Okay, it’s been a while since I’ve posted a collaboration with Emilio, where I write a story inspired by a photo he provides. It’s completely my fault! See, Emilio gave me this photo to write for September. I have no excuse for my delay, other than 2015 isn’t landing at the top of my “best year ever” list 🙂 If you haven’t checked out Emilio’s blog before, you really should – click his name to link to his site…. I gave you three chances here! I’ll stop rambling now – the story begins right after the photo.
I had a knack for finding the broken ones. I would take them in. I would love them. I would lose myself in them. Each time, I thought my heart was full enough to make them whole. Each time, the shine tarnished and I escaped with a little less of me.
My present is made up of their pasts, the cracks in my broken heart filled with pieces of their pain. Desperado, Cat’s in The Cradle, Father of Mine, Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough… their burdens set to music. As I sped down the remote highway, I played each and every one of these songs, over and over. It’s funny how the years of heartaches wrapped in catchy melodies slid along the hardened spaces of my soul with such ease. At least the tears reminded me that I was still alive.
This time, I didn’t care if I lived to give again. Phillip had been my latest broken bird, on the verge of falling into the dark abyss. I scooped him up and nurtured him. For three years, he greedily fed on my love and affection until he was strong enough to fly. And he flew all right… straight to my ex best friend, Sarah. I took his bad and gave him my good. It all cancelled out in the end and left me… empty.
Off to the right, a row of rusted old cars and a seen-better-days ranch caught my eye. On impulse, I pulled onto the shoulder, kicking up a cloud of dust and gravel behind me. When the dust settled, I stepped out of my car and eyed the street sign perched atop a leaning metal pole. I didn’t know which was more ironic; the fact there was a street sign marking a span of dirt that could barely be considered a road, or that the sign read “Opportunity Way.” I doubted opportunity traveled back-roads.
I walked for a little ways until I came to a waist-high wooden fence that encircled the yard. For a time, I perched on the fence, staring at the row of cars. I couldn’t help but relate to them; we had all been shiny and something to look at back in the day. But now… well, I cried.
I didn’t want to think about it, but I suspected I would always see the lost ones, broken, looking for validation and something that felt like love to make them okay for a while. I could see my future so clearly… like beggars pleading for loose change, their eyes would search mine for a bit of my soul they could have. On my strong days, I would turn my head and quicken my pace. “I don’t have any,” I would mutter. It would be true. If God was merciful, they won’t pursue me. They would see I was as broke… broken… as they were. They would sense I had nothing to offer, no hand to grasp in desperation.
I startled, losing my balance and fell back into someone’s arms. I twisted my neck and glimpsed a not-completely-unattractive man, possibly in his early fifties. Exactly what I don’t need. I jerked my weight forward and steadied myself on the fence.
“You’re welcome,” he said.
“I didn’t thank you.”
The wood bounced as he hoisted himself to sit next to me. He shrugged. “I was overlooking your lack of manners.”
I clenched my jaw, but kept my gaze focused on the cactus that took root next to the blue car. “Speaking of manners, it’s not polite to interrupt someone’s thoughts.”
He smiled. “Maybe not, but when the thoughts are thunk on my property, those rules don’t really apply.”
“You’re right. I’ll go.” Before I could slide off the fence, he touched my arm.
“You’re welcome to stay.” He shifted his gaze toward the cars. “Lots of people come here to think. It keeps me in business.”
“Business? What kind of work?” I thought maybe mechanic, but his khaki pants and pastel blue polo shirt didn’t fit.
“I’m a companion broker, you could say.”
“Companion broker?” The words tumbled around in my head as I tried to figure out what that meant.
He laughed. “Lemme explain. I help fix people. This highway is traveled by lots of lonely people; people with heavy stuff on their mind. Sometimes all they need is human connection.”
My eyes widened. “So you’re a pimp? That’s horrible!”
He lifted a rhinestone and gold-plated Zippo from his pocket and lit the cigarette hanging from his pressed lips. “No, not a pimp. I mean, sometimes people are looking for that, but usually, they just want to talk so they don’t feel alone.”
“Not a pimp, huh? That blinged-out lighter says otherwise.”
“Hmph. One of those.” He shook his head and exhaled a trail of smoke.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
He shrugged. “Bitter, disillusioned and bearing scars of past loves. I’m guessing you’ve convinced yourself you’re on a journey to find you, but really, you’re running from who you are.” He paused to exhale another puff of smoke. “You judge me because it makes you feel better about yourself.”
“Listen, Mr…. Mr. whatever-your-name-is, you may think you know my story, but you don’t!” I clenched my eyes shut, hoping it was enough to keep the tears back.
“They call me Big Guns.”
I stifled a laugh. “Big Guns?”
He pushed up his shirt sleeve and flexed, I think. “See what I mean?”
I saw a barely perceptible bulge in his bicep. I shook my head, “I’m sorry, but those aren’t even purse pistols.” I laughed, almost forgetting that moments ago, I wanted to cry.
“Come on,” he said as he hopped off the fence.
I didn’t move. Following him seemed like insanity.
“Trust me. You need to see this.” He held his hand out, waiting for me to grasp it.
Impulsively, I took the invitation and his fingers curled around my hand. “Is it more impressive than what I’ve seen so far, Mr. Guns?” I shocked myself with the flirtatious tone in my voice.
This time he laughed. “I think you’ll be amazed. You can call me Thomas.”
I followed Thomas to the row of rusted cars. With his back to me, I slipped my tinted gloss from my pocket and swiped a quick coat on my lips.
“These cars were my dad’s hobby, but he passed away three years ago. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, yet I don’t have the expertise needed to restore them either.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.” I didn’t know what else to say.
“I found another way to use them to honor his memory, though.” He opened the door to the first car and gestured for me to look inside.
Paper filled the inside of the car clear up to the windows. “What is all this?”
Thomas smiled. “These are letters from the lonely. We’re all broken in some way and these letters allow those passing through to let go of some of their burdens.”
“What do you do with the letters? Do you read them?”
“I don’t read them. I leave them here so the intended recipient will find them. There’s no such thing as coincidence; our paths cross for a reason. Some people write letters, but others read them and take one with them when they go. All I ask is that writers include their name and phone number, and when you take a letter, you contact that person.”
Companion broker… it made more sense. “Do these people ever meet?”
He shrugged. “Some do. I’ve gotten a few letters thanking me, but really, I’m just doing God’s service.”
Thomas smiled. “I used to be a pastor but disagreed with the human way of organized religion. So, I decided to minister to people on my own, according to God’s word and Jesus’ principles.”
My cheeks flushed. “I-I’m so sorry, I called you a pimp.”
“And you laughed at my biceps.” He closed the car door and led me to the blue car. “I think this one might have what you’re looking for.” He pointed to a notepad and pen on the dashboard. “Write a letter, or take a letter, it’s up to you. Take your time.”
I watched as Thomas shuffled away, dust trailing behind him. A pastor. Unbelievable. I turned my attention to the mounds of paper filling the car. I shoved them aside so I could sit. I wondered why he thought I’d find what I was looking for here. I didn’t even know what I sought.
I grabbed the paper and pen and wrote my first tentative words. The rest of the words followed swiftly and before I knew it, both sides of the page were filled. I hesitated. Then with a deep breath and long exhale, I scrawled my name and phone number. After I dropped the paper onto the pile, it felt like a weight had been lifted from inside me.
The dense pile swallowed my hand, and my arm up to my elbow, before I grasped a page. I held it up so I could focus on the scrawled words. I can’t believe I’m writing a letter to leave in an old car for some stranger to read. I smiled. My letter started similarly. By the time I got to the end, my eyes blurred. I swiped the wetness from my cheeks with the back of my hand.
My breath caught as I stared at the familiar name. A buried past, exhumed and resurrected by one hand-written letter. I folded the page into fourths and shoved it into my back pocket. Twenty years felt like a span of a few breaths. That letter transported me from middle age to mid-twenties. I stepped out of the car and slammed the creaky-hinged door behind me. The thought crossed my mind that the old car was a time machine of sorts.
Maybe Seth had been right back then… that love wasn’t enough. Maybe I was right in my proclamation that time doesn’t heal all wounds. Maybe right or wrong no longer mattered.
All I knew in that moment was that I needed to find out.
Thanks so much for reading! If life cooperates, the plan is to have another Emilio photo/story collaboration posted in December. Stay tuned 🙂
Absolutely gorgeous, Janna . . . first to last!
Thanks, Nancy – I appreciate you taking time to read it and share your response 🙂
Thanks for stopping by to read, Anotherday2paradise 🙂
Love this one very much, Janna! Interesting photo made even more captivating by your remarkable story — what a cool idea, a time-machine car for the broken-hearted!!
I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Debbie. I really wasn’t sure how this one would be received.
Great writing, Jenna! A companion- broker, what an idea
Thanks so much for reading, Sue!
You are most welcome, Janna
I don’t know where you come up with your ideas but- happy or sad- they are a delight to read. I love how you can add so much life to my photos. You always write or create such characters of great depth and passion. This companion broker is no different. I love the idea of letters stuffed into these old jalopies and I actually studied the photo after reading your tale to see if there was any edge of paper anywhere sticking out of a door or car window that would have given you this idea. I understand why it has taken you so long to write this time but I’m selfish. I wish I could read one of your stories daily. OK, maybe weekly until you are able to deal with the realities of life again. Please never give up- on either life, or writing. Both will get easier for you in time.
Thank you for the really nice comment, Emilio (and for the use of your photos, haha!) I appreciate your enthusiastic support of my writing. It felt really good to finally finish a story. I’m looking forward to a time where I can count on at least half my brain being regularly present and accounted for.
It’s funny, but this one came to me in bits and pieces over the couple months that I had the photo. The companion broker stemmed from seeing a guy walking really early in the morning in a full suit (not common in the casual small town I live in). One thought led to another with that. The paragraph about the music being the burdens carried by past loves actually came from hearing Desperado on the radio… I dated someone who said that song reminded him of his alcoholic father. The other songs were significant as well. I had decided that the companion broker should be a former pastor because I wanted to depict how the judgments we make either consciously or subconsciously can be way off. The letters in the car came to mind because I often write down stuff just to empty my mind. I don’t go back and read it, but I can let it go once it’s inked. I do think that the people we encounter are not by chance, which is why I wanted her to “randomly” reach into the pile and pull out the letter from her past love. Maybe a little cheesy, but I like cheese (especially sharp cheddar 🙂 )
I so loved this! Now I want a sequel. Does she call Seth? Who was he to her? So many more questions I want to know the answers to.
Thanks so much for reading, Nato! I know she has to call Seth – it was part of the deal in taking the letter…. but what happens after the call, I have no idea 🙂 I’m not real good with the happily-ever-after endings, so I’d probably write some twist in there that would make the romantics out there hate me, haha.
She does, doesn’t she?! Well, there is nothing wrong with twists, especially in reading. I just don’t like that many in my real life, lol.
Haha, I’d agree with you there… twists in real life can be stressful
I love this story!!
Thanks, Susan. I appreciate you taking time to read it 🙂
Janna, I’ve said this so many times before, but you have such a wonderful talent for storytelling. You’ve made this picture come alive in the most unexpected way. What an interesting – and beautiful – concept.
Thanks for taking time to read it and for the encouraging comment, Joanne. I like to come up with things that aren’t anticipated, so I’m happy that this one seems to have done that. I like the idea that there would be a place where people could release their burdens, and find someone willing to reach out to them.
I often think of all the lonely, scared, unhappy people even in my own city, and wished there was some mechanism – like in your story – where people could connect and perhaps be less lonely, scared, unhappy.
It would be nice to make a difference and ease the suffering of even a few, wouldn’t it? That’s a nice thought, Joanne.
Wow, I loved this, Janna! It left me wanting more. I also love your collaboration and how creativity spawns creativity. 🙂
I’m glad you enjoyed the story, Anita! Emilio’s photos have inspired several stories throughout this year. I have December’s photo so now I just have to find and idea 🙂
Oh wonderful! I’m looking forward to reading! 🙂
I’d better get to writing… December will be here soon 🙂
What a great story. I hope she and Seth make a go of it.
Thanks for reading, Tessa! I can’t seem to let happy endings happen very often, so it’s probably best if I leave this one to the readers’ imaginations 🙂
Going by the story line I think they made a go of it.
Maybe they did 🙂
Wow! It’s such a joy to read a Janna story again. Your writing has such a silky style. It’s so easy to read and just fall into it like a dream. Whenever I finish one of your stories I feel like I just woke up. I look around and blink at the lights. This story did that for me once more. The idea of a companion broker is just brilliant. I’ve never heard of anything like this. I liked that her initial meeting with Thomas was tense it makes sense. I like even more that he wasn’t quite what he seemed. In the end he does good work. Loved this so much!
Thank you for reading and for the awesome comment, EagleAye! I’m really glad you liked the story. It is always a hope that the story will come across as believable. It’s even better if someone can really get lost in the story. I don’t know how/why that happens, but it’s great when it does. I’m glad you picked up on the part of him not being what he seemed… I wanted her embarrassment to underscore the danger of making judgments of others. We all do it whether we realize it or not, but we can be way off!
Fantastic, Janna! 😀
Thanks so much for reading, Dianne!
I always think … ‘what happens next?’ … with your stories. Which is a great thing. 😀 … keep ’em coming.
I appreciate the comment Widdershins… I’m feeling a bit rusty on the fiction.
What a great story. You are a talented writer.
Thanks, Paula – I appreciate you taking time to read it and share your comment!
This really is a great story, with some very fine lines as well. I especially like “I doubted opportunity traveled back-roads” and then the way the story upended this. Well done!
Thanks, Allen! I was feeling a bit cynical the day I wrote that part 🙂 I appreciate you taking time to read the story.
What a great captivating story. I just stumbled upon this post and couldn’t leave without finishing. Great writer you are, indeed.
Thanks so much for reading, and for the kind words, Indira! I’m glad the story held your interest 🙂
Beautiful story and accompanying pic.
Thanks for reading, TLAB… Emilio does provide amazing photos to write for.
I’ve been missing your stories! Another great one. Hmm. Wonder what Seth is up to these days. Emilio’s photos carry his artistic signature, all his own.
I enjoy Emilio’s photos. It wasn’t good that I ‘sat’ on this one for so long! Thanks for reading the story, Patti 🙂
Cool idea and very well written.
Thanks so much for reading, MJF! I like writing for Emilio’s photos… some interesting ideas happen that way 🙂
Holy moly. Such a cool exercise and you execute it with such creativity! I can totally see her getting with Seth or Thomas. And happy endings only exist because they end at the happy part. Not that I don’t think you can have a good long-term relationship, but happy ends stop short of that period of struggle everyone goes through after the newness of love has faded.
I think there was a certain chemistry with Thomas, too. I liked writing the tension and awkwardness between them. I have to agree with your assessment on happy endings (I think that’s my problem with the Disney stories… I want to see how happy they are when they find out their prince stays out late drinking with the guys or leaves his dirty clothes on the floor.) I do think we can attain joy and contentment, but happy isn’t necessarily realistic. Thanks for reading and sharing your comment Femmefrugality 🙂
What an amazing piece, and it really brings the narrator into light… I think sometimes it’s not about finding happiness but to find a new purpose or a reason… maybe the same was true for Thomas too… it’s all about purposes isn’t it.
So true, Bjorn. I know I search for some kind of meaning and I don’t think I’m the only one. So many times I just wonder what the point of it all is.
I love the analogies and your whole philosophy. You have a great grasp of the deep psyche my friend. Love the idea of finding what we are meant to find in the pile- of fate of I Ching!! Wonderful!
Thanks so much for reading and sharing your comment, TDM. I do think that we do eventually find what we need to, although the path is not predetermined 🙂