A mystical love story
Greg adjusted the cruise control to just over the speed limit. He sped down the Interstate toward Joplin the city that would be his home base for the next few months. His real hometown back in Virginia seemed far away, not only in distance but also in time. His thoughts were without focus. Melancholy feelings dominated his consciousness. Things are just not like they used to be. I hardly know anyone that's old anymore. Who’s going to tell me about the good old days now that uncle Clyde is gone?
Greg liked his job at Archwright Architects, Inc. He was fortunate to move from an intern position to a project architect within a year. Competition within the firm was furious and this new, challenging assignment was his opportunity to establish himself professionally; unfortunately, it provides an equal opportunity to fail miserably.
Greg eased off the Interstate at Exit 8B, a little east of Joplin. The move was instinctive, guided by a random urge - a glance at the gas gage confirmed the move was appropriate. He pulled into Shop & Go, a convenience store with gas pumps.
While Greg was cleaning his windshield, a painting contractor pulled his van along side. The driver got out, studied the letters on the door of Greg’s car, then strolled over.
“Hey, I notice you are from Archwright, are you involved in the construction of the new Medical Center in Joplin?”
“We’re the architects. Are you working on the project?”
“No, but I really want to, it’s a little early for painting. I’ve just finished a job at the Crestwood Apartments.
“Crestwood… I saw a sign for the town of Crestwood quite a ways back. Seems like a long way to go for work.”
“No, I was talking about Crestwood Apartments here in Joplin. Can I give you my card? Maybe you can call me when the hospital project needs a good painter.”
“I’ll take your card, but hiring the subs is up to the General Contractor. I don’t even know them yet.”
“Well whatever you can do I’d appreciate. I do good work.”
Greg finished filling his tank and went inside for a pit stop and coffee. The coffee was self-serve from large pots on a neatly arranged counter. While stirring his coffee he noticed a small brass tag attached to the backsplash inscribed with the brand name Crestwood Cabinets. “Huh,” he mumbled.
At checkout, a mysterious but comfortable urge prompted Greg to ask the cashier for directions to the Crestwood Apartments.
Without hesitation the cashier pointed to the street out front and said, “Go out here and go north on Ridgeline to 7th Street, it’s a couple of miles, turn left. Go seven or eight blocks you’ll see it on the left.”
As he walked out, Greg somehow knew his Joplin address would be the Crestwood Apartments.
Greg was surprised that the cashier's directions were so clear. Crestwood was obviously an upscale apartment community. The apartments were clustered in a series of buildings arranged with the look of a residential neighborhood. Fortunately, the office was open.
The Manager handed him an application. Its length and some of the questions forecast delays and possibly problems.
“I'm an Architect with Archwright and will only be here a short time, I need a small, furnished apartment for about six months; before I go to the trouble of filling out this form, can you help me?”
“Do you have a referral?”
Greg remembered the painting contractor from the Stop and Go. He pulled his card from his pocket, glanced at it and said, “Yes, Larry Gordon told me of this place.” He handed Larry's card to the Manager.
“Ah yes, Larry. He does our painting, good man. I have an apartment that may suit you. But.... I'm supposed to get a credit check before you move in.”
“How long will that take?”
“Two or three days, usually. Humm... tell you what. Fill out the application, give me a check for the deposit, and move in. We'll complete the lease after the credit check comes back.”
Greg unpacked the essentials and explored his new apartment comparing this new environment to his old one. It was easy to see the shortcomings as well as the improvements over his old place.
A notable improvement was the furniture. As far as he could tell, it was new, no scuffs or soiled spots. Obviously, Larry, his unknowing benefactor, had recently painted the apartment. The colors were pleasingly neutral.
The kitchen snack bar provided plenty of room for eating; this left the table in the nook available for use as a desk. It conveniently accommodated his laptop computer and his journal. Greg religiously journaled in longhand. The entries provided a reference timeline for his weekly activity reports and a record of happenings in his personal life that otherwise seemed to get lost.
While hanging his shirts in the roomy closet he noticed a shiny object on the top shelf. It was a picture frame lying face down. The frame was ornate and looked expensive. Intrigued, he looked carefully at the picture. It was not one of those place holding pictures that come in new frames but a real photograph. The picture was of a young lady sitting at a dressing table facing the mirror.
She’s lovely, beautiful eyes, just a little sad. A professional photographer must have been taken the portrait. He could see her face, her profile, and her long brown hair. An autograph in the lower right-hand corner read, “To Bob, with all my love – Samantha.” Surely someone, probably Bob, left this behind by accident. Bet he’s missing it. He stood the frame carefully along side his journal at his improvised desk. A strong feeling of loss accompanied the thought of turning it over to the Apartment Manager.
Journal Entry May 3, 10:06 pm – Joplin
Unbelievable! Through a series of happy coincidences, I found a neat, convenient apartment and I’m settling in nicely.
I must remember Larry Gordon.
Ask the manager tomorrow about Bob, who lived here before, so I can return the picture… maybe. –G.
Journal Entry May 4, 8:17 pm – Joplin
I met with the General Contractor today - construction is on schedule, no problems with drawings or specifications reported. I’ll make a complete inspection of the construction site tomorrow – perhaps speak with some of the subcontractors. I hope things continue to go as well as they seem.
Samantha’s picture greeted me when I arrived this afternoon. Strange, her eyes no longer look sad. She is so pretty, even prettier than yesterday… must be the lighting. –G.
Journal Entry May 5, 9:22 pm – Joplin
The Manager left a note on my door – the credit report came in, I should go by and sign the lease tomorrow.
It has been a busy day, met with concrete supplier and the plumbing contractor. Plumber needed more details for the basement mechanical area.
When I came in today, the first thing I saw was Samantha’s portrait. It stirs an unfamiliar emotion. She seems different today, there’s a glow about her face and a faint hint of a smile. Just my imagination … –G.
Greg opened the door to the apartment management office and looked to see if the manager was in.
“Good morning. How do you like your new place?” The manager asked.
“It’s great – already seems like home sweet home. You have some papers ready to sign?”
“Yeah, I made the lease for six months. You can extend it then if you need to.”
Greg took the papers and signed the places the manager had marked for his signature. “Do you know who had the apartment before?”
“Yeah, uh, a guy named Bob something. Weird fellow.”
“Used to walk around the neighborhood all night when there was a full moon. Spooked the neighbors. I asked him about it. He said he liked to meditate and study the moon shadows - weird.”
“Hum, where did he go?”
“Nowhere, he died. They found him face down on the lawn early one morning. Heart attack, and such a young man. Too much moonlighting I guess.”
Greg decided not to tell the manager about Samantha’s picture.
Journal Entry May 6, 7:30 pm – Joplin
Very good day! Met with the electrical contractor and developed ideas for saving cost and improving efficiency.
Samantha seems happy today. She is definitely smiling and her beautiful eyes are sparkling. What was she to Weird Bob? More important, what was Weird Bob to her?
Gee, what am I doing? This thinking is crazy; I’ll probably never see her. –G.
Journal Entry June 2, 8:35 pm – Joplin
Just realized I’ve been here a month tomorrow. Doesn’t seem like it. Work is going great. A lucky break comes along with every problem and I keep looking like a hero. I know it’s not me – sweet Samantha you’re my lucky charm. You get prettier every day I look forward to you greeting me at the end of each day.
JE to be continued. –G.
This entry was suddenly interrupted by the ding of the doorbell. Greg closed the journal and moved quickly to the door; there standing in the entry was a familiar figure, looking somewhat surprised.
“Hey, Larry, come in, good to see you,” said Greg.
Smiling, Larry said, “Hi, you know I didn’t know your name, I recognize you now – the architect working on the new Medical Center. Right?”
“That’s right, what brings you by?”
“Well, I got a fifty dollar referral fee for getting you to lease this apartment so I figured I should meet who ever it was I recommended.”
“Oh, I get it. The manager asked me if I had a referral, I said you told me about the place. I really didn’t think of it as a reference or recommendation. Sorry if I put you on a spot.”
“No problem, we both made out… what do you say, let’s get a beer, spend some of this fifty.”
Greg accompanied Larry to the Wooden Nickel Pub. He was initially reluctant but didn’t let it show. The pub was noisy and lively but relaxing in a sense. One pitcher of beer, some shop talk, with tales of a few personal experiences rolled in, and the two were old acquaintances.
Despite the conversation and commotion, Greg’s thoughts drifted back to Samantha. “Larry, did you know the Bob that lived in my apartment before me?”
“Not really, seen him around. He was a little strange. Artsy. I think he practiced some kind of foreign religion.”
“Really, that’s interesting.”
“I don’t mean he was strange in a bad way, he just didn’t have many friends. I saw him with a girl at the Mall a couple of times – a real looker too. Never came around here though.”
Greg felt a rush as visions of the possibilities surged through his mind. “Could it be…,” he mumbled.
Journal Entry - Continued – 11:51 pm
I have a new friend and a lead on finding Samantha! Tomorrow I will haunt the Joplin Mall. –G.
The Joplin Mall was only five minutes from the Medical Center construction site. Greg began eating lunch everyday in the Mall Food Court, he didn’t care much for fast food, but the opportunity to see Samantha was worth the sacrifice. He carefully picked a table that allowed him the maximum view of the shoppers moving along the Mall corridor. He studied each female face from his vantage point.
Journal Entry July 12, 9:35 pm – Joplin
Hi Samantha, I’m happy to see you so perky. It has been a long day but thanks to you, my lucky charm, a successful one; at work at least. I didn’t see you at the Mall today. You know I yearn to see you. I want to breath your air, smell your hair, and hear you say my name.
I’m becoming a fixture at the Mall. Some of the shoppers look familiar, employees are attempting to start conversations with me, and I think I saw a Mall detective making notes as I arrived today.
Perhaps I’ll see you in person tomorrow. I don’t know what I would say to you. I don’t want to frighten you – please don’t run away. –G.
It was early for lunch, only 11:15 but Greg was free and decided to use the opportunity for some bonus stakeout time at the Mall. The corridor was almost empty; Greg could hear a slight echo of his footsteps on the tile. He noticed a pretty figure approaching the down-escalator just ahead of him. His pace quickened, he stepped on the escalator just as the girl reached the midpoint. He moved two or three steps closer. Just as she stepped off the escalator, Greg caught the reflection of her face in the Layne Bryant Store window. It was Samantha!
Suddenly breathless and without thinking he called out, “Samantha!”
The girl looked back, panic stricken for a split second. She turned, her eyes met his. “Yes,” she said.
Seconds later, they were standing face to face inches apart. “Samantha,” he said again, more calmly. He sensed that she thought she recognized him.
“You are… you’re one of Bob’s friends. We met at his memorial service.”
“Yes,” he lied. “I’m Greg Ballard. How are you?”
“I’m doing okay. I miss Bob. We became very close after our parents died. I think of him every day. Some days it seems like he is still around.”
“I know what you mean, I lost an uncle recently, and I still think of him a lot, maybe more than when he was alive.”
Journal Entry July 13, 8:35 pm – Joplin
I found her! She is just like her picture only better. We had lunch at the Mall and talked for two hours. Bob was her brother and only living relative. We like the same things. She’s beautiful. I think she likes me.
The problem is - I lied to her. She thinks we met at Bob’s funeral. I wasn’t even there. I have to get this straight; she’ll probably think I’m crazy when I tell her the whole story. We’re having dinner tomorrow, I’ll tell her then - maybe. –G.
The light in the small Italian restaurant was dim, a candle lit each table, and muted instrumental music provided a pleasant accompaniment to the tantalizing aroma of Italian cuisine. Greg selected a modest wine.
“Samantha, there’s something I have to tell you.” He reached across the table and took her hand. “I wasn’t exactly honest with you yesterday; we didn’t meet at Bob’s Memorial Service. In fact, Bob and I never met.” He gently squeezed her hand as he noted her startled expression.
“Yes, go ahead.” She looked into his eyes and did not pull her hand away.
He told her how magically his career had progressed, about being unbelievably successful at his work in Joplin, about his chance meeting with Larry Gordon and the quirky way he acquired Bob’s old apartment at Crestwood. He told her of the portrait of her he found in the closet and how the image changed over the weeks and that he fell hopelessly in love with her.
Samantha smiled, took a folded card from her purse, and handed it to Greg. “Look at the sketch inside,” she said.
Greg opened the card and looked intently at a detailed penciled sketch that was unquestionably of himself.
“One day I was complaining to Bob that it seemed I would never find true love. While I went on and on about the failures in my love life, he sketched that image. He handed it to me and said that he would help me find the man of my dreams and bring him to me… I believe he has kept that promise.