continued its search for food on up the river.
At Davenport, Iowa, I-88 merged into Interstate 80, which continued straight across the state. By the time they passed through Des Moines, the sun was beginning to sink like an orange fireball on the western horizon. Jakecouldnât believe how wide open and flat the country was. Farms spread toward every edge, dotted by barns and silver grain silos.
Iâll bet I can see fifty miles in every direction, Jake thought.
It was dark by the time Sharon pulled into a truck stop outside of Omaha for dinner. TRAVELERâS REST flashed in neon green above the building.
âMy treat,â Sharon told the boys as they made their way into the restaurant and slid into a booth.
A waitress approached with water and menus. âHey, Sharon. I see you got company tonight.â
âSure do,â Sharon answered, giving the waitress a wink. âBut letâs keep that to ourselves, okay? Donât want their wives to find out.â
The boys and the waitress all laughed.
âYou already know what you want?â the waitress asked.
âIâd like aââ Taylor began, but Sharon cut him off.
âWeâre all having the meatloaf special, with plenty of mashed potatoes and green beans. Milk for the boys here, and Iâll have coffee.â
âCominâ up,â the waitress said, flipping her order book closed and walking away.
âSorry, Taylor,â Sharon said. âI couldnât live with myself if you didnât try the meatloaf. Itâs the best meatloaf this side of Des Moines.â
âBut the last sign said Des Moines is only a hundred miles away,â Taylor objected.
Sharon grinned at him. âYou catch on fast.â
While they waited for their dinner, Jake asked, âHow does that waitress know you? Do you drive through here a lot?â
âAt least once a month. Iâve got friends along the whole interstate highway system.â
âIt must be cool drivinâ a truck,â Taylor said.
Sharonâs blue eyes seemed to lose focus for a moment, then they snapped back toward the boys. âItâs like anything. Got its good and its bad. Sometimes, thereâs nothinâ better than hittinâ a wide open highway with plenty of scenery and no one lookinâ over your shoulder.â
Jake could tell from Sharonâs voice that she wasnât telling them the whole story.
âDo you have a family somewhere, or do you drive all the time?â he asked.
Sharon sipped her coffee and slowly spun the cup in its saucer. âYeah. Two kids. A girl about your age, Jake. A boy two years younger.â
âWhere are they? Do you ever get to bring them with you?â Taylor asked.
Sharon frowned. âNope. Fact is, Iâm only allowed to see them a couple of times a year, and only with a legal guardian present.â
âWhaaaat?â Taylor and Jake looked at each other.
âThatâs right,â Sharon said. âI got my life straight now, but I made some mistakes when I was younger.â
âMistakes?â Jake asked.
âWell,â she said. âI donât tell this to too many people, but I got into drugs. Booze, too.â
âNo way!â Taylor exclaimed. âYou?â
Sharon nodded. âYep. I liked nothing better than to party. But soon I wasnât using the drugs. They were using me, and I tell you, that was a dark road to drive down. I got arrested, thrown in jail.â
âNo way!â Jakeâs jaw dropped, revealing a mouthful of half-chewed crackers.
Sharon stared hard at her coffee cup. âYep. A buncha times. The courts took my kids away and sent me to the state penitentiary for two years. Inside, I kept being a real badass, until I found Jesus and cleaned up my act.â
âWhen did you get out?â Jake asked.
âFive years ago.â
âAnd they still wonât give you your kids