Christie’s dad always said he won the Plymouth Valiant station wagon in a lottery, but Christie knew better. She’d seen him count out bills to the man in the used car lot, who’d handed him the keys to the car and then laughed as they drove away. She’d seen her father lie before, so none of it was new to her.
The Price family spent plenty of time in that station wagon. Christie and her younger brother Tom rode in the back seat with all the camping stuff, as their mom and dad took turns driving, from Oklahoma to Texas to Arizona and back to Louisiana, always in search of a job. Christie’s mom said it was for construction jobs, but Christie overheard enough arguing in the rare late-night motel stays, when they weren’t camping, to know her dad’s work wasn’t construction. It was gambling. Poker tables, “I never do blackjack,” he’d say, as if trying to convince her mom poker was somehow honorable. Christie could tell her mom wasn’t convinced; otherwise why would she keep saying those things about her dad getting construction jobs?
When Christie was in fourth grade, she finally got to stay most of a school year in the same town, in the same school. It was hard being the new kid, but it beat having to start over mid-year in some new school, where everyone already knew everyone else. At ten she had already been the new kid mid-year too many times. So, on the afternoon in late April when her mom met Christie and her brother at school, Christie knew what was coming. She felt that clenched lump in the pit of her stomach, the lump that said she and Tommy would be riding in the back of the wagon again on the way to another new city.
But when they got to the car she saw that it was packed with all their clothes, her brother’s toys, and her dolls and things. Not with the camping stuff.
And not with her dad.
“You kids get in the car,” her mother said.
“Where are we going?” asked Christie.
Her mother opened the door. “Get in the car, please,” she said. She opened the driver’s door, took out the car keys, and put them in the ignition.
Christie and her brother got into the car.
Not another word was said until they were on the Interstate. Then Christie said, “I don’t want to leave my school.”
“I know,” her mother said. A little shiver went through Christie. They were really going this time, going without her dad.
After a while on the highway, Christie’s mom said they were going back to Oklahoma, to stay with family “for a while.” Christie had been born in Oklahoma. She had cousins and aunts and uncles there. Once every so often the Price family had gone back to visit, and Christie had played outdoors long summer nights, Kick the Can or Capture the Flag, with a whole army of cousins. And after every visit they’d leave again in the white Plymouth Valiant, for some other place where she didn’t know a soul.
But now the Valiant was taking them back. The clenched lump in Christie’s stomach tightened. Maybe it would be easier now, with no arguing between Christie’s mom and dad. Maybe she would make friends, new friends, maybe better than the ones at her school.
The yellow stripes on the highway flicked by, flick . . . flick . . . flick . . . like the days and the weeks they’d passed in the car on other highways, in other states, always in search of Something Better. Green highway signs splashed into view beyond each asphalt hill.
Muskogee, Broken Arrow, Tulsa.