Excerpt from Where The Heart Is by Billy Letts, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Where The Heart Is

by Billy Letts

Where The Heart Is
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  • First Published:
    Jun 1995, 357 pages
    May 1998, 376 pages

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She held up another picture. "Look at these ducks here on this wall. Aren't they cute?"

Willy Jack turned the wheel sharply, trying to run over a turtle at the edge of the road.

"I just hate it when you do that," Novalee said. "Why do you want to kill turtles? They don't bother anything."

Willy Jack turned the radio dial and picked up "Graceland," by Paul Simon, who Willy Jack said was three and a half inches shorter than he was.

When they passed the Muldrow water tower, Novalee put her picture book away. The thought of so much water was almost more than she could bear.

"I bet they'll have a bathroom in this town."

"Oh, I wouldn't be surprised," Willy Jack said. "Almost ever town has one. You think they'll have a little hot water, too? Maybe you'd like to soak in a hot tub. Huh? That sound good to you?"

"Dammit, Willy Jack, I have to go to the bathroom."

Willy Jack turned the volume up on the radio and beat out the song's rhythm on the dash. As they roared through Muldrow, Novalee tightened the muscles between her legs and tried not to think about swimming pools or iced tea.

She dug the map out again and figured the next chance she would have to stop, short of a head-on collision, was another twenty miles down the road in a town called Sequoyah. She peeked at the gas gauge and was discouraged to see they still had a half tank.

For a while, she played a silent game of running through the alphabet searching for a name for the baby. For A she thought of Angel and Abbie; for B she liked Bordon and Babbette, but she was just too miserable to concentrate, so she quit before she got to C.

She had aches and pains from her top to her bottom. Her head had been hurting all morning, but she didn't have any aspirin with her. Her feet were killing her, too. They were so swollen that the straps of her red sandals bit into her ankles and pinched her toes until they were throbbing. She couldn't reach the buckles, but by rubbing one sandal against the other, she was finally able to wiggle out of them, and for that, she was grateful.

"Wish I had some gum," she said.

Her mouth was dry and her throat felt scratchy. She had a half bottle of warm Coke in the back seat, but she knew if she drank it, it would only make her bladder fuller.

"Red's wife says she had trouble with her bladder when she was pregnant. She thinks that's why she had to have a C section."

"What the hell's a C section?"

"A caesarean. That's when they cut your belly open to get the baby out."

"Now don't you go planning on that, Novalee. That'll cost a damned fortune."

"It's not something you plan, Willy Jack. Not like you plan a birthday party. It's just something that happens. And I don't know how much it costs. Besides, you're going to be making good money."

"Yeah, and I don't want it spent before it's in my pocket, either."

Willy Jack was going to California to go to work for the railroad. He had a cousin there named J. Paul who had made it big working for the Union Pacific. And when Willy Jack had heard from J. Paul, just two weeks ago, he got excited and wanted to leave right away.

Novalee thought it was strange for Willy Jack to be excited about work, but she said she was not about to lick a gift horse in the mouth, so as soon as she picked up her check at Red's, they left Tellico Plains and she didn't look back.

It was the chance she had dreamed about, the chance to live in a real home. She and Willy Jack had been staying in a camping trailer parked beside Red's, but the plumbing didn't work so they had to use the bathroom inside the cafe. She knew a job with the railroad would guarantee she would not have to live on top of wheels ever again. She knew that for sure.

From Where the Heart Is, by Billie Letts. © 1997 by Billie Letts, used by permission of the publisher Little Brown

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