by Steve Joos
What I have written so far of a long-form love story about reconnected sweethearts.
|A sense of sadness and frustration dogged Richard Davidson as he woke up one summer morning.
The same combination of nostalgia and the coulda-woulda-shouldas haunted the twenty-eight year old man as he contemplated the ceiling of his sister’s guest room. He was thinking about her again.
Why now? Why after all these years did the memory of his first crush still run through the mind of Richard Davidson?
Where was she? Did she marry? Would he recognize her? And she him?
There were also the memories, of two middle school adolescents making eyes at each other (what else could they do?) for a fleeting moment almost 15 years before. The same affectionate grin crossed Richard’s face as he recalled those days, but they were usually followed by sadness over the missed opportunities and the way it all ended. Two high school nobodies pulled apart and sent on their separate ways in that teeming teeny-bopper warehouse known as Baylor Heights High School.
Oh, but they were number one in the state in football. They won this championship and that academic honor. Oh but this and that.
And they seemed to do everything they could to keep Richard Davidson and Melanie Beck separated, or so it seemed.
Baylor Heights killed Richard’s innocence and love life. His school spirit was collateral damage.
Why did her memory invade his vacation? How did it follow him on vacation?
Maybe it was the sad songs he’d heard on the oldies station piped into the antique auto museum he’d visited his first day at Stan and Leslie’s.
Or possibly it was his sister’s latest stab at match-making, which tended to have the same result. Leslie finds one of her single friends, invites Rick, invites her and she shows up right on time—with her new fiancée.
Just as well, the slightly heavy-set man with most of his dark hair intact thought as he clumped downstairs to the shower and then breakfast. He wasn’t in the mood for strangers.
“So you’ve never been on a date?”
“Nobody around I wanted to ask out.”
“Can you dance?”
“Nobody around I wanted to dance with.”
“Kissed a girl or, you know, you know?”
Richard shook his head.
“Nobody around you wanted to uh, do that with?”
Each day, someone brought him out to the field. He was an old man who could no longer see, but while the years had taken their toll on him, robbing him of his vision, he still came out each day to mimic old sports announcers and give play-by-plays to imaginary games.
On this day, he was an old Cubs' announcer, calling something that announcer had never called.
"Gabby Hartnett, stepping to the plate. Two out, nobody on, bottom of the ninth and we're tied 5-5," he said, channeling an old Wrigley Field sportscaster. "C'mon Gabby, get something started. Stay tuned, we'll keep you up-to-date on what happens after today and any playoff information as it becomes available. Brown winds and fires. That ball's pretty well hit, deep to left, back, back…. HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! Gabby Hartnett has just smacked a solo home run over the left field fence and the Chicago Cubs have won the 1938 National League pennant! WOW! What a wallop!"
Richard and Melanie chuckled at the old-timer before looking out on to the field. Melanie spotted a woman sitting next to the old man and sat down next to her.
"I'm Jack's granddaughter," the younger woman said. "Grandpa's eyes aren't that good anymore, but we bring him every weekend. A lot of people like is old calls."
"Whose bats are those over by the backstop?" Melanie asked, a mischievous grin crossing her face.
"They're here if somebody gets a game up."
She walked over to the backstop, picked up a bat, handed it to Richard and then motioned for him to go to the plate. As he embarassingly walked over to home, Melanie went back to the stands and whispered something to the granddaughter, who relayed it to her grandfather.
"Go on, take a few swings," she then called to Richard, who sheepishly complied.
"Joe DiMaggio stepping in, with a runner on and a man out in the eighth," said the old-timer, making like Mel Allen.
"Get a hit Joe," Melanie cooed.
"Wow, there's some brunette down the third base line cheering on Joe," the old man said.
Richard smiled, took a swing and started charging down to first base.
“Aw Marilyn,” he thought to himself. “Do you have to wear the dark-haired wig?”
The couple continued to laugh during dinner and then listening to music at a small cafe in Galena that evening. Richard seemed to feel at ease, smiling and reveling in a feeling which hadn’t been present in years.
“I wish I could take you home with me,” he told Melanie as the two crossed a foot bridge on their way back to the city parking lot. “Can I say that I met the woman of my dreams? If I didn’t know that you were going to be barreling your way back to Chicago tomorrow, I would say yes.”
“Why does that matter?” Melanie asked.
“The distance involved, I guess,” replied Richard, sitting down on a bench under a decorative street lamp. “The uncertainty. Not knowing if you’d be there. All my life, love has been elusive, something which may have been mine for a moment and all too soon, it disappears.”
Melanie sat down next to Richard and moved closer, until they were shoulder to shoulder. Richard noticed and became somewhat giggly, with a blushing laugh.
“Was there ever anyone?”
“When I was very young.”
“Middle school, but we’d known of each other long before that,” Richard sighed. “We were in the same room six out of eight years. Seventh grade, I start looking at her like ‘hey, I might want to,’ but then she says she’s moving. Eighth grade, I make my move and for almost five beautiful months, I was with the little red-haired girl. Well, actually, her hair color was, well, it was like yours.”
“Then what happened?”
“Baylor Heights,” Richard snarled. “In four years of high school, I was in one lousy class with a girl I liked. Freshman home room, with a battle axe of a German teacher in charge and I liked the girl, but not that much. Didn’t matter. We were in different home rooms the rest of the way. Worked with a lot of nice girls in college, high school and at work, but never met one like her.”
Melanie leaned over Richard’s shoulder.
“Didn’t people try and set you up?”
“Usually to someone who showed up already wearing a ring.”
A sense of shock hit Melanie as she looked at the information before her. Not really surprise, but a stunning realization of what she in some ways had expected since that late afternoon on State Street.
She grabbed for the phone and nervously dialed an old friend.
“Hi Joyce!” she said excitedly. “Mel Beck. Long time, isn’t it?”
After exchanging the usual pleasantries old friends share when reconnecting, Melanie then somewhat sheepishly stated the reason for her call.
“Do you remember a kid named Rick Davidson?” she asked. “Yeah. Dark-haired guy from grade school. You think he what? Why do I ask? I think I just spent the weekend with him!”
They now had married names, but Linda Foreman and Laurie Wilson were back in junior high school and engaged in a bit of a nostalgic discussion at the office the next day.
“Cathy Benton,” Laurie said with some certainty.
“Cathy Benton?” Linda replied. “She was my best friend throughout school. What would they have in common?”
“The St. Louis Cardinals,” Richard quipped as he entered the office. “Cathy Benton was a big fan, just like me. Why?”
“Richard, Richard, Richard,” Linda said, following the young editor into his cubicle.
“Linda, Linda, Linda,” was the reply. “What do you need? What do you need? What do you need?”
“The mystery lady from your vacation called.”
“The what from my vacation called?”
“Your mystery lady. She said she found your lost classmate.”
Richard’s eyes bulged a bit.
“The old classmate you had a crush on? We’re trying to figure it out since she called, and we’ve nailed it down to Cindy Elmore, Joyce Buckley,”
Cindy Elmore? Richard blanched to himself. Cue Henry Mancini’s Baby Elephant Walk in 3..2..1.
“Melanie Beck and Patty Williams.”
“I thought it might have been Wendy Simmons,” Laurie explained. “But she’s married and living in Colorado now.”
Richard’s mental bemusement continued. What? No Meg Hanson? He thought to himself.
“So come on Richard, give,” Linda said. “Who is she?”
An intercom tone came to Richard’s rescue.
“Linda! Line one!”
Richard’s co-workers retreated with a promise that they would find out, leaving him alone with his thoughts for a moment. Double-checking the phone message, he noticed that his mystery lady would call back sometime later. Then he went to the break room for a cup of coffee, one of Joyce Buckley’s schoolyard taunts drifting into his memory.