Janette Turlington is the third party aboard the train, and the last to be featured in the book. She is a believer in Christ, but problems in her home and family have driven her to the point where she literally runs away from home, desperate to have time to think by herself.
Here’s the first scene where we meet Janette:
In the ticket line at a Little Rock train depot, a pair of young lovers, blue-jeaned and rumpled, wore battered backpacks and carried Starbucks cups. Behind them, a silver-haired grandmother clung to a toddler’s hand and stood, eyes straight ahead and lips sealed, as rowdy teenagers swayed and shouted behind her, fouling the air with words that would have drawn numerous public rebukes thirty years before. On a bench in the waiting area, an aged black man lowered his newspaper and watched the teenagers, one brow lifting in what might have been curiosity . . . or disbelief.
Into this swirling amalgamation of humanity walked Janette Turlington, a woman on the far side of forty and the back end of a hard week. After moving through the depot’s double doors, she strode toward the ticket counter without looking around. She carried two suitcases, a small bag piggybacking atop a larger one, and wore a long wool coat in eye-catching red. The coat and its wearer looked as though they had seen better days—the garment was ten years out of style and a purpling bruise marred the woman’s eye socket.
When at last she reached the ticket window, Janette shielded her face with a trembling hand and leaned on the metal counter. “One adult ticket, please.” Her voice was far unsteadier than she would have liked. “Coach.”
The bored-looking cashier narrowed her eyes. “Where to?”
Janette took a step back and looked around, her gaze sweeping over posters taped to the window and tacked to a bulletin board. All of them featured blue and silver Amtrak trains set against dazzling scenery, but one headline caught her eye: Ten-day Southern Heritage Tour. She could not care less about southern heritage, hers or anyone else’s, but ten days away from home sounded like the perfect escape.
She propped an elbow on the counter. “I’ll take the ten-day tour.”
Janette pointed to the poster. “That one—ten days in the south.”
The round-faced girl lifted both brows, leading Janette to assume that this station didn’t sell many package deals, but the cashier’s elongated nails rattled against her keyboard. “When did you want to leave?”
Janette glanced back at the double doors. “As soon as possible.”
“That tour departs out of Union Station in D.C. You want to go to Washington from here?”
“You’ll be traveling over thirty hours to get there. So do you want a sleeper car or a roomette?”
“How much are they?”
The girl clicked at the keyboard again, then shook her head. “The roomettes are sold out. But I can get you a bedroom for an additional two hundred dollars.”
Janette swallowed hard, knowing she would have to be careful with her cash. “I’ll pass. I can sleep in my seat.”
“Most people do. They’re actually pretty comfortable.”
The girl typed again, then reached toward a shelf divided into cubbies, each compartment filled with a stack of brochures. She plucked a flyer from a cubicle, then stepped over to a noisy printer and ripped a length of perforated cards from the tray.
“You’ll be takin’ the 22 Texas Eagle, departing at 11:39 p.m.” She folded the cards into an accordion pleat as she returned to her stool. “Be sure to sign each of these tickets. You’ll arrive at Union Station in two days, then you’ll go to your first hotel—the voucher printed with your tickets. Throughout the tour, you’ll disembark at stations marked on the schedule, spend two days in each city, then get back on the train to your next destination. Hotels and onboard meals are included in the package. Details are spelled out in the brochure.” She stuffed the tickets and brochure into a paper jacket, then slid it through the opening beneath her window.
Janette gulped when she saw the total. She had thought a train tour would be cheaper than a nervous breakdown, but now she wasn’t so sure . . .
Too late to change her mind. She pulled her wallet from her purse and slid several smooth, crisp fifty-dollar bills and some change through the well at the bottom of the window. “I think that’s the right amount.”
The girl smiled as she handled the crisp currency. “Straight from the bank?”
“Straight from the drawer where I keep our emergency fund.”
“Better than under the mattress, I guess.” The girl tucked the bills into her cash drawer and smiled at Janette. “Thanks.”
“Is that all?”
“Got any bags to check?”
Janette considered her hurriedly packed bags. She could check both bags, but if she was going to spend more than thirty hours in the same set of clothes, she’d better keep her deodorant and toothbrush nearby. “Just one.”
“Take it over to baggage drop. And have a nice trip.”
Janette unhooked the smaller bag from the large wheeled suitcase, then rolled the bigger bag to the window where a uniformed man leaned against the counter. He smiled and hefted her bag onto a scale, then touched two fingers to his forehead in a jaunty salute. “That’ll do it, ma’am.”
No claim check, no baggage fee, no body scan? “That’s all you need from me?”
“Yes, ma’am. We like to keep things simple ’round here.”
She thanked him and grabbed the handle of her small suitcase, then took her first look around the crowded waiting area. If the train to Washington ran on time, she’d have to wait here more than three hours—long enough for her husband to realize that she’d done more than make an emergency grocery run.
As the kitchen filled with neighbors who’d signed up for the annual progressive dinner, Harry would assume Janette had run out for some missing ingredient. Finding himself responsible to entertain guests and serve the soup, he’d call to make sure she was on her way home.
She wouldn’t—couldn’t—answer. He would hang up and talk with their friends, allowing one of the other ladies to serve the simmering soup. He’d joke that Janette was so directionally impaired that she couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag and he’d apologize profusely for his missing hostess.
He wouldn’t have to apologize for long. The guests would drain their bowls and move on to the salad house, but Harry wouldn’t go with them. With growing alarm he would call her again, but she wouldn’t answer this time, either. He would worry that she’d been in an accident, so he would get in his car and drive to the grocery, looking for disabled vehicles by the side of the road.
When he didn’t find her car, Harry would phone her friends to ask if anyone had seen her. By ten he’d call the local hospitals in a full-fledged panic, and by eleven he’d be fretting by the phone and wondering if he should call the police. Janette didn’t think they’d do anything, though, because cops on TV never became really concerned until a person had been missing over twenty-four hours.
And by that time, Janette planned to be smack dab in the middle of someplace miles away. Maybe she’d call Harry at midnight, leave a message to say she’d be back in a week or two, after she’d had some time to think. She’d also mention that he needed to call the thrift store and say she’d be away for a few days.
She didn’t want her husband to worry, but neither did she want to give him an opportunity to talk her into coming home. As the night deepened, and he began to panic, he might go out again, broadening his search until it included the airport and the bus depot.
Which is why she’d left her car in front of a friend’s house and taken a cab to the train depot. It was the last place on earth her husband would expect her to be.
Tomorrow: The writing