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Miles to go, p.18
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       Miles to Go, p.18

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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  We were waiting for our main entrées when I was struck by a flash of genius. It must have shown on my face because Kailamai gave me a puzzled look. “What?”

  “Nothing,” I said.

  “Why are you looking at me like that?”

  “I was just thinking,” I said vaguely. “So let me ask you something. If you could suddenly have any life at all, what would it look like?”

  “You mean, like, if I could be queen of the world or Britney Spears?”

  I grinned. “I was thinking of something a little more realistic.”

  She thought about my question. “Well, since this is fantasy and I could have anything, I’d live in a nice home near a college where I could go to school to be a lawyer. The home doesn’t need to be a mansion, just a nice place that smells good.

  “I wouldn’t want to be treated like a foster child anymore, but I’d still want to live with someone who was a little older so she could teach me things that people with normal lives already know. But she would still be fun and joke and stuff and not bust my chops all the time. Someone like you.”

  “I’m no fun,” I said.

  “See, you’re always joking,” she replied. “And we’d go to a movie now and then or bowling or hiking. And I’d go to school and work a job and also I would help out around the house, because I wouldn’t want my roommate to think I was a freeloader.”

  “Are you sure that’s really what you want?” I asked.

  “That would be heaven.”

  “What if I could make it happen?”

  She looked at me curiously. “Then I’d say you were an angel or something.”

  “An angel, huh?” I got up from the table. “I need to make a call.”

  We slept in the next morning, a rare luxury. We showered and dressed, then went downstairs for the complimentary breakfast.

  “Yellowstone awaits,” Kailamai said, spreading cream cheese over a bagel. “Ready to hit the road?”

  “No. Not today.”

  “No?”

  “We’ve been putting in a lot of miles lately. I thought we should take a day off. Have a play day.”

  Her face lit with excitement. “Really?”

  “I think we deserve it. We should go bowling, have a nice lunch, maybe go shopping.”

  Her smile grew. “Sounds awesome.”

  “I hope you don’t mind, but a friend of mine’s going to join us.”

  “You have a friend in Butte?”

  “No, she actually lives in Spokane. She’s driving all the way here.”

  “Is she like a girlfriend?”

  “No, just a good friend.”

  “When is she coming?”

  “She should be here any minute.”

  I was getting directions from the clerk at the front desk to the nearest bowling alley when Nicole walked into the lobby. She smiled when she saw me. “Alan!”

  We embraced. “It’s good to see you,” I said. It had only been eighteen days, but it already felt like a year since I’d left Spokane.

  Nicole looked around the hotel lobby. “Where is she?” “Kailamai, come here,” I said, waving her over. “Meet my friend.”

  Kailamai had been watching our reunion. She set her pancakes down and walked over.

  “This is my friend, Nicole,” I said.

  “Hello,” Kailamai said, sounding uncharacteristically formal. “It’s nice to meet you.”

  “It’s nice meeting you too,” Nicole said. “Alan’s told me a lot about you.”

  “Good things I hope.”

  “All good,” Nicole said. “Do you mind me hanging out with you guys today?”

  “No problem.”

  Nicole turned to me. “So what’s on the agenda?”

  “I think some bowling might be in order,” I said.

  Nicole asked Kailamai, “Do you like to bowl?”

  “Who doesn’t?” Kailamai said.

  “Then let’s go bowling,” Nicole said.

  Kailamai looked back and forth between us. “If you two would rather just be alone…”

  “Absolutely not,” I said.

  Nicole shook her head. “Sorry, you’re stuck with us.”

  Kailamai smiled. “Good, sounds fun.”

  We climbed into Nicole’s Malibu and drove a few miles to Kingpin Lanes. We were all pretty bad bowlers and our combined scores wouldn’t equal a decent IQ, but that only added to the fun.

  After one throw Kailamai said, “What does one of my bowling balls and a drunk have in common?”

  “What?” I said.

  “Chances are they’ll both end up in the gutter.”

  Afterward we walked through a mall, and Nicole and Kailamai went off clothes shopping while I browsed a bookstore and then sat in the courtyard to read a magazine and drink an Orange Julius. An hour later they found me.

  “Look what Nicole bought me,” Kailamai said excitedly, holding up a denim jacket with white stitching and rhinestones. “This cool coat.”

  “She picked it out,” Nicole said. “She’s got great taste. She helped me find the perfect pair of jeans.”

  I smiled. They had already connected. After the mall we headed back over to the Montana Club for lunch.

  Nicole got a phone call on our way into the restaurant and stayed out in the restaurant’s lobby while Kailamai and I sat down at our table.

  “So what do you think of Nicole?” I asked.

  “You two should get married.”

  I smiled wryly. “That’s not what I meant.”

  “I think she’s really cool. She should go to Yellowstone with us.”

  “No, she’s got to get back to school.”

  Kailamai looked disappointed.

  A few minutes later Nicole entered the dining room and sat down in a chair next to Kailamai, across from me.

  “Everything okay?” I asked.

  “It was my sister,” she said, rolling her eyes. “She calls a lot now.” She turned to Kailamai. “So what’s good?”

  “I had the French dip and sweet potato fries last night,” Kailamai said. “They were both awesome. I’m going to try making those fries some day.”

  “You can cook?” Nicole asked.

  “A few things. I make a mean grilled cheese sandwich and I can make pizza dough. I thought of being a chef once. That or a judge.”

  Nicole laughed. “You have diverse tastes.”

  “Well, in both cases, you have to make sure things are done right.”

  “You’re right,” Nicole said, “you’re absolutely right.”

  The waitress came and took our orders and then Kailamai left to use the restroom. When she was gone, I said, “So, what do you think?”

  Nicole smiled. “I think she’s great. I think it’s a great idea.”

  “What if it doesn’t work out?”

  Nicole nodded. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it—if we ever do. But I’m not worried. I have a good feeling about her. It will be nice having company again.”

  “Do you want to ask her or should I?” “Maybe you should.”

  A few minutes later Kailamai returned. After she sat down, I said to her, “Remember our talk last night, when you told me about your perfect world?”

  She put her napkin on her lap. “Yeah.”

  “Did you mean it?”

  She looked at me quizzically. “Yeah, I mean, it was just wishful thinking, but I hope that something like that happens someday.”

  “Well, someday is today.”

  She looked back and forth between us. “What do you mean?”

  “Nicole didn’t drive all this way just to go bowling. She came to meet you.”

  Kailamai looked at Nicole. “Why would you do that?”

  “Because,” I said, “Nicole’s your perfect world. She’s smart and fun, she lives less than a mile from Gonzaga University, and she’s willing to take you in as her roommate, pay for your room, and help you get into school, as long as you get good grades, help out around the house, and are re
spectful.”

  Kailamai’s eyes darted back and forth between both of us. “Are you kidding me?”

  “What do you think?” Nicole asked.

  After a moment she said, “It’s like a dream come true.” She turned to Nicole. “Why would you do that? You don’t even know me.”

  “No, but I know Alan and I trust him.”

  Kailamai’s eyes welled up. “I can’t believe this.”

  The waiter brought our food. After he was gone, I said, “There is one catch.”

  “What’s that?” Kailamai asked.

  “You need to leave this afternoon. Nicole’s headed back to Spokane as soon as we finish lunch.”

  Kailamai looked surprised. “But… Yellowstone.”

  “Yellowstone’s not going anywhere,” I said.

  She looked down at her food. “Wow, for once I’m not hungry.”

  “So what’s your decision?” Nicole asked.

  A big smile crossed her lips. “Yes. Thank you. Yes.”

  We finished eating, then Nicole drove us back to the hotel. I stayed in the lobby with Nicole while Kailamai ran upstairs to get her things.

  “Remember what I said to you the day you left?” Nicole asked. “The happiest I’ve ever been was when I was taking care of someone.” She smiled at me. “Once again, you’ve changed my life.”

  “Well, no one deserves a chance more than Kailamai. She’s lucky to have a mentor like you. She’ll go far.”

  A big smile crossed Nicole’s face. “Thank you.”

  A few minutes later Kailamai came into the lobby carrying her backpack.

  “Ready?” I asked.

  “Yeah.”

  We went outside and I put her bag in the Malibu’s trunk.

  “I’m going to miss walking with you,” Kailamai said.

  I looked at her fondly. “Me too. Be a good roommate. And a good judge or chef. Make me proud.”

  “I will, I promise.” She looked down. “Will I ever see you again?”

  “Absolutely.”

  She hugged me, then she turned to Nicole.

  “Let’s go, roomie.” She climbed into the car.

  Nicole walked up and hugged me. “Another goodbye. It was hard enough the first time.”

  “I hate goodbye,” I said. “How about I just say, ‘See you later.’”

  “Promise?”

  “I promise. I’ll call to see how things are going.”

  “I’ll look forward to it.” She was starting to tear up, so she quickly kissed my cheek, then climbed into the car and started it. “Bye,” she said sweetly.

  “Goodbye,” I said.

  Kailamai waved as they drove off.

  “Alone again,” I said. I took a deep breath, then went up to my room and took a long, hot bath.

  CHAPTER

  Forty-six

  I’m alone again. It’s not that I dislike the company, it’s just that I’ve already heard all his stories.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  The next morning I went downstairs for breakfast—Raisin Bran with skim milk, a banana, and a glass of orange juice. At the table next to me was a man wearing a lanyard that read HI, MY NAME IS TONY written in blue marker. He was watching ESPN on the television mounted on the dining room wall.

  “Excuse me,” I said. “Do you know the fastest way from here to Highway 2?”

  He turned to me. “Sure. Just turn right in front of the hotel and keep going south about two miles down to the MT2 sign. You can’t miss it.”

  “Thank you.”

  “Where are you headed?”

  “I’m walking to Yellowstone.”

  “You’re walking all the way to Yellowstone?”

  “Actually, I’m walking to Key West.”

  “Florida?”

  “Yes.”

  He looked at me for a moment, then said, “Man, I wish I were doing that.”

  I was on the road by eight. I already missed Kailamai. I missed her spirit. I even missed her jokes.

  Outside of Butte, I got on Highway 2 toward Whitehall. The next three days took me through the towns of Silver Star, Twin Bridges, and Sheridan. Silver Star was a small but legitimate town. It had a scrap metal yard, a taxidermist, and a stop called Granny’s Country Store with a sign outside that said FREE COFFEE, WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY, 10-6.

  I stopped at the store, where I picked up a wilderness survival book and a pamphlet that claimed it would help me predict the weather using the wisdom of our forefathers. The small book was filled with chestnuts like:

  When the dew is on the grass,

  Rain will never come to pass.

  When grass is dry at morning light,

  Look for rain before the night!

  And (according to the book) the single most useful weather proverb of all:

  Red Sky at night,

  Sailor’s delight.

  Red sky in the morning,

  Sailors take warning!

  I filled up my canteen from the bathroom sink, bought some honeycomb, and chose two cellophane-wrapped sandwiches from a refrigerator. I learned that the woman who ran the store was the owner, which, I guess, technically made her Granny. She was probably in her late thirties, had long, brunette hair that fell to her waist, and didn’t wear shoes on the hardwood floor.

  I passed Jefferson Camp (where the Lewis and Clark expedition had camped), then a few miles later crossed the Jefferson River and followed the Lewis and Clark Trail all the way to the town of Twin Bridges.

  Twin Bridges bills itself as “The Small City That Cares.” The town had GO FALCON signs posted in most of the store windows. I ate dinner at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant, which was surprisingly crowded, and bought supplies at the Main Street Market.

  I spent the night at King’s Motel, which had a sign outside proclaiming AWARD WINNING ROOMS, which was infinitely better than “world famous” or “historic.” I was skeptical of the claim until the owner—a fishing outfitter named Don who looked like Ernest Hemingway in shorts—gave me a tour of the place. The rooms were cozy, wood paneled cabins with kitchenettes. The cost was just $73 a night, and as a bonus, Don offered to take me fly-fishing in the morning. I told him I’d have to pass on the fishing, but rented one of his rooms.

  Sheridan was only eight miles from Twin Bridges, and most of the terrain between them was smooth, with green meadows and grazing sheep. Sheridan was larger than the last three towns I’d passed through and had a bank and a Napa Auto Parts Store alongside the Ruby Saloon, which had a sign advertising BOOZED BUNS, which I mused was either a bread product infused with alcohol, or referred to the help.

  I stopped at the Sheridan Bakery & Café and ordered a ham and cheese roll and a cinnamon bun. Next to my table was a sign on the wall that read:

  We have the right to refuse service to anyone at any time.

  No exceptions, Steve, Joe, and Allen

  A whiteboard mounted to the wall across from my table read:

  TRIVIA QUESTION:

  Where is the Trevi Fountain located?

  Someone had scrawled beneath it: “Trevi?”

  Whoever answered the questions correctly got a free maple bar, which I hope hadn’t been made especially for the contest, since the sign had been posted a month earlier and still no one had won. I asked the manager, a woman named Francie, if I could give it a shot.

  “Sure thing, honey. Where is the Trevi Fountain?” she asked with the intensity of a game show host.

  McKale and I had been to Rome twice on advertising incentive trips, and I was quite familiar with the beautiful fountain of Neptune that capped the end of the ancient Roman aqueducts.

  “The Trevi Fountain is just a little east of Via Veneto, about a half mile from the Spanish Steps.”

  She shook her head. “No,” she said sadly. “It’s in Italy.”

  I just smiled. “Well, I tried.”

  The next day I walked along the Ruby River, which, in the 1860s, was originally called the Stinking Water River by the miners. Sometime
later it was renamed the Ruby River after the gems found along its length, which turned out not to be rubies, but garnets.

  A sign mounted near the river shared several interesting facts: First, the gold once mined there by dredges was used to finance Harvard University in the early twentieth century. Second, the Ruby River was the site of the Vigilante Trail, and the dreaded numbers 3-7-77 were of historic significance, though it didn’t explain why.

  The next town I came to, Nevada City, was closed. Literally. Nevada City was an authentic old western town with a music hall, blacksmith shop, barbershop, saloons, and a saddler. The town looked like a movie set—which it was—and outside the village entrance was a long list of all the movies that had been shot on the premises. The numbers 3-7-77 were posted on one of the buildings here as well. Maybe it was a date, I thought. March 7, 1877.

  Eight miles down the road was Christine City, which was also an Old West town, and more authentic than Nevada City though not as colorful. Fortunately for me, it was open. I stopped in a small tourist shop to browse, and I asked the shop’s proprietor the meaning of 3-7-77’. She seemed glad for the question.

  “If you had that number placed in your yard by the vigilantes, you had 3 days, 7 hours, and 77 minutes to get out of town or you would be buried in a grave 3 feet wide, 7 feet long, and 77 inches deep. However, some believe that those numbers were also connected to the local Masonic order, who in the 1860s had 3 deacons, 7 elders, and 77 members.”

  The woman told me that their town had a “boot hill,” which is where the vigilantes’ victims were buried, placed in graves with their boots pointing away from the sun.

  I ate lunch at a small restaurant called the Outlaw Café. When I asked the waitress, Cora, if their food was any good, she replied, “Oh, it’s good all right. Before I worked here I looked like Twiggy, now look at me.” She spun around, modeling her plump physique for me.

  I told her about my walk, and she said another man had walked through Christine City on his way across the country—Tim. “He carries a cross with him.” She gave him extra tea bags and sugar packets to help keep him warm in the winter.

  I kind of hated leaving the town. I walked until dark and spent the night in the city of Ennis, which, no matter how many times I read the name, didn’t seem right.

 
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