It’s a winter of joy on Christmas Street . . .
Jack is one lucky dog, adopted by the families of every house on Christmas Street. Or is it the other way around? For Sam, a widower recently returned to London, Jack is Christmas Street’s unofficial welcoming committee. For Sam’s young son, Teddy, the small, scruffy mutt is a much-needed friend.
But Christmas Street isn’t what it used to be. Just ask Bill, the street’s oldest, grumpiest resident. He remembers when everyone knew and looked out for each other. Now, people live side by side, scarcely interacting.
As Sam and Teddy settle in, Jack’s four-legged charm brings the neighbors of Christmas Street closer together. And with the season’s first snow comes a sense of new beginnings. But it will take a small act of kindness to transform Christmas Street into a wonderland of lasting memories . . .
“Heartwarmingly festive—if only all streets were like Christmas Street!”
—Ali McNamara, author of The Summer of Serendipity
“Jack the dog will melt your heart. A great book for by the fire.”
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Ivy Pembroke is a law professor who specializes in copyright and trademark law, with a focus on fanfiction. She splits her time between Mississippi and her home state of Rhode Island.
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THREE-BEDROOM MID-TERRACE HOUSE FOR SALE
A delightful three-bedroom, three-story house with many original features and a bright and airy reception. The kitchen/dining area provides access to a private garden planted with shrubbery. Upstairs contains three bedrooms and a main bathroom off the landing. A lovely family home situated on a quiet and charming residential street, close to transport links.
When Bill Hammersley first moved to Christmas Street, it was full of tidy, well-kept, quiet houses where everybody knew each other. Where, more importantly, everybody understood each other. Everybody spoke the same language and worked in the same places and ate the same things and listened to the same music. Nobody drove down the street with obnoxious music blaring or wanted to put up weirdly patterned curtains in the windows. Everybody kept neat gardens with beautiful roses and exchanged pleasantries and shared cups of sugar or milk when necessary. It was only friendly.
Bill had no idea if any of the people around him would have sugar or milk these days, if he were to ask them. Lord only knew what these people considered food. They would have weird spices Bill had never heard of before, or maybe some kind of "organic" sugar — like normal sugar hadn't been good enough all those years — or milk that came from nuts. As if nuts could produce milk. Any idiot could look at a nut and see that there was no way milk was coming out of it. The world had gone absolutely mad all around him.
The flamingo, though. The flamingo was the last straw.
Bill told Jack as much. "Would you look at that plastic flamingo? Where do they think this is? Have you ever seen a flamingo round here? I mean, things have changed around here — Lord knows things have changed — but they haven't changed that much, Jack. Not yet. Have they?"
Jack wagged his tail.
"You're right," Bill sighed. "Maybe they have changed that much." He scratched Jack behind the ears as a reward for Jack's steady wisdom. As far as Bill could tell, Jack was the most intelligent neighbor he had these days. Certainly Jack didn't have teenagers traipsing through everybody's gardens as if they owned all of them, and maybe he went running along the street sometimes in pursuit of a squirrel or two, but he didn't carry a weird sludgy green drink while he did it. Jack had water after a run. Water had always been good enough after a run. Nothing natural about a green drink.
In the house next door, where the offending flamingo had been erected, a family was moving in: a man, a woman, a little boy. It was the little boy who had stuck the flamingo right in the middle of Dolores's prized rosebushes. As if a flamingo should be in a proper British garden in the middle of beautiful heritage roses. As if it made any sense at all for that flamingo to be the first thing to be unpacked.
"As if it hasn't been enough that we've had to deal with all the hammering going on over there," Bill said to Jack, "all the strangers in and out of the street. You've had to keep an eye on all of them and you've been tip-top at it, but that's not the point, is it? The point is people these days just can't be happy with the way things are."
Bill warmed to his topic and Jack looked receptive to Bill's pronouncements. "No, people these days, before they move into a place they have to knock everything down and then replace it all with plastic flamingos. A fake pink bird, right there in the front garden, right there in the middle of Dolores's roses." Bill jabbed a finger toward Dolores's roses, in front of which were standing people who were not Dolores. The new neighbors. New new neighbors, because Dolores hadn't lived in that house for years now, having sold it to Jack's former owners, who in turn had sold it again, because nobody could ever stay put these days. More new people. There were just so many new people these days.
Bill lowered his finger and regarded the new neighbors, sighing again. "Remember when this place felt like home instead of ... a place belonging to someone else? I almost forget what that felt like."
Jack wagged his tail.
Which made Bill think. "You're right," he agreed, shaking his head briskly. "No need to sit here moping. When did moping ever accomplish anything?"
* * *
Jack followed behind Bill as he walked across to where one of the new neighbors was struggling with another box.
"You're not lifting that correctly," Bill barked at the man, because really, people these days knew nothing. "You need to lift from your knees, don't you know that?"
The man gave up struggling with the box, straightening and pushing his floppy hair off his forehead. If he cut his hair shorter, he wouldn't have to worry about that, thought Bill.
The man said, "Yeah, you're right, I'm tempting fate." He smiled easily, and then he held out his hand. "I'm Sam."
"So, the flamingo." Bill ignored the hand in favor of pointing to the flamingo, in case this new neighbor named Sam was too daft to know what Bill was referring to.
The man glanced at it. "Oh. Yeah. Bob."
Bill blinked at him. He had not expected that reaction. "What?"
"The flamingo's name is Bob."
Bill boggled. Blimey, he was gaining lunatics for neighbors.
"Hello there, buddy," said the new neighbor.
Bill turned back from staring at the flamingo to find that Sam had crouched down and was scratching behind Jack's ears, just the way Jack liked. Jack was wagging his tail, but Bill understood that. Jack had to infiltrate all of the barmy neighbors in order to keep a closer eye on them. Bill approved of this solid strategy.
"You made an awful lot of racket over here, you know," said Bill, because he didn't want Sam to think that had been acceptable. "Constant hammering. Could barely hear my telly over them banging away on the lounge wall hanging all of your modern art or whatever it was."
"The electrics had to be fixed," Sam said. "They were a fire hazard."
Like that was an explanation. Bill scoffed, "The old electrics weren't good enough for you? It was never a fire hazard in the old days."
Sam said, "And there was damp in the bedrooms, so we had to take care of that."
"Damp. A little damp never killed anyone."
"It can make you really sick," said Sam.
"You lot don't even know what 'really sick' is," said Bill. "In my day, a little thing like damp didn't stop us. Where are you moving here from?"
"America," said Sam.
"Oh," said Bill. "Well, that explains that. Try to remember to drive on the proper side of the road." Bill decided that was all he needed to say, turning on his heel and marching determinedly back to his house.
"I'm from here originally," Sam called after him.
As if living in America for however many years didn't have an effect on that.
Bill, back in his kitchen, decided to make a cuppa and looked for Jack to see if he might want a biscuit. He was mildly surprised to find that Jack wasn't anywhere in the house, but he supposed it was only wise for Jack to perform reconnaissance on the new lot next door. Couldn't be too careful.
* * *
Teddy Bishop was not sitting in the back garden by choice. But choice was not a big part of Teddy's life these days. Teddy wasn't even in this country by choice.
Inside, Dad and Aunt Ellen were stacking a stupid amount of boxes and pretending like unpacking was going to be easy and Teddy hadn't even wanted to move here in the first place, so he wasn't interested in helping with any of that. So he was in the back garden.
The problem was he wasn't interested in the back garden, either. He didn't think anything about it was a "garden." It was small and messy. A lot of it had been paved. At the back was a tiny amount of grass definitely not big enough to play baseball on, and a few ugly bushes, and a single stupid tree. And on either side were high fences separating it from the houses right next door. This "garden" was basically a cage.
There was shouting from the yard next door, someone calling for someone a couple of times and then a resulting whining Mum in response and then a door slamming shut somewhere.
Teddy got up to investigate, just to see, but he could barely see anything at all from peering through the fence.
And then he turned from the fence to find a dog sitting in the spot he had just vacated. It came up about as high as Teddy's waist, and was slightly shaggy, with floppy ears and mostly black fur except for white along its chest and stomach.
"Who are you?" Teddy asked without thinking, and then realized the dog wasn't going to answer him.
The dog didn't answer him. It just stood up and wagged its tail.
Teddy walked over to it and looked at it and wondered if it was going to bite him.
It didn't look like it was going to bite him.
Teddy reached a hand out cautiously and patted the dog's head. It wagged its tail more furiously.
Teddy realized he was smiling and admitted, "Well. I guess you're not so bad."
The dog tipped its head so it could lick Teddy's hand.
"Everything else here is stupid, though," Teddy said, just to make sure the dog understood that. "Like that stupid tree. I don't even think that tree is big enough for a treehouse. Mom built me such a great treehouse back home. We couldn't build one in that tree even if Dad wasn't totally useless when it comes to that stuff."
The dog nudged its head against Teddy's hand, and Teddy realized he'd stopped petting it, so he started up again.
He looked down at this strange dog in this strange place and thought about how he didn't know anyone or anything — not the people next door, not this dog in his very own garden, not even what the view from one of the upper tree branches looked like — and he said, because the dog was easy to talk to and it wasn't like Teddy had anyone else around, "Everything just keeps changing. I don't know why things have to keep changing. Why can't things just ... stay the same? I really liked the way things were, but I couldn't keep it that way. Everything had to change. And I just don't get why."
The dog whined a little, as if to say, I don't know why things can't stay the same, either.
Teddy sighed. It would be nice if strange British dogs had answers to questions like that. But Teddy was pretty sure no one had answers to questions like that. He'd learned that a while ago.
"I just miss having a place that feels like home," Teddy confessed to the dog. "Instead of a place that ... belongs to other people. I almost forget what that felt like."
The dog put its head on Teddy's knee.
And then the dog lifted its head and barked at a squirrel leaping from one tree to the next.
And then the dog put its head back down.
* * *
Sam Bishop watched his new neighbor walk back to the house next door. He walked with the careful gingerness of someone his age, which Sam estimated to be nearing eighty. But he kept his shoulders back and his head high in a way that Sam recognized as being pride and stubbornness all wrapped up in a crotchety package.
"That went well," remarked Sam to Bob the flamingo.
Who neither agreed nor disagreed. That was the thing about Bob: very nonjudgmental. In comparison to new neighbors, for instance.
Sam lifted the box the wrong way and struggled his way through the entrance hall and all the way back to the kitchen. They'd already filled the front rooms with boxes, and they were well on their way to filling the kitchen, too. Sam was beginning to question all of his life choices, especially the decision to move across an ocean. Even if this place across the ocean had been his original home.
His sister Ellen was perched on the kitchen counter eating crisps, which was not exactly the most helpful thing she could have been doing.
Sam put the box down on the counter next to her and said, "I have met one of the neighbors."
"Excellent. Did you make a good impression?"
"He doesn't approve of Bob."
"How sad for Bob," said Ellen. "Who's Bob?"
"The flamingo's name is Bob?"
Sam ignored her. "He doesn't approve of my replacing the electrics and he thinks I should have a heartier constitution when it comes to damp."
"Bob the flamingo?"
Sam scowled and stole some crisps from her in punishment. "No, my new neighbor. He wanted to know why I had workmen in here making a racket."
Ellen snorted. "I guess that throws a spanner in the works. How will you throw wild parties now?"
"I think my eight-year-old son is probably a bigger spanner with regard to wild parties than my crotchety old neighbor," said Sam.
"I can babysit your eight-year-old son, though," Ellen pointed out. "But I probably won't be babysitting your neighbor. You might have to just invite him to the parties. If he's a guest at the party, he can't complain about it."
"Something tells me he'd find a way to complain about anything," remarked Sam drily.
"Ah, he was that sort?" said Ellen knowingly.
"Yes. So." Sam put his hands on the small of his back and leaned back just a bit and refused to acknowledge that maybe his back was starting to bother him from carrying boxes wrong. "Just a few more boxes and we'll be done." He was fantasizing about being done lugging in the boxes. Of course, that then meant he was going to have to unpack all of the boxes. But in between he was going to have a few pints.
"Are you sure?" said Ellen. "I thought we'd never reach the end. I thought the boxes would keep multiplying endlessly. Have you introduced effective box birth control? Handed out moving-box condoms?"
"Do you hear the level of nonsense that comes out of your mouth?" asked Sam.
"No," said Ellen seriously. "I am a constant surprise to myself."
Sam laughed, because sometimes you couldn't help but laugh at Ellen.
Ellen responded by dropping the packet of crisps to take his hand and say earnestly, "I want to say something completely clichÃ©d, but I mean it, from the bottom of my loving big sister heart. And this is not nonsense."
Sam braced himself, regarding Ellen warily. "This can't be good. ..."
Ellen's blue eyes were solemn and inescapable. "She would have wanted you to find someone, Sam. She wouldn't have wanted you to live your life in some lonely, perpetual memorial for her."
"That's not what I'm doing," Sam denied. "I packed everything up and moved an entire ocean away. Nothing in England is a memorial to Sara."
"Except her plastic flamingo Bob. Literally the only thing you knew the location of in this sea of boxes." Ellen nudged a box at her feet with one trainer-clad toe, as if that proved her point.
"That was for Teddy," Sam defended himself. "I wanted to make sure he had something here right away that would make it feel like home."
"She wouldn't want you to be alone, Sam."
"I am not alone. I have Teddy. I have you now, as dubious a circumstance as that might turn out to be. I have your girls."
"None of that is what I'm talking about," said Ellen, "and you know it."
"Trust me, Ellen, I know precious little these days. I just made my little boy leave every single familiar thing in his life to come live in a completely different country where he doesn't know anyone or anything."
"He knows the girls and me," said Ellen.
"And none of that is what I'm talking about," said Sam, echoing her words, "and you know it."
Ellen, after a moment of studying him, said, "You did it with the best of intentions, Sam."
"Standing in the middle of a sea of boxes with a child outside who's barely speaking to me, it's hard to remember what those were," said Sam, and hated that he said it, because it sounded so pathetic.
But Sam had forgotten, in all the years he had lived in the States: you could be pathetic in front of your big sister. Ellen just slid off the counter and pulled him into a hug and Sam was not in a mood capable of refusing a hug. He squeezed a little tighter and thought how this was part of the reason he was here in the first place: to have someone around who gave him a moment to be the huggee instead of the hugger. Sam had moved Teddy and himself home for a lot of reasons, but right now this seemed like a most vitally important one.
Ellen said, "You're a good dad — I know you know that. You're just having a moment. But you are a really good dad, and he loves you a lot, and he's going to be okay. He's resilient."
"Yeah," Sam said. "I've noticed." Sam really wished he hadn't had cause to notice how resilient his son was.
"He'll make friends and he'll get settled and he'll be fine."
"Yeah," Sam said, and took a deep breath. "Yeah, you're right." He released Ellen from the hug and went to turn back to the all-consuming task of moving.
Except that Ellen took his arm and said, "Wait, I have one more really important thing to tell you," and pulled him back into the hug. "You're going to be okay, too," she said.
And Sam would not have said that he'd needed to hear that out loud — Sam would have said, in fact, that he'd been okay for a very long time now — but he suddenly found himself so very grateful that Ellen was there.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "A Dog Called Jack"
Copyright © 2017 Ivy Pembroke.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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