If you’d like a little preview of Dear Mister Silver, here is the first chapter.
With careful, precise strokes, Sam Silver used an engraving pen to score a pattern of holly and ivy in a silver star.
Softly, he blew away the flaking curls of silver and examined his work, then pushed the glasses he wore up on his nose and continued etching the pattern he could see in his mind onto what would become a Christmas ornament.
Six years ago, he would never have envisioned himself creating heirloom Christmas ornaments in the building that was once a carriage house on the property that had been in his family for more than a hundred years. He wouldn’t have even been able to picture sitting still long enough to make one ornament, let alone the thousands he had produced in the last five years.
Athletic, impatient, and always on the go, Sam had mistakenly thought he had the world on a string, with all the time he needed ahead of him to grow up, get married, and start a family.
Then, in an unexpected, unforgettable moment, his life flipped upside down. No longer was he athletic, impatient, or on the go. In fact, Sam preferred to sidestep other humans whenever possible.
People stared. They whispered. They held doors and offered sympathetic looks, which he hated.
Pity was an enemy Sam had no idea how to conquer. But avoidance had become his weapon of choice.
Effective? Oh, yes. Most effective.
Thanks to his online store and the order forms internet shoppers could fill out that arrived in his email inbox along with their payments, he rarely had to see or even speak to people.
As Ornament Guy, his business name, he was one of the top Christmas ornament designers in the country, even if he lived a humble, quiet, mostly peaceful existence.
The crunch of tires on gravel alerted him to the fact that his peace was about to come to an end.
He continued working as he heard his dog bark and a vehicle door shut, then the door to his workshop creak as it opened.
“Dude! I’ve been trying to call you all morning,” Kutter Hayes, Sam’s cousin and best friend, yelled as he stepped inside. “Do you ever answer your phone?”
“Not if I can help it.” Sam carefully turned the star as he finished the point of a holly leaf. When it looked as perfect as he could make it, he set down the engraving pen he held, removed his glasses, and spun the cushioned stool to where he could stare at his cousin. Kutter often dropped in when he was in town, but now that he was working for a big rodeo stock contractor, he was on the road far more often than he was home.
When he’d spoken to Kutter last week, his cousin had been on his way to a rodeo in California. Sam hadn’t expected to see him for a few more weeks, not that he’d begrudge the time spent with him.
Despite looking nothing alike, they’d always been close. Sam enjoyed Kutter’s company, at least most of the time. In their younger years, they’d had such fun together. Sam had been four when Kutter was born. As an only child, he’d decided Kutter would do quite nicely as his younger brother and claimed him as such whenever the mood struck. As they’d gotten older, they’d grown closer, even with their age difference.
After the day that had altered his life, Sam had given a lot of thought to the influence he might have had over Kutter. It was a good thing Kutter had never been as wild as Sam, and that he had his older sister, Brenda, to keep him in line. Brenda had given up on trying to guide Sam along the straight and narrow during their teen years. She was a whole year older than he but had possessed far more wisdom, even during their childhood.
Kutter walked over to the workbench, picked up Sam’s phone, rolled his eyes to discover it dead, and plugged it into the charger.
“Come on, man! Work with me just a little on not shutting out the entire world. You forget that Brenda and I will drive all the way over here to check on you when you don’t answer, then you have to live with the guilt of wasting our precious time.”
“If your time was that precious, you wouldn’t squander it coming to see me,” Sam said, pushing himself up off the stool with only a small wince of pain. “It’s about time for lunch. You hungry?”
Kutter smirked. “Always. What have you got?”
“Leftover lasagna, frozen pizza, or stuff to make sandwiches.”
Kutter stepped ahead of Sam as he limped toward the door and pulled it open for him. When Sam scowled, Kutter appeared marginally sheepish, as though he suddenly remembered how much Sam hated anyone performing the courtesy on his behalf.
“I could trip you on the way out the door if it would make you feel better,” Kutter offered.
Sam took a playful swing at him as he shuffled through the doorway, making Kutter duck and them both laugh.
The warm May sunshine beamed down on them from a brilliant blue sky. It was a beautiful spring day, the kind that made Sam wish he could pour it into bottles and preserve them for a bleak winter afternoon.
He drew in a deep breath, inhaling the scents of the magnolia tree blooming in the side yard and the lilacs in the backyard.
“Smells like spring. Reminds me of Granny,” Kutter said as he walked around his pickup and opened the driver’s side door. “I sure miss her and Papa Elliott. Why do you suppose they had to go and die on us only a month apart?”
“Because Papa Elliott couldn’t bear living life without his sweetheart beside him.” Their grandparents had been wonderful, caring people. Sam knew the door to their home and hearts was open to him anytime he wanted to drop in. “Granny’s stroke took her slowly, but Papa Elliott’s broken heart was in a hurry to get back to her.”
Kutter nodded and picked up something from his pickup seat, then held it out to Sam.
With a glance down, Sam realized it was his mail. The walk out to the mailbox on the road wasn’t one he enjoyed, but he forced himself to make it out there almost every day. For his birthday, Brenda and her husband, Brad, had gifted him with a green mailbox shaped like a barn that matched the barn on the property. Kutter had helped him take down the dented, rusted old mailbox, install a new white post, and set the barn mailbox on it a few months ago.
The new mailbox was cute, but it didn’t inspire him to want to walk all the way out there any more than he had before.
“Thanks for retrieving this for me,” Sam said as Kutter kept step with him.
His cousin was full of so much energy that it fairly pulsed off him. Sam remembered a time when he’d been the same way. Now, the only thing pulsing off him, besides an aged-and-old-before-his-time feeling, was a strong stay-away-and-leave-me-alone vibe.
Thankfully, Kutter chose to ignore it.
Sam’s dog, Leroy, scrambled down the porch steps and rushed out to greet them, tail wagging so hard his whole back end swayed like a pendulum. Kutter had been the one to bring Leroy to Sam, insisting he needed a companion. The dog was an Australian cattle dog mixed with goodness only knew what. Kutter had adopted him from a pet rescue facility. From what little was known about him, Leroy had been a stray someone had picked up on the beach and brought home. The girl, just out of college, lived in a small apartment that didn’t give the lively dog enough room to work off his energy.
Sam had plenty of space for Leroy to run. When he wasn’t chasing birds or squirrels, or tormenting the owl in the big oak tree, he enjoyed a rousing game of catch the stick.
It amazed Sam how much joy the dog brought to him. Kutter had been right in that Sam needed the canine’s companionship, but he would never admit that to his cousin. He’d spend the whole time he was there gloating.
After they both gave Leroy enough attention that he licked their fingers and then loped off behind the barn to find something to chase, Sam turned to Kutter with a look of challenge.
“Race you to the house.”
Kutter narrowed his gaze. “And what physically impossible feats do you have planned for me if I agree?”
“You hop backward on your left foot.”
Kutter shook his head. “You know I’m still recovering from that stupid bull stomping all over it back in February.”
“Okay. How about your right?”
Kutter turned around and faced Sam. “You’re on.”
Sam watched as Kutter started hopping backward on one foot, laughing as his cousin flailed his arms when he tripped over the edge of a flower bed. “Those are some moves, Kutter. You show those off on the dance floor?”
Kutter glowered at him but kept hopping. “Very funny, Sam. Why don’t you go with me to one of the rodeo after-parties and find out.”
“Nope. I don’t need that kind of attention.” Sam decided he might actually beat Kutter if he hustled just a little. He kicked his limping gait into high gear and made it to the back door ahead of Kutter, but only because his cousin tripped over the garden hose and sprawled backward across the porch steps.
“Next time, I’m adding some stipulations of my own for one of your legendary foot races.” Kutter accepted the hand Sam held out to him and rose to his feet, then followed him inside the house.
It wasn’t yet hot enough to have the air conditioning running, so fresh, fragrant breezes blew through open windows, scenting the house with the green aroma of spring.
In the kitchen, after washing their hands, Kutter moved back and forth between the stove, counter, and refrigerator while Sam cut up vegetables for a salad and buttered soft breadsticks after they’d warmed in the oven.
When they sat down to eat, Kutter bowed his head and offered a blessing on the meal. Sam added his “amen,” and they dove into the food.
The lasagna wasn’t homemade, but it tasted decent. With the fresh salad and warm bread, it made a filling meal.
“This is good stuff, man. Almost as tasty as what Brenda makes.” Kutter shoveled in another bite, then began talking about his work for the stock contractor based out of Twin Falls, Idaho, his upcoming schedule through July, and his plans to purchase another mare for the bucking horse stock business he was hoping to build up from scratch.
While Kutter spoke, Sam let his mind drift to the days when he and Kutter used to ride wild broncs just for fun. Everything had seemed like a game then when he was young and reckless with nary a care in the world.
“What about you?” Kutter asked, drawing Sam from his thoughts and back to the moment.
“What about me?” Sam asked, breaking the last breadstick in half and giving the larger portion to Kutter.
His cousin nodded his thanks, then pointed the breadstick at him. “What are you working on? Do you have any big orders coming up?”
“I have a few. The star I’m making is one of a dozen that will ship to a family in Virginia for their Christmas tree. The center of each star will have a family member’s name etched across a banner. I need to make some generic ornaments to have on hand, and I’ve got an order from a museum in The Dalles that wants me to create three dozen Victorian candle clips, you know, the kind that holds candles on tree branches.”
“Really? That’s cool.” Kutter shoved the final piece of breadstick in his mouth. “Did you finish that tree stand you were working on last time I was here?”
Sam nodded. The cast iron stand had been a challenge for him to recreate from a photograph of a German tree stand that had been used by someone’s long-ago relative in the mid-1800s. Since the customer was willing to pay the price Sam had asked, he happily took on the work. In the process of creating the piece, he was able to make a mold that he could use to make tree stands in the future. He thought of asking Jaylyn Smith at Holly Crest Tree Farm if she’d be interested in carrying a few but decided the price was probably a bit prohibitive for most of her shoppers.
“I appreciated your help with that, man. I’d probably still be trying to finish it if you hadn’t happened along that day.” Sam never said the words, but he hoped Kutter knew how much he appreciated him and all he did to help. Even if it was just a phone call to check on him, it brightened Sam’s day to know someone cared. That someone was thinking of him.
Sam knew he was terrible about keeping in touch. He could vow to do better, but he never made promises he wouldn’t keep. As much as he enjoyed his cousins, he just wouldn’t ever be the one reaching out to them. It was no longer in his nature to be social and friendly.
Recluse. Grump. Curmudgeon. They were the words more likely to describe him.
“If I’m home and you need help, all you have to do is ask, Sam. Even when I’m not here, Brenda and Brad are always willing to lend a hand.”
Sam nodded, knowing Kutter spoke the truth. Kutter, his sister, and his brother-in-law would drop everything and come to his aid if he needed it. Thankfully, he hadn’t needed anyone’s help for a while. There were days he’d wondered if he’d ever be able to do anything for himself. But that terrible time was in the past, and he planned to keep it there.
“I know, man. Thank you,” Sam said, giving Kutter an appreciative nod, then getting up and retrieving a box of gourmet cookies and a carton of ice cream.
As soon as Sam set the box on the table, Kutter fished out two cookies.
“These cookies are so good,” Kutter said around the huge bite he took. “I’m starting to think you keep these in hopes I’ll drop by to visit and eat them all for you.”
Sam chuckled. “Hardly, you pig. I wouldn’t share them at all, but you look like you might wither away if someone doesn’t feed you.” Kutter was an inch or two shorter than Sam, but he was brawny with wide shoulders, a broad chest, and muscled legs that looked as solid as tree trunks.
Kutter snorted at the absurdity of Sam’s statement, then choked on the cookie crumbs that he’d apparently inhaled down his windpipe. He coughed into his napkin, eyes watering, then gulped half a glass of water. “You shouldn’t joke like that, dude. You might kill someone, you know.”
“Doubtful, but it was entertaining to watch you.” Sam held out another cookie toward Kutter. “How about a repeat performance?”
“No thanks, but I’ll take the cookie.”
“Glutton,” Sam muttered, and they both chuckled as they ate cookies and ice cream.
Kutter helped him with the dishes. He was putting away the oven mitts they’d used when he accidentally knocked the mail off the counter where Sam had left it.
“What’s this?” Kutter asked, holding up a floral envelope addressed to Sam in a decidedly feminine hand. He brought it to his nose and sniffed, then sniffed again. “She’s blonde, petite, smart, and old-fashioned.”
Sam yanked the envelope from his cousin’s hand. “You can tell all that from sniffing an envelope that likely smells more like the corn chips the mail carrier snacks on than perfume?”
Kutter wrinkled his nose in disgust and tossed the rest of the mail on the counter. “Who’s the girl?”
“I have no idea,” Sam said, glancing at the unfamiliar return address. “I don’t know anyone named Esposito. Do you?”
Kutter shook his head. “Open it up and see what she has to say.”
Like a proverbial dog with a bone, Kutter wouldn’t let something go once he latched onto an idea. Sam sank onto a chair at the table, carefully slit open the envelope, and withdrew a letter written in a flowing script that did, in fact, carry a hint of flowery perfume.
The woman who’d penned the letter had to be one of very few people who still used cursive writing. Was that even something that was taught in school anymore? Penmanship used to be a thing. He had a feeling it was now just another memory swallowed by the past.
Kutter moved so he could stand behind Sam’s chair and read over his shoulder.
As Sam read the note, his heart began a rapid descent before it felt like it splattered on the floor beneath his chair. He rocked back in his seat and felt Kutter’s hand grip his shoulder.
“Oh, man. That poor woman. That poor kid.” Kutter sank onto the chair next to him. “You’ll make the ornament for her, won’t you?”
Sam was still trying to wrap his head around one so young facing death. He’d faced it when he’d had twenty more years of living under his belt. Reminders like this one still took him back to the terrifying moments when he had teetered on the precipice of losing his tenuous hold on life.
“Sam? You’ll do the ornament, won’t you?”
Unable to speak around the lump in his throat, Sam hesitated to agree. He only took on projects he knew he could do and do well. He had no idea what a praxinoscope was, much less how to make it into a tree ornament.
“Sam?” Kutter gripped his shoulder again. “You wouldn’t seriously tell her no, would you?”
“I don’t know, Kutter,” he replied with honesty. “It will all depend on what this thing is that she wants and if I can create it. I make ornaments, not work magic.”
Kutter grinned and pulled his phone from his pocket. “Nearly the same thing. After working with Lyra Nicholas on her Christmas books, you should have an in with Santa since she is the world’s current expert on all things Santa. Maybe he can send some magic your way.”
After tapping a few keys on his phone, Kutter held it out to Sam. The two of them watched a video of an antique praxinoscope. The animation device, invented in the late 1870s, used a strip of images placed around the inner surface of a spinning cylinder. In the center, mirrors reflected the images as a wheel turned. Anyone looking in the mirrors would see the images in rapid succession, making it seem as though the images were in motion.
“Dude, you can totally make this. I bet there are diagrams or something online.” Kutter pulled up another video, and they watched it while Sam tried to think through the possibility of recreating the piece in the size of an ornament.
The praxinoscope was something he could construct. He just wasn’t sure he could make it well enough to satisfy his need for everything he crafted to be as close to perfect as humanly possible.
“I need to think about it before I get back to her.”
Kutter frowned. “But what about the kid, Sam? Do it for him, if for no other reason. He won’t care if it is absolutely perfect or not.”
Sam scowled, annoyed his cousin knew him so well. “I’ll think about it.”
“You need to do more than think about it. You need to make this. Mrs. Esposito sounds a little desperate, and no one with a heart beating in their chest could just brush aside her request.” Kutter stood and tucked his phone back into his pocket. “You might attempt to act otherwise, but there is still a heart beating beneath that crusty exterior, bro.”
“Thanks, I think,” Sam said as he pushed up from the table.
Kutter moved slowly toward the door so he could keep up with him.
“Promise you’ll think about making that thing?”
Sam nodded. “I promise I’ll consider it.”
Kutter grinned. “Good. Stay out of trouble until I can make it back, and for gosh sakes, remember to charge your phone once in a while. What if you had an emergency?”
“I still have the landline for my business calls.”
“And why didn’t I know this before? It would have saved me driving all the way over here from the ranch.” Then Kutter winked at him. His cousin was well aware of the landline. Sam knew the man just liked to check up on him from time to time.
Sam went along with Kutter’s game of feigned ignorance. “But then, who would eat all my food, tell me what I need to do, and add so much bossiness to my day?”
A chuckle rolled out of Kutter, and he gave Sam a brotherly hug. “Take care, man.”
“You do the same.”
Sam stood in the doorway watching Kutter walk back out to his pickup. Leroy raced up the porch steps and plopped down at his feet, giving him a happy doggy grin.
With a hand stroking the dog’s head, Sam lifted his other and waved as his cousin left. Leroy followed him inside to the room Sam used for his office. He turned on the computer, sank into the comfy chair, and couldn’t help a sigh that escaped as he stretched out his damaged leg. It had been throbbing ever since he’d walked back to the house, but he didn’t want Kutter to know.
Leroy flopped onto the dog bed Sam kept at the end of his desk and blew out a puff of air before he closed his eyes and went to sleep, snoring loudly.
Amused by his goofy pet, Sam typed in the word praxinoscope and started diving into the research he’d need to do to make an educated decision about the ornament.
As he searched, he couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Esposito and her little boy and found himself saying a prayer for both of them.