Sunday, August 30, 2015

Crossings and Stepping Stones: Part 10 of 10 (The Final Chapter)

Crossings and Stepping Stones is a short story I co-authored with Dustin Brackbill. This is our second completed story. Our first one, Crumbs of Curiosity, started with a simple prompt. I began the story while he finished it. We alternated turns in between. The rules were simple: no discussion of the story whatsoever. This was difficult and fun and it certainly stretched our creative writing muscles. With Crossings and Stepping Stones, we again alternated turns this time with Dustin beginning with an original prompt and the first part which left me with the job of finishing it. With this particular story we did have several conversations and as you read you'll see why that may have been a wise choice. Still stretching our creativity, we are very pleased with this story and we thank you for reading and sharing our dream...(speaking of sharing, please share on Facebook).

Crossings and Stepping Stones

A Short Story by: Dustin Brackbill and Ryan S. Graybill

Part 10: The Final Segment

The young boy who was headed to the popped trunk to retrieve his suitcase, stopped and faced Ashlyn. “Yes, m ’am. I’m Dwayne. Thank you for letting me come so late in the summer. I really appreciate it m’am.”
“Oh, umm…sure,” Ashlyn stammered realizing the boy thought her to be the camp director…or even someone that actually worked there. “We are…so excited to have you here. We’ll get you set up with your bunk really soon.”
“Thank you m’am. They said you were paying the fee?”
“Oh, umm…”
Anvay interjected. “Yes, that’s right, young man and we are more than happy to do it.”
“Thank you, sir. I hope the driver is okay. We were chattin’ away the whole time and as soon as he pulled into the drive he started crying.”
Anvay stepped over the driver’s door and knocked. He noticed the driver’s shoulders were hunched over a bit and his hands were covering his face. His breathing seems irregular. “Sir?”
A few seconds of awkward silence passed before the click of the door was heard. A big foot stepped out onto the stone parking lot belonging to a large and tall man.
Ashlyn gasped. “Oh, my good heavens!
The driver removed his hat and stared at Ashlyn.
“Dwayne?!” Ashlyn wrapped her arms around her long lost friend feeling once again the way she did back in the cabin. Something amazing was happening.
It wasn’t the only “Dwayne” that was shouted out at that precise moment. Another person, this one being from a young camper, was also spoken. “Dwayne?!” young Ashlyn, coming up over the tiny hill from where the campfire was set, called out. “Dwayne?!” she repeated. This time she was in a full sprint towards the young boy. It was the same young boy she had written on the tree with back on Glacier Street. For the first time in three years, they were reunited.
“Ashlyn?!” young Dwayne spoke while embracing his friend. “I can’t believe you’re here. I can’t believe you’re here…I never thought I would…”
Ashlyn pulled away. “I never thought either…but, at the same time I did.”

Dwayne belly-laughed. “I know exactly what you mean.”
Anvay placed a hand on the shoulders of each of his friends and spoke to the younger Ashlyn. “Ashlyn, why don’t you help carry Dwayne’s thing to his cabin for him. He’ll be in 3B.”
While the young friends gathered everything out of the taxi’s trunk, the older Ashlyn turned Dwayne. “Did you know that he was…?”

“Yes.” Dwayne smiled.
“Does he know that…?”
“But you knew the whole time?”
“Yes, m’am.” Dwayne smiled again sounding like his younger self.
“Wow! We have a lot to talk about!”
“We do, but there’s something I need to do first.” Anvay said starting to walk towards the campers at the campfire. The traditional last song, One Tin Soldier, had just finished. “Heeeyyy, campers!”
“WHAT NOW?!” They all shouted back in a purposeful snooty way.
“Are you HUNGRY!?” Anvay responded.
“NOOO!” They shouted back again.
“Well, are you REALLY HUNGRY?!”
Ashlyn chuckled at the rehearsed exchange and felt a rush of joy run through her body at seeing Anvay with a great big smile and laughing along with all the campers. It was the Anvay-smile she had waited so long to see again. He was still that young boy she had met on Glacier Street. Here at Camp Trinity, he had found his adventure.
“And the two of you,” Anvay looked at Dwayne and Ashlyn, “can help serve.”
With their ice cream cones decorated with toppings of their choice, the campers licked away their dessert while the summer evening heat wrapped the melting treat around their hands. It didn’t damper conversations. The hums of their conversations filled the lodge porch nicely accompanying the buzzes of nature.
The three well-traveled friends sat at nearby picnic table enjoying the atmosphere. Enjoying the another reunion.
Ashlyn couldn’t keep her curiosity chained any longer. “How in the world did you manage to find your younger self and then drive him…in a taxi…and end up here?!”
“Believe it or not, taxi-driving is my life’s work. It’s my niche. At least in this time it is. When we last left each other, I was happy. I was doing a service and to be honest I struggled with the fact that that last trip didn’t send us home. I know, or at least I feel that all three of us need to…have found our niche so-to-speak. I didn’t take long however to realize why being a janitor wasn’t going to take me home.”
“What was missing?” Ashlyn asked.
“I had dealt with my anger by serving others. Being a janitor won’t ever be my dream job no matter what world I’m in, but I learned to treat it as a stepping stone.” At these words, Ashlyn subconsciously sat up straighter and looked at Anvay. The words stepping stones struck a chord with her. In listening to Dwayne speak them, she felt a sense of relief that these travels were not in vain but actually served a purpose. She recalled what Janet had told her younger self a few hours earlier about trust.
“So what does driving a taxi offer that being a janitor didn’t?” Anvay inquired.
“It provides a two-way street rather than just a single lane. You see, I’m a long-distance taxi. Will only do long trips. Twenty-thousand miles just in the last three months. I not only take passengers from point A to point B, I become invested in their lives. On long trips you have some deep conversations. I find not only does it peel off layers of the passenger, but peels them off me as well. We talk about life. From pitfalls to the joy. Everything in between.”
“So you’re a traveling therapists?” Anvay smiled in approval and appreciation.
“Yes, but it’s more than that. It is true that great friendship is also great therapy, but therapy is like the janitor. It’s one-sided. Here, I get to share and open up as well. You should see how the people change from the beginning of the trip to the end. When they get a sense that they have helped me you can see the pride well-up. One man, we were no less than a thousand miles into our trip – I think he was basically running away from his life – and he asked if I would take him back. Our conversation helped put things into perspective for him and he went back home. I keep in touch with every single one of my passengers.  That particular passenger has since renewed his wedding vows and made amends with his children.
So I’ve been doing that for several years now. When somebody asks what do I do for a living I tell them I take road trips with friends.”
Dwayne inhaled deeply.
“What is it?” Ashlyn asked.
“Then one day I get a call. As always I write down the address, but this address hit me hard. Ashlyn, do you remember when I moved away where I was going?”
“San Diego, right?”
“Right. This wasn’t just San Diego. It was my home address. I stared at that address and I almost called back, but then I thought of you guys. Something told me something special was going to come out of this. Sure enough when I pulled into camp here I just knew it was the two of you standing there.”
“What did you talk about?” Ashlyn asked while noticing their younger selves talking and smiling with one another.
“Everything and anything. But here’s the strangest thing of all. I never went to camp. I know I must’ve blocked out a lot of my childhood, but I know one thing for certain, I never went to summer camp.”
“How do you explain that?” Feeling pieces being fitted together in ways she could not explain, Ashlyn reached over and touched Dwayne’s arm thirsting for an explanation.

“I can’t explain anything with a hundred percent certainty. I can only try to explain how I feel. Somehow I think certain moments that we experience in these travels are created  for the purpose of being a…road sign…or something that tells us that we’re headed in the right direction and…” Dwayne struggled to find more words to supplement his thoughts.
Anvay interjected. “And we use those newly created memories as leverage to hoist ourselves up onto the stepping stones.”
Dwayne nodded with a grin. “I think that’s it.”
“I think so too.” Ashlyn had an epiphany. “It is it! But there’s more to it than that. I witnessed a new memory just earlier today and what you said about them fits perfectly, but as I reflect on how I felt during that moment I realize another purpose – at least for me. Before that memory a counselor was telling my younger self about trust and that new memory gave me a swelling of reborn hope. That hope told me – or reminded me – there’s a purpose behind all of this. We may not understand it all and we may not be done with it all. It may not be our time to be back at the intersection. But we have to…”
“…Trust the journey,” Dwayne concluded.
“Exactly.” Ashlyn struggled with a thought. “It’s not easy though. It seems like I’m the one holding us back. You too seem that you’ve experienced everything you needed to earn your way back there.”
Anvay tried to console her doubts. “This journey is not meant to be over until each of us have lived and experience what we’re meant to live and experience. If there’s another stop along the way then so be it.”
“There’s always more to learn. There’s always more stepping stones,” Dwayne said.
“Trust the journey.” Ashlyn smiled and looked at each of her friends. She stretched her hands out and placed her hands upon their shoulders. Their moment in time disappeared.
Dwayne’s cruise control was set fifty-five. With traffic being as light as it was he could’ve jacked it up more, but timing was important. This car ride served a purpose. Wanting to hear the sounds of the world whizzing by, he rolled down his window, slurped the last of his drink and glanced over at his passenger who didn’t seem to be in the mood to talk.
Anvay sat in the passenger seat and chatted away like a giddy school boy. He knew his destination. He knew the driver. He knew the person responsible for getting him here. He felt it in his bones. Saw it in his dreams. His driver couldn’t go fast enough.
Ashlyn was antsy. She sat in the back being shushed at every attempt of speaking. She couldn’t see her, but she was certain her driver was a woman as she would tap her nails on the dash along with the music from a mixed cd.
Being blindfolded was one thing, but not being able to talk or even hear an explanation was torturous.
Before letting out a scream the car slowed to a squeaky stop.
Ashlyn turned the music off while the car came to a stop. Turning towards her passenger in the backseat who was about to lose she told her, “You may get out of the car. Carefully.”
The passenger reached up to remove her blindfold.
“No, no. Not yet. You need to get our first.”
The passenger slid across from the middle of the backseat and felt around for the door handle and opened it. Setting her foot on solid ground gave her a sense of relief although the fear from the car ride was hard to shake.
Ashlyn rolled down the front passenger window and called out to the passenger after she had closed the back door. “Hey, Darlin’? Step closer.” The passenger obliged. “When I drive away you may remove your blindfold, but only when I drive away. Clear?”
“Yes. Clear.”
“And Darlin’, one more thing.
“What?” The passenger said somewhat indignantly.
“Trust the journey.”
With those words hitting the passenger like a rock, Ashlyn resumed down the highway through the green light at the intersection.
Ashlyn, hearing the car pull away, removed her blindfold slowly with caution rather than ripping it off her head. The words from her driver made everything around her slow down. With the blindfold removed her eyes remained closed. Inhaling deeply she repeated the words, “trust the journey.” With the words fresh off her lips and off her tongue and out into the open air, she knew her driver. More importantly, she knew herself.
Opening her eyes, a moment was needed to soak in the atmosphere. It was where she had thought about through every one of her journeys. In front of her were the intersecting roads – the same, but very different. Then she saw them.
Dwayne and Anvay stood at diagonal corners having just removed their blindfolds. Ashlyn walked towards her two friends as they both noticed each other and Ashlyn at the same time. Converging in the center of the intersection with no words spoken, the three embraced in a long hug.
With arms wrapped around each other their feet stayed on the solid ground beneath them. Their biggest stepping stone.
Releasing each other and wiping their tears, Ashlyn, with the two men on either side of her, locked her arms with theirs. They proceeded to walk just a block down the street where they would sit at a family-owned café and discuss trusting the journey ahead of them.

Thank you for reading!

Trust the Journey,
Ryan Graybill

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