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  This book is for Kai.

  (Everything that matters is.)

  Contents

  Cover

  Dedication

  Title Page

  Tuesday December 17, 2013

  Chapter 1

  Wednesday December 18, 2013

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Thursday December 19, 2013

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Friday December 20, 2013

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Saturday December 21, 2013

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Sunday December 22, 2013

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Monday December 23, 2013

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Tuesday Christmas Eve, 2013

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Wednesday Christmas Day, 2013

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Before

  After

  Acknowledgments

  About the Author

  Also By Rainbow Rowell

  Copyright

  TUESDAY

  DECEMBER 17, 2013

  CHAPTER 1

  Georgie pulled into the driveway, swerving to miss a bike.

  Neal never made Alice put it away.

  Apparently bicycles never got stolen back in Nebraska—and people never tried to break in to your house. Neal didn’t even lock the front door most nights until after Georgie came home, though she’d told him that was like putting a sign in the yard that said PLEASE ROB US AT GUNPOINT. “No,” he’d said. “That would be different, I think.”

  She hauled the bike up onto the porch and opened the (unlocked) door.

  The lights were off in the living room, but the TV was still on. Alice had fallen asleep on the couch watching Pink Panther cartoons. Georgie went to turn it off and stumbled over a bowl of milk sitting on the floor. There was a stack of laundry folded on the coffee table—she grabbed whatever was on the top to wipe it up.

  When Neal stepped into the archway between the living room and the dining room, Georgie was crouched on the floor, sopping up milk with a pair of her own underwear.

  “Sorry,” he said. “Alice wanted to put milk out for Noomi.”

  “It’s okay, I wasn’t paying attention.” Georgie stood up, wadding the wet underwear in her fist. She nodded at Alice. “Is she feeling okay?”

  Neal reached out and took the underwear, then picked up the bowl. “She’s fine. I told her she could wait up for you. It was this whole negotiation over eating her kale and not using the word ‘literally’ anymore because it’s literally driving me crazy.” He looked back at Georgie on his way to the kitchen. “You hungry?”

  “Yeah,” she said, following him.

  Neal was in a good mood tonight. Usually when Georgie got home this late . . . Well, usually when Georgie got home this late, he wasn’t.

  She sat at the breakfast bar, clearing a space for her elbows among the bills and library books and second-grade worksheets.

  Neal walked to the stove and turned on a burner. He was wearing pajama pants and a white T-shirt, and he looked like he’d just gotten a haircut—probably for their trip. If Georgie touched the back of his head now, it’d feel like velvet one way and needles the other.

  “I wasn’t sure what you wanted to pack,” he said. “But I washed everything in your hamper. Don’t forget that’s it’s cold there—you always forget that it’s cold.”

  She always ended up stealing Neal’s sweaters.

  He was in such a good mood tonight. . . .

  He smiled as he made up her plate. Stir-fry. Salmon. Kale. Other green things. He crushed a handful of cashews in his fist and sprinkled them on top, then set the plate in front of her.

  When Neal smiled, he had dimples like parentheses—stubbly parentheses. Georgie wanted to pull him over the breakfast bar and nose at his cheeks. (That was her standard response to Neal smiling.) (Though Neal probably wouldn’t know that.)

  “I think I washed all your jeans . . . ,” he said, pouring her a glass of wine.

  Georgie took a deep breath. She just had to get this over with. “I got good news today.”

  He leaned back against the counter and raised an eyebrow. “Yeah?”

  “Yeah. So . . . Maher Jafari wants our show.”

  “What’s a Maher Jafari?”

  “He’s the network guy we’ve been talking to. The one who green-lit The Lobby and that new reality show about tobacco farmers.”

  “Right.” Neal nodded. “The network guy. I thought he was giving you the cold shoulder.”

  “We thought he was giving us the cold shoulder,” Georgie said. “Apparently he just has cold shoulders.”

  “Huh. Wow. That is good news. So—” He cocked his head to the side. “—why don’t you seem happy?”

  “I’m thrilled,” Georgie said. Shrilly. God. She was probably sweating. “He wants a pilot, scripts. We’ve got a big meeting to talk casting. . . .”

  “That’s great,” Neal said, waiting. He knew she was burying the lead.

  Georgie closed her eyes. “. . . on the twenty-seventh.”

  The kitchen was quiet. She opened them. Ah, there was the Neal she knew and loved. (Truly. On both counts.) The folded arms, the narrowed eyes, the knots of muscle in both corners of his jaw.

  “We’re going to be in Omaha on the twenty-seventh,” he said.

  “I know,” she said. “Neal, I know.”

  “So? Are you planning to fly back to L.A. early?”

  “No, I . . . we have to get the scripts ready before then. Seth thought—”

  “Seth.”

  “All we’ve got done is the pilot,” Georgie said. “We’ve got nine days to write four episodes and get ready for the meeting—it’s really lucky that we have some time off from Jeff’d Up this week.”

  “You have time off because it’s Christmas.”

  “I know that it’s Christmas, Neal—I’m not skipping Christmas.”

  “You’re not?”

  “No. Just skipping . . . Omaha. I thought we could all skip Omaha.”

  “We already have plane tickets.”

  “Neal. It’s a pilot. A deal. With our dream network.”

  Georgie felt like she was reading from a script. She’d already had this entire conversation, almost verbatim, this afternoon with Seth. . . .

  “It’s Christmas,” she’d argued. They were in their office, and Seth was sitting on Georgie’s side of the big L-shaped desk they shared. He’d had her cornered.

  “Come on, Georgie, we’ll still have Christmas—we’ll have the best Christmas ever after the meeting.”

  “Tell that to my kids.”

  “I will. Your kids love me.”

  “Seth, it’s Christmas. Can’t this meeting wait?”

  “We’ve already been waiting our whole career. This is happening, Georgie. Now. It’s finally happening.”

  Seth wouldn’t stop saying her name.

  Neal’s nostrils were flaring.

  “My mom’s expecting us,” he said.

  “I know,” Georgie whispered.

  “And the kids . . . Alice sent Santa Claus a change-of