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Miles to go, p.10
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       Miles to Go, p.10

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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  “I’m sorry, I should have told you.” The truth was, my father and I had never been close, I hadn’t even thought to call him.

  “After her call, the first call I made was to the Spokane Police Department. They told me that you had been assaulted and taken to the hospital. I called over there, but no one could answer my questions about where you were, so I flew up here and nosed around until I found someone who knew where you were.”

  “Norma,” I said.

  “A nurse, about yea high, blond.” He held his hand out horizontally from his chest.

  “That’s her,” I said. I stepped back a little. “Come inside, let’s talk.”

  My father stepped inside. Nicole had turned off the DVD and was standing near the couch watching us.

  “Dad, this is my friend Nicole. She offered to take me in when the hospital released me.”

  Nicole walked over to us, shaking my father’s hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Christoffersen. Please, sit down.”

  “Thank you.”

  My father walked over to the couch and sat. I shut the door behind him and sat down on the far end of the sofa. “Join us,” I said to Nicole.

  She sat.

  “Your name is Nicole?” my father asked. “I was told my son had gone home with a woman named Angel.”

  “Angel’s my nickname,” she said.

  He nodded. “Well, Nicole, I want to thank you for taking care of my son.”

  “It’s been my pleasure. In fact, you might say that he’s been taking care of me.”

  My father turned back to me. “Falene said that you were walking to Key West, Florida.”

  “That’s the plan.”

  He looked down for a moment as if trying to process my reply. “I don’t even know what to say to that. You told me that your business was struggling a bit, but you didn’t tell me it had gone under and you’d lost your home.”

  “Things fell apart pretty quickly.”

  He nodded. “I’m just glad you’re alive. You’re not going to keep walking now, are you?”

  “As soon as the weather permits. I’m grounded here until spring.”

  His forehead creased. “Could I talk you out of it?”

  I shook my head. “No.”

  “Could I bribe you out of it?”

  “No.”

  He sat back. “It’s dangerous out there.”

  “That’s for sure,” Nicole said.

  After a minute my father asked Nicole, “How is it that you two know each other?”

  Nicole said, “Serendipity, really. We met outside a town about a hundred miles from here when Alan stopped to fix my tire. The police called me after he was attacked.”

  “That is serendipitous. Did the police catch the hoodlums?”

  “Yes,” I said. “As far as I know they’re in jail. The kid who stabbed me is dead.”

  My dad looked at me with a peculiar expression I’d never seen on his face before—a hybrid between shock and admiration. “You killed him?”

  “No, I was unconscious. The kid attacked the men who saved me and they shot him. He died in the same hospital I was in.”

  My father just shook his head. “Where are the parents these days?”

  Nicole leaned forward. “Mr. Christoffersen …”

  “Bob,” he said. “Call me Bob.”

  “Have you eaten?”

  “I had a burger earlier.”

  “That’s not acceptable on Thanksgiving Day. We have a complete Thanksgiving feast in the refrigerator. May I put something together for you?”

  “If it’s not too much trouble.”

  “No trouble at all. You two just stay in here and catch up,” she said, running off to the kitchen.

  “Nice gal,” my father said after she was gone.

  “Yes she is.”

  My father clasped his hands together in his lap. “When Falene told me you lost the house…” He looked up at me. “Why didn’t you call me? I could have helped.”

  “I was kind of a wreck.”

  “That and you didn’t feel like you could.”

  I looked down. “I guess not.”

  “I’m sorry for that. I truly am.”

  Ten minutes later Nicole walked back in. “Dinner’s ready.”

  My father smiled and stood. I followed him into the kitchen. The table was laid out with platters and a single dinner plate with utensils.

  “Now that’s a feast,” my father said.

  My father was never a big eater, but he surprised me, eating large portions and seconds of everything. I sat down next to him and ate slices of cold turkey breast sandwiched between rolls.

  “How long are you in town?” Nicole asked.

  “I was prepared to stay as long as I needed to.” He looked at me. “But now that I’ve found my son, I’ll probably leave tomorrow.”

  “Why don’t you stay the weekend?” I asked. “It would be nice having you around.”

  I could see that he appreciated my offer. “I’d like that.”

  “Where are you staying?” Nicole asked.

  “Over at the airport Ramada.”

  “You could stay here,” she offered. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”

  “No, no. I’m fine. All my stuff’s over there and it’s not much of a drive to get here.”

  “Have you had enough to eat?”

  “I’ve had enough for a small village. You don’t have any eggnog do you?”

  Nicole smiled. “Plenty. I’ll pour you a glass.”

  “I dilute it with milk, half and half.”

  “Like father, like son,” she said.

  When my father had finished eating, he thanked Nicole profusely. Then I walked with him out to his rental car. He started the car, turned on its defroster and wipers, then climbed out as it warmed.

  “Thank you for coming,” I said.

  “Of course I came.” He stood in the cold, his breath freezing before him. “I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since Falene called. So if it’s all right by you, I think I’m going to sleep in tomorrow.”

  “Sounds good.”

  He nodded. “I’ll see you sometime after noon. Good night, son.”

  “Night, Dad.”

  He opened the door and then stopped. “That Falene’s a nice gal. You better give her a call. She was beside herself with worry.”

  “I’ll call her tonight.”

  “She’ll be glad.” He climbed inside the car, then slowly pulled away from the curb. Nicole met me in the doorway.

  “I can’t believe he came,” I said.

  “And he likes eggnog.”

  “He does like eggnog.”

  “Glad someone does,” she said. “We’ve still got a whole gallon of it in there.”

  CHAPTER

  Twenty-three

  Developing a friendship is like feeding squirrels at the park. At first it’s all grab and go. But with gentle motion, time and consistency, soon they’re eating from your hand.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  I borrowed Nicole’s phone to call Falene. Her phone rang six times before it went to voice mail. I hung up without leaving a message, then redialed the number. I remembered that Falene rarely answered numbers she didn’t know but sometimes did if the caller was persistent. The phone rang awhile again and I was about to hang up when she answered. “Hello.”

  “Falene, it’s Alan.”

  Silence.

  “Are you there?” I asked.

  “Where have you been?”

  I wasn’t sure if the question was rhetorical or if she really wanted an answer. “I’m in Spokane.”

  “You’re in Spokane,” she said, her voice rising. “And I’m over here worried to death. Your father is out looking for you, I’ve been calling all the hospitals from here to Denver. For all I knew you were lying on the side of some road dead. Of all the selfish—”

  “Falene—”

  “I’m not done. You couldn’t take just five minutes and call me? I
’m not worth just five minutes of your time? Here I’ve been killing myself liquidating everything, taking crap from the vendors and trying to answer these questions by—”

  “Falene, I’m sorry. You’re right, I’ve been selfish.”

  “No, you’re incredibly selfish. You’re the most selfish, insensitive—”

  “Falene. Just stop.”

  Surprisingly, she did, though she was still breathing heavily.

  “Thank you,” I said.

  She breathed out in exasperation. “Where are you?”

  “I’m in Spokane,” I repeated.

  “Your father’s in Spokane right now looking for you.”

  “He found me.”

  “He said you’d been stabbed. Is it true?”

  “I was jumped by a gang. I was stabbed three times.”

  “Where?”

  “Just outside Spokane.”

  “I mean, where on your body?”

  “In the stomach. Fortunately, he missed all my vital organs.”

  “Are you okay?”

  “It took a few weeks before I could walk again, but I’ve mostly recovered.”

  She breathed out slowly. “I’m sorry I got so mad. I’ve been terrified for the last three weeks. I was worried that something bad had happened and I was right.”

  “I’m sorry I didn’t call. I’m not saying it’s an excuse, but I don’t have my cell phone anymore, so I don’t think about it.”

  “What happened to your cell phone?”

  “I threw it in a lake.”

  She didn’t ask why.

  “I didn’t know that you had been following me,” I said.

  “Of course I’ve been following you.”

  “How are you doing?” I asked.

  “I’m okay. I’ve finished liquidating all the furniture from the office. About half the furniture from your home is still at the consignment shop. There’s around forty-six thousand in the account. I hope it’s okay, but I took four thousand for my salary and to pay my brother for helping me.”

  “I offered you half of what you brought in.”

  “I know, but that was too much. I just needed a little. Besides, I got another job. I’m now the office manager at Tiffany’s Modeling. I’ve tripled my modeling gigs and I get my head shots for free.”

  “I’m glad that’s working out.”

  “You know, being at Tiffany’s, I see a lot of the other agency guys we used to compete with. They ask about you all the time.”

  “What do you tell them?”

  “I tell them that you took a job with BBDO in the U.K.”

  I laughed. “Why don’t you just tell them the truth?”

  “It’s none of their business. Yesterday, I saw Jason Stacey from Sixty-Second. He told me that Kyle’s losing clients almost as fast as his hair and that he and Ralph parted ways. Ralph took a job with some credit union doing in-house graphic design.”

  “That didn’t last long,” I said. Kyle had been my partner at Madgic. While I was caring for McKale, he had covertly started his own advertising agency, stolen my clients and talked Ralph, my head of graphic design, into coming on as his partner. I had hired and trained Ralph myself, so his betrayal was especially hard on me. “It’s only been about two months.”

  “Apparently, cheaters don’t prosper. In fact you’ll never guess who I got a call from the other day. Phil Wathen.”

  The name sent a pang through my body. Phil was a real estate developer, and it was his $6 million account I was pitching when I learned of McKale’s accident.

  “What did Phil have to say?”

  “He wanted to know if you’d consider taking him back as a client. I guess Kyle’s not keeping him happy either.”

  “Karma sucks,” I said.

  She laughed. “I miss you.”

  “I miss you too.”

  “I have some tax papers I need signed, where should I send them?”

  “I’m staying at a friend’s house. You could send the documents here.”

  “How about if I just brought them?”

  Her offer surprised me. “You don’t need to go to that much trouble.”

  “It’s no trouble. Besides, I have the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, I’d love to see you.”

  “I’d like that,” I said.

  “Then I’ll come.” She sighed. “I better let you go. Have a happy Thanksgiving.”

  “Happy Thanksgiving to you,” I said.

  “It is now,” she replied.

  I hung up the phone. I had forgotten how good it was to talk to her.

  CHAPTER

  Twenty-four

  We watched Citizen Kane. I’m pleased to witness that, in this instance, the movie ended entirely different than it was supposed to.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Long conversations (and most short ones) were not a part of my experience growing up with my father, so I wondered what we would talk about that afternoon. My worries were in vain. My father arrived around noon and immediately started poking around Nicole’s house for something to repair, which is his favorite pastime. His discoveries necessitated two trips to Home Depot. He repaired a leaky faucet, weather-stripped two windows, and replaced a refrigerator bulb before he sat down with me to watch the Alabama-Auburn game.

  Nicole came home from work at her usual hour. We ate a dinner of Thanksgiving leftovers, then my dad and I decided to meet at noon for lunch the next day.

  After he left, Nicole and I popped some corn, then sat down and watched Citizen Kane.

  When it was over, Nicole said, “Did you know that Citizen Kane was about William Randolph Hearst? He owned dozens of newspapers, and when the movie came out, he not only banned them from mentioning the film, but he threatened to cut advertising from any movie theater that played it.”

  “Can’t say that I blame him,” I said.

  “It does make him look pretty ruthless. The film never did well at the box office. In the end, the film destroyed both men—Hearst and Welles.”

  “How do you know all this?”

  “Remember, I’m a film major.”

  “Oh yeah.”

  “That was also true of It’s a Wonderful Life.”

  “Hearst didn’t like it?”

  She laughed. “No, it also bombed at the box office. People thought it was just too depressing.”

  I thought about this. “But we like it now.”

  She smiled. “We most certainly do.”

  CHAPTER

  Twenty-five

  There are two kinds of people. Those who climb mountains and those who sit in the shadow of the mountains and critique the climbers.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  True to his nature, my father arrived at the house the next day precisely five minutes before twelve. “If you’re not five minutes early, you’re late,” he always said, and he was as punctual as he was thrifty—which would impress you if you knew how thrifty he really was.

  Even though it was lunchtime, we went to the IHOP for pancakes. IHOP was a tradition for me. Whenever we pulled an all-nighter at the agency, we’d all end up at IHOP, sometimes at three in the morning.

  We both ordered a tall stack of pancakes—him buckwheat, me blueberry. When we’d gotten our meals, he asked, “How are you dealing with McKale?”

  “I have my moments.”

  He looked at me knowingly. “You know, after your mother died, some of my colleagues tried to get me to start dating, but I didn’t. That was a mistake.”

  “I’m not interested in dating right now,” I said.

  “I’m not saying you should be, it’s too early. But I hope you would someday consider it.”

  “Why didn’t you?”

  “Well, there are the lies we tell ourselves and then there’s the truth. I told myself that I didn’t want to confuse you by bringing home a strange woman. But the truth was, I was afraid of throwing the dice again. I was always shy, so your mother was the only woman I had ever dated. I g
ot lucky with her. I didn’t think a man should hope to get that lucky twice in one lifetime.” My father poured maple syrup on his pancakes. “I’m just saying, don’t be a coward like me. Life is short. You should find love when and where you can.”

  I was surprised to hear this from him. “You’re no coward.”

  “Sure I am. Cowards always hide behind bravado or stoicism. It takes courage to show emotion.” He took a bite of pancake. “Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about your walk. How’d you come up with your destination?”

  “It was the furthest point on the map.”

  He nodded as if he understood. “Have you ever been to Key West?”

  “No.”

  “Me neither,” he said. “Anyway, I’m not against it—your walking there.”

  “You’ve changed your mind?”

  “I guess it was never really set. When I first heard, I didn’t know why you’d want to do such a crazy thing, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I think I know why you need to walk.”

  I was curious to hear his reasoning, especially since I wasn’t totally sure myself. “Why?”

  “When I was twenty-something I read this book written by a German psychiatrist. He was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

  “That book had a profound effect on me. Something that he said has always stuck with me. Maybe this is just my interpretation, but basically he wrote that when a man loses his vision of the future he dies.

  “There’s a lot of talk these days about living in the now, but if you don’t have a future, there is no now. You see it all the time. Men retire from their jobs and a few months later the paper runs their obituary.

  “I’ll be honest with you, when I lost your mother, there were days I wanted to put a gun to my head. But I still had you. And I had my job and my buddies at the Rotary. All that kept me from derailing.

  “But you weren’t so fortunate. You lost it all. Lesser men have given up under such circumstances. But you found something to keep you going. I think that’s admirable. I think it’s more than that, I think it’s manly.”

 
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