It’s almost Christmas, but there is no joy in the house of terminally ill Jack and his family. With only a short time left to live, he spends his last days preparing to say goodbye to his devoted wife, Lizzie, and their three children. Then, unthinkably, tragedy strikes again: Lizzie is killed in a car accident. With no one able to care for them, the children are separated from each other and sent to live with family members around the country.
Just when all seems lost, Jack begins to recover in a miraculous turn of events. He rises from what should have been his deathbed, determined to bring his fractured family back together. Struggling to rebuild their lives after Lizzie’s death, he reunites everyone at Lizzie’s childhood home on the oceanfront in South Carolina. And there, over one unforgettable summer, Jack will begin to learn to love again, and he and his children will learn how to become a family once more.
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DID YOU KNOW…
ONE SUMMER spent 12 weeks on the New York Times hardcover fiction bestseller list; the trade paperback edition spent seven weeks on the print paperback trade fiction list.
CHAPTER 1Jack Armstrong sat up in the secondhand hospital bed that had been wedged into a corner of the den in his home in Cleveland. A father at nineteen, he and his wife, Lizzie, had conceived their second child when he’d been home on leave from the army. Jack had been in the military for five years when the war in the Middle East started. He’d survived his first tour in Afghanistan and earned a Purple Heart for taking one in the arm. After that he’d weathered several tours of duty in Iraq, one of which included the destruction of his Humvee while he was still inside. That injury had won him his second Purple. And he had a bronze star on top of that for rescuing three ambushed grunts from his unit and nearly getting killed in the process. After all that, here he was, dying fast in his cheaply paneled den in Ohio’s Rust Belt.
His goal was simple: just hang on until Christmas. He sucked greedily on the oxygen coming from the line in his nose. The converter that stayed in the corner of the small room was on maximum production, and Jack knew that one day soon it would be turned off because he’d be dead. Before Thanksgiving he was certain he could last another month. Now Jack was not sure he could make another day.
But he would.
I have to.
In high school the six-foot-two, good-looking Jack had varsity lettered in three sports, quarterbacked the football team, and had his pick of the ladies. But from the first time he’d seen Elizabeth “Lizzie” O’Toole, it was all over for him in the falling‑in‑love department. His heart had been won perhaps even before he quite realized it. His mouth curled into a smile at the memory of seeing her for the first time. Her family had come from South Carolina. Jack had often wondered why the O’Tooles had moved to Cleveland, where there was no ocean, a lot less sun, a lot more snow and ice, and not a palm tree in sight. Later, he’d learned it was because of a job change for Lizzie’s father.
She’d come into class that first day, tall, with long auburn hair and vibrant green eyes, her face already mature and lovely. They had started going together in high school and had never been separated since, except long enough for Jack to fight in two wars.
“Jack; Jack honey?”
Lizzie was crouched down in front of him. In her hand was a syringe. She was still beautiful, though her looks had taken on a fragile edge. There were dark circles under her eyes and recently stamped worry lines on her face. The glow had gone from her skin, and her body was harder, less supple than it had been. Jack was the one dying, but in a way she was too.
“It’s time for your pain meds.”
He nodded, and she shot the drugs directly into an access line cut right below his collarbone. That way the medicine flowed directly into his bloodstream and started working faster. Fast was good when the pain felt like every nerve in his body was being incinerated.
After she finished, Lizzie sat and hugged him. The doctors had a long name for what was wrong with him, one that Jack still could not pronounce or even spell. It was rare, they had said; one in a million. When he’d asked about his odds of survival, the docs had looked at each other before one finally answered.
“There’s really nothing we can do. I’m sorry.”
“Do the things you’ve always wanted to do,” another had advised him, “but never had the chance.”
“I have three kids and a mortgage,” Jack had shot back, still reeling from this sudden death sentence. “I don’t have the luxury of filling out some end‑of‑life bucket list.”
“How long?” he’d finally asked, though part of him didn’t really want to know.
“You’re young and strong,” said one. “And the disease is in its early stages.”
Jack had survived the Taliban and Al‑Qaeda. He could maybe hold on and see his oldest child graduate from college. “So how long?” he’d asked again.
The doctor said, “Six months. Maybe eight if you’re lucky.”
Jack did not feel very lucky.
He vividly remembered the morning he started feeling not quite right. It was an ache in his forearm and a stab of pain in his right leg. He was a building contractor by trade, so aches and pains were to be expected. but things soon carried to a new level. His limbs would grow tired from three hours of physical labor as opposed to ten. The stabs of pain became more frequent, and his balance began to deteriorate. His back finally couldn’t make it up the ladder with the stacks of shingles. Then it hurt to carry his youngest son around after ten minutes. Then the fire in his nerves started, and his legs felt like an old man’s. And one morning he woke up and his lungs were like balloons filled with water. Everything had accelerated after that, as though his body had simply given way to whatever was invading it.
His youngest child, Jack Jr., whom everyone called Jackie, toddled in and climbed on his dad’s lap, resting his head against his father’s sunken chest. Jackie’s hair was long and inky black, curled up at the ends. His eyes were the color of toast; his thick eyebrows nearly met in the middle, like a burly woolen thread. Jackie had been their little surprise. Their other kids were much older.
Jack slowly slid his arm around his two-year-old son. Chubby fingers gripped his forearm, and warm breath touched his skin. It felt like the pierce of needles, but Jack simply gritted his teeth and didn’t move his arm because there wouldn’t be many more of these embraces. He slowly turned his head and looked out the window, where the snow was steadily falling. South Carolina and palm trees had nothing on Cleveland when it came to the holidays. It was truly beautiful.
He took his wife’s hand.
“Christmas,” Jack said in a wheezy voice. “I’ll be there.”
“Promise?” said Lizzie, her voice beginning to crack.