A little past midnight, over six hours behind schedule, the bus pulled to a stop in the outskirts of Del Rio. I gathered my gear, dodging the feet and elbows of sleeping passengers. The driver pulled the door open, and a whoosh of warm dry air filled the front of the bus. I hesitated on the last step. The town was dark—locked up for the night. Even the bus station was closed with only the glow of the drink machine to identify the front door.
“Get off or sit back down,” the driver said.
I stepped down and the bus moved out before the door slammed shut. A fog of diesel fumes settled over me.
“This is a mistake,” I said aloud to myself. I was alone in a state I had never set foot in before the bus crossed the border hours earlier. “Come on, Uncle Jack,” I said, looking up and down the street. I took a firm grip on my two canvas bags and moved them to a bench along the dark wall outside the bus station. Then I eased down on the bench and tried to relax. So what do I do now?
When I heard the rumble of a struggling engine heading my way, I stood and took the straps of my bags in my sweaty palms, prepared to meet my uncle for the first time. But the pickup rounded the corner, moved slowly into sight, and then passed the bus station without pausing. I sank back down on the bench.
“Changed my mind, Mom. I don’t want to go,” I said, thinking of my computer and all the comforts of home. To the east, faint shadows outlined stores and other businesses. A dim security glow came from dingy windows in the hardware store. To the west, an elementary school lay almost hidden in the shadows of leafy sycamore trees. A single yellow bulb, discouraging mosquitoes and other flying insects, cast a pale glow across the front of the building. A diner stood near the school, with a neon sign boasting the best hamburgers in Texas—open 24 hours. It was as silent and dark as the rest of the town.
I shoved my larger bag to the ground, swung my feet up on the bench, took off my baseball cap, and eased my head down on my other bag.
I searched the dark sky, surprised to see stars in the blackness. No moon, but hundreds of stars. Slowly the silence around me seemed to come alive. The soft hum of the drink machine caught my attention. A cricket in the tall weeds made a chirping sound, and then hundreds of crickets chirped. Half a block away a bullfrog croaked, and others answered. A mosquito buzzed near my ear, and I slapped at the side of my face.
“Nice welcome,” I mumbled. “So much for Texas-size hospitality.” After two years, Oklahoma City seemed like home. For my first twelve years, Wisconsin had been home, and the transition to Oklahoma had been rough, especially after the accident.
Just don’t think about it, I told myself for the thousandth time.
Something brought me to my feet. Is someone out there? I leaned forward and strained into the darkness past the diner. The orange glow of a cigarette pierced the darkness. Deliberately, I stood tall and forced myself to breathe deeply. I waited as the form of a man walked closer.
“Tony Vincent. Yes, sir.”
I grabbed my gear and hurried to follow the stranger.
I matched the stranger’s stride. “Uncle Jack?”
He was parked just past the diner in the shadows of a coyotillo tree. I tossed my bags into the back of the pickup and climbed into the cab as it left the curb in second gear. The passenger door flew open in the breeze, and I caught the edge of the open window and pulled the door shut. I scowled and thought again, this is definitely a mistake. The darkness made it hard to size up Ruben, but he was small, dark-skinned, and even his large straw hat didn’t hide his stringy hair. We rode in silence for more than half an hour, and I dozed off and on. I refused to allow myself to think about tomorrow, and the tomorrows of the rest of the summer. A road sign flashed by at an intersection. San Antonio, 165 miles.
“Camp’s just ahead.” They were the first words Ruben had spoken since the bus station.
I straightened and stared at the trees and dense brush as the pickup turned north off the pavement and onto a narrow gravel road. The headlights flashed across a weathered, hand-painted sign that read Jericho Road.
The pickup slowed to a crawl, then stopped almost completely to ease over the deepest ruts. It bounced over smaller holes and rocks. Tree branches slapped at the open window and forced me to lean back and away from the stinging switches. I flinched at every near miss. Mile after mile of gravel ruts and overhanging tree branches convinced me that the isolation I was headed for would be a high price for the prize I had dreamed of for two years. But this prize is worth any price, I thought.