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Miles to go, p.11
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       Miles to Go, p.11

           Richard Paul Evans
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  That may have been the greatest accolade I had ever received from my father. Almost instinctively, I tried to deflect it. “I almost gave up.”

  “Almost has no consequence in this world. None whatsoever. You didn’t give up, that’s all that matters.” He set down his fork and leaned forward. “Do you know why men climb mountains?”

  I looked at him blankly. “Because they’re there?”

  “Because the valley is for cemeteries. Sometimes, when tragedy strikes, people give up hope that they can expect anything more from life, when the real quest is finding out what life expects from them. Does this make any sense?”

  “It makes sense,” I said.

  “So, my CPA-trained mind must ask, do you have the financial means to carry out your trek?”

  “I think so. I have about forty-six thousand dollars.”

  “As long as you don’t stay at the Four Seasons, that should get you through. You’re not carrying all that money with you.”

  “No. I use a credit card and ATM machines. Falene liquidated all our assets and put it in an account.”

  “I don’t like the ATM fees,” he said, sounding more accountant than father, “but I suppose it can’t be avoided. The account is interest-bearing, I presume.”

  “I really don’t know.”

  He frowned. He never understood why I was so lax about such things. “Well, if, for any reason you come up short, you come to me. It may surprise you, but I’ve got quite a nest egg put away.”

  “It doesn’t surprise me at all. You’re a hard worker and the most frugal person I’ve ever met. If I were more like you, I wouldn’t be in such a mess.”

  “If you were more like me, you’d be a bored, unhappy old man.”

  I was surprised by his comment.

  “I know I’ve come down on you more than a few times for being irresponsible with your money, but I’m being honest with you now—a part of me admires that about you. You and McKale lived. You had fun. And now you have those memories. I didn’t, and you and your mom suffered because of it. I suffered because of it.”

  “We had good times,” I said.

  “Course we did, but they were few and far between. I put things off with your mother that I regret to this day. One Christmas she wanted to go to Italy more than anything. She begged me to go. She said she didn’t want another thing for Christmas or her birthday, she said she’d cut coupons, get a side job and save her dimes. She even had a sitter lined up for you.” He shook his head. “Idiot I was, I told her ‘no.’ ‘Too expensive’, I said. ‘A waste of money.’ Instead we drove to Yellowstone Park.”

  “I remember that trip to Yellowstone,” I said. “I have fond memories of it. Didn’t Mom want to go?”

  “You wouldn’t know it if she didn’t, but I knew that her heart was set on Italy.” Suddenly, my father’s eyes welled up with tears. “I didn’t know that would be our last vacation together.” He cleared his throat. “The kicker is, we had the money—even back then. I saved up all this money for retirement and for what? To give it to someone else? I live alone and still go in to work every day. I’ll never use the half of it, just leave it to you. I should just give it all to you now, you’d know what to do with it.”

  “I’d just lose it,” I said. “At least I would have.”

  “In the end, we all lose it. Remember that. In the end, we own nothing.”

  It struck me odd hearing this from a man who had spent his career counseling people on how to keep their money. I didn’t know if my father had changed or if I’d just never seen this side of him. Probably both.

  We finished our pancakes, then my father drove me back to Nicole’s. Idling at the curb, he asked in his direct, pragmatic way, “Anything else we need to talk about?”


  “Then I’ll go home tomorrow.”

  “Okay,” I said.

  “It’s settled,” he said.

  I got out of the car. As I started up the walk, he rolled down the window. “Son.”

  I turned back. “Yes?”

  “I love you.”

  I looked at him for a few seconds, then said, “I know. Me too.”

  He put the car in gear and drove away.



  Funny how we can wait so many years to hear so few words.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  My father came by to see me once more before he left. He was wearing his Lakers windbreaker again, with a Lakers cap. He came inside the building but not Nicole’s apartment.

  “It was good seeing you, son.”

  “Thanks for coming.”

  “Where’s Angel? I’d like to say goodbye.”

  “Nicole,” I corrected. “She’s inside.” I called to Nicole and she walked out.

  “I want to thank you for taking care of my son,” he said.

  “My pleasure. And thank you for all the things you fixed around here.”

  “I like puttering around. If there’s ever anything I can do for you, just call.”

  “Thank you,” she said.

  They looked at each other for a moment, then Nicole stuck out her hand. “Travel safe.”

  “Thank you.”

  He put his hand on my shoulder. “Come out to the car with me.”

  I followed him out. When we were at the curb, my father said, “Three things I ask of you. First, take this.” He handed me a small cell phone, the inexpensive kind they give you when you open a new cell phone account. “Just for emergencies. No one needs to know the number and you can keep it turned off. I won’t call you, but you call now and then. I don’t mean daily, but every couple of weeks just to let me know you’re okay.

  “Second, if you need help, you come to me. I want you to promise me that.”

  “I promise,” I said, and I actually meant it.

  “Good, good. Third.” He reached into the car’s trunk and brought out a small bag. “Here’s the charger for your cell phone. And here’s something else you’ll need.”

  I looked at what he was handing me. “A handgun?”

  “Nine-millimeter. The safety’s on, clip is empty.”

  I pushed it back to him. “I don’t do guns.”

  “If you’re going to live on the road, you better have it. You didn’t even get out of Washington without almost getting killed. You’ve got thousands of miles to go and I’m betting you’ll be walking through places a whole lot tougher than Spokane.”

  I looked at the gun skeptically. “I don’t know.”

  “If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me. For my peace of mind.”

  “Is it even legal?”

  “It’s registered in my name. But I’m guessing your next mugger won’t care much.”

  I balanced the piece in my hand. After a moment I said, “All right.”

  “Good. Don’t forget the shells. One box should be ample.” He wiped his nose with the back of his hand. “Are you going through Colorado?”

  “I haven’t decided.”

  “If you do, drop by and see the Laidlaws. I haven’t seen them in years.”

  “If I’m in the neighborhood I’ll be sure to do that.”

  He stepped forward and hugged me. “Take care of yourself. I’m glad you’re my boy.”

  All I could say was “Thanks.” I’d wanted to hear that for the longest time.



  Then pealed the bells more loud and deep; “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep.”


  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  My mother often said that the shortest path to healing was to heal someone else. I never knew how right she was. In caring for Nicole I had almost forgotten my own loss and grief. By all rights that holiday season should have been despairing, or at least melancholy, and, of course, I had those moments, but they didn’t define the season. I didn’t forget McKale—that would have been impossible. I just found a different side of my loss, focusing
more on the sweetness of what was than the bitterness of what wasn’t.

  Nicole also seemed different, as if reclaiming her name had changed everything else about her life. For the first time since I came home with her, she stopped talking about the horrors she encountered on her job and started talking about the positive ones, like the work the police were doing to help kids during the holiday season or the people who rescued complete strangers at personal risk to themselves.

  We weren’t watching movies from her list anymore, just a few Christmas ones—Miracle on 34th Street, White Christmas, and A Charlie Brown Christmas—but we kept busy, making the most of the holiday.

  We went to a stage production of A Christmas Carol, the planetarium’s presentation of The Star of Bethlehem, and toured the Christmas Tree Elegance presentation in downtown Spokane at the Davenport Hotel.

  One Saturday we drove across the border into Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for their remarkable holiday light show: more than a million and a half lights over the lake.

  With the exception of our escapade into Coeur d’Alene, we brought Bill (and his Old Spice) along with us to almost everything, including a Christmas singalong at the neighboring Montessori. It was fun watching how happy he was to be included, and I realized that what I was doing for Nicole, she was doing for Bill.

  Through it all there was something remarkably seductive about denying the dwindling candle of Nicole and my allotted time together and believing in something more permanent. That level of denial might sound peculiar, but, on some level, we all do that every day.



  The giving of a Christmas fruitcake has been passed down from generation to generation to generation. That’s because nobody wanted it.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Christmas Eve. Christine had flown home to Portland to spend Christmas with her family, but Bill joined us. The three of us had a nice ham dinner with scalloped potatoes, asparagus, and a fruit salad. Bill brought a fruitcake, which reminded me of what Johnny Carson had to say about fruitcakes. “There’s only been one fruitcake ever made—and every Christmas it gets passed around the world.”

  After dinner we exchanged our gifts. I gave Nicole the complete set of Alfred Hitchcock movies and a year’s supply of microwave popcorn. I gave Bill a bottle of Old Spice. He caressed the bottle as if it were a fine wine. “How did you know I like this?” he asked.

  “Lucky guess,” I said.

  Nicole gave him the silver picture frame.

  “I think it’s the most beautiful picture frame I’ve ever seen,” he said.

  “I thought you could put a picture of June in it.”

  His eyes welled up with tears and his chin began to quiver a little. All he could say was “Thank you.”

  Nicole gave me something less sentimental—a pair of Nike walking shoes and seven pairs of wool athletic socks.

  The snow was falling gently, casting the world in a serene, peaceful air as we walked Bill out to his car. He shook my hand, then turned to Nicole and embraced her tightly. “Thank you, my dear. Your friendship means more to me than I could ever tell you. God bless you.”

  “God bless you, Bill. And Merry Christmas. Don’t forget we have brunch tomorrow. We’ll pick you up around eleven.”

  “I won’t eat a thing before.”

  “And don’t forget our wild New Year’s Eve party. I fully expect to see you wearing a lamp shade before the night’s through.”

  He chuckled heartily. “Oh, that would be a sight. I’ll be there, unless, of course, I’m too tired. You youngsters keep me up too late. I haven’t stayed up this late for years.”

  “It’s good for you,” Nicole said.

  “I’ll take your word for it.” He leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek. “Good night, my dear.”

  As he drove off, Nicole said, “He’s a sweet old guy.”

  “I don’t think you have any idea how much you mean to him,” I said.

  “It’s mutual,” she said, smiling. She took my hand. “I have a gift for you.”

  “You already gave me a gift.”

  “No, that was a necessity.”

  Back inside, she told me to sit on the couch as she ran into her bedroom. The Christmas tree lit the front room, its blinking lights flashing on and off in syncopation.

  She returned a few seconds later with a package. “Okay, so you’re both easy and difficult to shop for. On the one hand, what do you give a man who has nothing?”

  “Anything,” I said.

  “Exactly. On the other hand, what do you give a man who carries his home on his back?” Her expression turned softer. “Or the man who saved your life?” She handed me the box. “Anyway, I hope you like it.”

  I peeled back the paper to expose a crushed velvet jewelry box. I opened the lid. Inside was a St. Christopher medallion.

  “St. Christopher is the patron saint of travelers,” she said. “Do you like it?”

  I lifted the white gold medallion by its chain. “It’s beautiful.” I unclasped the chain and put it around my neck. The pendant fell to the top of my chest.

  “I hope you’ll think of me every time you feel it against your skin.”

  I leaned over and kissed her cheek.

  Suddenly, she said, “Hey, how about some eggnog?”

  “You’ll actually join me in a glass?”

  “No, but I’ll watch.”

  I laughed. “Fair enough.”



  The greatest gift I received this Christmas was peace.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Christmas Day was joyous and relaxed. Just before noon we picked up Bill, then drove downtown for Christmas brunch at the Davenport, which Bill insisted on paying for. “I’m starting to feel like a charity case,” he said.

  After the meal we came back to the apartment and spent the rest of the day playing card games until Bill got tired and we drove him home.

  On the way back Nicole asked, “How was your Christmas?”

  “It was great.” I looked at her and smiled. “That’s kind of amazing, isn’t it? I thought I’d be suicidal by now. Instead, I feel peace.”

  As she pondered my words, a grin spread across her face. “May I tell you something awful?”

  I looked at her curiously. “What’s that?”

  “I’m glad you got stabbed.” She covered her mouth with her hand.

  I just looked at her, then burst out laughing. “Me too.”

  The next morning Nicole had to go back to work. I got in my walking, which I had been less than diligent about through the holidays. I walked seven miles and I could feel it in my legs. I came back and showered, then spent the rest of the day at home waiting for Falene.

  Falene arrived around two-thirty, driving a fire engine red BMW. I walked outside and waved her down. She climbed out of the car wearing Chanel sunglasses and a form-fitting, one-piece sweater-dress.

  “Alan,” she shouted.


  She bounded up the walk to me and we embraced.

  “Aren’t you a sight for sore eyes,” she said, kissing my cheek. “I’ve missed you.”

  “I’ve missed you too,” I said. “Have you had lunch?”

  “I’ve just been mainlining Diet Cokes.”

  “As usual. Want to go get a burger?”

  “Oh yes, real food. Please.” She handed me her keys. “You drive.”

  We drove to a Wendy’s where I got a salad and she got a double cheeseburger, giant fries, and a chocolate Frosty with a Diet Coke to counter it.

  “I get so sick of starving myself,” she said, “sometimes I’ve just got to binge.”

  “How’s Seattle?” I asked, stealing one of her fries.

  “Rain,” she said. “And more rain, and then some more.”

  “You gotta love that rain. Speaking of storms, tell me more about Ralph and Kyle.”

  Falene grinned. “Did you really come up wit
h that segue on the fly?”

  “Of course.”

  “You’re still brilliant. Well, I told you they split. But it gets better,” she said. “Or worse, depending on whose side you’re on. Ralph’s wife finally found out he was cheating.”

  “I might have had something to do with that,” I said.

  “You told his wife?”

  “I ran into Ralph and Cheryl up at Stevens Pass. They didn’t recognize me since I had a beard and glasses, but I made a comment to him about cheaters.”

  She shook her head. “Serves him right, the weasel. Ralph was nothing until you brought him in, and then he plots behind your back to steal your agency.”

  “What about Kyle?”

  “You know how he always bragged that he could talk his way out of anything?”


  “Well, apparently there comes a time when people actually expect results. Let’s face it, everything brilliant that ever came out of Madgic was yours. They may have stolen your clients and the awards off the wall, but they can’t take your creativity. It was only a matter of time before the wheels fell off.” She took a bite of her Frosty. “I’ve got to tell you, you’ve walked a long way. Just driving here made me tired.”

  “I’ve just begun.”

  “Are you really going to walk the whole way?”

  “I’m still planning on it.”

  “So, what was it like being stabbed?”

  “It hurt.”

  A grin crossed her face. “I figured that much. Does it still hurt?”

  “No. There’s a little numbness, but nothing compared to what it was.”

  “May I see?”

  “Sure.” I lifted my shirt to show her the wounds. I had removed the bandages several weeks earlier, so all that was left were three fresh scars. She grimaced. “You poor baby. You should have stayed with me.”

  “I had to leave Seattle.”

  Just then a guy walked by staring at Falene as if his eyes were caught in a tractor beam. I forgot that this is how it was whenever I was with her. She didn’t even notice it anymore.

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