The Longest RideNicholas Sparks
With over 80 million copies of his books sold, Nicholas Sparks is one of the world's most beloved storytellers. His novels include eleven No. 1 New York Times bestsellers. All Nicholas Sparks' books have been international bestsellers and have been translated into more than forty languages. Eight of his novels have been adapted into major films: Safe Haven, The Lucky One, The Last Song, Dear John, Nights in Rodanthe, Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember and The Notebook.
Nicholas Sparks lives in North Carolina with his wife and family. You can visit him and sign up for the Nicholas Sparks eNewsletter at www.nicholassparks.com, and follow him on Twitter: @SparksNicholas.
Also by Nicholas Sparks
The Notebook Message in a Bottle A Walk to Remember The Rescue A Bend in the Road Nights in Rodanthe The Guardian The Wedding Three Weeks with My Brother (with Micah Sparks) True Believer At First Sight Dear John
The Choice The Lucky One The Last Song Safe Haven The Best of Me
Published by Sphere
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright (c) Nicholas Sparks 2013
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Little, Brown Book Group
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The Longest Ride
Table of Contents
About the Author
Also by Nicholas Sparks
1: Early February 2011
2: Four Months Earlier
Discover more from Nicholas Sparks
For Miles, Ryan, Landon, Lexie, and Savannah
he Longest Ride, my seventeenth novel, could not have been written without the support of many wonderful people. At the top of my list, as always, is my wife Cathy, who has remained after all these years the best friend I've ever had. My life has been enriched by her presence on a daily basis, and part of me knows that every female character I've ever created is in no small way inspired by her. It's been a joy to share with her the longest ride, this thing we call life.
I must also thank Theresa Park - my literary agent, manager, and now producing partner - yet another extraordinary blessing in my life. It's hard for me to believe that we've been working together for nineteen years now. Though I've told you many times before, it's time for me to put it in writing: I've always considered myself to be the fortunate one.
Jamie Raab, my editor, is priceless when it comes to making my novels as good as they can possibly be. She has been my editor since the very beginning, and working with her has made me one of the luckiest authors around. She deserves my thanks not only for all she does, but also because I consider her a cherished friend.
Howie Sanders and Keya Khayatian - my film agents at UTA - are quite simply the best in the business. More than that, they're creative geniuses in all aspects of business. Add in kindness, honesty, and enthusiasm, and the more time I spend with them, the more thrilled I am to consider them friends.
Scott Schwimer, my entertainment attorney, is yet another member of my team who has been with me since the very beginning, a man who has gifted my life with his wisdom and advice. Add in friendship and laughter, and my life has been enriched by his presence.
Elise Henderson and Kosha Shah, who run my television production company, are two amazing people, gifted with motivation, intelligence, and humor, and I'm fortunate to consider them part of my team. Also thanks to Dave Park, for his guidance and support in my early TV endeavours, and to Lucinda Moorehead for her enthusiastic efforts at UTA.
My thanks also go out to Denise DiNovi, who has produced - with style and quality - any number of films adapted from my work, including Message in a Bottle, A Walk to Remember, and The Lucky One. I very much enjoy working with you and look forward to seeing The Best of Me on the big screen. I'd be remiss, of course, if I didn't thank Alison Greenspan for all she does as well.
Marty Bowen is yet another producer with multiple films adapted from my work to his credit, and I'd like to thank him for the work he did on both Dear John and Safe Haven. Along with Theresa and me, he'll be producing The Longest Ride, and there's no doubt that it will be an amazing film. Thanks also to Wyck Godfrey who works with Marty on all their endeavors.
I also have to thank Emily Sweet and Abby Koons at the Park Literary Group. Emily not only works with my foundation and the website, but handles all those jobs that fall into the gray areas of my ventures with energy, enthusiasm, and efficiency. Abby, who is responsible for all things foreign, is fantastic at her job. I consider both of them my friends, and I don't know where I'd be without them.
Michael Nyman, Catherine Olim, Jill Fritzo, and Michael Geiser at PMK-BNC, my publicists, are all terrific at what they do. I want to thank them for all the extraordinary work they do on my behalf.
Laquishe Wright - also known simply as Q - who runs my social media pages, and Mollie Smith, who handles my website, also deserve my gratitude. Both of them are incredible at what they do, and it's because of them that I'm able to let people know what's going on in my world.
For further helping to keep me up to speed on the latest in technology, I'd like to take a moment to thank David Herrin and Eric Kuhn at UTA, who are always there to answer my questions.
Thanks, also, to both David Young and Michael Pietsch at Hachette Book Group. I'll miss working with you, David, and I look forward to working with you, Michael.
I'd like to extend a special thanks to Sean Gleason, COO of Professional Bull Riders, Inc., for his painstaking review of the manuscript and all of his and the PBR's enthusiastic support for this book. Bull riding is a thrilling sport, and you run an amazing organization, Sean.
Larry Vincent and Sara Fernstrom at UTA also deserve my thanks for the fantastic work they do in branding and corporate partnerships; it's been an amazing experience so far, and I look forward to all that will happen in the future.
My thanks also go to Mitch Stoller for all of his early contributions to the Nicholas Sparks Foundation, and to Jenna Dueck, the most recent addition to the foundation team, who I know will bring invaluable expertise and energy to our efforts in support of education.
I also want to thank Saul Benjamin, the Headmaster at The Epiphany School of Global Studies, a school that my wife and I founded in 2006. There's no doubt in my mind that he'll take the school to new heights as it moves toward the future. Of course, he couldn't do that without the help of David Wang, the Assistant Headmast
er, and I'd like to take a moment to thank David as well.
I'd be remiss if I didn't thank Jason Richman and Pete Knapp, neither of whom work directly for me but nonetheless find themselves working on my behalf anyway. Thank you both for all you do.
Rachel Bressler and Alex Greene also deserve my thanks for helping to keep the wheels turning smoothly when it comes to the Novel Learning Series and all things contract related, which can be a never-ending task.
Micah Sparks, my brother, also deserves my heartfelt thanks not only for being the best brother a guy can have, but for all the effort, hard work, and vision he has brought to the Novel Learning Series.
Emily Griffin, Sara Weiss, and Sonya Cheuse at Grand Central also deserve my thanks for all they do. Emily helps to guide a project near and dear to my heart, Sara handles an amazing workload at GCP on my behalf, while Sonya is a fantastic publicist in charge of my book tours.
Thanks also to Tracey Lorentzen, the Director of the New Bern office of my foundation, and to Tia Scott for all things assistant related. She keeps my life running smoothly, which is no easy matter. Finally, many thanks to Jeannie Armentrout for all she does at the house.
I must also thank Andrew Sommers, who does so much for me in yet another complex and critically important area of my life.
Pam Pope and Oscara Stevick, my accountants, are wonderful at what they do, and I'm thankful to consider them part of my team.
Courtenay Valenti and Greg Silverman at Warner Bros. feel like family to me after all these years, and I hope to work with both of you again.
Ryan Kavanaugh, Tucker Tooley, Robbie Brenner, and Terry Curtin at Relativity deserve my thanks for the terrific work they did on Safe Haven, and I'm looking forward to working with all of you very soon! We make a wonderful team.
Many thanks to Elizabeth Gabler and Erin Siminoff at Fox 2000 for agreeing to make the film version of The Longest Ride. I'm excited to be working with both of you.
David Buchalter, who helps to arrange all my speeches, also deserves my thanks. I appreciate all you do.
Todd and Kari Wagner also deserve my thanks for what they did - I trust they know what I'm talking about.
And finally, thanks to friends new and old who've added much joy and laughter to my life, including Drew and Brittany Brees, Jennifer Romanello, Chelsea Kane, Gretchen Rossi, Slade Smiley, Josh Duhamel, and Julianne Hough.
Early February 2011
sometimes think to myself that I'm the last of my kind.
My name is Ira Levinson. I'm a southerner and a Jew, and equally proud to have been called both at one time or another. I'm also an old man. I was born in 1920, the year that alcohol was outlawed and women were given the right to vote, and I often wondered if that was the reason my life turned out the way it did. I've never been a drinker, after all, and the woman I married stood in line to cast a ballot for Roosevelt as soon as she reached the appropriate age, so it would be easy to imagine that the year of my birth somehow ordained it all.
My father would have scoffed at the notion. He was a man who believed in rules. "Ira," he would say to me when I was young and working with him in the haberdashery, "let me tell you something you should never do," and then he would tell me. His Rules for Life, he called them, and I grew up hearing my father's rules on just about everything. Some of what he told me was moral in nature, rooted in the teachings of the Talmud; and they were probably the same things most parents said to their children. I was told that I should never lie or cheat or steal, for instance, but my father - a sometimes Jew, he called himself back then - was far more likely to focus on the practical. Never go out in the rain without a hat, he would tell me. Never touch a stove burner, on the off chance it still might be hot. I was warned that I should never count the money in my wallet in public, or buy jewelry from a man on the street, no matter how good the deal might seem. On and on they went, these nevers, but despite their random nature, I found myself following almost every one, perhaps because I wanted never to disappoint my father. His voice, even now, follows me everywhere on this longest of rides, this thing called life.
Similarly, I was often told what I should do. He expected honesty and integrity in all aspects of life, but I was also told to hold doors for women and children, to shake hands with a firm grip, to remember people's names, and to always give the customer a little more than expected. His rules, I came to realize, not only were the basis of a philosophy that had served him well, but said everything about who he was. Because he believed in honesty and integrity, my father believed that others did as well. He believed in human decency and assumed others were just like him. He believed that most people, when given the choice, would do what was right, even when it was hard, and he believed that good almost always triumphed over evil. He wasn't naive, though. "Trust people," he would tell me, "until they give you a reason not to. And then never turn your back."
More than anyone, my father shaped me into the man I am today.
But the war changed him. Or rather, the Holocaust changed him. Not his intelligence - my father could finish the New York Times crossword puzzle in less than ten minutes - but his beliefs about people. The world he thought he knew no longer made sense to him, and he began to change. By then he was in his late fifties, and after making me a partner in the business, he spent little time in the shop. Instead, he became a full-time Jew. He began to attend synagogue regularly with my mother - I'll get to her later - and offered financial support to numerous Jewish causes. He refused to work on the Sabbath. He followed with interest the news regarding the founding of Israel - and the Arab-Israeli War in its aftermath - and he began to visit Jerusalem at least once a year, as if looking for something he'd never known he'd been missing. As he grew older, I began to worry more about those overseas trips, but he assured me that he could take care of himself, and for many years he did. Despite his advancing age, his mind remained as sharp as ever, but unfortunately his body wasn't quite so accommodating. He had a heart attack when he was ninety, and though he recovered, a stroke seven months later greatly weakened the right side of his body. Even then, he insisted on taking care of himself. He refused to move to a nursing home, even though he had to use a walker to get around, and he continued to drive despite my pleas that he forfeit his license. It's dangerous, I would tell him, to which he would shrug.
What can I do? he would answer. How else would I get to the store?
My father finally died a month before he turned 101, his license still in his wallet and a completed crossword puzzle on the bed-stand beside him. It had been a long life, an interesting life, and I've found myself thinking about him often of late. It makes sense, I suppose, because I've been following in his footsteps all along. I carried with me his Rules for Life every morning as I opened the shop and in the way I've dealt with people. I remembered names and gave more than was expected, and to this day I take my hat with me when I think there's a chance of rain. Like my father, I had a heart attack and now use a walker, and though I never liked crossword puzzles, my mind seems as sharp as ever. And, like my father, I was too stubborn to give up my license. In retrospect, this was probably a mistake. If I had, I wouldn't be in this predicament: my car off the highway and halfway down the steep embankment, the hood crumpled from impact with a tree. And I wouldn't be fantasizing about someone coming by with a thermos full of coffee and a blanket and one of those movable thrones that carried the pharaoh from one spot to the next. Because as far as I can tell, that's just about the only way I'm ever going to make it out of here alive.
I'm in trouble. Beyond the cracked windshield, the snow continues to fall, blurry and disorienting. My head is bleeding, and dizziness comes in waves; I'm almost certain my right arm is broken. Collarbone, too. My shoulder throbs, and the slightest twitch is agonizing. Despite my jacket, I'm already so cold that I'm shivering.
I'd be lying if I told you I wasn't afraid. I don't want to die, and thanks to my parents - my mo
ther lived to ninety-six - I long assumed that I was genetically capable of growing even older than I already am. Until a few months ago, I fully believed I had half a dozen good years left. Well, maybe not good years. That's not the way it works at my age. I've been disintegrating for a while now - heart, joints, kidneys, bits and pieces of my body beginning to give up the ghost - but recently something else has been added to the mix. Growths in my lungs, the doctor said. Tumors. Cancer. My time is measured in months now, not years... but even so, I'm not ready to die just yet. Not today. There is something I have to do, something I have done every year since 1956. A grand tradition is coming to an end, and more than anything, I wanted one last chance to say good-bye.
Still, it's funny what a man thinks about when he believes death to be imminent. One thing I know for sure is that if my time is up, I'd rather not go out this way - body trembling, dentures rattling, until finally, inevitably, my heart just gives out completely. I know what happens when people die - at my age, I've been to too many funerals to count. If I had the choice, I'd rather go in my sleep, back home in a comfortable bed. People who die like that look good at the viewing, which is why, if I feel the Grim Reaper tapping my shoulder, I've already decided to try to make my way to the backseat. The last thing I want is for someone to find me out here, frozen solid in a sitting position like some bizarre ice sculpture. How would they ever get my body out? The way I'm wedged behind the wheel, it would be like trying to get a piano out of the bathroom. I can imagine some fireman chipping away at the ice and wobbling my body back and forth, saying things like "Swing the head this way, Steve," or "Wiggle the old guy's arms that way, Joe," while they try to manhandle my frozen body out of the car. Bumping and clunking, pushing and pulling, until, with one last big heave, my body thumps to the ground. Not for me, thanks. I still have my pride. So like I said, if it comes to that, I'll try my best to make my way to the backseat and just close my eyes. That way they can slide me out like a fish stick.