Another cold November day. Another early Saturday morning train ride to work. As usual, no seats, so I leaned against the wall and pulled Healing Your Broken Heart: A Journey to Freedom out of my bag. The cover showed a blonde bimbo sticking a plastic-looking broken heart back together. A rope lay strewn around the bottom, encircling the author’s name, Mandy Tippin. Seriously? What a melodramatic cover.
I felt an immediate disgust for this author. I know book covers are designed to attract attention. They even strategically placed her picture to point her effusive cleavage, most likely surgically enhanced, toward the heart. What a bold move for a Christian book.
And did I detect dark roots beneath those immaculately styled golden tresses? Ah yes, I did. Figured. Blonde from a bottle. Fake like the rest of her. She looked like a plastic person, a dolly girl with impossibly long red nails, dyed hair, air-brushed make-up, and an exaggerated phony smile that never made it past her lips to those calculating, hooded hazel eyes. She brought out an immediate sense of distrust in me.
Meow, must have taken my catty pills this morning. A six pack of mice and a pitcher of cream to go, please. Who am I to judge her just because she was maybe five pounds above being the perfect size to be a model?
I was about to flip the book over and read the back-cover blurb when I heard a woman ask, “What chapter are you on?”
People so seldom spoke to strangers here that I looked around to make sure she wasn’t talking to someone else.
“Haven’t started yet. I just borrowed it from a friend. What about you?”
“I’m almost done with it. I got dumped last month. When I saw the book on the new arrivals table at the bookstore, I thought I might as well pick it up.”
Several women observed us with interest, peering over newspapers or novels. Some pretended not to be paying attention at all, but I knew they were. I’m an experienced eavesdropper. They looked like a roomful of youngsters with their hands up waiting for the teacher to call on them. Pick me! Pick me! One by one they joined in the conversation; all but one had read or was currently reading it. The one who didn’t own it proclaimed that she might need to get it soon if things didn’t improve with her current lover.
What an amazing ride. I had never experienced something like this in the big city. Only two passengers knew each other, but in minutes, they all shared a common bond. A great story in the making for me.
“Ladies, I’m a freelance writer doing a story about failed romances. Would any of you let me interview you for the article?” I pulled out business cards and offered them around to anyone who wanted one. The flurry of women diving into their purses to pull out their business cards or scraps of paper amazed me. In a handful of minutes, I secured agreements from seven of them. A good morning’s work, and it wasn’t even seven a.m.
Only one kept her hands neatly folded in her lap. Her seatmate said, “Amber, you should tell her about preparing for your Freedom Journey.”
I had no idea what that meant, but everyone who had read the book understood perfectly. A chorus of yesses filled the car.
“I don’t know.”
Amber appeared serene and composed, but it was a false front. A thin black hazy outline surrounded her whole body. The haunted look in her eyes belied her outward tranquility. The death haze. That’s what I called it back then. It showed up for me around people who were very ill and, once or twice, around someone who soon died suddenly. Not a good sign for one who looked to be about my age, in her mid-twenties.
“Please do it, Amber,” one of the women pleaded. “I’ve never seen a story about someone preparing for her Freedom Journey.”
Several other pleas joined the first, and with a beatific smile, Amber acquiesced.
“When will you go?” one of the women asked.
Amber shook her head. “It’s a private adventure.”
But you haven’t experienced my special interview style, which people at school always called my country charm interrogation technique, Miss Amber. Clearly, I needed to have this particular conversation as soon as possible. I couldn’t understand how someone who was healing her past would be on the road to death. Was she terminally ill? Could be, but her hair and skin appeared healthy and she was of a normal weight, not wasted or puffy, the way some illnesses left a person. Was she suicidal? Possibly. Or maybe badly ill in a way that hadn’t affected her health yet? Also possible.
Seeing the foul spirits was bad enough. Now the colors were back again? Great. Nobody else had colors swirling around them a few inches away from their bodies. I mentally called out, I don’t need this. If someone could explain things a little so I could figure out what to do, that would be helpful.
I wasn’t addressing God. Just Somebody. Not sure who.
“Here, Amber.” I wrote an address on the back of my card and leaned close. “We’ll use a false name for you if you agree to talk to me, okay? Can you meet me here at, say, three o’clock? This is a quiet place where nobody will disturb us.”
Amber glanced at the address, pocketed the card, and nodded. “I know where to go.”
I smiled and put a hand on her shoulder. “Great, but will you be there at three?”
Her breath caught. A pause. “Yes.” The corners of her mouth rose a fraction.
“Thank you. I promise to protect your secret,” I whispered into Amber’s ear, “Pick out the name you always wished your mother had called you.” Would that be enough to help her trust me? Would she really show up? Now I had to make two phone calls. Lou Mitchell’s Restaurant and Robert SpiritFire the potter.
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