Evan Edwards faces another lonely Christmas in the dorm, so when he chances upon a rain-soaked ad for holiday room and board in exchange for decorating, he wastes no time in driving to the empty home, dreaming of a cozy, if lonely, Christmas.
Across the street, Rise' Larkin is also home from school, and has some bad news for her Dad. As Evan and Rise's friendship deepens, and Christmas nears, Evan discovers he's been decorating the wrong house.
Will this mix-up ruin everything?
Evan left the building. A cold rain splashed in the street. He ran through the freezing deluge to the University quad and found the ride board, notices trying to detach from thumb tacks in the wind.
Christmas Room and Board in Exchange for Holiday decorating in Candle, Tx.
At least he thought that’s what he read. The phone number, the only part of the message not smeared in the rain, might be his holiday salvation. He punched it into his cell and sought cover under the student center awning.
“Yes, hello, I’m calling about the room and board over the holidays? This is Evan Edwards. I’m a music student at East Texas University.”
“Oh, wonderful. Can you climb a ladder? Put up Christmas decorations? Make sure they all stay in working order while we’re away?” The man’s thick French accent seemed cheerful and hopeful. “I’m Francis Cartier, by the way.”
“I’ve done it many times for my mom. Sure, I think I can handle that.”
“Well, it’s a big house and we have a lot of decorations. We will be out of the country until Christmas Day, and want to return home with everything ready. We’re hosting a large party on the 25th.”
“Sounds good. Will it be a problem for me to stay until the new term begins in the middle of January?” Evan gulped and crossed his fingers in his jacket pocket.
“Not at all, figured as much. Look, if you can give me a reference to call, we can seal the deal. Can’t let a perfect stranger in the house without a reference, you understand,” Mr. Cartier said.
“Of course. You can call Professor Maybank. He’s also Dean of the Music School, and my piano teacher.”
“The number, s’il vous plait?”
Evan gave him the number. Surely the professor wouldn’t mind him giving the number out since he’d suggested the lead in the first place.
“Merci. I’ll call you back when I’ve spoken to him.”
Please pick up. He hoped the professor would answer since he was trying to get out of town. Nearly everyone was gone, or in the process of leaving.
His cell buzzed a few minutes later.
“It seems you come highly recommended. The address is 500 N. Frond Street. The key is under a pot by the front door. You will have to dig a little for it. When can you get there?”
“I can leave today. It’s just a couple hours’ drive.” He felt his face lift in a smile. Christmas in a home, a nice one, at that.
“Great! Your room will be just off the kitchen. You are welcome to spend Christmas with my wife and me. We’ll only be there for a few days, and then we will have to return to London. You’ll have the place to yourself. The pantry is stocked, and there’s an envelope of cash in the drawer next to the stove for incidentals. There’s a list of numbers to call posted on the refrigerator in case anything happens. You shouldn’t be bothered. The cook and the gardener are away for the holidays.”
Cartier must be rolling in the dough. Must be the kind of people who hung out with people like his mother. Or rather his mother and whatever money bags she’d attached herself to.
“Sounds good,” Evan said. Sounds amazing.
“You can take the decorations down any time you want before you go back to school. Merci, of course. Oh, I forgot. Our neighbor’s daughter is a chef, and she will be coming in Christmas Eve to prepare the meal for us. She’s a bit temperamental, so you’ll need to stay out of her way. I’d appreciate it if you’d be her runner if she needs anything,” Cartier said.
“Sure, whatever you need.” Evan couldn’t believe his luck. What if he’d just given up and stayed at the dorm? His friends always invited him home with them, but he hated feeling like the third wheel. Plus there was the whole gift thing, something he didn’t have the ready cash for. Unwanted guest, freeloader, and no gift to give. No way.
“Oh, and one more thing. The chef’s father will try to help you with the decorating. Under no circumstances must you allow him. He has a heart condition,” Cartier said.
“I hear you. I’ll be sure and not let that happen.”
“Well, all right, then. We can be hard to reach sometimes, but as I said, the numbers of my people in the states are posted. The decorations are in the basement. You won’t have any trouble finding the door in the kitchen that leads down.”
“Fine, thanks very much. Mr. Cartier, you wouldn’t happen to have a piano, would you?” Evan asked.
“Oui. A Steinway. Will that do?”
“Oh, yes. I need to practice for my graduation recital.” This just kept getting better and better.
“Well, you’re welcome to play it. Possibly you could play some Christmas carols at our party that day?”
“Sure! Perfect. Thanks again. Bye.”
“Au revoir.” Mr. Cartier ended the call.
The increasing rainstorm and Cartier’s thick accent made Candle sound like something else, but Evan knew where it was. Just two hours down I-20 East toward Dallas. Alone again, but at least it wouldn’t be in the freezing dorm where they turned down the thermostat over the break. He’d be in a home, with decorations.
He splashed through puddles to the dorm and scrounged his closet for a backpack.
Question 1: The lyrics of some old song remind me of Evan. “Oh what a lonely boy…” Loneliness during the holidays is a particularly hard time. Why wouldn’t Evan accept invitations to spend the holidays with his friends?
Answer 1: He felt like an intruder and a freeloader.
Question 2: What kind of Christmas did Evan long for?
Answer 2: He really wanted a home and family type Christmas. He recalled how much he loved Christmas with his mother before things got crazy.
Question 3: Why did Evan hide in his ability to play the piano?
Answer 3: He felt comfortable there. He was keenly aware, or so he thought, that people thought he was weird. As his skill increased, he felt that people only liked him when he played. He found his identity in his skill.
Question 4: The mix-up caused misunderstandings between Evan and Rise’. How did their inner struggles make things worse?
Answer 4: Evan’s self-esteem struggles made him think he didn’t have a chance with Rise’, and Rise’ was distrusting of men in general (except her father) because of what she went through with her ex-boyfriend.
Question 5: Carol and Fin’s family Bible brought back some unpleasant memories for Evan regarding church. What happened that turned him off from church?
Answer 5: His mother had an abusive boyfriend who attended church regularly, sang in the choir, yet lived with Evan and his Mom. The pastor of the church only cared that they were living together, and couldn’t seem to address their need for Chris
Question 6: Rise’ left an abusive relationship. Why did it take so long for her to recognize the signs that her boyfriend had an anger problem?
Answer 6: Denial is a common symptom of an abusive relationship. The victim typically returns seven times before getting out completely. Rise’ noticed the symptoms but did get out when her boyfriend’s anger turned physical.
Question 7: Evan’s mom shows up with a wild and crazy Texan, the new husband. Evan rejects his offer of work. Why?
Answer 7: His mom’s boyfriend dismissed Evan’s music dreams as “not a real job.” Evan was tired of his mother’s boyfriends. They never really helped her, and certainly never helped him.
Question 8: How does Evan’s playing change after he opens his heart to God?
Answer 8: He begins to discern that his playing, if dedicated to God, could have a positive impact on other people. He sensed a mission outside of himself for the first time.
Question 9: When the mistake is discovered and Evan rushes to correct it, Rise and her church family come to his aid. Do you think this helped soften his heart toward God?
Answer 9 Evan begins to see Christ’s love in action, a stark contrast to what he experienced as a child.
Question 10: Frances Cartier offers Evan a dream job and the possibility of continuing his education. He met Rise’, and appears to be on good terms with his mother. Do you think that sometimes God orchestrates, or allows “mix-ups” to accomplish his goals for our lives?
Answer 10: Yes! God’s Word tells us in Romans 8:28 (NIV) that “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”