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       Miles to Go, p.4

           Richard Paul Evans
 
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  She smiled and walked out.

  I spent the rest of the morning reading. Norma came back in around two with a stack of color copies. “I brought you something.” She handed me the papers.

  I shuffled through pictures of beaches and ocean. “What are these?”

  “Pictures of Key West. I printed them off of the Internet.”

  “I mean, what are they for?”

  “Reminders,” she said. “I’ll hang them up if you like.”

  I handed them back to her. “Sure.”

  “Good. Are you ready to go for another walk?”

  “Yes. To the bathroom, please.”

  I put my hands on the edge of the bed and pushed myself up. I walked to the bathroom in about the same time as before, went inside and locked the door, and used the toilet. I came out a few minutes later. “I feel human again.”

  “One small step for man, one giant leap for dignity.”

  I smiled as I slowly walked back. When I reached my bed, she said, “That’s awesome, Alan. Well done.”

  “Thanks, coach.” I sat back on the bed.

  She lifted the Key West pictures from the nightstand. “I’ll hang these for you.”

  There were six pictures in all. She began hanging them on the wall in front of my bed.

  “So do you have big plans for tonight?” I asked.

  “My husband has to work late, so I’m going to my mother’s to help her clean out her basement. She’s been on this cleaning kick lately.”

  “Sounds fun. Wish I could help.”

  “I bet you do,” she said sardonically. “How about you? Any exciting plans? Skateboarding? Tennis?”

  “I thought I’d just hang out here.”

  She smiled. “Good idea. Is your friend coming today?”

  “You mean Angel?”

  She nodded.

  “I think so. She didn’t say.”

  “I had a good talk with her yesterday. She’s really quite interesting. How long have you known her?”

  “Actually, I don’t.”

  She finished taping the last picture and turned back. “What do you mean?”

  “I met her just a little over a week ago.”

  “That’s funny. She talks about you as if you were her best friend. You know, she did something really surprising. I was admiring her sapphire necklace and she took it off and gave it to me. I’m sure it was worth at least a thousand dollars.”

  “She gave you a sapphire necklace?”

  “Well, she tried to. I didn’t accept it.”

  I wasn’t sure what to think of that. “She’s a bit of a mystery. I can’t figure out why she’s been so good to me.”

  “Maybe she’s one of those rare people who sincerely cares about others. Or maybe she’s an angel.”

  “An angel?”

  “Well, that’s her name, isn’t it?” she said, patting my arm. “Dr. McDonald will be in to see you before her shift is over, so in case she releases you, don’t go running out of here without saying goodbye.”

  “I don’t think I’ll be running anywhere. Have fun at your mother’s.”

  She grinned. “You know I will. Take care. And good job today. You’re my hero.”

  After she walked out, I thought about our conversation about Angel. I didn’t mean to question her motives—or maybe I did—but I didn’t really know what was driving her. Maybe she was, as Norma speculated, just altruistic—a modern-day saint. I knew people like that, not many, but a few. My mother was like that. So was my former assistant Falene, who for no apparent reason had stood with me through all the chaos and crisis I had gone through. In spite of the horrors we read about in the papers, there are still people out there with selfless, giving hearts.

  But my mother was my mother and Falene knew me. Angel was a complete stranger. Something didn’t fit.

  Dr. McDonald didn’t come in to see me until after five. As she entered, she glanced at the pictures on my wall. “Looks like Key West has come to you.” She walked to the side of my bed. “Sorry I’m so late. I had a patient whose heart decided to take a holiday. I hear you’re walking again.”

  “More like shuffling, but I made it to the bathroom.”

  “Excellent. Your CT scans show no further damage, the rest of your vitals have been consistently stable, and you seem to be recovering without any complications, so I’d like to keep you here for another twenty-four hours, then you’re free to go.”

  “Fair enough.”

  “I’ve written out a prescription for an antibiotic and a week’s worth of oral morphine tablets to help with the pain. The dosage is 10 milligrams, and you’ll be taking them for comfort measures, so you can quit taking them whenever you feel up to it. We’re going to send you home in your bandages and have you check back with us next week to remove your stitches. I’ll leave your prescriptions here.” She set the papers on my bedside table. “So the word on the floor is you’re walking to Key West.”

  “That’s my plan.”

  “Hopefully you won’t have any more detours.” She smiled. “Good luck, Mr. Christoffersen.”

  Angel arrived about ten minutes after the doctor left. Her eyes were red, as if she’d been crying. “How’s your day been?” she asked.

  “Not bad,” I said. “How was yours?”

  “I’m okay,” she said. She sat down.

  “I walked on my own,” I said.

  “And I missed it?” She sounded disappointed, like a parent who had missed her toddler’s first steps.

  “It’s not a big deal,” I said. “The doctor was just here. She said I could leave tomorrow.”

  This clearly pleased her. “Good. Everything’s ready at home. Is there anything else you need?”

  “I need my prescriptions filled,” I said, pointing to the table.

  She stood and lifted the papers. “No problem.”

  “My wallet is in the small zipper outside of my backpack. There’s a credit card inside.”

  “Okay,” she said. “I’ll take care of them right now.”

  I noticed she left without taking my card.

  CHAPTER

  Seven

  There are people who come into our lives as welcome as a cool breeze in summer—and last about as long.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  The next day Norma was fussing around in my room while we waited for Angel to arrive. Angel had planned to get off work a little early. She arrived at quarter of six and was out of breath. “Sorry I’m late,” she panted. “I was having BG problems.”

  “BG?” I said.

  “Blood glucose,” Norma said. “Are you diabetic?”

  “Type one. I was a little low this afternoon.”

  “You don’t live alone, do you?” Norma asked.

  “Yes.”

  Norma cocked her head. “That’s really dangerous. Now I’m especially glad that Alan will be staying with you.”

  “So am I,” Angel said. She held up a paper sack. “And I got your prescriptions filled.” She unzipped my pack and stuffed the medications inside.

  “I just need to get dressed,” I said.

  “We’ll give you some privacy,” Norma said.

  A couple minutes later Norma knocked, then opened my door. “Ready?” She entered pushing a wheelchair. Angel was behind her.

  “Would you like to take Key West with you?” Norma asked, taking down the pictures.

  I turned to Angel. “Will there be wall space?”

  “Plenty.”

  “Okay. I’ll take Key West.”

  “I’ll get the car,” Angel said. She lifted my backpack, though not without difficulty. “I’ll meet you downstairs.” She walked out.

  I stood up, walked to the wheelchair, and sat down.

  “You know, I’m going to miss you,” I said to Norma.

  “I’ll miss you too. Will you send me a card when you get to Key West?”

  “Yes.”

  Norma wheeled me out to the elevator and pushed the button for t
he lobby. A moment later I was outside the hospital.

  I recognized Angel’s car from our first encounter—an aged, silver-gray Chevrolet Malibu which she pulled up to the loading zone right in front of us. She put the car in park, climbed out, and walked around, opening the passenger side door.

  Stepping over the curb suddenly looked daunting. “I can do this,” I said, though less certain than hopeful. I slowly stood, pushing myself up from the armrests. I couldn’t believe how much it still hurt to move. Getting back into shape wasn’t going to happen overnight. I stood for a moment, testing my balance.

  “Got it?” Norma asked.

  “I’m fine.”

  “Good luck,” she said.

  “Thank you. For everything.”

  She leaned forward and we hugged. Then I carefully stepped off the curb into the car. I lifted my feet inside. Angel leaned over me and clicked my seat belt, then shut the car door.

  Norma waved, then grasped the handles of the wheelchair and pushed it back inside. Angel climbed into her seat and started the car. “Norma was great.”

  “Yes she was,” I said.

  “Now it’s my turn to take care of you.” She put the car in drive and we headed for her home.

  CHAPTER

  Eight

  I feel like a kite caught in a hurricane.

  Alan Christoffersen’s diary

  Angel lived fifteen minutes from the hospital in a small suburb east of the city. We drove over some train tracks and I held my abdomen and grimaced. Angel glanced over at me. “I’m sorry,” she said. “We’re almost there.”

  As we drove, the landscape of the city flashed by me like a dull cinema. All I could think was how much I didn’t want to be in Spokane. The city looked as gray to me as the weather, though it was likely more a reflection of my grayness inside. I had been to Spokane before, twice, and enjoyed my stay, but this time the city seemed unwelcoming.

  Spokane is the second-largest city in Washington, and a lot like Seattle except without the population, the business community, the economy, the waterfront, the politics, the coffee … actually, Spokane is nothing at all like Seattle.

  I’m sure the people who live here are just as warm, intelligent, and cultured as those in Seattle, maybe more so, and, in their defense, they didn’t give the world grunge music nor Sir Mix-a-lot. It’s just different. A lot different.

  As I said, my problem wasn’t with Spokane as a locale, it was with my being stuck there. I was still running from Seattle, and my legs had been taken out from under me just a few miles from the Washington-Idaho border. I wanted out of the state more than I could say.

  Angel’s apartment was located in an old, A-framed home just a few miles north of Gonzaga University on a pinelined street called Nora. The house, which had been divided into three apartments, was shingled, with a steeply pitched roof and peeling yellow paint that made the home stand out, not just because of its color, but because most of the other homes on the street were constructed of brick. The windows were oddly narrow and irregular, some taller than others. There was a good-sized front yard, and overgrown holly bushes surrounded the house’s exterior.

  The neighborhood seemed staid for a university area, which meant the surrounding homes were either occupied by students who were serious about their studies or hungover from all-night partying. I was hoping for the former.

  About half of the houses were decorated for Halloween, some elaborately with giant spider webs and other haunts. The sum of the decorations at Angel’s place was a dried cornstalk on the ground next to the front door.

  Angel pulled her car up to the curb in front of her home and killed the engine. “Here we are. I’ll get the door for you.” She walked around to my side and opened my door.

  Painfully, I pivoted my body so I was facing out, but this was the extent of my acrobatics. I looked up at her. “Can you give me a hand?”

  “Of course. On the count of three I’ll pull,” she said.

  “Okay,” I said, planting my feet on the asphalt road.

  “One, two, three …” she pulled back as I leaned forward and stood up. Crippling pain shot up my body, taking away my breath.

  “Just a minute,” I said.

  “Are you all right?”

  “I’ll be okay.” When the pain eased, I said, “All right. Next.”

  She came to my side and took my arm. “Let’s go.” I stepped up over the curb onto the yellowed lawn. I paused and looked up and down the sidewalk. Eventually, I would be walking these sidewalks, but for the moment just making it to the house and up the front stairs seemed a formidable goal.

  I shuffled up a concrete walkway to the stairs that led up to Angel’s apartment. The stairs were narrow and steep, poured from concrete with a wrought-iron railing that seeped rust into the cement. I clutched the railing and looked skeptically at the first step.

  “Are you ready for this?” she asked.

  “It’s walk or crawl.”

  “Let me help you. Put your arm around my shoulder.”

  I put my right arm over her shoulder and gripped the railing with my left hand. I took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”

  With her help I made it to the landing, every step accentuated with words of encouragement.

  “You’re doing great,” she said. “Really great.”

  I think by great she meant I didn’t fall.

  Angel’s apartment was on the main floor and situated the furthest back. She took her key out of her purse, unlocked the door, then pushed it open. “Be it ever so humble,” she said.

  The first thing I noticed was the smell of cooking—though I wondered how that was possible since she’d been at work all day. “Something smells good.”

  “Dinner’s in the Crock-Pot,” she replied.

  The front room was larger than I expected, with a large picture window looking out over the back yard. There was a couch and a rectangular coffee table in front of a television, which was nestled into a wood-veneer cabinet. The room was uncluttered and austere, with just the barest of necessities.

  There was something different about the room—something was missing—but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

  At the end of the hall was a small kitchen, with a tiny, Formica-topped table. The kitchen was messy.

  In the hallway between the living room and the kitchen were three doors. “This is your room,” she said, pushing open the south door and stepping inside. I followed her in. A queen-sized poster bed was pressed up against the corner, touching two walls and leaving a three-foot margin on the front and side. There was a small clothes closet and a chest of drawers.

  “I hope it’s okay.”

  “It’s more than okay,” I said.

  “After dinner we can hang your pictures of Key West.” She stepped back into the hallway. “My room is right here, across the hall. Just make yourself at home. I’m making a special dinner to celebrate your release from the hospital. I hope you like Italian.”

  “I love Italian.”

  “I’m making chicken cacciatore with roasted vegetablestuffed ravioli.”

  “So you’re a cook.”

  “I love to cook,” she said. “But I hardly ever do it since it’s just me. I need about a half hour to finish. Would you like to read something or watch TV?”

  “Something mindless.”

  “TV it is. Let me find the remote.”

  I shuffled into the front room and sat down on the sofa, which was lower and softer than I expected and I fell back into the cushions like they were quicksand. I knew I wouldn’t be getting up without help.

  Angel found the remote on the floor next to the television and brought it to me. “I need to get your pack from the car.” She went out the front door, leaving it slightly ajar, and returned a few minutes later carrying my pack over her shoulder. She was huffing a little. “I’ll just put it in your room.”

  “Grazie.”

  “Don’t mention it.” She set the pack in my room, then disappeared into th
e kitchen. I scanned through the programs, ending up in the middle of a public television broadcast of Spartacus.

  About forty-five minutes later Angel came out to get me. “Dinner’s ready,” she said. She helped me up from the couch. When I came into the kitchen, the table was set with porcelain dinnerware and there was a flickering, slender white candle in the middle of the table.

  “You went to a lot of trouble,” I said.

  “No trouble, it’s a celebration.”

  She pulled out my chair and I slowly sat. Then she sat down across from me.

  “Buon appetito,” she said.

  “You too,” I replied. “Can you eat pasta with diabetes?”

  “The carbs are a killer, I just don’t eat as much.” She lifted a small cylindrical object. “And of course I shoot up.”

  The meal was one of the best I’d had since I had left Seattle, and I told her so. Angel seemed very happy to see me so pleased.

  “It’s a pleasure cooking for someone who appreciates it.”

  “So, outside of work and caring for the infirm, what do you do for fun?”

  “Fun?” she repeated, as if she hadn’t heard the word for a while. “Well, I haven’t had a lot of free time lately, but I’ve been watching the American Film Institute’s list of the hundred greatest movies. I started with one hundred and I’m working my way up to number one.”

  “Which is …?”

  “Citizen Kane.”

  I nodded. “Orson Welles. Of course.”

  “Last night I watched number seventy-eight, Rocky. Tonight is seventy-seven, if you’d like to join me.”

  “I’m pretty sure I’m free. What’s seventy-seven?”

  “American Graffiti.”

  “It’s been at least twenty years since I saw that.”

  “It’s a classic,” she said. “Of course, you could say that about everything on the list.”

  Angel ate slowly, controlling how much she ate while watching me do the opposite. She seemed amused by my appetite. When I finally laid down my fork, she asked, “Can I get you anything else? A side of beef?”

 
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