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The road to grace, p.1
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       The Road to Grace, p.1

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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The Road to Grace


  “Definitely a journey worth taking.” —BOOKLIST

  HERE’S WHAT READERS ARE SAYING:

  “Richard Paul Evans’s beautifully written stories lift your spirit and restore your faith in humanity.”

  —JANET SHERLOCK-BITSEFF

  “Richard Paul Evans’s novels are full of so much love, joy, humor, and mystery that I find myself craving the next novel even before I finish the one I’m reading.”

  —CECILIA DION TRENT

  “Richard Paul Evans is a master storyteller who keeps his readers engaged and, as I know from personal experience, reading long past their bedtimes.”

  —CHRISTY GASSETT

  JOIN ONE OF AMERICA’S BELOVED STORYTELLERS ON A WALK LIKE NO OTHER: ONE MAN’S UNRELENTING SEARCH FOR HOPE.

  Reeling from the sudden loss of his wife, his home, and his business, Alan Christoffersen, a once-successful advertising executive, has left everything he knew behind and set off on an extraordinary cross-country journey. Carrying only a backpack, he is walking from Seattle to Key West, the farthest destination on his map.

  Now almost halfway through his trek, Alan sets out to walk the nearly 1,000 miles between South Dakota and St. Louis, but it’s the people he meets along the way who give the journey its true meaning: a mysterious woman who follows Alan’s walk for close to a hundred miles, the ghost hunter searching graveyards for his wife, and the elderly Polish man who gives Alan a ride and shares a story that Alan will never forget.

  Full of hard-won wisdom and truth, The Road to Grace is a compelling and inspiring novel about hope, healing, grace, and the meaning of life.

  RICHARD PAUL EVANS is the #1 bestselling author of The Christmas Box. Each of his seventeen novels has appeared on the New York Times bestseller list; there are more than 14 million copies of his books in print worldwide. His books have been translated into more than 25 languages. Evans is the winner of the 1998 American Mothers Book Award, two first-place Storytelling World Awards, two Wilbur Awards, the 2010 German Audience Book Award for Romance, and the 2005 Romantic Times Best Women’s Novel of the Year Award. Four of his books have been produced as television movies. Evans received the Washington Times Humanitarian of the Century Award and the Volunteers of America National Empathy Award for his work helping abused children. He lives in Salt Lake City with his wife, Keri, and their five children.

  Please send correspondence to Richard Paul Evans at P.O. Box 712137, Salt Lake City, Utah 84171, or visit his Web site at www.richardpaulevans.com.

  Join Richard on Facebook at the Richard Paul Evans writer page (facebook.com/RPEfans).

  MEET THE AUTHORS, WATCH VIDEOS AND MORE AT

  SimonandSchuster.com

  • THE SOURCE FOR READING GROUPS •

  JACKET DESIGN BY JACKIE SEOW

  JACKET PHOTOGRAPH BY DAN BACHMAN/GETTY IMAGES

  COPYRIGHT © 2012 SIMON & SCHUSTER

  ALSO BY RICHARD PAUL EVANS

  The Walk Series

  The Walk

  Miles to Go

  Lost December

  Promise Me

  The Christmas List

  Grace

  The Gift

  Finding Noel

  The Sunflower

  A Perfect Day

  The Last Promise

  The Christmas Box Miracle

  The Carousel

  The Looking Glass

  The Locket

  The Letter

  Timepiece

  The Christmas Box

  For Children and Young Adults

  The Dance

  The Christmas Candle

  The Spyglass

  The Tower

  The Light of Christmas

  Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

  Thank you for purchasing this Simon & Schuster eBook.

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  Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

  www.SimonandSchuster.com

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2012 by Richard Paul Evans

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition May 2012

  SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

  Designed by Davina Mock-Maniscalco

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Evans, Richard Paul. The road to grace : the third journal of the walk series / Richard Paul Evans.—1st Simon & Schuster hardcover ed.

  p. cm.

  1. Executives—Fiction. 2. Life change events—Fiction.

  3. Walking—United States—Fiction. 4. Loss

  (Psychology)—Fiction. 5. Diaries—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3555.V259R63 2012b

  813'.54—dc23 2012004985

  ISBN 978-1-4516-2818-0

  ISBN 978-1-4516-2833-3 (ebook)

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  I would like to thank those who have made this book possible.

  First, my lovely and wise daughter Jenna, who travels Alan’s route with me, figuratively and literally. You’re a great travel companion, sweetheart—a true saunterer. Thank you for all your help. I couldn’t do it without you.

  To my sweetheart, Keri. For your support, friendship, love, wisdom, and goodness. I’m grateful for you.

  To Laurie Liss—friend, confidant, secret agent.

  To all my friends at Simon & Schuster: Carolyn Reidy, for keeping the house in order and for all your support over all these years and all these books. Many more thanks to come. To Jonathan Karp. I enjoy working with you, Jon. Thank you for your attention to this series as well as your input and creativity. To my new editor, Trish Todd. Thanks, Trish. I look forward to years of working together. You have a comforting spirit. (Also to Molly, your supernatural assistant, thanks for being so remarkably competent, cheerful, and dependable.) And Gypsy da Silva. I adore you, Gypsy. We need to do Little Brazil again.

  Mike Noble and Noriko Okabe in S&S audio. You make the marathon sessions survivable.

  My staff: Diane Glad, Heather McVey, Barry Evans, Karen Christoffersen, and Lisa Johnson.

  The Christmas Box House Staff and Board.

  Also, some friends who have made a difference in my life this year. Karen Roylance. Glenn Beck. Kevin Balfe. Shelli Tripp. Judy Bangerter. Patrice Archibald. The Students of Riverton High School—go Silver Rush!

  As always, my dear readers. Thank you for your loyalty and goodness. There is no magic without you.

  To my big brother, Dave. I still look up to you.

  Contents

  Acknowledgments

  Prologue

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven
r />
  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Epilogue

  If you are going through Hell, keep going.

  —Winston Churchill

  P R O L O G U E

  I had a dream last night

  that McKale came to me.

  “Where are you?” she asked.

  “South Dakota,” I replied.

  She stared at me without speaking and I

  realized that she didn’t mean my location.

  “I don’t know,” I said.

  “Keep walking,” she said.

  “Just keep walking.”

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  A few years ago I was walking through a Seattle shopping mall when a woman at a kiosk peddling discounted airfare shouted to me, “Sir, if you have a minute, I can save you nearly half on your travel!”

  “Thank you,” I politely replied, “but I’m really not interested.”

  Undeterred, she asked, “If you could go anywhere in the world, where would that be?”

  I stopped and looked at her. “Home.” I turned and walked away.

  I suppose I’m as unlikely a candidate to walk across the country as you could find. I was never one who, as Steinbeck wrote, was afflicted with “the urge to be someplace else.”

  That’s not to say I haven’t traveled. I’ve done my share of it and I have the passport stamps to prove it. I’ve seen the Great Wall of China, the Hermitage in Russia, and the Roman Catacombs. Truthfully, all that travel wasn’t my idea. My wife, McKale, wanted to see the world, and I wanted to see her happy. Actually, I just wanted to see her, so I went along. The foreign locales were just different backdrops for my picture of her.

  Her. Every day I miss her. I may be a closet homebody, but life has taught me that home was never a place. Home was her. The day McKale died, I lost my home.

  Up to the moment I lost McKale, I had lived my life as a liar. I don’t say that just because I was in advertising. (Though that qualifies me as a professional liar.) Ironically, I was annoyingly honest in unimportant matters. For example, I once went inside a McDonald’s to return a dime when the gal at the drive-in window gave me too much change back. But I deceived myself about the things of greatest consequence. I told myself that McKale and I would be together until we were old and gray—that we were somehow guaranteed a certain amount of life before our time expired, like cartons of milk. Perhaps a certain amount of self-deception is necessary to get one through the day. But whatever we tell ourselves, it doesn’t change the truth: our lives are built on foundations of sand.

  For those of you just joining my journey, my childhood sweetheart, my wife, McKale, broke her back in a horseback riding accident, paralyzing her from the waist down. Four weeks later she died of complications from her accident. During her last days, while I was caring for her, my business was stolen by my partner, Kyle Craig, and my financial world collapsed, leading to the foreclosure of my home and repossession of my cars.

  With my wife, business, house, and cars gone, I contemplated taking my life. Instead, I packed a few things, said good-bye to Seattle, and started my walk to the farthest walkable distance on my map: Key West, Florida.

  I suppose if I were completely honest with myself (which I’ve already established I’m not), I’d have to admit that I’m not really walking to Florida. Key West is as foreign to me as any of the towns I’ve walked through on the way. I’m walking to find what life may hold. I’m looking for hope. Hope that life might still be worth living, and hope for the grace to accept what I must live without.

  Perhaps that’s true of all of us. I’m certainly not alone in my quest to find that grace. There are others I have met on my journey. Like the elderly Polish man in Mitchell, South Dakota, who took me in; a young mother I stayed with in Sidney, Iowa; the old man I met in Hannibal roaming graveyards in search of his wife; and the woman I met as I walked out of my hotel in Custer, South Dakota. This is their story too.

  Again, welcome to my walk.

  C H A P T E R

  One

  One can never know what

  a new road will bring.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Custer, South Dakota, is a tidy little tourist town near Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Memorial. I spent two days in Custer, convalescing after a long and emotionally challenging stretch through eastern Wyoming. Sunday I was ready to resume my journey. It was a cool May morning and I rose with the sun, showered, and shaved. The luxuriousness of my temporary surroundings was not lost on me. In the weeks ahead, crossing through the barren stretch of South Dakota’s badlands, I would be without a soft bed and hot water.

  I laid my road atlas open on the bed and studied it for a few minutes, drawing a path with my finger. Then, once I was committed to a course, I marked it in pen. My next target was thirteen hundred miles away: Memphis, Tennessee, by way of St. Louis. From Custer I would walk north until my path intersected with Interstate 90, then I’d walk east through South Dakota, through the badlands, about four hundred miles to Sioux Falls.

  The night before I had washed five pairs of my socks in the hotel sink. They were all gray and threadbare and due to be retired. Unfortunately, they were also still damp. I put them in the dry-cleaning sack from the hotel closet and packed them into my backpack. Then I put on my sweat-stained socks from the day before, laced up my shoes, and headed out of the hotel.

  As I walked through the hotel’s lobby I noticed a woman sitting in one of the chairs near the reception desk. She had gray hair, though she looked too young to be so gray. She wore a long, black woolen coat, and a burgundy silk scarf tied around her neck. She was beautiful, or had been once, and something about her was hard to look away from. Something about her looked familiar. Peculiarly, she was likewise watching me with an intense gaze. When I was just a few yards from her she said, “Alan.”

  I stopped. “Excuse me?”

  “You are Alan Christoffersen?”

  As I looked into her face I was certain we had met before, but I couldn’t place her. “Yes,” I said. “I am.” Then I realized who she was.

  Before I could speak she said, “I’ve been looking for you for weeks.”

  C H A P T E R

  Two

  There are people such as Benedict

  Arnold or Adolf Hitler, whose names

  become synonymous with evil and

  more adjective than proper noun.

  For me, “Pamela” is such a name.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  The woman was McKale’s mother.

  “Pamela,” I said. It was a name I had never spoken without pain or anger—and usually both—a name that seemed to me, as a boy, and even as an adult, to represent everything wrong with the world. Pamela was the source of McKale’s greatest angst—a permanent sliver in her heart. There’s a good reason that I hadn’t recognized her immediately. I had met Pamela only once before, briefly, at McKale’s funeral and had said all I ever intended to say to her then.

  “What do you want?” I asked.

  “I was hoping to talk to you,” she said.

  “About what?”

  She swallowed nervously. “Everything.”

  “Everything,” I repeated. I shook my head. “No. We have nothing to talk about.”

  She looked upset, but not particularly surprised by my response. “I don’t blame you, but I’ve come a long way …”

  I looked at her for a moment then lifted my pack. “So have I.” I turned from her and walked out the hotel’s front door.

&n
bsp; The town of Custer was bustling with tourists and the traffic was brisk, the sidewalks along Mount Rushmore Road crowded with those who had come to see the monument. I planned on walking about twenty miles that day and I was ready for breakfast, though, admittedly, seeing Pamela had somewhat dulled my appetite.

  I couldn’t believe she had come looking for me. What could she possibly want to talk about? After I had walked about a hundred yards from the hotel, I looked back. To my dismay Pamela was following me, walking about a block behind me on the same side of the street. She wore a sun visor and had a large pink bag draped over her shoulder. Half a block later, I stepped into the Songbird Café—the restaurant the hotel clerk had recommended.

  The café was small and crowded and the waitress had just seated me at a round table in the corner when the bell above the door rang and Pamela walked in. She held her bag in both hands and glanced furtively at me as she waited to be seated. Fortunately, the hostess led her to a table on the opposite side of the room, where she stayed. I was glad that she didn’t come to my table. I would have left if she had.

  I wolfed down my breakfast—a tall stack of buttermilk pancakes with two fried eggs, three strips of overdone bacon, and a cup of coffee. I paid my bill, then slipped on my heavy backpack and walked out. Pamela was still sitting at her table, sipping coffee, her dark eyes following me.

  I crossed to the other side of the street and walked several blocks back toward the hotel, turning in the middle of town at the 16 Junction. I followed the highway north toward the Crazy Horse Memorial. There was more than one route to I-90 from Custer, but 16 would lead me back by the monument, which, if not a shorter route, seemed more interesting.

 
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