Itinerary: Love(PG-13)

Danny Murphy accepted a post-graduate teaching position at the University of Oklahoma upon finishing Green College, marrying his long time sweetheart Ellie before leaving. Now, eight years and two children later, homesick and ready to return to their hometown of Hillsboro, Danny accepted a similar position at Green College and the contented couple prepared for the return home.

They sold their house in Edmond and prepared to transport their belongings home. Ellie would drive the SUV with the two children and the dogs but she couldn't drive half way across the country with two children under the age of five alone so Ellie called her long time friend Ida back in Hillsboro and asked if she would be interested in accompanying her in the SUV as a second set of eyes and to help keep the children entertained.

Ida was more than happy to help out, jumping at the chance for an adventure. Ida had been a bubbly and spirited kid and she hadn't changed all that much in adulthood either. The two friends kept in contact and Ida had been to Oklahoma City several times over the years. Ida had a good job as a senior accountant, made good money, and she was single so she had plenty of time to travel.

Danny, meanwhile, called his old childhood friend Jacoby to see if he would be interested in helping pack up and then driving Danny's pick up truck home as part of the caravan. Unlike the enthusiastic Ida, Jacoby wasn't thrilled with the proposition and Danny had to guilt his friend into the idea.

Jacoby had been in a lifeless funk following the death of his fiancé Mary killed in a random act of violence years ago. Getting the perpetually flat-lined Jacoby interested in doing anything was a heavy lift but in the end Jacoby usually did the right thing and in this case he said he'd help out his friends as best he could.

Getting time off from his work as a middle-manager at Preston Plastics was not a problem as Jacoby had amassed an incredible amount of vacation time and his boss practically told him to take off right there and then when Jacoby mentioned the possibility of going to Oklahoma in a few weeks.

Jacoby and Ida had known each other for years because of their mutual connection to Danny and Ellie, although they weren't close. Ida went to St. Anne's Catholic School growing up while Jacoby attended Blue County Technical High School so the only times their paths crossed was usually when Danny and Ellie were involved. All four went on to Green College together but Jacoby and Ida didn't exactly hang out together all that much there either.

They were both members of Danny and Ellie's official wedding party, of course, but they hadn't seen much of each other after Danny and Ellie moved to Oklahoma.

Jacoby didn't recognize the number on the cell phone when it rang one evening as he sat in his darkened living room like he did most nights staring mindlessly at the television without really paying attention to what he was watching.

"Hello?" Jacoby mumbled when he answered the cell.

"Jake Fisher, how the hell are you?" A laughing female voice wanted to know.

"Who is this?" Jacoby asked with a frown.

"It's Ida, silly!" She giggled. "All ready for Oklahoma!?"

"How'd you know about that?" Jacoby asked with surprise.

"I'm going too, duh!" She laughed. "Do you want to coordinate flights? I hate flying alone."

"Why are you going?" Jacoby asked with surprise.

"You don't expect Ellie to drive all that way with the kids alone do you?" Ida replied.

"I guess not," Jacoby muttered.

"OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet, When the wind comes right behind the rain.
OOOOk-lahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky," Ida sang loudly.

Jacoby tried to interrupt but Ida didn't even take in a breath of air.
"We know we belong to the land (yo-ho), And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma O.K.!"


"Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet When the wind comes right behind the rain. Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk Makin' lazy circles in the sky."

"We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say Yeeow! Ayipioeeay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K. Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla... We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say
Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K. L - A - H - O - M – A OKLAHOMA!"

"Are you finished?" Jacoby sighed.

"We did that musical in high school," Ida reported. "I always loved that show."

"Great," Jacoby replied with disinterest. "When does Ellie want you there?"

"The thirteenth," Ida replied happily. "Is that doable for you?"

"I guess," Jacoby acknowledged.

"Will you make the flight arrangements for us?" Ida requested. "I'll pay you for the ticket. We might as well fly together, right?"

"I guess," Jacoby agreed.

"Oh, this is going to be so much fun, Jake!" Ida told him. "Call me back when it's all set up."

The line went dead and Jacoby shook his head with annoyance. Ida was always so up and perky, enthusiastic to a fault. She got on his nerves which is why he avoided her when Ellie and Danny weren't around.

Jacoby made the arrangements and called Ida back a few days later, informing her of their 6:30 a.m. Southwest flight on the thirteenth to Baltimore, changing for a flight to Oklahoma City with an arrival time of 11:30 Central time.

"Oh Goodie!" Ida said happily. "What time do you think you'll be picking me up?"

"About 4:50 that morning," Jacoby replied. "I'll get my brother to take us."

"Okie-dookie," Ida giggled. "Pick me up at Ellie's mom's house," she instructed. "I'll leave my car there 'cause that's where they'll be stating until their new house is ready when we get back."

"Okay," Jacoby agreed. "Just bring one carry on bag so we don't have to worry about checking our bags or anything."

"This is going to be fun, Jake!" Ida marveled.

He heard her singing "Oklahoma!" as she ended the call.

### ###

The alarm went off at 4:30 and Jacoby stumbled out of bed wondering why he had agreed to this crazy idea. He took a quick shower and grabbed his pre-packed carry on bag, stepping to the front door just as his brother's car pulled into the driveway. Mitch was an early riser anyway so getting up in the dark was no big deal for him.

Jacoby gave Mitch the address for Ellie's mom's house and Mitch drove his late model Chevy the three blocks to the address. Ida was standing in the driveway with her overnight bag in her hand even though it was about 22 degrees out. She gladly climbed into the backseat of Mitch's car and exchanged greetings with Jacoby.

"Great to see you!" She laughed.

"You remember my older brother, Mitch?" Jacoby asked.

"Not really," Ida openly admitted. "But thanks for the ride!"

Mitch was older than them, nearing forty but still wearing his hair in the hippie style of the late 1960s with a handlebar moustache and goatee.

Jacoby glanced over his shoulder to take a closer look at Ida whom he hadn't seen for a while. Her long brown hair bounced off her shoulders with long bangs cut straight across her forehead at her eyebrows. She had dancing blue eyes and a smile that was seemingly pasted on her face. She had thick thighs and firm breasts that filled out her heavy white turtleneck sweater worn under her opened winter ski jacket. She was stifling a yawn as she smiled at Jacoby.

The car conversation was mostly about sports and the recent 20 inch snow storm that had socked Blue County. Mitch did most of the talking, telling a long and funny story about how it took him three hours to get to work 20 minutes away and Ida was commenting how it snowed a few inches in Oklahoma the day before "but I bet it's already melted."

Ida noticed that Jacoby was quiet and spent most of his time staring out the window even though it was still dark and there wasn't a whole lot to see. Whenever she tried to bring him into the conversation, Jacoby replied with one word responses (mostly 'yeah' or 'nope').

Mitch dropped his passengers off in front of the terminal with plenty of time to spare. Jacoby punched in their confirmation numbers for the previously purchased on-line tickets into the self-service computer and their boarding passes printed out.

"When's the last time you flew?" Ida asked as they walked toward the security station.

"When I went down to the Bahamas to get Mary's body," Jacoby answered.

Ida glanced at Jacoby and sighed. "What's it been, eight years?"

"Yeah," Jacoby confirmed.

Mary attended Green College too and that's where Jacoby met her. It was love at first sight and the gang had never seen Jacoby happier. The couple announced their engagement not long after Danny proposed to Ellie and Jacoby was on top of the world. Ida remembered Mary as serious and studious, a bit too square for her tastes but she was a nice girl and Ida was glad that Jacoby had found his match.

Mary went on a cruise to the Bahamas with some girlfriends as a sort of final whirl before marriage and a full time job tied her down. Her murder was the most surreally tragic event to strike Jacoby and his friends. Mary disappeared while visiting a port with her friends and she was found on the beach the following morning, strangled to death.

"She never really wanted to go," Jacoby recalled as they emptied their pockets into the plastic bins at the security gate, along with their belts and shoes. "She mostly did it as a favor to her friends. I still resent Judy Flanders for talking Mary into it."

"You didn't want to her to go?" Ida asked.

"I wanted her to be happy," Jacoby replied with a sigh.

It was the most he had talked since she got in the car that morning and Ida realized it was because they were talking about Mary.

They both made it through the body scan and search without a problem and they put their shoes and boots back on before grabbing their carry on luggage and heading to the appropriate gate.

"Mary was a very nice person," Ida offered.

"I know," Jacoby replied as he handed the boarding passes to the attendant at the station and Ida could tell he didn't want to talk about it any further.

"I brought my camera," Ida informed him with excitement to change the subject. "I want to document the entire trip!"

She brought it out of her carry on bag and snapped a photo of him standing by the sign that featured the Gate Number.

A few minutes later, the attendant began calling for boarding and Jacoby and Ida patiently stood in line until making their way onto the plane, stowing their carry on luggage in the compartment above and taking two seats half way back. The flight was full but Jacoby brought a paperback to entertain himself with.

"Aren't you going to talk to me?" Ida teased.

"You have your laptop," Jacoby replied, motioning to the small case slung across her shoulder.

"I'd be lost without Facebook," she joked as she broke out her small computer. "But I'd be happy to talk with you."

"We'll have plenty of time to talk," Jacoby replied as he opened up his book.

"What you reading?" She asked with interest.

"Baseball," he replied. "The Last Nine Innings."

She nodded as she booted up her computer, realizing that he wanted to read, not talk.

The plane took off without incident and ninety minutes later they were in Baltimore to make the connecting flight to Oklahoma City. They had little trouble finding the gate and Ida snapped another photo of him at the gate. It didn't take long to board the next plane when the flight was called.

"I love travelling," Ida said happily. "I try to take at least one trip every year."

"Great," Jacoby replied.

"You?" Ida wondered.

"Not since Mary," he replied sadly.

She nodded with understanding and didn't say anything as they found their seats and prepared for the next leg of their adventure, Jacoby with his book and Ida with her computer and camera, taking a few shots from the plane's window.

"Sure is flat down there!" Ida laughed as the plane began its descent to Oklahoma City a few hours later. "You've been here before, right?"

"Nope," Jacoby replied.

"You never came to see Danny and Ellie!?"

He shook his head no.

"Wow, I think this is like my sixth time here!" Ida laughed. "You need to get out more often!"

They both watched as the ground slowly grew closer and finally the plane safely landed in the flat land of Oklahoma City. Ida and Jacoby got their carry on luggage from the overhead and de-boarded the plane. It was easy to spot the smiling Ellie as soon as they came out of the security gate – she was tall and thin with long blonde hair wearing skin tight jeans, fashionable cowboy boots and a rugged looking jacket.

Ida and Ellie both started screaming the second they saw each other and Ida ran into Ellie's arms as if they were two long lost sisters finally reunited. Jacoby approached them slowly and when Ellie was finally done hugging and bouncing Ida, she turned to Jacoby and grinned.

"It's been a long time, Jacoby," Ellie said.

"Yeah," he agreed, accepting her hug without returning it.

"Thanks for coming," Ellie told him sincerely.

"This is going to be so great!" Ida said happily.

"Let's get out of here," Ellie said.

The visitors followed their escort down a couple of escalators and along the walking ramp.

"They remodeled all of this recently," Ellie explained. "I'm a little confused."

But they found the parking garage and her large white SUV without a problem, Ida and Ellie chatting the whole way with Jacoby content on not saying a word. He piled into the backseat while the two women continued to gab in the front.

"So, Jacoby, what do you think?" Ellie wanted to know as they approached the downtown and her guest had a chance to take in the surroundings.

"Sure are a lot of pick up trucks around here," Jacoby replied.

"Oh yea!" Ellie laughed.

"And it's so flat too!" Ida giggled.

Ellie drove them downtown which had been remodeled into a yuppie-preppie atmosphere. They ate at a trendy taco place along the water, Jacoby silently listening to Ida and Ellie's endless conversations about the move, what was new in Hillsboro, and all the hassles Ellie had experienced packing up the house.

Following lunch, Ellie drove them to the site of the former Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building which was infamously bombed on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and injured more than 650.

Ellie parked the SUV in the post office parking lot across the street and the three silently walked to the memorial."

"This is so people can honor the memory of the victims, their families, the survivors, and those who rescued," Ellie explained as they walked among the stone chairs on the grass. "I bring everybody who comes to see us. It's an important part of our history that we should never forget."

"It's kind of chilling," Ida admitted.

Ellie pointed to the giant "9:03" that was carved into the cement wall. "That's the time the bomb went off," she said before pointing to the opposite wall which had 9:06 on it. "And that's when everything became quiet."

A lone police officer wandered through the site as Ida and Jacoby took in the surroundings.

Ida read an inscription on a nearby plaque out loud: "We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."

"I used to come here all the time before the kids were born," Ellie reported. "Now it's just too hard thinking about all those kids who were in the day care that day. I'm so grateful I have safe and healthy kids."

Ida gave her friend a hearty hug before taking several pictures. Ellie escorted Ida and Jacoby across the street to the statute of Jesus, his back to the bomb site with his face buried in his hands.

"And then Jesus wept," Ida read the inscription.

"Very sad," Ellie sighed before leading them back to the car.

"We were sixteen when that happened," Jacoby said after Ellie drove the car for a few blocks.

"April 1996," Ellie confirmed. "I was a sophomore at Hillsboro High."

"I remember the nuns at St. Anne's Catholic telling us to pray when the news came," Ida recalled.

"Some jerk in the cafeteria at Blue County Tech said something like 'Maybe they deserved it'," Jacoby recalled.

"Yeah, nineteen little kids deserved to be vaporized," Ellie said with disgust.

They drove in silence thinking about that sad day and all the people who died at the hands of a deranged and misguided yet unrepentant fellow American. Jacoby stared out the window and noticed the endless housing complexes, strip malls, Walmarts and other chain stores. All of the housing complexes looked the same and Jacoby had no idea where they were as every street corner looked the same.

"We're in Edmond now," Ellie announced a few moments later and soon she was turning into another complex that looked just like the last one.

She turned onto several streets before finally pulling into the driveway of a yellow sided two story house that pretty much looked like every other two story house on the street, although they varied in colors. The "Sale pending" sign stuck on the front lawn gave away this particular house as Ellie's.

"Home sweet former home," Ellie commented as they climbed out of the SUV.

There was a red pick up truck parked in the driveway too.

"That's Danny's," Ellie explained with a laugh. "He thought he should try to fit in."

"As a redneck?" Jacoby asked.

Ida snapped a photo of the house before Ellie escorted the visitors inside. Danny was sitting on the couch with his three year old daughter Regina sitting in his lap listening to the book he was reading to her. The couple's five year old son Randy was seated on the couch next to Danny fidgeting with some sort of electric gadget game. Regina was a clone of her mother while Randy hand his father's eyes and chin, although his Dad was dark haired and the youngster had sandy blonde hair. Jacoby realized the last time he saw the kid was when he was about a year old.

"Hey, Man!" Danny greeted his old friend with a grin when he saw Jacoby standing in the door way. "Hi Ida! Danny added with a warm smile.

"Danny!" Ida beamed, snapping a few photographs before giving him a hug.

The house was full of packed boxes and other clutter but it looked clean. Ellie gave them a quick tour – kitchen, small dinette, the living room, a closet, laundry room, and half bath. Upstairs was the master bedroom, a larger bathroom, and two smaller bedrooms for the kids. There was also a one car garage.

"Guess how much we sold this for?" Danny complained when Ellie returned to the living room with Ida and Jacoby.

"$190,000," Jacoby guessed.

"I wish," Danny groaned. "Try $145,000!"

"Not even ten years old, perfect condition and we barely made money on it," Ellie sighed.

"Couldn't buy a house like this for less than $200,000 in Hillsboro," Danny remarked.

"Cost of living sure is different back home," Ellie observed.

"I noticed that gas is about thirty cents a gallon cheaper down here," Jacoby said.

Two dogs were bellowing in the backyard. Danny opened the back door and a huge grey Great Dane lumbered into the house followed by a much smaller yellow lab mix.

"This is Duke and Miss Sarah," Ellie said.

"You have a horse for a pet?" Jacoby commented, eyeing the huge dog suspiciously.

"That's not a horse!" Randy insisted.

Duke turned out to be a spastic pussy cat who drooled and caused damage with his swatting tail but was otherwise harmless (unless he stepped on Regina!). Once the dogs sniffed Jacoby and Ida they decided that the visitors were okay and the dogs left them alone

Danny and Ellie had a three o'clock appointment at the bank to sign their part of the closing papers, leaving Ida and Jacoby behind to watch and play with the kids. Ida was a natural with the two of them but Jacoby mostly sat in the chair watching her interact with the kids.

"I wonder if Mary and I would have had kids by now," Jacoby sighed after watching the trio play.

Ida was spread out on the floor with Regina and the two dogs while Randy continued to entertain himself with his gadget, seated close to Ida.

"I feel my own biological clock ticking away," Ida admitted with a sigh.

"Weren't you with the doctor guy?" Jacoby asked.

Ida glanced at Jacoby, surprised he was aware of her love life. "Turns out he's married," she grumbled.

"And you were with What's-his-name O'Brien for a long time."

"Yes, he was thirty going on thirteen," Ida complained. "I really haven't been very successful in the romance department. I guess I'll always be the Single Catholic Girl which is really just a polite way of saying loser old maid."

"Don't be so hard on yourself," Jacoby remarked.

"What about you?" Ida challenged, sitting up and looking at him. "You've been a hobo monk for years."

"I'm in mourning," he explained.

"Isn't there a statue of limitations on that?" Ida wondered.

"Not really," Jacoby sighed.

"I'm not sure which one of us is more pathetic," Ida decided with a laugh, grabbing her camera and taking a few shots of the kids, dogs, and even Jacoby.

Danny and Ellie returned after a while.

"Well, we're officially homeless," Danny announced.

"This is kind of scary," Ellie admitted as she picked Regina up and gave her a hug. "Why are we doing this again?"

"To go home," Danny reminded her. "To escape the red state after nearly twelve years of keeping my mouth in check."

Danny fell onto the couch and patted Miss Sarah took a seat by his feet.

"It's been very hard being a progressive from a blue state teaching in a clearly conservative environment," Danny revealed.

"I didn't think it mattered so much," Ida remarked. "You're teaching concepts and philosophies and both sides of the spectrum so what difference does it make?"

"Most students here don't believe there are two sides to the spectrum," Danny replied. "It gets frustrating having to explain that the President of the United States really isn't a socialist communist fascist pinko foreigner illegitimate President," he said. "I guess I want to teach some kids who don't get all their facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh."

"So you're going to go back to Green College and teach kids who get all their facts from MSNBC and Tom Hartmann?" Ida laughed.

"I'd like to think I'll be teaching kids who get their information independently," Danny admitted. "Maybe I'm asking too much."

"He just wants to be able to watch a Serguci League game in the summer!" Ellie laughed. "That's the real reason we're moving!"

"That and letting our parents be hands on grandparents," Danny agreed.

The four adults made small talk for a while, catching up with news from home, the flight down, and the schedule for the next few days before getting ready to have a community meal with some of Ellie's friends. There wasn't enough room for all of them in one car so Ellie and Ida rode in the SUV with Randy and Regina while Jacoby rode shotgun with Danny in his pickup.

"So, you finally escaped the bat cave," Danny observed, grinning at his old friend as they followed Ellie's SUV for a few miles, once again passing the cloned housing developments and strip malls.

"At least for a few days," Jacoby acknowledged.

"It's great to see you out in the real world for a change," Danny said. "How's Ida?"

"She talks too much," Jacoby replied, causing Danny to burst out in laughter.

"That's okay," Danny noted. "You don't talk at all!"

Ellie's friend Nancy's house was a handsome two story house in a similar housing complex. There were other friends with assorted spouses and kids and the house was a hubbub of activity, conversation, laughter and visiting as soon as the gang stepped through the door.

Jacoby hated these sorts of gatherings but he made his best effort and found himself shadowing Ida most of the evening just so he wouldn't get stuck trying to carry on a conversation with a total stranger. There was Nancy and her husband Craig, Sandy and her partner Lisa, Julie and her boyfriend Simon, Deb and her mother MeMe, and too many kids to remember their names.

Jacoby saw how easily Ida flowed into the conversation and he envied her ability to talk about anything with anybody. Jacoby had no interest in telling his story, sticking to three or four talking points about Hillsboro, his connection to Danny and Ellie, his first impression about Oklahoma, and his appreciation for a nice evening to get through the social mine field.

Nancy's house was well decorated, attractive, comfortable and appealing with a large kitchen, a larger dining room, a sunken living room with a stone mantle and fire place, a built in bar, and a huge downstairs bathroom.

Most of the folks gathered were professionals – a hairdresser, a nurse, an accountant, a business manager, an executive at Raulston Dog Food Company, an EMT and a school teacher among them. Conversations were about skiing trips to Colorado, mountain climbing in South America, Jesus, football, childcare, and the fact that Danny and Ellie were "abandoning" the group!

Dinner was a buffet of sliced roast beef, au gratin potatoes with cheese sauce, green beans, salad and cherry pie for dessert. Folks were drinking wine and beer and engaged in ongoing conversations but Jacoby kept looking at the clock wondering when the evening would be over. Ida included him in a couple of conversations about New England but he mostly listened to others without contributing much to the dialogue.

Thankfully, Randy and Regina eventually started to fade and Ellie announced that they should leave. Jacoby was the first one heading for the door while Ida said goodbye to everybody as if they were all her long time friends instead of having just met them that evening.

"So, what'd ya think?" Danny asked Jacoby as they followed Ellie's SUV home.

"Very nice people," Jacoby replied.

"Did you notice that there were four televisions on in that house and all of them were tuned into Fox News?" Danny laughed. "That's what I've been dealing with down here."

"I heard that Julie lady talking about buying a gun at Walmart the other day," Jacoby volunteered.

"Yes, she goes to the firing range every weekend," Danny replied, shaking his head sadly. "Second amendment rights."

Ellie put the kids to bed as soon as they got home while Danny got some pillows and blankets for the guest. Ida had the living room couch for accommodations while Jacoby was provided with an air mattress on the floor.

Danny took the dogs for a walk and Ellie reappeared to say goodnight and to thank both Ida and Jacoby one more time for being there to help. Ida went into the bathroom to change into her pajamas while Jacoby peeled down to his undershirt and briefs underneath the blanket. Ida returned from the bathroom and bounced onto the couch, turning off the light before slipping under her makeshift covers.

"That was a great dinner party," she said in the dark.

"Yeah," Jacoby replied as he tried to find a comfortable spot on the air mattress.

"You didn't have much to say," Ida observed.

"True," he acknowledged.

"You never have much to say anymore, do you?" Ida realized.

"Nope," Jacoby verified.

"Good night, Jake," Ida sighed.

"Good night," he replied.

He drifted off to sleep listening to Ida humming "Oklahoma".

### ###

Jacoby awakened when he sensed motion in the room. He opened his eyes to see Ida heading for the bathroom in the early morning light. He could see the shape of her hips through her flimsy yellow pajamas and he kept his eyes trained on her backside until she closed the bathroom door. It may have been the first time he took notice of another woman in that way since Mary's death.

Jacoby was surprised by such a 'slip' and he said a silent prayer of forgiveness to Mary as he put his clothes on under the covers. There were noises upstairs and soon Ellie was coming down the stairs with Regina in her arms and Randy following close behind.

Ida came out of the bathroom. "Your turn," she said to Jacoby before joining Ellie to get the kids their breakfast.

By the time Jacoby came out of the bathroom Danny had come down and was drinking a cup of coffee. He and Ellie headed out to get the U-Haul while Ida and Jacoby looked after the kids and watched the morning news.

Ellie returned and gathered the kids to bring them to the neighbor's house for the duration of the pack up. The large U-Haul rumbled down the street with Danny behind the wheel and he backed the vehicle into the drive way. The dogs were placed in two cages and the load up was ready to begin. It was cool outside but the sun was out so the working conditions were comfortable.

"Where is our help?" Danny grumbled, explaining how he enlisted the service of two of his grad students to help load up the U-Haul.

A beat up pick up truck pulled to the curb and two college guys hopped out of the cab with donuts and coffees in their hand.

"We're here, Professor!" the bigger guy grinned.

Danny introduced Ricky and Cody to the group. Ricky was a burly guy with a shaved head and goatee while Cody was much smaller with curly black hair and a faint mustache on his upper lip.

Everybody exchanged pleasantries and then got to work. Ellie had done a good job organizing and boxing the belongs so clearing out the house was relatively easy, although trying to utilize every square inch on the truck became a science project as boxes and furniture were fitted, packed and loaded like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

Ida alternated between helping Ellie clean, carrying boxes and bags to the van, entertaining the barking dogs, and taking photographs as the load up progressed. Beds had to be taken apart and Ricky had to remove a bedroom door from its hinges to get a large dresser through the doorway but otherwise the project moved along well. Ida was full of good humor with witty remarks but Jacoby hardly said a word (other than "watch your back" and "higher" and "let's get the _ next") as he dragged furniture from the house.

Ellie and Ida went to Subway and brought back lunch which the crew ate sprawled out on the (now nearly empty) living room floor. The debate now was whether or not they'd fit everything on the truck which was quickly filling up despite their best efforts to utilize every square inch available.

"The U-Haul guys said this was the right size truck for this size house," Ellie worried. "What if we can't fit everything on!?"

"Maybe you have too much junk!" Ricky laughed.

The group went back to work after eating and Ellie was fretting with every new piece added to the truck.

"Look how fast it's filling up!" She lamented.

"Is there anything you can live without?" Danny asked his wife.

"We already made three trips to the Goodwill!" She cried.

"There's always the back of the pick up truck," Jacoby pointed out.

Once the U-Haul was packed to the gills with absolutely no room left for even a paperclip, Ida took one last photo of the sardine can before Danny shut the door and padlocked it shut. The truck cab was also packed with stuff (including the dog's food and dishes) but there was still the patio furniture and various other odds and ends which were either piled into the back of Danny's pick up truck for transport to Hillsboro or tossed in the back of Ricky's pick up for disposal or giveaway. Ellie had a hard time giving up some of the family's overflow possessions.

Ricky and Cody drove off with a truck full of castoff possessions while Ellie and Ida performed the last of the house cleaning to make sure the new owners couldn't complain about the condition of the house. Danny and Jacoby made sure everything on the pickup truck was secure for the long ride and that Jacoby had clear sight lines with the side mirrors as the large cab and also been squashed with belongings, including two flat screen televisions, the computers and printers, the microwave and the ashes of the family's previous dog, Jeb.

"Well, I guess that's it," Ellie sighed when the last of the chores had been completed.

She looked teary eyed as she glanced around the empty house one last time. "This was our first real home," she wept.

Ida took a photograph of Danny and Ellie hugging one another at the front door before Ellie went to the neighbor's to retrieve the kids. Danny broke down the dog cages and managed to cram them into the back of the pick up truck. The kids and dogs were loaded into the back of the SUV which was also crammed with overnight travel bags, snack food, a cooler, games, and assorted junk.

"Let the fun begin!" Ida laughed happily as she climbed into the SUV with Ellie.

"Bye, house," Jacoby heard Randy say before Ida closed the door.

Danny closed the garage door and climbed into the U-Haul while Jacoby slipped behind the wheel of the pickup truck and familiarized himself with the dashboard, adjusted the seat and steering wheel, and made sure he could see the side mirrors before starting up the vehicle and following behind Danny's U-Haul.

Danny's mentor boss had invited the family to spend their last night in Oklahoma as his guest at his house in Arcadia. Jacoby was amused when he realized they were on historical Route 66 once they left the interstate and he thought this part of the Oklahoma City area was quite appealing and attractive. He followed the SUV and U-Haul onto a private road surrounded by woods and an occasional gate although the houses couldn't be seen from the road.

The caravan turned into gated driveway a few miles up the road and suddenly a large two story house appeared, sitting on a hill overlooking several acres of land. A man was directing Jacoby to drive the pickup down an auxiliary side driveway that led to a large structure with two garage doors.

Jacoby parked the truck and walked to the house (which also had two more garage doors on it side. Danny introduced Jacoby and Ida to Professor Stenson and his wife Lilly, a couple who looked to be in their early sixties. The Professor was wearing a tweed jacket and sucking on a pipe while his wife was dressed in fashionable clothes, her graying hair done up in a fancy do.

"Looks a lot like Connecticut here," Ida was saying as she snapped some photographs.

Jacoby noticed a BMW sports convertible sitting in the second bay of the garage.

"Oh, that's one of my toys," The professor laughed. "You can pick those things up for practically nothing!"

There was also a pick up truck parked in the other bay and a late model Cadillac in the driveway with the SUV and U-Haul. The Professor's wife gave Ida and Jacoby a quick tour of the house (Danny and Ellie had been there before) - four bathrooms, four bedrooms, an informal dining room, a formal dining room, a study, and a second floor balcony.

"You two can have the Catherine Suite," The Professor's wife said as she showed Jacoby and Ida a bedroom that was decorated all in red. "Our daughter Catherine stays here when she visits."

"Maybe we…" Jacoby started to say, protesting the assumed sleeping arrangements but Ida wrapped her arm around Jacoby's waist to silence him.

"Oh, this room is absolutely lovely," Ida said happily. "Thank you so very much for your kind hospitality!"

Jacoby threw Ida a look of annoyance but she just made a face and stuck her tongue out at him behind the woman's back as they followed The Professor's wife out of the room. Danny and Ellie were staying in "Robbie's Room" while the two kids were sleeping in the "nursery" as the Professor's wife put it.

It was easy to get lost in the large house and The Professor insisted on showing Jacoby and Ida his "play house" where Jacoby had parked the pick up truck. The two guests followed the Professor to the building and discovered that it housed a second work office and a "play office" for his wife, a boat, tractor, riding lawn mower, golf cart, and a 1959 Ford Thunderbird.

The Professor also showed them the tree house in the backyard built for the visiting grandkids.

"That thing cost fourteen thousand dollars to build!" He laughed.

"I didn't know Professors were paid so well," Jacoby commented to Danny who came outside to put the dogs in the (heated) kennel behind the playhouse.

"Oh, he's also a best selling novelist and non-fiction writer," Danny explained.

"I guess things turned out okay for him!" Jacoby said.

"You sure you want to leave this guy, Danny?" Ida asked. "He's got it made here."

Danny glanced at the U-Haul parked in the driveway. "Too late now!"

The Professor invited some of his and Danny's mutual colleagues for a farewell dinner. The Professor's wife also had a few of her friends come for the dinner.

"Why don't you all get cleaned up?" The Professor's wife suggested. "Dinner will be at 6:30."

Jacoby and Ida went to Catherine's Suite with their overnight bags.

"I'll sleep on the floor," Jacoby told Ida.

"Don't be silly!" She laughed. "Look at the size of that bed!"

The bed, covered with a red bedspread and at least twelve pillows, looked to be a double king sized. The wallpaper was red, the curtains on the window were red, the carpet was red, and the adjoining bathroom also was in red, complete with red towels.

"I see red," Jacoby deadpanned.

Ida laughed as she placed her bag on the dresser. A large flat screen television was mounted on the wall.

"It must be nice to have money," Jacoby observed, commenting on the Professor's home.

"Money can't buy happiness, Jake," Ida reminded him.

"The Professor and his wife seem pretty happy," he remarked.

"Maybe they're just nice people," she replied. "You know, I make a pretty good living too. I travel. Buy a new car every few years, live in a nice townhouse. But I'd be happy to trade all of it for a two room walk up if I was with the guy I loved."

She dug out a change of clothes and disappeared into the bathroom without saying another word, closing the door behind her. Jacoby sighed, wondering why a nice looking, intelligent, fun woman like her was still single. He knew why he was still single: he was in love with a dead woman.

Jacoby stood in the window watching Danny and The Professor standing in the backyard letting the dogs run while they chatted. Ida eventually emerged from the bathroom wearing a skirt and sweater and Jacoby went into the bathroom to shower and change after their long day of work.

He noticed how feminine the bathroom smelled with scents of Ida's soap, shampoo and body wash. It had been a long time since he smelled such nice odors.

The dinner guests were full of academic types when Ida and Jacoby came downstairs. Dinner was chicken and beef with marble cake for dessert, and the conversations were lively and loud. Jacoby couldn't keep track of who's who but there was the sexy professor and the pretty professor and the good looking boyfriend and the older tenured Professor (with the girlfriend who looked to be about 22) and The Professor's wife's Bridge Club friends who were middle aged woman with face lifts and tummy tucks and breast enhancements.

Jacoby spent some of his time entertaining Randy and Regina but they eventually "retired" to the nursery and he was forced to fake socialize with the others, mostly shadowing Ida again and letting her carry the bulk of the conversation.

The attractive Professor, they learned, was recently divorced, but she still thought highly of her ex.

"He got me pregnant so I'll always love him for that," she explained. (She had her first child at 33 and called the addition "a gift from God".)

There were plenty of political discussions going on and Jacoby noticed that Fox was not on anywhere in the house! He ended up sitting in a chair in the corner alone for a while until Ida tried to pry him out of his seat.

"Boy, you're just Mr. Anti-social, aren't you?" She complained as she sat on the arm chair next to him.

"I don't do well with these things," he admitted.

"Why not?" She challenged.

He sucked in his breath deeply. "Whenever I go anywhere, I'm always thinking to myself, 'What would Mary think? What would Mary say? What would Mary want? I miss not being with her in these sorts of situations."

"I admire your dedication and commitment to her, Jake," Ida said sincerely. "But it's almost as if you died with her."

"A piece of me did, I suppose," he sighed.

"Don't you think its time you came back to life?" Ida wondered before hopping off the arm of the chair and returning to the party guests.

Jacoby began to wonder if the night would ever end. He thought about going up to the Catherine Suite but that might be rude. He finally dragged himself out of the chair and he tried to look interested as he listened in on various conversations but in truth he could have cared less about any of it.

Ida made it a point to draw him into a few of the conversations and to stand next to him as if they were together. People were polite and welcoming but he still felt like an outsider and Jacoby was relieved when the party finally started winding down. Colleagues made final toasts to Danny, told one last story or two, and then started for the doors.

Ellie and Ida helped The Professor's wife clean up while Danny, The Professor and Jacoby had a night cap in The Professor's study. It was clear that Danny and The Professor enjoyed a father-son type of relationship and that Danny's leaving was tough on both of them.

Jacoby excused himself to give the two some final private moments, heading for the Catherine Suite. He was already dressed in sweats and under the covers by the time Ida finally entered the room. She excused herself to use the bathroom and returned wearing the same yellow pajamas from the previous night.

"Did you survive the torture?" Ida asked sarcastically as she strolled to the bed.

"Barely," he mumbled.

"You really need to work on your socialization skills, Jake," Ida advised.

"I'm sleeping with you, aren't I!?" He joked.

She laughed, tickled by his humor. "Yes, you are," she said, climbing into the bed which was almost as wide as the room. "Can I ask you a personal question?" She asked once she was settled under the covers.

"Depends on how personal," he answered.

"Have you been with anybody since Mary?" She asked softly.

"That's pretty personal, Ida," Jacoby let her know.

"Well?" She wanted to know after a few quiet moments.

"I've had a few anonymous one nighters over the years," he admitted with some embarrassment. "Nothing lately."

She nodded with understanding.

"I'm really tired," Jacoby announced, turning his back to her and scrunching under the covers.

Ida knew she had humiliated him so she didn't say anything in response as she turned out the light and snuggled under the covers on her side of the bed.

"Good night, Jake," she said quietly in the dark.

"Good night," he replied, sensing her behind him, smelling her scent but desperate not to acknowledge her presence in anyway now that they were actually sharing a bed together.

Ida started humming the Oklahoma song again.

### ###

Jacoby was surprised when he woke up in the morning to find Ida asleep with her head on his chest and her arms wrapped around him. He hadn't spent the night with any woman since Mary. He always left the one night stand's bed before morning when it came to his few trysts. Now here he was lying in bed with Ida wrapped around him. Had he betrayed Mary?

It wasn't dawn yet as Jacoby slid out of the bed and went into the bathroom to change. The house was still asleep as he came down the stairs and he stood along the long glass wall of the informal dining room watching the eastern sky slowly brighten. The Professor was the first to join Jacoby, turning on the coffee maker in the kitchen before standing at the window still in his robe.

"Best time of the day," The Professor remarked as he watched the sky begin to turn orange in the distance.

Ellie appeared next, dressed and ready to start the day. She poured two glasses of orange juice and handed Jacoby one as she joined him at the window. The Professor excused himself to shower.

"Sleep okay?" Ellie asked, lifting an eyebrow with interest

"Sure," Jacoby replied, refusing to the bait.

They stood in the window for a long moment without saying anything further.

"I always thought Mary was perfect for you," Ellie finally said.

"We've had this discussion before," Jacoby reminded her.

"Yeah, about five years ago," Ellie groaned. "And nothing's changed! You're still marred in your grief."

"Everyone copes with it differently," Jacoby reasoned.

"How come you've never been able to accept it?" Ellie wanted to know.

"I'm not sure," Jacoby admitted. "I just feel sad, angry and guilty about it."

"Mary would want you to get past your grief," Ellie theorized.

"Everybody thinks I'm nuts," Jacoby sighed. "I probably am."

"No one should judge you," Ellie replied. "But when you do find somebody new that doesn't mean you won't still grieve Mary's loss. It won't mean that you didn't love her but don't you want a close connection with someone again?"

"I don't know if I'm ready," Jacoby admitted. "I think I still need more time."

"It's been eight years, Jacoby," Ellie reminded him.

"Feels like yesterday," he told her. "There's no magic pill to make things better."

"I know that," Ellie assured him. "I know only you understand the pain you're feeling."

"Yes," he agreed.

"But embrace the memories and the unique love you shared with her and she'll live forever in your heart," Ellie told him. "I just want you to be happy again, Jacoby."

"I still think about her every day and the pain never subsides," Jacoby said. "I compare everybody I meet to Mary."

"There was only one Mary," Ellie told him.

"I know," Jacoby agreed.

"She loved you very much and I know that she would want you to be happy."

Jacoby peered at Ellie suspiciously. "You and Danny didn't hatch some elaborate plot to get me and Ida down here together, did you?"

"Not consciously," Ellie replied honestly. "I mean, I knew I couldn't drive back alone and Ida was the natural choice to be my co-pilot. Originally, we were going to tow Danny's truck behind the U-Haul but then we started wondering if that would slow us down to much. Then we were going to sell the pick up but that seemed kind of stupid. Then Danny was going to hire that Ricky guy to drive it up for us but then we'd have to fly him back. I'm the one who suggested he give you a call but Danny didn't think you'd actually come."

"Why not?" Jacoby asked with a frown.

"Because you haven't done anything for eight frigin' years, Jacoby!" an exasperated Ellie groaned.

Jacoby sighed and glanced out the window, noticing how light it had become just during the course of their conversation. "It is pretty here," he acknowledged. "I'm glad I came."

"So aren't I!" Ellie beamed.

Voices were heard on the stairs and Danny appeared with the two children following him like little ducklings. He kissed his wife on the cheek and said hello to Jacoby. The Professor reappeared and told Danny and Jacoby to come with him while the kids had breakfast.

Danny and Jacoby piled into the Cadillac, Danny in the front with The Professor, Jacoby in the back seat alone. The Professor showed them a piece of the famous Route 66 that including a 1/2 mile stretch of the original road which was about as wide as a modern sidewalk.

"This was back in the days of the Model T," The Professor remarked.

He also showed them the shell of a "filling station' from about 1910. It was basically three walls with a plaque on it, explaining how counterfeiters operated out of a small room in the back.

"Neat stuff," Jacoby remarked.

They returned to the house and Danny and Jacoby ran the dogs in the woods behind the house.

"The Professor gives that little tour to everyone new who visits here," Danny explained with a grin. "I think that's the fifth time I've been given it!"

"Well, it is a little piece of Americana history," Jacoby replied.

They threw sticks and the dogs chased after them and when they were significantly tired out they returned to the house.

"We got some mild doggie sedatives for the trip," Danny reported. "That should keep them calm."

Ida was seated at the kitchen counter eating a bagel and drinking coffee when Jacoby and Danny finally came into the house.

"Good morning!" Ida said cheerfully.

"How'd you sleep?" Danny asked Ida with a lift of his eyebrow.

"I slept great!" She replied happily, tossing Jacoby a look.

"That's good," Danny replied.

Ellie went to the local market to pick up some snacks and other necessities for the trip while Ida took a quick shower. When Ellie returned, Danny loaded up the SUV with their overnight bags while Jacoby found room for his bag in the already squashed truck cab.

The kids and dogs piled into the SUV while Ida took some final photographs to mark the occasion. Danny shook The Professor's hand goodbye before climbing into the cab of the U-Haul while Jacoby returned to the pickup truck in the side yard and fired it up to life.

It was about 10:15 when the three vehicle caravan pulled out of The Professor's driveway, returned to Route 66 and headed east for Interstate 44.

Jacoby found an acceptable station on the radio and prepared for the first leg of the three day journey. He originally thought they'd just drive straight through basically non-stop and Ellie was highly amused by such an idea.

"There's no way I'm driving straight through with two kids and two dogs along for the ride!" She laughed. "We're stopping for two nights. I've already made the reservations and I have the trip all planned out. You guys just follow me!"

Jacoby had just gotten comfortable behind the wheel when his cell phone went off.

"Hello?" An annoyed Jacoby asked once he dug his cell phone out of his pocket.

"Did you see that orange horse back there!?" It was Ida from the SUV.

"I saw horses," Jacoby acknowledged.

"One was orange!" Ida laughed. "Pay attention!"

The line went dead but five minutes later his cell was ringing again. He was glad he had left it on the dashboard.


"Have you ever seen so much road kill before?" Ida asked. "That poor deer was squashed like a pancake back there!"

The caravan stopped at a gas station just before the I-44 entrance ramp from I-66 and all three vehicles gassed up for the ride. Ida bounced out of the car and ran to Jacoby who was filling the pick up's tank, singing Oklahoma!

"Ida," Jacoby remarked.

"I'm having fun!" She laughed.

Once the gas was taken care of, the caravan entered I-44 East and the road trip had officially begun.

"Oklahoma sure is flat!" Ida laughed into the cell phone a half hour later.

"Are you going to call me about everything?" Jacoby wanted to know.

"Maybe!" Ida laughed.

When they approached the Oklahoma-Missouri state line, Jacoby's cell went off again.

"Yes, Ida," he answered.

"Goodbye, OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet, When the wind comes right behind the rain," she sang loudly into the phone. "Goodbye OOOOk-lahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky. We know we belong to the land (yo-ho), And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma O.K.!"


"Goodbye, Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet When the wind comes right behind the rain. Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk Makin' lazy circles in the sky."

"We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say Yeeow! Ayipioeeay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K. Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla... We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say
Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Goodbye Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K. L - A - H - O - M – A OKLAHOMA!"

"Are you finished?" Jacoby asked.

"Yes, we're just leaving the state now. Oh, I need to get a picture of the Entering Missouri sign! Bye!"

Jacoby couldn't help but smile as he put the phone back on the dash.

Ida called back about an hour later.

"Have you noticed that Missouri seems to go uphill the whole time?" She asked, hanging up before Jacoby could answer.

There were plenty of Christian and Country radio stations to choose from whenever Jacoby hit seek on the radio dial, but he managed to find some oldie stations with some talk radio and sports tossed in along the way.

The cell phone went off again: "Hey, did you see that sign that said '$10,000 Fine for hitting worker in construction zone'?" Ida asked.

"Yeah, I saw it."

"What, no jail time for running over and killing some poor sap construction worker!?" Ida wondered. "Just a fine?"

"I'm sure it's both," Jacoby responded.

The caravan pulled into a rest station that was on the left side of the highway servicing both directions. The McDonalds hung over the highway and Randy got a kick out of watching the trucks zoom pass underneath them as they ate their burgers. After eating and letting the dogs out for a squirt it was back onto I-44 for more miles and it wasn't long before Ida was calling Jacoby on the cell.

"Have you seen those addicting signs for 'The Candy Factory'?" She asked.


"They've been for about 70 miles!"

"Are we stopping for the kids?" Jacoby wondered.

"Are we stopping for the kids?" He heard Ida ask Ellie. "We're only stopping for pee breaks, gas and food," Ida reported Ellie's response after a moment's delay.

The line went dead but a half hour later the cell was ringing again.

"Yes?" Jacoby asked.

"Did you see those billboards for the 'Super Adult Video Store'!?" Ida asked. "What the hell is a super adult video store?"

"Do you want to stop and see?" Jacoby asked.

He heard Ida burst out in laughter as she ended the call.

Forty minutes later, the phone was ringing again.

"Have you noticed all those Jesus Billboards?" Ida asked.

"Yes," he replied.

"And a couple of Anti-Obama ones too," she added.

"Yep," he said.

"I can't wait to get back to Hillsboro!" The call ended.

It was dusk by the time the three vehicle caravan pulled off of I-44 in Eureka Missouri about 20 miles south of St. Louis and into the lot of a Super 8 Motel, a dog friendly motel so the doggies could sleep in peace and comfort. Ida and Jacoby took the dogs while Ellie and Danny took the kids!

Once they were settled with the dogs walked and fed, Ellie ordered Pizza but said they were in for the night so Ida and Jacoby ate their pizza in their own motel room which was fairly noisy and the dogs stayed on edge until their meds kicked in. The room was close to the lobby which had a TV going all night.

"You should probably sleep in my bed," Ida suggested when both dogs zoned out on Jacoby's bed.

"I can just squash in under the covers," Jacoby replied.

"What? You want to sleep with the dogs more than me?" She fake-pouted.

"I didn't want to invade your space," Jacoby awkwardly explained.

"You slept with me last night," she reminded him before heading for the bathroom.

When Ida emerged, she was wearing sheik silky white pajamas instead of the yellow ones of the last few nights. She smelled fresh and clean and Jacoby excused himself to use the bathroom.

By the time he returned, Ida was dozing under the covers in the bed. Jacoby gently sat on the bed and tried to find something on the television after turning the lights out. The dogs were comatose and Ida seemed to be pretty fatigued too. She was dozing but not quite asleep.

Jacoby glanced down and studied her face for a moment. It felt strange to be sharing a bed with the same woman for a second night in a row. Strange, but nice. Ida's eyes popped open and she stared up at Jacoby for a long moment.

"Everything okay?" She finally asked.

"Yes," Jacoby replied. "Go to sleep."

"Okay," she agreed, closing her eyes.

He waited until he was sure she had fallen asleep before he turned off the television and snuggled down under the covers.

### ###

Jacoby awoke to find himself spooning Ida from behind, his groin pushed into her rear end as she slept. Jacoby was horrified to realize that he had a morning piss hard on that was rubbing against her crack and he subtly started to pull himself away but Ida pushed her hips back into his groin while opening her eyes and turning to face him over her shoulder.
"Good morning," she said with a bemused smile on her face.
"Hey," Jacoby replied, feeling slightly embarrassed.
"I think I like Eureka," she said.
The sounds of their voices riled the dogs. Duke jumped off the other bed and began investigating their bed.
"Maybe we should take them out so Danny doesn't have to do it," Jacoby suggested.
"Oh," Ida said, sounding disappointed. "Okay, I guess."
"Just give me a minute," Jacoby said, rolling off the bed and heading for the bathroom in his gym shorts and undershirt.
"Sure," Ida sighed rolling over on her back. She waited until Jacoby closed the door before she audibly groaned. "I'm the perpetual single Catholic girl," she said to Miss Sarah who sat at the foot of the bed patiently waiting for her morning constitutional.
Jacoby emerged from the bathroom fully dressed. "I'll do it myself if you don't want to go out," he said.
"No, no, I want to come," Ida replied, rolling out of the bed. "I'll be right back.
She disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door behind her, harder than she meant too.
It was a cold morning in Eureka Missouri as Jacoby and Ida walked the dogs out of the hotel lobby and into the coldness. There was a large field behind the motel and Ida looked with amazement as a herd of deer traipsed across the grass.
"Oh My God!" Ida whispered. "Look!"
Jacoby followed her pointing finger to the deer in the distance. There must have been ten of them.
"Oh, wow," he said, moved and impressed. "That's not something you'd see in Hillsboro."

Ida wrapped her arm in his as they watched the deer roam about. Once the dogs were done with their duties, Jacoby and Ida returned to the motel and grabbed some continental breakfast from the lobby. Danny stopped by the room to feed the dogs while Ida and Jacoby packed up.

When Jacoby came downstairs to toss his bag into the pickup truck, he found Ida engaged in a conversation with a guy standing outside the lobby smoking a cigarette.

"Who's that?" Jacoby asked as he and Ida walked back to the motel room for one final check and to leave a tip for the maid.

"That's Ed," Ida replied. "He's a school teacher from Memphis. He and his wife are going skiing a few miles up the road."

"There's no snow."

"They make it, silly," Ida laughed. "His Dad was retired Navy, his wife is originally from Georgia, their house was damaged in the great flood of Memphis a few years ago, and they a dog with one green eye and one blue eye."

"You learned all that in one five minute conversation?" Jacoby asked.

"You really need to learn how to socialize, Jake," Ida observed.

Danny and Ellie loaded up the SUV with the bags, kids and dogs, and the caravan was back on the road, gassing up all three vehicles at the gas station before returning to I-44. Jacoby glanced at the radio clock and saw that it was 8:30 that morning as they drove onto the I-44 entrance ramp.

The cell phone went off.

"Hey, that's a big McDonalds' sign!" Ida joked.

She was referring to the famous St. Louis Arch that was appearing in front of them in downtown St. Louis before turning right on I-70. She called later to tell him she got a photograph the 'Entering Illinois' sign.

"I've got all of them so far," she bragged.

An hour later, the cell phone went off again.

"Boy, Illinois sure is flat and boring," Ida complained.

But it was a sunny Saturday morning and Jacoby didn't mind the picturesque farm land and other scenery as they drove the highway. It gave him time to be reflective about the road trip and his experience so far, mainly his time spent with Ida. He found himself waiting for the cell phone to ring so he could hear her voice. She made him smile with her observations and insights and he was glad that she was interested enough to call him and share her thoughts with him.

The cell phone went off again. "Hey, did you see the sign dedicating this piece of the highway to Paul Simon?" Ida asked.

"I did," Jacoby replied.

Every few miles of the interstate was named after some local celebrity or national hero from that area but there had been so many during the trip that Jacoby couldn't even remember them now.

"You do know that it's for Illinois Senator Paul Simon and not the singer Paul Simon from Simon and Garfunkel, right?" Ida laughed.

"The bow tie on the sign gave it away," Jacoby replied.

"Ha ha ha!" Ida laughed before ending the call.

The cell phone went off again later. "I got the 'Entering Indiana' sign! Ida reported happily.

Later, the cell phone went off again.

"Boy, Indiana doesn't have the best roads, does it?" Ida remarked as they drove past sleepy farm towns and wide open fields and farms on the rough and cracked I-70.

And then all of a sudden - wham - Indianapolis where they had to navigate eight lanes of traffic, various on and off ramps, merges, and crazy drivers. The cell phone went off once they were on the other side of the city.

"Boy, you have to be an Indy 500 Driver to get through Indianapolis!" Ida remarked. "Did you see the Colts Stadium though?"

Soon enough they were hitting flat lands again, stopping to gas up and have lunch at a roadside Wendys before continuing the journey. The snow flurries started at about three o'clock but it was no big deal until they turned into showers as they crossed into Ohio.

The cell phone went off. "I got the 'Welcome to Ohio sign!" Ida reported.

The three vehicle caravan turned north on I-270 and that's when (all of a sudden) the 'lake effect snow' began as they navigated I-71 to Columbus and then I-76 when the snow became really bad with a few moments of white out blizzard conditions, a one hour traffic delay because of an accident and a few hairy moments when Jacoby discovered that the windshield washer fluid reservoir was empty, the windshield wipers sucked, and for a few moments he had no idea where the hell he was on the road.

The cell phone went off but Jacoby was so busy trying to see through the snow, darkness, and splattering of snow on his windshield that he couldn't answer it. He lost sight of both the SUV and the U-haul in all the chaos and he wondered if he had missed the exit. He called Ida to find out what in the heck was going on and she gave him the directions and exit numbers for the motel.

"Drive safe," she said with worry, picking up on Jacoby's stress behind the wheel. Somehow, they made it to Kent Ohio and the Day's Inn alive and in one piece although they were all pretty stressed out from the challenging drive in the unexpected and surprisingly troubling snow.

"You okay?" Ida asked when they met in the lobby, Jacoby the last one to reach the motel.

"I admit I'm a little zoned out!" Jacoby said.

The motel had outside balcony hallways for entrance to the individual rooms which made for a better set up, quieter for the dogs. Once the children were safely inside and the dogs walked and fed, Ellie ordered chicken pasta and salad delivered to the rooms. Ida and Jacoby ate theirs in their room to give Ellie and Danny their quiet family time together after the long day on the road. The dogs were stretched out on one bed when Jacoby and Ida finished eating. Ida announced she was going to take a shower.

"You probably want to sleep with the dogs tonight," she said with a hint of resentment in her voice as she closed the bathroom door behind her.

Jacoby realized that he had hurt her feelings because of his detachment and unwillingness to get closer to her. He felt bad about that and he considered his options as he listened to the shower noise on the other side of the door. Ah, what the heck – he could use a shower too!

Jacoby stripped out of his clothes and entered the bathroom naked, pulling back the shower curtain to reveal a naked Ida under the shower spray with her back to him. Her hips were full, her ass cheeks solid. She turned in surprise and her eyes went wide when she saw that he was naked.

"What are you doing?" She asked with a mixture of shock and excitement.

"OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet, When the wind comes right behind the rain.
OOOOk-lahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky," Jacoby sang as he stepped into the bathtub.

Ida burst out in laughter. "You're crazy!" She said.
"We know we belong to the land (yo-ho), And the land we belong to is grand!
And when we say Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma O.K.!"


"Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet When the wind comes right behind the rain. Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk Makin' lazy circles in the sky."

"We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say Yeeow! Ayipioeeay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K. Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla... We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say
Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma O.K. L - A - H - O - M – A OKLAHOMA!"

"Are you finished?" Ida laughed.

"No," Jacoby replied, leaning in and kissing her on the mouth while placing a hand on one of her amble breasts.

She gladly returned the kiss and they made out in the shower.

"Well," Ida finally said when she was able to catch her breath. "As long as you're here, you might as well wash my back!"

"Gladly," Jacoby replied as she turned her back to him.

He got the wash cloth and soap and cleaned her back, making his way all the way down to her rear end which he tenderly soaped and washed, dropping to his knees and giving her fanny a kiss.

"What do you think?" Ida asked, looking over her shoulder at him.

"You're absolutely wonderful," he replied.
She smiled as she turned around and now he was staring directly at her womanhood. "You just now figured that out?"
"No, I knew it all along," Jacoby admitted as he stood and put his hand under her chin. "I'm sorry it took so long."

"It's okay," Ida said. "I know how hard it's been for you."

"You're beautiful and you're more than anybody could ask for," Jacoby told her.
"I'm glad to hear that," she smiled.

Ida turned and rinsed off under the spray and then stepped back so Jacoby could wash the soap off his body. She reached around him and turned the water off and they both stepped out of the tub, finding towels and drying off
"That was really nice," Ida said.

"Yes," Jacoby agreed, following her out of the bathroom.

The two dogs glanced up with sedated boredom when they saw the two naked humans taking a seat on the other bed.
"You okay?" Ida asked with concern.

"You make me feel comfortable," Jacoby told her.
"I can't tell you how long I've fantasized about this moment," Ida admitted. "I'm really enjoying this."
"Me too," Jacoby said softly.
"Good," she whispered.

Ida's eyes dropped down to Jacoby's naked lap and he did the same thing to her before gently pushing her back. Ida gladly fell back on the bed and he slowly pushed her legs apart and she helped by spreading them a little further.

"Do you want too?" He asked tentatively, looking into her eyes.

"God, yes!" She said, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him on top of her.
They were in the full throws of making love when Jacoby felt the tickling on his ass. He glanced back to see Duke with his two front paws up on the bed trying to get a better look.

"Get lost, Duke," Jacoby ordered and Ida burst out in laughter even though she was on the verge of climaxing.
Jacoby moved in to kiss her and he felt her respond as they French kissed while continuing to make love. Later, when they both finished their orgasms, they exchanged a long and passionate kiss before Jacoby rolled off of her.

"That was wonderful," Ida whispered in a dreamy voice. "You fulfilled my fantasy."
"Thank you, Ida," Jacoby said as he snuggled against her body. "I didn't think I'd ever feel this way again."

"Who would have thought we'd end up making love in Kent Ohio of all places!" Ida giggled as she put her head on his shoulder and they cuddled until they drifted off to sleep naked in each other's arms.

### ###

Jacoby was happy to wake up in the morning with the naked Ida wrapped around him. Three days in a row they had slept together and of course last night was a wonderful night of lovemaking that he hadn't experienced since Mary's last night before leaving for her cruise.

He glanced down to see that Ida was awake, staring up at him with her eyes wide and worried.

"Everything okay?" She asked nervously.

"Why wouldn't it be?" Jacoby grinned.

"I don't know," she admitted. "I was afraid you might freak out or something."

"We both knew what we were doing last night, Ida," Jacoby told her, kissing her on the forehead.

Her eyes watered up. "Does this mean I'm no longer the Single Catholic Girl which is really just a polite way of saying loser old maid?"

"I hope so," Jacoby replied.

"I'm so happy!" she cried as she hugged him.

There was a rapping on the door which got the dogs flying off the bed. Jacoby wrapped a sheet around himself and went to the door, opening it to reveal Ellie standing there with some breakfast items from the lobby.

"Oh!" She said with surprise. "I'm sorry. I just came for the dogs."

"Its okay, let her in," Ida said from the bed, hardly bothering to cover herself. "I finally got laid, Ellie!" She laughed.

"That's great!" Ellie exclaimed. "This is great! Congratulations! Here, take this! I need to go tell Danny!"

"What about the dogs?" Jacoby frowned.

"They can wait!" Ellie laughed as she disappeared.

Jacoby turned back to Ida and shook his head.

"Are you mad?" Ida worried.

"Of course not," Jacoby replied.

Ida leapt from the bed and ran naked to him, hugging him with all her might while bursting into tears. "I can't believe this is really happening!" She wailed.

"We'd better get dressed before Ellie comes back," Jacoby advised.

"Okay," Ida agreed, tugging his sheet until it fell to the floor. "But tonight we make love in Hillsboro."

"Sounds good," Jacoby said, patting her on the rump as she turned and headed for the bathroom.

They loaded the vehicles after the dogs did their duties. It had snowed about an inch overnight and they got on the road by 8:30 after gassing up the vehicles and getting some windshield wiper fluid for the pick up truck. Soon they were on I-80 east.

The cell phone went off a moment after they crossed the state line into Pennsylvania.

"I got the entering sign!" Ida cheered.

"Good for you!" Jacoby laughed.

Interstate 80 through Pennsylvania was a truck route, hilly, curvy, up and down and even on a Sunday morning there was plenty of traffic. There were also some snow showers and they had to drive out of the left over slop from the night before but eventually the sun came out (even though it was about zero with the wind chill).

Jacoby's cell phone went off again.

"Hey, did you see that official state road sign that read 'Buckle up for the next million miles'!?" Ida laughed.

Later, she called again. "How come I don't recognize any of the towns listed on the road sides except for State College where Penn State is and Williamsport, home of the Little League World Series?" Ida wanted to know. "And who would want to live in Lamar?"

They had lunch at a Subway where they gassed up again and they continued on I-80 until they turned north on I-81 and then east on 84 passing Wilkes-Barre and Scranton before speeding into New York.

"I got the entering New York sign!" Ida bragged when Jacoby answered the ringing cell.

They approached a toll crossing a bridge and Jacoby's cell went off again.

"We don't have any money!" Ida lamented.

"Tell the toll booth guy that Danny will pay," Jacoby said. "He's right behind you."

"What if he doesn't let us?" Ida worried.

"Then I'll jump out of my car and run up there and pay for you!" Jacoby assured her.

When Jacoby reached the toll booth, he asked the collector if the guy in the U-Haul paid his wife's toll.

"Yeah, and he paid for yours toos," the guy replied with a heavy New York accent.

Jacoby saw no sign of the SUV so he called Ida.

"Where the hell did you guys go?" He asked.

"Ellie's on a mission from God now," Ida reported. "She smells Hillsboro and she's going at warp speed!"

"We followed each other for the entire three day trip but now you guys are leaving us in the lurch!?"

"Yep, you're on your own!" Ida laughed.

His cell phone rang later.

"Good news!" Ida said. "I got the Welcome to Connecticut sign!"

She called again later.

"Did you see those signs for Newtown and Sandy Hook? Kind of depressing and sad, isn't it?"

Jacoby followed Danny's U-Haul through Hartford to I-91 and then the cell phone went off again.

"I had to laugh," Ida told him. "We just passed the signs for Bradley Airport - it took us less than four hours to fly to Oklahoma and about 26 hours spread across three days to drive back!"

Fifteen minutes later, the phone rang again.

"Bad news," Ida told him. "I missed the Welcome to Massachusetts sign," she sighed. "It's too dark."

"Well, you got all the other ones," Jacoby replied. "Good job."

"I'll see you at Ellie's mom house," Ida said. "Thanks for talking to me on the cell these past three days."

Jacoby spent the last forty miles of trip thinking about how much had changed in just five days and a couple thousand miles. He left Hillsboro on Wednesday morning still in grief missing Mary, socially withdrawn, and emotionally deficient. But somehow Ida had worked her magic on him (with an assist from Danny and Ellie) and now here he was returning to Hillsboro a few days later having rediscovered love, romance, passion, (meaningful) sex and satisfaction simply by flying to Oklahoma and driving back.

The SUV was already empty by the time Danny pulled the U-Haul into his mother in law's driveway and Jacoby followed with the pickup truck a moment later.

"Mission accomplished," Danny said with satisfaction as he climbed out of the U-Haul.

"Welcome home," Jacoby replied.

"So, Ida?" Danny asked.

"Ida," Jacoby confirmed as they headed for the house.

Ellie's mother was already absorbed with the kids. Ellie and Ida were chatting with each other and the dogs were sniffing out the rooms when Danny and Jacoby entered the kitchen.

"We're home," Ellie told her husband, giving him a hug.

"We are," he agreed.

"We should probably go," Ida said, throwing Jacoby a look.

"Yeah, give you guys a chance to settle in and all that," Jacoby said.

"Yeah, right!" Ellie laughed. "You two just go along then!"

Ida grinned as she gave her friend a hug and started for the door. Jacoby waved to his two friends before following Ida to her car that she had left here on Wednesday morning.

"So," Ida asked cautiously once they had tossed their bags into the back seat. "Do you want to go to my house?"

"Yes," Jacoby answered readily.

"Okay," she said with relief.

A moment passed and then they both starting singing the same thing at the same time: "OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,
And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet, When the wind comes right behind the rain.
OOOOk-lahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I, Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk makin' lazy circles in the sky. We know we belong to the land (yo-ho), And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma O.K. Ooook-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet When the wind comes right behind the rain. Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk Makin' lazy circles in the sky. We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say Yeeow! Ayipioeeay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma O.K. Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla Okla-okla-Okla-Okla-Okla-Okla... We know we belong to the land And the land we belong to is grand! And when we say Yeeow! Aye-yip-aye-yo-ee-ay! We're only sayin' You're doin' fine, Oklahoma! Oklahoma O.K. L - A - H - O - M – A OKLAHOMA!"

They looked at each other and burst out in happy loving laughter.