Andy Mackpeace was hauling his navy blue suitcase off the Baggage Claim conveyor belt. Flashes of cowboy hats and boots and belt buckles surrounded him and it finally hit the fourteen-year-old boy that Missoula, Montana was a long ways away from Silver Lake, New Hampshire.
His best friend Roger Stanley hunched next to him while his parents stood near the exit doors and Mr. Stanley calling Andy’s father to say that the kid arrived on time.
“C’mon Andy, yes or no, did you bring the stick?” Roger whispered.
“You’re starting to sound like a drug dealer,” Andy smiled.
Andy and Roger had grown up together in New Hampshire, and last year, the two boys and their other friend, Miranda Roberts, had unexpectedly time traveled. Andy’s bizarre, psychic Grandmother Geri had bequeathed him an assorted-colored collection of incense sticks, and when the three of them lit one, they ended up in Ante-Bellum Georgia. Grandma Geri had died a year ago, but Andy still communicated with her in his mind. Mostly.
Roger moved to Missoula last September when his father got a Department Chair at the University of Montana.
“Yes, I brought it,” Andy whispered back, “it’s in my suitcase and I hope it’s not all broken up.”
“A new piece, right?”
“Yesss,” Andy said. “I picked it from the box yesterday. Never been used. It’s an orange one.”
“Orange? Are you sure that is-”
“Yessssss! It’s fine, bro. Trust me,” Andy laughed at Roger’s questions. “Now shut up because your mom’s coming over to get us.”
“Are you ready, Andy?” Mrs. Stanley asked. “Anything else coming down the chute?”
“No, this is it,” Andy said lifting his suitcase and heading toward the door. He took two steps, bumped into it with a thud and stopped, surprised, looking at the portal wondering what had gone wrong.
“What time did you get up this morning?” Mrs. Stanley asked him, opening it for him and guiding him outside.
“4:00. My dad drove me to Boston, then I flew to Denver, a two hour layover, and then another flight to here.”
“Time difference and long trips can make anybody tired,” she said. “I think, Roger, it would be better if Andy ate some dinner and then called it an early night. He’ll be more like himself in the morning.”
Andy had been bugging his parents since Christmas to let him fly alone to Montana in June right after his fourteenth birthday. He was going to be a freshmen in high school in September, he had argued, he would be all right. His parents eventually said yes, and Andy did every odd job he could find to save the dollars that dripped in to pay for the flight. On the two-hour drive to Boston that morning, Andy’s dad talked to him like he was much older, like he was already shaving.
“I’m trusting you will manage this fine,” he said. He didn’t tell Andy the boy was one year shy of exemption from the Unaccompanied Minors Program, and airline regulations required a flight attendant to walk him from transfer to transfer and make sure his boarding passes were all lined up, making Andy, at times, especially with the stares from other people, feel idiotic.
The Missoula airport was miniscule compared to Logan’s and they walked to their car in the tiny parking lot. The sun was shining over the Rockies and the mountains made Andy stop and blink. They were beautiful.
“Good night!” Andy said. “Those are huge!”
“It’s a far cry from New Hampshire, right?” Roger said, grabbing his friend. “It’s a completely different world out here.”
In the far distance, Andy heard someone riding a horse.