There are days that live in infamy, for individuals as well as nations. February 12, 1989, was my personal equivalent of Pearl Harbor Day or September 11.
Beth Cardall’s Diary
My life was never perfect, but up until February 12, it was pretty darn close. At least I thought it was. My husband Marc had been out of town for several weeks and had arrived home at around three in the morning. I heard him come into our room, undress and climb into bed. I rolled over, kissed him and put my arms around him. “I’m glad you’re home.”
I wasn’t really cut out to be a salesman’s wife. My idea of marriage is someone to share the weekdays with as well as the weekends. Most of all I hate sleeping alone. You would think that after five years I would have gotten used to it, but I hadn’t. I never did.
Marc was still asleep when the radio-alarm went off three and a half hours later. I shut off the alarm, rolled over and held to his warm body for a few minutes, then kissed him on the neck and climbed out of bed. I got myself ready for the day, then woke our six-year-old daughter Charlotte, made her breakfast and drove her to school.
It was a routine I had grown accustomed to over the last six months, ever since Charlotte started the first grade and I went back to work. With Marc on the road more often than not, I had become rather independent in my routine. I dropped Charlotte off at school, then went straight to my job at Prompt Cleaners—a dry cleaner about a mile and a half from our home in Holladay, Utah.
Marc made enough for us to live on, though not by much, and money was always tight. I worked to build us a financial cushion and for extras, as well as to get myself out of the house when Charlotte was at school. I’m not really a career gal, and I doubt working at a dry cleaner qualifies as such, but being cooped up in the house all day alone always made me a little crazy.
I had been at work a little over an hour and was in the back pressing suits when Roxanne came back to call me to the phone. She waved at me to get my attention. “Beth, it’s for you. It’s Charlotte’s school.”
Roxanne—or Rox, as she liked to be called—was my best friend at work. Actually, she was my best friend anywhere. She was thirty-eight, ten years older than I, small, five feet one, pencil-skinny and looked a little like Pat Benatar—whom you wouldn’t know if you didn’t do the eighties. She was from a small southern Utah town called Hurricane (pronounced Hurr-i-cun by the locals), and she spoke with a Hurricane accent, a slight, excited drawl, and used terms of endearment like rappers use curse words and with nearly the same frequency.
She’d been married for eighteen years to Ray, a short, barrel-chested man who worked for the phone company and sometimes moonlighted at a guard shack in a condominium development. She had one child, Jan, who was a blond, sixteen-year-old version of her mother. Jan was also Charlotte’s and my favorite babysitter.
I love Roxanne. She’s one of those people heaven too infrequently sends to earth—a joyful combination of lunacy and grace. She was my friend, sage, comic relief, confidante, Prozac and guardian angel all rolled up into one tight little frame. Everyone should have a friend like Roxanne.
“You heard me, darlin’?” she repeated. “Phone.”
“Got it,” I shouted over the hiss of the steam press. I hung up the jacket I was working on, then walked up front. “It’s the school?”
Roxanne handed me the phone. “That’s what the lady said.”
I pulled back my hair and put the receiver to my ear. “Hello, this is Beth.”
A young, female voice said, “Mrs. Cardall, this is Angela, I’m the school nurse at Hugo Reid Elementary. Your little Charlotte has been complaining of headaches and an upset stomach. She’s here in my room lying down. I think she probably needs to come home.”
I was surprised, as Charlotte was feeling perfectly fine an hour earlier when I dropped her off. “Okay. Sure. I’m at work right now, but my husband’s home. One of us will be there within a half hour. May I talk to Charlotte?”
A moment later Charlotte’s voice came softly from the phone. “Mommy?”
“I don’t feel good.”
“I’m sorry, honey. Daddy or I will come get you. We’ll be there soon.”
“I love you, sweetheart.”
“I love you too, Mommy. Bye.”
I hung up the phone. Roxanne looked over at me from the cash register. “Is everything okay?”
“Charlotte’s sick. Fortunately, Marc’s home.”
I dialed the house and let the phone ring at least a dozen times before I finally gave up. I groaned, looked at Roxanne and shook my head.
“Not home?” Roxanne asked.
“That or he’s still sleeping. I need to pick up Charlotte. Can you cover for me?”
“I don’t know what’s going on with Marc’s schedule. I might not make it back.”
“Don’t worry about it. It’s gonna be a slow day.”
“Thanks. I owe you one.”
“You owe me a lot more than one, sister,” she said wryly. “And someday I’m gonna collect.”
Charlotte’s elementary school was only six blocks from the dry cleaner, just a few minutes by car. I parked my old Nissan in front of the school and walked to the office. The school secretary was expecting me and led me back to the nurse’s office. The small, square room was purposely dim, lit only by a desk lamp. Charlotte was lying on a cot with her eyes closed, and the nurse was seated next to her. I walked up to the side of the cot, stooped over and kissed Charlotte’s forehead. “Hi, honey.”
Charlotte’s eyes opened slowly. “Hi, Mommy.” Her words were a little slurred and her breath had the pungent smell of vomit.
The nurse said, “I’m Angela. You have a sweet little girl here. I’m sorry she doesn’t feel well.”
“Thank you. It’s peculiar, she was fine this morning.”
“Miss Rossi said that she seemed okay when she arrived but started complaining of a headache and stomachache around ten. I took her temperature a half-hour ago but it was normal: 98.3.”
I shook my head again. “Peculiar.”
“It could be a migraine,” she said. “That would explain the nausea. She threw up about ten minutes ago.”
I rubbed Charlotte’s cheek. “Oh, baby.” I looked back. “She’s never had a migraine before. Maybe a little rest will help. Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it. I’ll let Miss Rossi know that she’s gone home for the day.”
I crouched down next to Charlotte. “Ready to go, honey?”
I lifted her into my arms, then carried her, clinging to my shoulders, out to the car. She didn’t say much as I drove home, and every time I glanced over at her, I was surprised by how sick she looked. I pulled into the driveway hoping that Marc was still home, but his car was gone. I carried Charlotte inside and lay her in our bed. She was still lethargic. “Do you need anything, honey?”
“No.” She rolled over to her stomach, burrowing her head into my pillow. I pulled the sheets up to her neck. I walked out of the room and tried Marc’s office extension but only got his voicemail. I called Roxanne to let her know that it didn’t look like I would be back to work today.
“Don’t worry, baby,” she said. “I’ve got your back.”
“I love you,” I said.
“Me too. Give Char a kiss for me.”
Charlotte lay in bed the rest of the afternoon, sleeping away most of it. Around one I gave her some toast and 7-Up. A half-hour later she threw up again, then curled up in a ball complaining of a stomachache. I sat on the bed next to her, rubbing her back. For dinner I made homemade chicken noodle soup, which she managed to keep down.
Marc didn’t get home until after seven. “Hey, babe,” he said. “How was your day?”
I guess I needed someone to take the day’s anxiety out on. “Awful,” I said sharply. “Where have you been?”
He looked at me curiously, no doubt wondering what he’d done wrong. “You know how it is when I get back in town, it’s one meeting after another.”
“I tried your extension.”
“Like I said, I was in meetings. If I had known you were trying to reach me . . .” He put his arms around me. “But I’m here now. How about I take you and Char out for dinner?”
My voice softened. “Sorry, it’s been a hard day. Charlotte’s not feeling well. I had to pick her up from school. And I already made chicken noodle soup for dinner.”
He leaned back, his concern evident on his face. “She’s sick? Where is she?”
“In our bed.”
He immediately went to see her. I turned on the burner beneath the soup, then followed Marc to our bedroom. Charlotte squealed when she saw him. “Daddy!”
He sat on the bed next to her. “How’s my monkey?”
“I’m not a monkey.”
“You’re my monkey. You’re my little baboon.” He lay down next to her, his face close to hers. “Mommy says you’re not feeling well.”
“I have a tummy ache.”
He kissed her forehead. “It’s probably from eating all those bananas.”
“I’m not a monkey!” she said again happily.
I couldn’t help but smile. It was good to see her happy again. Charlotte adored Marc and missed him terribly when he was gone, which was at least two weeks out of every month. To his credit, Marc always did his best to be with us. He called every night to ask about my day and say goodnight to Charlotte.
“Did you eat dinner?”
“Mommy made me chicken soup.”
“Was it good?”
“I think I’m going to get myself some soup if you didn’t eat it all.” He raised his eyebrow. “Did you eat it all, you little piggy?”
She laughed. “You said I was a monkey.”
“That’s right. So you stay in your bed and don’t climb any more trees.”
She giggled again. “I’m not a monkey!”
“I’m just making sure.” Marc kissed her forehead, then got up and walked out of our bedroom, gently shutting the door behind him. “What’s wrong with her? She looks like she’s lost weight.”
“I don’t know. She came down with a headache then threw up at school.”
“Does she have a fever?”
“No. It’s probably just a little migraine or something. It will probably be gone by tomorrow.” I put my arms around him. “I’m glad you’re home finally.”
“Me too.” He kissed me. “More than you know.” Then he kissed me again. We kissed for several minutes.
I pushed him back. “You did miss me,” I said playfully.
“So, is the little one sleeping in our bed tonight?”
I knew why he was asking and it made me happy. “No. She’ll be sleeping in her own bed.”
“Good. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too,” I said. “I hate a cold bed.”
“Me too.” He kissed me one more time, then stepped back. “So you made soup?”
I brushed the hair back from my face. “Yes. It should be hot by now. Would you like some bread? I baked one of those frozen loaves.”
“I would love some.”
We walked back to the kitchen. Marc sat down at the table and I went to the stove. The soup was lightly bubbling. I turned the stove off, then ladled him a bowl. “So how was Phoenix? Or was it Tucson?”
“Both. They were both good. The economy’s hot right now, so these hospitals are pretty loose with their budgets. And the weather in Arizona is fantastic, blue skies and in the seventies.”
“I wish it was here. You shouldn’t have to breathe air you can see.”
“Yeah, I had a coughing fit the moment I entered the valley. We need a good snowstorm to clear it out.”
Around February the snow in Salt Lake is as dirty and gray as the underside of an automobile, and, too often, so is the air. The Salt Lake Valley is surrounded by the Rocky Mountains to the east and the Oquirrh Mountains to the west, so when a winter low-pressure front moves in, the pollution is caught inside until a big storm blows it out.
“I wonder if I’m coming down with something like Charlotte. Yesterday I got up early to work out, but I didn’t have any energy. I ended up going back to bed.”
“You’re probably not getting enough sleep. What time did you come in this morning?”
“I really wish you wouldn’t drive so late. It’s not safe.” I set the bowl of soup and a thick slice of warm bread in front of Marc. “Do you want butter for your bread?”
“Yes. And honey, please.”
I fetched the butter dish and a plastic honey bear bottle from the cupboard and set them both on the table next to Marc, then I sat down next to him at the table, my elbows on the table and my chin in my hands. “If Charlotte’s sick tomorrow, can I leave her home with you?”
“I can’t in the morning. We’ve got a company sales meeting at nine, then afterwards I’m meeting with Dean to try to keep him from cutting my territory.”
“How about the afternoon?”
“I can pull that off.” He squeezed some honey onto his buttered bread. “Do you think she’ll still be sick?”
“Probably not. But just in case.”
He took a bite of his bread, then followed it with a spoonful of soup.
“How’s the soup?” I asked.
“You make the best chicken noodle soup I know. It’s almost worth getting sick for.”
I smiled at the compliment. “Thanks.”
“So how are things going at the cleaners?”
“Rox been committed yet?”
“Not yet. But they’ll eventually catch up with her.”
“You know, all this traveling isn’t getting any easier,” he said. “It’s lonely on the road. I really missed you this time.”
“Me too. I hate the life of the wife of a traveling salesman.”
“That sounds like a country song,” he said. “Or an Arthur Miller play.”
“I hope not. At least the latter.”
He smiled and took another bite of soup. “Me too. The latter.”
Beth Cardall has a secret. For eighteen years, she has had no choice but to keep it to herself, but on Christmas Eve 2008, all that is about to change.
For Beth, 1989 was a year marked by tragedy. Her life was falling apart: her six-year-old daughter, Charlotte, was suffering from an unidentifiable illness; her marriage transformed from a seemingly happy and loving relationship to one full of betrayal and pain; her job at the dry cleaners was increasingly at risk; and she had lost any ability to trust, to hope, or to believe in herself. Then, on Christmas Day, as she rushed through a blizzard to the nearest 7-Eleven, Beth encountered Matthew, a strikingly handsome, mysterious stranger, who would single-handedly change the course of her life.
Who is this man, and how does he seem to know so much about her? He pursues her relentlessly, and only after she’s fallen deeply in love with him does she learn his incredible secret, changing the world as she knows it, as well as her own destiny.
Promise Me by Richard Paul Evans
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
For Beth, 1989 was a year marked by tragedy. Her life was falling apart: her six-year-old daughter, Charlotte, was suffering from an unidentifiable illness; her marriage transformed from a seemingly happy and loving relationship to one full of betrayal and pain; her job was increasingly at risk; and she had lost any ability to trust, to hope, or to believe in herself. Then, on Christmas Day, Beth meets Matthew—a strikingly handsome, mysterious stranger who completely changes her life. He rescues her from emotional and financial ruin, but not even he can save her from heartbreak when she's forced to make a decision that will change both their lives forever.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. This story is framed by passages in Beth’s diary, which we sometimes read directly and sometimes experience as a more traditional first-person narrative. We start in the present on Christmas Eve, moving backward in time to 1989, and then finally return to the present. Di see more