The Gift Page 0,1

of her being a doctor or a lawyer. For 1952, these were strong dreams, but John had already saved a handsome sum for Annie's education. He'd put Tommy's college money away several years before, so financially they were both well on their way toward college. He was a man who believed in dreams. He always said there was nothing you couldn't do if you wanted it bad enough, and were willing to work hard enough to get it. And he had always been a willing worker. And Liz had always been a great help to him, but he was happy to let her stay home now. He loved coming home in the late afternoons, to find her cuddled up with Annie, or watch the two of them playing dolls in Annie's room. It warmed his heart just to see them. He was forty-nine years old and a happy man. He had a wonderful wife, and two terrific children.

“Where is everyone?” he called that afternoon as he came in, brushing the snow and ice off his hat and coat, and pushing the dog away, as she wagged her tail and slid around in the puddles he'd made on the floor around him. She was a big Irish setter they had named Bess, after the president's wife. Liz had tried to argue at first that it was a disrespect to Mrs. Truman, but the name seemed to suit her, and it had stuck, and no one seemed to remember how she'd gotten her name now.

“We're back here,” Liz called out, and John walked into the living room to find them hanging gingerbread men on the tree. They had decorated them all afternoon, and Annie had made paper chains while the cookies were in the oven.

“Hi, Daddy, isn't it beautiful?”

“It is.” He smiled down at her, and then lifted her into his arms with ease. He was a powerful man, with the Irish coloring of his forebears. He had black hair, even now, a year shy of fifty. And brilliant blue eyes, which he had bestowed on both of his children. And in spite of her blond hair, Liz's eyes were a soft brown, sometimes almost hazel. But Annie's hair was almost white it was so fair. And as she smiled into her father's eyes and rubbed her tiny nose playfully against his, she looked like an angel. He set her down gently next to him, and then reached up to kiss his wife, as an affectionate look passed between them.

“How was your day?” she asked warmly. They had been married for twenty-two years, and most of the time, when life's petty aggravations weren't nibbling at them, they seemed more in love than ever. They had married two years after Liz graduated from college. She'd already been a teacher by then, and it had taken seven years for Tommy to appear. They had almost given up hope and old Dr. Thompson had never really figured out why she either couldn't get, or stay, pregnant. She had had three miscarriages before Tommy was born, and it seemed like a miracle to them when he finally came. And even more so when Annie was born ten years later. They admitted easily that they were blessed, and the children gave them all the joy that they had hoped and expected.

“I got the oranges in from Florida today,” John said as he sat down and picked up his pipe. There was a fire in the fireplace, and the house smelled of gingerbread and popcorn. “I'll bring some home tomorrow.”

“I love oranges!” Annie clapped her hands, and then