I went to Paris. Some will argue that good came of it, but not me. I count it as one of the worst mistakes of my life.
But that's a story for another time.
I returned to Texas just in time for the Johnson court date. When I say just in time, I mean it. My plane got into Amarillo the day before the court case. I picked up my car from long-term parking and headed directly from Pampa.
The Johnson case weighed heavily on my heart and mind. Steve had emailed me while I was in Paris, passing on the latest developments. Nora was living in the house, but taking all her meals next door with Alfredo and his family. Christian Johnson argued that if his step-mother didn't eat in the house, she wasn't really living in the house. Then he said it didn't matter if she ate there or not, because she'd already abandoned the homestead. It was clear to him that Nora had only re-entered the house on the advise of her “hick” lawyers. Based on the tone of Steve 's email, the “hick” comment rankled. But the thing bothering me was the case. It was clear, so clear, that we were going to lose. The law simply wasn't on our side. I thought about it over and over as I drove, weighing the options. Every path ended the same way: Nora Johnson lost her home.
A tumbleweed cartwheeled across the highway. It's yellow form, so clear against the pavement, faded against the dead grass when it reached the other side. I drove past and considered its fate. It would continue to bounce and roll across the plains until its travels were arrested by a wire fence. Caught, it would tremble and wrestle against its bonds until the wind beat it to a soulless skeleton. Then the wind would attack again, and again, until only dust remained. The tumbleweed would be freed bydestruction and death. We all will be, in the end.
I sighed, disgusted with my own attitude. Events in Paris had really gotten to me. I even wondered what the point was in returning to Pampa. Nora was so damaged that even ridding her of Hank's ghost wouldn't salvage the sad remnants of her existence. And what did any of it matter in the grand scheme of things? Ridding Pampa, Texas of one little ghost wouldn't change the world. Evil would still be winning.
By the time I reached White Deer, South of Pampa, I'd had enough. I pulled off the road into the parking lot of the town's small grocery store.
There was no reason to go on to Pampa. None. I should turn the car around right now. But I didn't. I just sat there, foot on the brake and hands of the wheel. Waiting for a sign.
Once upon a time, I believed in the grace and goodness of a higher power. Life showed me what crap that was. But I couldn't let go of hope; I don't know why. I sat there, staring at the quiet buildings of the tiny town.
“I'm not praying,” I said out loud. “I don't pray. I'm just talking. All I'm saying is, if I'm meant to drive on to Pampa...if there's a reason for me to go, I'll do it. But someone needs to shed some light on this mess. I won't drive on just to find more darkness. I've seen enough of the night.”
A light flashed in my rear view mirror. I turned around to look for the source.
White Deer, Texas, has as it's town symbol a white deer. It's kind of a big deal. The town even uses special light-up Christmas wreaths, with a white deer in the center of each. The wreaths had all been dark as I drove into the town, but now the southern most wreath was glowing. It was the wreath closest to Amarillo.
I stared at it for a moment then faced forward. “So I go back to Amarillo,” I said. I turned around one more time, just to be sure. As I looked at the wreath, it blinked off. The light didn't come on again.
More confused than ever, I turned slowly in my seat. Suddenly, the wreath closest to me began to shine. The next wreath came on, and then another, and another. The wreaths marking the road north to Pampa lit up and shimmered, like the lights marking a runway.
I sneaked a last look behind me. Every wreath to the south of me was dark. I looked north again, and saw the lights.
So I flipped my turn signal on and merged onto the road, heading north. “I'm still not praying,” I said out loud; “but...thanks.”