The 19th Christmas Page 1


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IT WAS FOUR nights before Christmas Eve, and the city of San Francisco had decked the halls, houses, and grand public edifices in a sparkling, merry Christmas display.

My husband, Joe, our three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Julie, our aging border collie, Martha, and I had piled into the family car for a tour of the lights.

Julie was wearing a red leotard with a tutu and a blinking tiara. The antlers she had assigned to Martha had been rejected by our doggy, so Joe wore them to keep the peace and Julie approved. I was wearing the sweater my baby fashion coach had picked out of a catalog—Santa and his sleigh sailing over a cheesy grinning moon. It was so tacky it was hilarious.

Joe said to me, “Lindsay, give me a C.”

I did, perfectly pitched.

As we headed down Jackson Street, we sang “Jingle Bells,” and then Martha joined in—definitely off-key.

Dear Joe knew the way to guide our sleigh, and we headed toward Cow Hollow, parked, and walked along Union Street to see the Fantasy of Lights. The Victorian buildings, both shops and homes, were twinkling red, green, and white. Joe carried Julie on his shoulders, and I laughed out loud when she parted his antlers to get a better view of the window displays.

Julie clapped her hands at the sight of the snowmen guarding the entrance to Santaland, and I was elated. This was one of the wonderful things about motherhood, watching Julie make Christmas memories.

“Where to next?” Joe asked Julie. “The fishing boats will be all lit up from the Holiday Lights Boat Parade.”

“Chocolate factory!” she shouted from her top-of-Daddy seat.

And we were off to Ghirardelli Square, near Fisherman’s Wharf, to see the fifty-foot-tall tree decorated with giant chocolate bars, Julie’s idea of the prettiest Christmas tree in the whole wide world.

Yuki Castellano was in the kitchen, and there was not a holiday decoration in sight. She stirred the guacamole and then set a tray of brownies in the oven while her husband, Jackson Brady, mixed up a pitcher of margaritas.

“Ah love to see you giggly,” he teased in his Southern accent.

Yuki giggled just hearing that. From her Japanese mother and her Italian-born American-soldier daddy, she had inherited a ticklish funny bone, no tolerance for alcohol, and a decided weakness for tequila.

“You just want to take advantage of me,” she told her husband.

“I do. My first night off in I don’t know how long, and I think we should trash the bedroom.”

Yuki felt the same way. She’d just finished prosecuting a case from hell, and Brady had been working overtime as a homicide lieutenant and doubling as the acting police chief. They’d barely had time for sleep, let alone each other—and it was almost Christmas.

She said, “No phones, okay? Not a single phone call. And that means both of us, agreed?”

“Say the word and I’ll fill up the sink and drown those dang things in it.”

She said, “The word,” laughed again, and popped open a bag of chips.

“Plate alla that, will you? I’ll grab the liquor.”

They headed for the bedroom with drinks, chips, and dip. They’d chosen to screen an action classic that some considered the greatest Christmas story ever told. Yuki had never seen Die Hard and was wondering now if she’d ever get to see it. Odds were she and Brady were going to be naked before the opening credits rolled.

“Don’t start without me,” she said. “I’ll be right there.”

She went back to the kitchen and turned off the oven. Brownies could wait.

Cindy Thomas and her live-in boyfriend, Rich Conklin, stood on the tree-lined path that divided Civic Center Plaza. The attractions of the seasonal Winter Park were in full swing.

Up ahead, centered on the path, City Hall was alight in wide, horizontal red and green bands; the brilliant Christmas tree in front of the impressive old granite building pointed up to the magnificent dome.

Rich squeezed Cindy’s hand and she looked up at his dear face.

She said, “Are you going to forgive me?”

“For us not going out to see my family?”

“I wish I could, Richie. Your pops always makes me feel like a movie star. But I’ve got that interview tomorrow.”

“And a deadline,” he said. “You think I don’t know the drill by now?”

“You. Are. The best.”

“Don’t I know it,” he said. He grinned at her and she stood up on her toes to kiss him. He pulled her in and made a corny thing of it, dipping her for effect, making her laugh between the dramatic rows of trees. People cut around them, taking pictures of the view.