BROKEN HEART by Jean BrashearI’ve driven past this sign along US 183 in Central Texas a hundred times, wondering who put it up and what the story is behind it.

Here’s an excerpt from when Pea and her gang of misfits encounter this same sign on their journey:

What few clouds there were had broken up; only endless blue remained. The sun was hotter than Hades already, and I had no hat and no shade. I could literally

A sign ahead. Thank goodness for the world of filthy lucre. Dairy Queens and their kin blared out alerts so you could get in the right lane in time. Surely this one would tell me how much more walking I had to do.

This sign, however, turned out to be different.

Broken Heart
Jesus Heals

With a big red heart painted right smack dab in the center, its double humps between Broken and Heart, its pointed tail between Jesus and Heals.

That was it. No directions, no markers. No explanations or hints. Only a simple statement of faith. I was pea-green with envy, pardon the pun.

My religious training was a little lacking. Okay, nonexistent. Mama had been raised in a church, I think, but she’d forsaken it long before I was born. Her faith was more a case of runaway optimism and a diehard belief in being swept away by romance. Sister told me once that my name came from the author of one of Mama’s favorite stories, The Robber Bridegroom, by Eudora Welty. When I found a copy, I understood Mama better, her unshakable attachment to the notion that there was a good man inside every bad boy, given the right woman.

Too bad she never managed to be that woman. Then again, I wouldn’t be here but for her faith that next time, things would be better.

Sister wasn’t a big believer in anything up until she discovered reincarnation, and even then, she didn’t want to know too many of the details, which is the exact opposite of me. I would offer to look for books on it, but she liked her version just fine. Namely that a lousy life wasn’t the end and the next one could be different. Better.

Me, I didn’t know what to think about faith. The big picture wasn’t something the last in line got to see the way the leader did. When Mama passed on, I followed Sister’s lead in just about everything. When Sister was dying, I was doing good to keep my eyes on the next step, then the next, day after day, because the long view was too scary.

And when she was gone . . . well, I couldn’t exactly say what I’d been doing all those months. Mostly just getting by.

My thoughts were rudely interrupted by the boom of head-banger music. A faded navy blue pickup neared. Slowed down. I braced myself as every city instinct I ever had reared to attention. Face forward, keep walking. Hand on pepper spray. Reach for sharp nail file. Wish for Agnes’s dagger. I knew I needed sword lessons.

“Ma’am? You need some help?” The window rolled down to reveal a fresh-faced country boy, all white teeth and straw cowboy hat.

But weren’t cowboys supposed to listen to country music?

“Ma’am? Are you okay?”

My professional radar told me that this boy was no threat and despite my reluctance to agree with Val on any topic, he was right. Your gut can just about always be trusted. Problem was, most people forgot how to listen. “Is there a town ahead?”

“Jewel’s about half a mile around that bend. Hop in, ma’am, and I’ll take you there. You have car trouble or something?”

“I did, indeed.”

“Where’s your car?”

I used my thumb. “Back that way.”

He paused. “Ma’am—”

Ma’am. He was eighteen, max. I didn’t want to strangle him simply because he was making me feel old. “Eudora. Call me Eudora.” I was on a new path, after all.

“Eudora.” He pondered a minute. “Well, ma’am, did no one ever tell you it’s not safe for a woman to leave her car? First thing they advise you in drivers’ education is stay with your vehicle. Not to be bossy or anything, ma’am, but—”

“Eudora,” I said firmly.

“Yes, ma’am. Eudora, I mean. Maybe I could take a look at it for you. My dad and grandpa own the service station in town, see. That’s where I’m going now, to work. I just finished my chores.”

Was he for real? An older Opie, and I would meet Aunt Bea up ahead? “I wouldn’t want you to be late.”

“Shoot, Pop would whip my tail if I deserted a lady on the road. Hop in, and we’ll see what’s what.” He cleared room, tossing CD cases and soft drink cans behind the seat. “Sorry about that, ma—” My glare must have finally sunk in. “—er, Eudora.”

“What’s your name, cowboy?”

He didn’t answer right away as I climbed inside in my denim miniskirt and was treated to my second long, slow down-and-up of this trip. His neck, like his arms, was very tan, but I could still see the blush rising like mercury in a thermometer.

“Your name?” I repeated.

“Um, Jeremy, m—I mean, Eudora. Jeremy Cashwell.” He stuck out his hand.

I smiled at him and accepted it. “Pleased to meet you, Jeremy.” I crossed my legs, just for the fun of watching him flush.

Hey, it had been a rough morning. Everyone deserves a little pleasure now and again.

BROKEN HEART by Jean Brashear

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