certain. The old Mexican who owned the cigar store was happily stringing lights in his window, pipe stuck in the corner of his mouth, smoke drifting behind him, fake snow already sprayed on a fake tree.
There was a chance of real snow later in the night. The shoppers wasted no time as they hustled in and out of the stores. The sock on Luther's right foot was now frozen to his ankle.
There were no shopping baskets near the checkout at Chip's, and of course this was a bad sign. Luther didn't need one, but it meant the place was packed. The aisles were narrow and the inventory was laid out in such a way that nothing made sense. Regardless of what was on your list, you had to crisscross the place half a dozen times to finish up.
A stock boy was working hard on a display of Christmas chocolates. A sign by the butcher demanded that all good customers order their Christmas turkeys immediately. New Christmas wines were in! And Christmas hams!
What a waste, Luther thought to himself. Why do we eat so much and drink so much in the celebration of the birth of Christ? He found the pistachios near the bread. Odd how that made sense at Chip's. The white chocolate was nowhere near the baking section, so Luther cursed under his breath and trudged along the aisles, looking at everything. He got bumped by a shopping cart. No apology, no one noticed. "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" was coming from above, as if Luther was supposed to be comforted. Might as well be "Frosty the Snowman."
Two aisles over, next to a selection of rice from around the world, there was a shelf of baking chocolates. As he stepped closer, he recognized a one-pound bar of Logan's. Another step closer and it suddenly disappeared, snatched from his grasp by a harsh-looking woman who never saw him. The little space reserved for Logan's was empty, and in the next desperate moment Luther saw not another speck of white chocolate. Lots of dark and medium chips and such, but nothing white.
The express line was, of course, slower than the other two. Chip's' outrageous prices forced its customers to buy in small quantities, but this had no effect whatsoever on the speed with which they came and went. Each item was lifted, inspected, and manually entered into the register by an unpleasant cashier. Sacking was hit or miss, though around Christmas the sackers came to life with smiles and enthusiasm and astounding recall of customers' names. It was the tipping season, yet another unseemly aspect of Christmas that Luther loathed.
Six bucks and change for a pound of pistachios. He shoved the eager young sacker away, and for a second thought he might have to strike him to keep his precious pistachios out of another bag. He stuffed them into the pocket of his overcoat and quickly left the store.
A crowd had stopped to watch the old Mexican decorate his cigar store window. He was plugging in little robots who trudged through the fake snow, and this delighted the crowd no end. Luther was forced to move off the curb, and in doing so he stepped just left instead of just right. His left foot sank into five inches of cold slush. He froze for a split second, sucking in lungfuls of cold air, cursing the old Mexican and his robots and his fans and the damned pistachios. He yanked his foot upward and slung dirty water on his pants leg, and standing at the curb with two frozen feet and the bell clanging away and "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" blaring from the loudspeaker and the sidewalk blocked by revelers, Luther began to hate Christmas.
The water had seeped into his toes by the time he reached his car. "No white chocolate," he hissed at Nora as he crawled behind the wheel.
She was wiping her eyes.
"What is it now?" he demanded.
"I just talked to Blair."
"What? How? Is she all right?"
"She called from the airplane. She's fine." Nora was biting her lip, trying to recover.
Exactly how much does it cost to phone home from thirty thousand feet? Luther wondered. He'd seen phones on planes. Any credit card'll do. Blair had one he'd given her, the type where the bills are sent to Mom and Dad. From a cell phone up there to a cell phone down here, probably at least ten bucks.
And for what? I'm fine, Mom. Haven't seen you in almost an hour. We all love each other. We'll all miss each other. Gotta go, Mom.
The engine was running though Luther didn't remember starting it.
"You forgot the white chocolate?" Nora asked, fully recovered.
"No. I didn't forget it. They didn't have any."
"Did you ask Rex?"
"No, Nora, for some reason I didn't think to ask the butcher if he had any white chocolate hidden among his chops and livers."
She yanked the door handle with all the frustration she could muster. "I have to have it. Thanks for nothing." And she was gone.
I hope you step in frozen water, Luther grumbled to himself. He fumed and muttered other unpleasantries. He switched the heater vents to the floorboard to thaw his feet, then watched the large people come and go at the burger place. Traffic was stalled on the streets beyond.
How nice it would be to avoid Christmas, he began to think. A snap of the fingers and it's January 2. No tree, no shopping, no meaningless gifts, no tipping, no clutter and wrappings, no traffic and crowds, no fruitcakes, no liquor and hams that no one needed, no "Rudolph" and "Frosty, " no office party, no wasted money. His list grew long. He huddled over the wheel, smiling now, waiting for heat down below, dreaming pleasantly of escape.
She was back, with a small brown sack which she tossed beside him just carefully enough not to crack the chocolate while letting him know that she'd found it and he hadn't. "Everybody knows you have to ask," she said sharply as she yanked at her shoulder harness.
"Odd way of marketing," Luther mused, in reverse now. "Hide it by the butcher, make it scarce, folks'll clamor for it. I'm sure they charge more if it's hidden."
"Oh hush, Luther."
"Are your feet wet?"
"Then why'd you ask?"
"Do you think she'll be all right?"
"She's on an airplane. You just talked to her."
"I mean down there, in the jungle."
"Stop worrying, okay? The Peace Corps wouldn't send her into a dangerous place."
"It won't be the same."
It certainly will not, Luther almost said. Oddly, he was smiling as he worked his way through traffic.
Excerpted from Skipping Christmas by John Grisham Copyright 2001 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. Thats just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, theyll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty; they wont be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash; they arent even going to have a tree. They wont need one, because come December 25 theyre setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But, as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences-and isnt half as easy as theyd imagined.
A classic tale for modern times, Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition. And there is not a single lawyer in the whole book!
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John Grisham was born in 1995 in Jonesboro, Arkansas; his father was a construction worker, his mother a homemaker. He majored in accounting at Mississippi State University and after graduating from law school in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing in criminal defense and personal injury litigation. In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990.
One day at the Dessoto County courthouse, Grisham overheard the harrowing testimony of a twelve-year-old rape victim and was inspired to start a novel exploring what would have happened if the girl's father had murdered her assailants. Getting up at 5 a.m. every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988.
Then he began his second novel, The Firm. He became an overnight success when he sold the rights to Paramount Pictures for $600,000. The Firm also became the bestselling novel of 1991. The successes of The Pelican Brief, which hit number one on the New York Times bestseller list, and The Client, which debuted at number one, confirmed Grisham's reputation as the master of the legal thriller.
Grisham publishes one novel a year and six of his novels of been turned into films. He also wrote the original screenplay, The Gingerbread Man.
Grisham lives with his wife Renee and their two children Ty and Shea. The family splits their time between their Victorian home on a farm in Mississippi and a plantation near Charlottesville, VA.