A Step Short: Chapter 3
A week later, Rachel was ready to set out to Dixon, Iowa, hometown of Randy and Trevor. Her house sitter/pet sitter Jen had her work cut out for her, yet was always happy to take care of all of Rachel's critters. Rachel did pay her well, which helped compensate should the animals get out of hand and wear Jen out. The last time Jen cared for the place a windstorm had knocked a tree down onto Rachel's backyard fence, giving an escape route for the dogs. It had taken Jen all of a day and half the night finding them all. They spent the rest of the night indoors with Jen, then had to be walked individually, since none of them were accustomed to wearing leashes and tangled themselves and Jen up terribly. Jen's father took care of the tree and the fence. By they time Rachelle had returned there was little evidence of the disaster with the exception of the missing tree and wood dust on the lawn. The fence looked as it had before. Rachelle knew how good it was to have that kind of help. It was priceless.
Rachel had told Jen, and her clinic staff, she was going to a family reunion in Fergus Falls, then stay with her sister for the rest of the two weeks, just relaxing. Thanks to cell phones she felt no need to leave contact phone numbers other than that of Rachel's cell. She didn't want to risk having them contacting family members for whatever reason, only to discover Rachel was not where she said she would be. She had packed two weeks worth of clothing and only some of the items on her list of things for the project she had in mind for the boys. Everything took up two duffle bags, her favorite traveling accessories. The rest of the items on the list she could purchase once she had found a place to stay near Dixon. She would shop in stages to avoid being caught for whatever reason with a vehicle filled with suspicious items. With a final lookabout and a few more goodbye kisses to her pets she set off at a bit before 8 AM, wishing Jen good luck, adding she'd need it.
Rachel lived just under 2 hours from the Mpls/St. Paul airport, the first stop on her trip. She headed south on the highway that soon hooked onto Interstate 94. Cruising at her typical 73 mph she relaxed her mind and enjoyed the morning as she drove along the Minnesota countryside. Corn and bean fields all looked lush green, and it got her thinking about the countryside down in Iowa, and whether it would be similar. Before she knew it her mind was concentrating on her plans in Iowa and she realized she didn't remember the last twenty minutes of driving. When had she passed her exit for the airport? How many cars were stuck behind her in the passing lane? Rachel pulled off on the next exit and used Maps on her phone to guide her back to the airport. Trips to the airport from the north were easy for her, but from the south? She may have been in a different country. Finally, concentrating on her driving, she let the female voice on her phone (Racheled called her "Gypsy") take charge and tell Rachel exactly what to do. She would do best with planning if it was being done while settled in at a hotel room, stationary, rather than on the open road with hundreds of drivers who may or may not be concentrating as well.
At the airport she parked in long term parking, then headed straight to the car rental desks. She had not made reservations, and had no real loyalty to any one company, so chose the one with the shortest line, Budget Rental. She was greeted kindly and quickly offered an SUV. In a matter of only 30 minutes after arriving at the airport she was walking with her duffels out to the vehicle she would get to know over the next two weeks. Knowing that renting a car was not going to go far in keeping her anonymous, should anyone get suspicious of her whereabouts (Why that would even be an issue? she did not know.) she still felt better about the exchange. It somehow made the whole plan feel more real, as well as made her feel just a tiny bit like she was a slightly different person, not her typical live and work by the book Rachel.
Soon enough she was cruising down Interstate 35 and found herself again going over in her mind some of the notes she had taken on the cruelty case, as well as the map of Dixon and the surrounding areas. And, as before, she snapped herself out of it for fear she would miss her exit again. The fact that the exit was some 3 1/2 hours away didn't reassure her. She put on one of her go-to bands, Aerosmith, and cranked it high. At her pace she should be there by 4 PM and be able to familiarize herself with some of the locations she had noted on google maps.
A few hours in, she stopped at what was possibly the largest Truck Stop she had ever seen. After topping off the gas tank, she went inside for a bathroom stop and to buy snacks. The place was enormous, brightly lit and held several fast food joints, a restaurant, groceries, gifts, and more. She couldn't help but wander for a bit, mindlessly touching fabric on brightly colored scarfs, or oohing and ahhing over the jewelry under the perfectly lit display cases. Everything in the gift area screamed "Minnesota!", ducks, deer, loons. When she passed a rack of boys shirts, she stopped short. It hit her fast and hard. The shirts. Little boys. Mikey! Her stomach dropped as she realized she hadn't thought about Mikey in the past several hours! Until that moment almost every hour of everyday had his face in her mind, his laughter, and smell. With a sense of guilt she realized she was distracted enough to actually have plans and goals. It had to be a good thing, right? She was sad and confused, not knowing what she should be feeling. As quickly as she could she grabbed a soda and a packet of trail mix, paid at the counter and got back to her vehicle. Only once back on the road she let herself cry.