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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 6, 2011. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
In A Thousand Tomorrows, Cody Gunner, a talented but angry cowboy, meets Ali Daniels, a lovely and mysterious barrel-racer. The two are national champions, top of their game, alone and intent on staying that way. Cody has rejected everything about his past, and only has room for his little brother, Carl Joseph, born with Down Syndrome. Ali embraces life, making the most of every moment because of a secret she keeps hidden from the public, connecting her with a sister who died before she had a chance to live. Before their paths intersect, competing is all they need, but what fears must they face if together they ignite a love that burns brighter than both of them?
In Just Beyond the Clouds, Cody is nursing a broken heart over the death of the love of his life, when he meets Elle Dalton, Carl Joseph's teacher. Cody can't bear the thought of losing his little brother, too, so when Elle begins championing Carl Joseph's independence, she finds herself at odds with Cody. But even while they battle it out, they can't deny the instinctive connection they share, and Cody faces a crisis of the heart. What if Elle is the one woman who can teach Cody that love is still possible?
In the brand-new omnibus edition, Karen Kingsbury's continuing story of devotion, tragedy, and renewal, comes to life, teaching that while love often causes the heart to break, it's also the only thing that can mend it again.
Table of Contents
A Thousand Tomorrows
Donald, my Prince Charming: The dance is a beautiful one; I only wish the music would play forever.
Kelsey, my forever laughter: Thanks for letting me into the most tender places of your heart.
Tyler, my sweetest song: When the spotlight hits you, honey, your dad and I will be there in the front row.
Sean, my silly heart: It feels like you've been in my heart forever.
Josh, my gentle giant: Our plan was two adopted Haitian boys; God's plan was three. I'm so glad He brought you to us.
EJ, my chosen one: Watching you come into your own, growing and stretching with the years, has been one of my greatest blessings.
Austin, my miracle boy: Your days are speeding by, precious youngest child. I can't slow the march of time, but you remind me I can savor every beat.
And to God Almighty, the Author of Life, who has—for now—blessed me with these.
Novels do not come together without a great deal of help. For that reason, I'd like to thank several people who helped make A Thousand Tomorrows possible.
First, a special thanks to Maureen Egen and Rolf Zettersten for taking me under your wing at Center Street and believing that maybe the whole world needed to know about this story. Your encouragement and faith in me have made all the difference. I appreciate you more than you know. Also, a thanks to my other friends at Center Street, especially my editor, Leslie Peterson, and my publicist, Andrea Davis. You are amazing in the way you think outside the box. I'm grateful beyond measure to be working with you.
Also, thanks to the people who helped lend credibility to this novel. A year ago, I shared a cross-country airplane ride with professional bull rider Ross Coleman. That four-hour conversation became the inspiration for Cody Gunner, the main character in A Thousand Tomorrows. Since that conversation, Ross Coleman and his family, along with dozens of rodeo competitors, cowboys, and professional bull riders including the all-time great Tuff Hedeman, helped make the world of rodeo real to me, and for that I am grateful. You lent accuracy to this story; any errors in detail are mine.
In addition, a thanks to those who shared their cystic fibrosis stories and information. I join you in praying for a cure for this disease, and for believing that in time research and funding will continue to add tomorrows every day.
Thank you to my family, especially Donald and the kids, who don't mind tuna sandwiches and quesadillas two weeks straight when I'm on deadline. You're the best support system I could ever have! Thanks also to my mother, Anne Kingsbury, who is my assistant and best friend. And a thanks to my dad, Ted Kingsbury, who continues to be my greatest encourager.
In addition I'd like to thank my friends and family who surround me with love and prayer and encouragement, especially Susan Kane, Trish Kingsbury, Lynne Groten, Ann Hudson, Sylvia Wallgren, Sonya Fitzpatrick, Teresa Thacker, Kathy Santschi, Melinda Chapman, Christine Wessel, Vicki and Randy Graves, Marcia Bender, and so many others.
A special thanks to my agent, Rick Christian, at Alive Communications. You are brilliant at all you do, acting in so many roles as you lead me in this writing adventure. You care deeply about my career, but more than that, you care about me in my role as a wife and mother. Thanks for working out the details with that in mind. You're amazing, and I'm the most thankful author in the world to be working with you.
Mary Williams never saw it coming.
She became Mike Gunner's wife the summer of 1972, back when love was all the world needed, big enough to solve any problem. So big no one imagined it might end or die or drop off suddenly the way the muddy Mississippi River did ten yards out.
The wedding was small, held on a hillside in Oxford not far from Ole Miss, a stone's throw from the grassy football field where Mike had been king. Marriage, they told themselves, wouldn't mean losing their independence. They were just adding another layer to their relationship, something more diverse, more complex. As a reminder, during the ceremony they each held something that symbolized themselves—Mary, a book of poetry; Mike, a football.
Looking back that should've been a sign, because football was Mike's first love, and what sort of man could be married to two lovers? But at the time—with half the guests in flowing tie-dyed gowns and flower wreaths—holding a football and a book of poetry seemed hip and new, a spit in the face of tradition and marital bondage. No three-piece suits and starched aprons for Mike and Mary.
Mike had an NFL contract with the Atlanta Falcons, and a pretty new house a few miles from the stadium. Mary was a runaway, so leaving Biloxi meant cutting ties that were already frayed. They would live as one, him in a Falcons uniform, her with a pen and paper, ready to capture the deep phrases and rhymes that grew in the soil of her heart.
Babies? They would wait five years at least. Maybe ten. She was only nineteen, a child herself. Marriage would mean finding new and heightened ways to love each other. Sundays cheering from the stands while her husband blazed a trail down the football field, and lazy Tuesdays, barefoot and sipping coffee while she recited to him her latest creation.
That was the plan, anyway.
But God didn't get the memo, because Mary was pregnant three months later and gave birth to a baby boy shortly before their first anniversary. Cody William Gunner, they called him. Little Codester. Mary put away the pen and paper and bought a rocking chair. She spent her days and most nights walking a crying baby, heating up bottles, and changing diapers.
"Sorry I'm not around more," Mike told her. He wasn't used to babies. Besides, if he wanted to keep up, he needed more time at the field house, more reps with the weights, more hours on the track.
Mary told him she didn't mind, and the funny thing was, she really didn't. Life was good at home. Mike was happy about being a father, because Cody was all boy from the moment he was born. His first word was ball, and Mike bought him a pair of running shoes months before he could walk.
The years that followed were a blur of vibrant reds and happy yellows. Mike was coming into his own, each season showing him faster, more proficient at catching the long bomb. There had been no warning, no sign that life was about to fall apart.
In the spring of 1978, when Cody was nearly five, Mary learned she was expecting again. Still, it wasn't the coming baby, but a bad catch one October Sunday that changed everything. Mike was all alone, ten yards away from the nearest defender, when he reached for the sky, grabbed the ball and came down at an angle that buckled his knees.
A torn anterior ligament, the hospital report showed. Surgery was scheduled; crutches were ordered. "You'll miss a season," the doctor told him. "To be honest, I'm not sure you'll ever run the same again."
Six weeks later Mary gave birth to Carl Joseph.
From the beginning, Carl was different. He didn't cry the way Cody had, and he slept more than usual. His fussiest moments were during feeding time, when milk from the bottle would leak out his nose while he was eating, causing him to choke and sputter and cough.
Mike would look at him and get nervous. "Why's he doing that?"
"I'm not sure." Mary kept a burp rag close by, dabbing at the baby's nose and convincing herself nothing was wrong. "At least he isn't crying."
Either way, Mike wanted to be gone. As soon as he could, he got back in the training room, working harder than ever to make the knee well again. By the next fall, he was cleared to play, but he was more than a second slower in the forty.
"We'll try you at special teams, Gunner," the coach told him. "You've got to get your times down if you want your spot back."
His future suddenly as shaky as his left knee, Mike began staying out with the guys after games, drinking and coming home with a strange, distant look in his eyes. By the time Carl Joseph was two, Mike was cut from the Falcons. Cut without so much as a thank you or a good-luck card.
By then they knew the truth about Carl Joseph.
Their second son had Down syndrome. His condition came with a host of problems, feeding issues, developmental and speech delays. One morning Mary sat Mike down at the breakfast table.
"You never talk about Carl Joseph." She put her hands on her hips. "You act like he has the flu or something."
Mike shrugged. "We'll get him therapy; he'll be fine."
"He won't be fine, Mike." She heard a crack in her voice. "He'll be this way forever. He'll live with us forever."
It was that last part that caught Mike's attention. He said nothing significant at the time, nothing Mary could remember. But that summer, he was gone more than he was home. Always his story was the same. He was traveling the country looking for a tryout, getting a few weeks' look in one city and then another, working out with a handful of teams, trying to convince coaches he hadn't lost a step, hadn't done anything but get stronger since his injury.
But one weekend morning, when Mike was still asleep in their bedroom, Mary found a Polaroid picture in his duffle bag. It was of him in a bar surrounded by three girls, one on each knee, one draped over his shoulder.
When Mike woke up, Mary was in the kitchen ready to confront him. He would have to stop traveling, stop believing his next contract was a tryout away. Bars would be a thing of the past, because she needed him at home, helping out with the boys. Money was running out. If football had nothing more to offer, he needed to find a job, some other way to support them. She had her speech memorized, but it was all for nothing.
He took control of the conversation from the moment he found her at the kitchen table.
"This…" He tossed his hands and let them fall limp at his sides. His eyes were bloodshot. "This isn't what I want anymore."
"What?" She held up the Polaroid. "You mean this?"
Anger flashed in his eyes. He snatched the picture from her, crumpled it, and slammed it into the trash can. The look he gave her was cold, indifferent. He gritted his teeth. "What I do outside this house is my business."
She opened her mouth, but before she could tell him he was wrong, he slid his wedding ring from his left hand and dropped it on the table between them.
"It's over, Mary. I don't love you anymore."
Carl's cry sounded from upstairs. Slow and monotone, the cry of a child who would always be different. Mary looked up, following the sound. Then she found Mike's eyes again. "This isn't about me." She kept her tone calm, gentle. "It's about you."
A loud breath escaped his lips. "It's not about me."
"It is." She sat back, her eyes never leaving his. "You were on top of the world before you got hurt; now you're out of work and afraid." Compassion found a place in her voice. "Let's pull together, Mike." She stood, picked up his ring, and held it out to him. "Let me help you."
Carl's crying grew louder.
Mike closed his eyes. "I can't…" His words were a tortured whisper. "I can't stay here. I can't be a father to him, Mary. Every time I look at him, I… I can't do it."
Mary felt the blood drain from her face and the cheap linoleum turn liquid beneath her feet. What had he said? This was about Carl Joseph? Precious Carl, who never did anything but smile at Mike and long to be held by him?
Mary's scalp tingled, and the hairs on her arms stood straight up. "You're saying you can't stay married to me because of… because of Carl Joseph?"
"Don't say it like that." He pinched the bridge of his nose and hung his head.
Carl's crying grew still louder.
"But that's it, right?" The truth was exploding within her, spraying shrapnel at her heart and soul and leaving scars that would stay forever. "You want out because you can't be a father to Carl Joseph. Or because you're embarrassed by him. Because he's not perfect."
"I'm already packed, Mary. I called a cab; I'm flying to California and starting over. You can have the house; I'll send money when I get a job."
In a small, less important part of her mind, Mary wondered where Cody was, why he was so quiet. But she couldn't act on her curiosity. She was too busy reminding herself to breathe. "You're leaving because your son has Down syndrome? Do you hear yourself, Mike?"
But he was already headed back up the stairs.
When he left the house ten minutes later, he mumbled a single good-bye to no one in particular. Cody came tearing into the entryway from the living room, his eyes wide, forehead creased with worry.
"Dad, wait!" Cody ran out the door, his untied tennis shoes flopping with every step.
Carl Joseph in tow, Mary followed, horrified at the scene playing out. The cab waited out front, and without turning back, Mike helped the driver load both his suitcases into the trunk.
Cody stopped a few feet away, chest heaving. "Dad, where are you going?"
Mike hesitated, his eyes on Cody. "Never mind."
"But Dad—" Cody took a step closer. "When're you coming home?"
"I'm not." He looked at Mary and back at Cody. "This is it, son." Mike moved toward the passenger door. "Be good for your mama, you hear?"
"But Dad… I got a baseball game Friday; you promised you'd be there!" The boy was frantic, his words breathless and clipped. "Dad, don't go!"
Mike opened the door of the cab.
"Wait!" Mary stormed barefoot across the damp grass toward the cab. Carl Joseph stayed behind, rooted in one spot, watching, his thumb in his mouth. Mary jabbed her finger in the air. "You can't leave now, Mike. Your son's talking to you."
"Don't do this, Mary." Mike shot her a warning look. He lowered himself a few inches toward the passenger seat. "I have nothing to say."
"Dad!" Cody looked from Mike to Mary and back again. "What's happening; where're you going?"
Mike bit his lip and gave a curt nod to Cody. "Good-bye, son."
"Fine!" Mary screamed the word, her voice shrill and panicked. "Leave, then." She bent over, her knees shaking. Tears ran in rivers down her face. "Go ahead and leave. But if you go now, don't come back. Not ever!"
"What?" Cody looked desperate and sick, his world spinning out of control. He glared at his mother. "Don't say that, Mom. Don't tell him not to come back!"
Mary's eyes never left Mike's face. "Stay out of this, Cody. If he doesn't want us, he can go." She raised her voice again. "Do you hear me, Mike? Don't come back!"
What happened next would be a part of all their lives as long as morning followed night. Cody's father looked once more at the three of them standing on the lawn, then he climbed into the backseat, shut the door, and the cab pulled away.
"Dad!" Cody screamed his name and took off running.
The sound frightened Carl Joseph. He buried his face in his hands and fell onto his knees, rocking forward and calling out, "Mama… Mama… Mama."
Mary went to him. "Shhh. It's okay." She rubbed his back. Why was this happening? And why hadn't there been any warning? She was dizzy with shock, sick to her stomach and barely able to stand as she watched Cody chase after his father's cab.
Never did the cab slow even a little, but all the while Cody kept running. "Dad! Dad, wait!" Five houses down, seven, ten. "Don't go, Dad! Please!"
Each word hit Mary like a Mack truck. When she couldn't take another minute, she screamed after him, "Cody, get back here!"
But he wouldn't come, wouldn't stop running. All the way to the end of the block, with a speed he'd gotten from his father, he ran until the cab was long gone from sight. Then, for ten minutes, he stood there. A dark-haired eight-year-old boy, standing on the corner staring after a cab that wasn't ever coming back.
In some small way, Mary was almost glad Mike was gone.
Sure, a few hours earlier she'd been willing to fight for their marriage. But that was when she thought things were simpler. She could understand his confusion, what with his football career in limbo.
But to be embarrassed by Carl Joseph?
Carl was her son, a part of her. Because of his disability, he'd never be capable of the kind of low, mean-spirited act his father had just committed. No, Carl would always have a kind, simple heart, but Mike would miss that—the same way he'd missed everything about Carl Joseph since the day he was diagnosed.
Even as she stood there, willing Cody to turn around and come home, not quite believing her marriage was over, she felt her resolve building. There was no loving a man who didn't love his own son. If Mike didn't want to be a father to Carl Joseph, she'd love the boy enough for both of them. She would survive, even if she never heard from Mike Gunner again.
She focused on Cody once more, his little-boy shoulders slumped forward as he waited, facing the empty spot where the cab had disappeared. He was crying, no doubt. She could almost see his smudged, tearstained cheeks and the slack-jawed look on his face. Was he feeling the way she felt? Abandoned? Overcome with despair?
A strange thought hit her, and suddenly fear had the upper hand.
Because the thought was something she hadn't considered until that moment. Yes, she would survive, and certainly Carl Joseph would be okay without Mike. But Cody adored his father; he always had. And if the boy's slumped shoulders were any indication, Cody might not bounce back the way she and Carl would.
Rather, he might never be the same again.
Cody's sides hurt from running.
He dug his fingers into his waist and stared down the empty street. "Dad!" The picture filled his mind again. The cab slowing down, stopping for a minute, then making a gradual left turn. "Dad, come back."
A breeze hit him in the face and he realized he was crying.
"Dad!" Cody gasped, grabbing at any air he could suck in. Why did he leave? Where did he go? Dad took trips all the time, but he always came home. Always. What had he said? He wasn't coming back; was that it? His dad's words rumbled around inside him, making his chest tight, filling his heart and soul and lungs with hurt. Every breath was a struggle.
His dad was gone.
He was gone and there was nothing Cody could do about it. Come back, Dad! The words stayed stuck in his throat this time, and he stared down. Stay, feet. Don't move. He'll come back; he will.
Cody lifted his eyes to the place where the cab had turned. Any second, right? He'd turn around, come back home, tell them all he was sorry for getting so mad, right? Cody waited and waited and waited. And then he remembered the thing his dad had said about Carl Joseph.
I can't be a father to him…
Eight years was plenty old enough for Cody to understand the problem. Carl Joseph was different. He didn't look right or talk right or walk right. He was happy and really good at loving everyone and he almost never got mad, but their dad maybe didn't notice that. That's why, this time, having his dad leave was more serious.
Because he didn't want to be a daddy to Carl Joseph.
Cody stared down the street. Come back, Dad… turn around. He waited and watched for a long, long time.
No movement, no sounds of cars turning around and coming back. No yellow cabs. Just the quiet dance of twisty green leaves above him and the hot summer song of unseen crickets. Or something like crickets.
Later his mother would tell him that she cried for him, standing there all that time, waiting for his father to come back. But after a while, Cody wasn't just standing there waiting; he was swept up in a feeling he'd never known until that day.
It started in his feet, almost as if it were oozing up through the cracked bumpy sidewalk. A burning that flooded his veins and pushed higher, past his knees and thighs, into his gut, where it swirled and mixed and grew until it filled his heart and mind, and finally his soul.
Not until it fully consumed him, not until it took up every spare bit of his young body, did he realize what had come over him, into him.
Cody knew what hate was because of Billy Bloom in his second-grade class. Billy was bigger than everyone else. Bigger and meaner. He tripped kindergartners, and stole the ball from the kickball game at recess, and laughed at Cody when he got a wrong answer in math. Cody hated Billy Bloom.
But what he was feeling now, this was something new, something so powerful it burned in his arms and legs and made him feel heavy and slow and trapped. All the other times Cody had used the word hate, he'd been wrong. Because this—what he felt for his father—was hatred.
CODY NEVER TOLD anyone, but that morning he felt his heart shrivel up and die, all except the piece that belonged to Carl Joseph. His little brother thought Cody was Superman and Christopher Robin all rolled into one. As the weeks passed, every morning was the same routine. Carl Joseph would scamper down the hall to Cody's room, slip inside, and stand next to the bed.
"Brother…" He would pat Cody's shoulder. "It's a new morning."
Cody would stir and blink his eyes and find Carl Joseph there. "Yep, buddy. A brand-new morning."
"Is Daddy coming home today?"
Cody would grit his teeth and sit up some. "Not today, buddy. I don't think so."
For a minute worry would cast shadows on Carl Joseph's face. But then a grin would fill his round cheeks and he'd make a funny chuckling sound. "That's okay, 'cause know why, brother?"
" 'Cause I have you, brother. I always have you."
Cody would hug him around the neck. "That's right, buddy. You always have me."
The two of them were inseparable. Carl Joseph followed him around the house, waiting for him at the front window on school days. He didn't talk as clear as other kids, and he had those puffy bunches of skin under his eyes. But he was the happiest little guy Cody ever saw. He loved with abandon, and after a few months he walked into Cody's room one morning and didn't ask about when Daddy would come home.
That day Carl Joseph worked his way into the deepest part of Cody's heart. He still wasn't sure exactly what was wrong with Carl Joseph, but whatever it was, Cody had a feeling there wouldn't be many people in his little brother's life. If their dad didn't want Carl Joseph, maybe no one would.
No one but Cody. Whatever else happened, Cody would love Carl Joseph, and maybe that was all he'd ever love. He had no use for his mother; she was a grown-up, the only one with the power to keep Cody's father home. Instead, she'd stood right there on the grass and told him to go. Told him to go and never come back.
The rest of that year, Cody would wait until Carl Joseph was asleep, then he'd creep up to his room without saying good night to his mother. He'd lie on the bed and stare at the wall. Sometimes tears would come, sometimes not. Always he would start at the beginning.
Hearing his dad talk to his mom about leaving, about not wanting to be with Carl Joseph. Then seeing his dad with a suitcase and following him out into the front yard and watching him head for the yellow cab.
"Good-bye, son. Good-bye."
The story would run again and again in his head, playing out on the blank wall beside his bed. Almost always his mother would find him there. Most of the time she didn't ask about why Cody went to bed early or why he was lying on his side staring at the wall or why he never told her good night or what he was feeling about his dad being gone.
But once in a while she would try.
Cody remembered one night the next spring when his mom came up to talk to him. She opened the door and took a loud breath. Then she moved a few steps toward him. "I hate that you hide up here, Cody. You're not the only one hurting."
"Yes, I am!" Cody turned over and sat up. His heart skittered around in his chest. "Carl Joseph doesn't remember Daddy."
"I miss him, too." She sat on the edge of his bed. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her voice was tired. "I love him, Cody. It's not my fault he left."
- On Sale
- Jan 6, 2011
- Page Count
- 592 pages
- Center Street