A Perfect Day, p.1Richard Paul Evans
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - EIGHT YEARS EARLIER. JUNE 10, 1992. MEDFORD, OREGON.
Chapter 3 - EIGHT YEARS LATER. SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH.
Chapter 40 - ONE WEEK LATER.
Chapter 41 - THE NEXT DAY.
Chapter 54 - FRIDAY, DECEMBER 20. TWELVE DAYS UNTIL NEW YEAR’S.
Chapter 55 - SATURDAY, DECEMBER 21. ELEVEN DAYS UNTIL NEW YEAR’S.
Chapter 57 - SUNDAY, DECEMBER 22. TEN DAYS UNTIL NEW YEAR’S.
Chapter 58 - MONDAY, DECEMBER 23. NINE DAYS UNTIL NEW YEAR’S.
Chapter 62 - TUESDAY, DECEMBER 24. EIGHT DAYS UNTIL NEW YEAR’S.
Chapter 63 - CHRISTMAS DAY. SEVEN DAYS UNTIL NEW YEAR’S.
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The New York Times bestselling author and “one of the world’s most beloved storytellers” (Idaho Press-Tribune) returns with a story about a man who has to rediscover his priorities after finding money and fame. . . .
Robert Harlan has three loves in his life: his wife, his daughter, and his writing. But when his thirst for success causes him to lose focus on his family, his life takes some serious missteps. Then a stranger with a mysterious message about the brevity of his future helps Robert discover the truth about himself: who he has become, what he has lost, and what it will take to find love again. . . .
Praise for the novels of Richard Paul Evans
A Perfect Day
“A Perfect Day examines love, relationships, and self-awareness. . . . This well-written story spans the range of emotions from joy to sorrow and grief.”
—The Sunday Oklahoman
“The inevitable twist is clever, the writing throughout assured, the sentiment unapologetic, and the author confident that he knows just what his readers want and that he’s the man to give it to them.”
“He gives readers everyman, feel-good stories.”
The Last Promise
“The Tuscan setting of this new novel by the bestselling author of The Christmas Box is as beguiling as its heroine. . . . Evans paces his story skillfully and plays up the Tuscan landscape to maximum effect. . . . Those who enjoyed The Christmas Box are in for another treat.”
“Fans of Richard Paul Evans have come to expect crisp, lively prose from this writer, and . . . they’re not likely to be disappointed.”
—The Kansas City Star
“[A] heart tug.”
—The Salt Lake Tribune
“Evans has done it again.”
—The Deseret News (Salt Lake City)
“A lush world full of Italian history and mythology. . . . By weaving details of the wine harvest, local festival, and vestal-virgin tragedies into this story, Evans achieves romance without overcooking it. . . . And Eliana is truly likable . . . a sensual, sympathetic beauty with a dry sense of humor . . . enjoyably warm.”
“Evans spins a bittersweet tale of . . . fantastic joy and great sorrow.”
“A tale of romantic love, heartbreak, and a nearly missed opportunity.”
“Evans teaches us how to love again.”
ALSO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS
The Christmas Box
The Looking Glass
The Christmas Box Miracle
The Last Promise
The Christmas Candle
The Light of Christmas
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Published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of
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First Signet Printing, October 2004
Copyright © Richard Paul Evans, 2003
All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-09897-4
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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I would like to thank Laurie, Laurie, and Carole, who have walked with me through this book. Thank you for your faith and patience. I love you all. Also my buddy Lisa Johnson. I enjoy working with you and your staff, Lisa. Thanks to the RPE and Christmas Box staff. Sorry I left your name out last time, Beck. And Bob Gay. Thank you for your insight as well as your generosity. In the final page of this book you will see your influence.
My love to Keri, who lived more of this book than she should have. (She wanted me to tell you that it’s not all true.)
A special grazie to all my readers who stood with me through The Last Promise. Your support means more to me than you’ll ever know.
Most of all I am grateful to God for the inspiration He sends me. This book would not be possible without His mercy and tutelage.
“All life belongs to you [young novelist], and do not listen either to those who would shut you up into corners of it and tell you that it is only here and there that art inhabits, or to those who would persuade you that this heavenly messenger wings her way outside of life altogether, breathing a superfine air, and turning her head from the truth of things. There is no impression of life, no manner of seeing it and feeling it, to which the plan of the novelist may not offer a place.”
—Henry James The Art of Fiction
It’s Christmas night.
Outside my hotel window the world is snow. All is still and white or on the way to becoming so. Only the street lamps show signs of life, changing colors above barren streets that look more like tundra than asphalt. Even the rumbling, yellow snowplows that wake me from my thoughts cannot keep up with the storm.
This snowstorm seems as relentless as any I’ve seen in Salt Lake City. Salt Lakers are particularly proud of their blizzards, and every native has a story of winter—stories that usually begin, You call this a storm? and grow in the telling like battle tales shared by graying war veterans. It’s a peculiar character flaw to those of us from cold climates that we feel superior to those who have the sense to live elsewhere.
I remember a Christmas night, when I was a boy, when there was a great blizzard. My father was always through with Christmas weeks before it arrived, and by Christmas night he had already undressed our tree and dragged it out to the curb for the municipal pickup. A storm came that same night, chased by the plows, and the next morning the tree was buried beneath a five-foot snowbank. We forgot about the tree until April, when a thaw revealed an evergreen branch poking free from the melting snow. It was the same Christmas that my mother left us.
Tonight, from my seventh-story window I see a man in a parka and a bellman’s cap shoveling the walk in front of the hotel’s entrance. The snow returns nearly as fast as he clears it. Salt Lake’s own Sisyphus.
It’s a night to be home. A night to be gathered with loved ones around brick hearths and hot drinks warming the day’s memory. It is a night to bathe in the pleasant aftermath of the season’s joy. So why am I alone in a hotel when my wife, Allyson, and my daughter, Carson, are just minutes away?
I see a car below. It moves slowly up Main Street, its headlights cutting through the darkness. The car slides helplessly from side to side, its wipers blurring, its wheels spinning, correcting, grasping, connecting then slipping again. I imagine the driver of that car; blinded, afraid to stop, just as fearful to proceed. I empathize. Behind the wheel of my life I feel like that driver.
I couldn’t tell you my first wrong step. I’m not sure that I could tell you what I’d do differently. My mind is a queue of questions. Most of them are about the stranger. Why did the stranger come to me? Why did he speak of hope when my future, or what’s left of it, looks as barren as the winter landscape? Some might think that my story began with the stranger. But in truth it began long before I met him, back on a balmy June day eight years ago when Allyson, not yet my wife, went home to Oregon to see her father. This is strangely ironic to me, because it all began on a perfect day. And here it ends on the worst of days.
I should say begins to end. Because if the stranger is right—and I’ve learned that he’s always right—I have just six more days to live. Six days that I will live out alone, not because I want to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Perhaps my loneliness is my penance. I hope God will see it that way, because there is not enough time to heal two hearts. There is not enough time to make right one broken promise. There is only time to remember what once was and should still be.
My thoughts wander, first to the stranger then further back—back eight years to when Allyson went home to her father. Back to the beginning of my story. Back to a perfect day.
EIGHT YEARS EARLIER. JUNE 10, 1992. MEDFORD, OREGON.
Allyson Phelps closed her eyes as she rocked in the saddle to the swing of her Morgan’s gait. She rode with her father, Carson, who had grown quiet in the last hour, and the only sound they contributed to the mountain was the steady clop of hooves, the sharp metallic click of horseshoe against rock and the creaking of leather.
The trail they climbed was beaten and as familiar to the horses as to the riders. Without coaxing, they plodded along, scaling the top of a ridge that broke along a line of aspen and cedar. It was the hour before twilight, and the setting sun tinged the edges of the ragged peaks in pink and sage. The pinking hour, Allyson always called it. Allyson shouted back to her father, “It’s been too long since we’ve gone riding together. When was the last time?”
“Been two summers,” her father said without hesitation. “Let’s stop up ahead and let the horses rest.”
She rode thirty more yards, to a small clearing, then pulled back the reins. “Whoa, Dolly.” She leaned forward and rubbed Dolly’s neck above the shoulder. The bay was damp with sweat from their ride.
Her father tapped his horse’s flanks with his stirrups and moved up alongside Allyson.
“Is this okay?” she asked.
He glanced around. “It’s perfect.”
They had stopped on a ridge overlooking the lush, velvet lap of the Rogue Valley. God’s backyard, her father called this country, and as a child and full of faith she had fully expected to run into God someday out wandering His back forty.
To some of Allyson’s friends at college this expanse of wilderness would have been a frightening place, but to her it was safe and nurturing—a place she could run to when the world outside became too complex. It was a place that had opened its arms to her when her mother, who had no business dying, died out of turn. In such country it was possible to believe that no one ever really died, they just came here.
They dismounted and Carson took the horses’ reins and led them over to a blue spruce, where he tethered the straps to one of its limbs. He took from his saddlebag a small knapsack then found a flat-topped granite boulder half-buried in the mountainside and brushed the dirt from it with his hands. “Come sit with me, girlie.”
Allyson smiled. She was twenty-four years old and would forever be “girlie.” She walked over and sat down next to him. She pulled her knees up against her chest, wrapping her arms around her legs.
From where they sat the only sign of man’s trespass was four hundred yards below them, only visible through the thick foliage to someone who knew what they were looking for—the weathered obelisks and crosses of an overgrown pioneer cemetery, choked and dying itself.
Allyson, like her father, had been raised in this country and while she had left it behind for school, he belonged to it still and always would. He owned more than a thousand acres of the raw land, but she knew that the opposite was true—that the land owned him.
“It’s good to be home again,” she said. “Sometimes I forget
“Almost as pretty as you,” he said then added, “Pretty lonely too, sometimes.”
His loneliness always made her feel guilty. “I wish you’d find someone.”
“Too late for that,” he said. She felt traitorous to suggest such a thing to a man who still loved the only woman he had ever loved—almost twenty years after she had been buried.
“I don’t need nobody. I have you.”
She leaned into him. “Thanks for bringing me home for the weekend. It’s been a good day. It’s been a perfect day.”
He nodded in agreement, though his eyes, sometimes as deep and dark as a well of ink, held sadness. The steady rush of the Rogue River rose from the valley below them.
“About Robert . . .”
She looked up. “Yes?”
“Is he good to you?”
“He’s really good to me. Didn’t you think he was sweet to me when he was here last Christmas?”
“He seemed nice enough. But with your old man an arm’s length away, he’d be a fool not to be.”
“He treats me just as good—whether you’re there to scare him or not.” She could tell that he wasn’t satisfied. “Really, Dad.”
“You’re sure you want to marry him?”
“I do.” She turned to look at him. “You’ve always said I could marry anyone I chose as long as he loves me as much as you do.”
“It’s a pretty high benchmark. But I think he comes close.” With one hand Allyson brushed her hair back from her face. “Do you think I’m making a mistake?”
“Would it change your mind if I thought you were?”
“It would bother me.” She looked at him anxiously. “Does that mean you do?”
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