The scrappy evergreens along the Interstate west of Oklahoma City did little to liven the flat, brown scenery. Grace wrapped her hair in a scarf so she could have the window open without yanking tangles out later. Somewhere down the line, she needed to pick up a small bottle of olive oil for her split ends. And, Lord have mercy, deodorant.
She made a decision last night in her praying and pacing. After the loss Ray and his son suffered, they needed her. Mayhaps it was her guilty conscience attempting to justify her actions, but she had to believe her path belonged with these boys. She had to believe she worked God's plan by traveling on. God would provide.
The day grew warm as Ray's classic car ate fuel and miles. Just outside Clinton, they passed an exit sign for the Lucky Star Casino. So many more casinos than forty years ago, what with Indian gaming on the reservations, and modern day riverboat casinos on the Mississippi. Papa would have been like a kid in a candy store.
"Do you still play poker?" Ray asked.
Grace watched the sign recede in the side mirror. "After Papa passed on, I gave it up. You have to keep your head, and I couldn't no more."
"Your luck ran out."
She gave him a quick look. "Weren't about luck. Poker's a game of skill, being able to read your opponent, spot their tell."
"Toe tapping. Throat clearing. Toyin' with the chips. Ticks that give away what kind of hand a person be holding."
"That really work?"
"More times than not. But if it goes south, you have to accept the losses, no matter how good you played." Life dealt her a hand she couldn't win. "Papa was one loss too many."
"What'd you do?"
"I married a preacher."
"You're shittin' me."
His reaction startled a laugh from her. "Been married forty years."
"Mind if I ask why he isn't on this trip with you?"
Self-reproach pressed its sober hand on her conscience. "I don't mind the askin'," she said. "But the answer's complicated."
Ray gave a nod and was polite enough to let it go. He looked in the rearview mirror. "Son, pass that book of maps forward."
"'kay." Benny thrust a large Rand McNally road atlas between the seats.
Ray handed it to Grace. "Would you mind looking for a route that goes around Texas for me?"
She thumbed through the pages to the map of Oklahoma. "You gentlemen have a problem with Texas?"
"Can't go there," Benny piped in.
Ray shot her a don't-ask look. "It's a long story. If you're having second thoughts about travelin' with us, I'll understand."
Grace sniffed. "I've been through that part of Texas. You ain't missin' much, less you like flat."
"Lady, this born and raised Oregonian has had a butt full of flat."
"Then let's see what the Oklahoma Panhandle has to offer. Once we reach Sayre, look for US-283 north."
"Thanks. I figure it'll take more gas, but we'll still get you to Vegas in time."
"I can help pay for gas," Grace offered, "long as we don't spend any more nights in motels." She didn't get a lick of sleep anyway, and by the droop to Ray's eyelids and the way gravity had a hold of his shoulders, he hadn't slept much either. No point wasting the money. The more she could save for the return home, the better.
"'Appreciate that," Ray said. "We'll get where we're goin' quicker if we drive straight through."
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