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Authors: Nicholas Sparks

A Bend in the Road

A Bend in the Road
A Bend in the Road

A Bend in the Road

A Bend in the
Road

Nicholas Sparks

 

As with all my
novels, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Cathy, my wonderful wife.

Twelve years
and still going strong. I love you.

I’d also like to
thank my five children—Miles, Ryan, Landon, Lexie, and Savannah. They keep me
grounded, and more than that, they’re a lot of fun.

Larry Kirshbaum
and Maureen Egen have been both wonderful and supportive throughout my career.
Thank you both. (P.S. Look for your names in this novel!)

Richard Green
and Howie Sanders, my Hollywood agents, are the best at what they do. Thanks,
guys!

Denise Di Novi,
the producer of bothMessage in a Bottle andA Walk to Remember , is not only
superb at what she does, but has become a great friend as well.

Scott Schwimer,
my attorney, deserves my thanks and gratitude, and here it is.

You’re the
best.

Micah and
Christine, my brother and his wife. I love you both.

I’d also like
to thank Jennifer Romanello, Emi Battaglia, and Edna Farley in publicity; Flag,
who designs the covers of my novels; Courtenay Valenti and Lorenzo Di
Bonaventura of Warner Bros.; Hunt Lowry of Gaylord Films; Mark Johnson; and
Lynn Harris of New Line Cinema. I am where I am because of you all.

 

Prologue

 

Where does a
story truly begin? In life, there are seldom clear-cut beginnings, those
moments when we can, in looking back, say that everything started. Yet there
are moments when fate intersects with our daily lives, setting in motion a
sequence of events whose outcome we could never have foreseen.  It’s nearly twoA.M., and I’m wide awake.
Earlier, after crawling into bed, I tossed and turned for almost an hour before
I finally gave up. Now I’m sitting at my desk, pen in hand, wondering about my
own intersection with fate. This is not unusual for me. Lately, it seems it’s
all I can think about.  Aside from the
steady ticking of a clock that sits on the bookshelf, it’s quiet in the house.
My wife is asleep upstairs, and as I stare at the lines on the yellow legal pad
before me, I realize that I don’t know where to start. Not because I’m unsure
of my story, but because I’m not sure why I feel compelled to tell it in the
first place. What can be achieved by unearthing the past? After all, the events
I’m about to describe happened thirteen years ago, and I suppose a case can be
made that they really began two long years before that. But as I sit, I know I
must try to tell it, if for no other reason than to finally put this all behind
me.

My memories of
this period are aided by a few things: a diary I’ve kept since I was a boy, a
folder of yellowed newspaper articles, my own investigation, and, of course,
public records. There’s also the fact that I’ve relived the events of this
particular story hundreds of times in my mind; they are seared in my memory.
But framed simply by those things, this story would be incomplete. There were
others involved, and though I was a witness to some of the events, I was not
present for all of them. I realize that it’s impossible to re-create every
feeling or every thought in another person’s life, but for better or for worse,
that’s what I will attempt to do.

• • •

This is, above
all, a love story, and like so many love stories, the love story of Miles Ryan
and Sarah Andrews is rooted in tragedy. At the same time, it is also a story of
forgiveness, and when you’re finished, I hope you’ll understand the challenges
that Miles Ryan and Sarah Andrews faced. I hope you’ll understand the decisions
they made, both good and bad, just as I hope you will eventually understand
mine.

But let me be
clear: This isn’t simply the story of Sarah Andrews and Miles Ryan. If there is
a beginning to this story, it lies with Missy Ryan, high school sweetheart of a
deputy sheriff in a small southern town. 
Missy Ryan, like her husband, Miles, grew up in New Bern. From all
accounts, she was both charming and kind, and Miles had loved her for all of
his adult life.  She had dark brown hair
and even darker eyes, and I’ve been told she spoke with an accent that made men
from other parts of the country go weak in the knees.  She laughed easily, listened with interest, and often touched the
arm of whomever she was talking to, as if issuing an invitation to be part of
her world. And, like most southern women, her will was stronger than was
noticeable at first. She, not Miles, ran the household; as a general rule,
Miles’s friends were the husbands of Missy’s friends, and their life was
centered around their family.

In high school,
Missy was a cheerleader. As a sophomore, she was both popular and lovely, and
although she knew of Miles Ryan, he was a year older than she and they hadn’t
had any classes together. It didn’t matter. Introduced by friends, they began
meeting during lunch break and talking after football games, and eventually
made arrangements to meet at a party during homecoming weekend.  Soon they were inseparable, and by the time
he asked her to the prom a few months later, they were in love.

There are
those, I know, who scoff at the idea that real love can exist at such a young
age. For Miles and Missy, however, it did, and it was in some ways more
powerful than love experienced by older people, since it wasn’t tempered by the
realities of life. They dated throughout Miles’s junior and senior years, and
when he went off to college at North Carolina State, they remained faithful to
each other while Missy moved toward her own graduation. She joined him at NCSU
the following year, and when he proposed over dinner three years later, she
cried and said yes and spent the next hour on the phone calling her family and
telling them the good news, while Miles ate the rest of his meal alone. Miles
stayed in Raleigh until Missy completed her degree, and their wedding in New
Bern filled the church.

Missy took a
job as a loan officer at Wachovia Bank, and Miles began his training to become
a deputy sheriff. She was two months pregnant when Miles started working for
Craven County, patrolling the streets that had always been their home. Like
many young couples, they bought their first home, and when their son, Jonah,
was born in January 1981, Missy took one look at the bundled newborn and knew
motherhood was the best thing that had ever happened to her.  Though Jonah didn’t sleep through the night
until he was six months old and there were times she wanted to scream at him
the same way he was screaming at her, Missy loved him more than she’d ever
imagined possible.  She was a wonderful
mother. She quit her job to stay home with Jonah full-time, read him stories,
played with him, and took him to play groups. She could spend hours simply
watching him. By the time he was five, Missy realized she wanted another baby,
and she and Miles began trying again. The seven years they were married were
the happiest years of both their lives.

But in August
of 1986, when she was twenty-nine years old, Missy Ryan was killed.

Her death
dimmed the light in Jonah’s eyes; it haunted Miles for two years. It paved the
way for all that was to come next.

So, as I said,
this is Missy’s story, just as it is the story of Miles and Sarah. And it is my
story as well.

I, too, played
a role in all that happened.

A Bend in the Road
Chapter 1

On the morning
of August 29, 1988, a little more than two years after his wife had passed
away, Miles Ryan stood on the back porch of his house, smoking a cigarette,
watching as the rising sun slowly changed the morning sky from dusky gray to
orange. Spread before him was the Trent River, its brackish waters partially
hidden by the cypress trees clustered at the water’s edge.  The smoke from Miles’s cigarette swirled
upward and he could feel the humidity rising, thickening the air. In time, the
birds began their morning songs, the trill whistles filling the air. A small
bass boat passed by, the fisherman waved, and Miles acknowledged the gesture with
a slight nod. It was all the energy he could summon.

He needed a cup
of coffee. A little java and he’d feel ready enough to face the day—getting
Jonah off to school, keeping rein on the locals who flouted the law, posting
eviction notices throughout the county, as well as handling whatever else
inevitably cropped up, like meeting with Jonah’s teacher later in the
afternoon. And that was just for starters. The evenings, if anything, seemed
even busier. There was always so much to do, simply to keep the household
running smoothly: paying the bills, shopping, cleaning, repairing things around
the house. Even in those rare moments when Miles found himself with a little
free time on his hands, he felt as if he had to take advantage of it right away
or he’d lose the opportunity. Quick, find something to read. Hurry up, there’s
only a few minutes to relax. Close your eyes, in a little while there won’t be
any time. It was enough to wear anyone down for a while, but what could he do
about it?

He really
needed the coffee. The nicotine wasn’t cutting it anymore, and he thought about
throwing the cigarettes out, but then it didn’t matter whether he did or not.
In his mind, he didn’t really smoke. Sure, he had a few cigarettes during the
course of the day, but that wasn’t real smoking. It wasn’t as though he burned
through a pack a day, and it wasn’t as if he’d been doing it his whole life,
either; he’d started after Missy had died, and he could stop anytime he wanted.
But why bother? Hell, his lungs were in good shape—just last week, he’d had to
run after a shoplifter and had no trouble catching the kid. Asmoker couldn’t do
that.

Then again, it
hadn’t been as easy as it was when he’d been twenty-two. But that was ten years
ago, and even if thirty-two didn’t mean it was time to start looking into
nursing homes, he was getting older. And he could feel it, too—there was a time
during college when he and his friends would start their evenings at eleven
o’clock and proceed to stay out the rest of the night. In the last few years,
except for those times he was working, eleven o’clock waslate, and if he had
trouble falling asleep, he went to bed anyway. He couldn’t imagine any reason
strong enough to make him want to stay up. Exhaustion had become a permanent
fixture in his life. Even on those nights when Jonah didn’t have his
nightmares—he’d been having them on and off since Missy died—Miles still awoke
feeling . . . tired. Unfocused. Sluggish, as if he were moving around
underwater. Most of the time, he attributed this to the hectic life he lived;
but sometimes he wondered if there wasn’t something more seriously wrong with
him. He’d read once that one of the symptoms of clinical depression was “undue
lethargy, without reason or cause.” Of course, he did have cause. . . .  What he really needed was some quiet time at
a little beachfront cottage down in Key West, a place where he could fish for
turbot or simply relax in a gently swaying hammock while drinking a cold beer,
without facing any decision more major than whether or not to wear sandals as
he walked on the beach with a nice woman at his side.

That was part
of it, too. Loneliness. He was tired of being alone, of waking up in an empty
bed, though the feeling still surprised him. He hadn’t felt that way until
recently. In the first year after Missy’s death, Miles couldn’t even begin to
imagine loving another woman again. Ever. It was as if the urge for female
companionship didn’t exist at all, as if desire and lust and love were nothing
more than theoretical possibilities that had no bearing on the real world. Even
after he’d weathered shock and grief strong enough to make him cry every night,
his life just feltwrong somehow—as if it were temporarily off track but would
soon right itself again, so there wasn’t any reason to get too worked up about
anything.

Most things,
after all, hadn’t changed after the funeral. Bills kept coming, Jonah needed to
eat, the grass needed to be mowed. He still had a job. Once, after too many
beers, Charlie, his best friend and boss, had asked him what it was like to
lose a wife, and Miles had told him that it didn’t seem as if Missy were really
gone. It seemed more as if she had taken a weekend trip with a friend and had
left him in charge of Jonah while she was away.  Time passed and so eventually did the numbness he’d grown
accustomed to. In its place, reality settled in. As much as he tried to move
on, Miles still found his thoughts drawn to Missy. Everything, it seemed,
reminded him of her. Especially Jonah, who looked more like her the older he
got. Sometimes, when Miles stood in the doorway after tucking Jonah in, he
could see his wife in the small features of his son’s face, and he would have
to turn away before Jonah could see the tears. But the image would stay with
him for hours; he loved the way Missy had looked as she’d slept, her long brown
hair spread across the pillow, one arm always resting above her head, her lips
slightly parted, the subtle rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. And her
smell—that was something Miles would never forget. On the first Christmas
morning after her death, while sitting in church, he’d caught a trace of the
perfume that Missy used to wear and he’d held on to the ache like a drowning
man grasping a life preserver until long after the service was over.

He held on to
other things as well. When they were first married, he and Missy used to have
lunch at Fred & Clara’s, a small restaurant just down the street from the
bank where she worked. It was out of the way, quiet, and somehow its cozy
embrace made them both feel as if nothing would ever change between them.  They hadn’t gone much once Jonah had been
born, but Miles started going again once she was gone, as if hoping to find
some remnant of those feelings still lingering on the paneled walls. At home, too,
he ran his life according to what she used to do. Since Missy had gone to the
grocery store on Thursday evenings, that’s when Miles went, too. Because Missy
liked to grow tomatoes along the side of the house, Miles grew them, too. Missy
had thought Lysol the best all-purpose kitchen cleaner, so he saw no reason to
use anything else. Missy was always there, in everything he did.

But sometime
last spring, that feeling began to change. It came without warning, and Miles
sensed it as soon as it happened. While driving downtown, he caught himself
staring at a young couple walking hand in hand as they moved down the sidewalk.
And for just a moment, Miles imagined himself as the man, and that the woman
was with him. Or if not her, thensomeone 
. . . someone who would love not only him, but Jonah as well. Someone
who could make him laugh, someone to share a bottle of wine with over a
leisurely dinner, someone to hold and touch and to whisper quietly with after
the lights had been turned off. Someone like Missy, he thought to himself, and
her image immediately conjured up feelings of guilt and betrayal overwhelming
enough for him to banish the young couple from his mind forever.

Or so he
assumed.

Later that
night, right after crawling into bed, he found himself thinking about them
again. And though the feelings of guilt and betrayal were still there, they
weren’t as powerful as they had been earlier that day. And in that moment,
Miles knew he’d taken the first step, albeit a small one, toward finally coming
to terms with his loss.

He began to
justify his new reality by telling himself that he was a widower now, that it
was okay to have these feelings, and he knew no one would disagree with him. No
one expected him to live the rest of his life alone; in the past few months,
friends had even offered to set him up with a couple of dates.  Besides, he knew that Missy would have
wanted him to marry again. She’d said as much to him more than once—like most
couples, they’d played the “what if” game, and though neither of them had ever
expected anything terrible to happen, both had been in agreement that it
wouldn’t be right for Jonah to grow up with only a single parent. It wouldn’t
be right for the surviving spouse. Still, it seemed a little too soon.

As the summer
wore on, the thoughts about finding someone new began to surface more
frequently and with more intensity. Missy was still there, Missy would always
be there . . . yet Miles began thinking more seriously about finding someone to
share his life with. Late at night, while comforting Jonah in the rocking chair
out back—it was the only thing that seemed to help with the nightmares—these
thoughts seemed strongest and always followed the same pattern.  Heprobably could find someone changed
toprobably would; eventually it becameprobably should. At this point,
however—no matter how much he wanted it to be otherwise—his thoughts still
reverted back toprobably won’t.  The
reason was in his bedroom.

On his shelf,
in a bulging manila envelope, sat the file concerning Missy’s death, the one
he’d made for himself in the months following her funeral. He kept it with him
so he wouldn’t forget what happened, he kept it to remind him of the work he
still had to do.

He kept it to
remind him of his failure.

• • •

A few minutes
later, after stubbing out the cigarette on the railing and heading inside,
Miles poured the coffee he needed and headed down the hall. Jonah was still
asleep when he pushed open the door and peeked in. Good, he still had a little
time. He headed to the bathroom.

After he turned
the faucet, the shower groaned and hissed for a moment before the water finally
came. He showered and shaved and brushed his teeth. He ran a comb through his
hair, noticing again that there seemed to be less of it now than there used to
be. He hurriedly donned his sheriff’s uniform; next he took down his holster
from the lockbox above the bedroom door and put that on as well. From the
hallway, he heard Jonah rustling in his room. This time, Jonah looked up with
puffy eyes as soon as Miles came in to check on him. He was still sitting in
bed, his hair disheveled. He hadn’t been awake for more than a few minutes.

Miles smiled.
“Good morning, champ.”

Jonah looked up
from his bed, almost as if in slow motion. “Hey, Dad.”

“You ready for
some breakfast?”

He stretched his
arms out to the side, groaning slightly. “Can I have pancakes?”

“How about some
waffles instead? We’re running a little late.”

Jonah bent over
and grabbed his pants. Miles had laid them out the night before.

“You say that every
morning.”

Miles shrugged.
“You’re late every morning.”

“Then wake me up
sooner.”

“I have a better
idea—why don’t you go to sleep when I tell you to?”

“I’m not tired
then. I’m only tired in the mornings.”

“Join the club.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind,”
Miles answered. He pointed to the bathroom. “Don’t forget to brush your hair
after you get dressed.”

“I won’t,”
Jonah said.

Most mornings
followed the same routine. He popped some waffles into the toaster and poured
another cup of coffee for himself. By the time Jonah had dressed himself and
made it to the kitchen, his waffle was waiting on his plate, a glass of milk
beside it. Miles had already spread the butter, but Jonah liked to add the
syrup himself. Miles started in on his own waffle, and for a minute, neither of
them said anything. Jonah still looked as if he were in his own little world,
and though Miles needed to talk to him, he wanted him to at least seem
coherent.  After a few minutes of
companionable silence, Miles finally cleared his throat.

“So, how’s school
going?” he asked.

Jonah shrugged.
“Fine, I guess.”

This question
too, was part of the routine. Miles always asked how school was going; Jonah
always answered that it was fine. But earlier that morning, while getting
Jonah’s backpack ready, Miles had found a note from Jonah’s teacher, asking him
if it was possible to meet today. Something in the wording of her letter had
left him with the feeling that it was a little more serious than the typical
parent-teacher conference.

“You doing okay
in class?”

Jonah shrugged.
“Uh-huh.”

“Do you like your
teacher?”

Jonah nodded in
between bites. “Uh-huh,” he answered again. 
Miles waited to see if Jonah would add anything more, but he didn’t.
Miles leaned a little closer.

“Then why didn’t
you tell me about the note your teacher sent home?”

“What note?” he
asked innocently.

“The note in your
backpack—the one your teacher wanted me to read.” Jonah shrugged again, his
shoulders popping up and down like the waffles in the toaster. “I guess I just
forgot.”

“How could you
forget something like that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Do you know why
she wants to see me?”

“No . . .” Jonah
hesitated, and Miles knew immediately that he wasn’t telling the truth.

“Son, are you
in trouble at school?”

At this, Jonah
blinked and looked up. His father didn’t call him “son” unless he’d done
something wrong. “No, Dad. I don’t ever act up. I promise.” “Then what is it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Think about it.”

Jonah squirmed in
his seat, knowing he’d reached the limit of his father’s patience. “Well, I guess
I might be having a little trouble with some of the work.”

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