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A step of faith, p.1
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       A Step of Faith, p.1

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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A Step of Faith


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  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I would like to thank the following for their assistance: Once again, my writing assistant, travel companion and daughter, Jenna Evans Welch. (And Ally, who came along for the ride. And Sam, who also came, but against his will.) My friends at Simon & Schuster: Jonathan Karp, Carolyn Ready, my editor Trish Todd (and Molly) and copy editor Gypsy da Silva. Mike and Cathy Hankins of the Southern Hotel in Ste. Genevieve, Kelly Glad, Judge Samuel D. McVey, Dr. Steve Schlozman, and The Cancer Learning Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah.

  My staff: Diane Glad, Heather McVey, Barry Evans, Karen Christoffersen, Doug Osmond (Osmonds rock!), Lisa Johnson, and Camille Shosted. And my agent, Laurie Liss. Good work. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning. (Just seeing if you really read my books.)

  To my daughters, Jenna Lyn and Allyson-Danica.

  The Okefenokee wouldn’t have been the same without you.

  I love you, girls.

  Faith is the strength by which a shattered world shall emerge into the light.

  —Helen Keller

  More than once, usually after getting a strange glance from an occupant of a passing car, I’ve wondered what people think of me—a lone man, unshaven, long hair spilling from beneath his hat, walking alone along some forsaken stretch of highway. They wouldn’t likely guess that I once owned a prestigious advertising agency, or a multimillion-dollar home, or shared a love that others only dream about. Nor would they guess how badly my heart’s been broken. We don’t think those things about strangers.

  The truth is, they probably don’t think about me at all. Or at least not for very long. We have become proficient at blocking each other out. Just like we block advertising noise. I’m not claiming this is a sign of societal decay or moral deficiency. I think it’s a necessity. There are far too many people for us to think about each of them during our short stay on earth—like the thousands of books in a library we haven’t time to read in an afternoon. But this is no excuse to cease browsing. For every now and then, we find that one book that reaches us deep inside and introduces us to ourselves. And, in someone else’s story, we come to understand our own.

  I don’t know how you found me, but my name is Alan Christoffersen. And this is the story of my walk.

  PROLOGUE

  Maybe, if we just accepted our deaths, we might finally start to live.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Am I dying?

  It’s a stupid question, really, as we’ve all got an expiration date. I guess the real question is not if, but when.

  As I was walking through the South Dakota Badlands—before I knew something was wrong with me—I had this thought: What if we all carried little timers that counted down the days of our lives? Maybe the timer’s a bit dramatic. Just the date would do. It could be tattooed on our foreheads like the expiration date on a milk bottle.

  It might be a good thing. Maybe we’d stop wasting our lives worrying about things that never happen, or collecting things that we can’t take with us. We’d probably treat people better. We certainly wouldn’t be screaming at someone who had a day left. Maybe people would finally stop living like they’re immortal. Maybe we would finally learn how to live.

  I’ve wondered if, perhaps, at some deep, subconscious level, we really do know our time. I’ve heard stories of people spontaneously buying life insurance or writing wills just days before an unforeseen calamity takes their lives.

  In my own life I’ve seen evidence of this. My mother—who died when I was eight—told my father more than once that she didn’t think she would live to an old age or, to her great sadness, to see her grandchildren. Some might say that she jinxed herself, but I don’t think so. My mother wasn’t a pessimist. I think she knew.

  Whether we know our time or not, it doesn’t change the truth—there is a clock ticking for all of us. I suppose this weighs heavily on my mind right now because my clock seems to be ticking a little more loudly lately. A brain tumor will do that to you.

  If you’re picking up my story for the first time, my name is Alan Christoffersen and I’m walking across America. I started 258 days ago from my home (or what was my home) in Seattle, Washington. I’m walking 3,500 miles to Key West, Florida.

  A day ago I was found unconscious on the side of Highway 61, about forty-five miles from where I am now—the St. Louis University Hospital. All I know for certain about my condition is that the doctors found a brain tumor. This came to me as a complete surprise.

  Almost as surprising as my wife’s death—which is why I’m walking to begin with.

  Nearly ten months ago my wife, McKale, was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. While I cared for her, my advertising agency’s clients were stolen by my partner, Kyle Craig, and the loss of income coupled with mounting medical bills sent me spiraling into bankruptcy. My cars were repossessed and my home was foreclosed on. A month later, when McKale died of complications, I lost everything.

  At the time, I wanted to take my life. Instead, I decided to take a walk—one that would take me as far away from Seattle as physically possible. I’m a little more than halfway. Perhaps death has been following me all along.

  CHAPTER

  One

  The strength of a friendship can be measured by the weight of the burden it’s willing to share. (If you want to test this just ask someone to help you move.)

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Where was I? My stomach ached. My head spun. Then remembrance returned. St. Louis. I’m in a hospital in St. Louis. McKale is gone. Still gone. Always gone.

  My room was dark and still except for the soft humming and occasional beeps from the monitors next to my bed. I was awake for nearly a minute before I realized that I wasn’t alone. My friend Falene was sitting quietly next to me. My anxiety softened at the sight of her.

  “Hi,” I said. My mouth was dry.

  “Hi,” she echoed softly. “How are you feeling?”

  “Fantastic.”

  She smiled sadly. “Are you still dizzy?”

  “A little.” I shut my eyes as a wave of nausea passed through me. When I could speak, I opened my eyes. “What time is it?”

  “It’s a little past nine.”

  “Oh,” I said, as if it meant something. “. . . Day or night?”

  “Day. I kept the blinds down so you could sleep.”

  “How long have you been here?”

  “I’ve been here all night. With your father.”

  I slowly looked around the small, dim room. “My father?”

  “I made him get something to eat. He hadn’t left your side since yesterday. I don’t think he’s eaten since he got here.”

  “That’s not good.”

  “No, it isn’t.” She reached over and took my hand. “He didn’t want to leave your side. People love you, you know.”

  “I know,” I said softly. I squeezed her hand as I looked into her eyes. I could see the fear in them behind her tears. She was so beautiful. And she was so good to me. Why was she so good to me? I hated seeing her so afraid. “Everything is going to be okay.”

  She leaned forward and raised my hand to her cheek. A tear fell on my hand. Then another. After a moment she leaned back and wiped her eyes. “You’d better be okay.”

  “I will be,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”

  It was a hollow assertion. We both knew that I had no idea whether or not
I would be.

  The room fell into silence. After a moment she said, “I never got back to you with Kyle’s number.”

  Several weeks earlier I had asked her to find my former business partner Kyle Craig’s phone number for me. With all that had happened since then, I’d forgotten about it. “Did you find him?”

  “Sort of . . .” she said, her expression turning dark. “Remember I told you that there were a lot of people looking for him?”

  “Yes. Is he in trouble?”

  “He’s dead.”

  Her words stunned me. “Dead?”

  She nodded.

  “Someone killed him?”

  “He committed suicide.”

  I didn’t speak for nearly a minute, my mind processing this new reality. “When did it happen?”

  “About a month ago.”

  I closed my eyes. I had tried to call Kyle to tell him that I forgave him for what he had done. I now realized that even though I hadn’t had the chance to say it to him, I truly had forgiven him, because the strongest emotion I felt at the news of his death wasn’t the need for revenge or even anger, but sorrow. Not for me, but for Kyle. Sorrow for the choices he’d made that led him to where he’d ended up.

  I slowly breathed out. “Oh, Kyle.”

  My mind skipped back to when I’d brought him on at my newborn agency. Those were adventurous days, and even though we worked too much, there were good times and lots of laughter. To celebrate our first million-dollar client we bought a dozen laser-tag guns from the Sharper Image catalogue and played laser tag in our office after work. McKale thought we were crazy. I remember her rolling her eyes and saying, “Boys and their toys.” We just thought we were unstoppable. Our sky had no limit. Kyle had not only shared my dreams, but helped fuel them. He helped me dream them. Those were the best of days. I was sincerely sorry that Kyle was gone.

  “He didn’t deserve that,” I said softly.

  Falene narrowed her eyes. “You’re a better person than I am,” she said, “because I thought he got exactly what he deserved.”

  “What he did to me was wrong, but he could have changed. He could have been the man he once was.”

  “You amaze me,” Falene said. “After all that he did to you, you still forgive him?”

  I turned and looked at her. “I suppose I have.”

  It was another ten minutes before my father walked into the room. He was wearing the same clothes he’d had on the day before. When I was younger this would have embarrassed me.

  “Hi, son,” he said. His eyes were dark, ringed with exhaustion. More disturbing to me was his expression—the same stoic, gray mask he wore the week my mother was dying. I hated seeing it on his face again, though not as much for my sake as his. He walked up to the side of my bed. “How are you feeling?”

  “Fine,” I said. It was a fib—the kind of reply you give when you don’t want to give one. I was glad he didn’t press me on it.

  “I just checked at the nurses’ station. The doctor will be here around noon with your test results.”

  “I feel like I’m waiting for the jury’s verdict,” I said. I looked back at Falene. “How are you doing?”

  “I’m okay,” she said.

  “How’s your brother?”

  She frowned. “I still don’t know where he is. He’s disappeared.”

  “I’m sorry,” I said. I didn’t want to cause her more distress so I let it go. “Think I could get something to eat?”

  “I’ll let the nurse know that you’re awake,” Falene said. She stood and walked out of the room.

  I turned to my dad. “Falene said you haven’t been eating.”

  “I haven’t been hungry.”

  “You still need to eat,” I said.

  “You worry about yourself.”

  Just then there was a short knock and someone else entered my room. At first I thought it was a nurse. It wasn’t. It was Nicole, the woman I had stayed with in Spokane after being mugged. When she saw me, her eyes welled up with tears. “Alan.” She walked quickly to me and we embraced. “I got here as soon as I could.”

  “How did you know I was here?”

  “I told her,” my father said.

  My father, an accountant, had taken on Nicole’s finances after she had inherited money from her landlord.

  Nicole kissed my cheek, then leaned back, looking into my eyes. “How are you feeling?”

  “I’m okay.”

  “I can tell you’re lying,” she said. “This feels like déjà vu, doesn’t it? You’re spending way too much time in hospitals.”

  “I feel like I’m just walking from one hospital to the next,” I said. “Hopefully there’s a good one in Key West.”

  “Hopefully you’ll never find out,” she replied. She kissed my cheek again, then stood, looking at my father. “Hello, Mr. Christoffersen. It’s good to see you again.”

  He reached out his hand. “It’s good to see you again too.”

  “Your dad has been such an angel,” Nicole said. “I’d be lost without him.”

  My father looked very pleased. “It’s nothing,” he said. “I wish all my clients were so pleasant.”

  Nicole smiled, then turned back to me. “It’s just so good to see you.” She leaned over and hugged me again. When we parted, I noticed that Falene had slipped back into the room. Her eyes were darting back and forth between Nicole and me.

  “They’ll be here with your breakfast in a few minutes,” Falene said.

  “Thank you,” I said. “Nicole, you remember my friend, Falene.”

  Nicole looked at Falene. “Of course,” she said. “You came to my house in Spokane.”

  “That’s right,” Falene said softly.

  Nicole quickly turned back to me. “So what happened? What are you doing here?”

  “I started getting dizzy a few weeks ago. On the way to St. Louis I passed out on the side of the road. I woke up here.”

  “Thank goodness someone stopped to help you,” she said. “So they don’t know what’s going on?”

  “He has a brain tumor,” Falene said, sounding slightly annoyed.

  Nicole looked at her. “I know,” she said. “That’s why I’m here.”

  “The doctor will be in around noon to give us an update,” my father said.

  Nicole took my hand. “Then I got here just in time.”

  The room fell into silence. Falene looked at Nicole for a moment, then said, “I’m going to get some rest.”

  “Of course,” I said.

  “I’ll watch over him,” Nicole said.

  Falene glanced furtively at her, then said, “I’ll be back before noon.” She turned and walked out of the room. I watched her go, feeling uncomfortable about the tension between the two women. The room again fell into silence. After a moment I asked Nicole, “How is Kailamai doing?”

  “She’s doing really well. I couldn’t ask for a better roommate. You were definitely inspired to match us up.”

  “Did your sister ever come to visit?” Nicole looked as if she didn’t understand my question so I continued. “. . . You were going to get together for a vacation at Bullman Beach.”

  “I can’t believe you remembered that,” she said. “Yes, she came in May. We had a great time. It was . . . healing.” She took a deep breath. “So, back to you. Was this a complete surprise?”

  “A gradual surprise,” I said. “I got dizzy partway through South Dakota and ended up in a hospital in Mitchell. But the doctor there thought it was just vertigo and gave me some pills. It didn’t hit me hard again until just before St. Louis.”

  “We’re lucky it was someplace you could be found,” my father said. “Instead of some country back road.”

  “You do know that you’ve walked more than halfway,” Nicole said. “I looked it up on MapQuest. Your halfway mark was a town in Iowa called Sydney. You probably don’t even remember walking through the town, do you?”

  I thought about Analise and the night I had spent at her ho
use. “Yes, I remember,” I said simply.

  Just then a nurse walked in carrying a tray. “Breakfast, Mr. Christoffersen.”

  Nicole stepped back as the nurse prepped the meal, setting it on the table over my bed. Almost everything on the tray was mostly water. Jell-O. Juice. Melon. I took a few bites.

  After the nurse left, I said to Nicole, “Think you could find me some real food?”

  CHAPTER

  Two

  “Wait and see” is no easier now than it was as a child.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Falene returned to my room about ten minutes before noon. She looked more tired than when she had left and still looked upset.

  “Did you sleep?” I asked.

  She shook her head. “Not really. The only place I could find was the waiting room. There were a lot of screaming kids.”

  “You should have just rested in here,” I said. “Like my father.”

  I pointed my thumb at my father, who was reclined in a chair, his head back, and mouth wide open as he snored.

  “That’s okay,” Falene said. “I don’t think I could have slept anyway.”

  My doctor arrived a few minutes after noon, studying an iPad as he walked in. He glanced up at all of us and said, “Good morning. Or afternoon. Whichever it is.” He looked at me. “I’m Dr. Kelson. How are you feeling?”

  “Tired.”

  “Still dizzy?”

  “A little.”

  My dad woke, wiping his eyes and yawning loudly before realizing where he was. “Sorry,” he said.

  “Welcome back,” Nicole said.

  “Did I miss anything?”

  “No,” she said. “The doctor just got here.”

  “I’m Dr. Kelson,” the doctor said to my father. He turned back to me. “Are we free to speak, or should I send everyone out?”

 
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